U.N. council to vote Monday on monitoring Aleppo evacuation

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council agreed on a draft resolution aimed at ensuring that U.N. officials can monitor evacuations from the Syrian city of Aleppo and will vote on the text on Monday, diplomats said after several hours of negotiations.

(L-R) Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations Francois Delattre and United States Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power exit following the postponement of an United Nations Security Council vote, aimed at ensuring that U.N. officials can monitor evacuations from besieged parts of the Syrian city of Aleppo, at the United Nations in Manhattan, New York City, U.S., December 18, 2016. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

The council had been scheduled to vote on Sunday on a French draft, but Russia, an ally of the Syrian government in the civil war, circulated a rival text. Russia raised concerns about sending in U.N. officials unprepared to monitor the protection of civilians who remain in the last rebel-held area of eastern Aleppo, which has been under siege for years.

The evacuation ground to a halt on Friday after demands from pro-government forces that people also be moved out of two Shi’ite villages besieged by insurgents.

Armed men burned five buses that were supposed to be used for an evacuation near Idlib on Sunday, holding up the renewed deal to allow thousands to leave eastern Aleppo, where evacuees crammed into buses for hours, waiting to move.

French U.N. Ambassador Francois Delattre said the compromise text was based on the French draft and explained that the vote had been delayed until Monday because “given the importance of the text, some of us have preferred to report back to capitals.”

The new draft asks U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon “to take urgent steps to make arrangements, including security arrangements in consultation with interested parties, to allow the observation by the United Nations and other relevant institutions of the well-being of civilians ... inside the eastern districts of the city of Aleppo.”

The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, told reporters that the council expected to “vote unanimously for this text” at 9 a.m. (1400 GMT).

Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters: “I think we have a good text.”

Churkin had earlier on Sunday said that Russia would veto the original French draft, which he described as “a disaster.”

Russia, which has provided military backing to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s troops, has vetoed six Security Council resolutions on Syria since the war started in 2011. China joined Moscow in vetoing five resolutions.

The draft resolution to be voted on asks the United Nations and other institutions “to carry out adequate, neutral monitoring and direct observation on evacuations from the eastern districts of Aleppo and other districts of the city.”

It also “demands all parties to provide these monitors with safe, immediate and unimpeded access.”

Ban would report back on implementation of the resolution within five days of adoption, the draft said.

A crackdown by Assad on pro-democracy protesters in 2011 led to civil war, and Islamic State militants have used the chaos to seize territory in Syria and Iraq. Half of Syria’s 22 million people have been uprooted and more than 400,000 killed.

Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Grant McCool