UN unanimously backs sending observers to Aleppo

UNITED NATIONS –  With Russia's backing, the Security Council on Monday, December 19, voted to quickly deploy UN observers to Aleppo to monitor evacuations and report on the fate of civilians who remain in the besieged Syrian city.

The council unanimously adopted a French-drafted resolution that marks the first show of unity in months among world powers struggling to put an end to the nearly 6-year war in Syria.

The measure tasks the United Nations with carrying out "adequate, neutral monitoring and direct observation on evacuations from eastern Aleppo and other districts of the city."

It requests that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon take urgent steps to allow the observers to monitor "the well-being of civilians" and consult with interested parties on the deployment.

French Ambassador Francois Delattre said the international presence would prevent Aleppo from turning into another Srebrenica, where thousands of Bosnian men and boys were massacred in 1995 when the town fell to Serb forces.

It remained uncertain however whether the Syrian government would give the observers access to the city and allow operations there to come under international scrutiny.

"This is a starting point," Delattre told reporters. "We will be extremely attentive, extremely vigilant."

US Ambassador Samantha Power said there were 118 UN staff in western Aleppo who could quickly be sent to the east of the city to begin monitoring.

"Our objective is immediately," she said when asked about how quickly the monitors would be on the ground.

Russia, Syria's main ally, said it had been in contact with the Damascus government throughout the negotiations on the UN measure and that it was, in principle, on board.

"We kept contact with our Syrian colleagues here all the time so they were aware of the process and they did not raise any serious objections to what we delivered," said Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin.

Russia had threatened to veto a first draft circulated by France on Friday but following nearly four hours of consultations on Sunday, a compromise text was agreed.

Ban is to report to the council within five days on whether access has been granted by the Syrian government, which has repeatedly blocked UN aid.

Shift from Russia ?

The adoption of the resolution could mark a shift from Russia toward renewed international engagement in efforts to settle the conflict, which has killed more than 310,000 people.

"We need that change," said British Ambassador Matthew Rycroft. 

"It's Russian policy that has blocked the unity that the Security Council requires in order to set a course to end this conflict."

UN envoy Staffan de Mistura estimated that as of Thursday of last week around 40,000 civilians and perhaps as many as 5,000 opposition fighters remained in Aleppo's rebel enclave.

Thousands of traumatized Syrians left the enclave Monday under a complex evacuation agreement that will see regime forces exert full control over the battered city.

These were the first departures since Friday when the government suspended evacuations, insisting on a tit-for-tat deal to allow civilians and fighters to leave two northwestern villages under rebel siege.

Syrian Ambassador Bashar Jaafari accused Western powers of scrambling to send observers to east Aleppo to rescue what he described as foreign spies supporting the opposition forces.

"The main purpose is how to rescue these terrorist foreigners, intelligence officers," Jaafari told reporters. "This is why you saw this hysterical move in the council in the last few days."

The Syrian ambassador said his government will abide by the resolution and denied that it had blocked access in the past to UN officials.

"The last terrorists in some districts of the eastern part of Aleppo are evacuating their strongholds," Jaafari said.

"Aleppo this evening will be clean," he declared. – Rappler.com