Gunmen Stall Evacuation in Aleppo by Burning Buses
Videos footage showed bearded men with guns cheering and shouting “God is great” after torching the green buses.
Armed men burned five buses that were supposed to be used for an evacuation near Idlib in Syria on Sunday, stalling a deal to allow thousands to depart the last rebel pocket in Aleppo, where evacuees crammed into buses for hours, waiting to move.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said the evacuation of the villages had been postponed as a result, and that meant the evacuation of east Aleppo was also likely to be postponed.
In return for the evacuation of fighters, their families and other civilians from Aleppo, the mostly Sunni insurgents had agreed that people in the villages of al-Foua and Kefraya which Shi'ite villages that they have besieged near Idlib, should also be allowed to leave.
Videos posted on social media showed bearded men with guns cheering and shouting "God is great" after torching the green buses before they were able to reach the villages.
State media said "armed terrorists", a term it uses for all groups fighting President Bashar al-Assad, had carried out the attack. Pro-Damascus Mayadeen television blamed the rebel group formerly known as the Nusra Front.
Rebel officials said an angry crowd of people, possibly alongside pro-government "operatives", was responsible.
Hours after the incident, as the Aleppo evacuees waited on their buses, it was still unclear what impact the bus burning would have on the wider agreement.
However, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Assad's main foreign backer, and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, the rebels' main supporter, agreed by telephone on Sunday that the disruptions must be quickly overcome, sources in Erdogan's office said.
The commander of forces allied to Assad said there was still a chance for states with influence over rebel groups to find a way to evacuate civilians safely.
In a statement carried by a military news outlet run by Damascus's ally, the Lebanese group Hezbollah, the allied forces leadership said responsibility for the delay in the evacuation falls with "terrorists and their state sponsors".
Some 40 km (26 miles) to the northeast, hundreds of fighters and their families in Aleppo sat or stood in buses, hoping the evacuation would resume after a three-day hiatus.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said there was no sign the buses had left Aleppo or the villages, and a passenger on one told Reuters he had been on the bus for four hours and was still in the city's rebel enclave.
Syrian state television, citing its correspondent in the city, said buses had started to leave east Aleppo where over 15,000 people had gathered in a square to wait, many after a night sleeping in the streets in freezing temperatures.
Subscribe To Our Daily Newsletter And Get News Delivered Straight To Your Inbox.