Aleppo evacuation resumes after deal struck over besieged villages

BEIRUT, Dec 19 (Reuters) - An operation to bring thousands of people out of the last rebel-held enclave of Aleppo was under way again on Monday after being held up for several days, together with the evacuation of two besieged pro-government villages in nearby Idlib province.

Convoys of buses from eastern Aleppo reached rebel-held areas of countryside to the west of the city, according to a U.N. official and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group.

At the same time, 10 buses left the Shi'ite Muslim villages of al-Foua and Kefraya, north of Idlib, for government lines in Aleppo, the sources said.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said a total of 12,000 civilians had been evacuated from Aleppo, including 4,500 since midnight on Sunday.

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A general view shows the Old City of Aleppo as seen from Aleppo's historic citadel, Syria December 11, 2009. Picture taken December 11, 2009. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
A general view shows AleppoÃs legendary Baron Hotel, Syria October 6, 2010. Picture taken October 6, 2010. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
A vendor sits inside an antique shop in al-Jdeideh neighbourhood, in the Old City of Aleppo, Syria December 12, 2009. Picture taken December 12, 2009. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
BASILICA OF SAINT SIMEON, ALEPPO, SYRIA - 2010/03/25: Tourists at the ruins at the Church of Saint Simeon Stylites, built in the the 5th century AD and the oldest surviving Byzantine church, near Aleppo, Syria. (Photo by Leisa Tyler/LightRocket via Getty Images)
A man crosses a street in Aleppo, Syria December 12, 2009. Picture taken December 12, 2009. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Visitors walk inside Aleppo's Umayyad mosque, Syria October 6, 2010. Picture taken October 6, 2010. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A view shows an ornate entrance to Aleppo's Umayyad mosque, Syria October 6, 2010. Picture taken October 6, 2010. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
Costa Coffee and Second Cup coffee branches are seen inside the Shahba Mall in Aleppo, Syria December 12, 2009. Picture taken December 12, 2009. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
People walk inside the Khan al-Shounah market, in the Old City of Aleppo, Syria December 11, 2009. Picture taken December 11, 2009. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
People stand inside the Shahba Mall in Aleppo, Syria December 12, 2009. Picture taken December 12, 2009. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
Christmas ornaments decorate a balcony in Aleppo, Syria December 12, 2009. Picture taken December 12, 2009. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
A man walks past a shop in al-Jdeideh neighbourhood, in the Old City of Aleppo, Syria December 12, 2009. Picture taken December 12, 2009. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
People walk in al-Jdeideh neighbourhood, in the Old City of Aleppo, Syria December 12, 2009. Picture taken December 12, 2009. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
People walk inside the Shahba Mall in Aleppo, Syria December 12, 2009. Picture taken December 12, 2009. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
Tourists vist the historical Hamam El Nahasin, in the Old City of Aleppo, Syria October 6, 2010. Picture taken October 6, 2010. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
People walk in the Town Mall in Aleppo, Syria December 12, 2009. Picture taken December 12, 2009. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
A church is pictured in Aleppo, Syria December 12, 2009. Picture taken December 12, 2009. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
A man walks past shops in al-Jdeideh neighbourhood, in the Old City of Aleppo, Syria December 12, 2009. Picture taken December 12, 2009. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
A man stands outside an antiques shop in al-Jdeideh neighbourhood, in the Old City of Aleppo, Syria December 12, 2009. Picture taken December 12, 2009. REUTERS/Khalil Asia
A view shows a Mashrabiya in al-Jdeideh neighbourhood, in the Old City of Aleppo, Syria December 12, 2009. Picture taken December 12, 2009. REUTERS/Khalil Asia
A view shows the entrance of the Shahba Mall in Aleppo, Syria December 12, 2009. Picture taken December 12, 2009. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
Customers, covered in towels, rest after taking a bath at the historical Hamam El Nahasin, in the Old City of Aleppo, Syria October 6, 2010. Picture taken October 6, 2010. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
Visitors tour Aleppo's historic citadel, Syria December 11, 2009. Picture taken December 11, 2009. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
People walk near Aleppo's Bab al-Faraj Clock Tower, Syria October 6, 2010. Picture taken October 6, 2010. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
People tour inside Aleppo's historic citadel, Syria December 11, 2009. Picture taken December 11, 2009. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
People walk along a street near Aleppo's historic citadel, in the Old City of Aleppo, Syria December 12, 2009. Picture taken December 12, 2009. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
People are seen outside Aleppo's historic citadel, Syria December 11, 2009. Picture taken December 11, 2009. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
[UNVERIFIED CONTENT] Local people approaching steps into Aleppo citadel in Syria.
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The evacuation of civilians, including wounded people, from the two villages had been demanded by the Syrian army and its allies before they would allow fighters and civilians trapped in Aleppo to depart. The stand-off halted the Aleppo evacuation over the weekend.

"First limited evacuations, finally, tonight from east Aleppo and Foua & Kefraya. Many thousands more are waiting to be evacuated soon," Jan Egeland, who chairs the United Nations aid task force in Syria, tweeted late on Sunday night.

Syrian state TV and pro-Damascus stations showed the first four buses arriving in Aleppo from the besieged villages, accompanied by pick-up trucks and with people sitting on their roofs.

In Idlib, aid workers said more than 60 buses had arrived from Aleppo. Some evacuees were being taken in by relatives or other residents, while others could be housed in tents.

The recapture of Aleppo is Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's biggest victory so far in the nearly six-year-old war, but the fighting is by no means over with large tracts of the country still under the control of insurgent and Islamist groups.

WET AND COLD

Photographs of people evacuated from Aleppo showed large groups of people standing or crouching with their belongings or loading sacks onto trucks before heading off to further destinations.

Children, dressed in winter clothes against the cold, carried small backpacks or played with kittens and one older man, in traditional Arab robes and headdress, sat holding a stick.

Later on Monday, the Security Council will vote in New York on a resolution to allow U.N. staff to monitor the evacuations. The draft resolution was the result of a compromise between Russia and France, and the United States said it was expected to pass unanimously.

On Sunday, some of the buses sent to al-Foua and Kefraya to carry evacuees out were attacked and torched by armed men, who shouted "God is greatest" and brandished their weapons in front of the burning vehicles, according to a video posted online.

That incident threatened to derail the evacuations, the result of intense negotiations between Russia - Assad's main supporter - and Turkey, which backs some large rebel groups.

The foreign ministers of Russia, Iran and Turkey will hold talks in Moscow on Tuesday aimed at giving fresh impetus for a solution in Aleppo.

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Inside destruction and fighting in Aleppo, Syria
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Inside destruction and fighting in Aleppo, Syria
A young Syrian boy cries as he sits on the rubble after a missile fired by Syrian government forces hit a residential area in the Maghayir district in the old quarter of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on July 21, 2015. According to the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights more than 35 homes were destroyed in the attack killing at least 18 civilians, adding that the death toll was likely to rise. AFP PHOTO / KARAM AL-MASRI (Photo credit should read KARAM AL-MASRI/AFP/Getty Images)
Syrians carry a body on a stretcher over the rubble after a missile fired by Syrian government forces hit a residential area in the Maghayir district in the old quarter of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on July 21, 2015. According to the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights more than 35 homes were destroyed in the attack killing at least 18 civilians, adding that the death toll was likely to rise. AFP PHOTO / KARAM AL-MASRI (Photo credit should read KARAM AL-MASRI/AFP/Getty Images)
People walk past a damaged building in the al-Kalasa neighbourhood of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on July 19, 2015. AFP PHOTO / AMC / KHALED KHATEB (Photo credit should read KHALED KHATEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Syrians stand on the rubble of a destroyed building following a reportedly barrel bomb attack by Syrian government forces in an rebel-held area in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on July 8, 2015. More than 230,000 people have been killed in Syria since the country's conflict began in March 2011 . AFP PHOTO / AMC / ZEIN AL-RIFAI (Photo credit should read ZEIN AL-RIFAI/AFP/Getty Images)
A Syrian man carries the body of a child wrapped in a cloth after its been removed from under the rubble of destroyed buildings following reported airstrikes by government forces on the rebel-controlled part of Aleppo's Maadi residential district, on June 21, 2015. AFP PHOTO / KARAM AL-MASRI (Photo credit should read KARAM AL-MASRI/AFP/Getty Images)
A member of the Syrian Red Crescent rests at the Garage al-Hajz crossing in the rebel-held neighbourhood of Bustan al-Qasr district in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo ahead of a reported exchange operation between the Syrian regime and rebel group fighters on June 11, 2015. Arabic writting on the wall reads' Free Masons are those who stand behind Bashar [al-Assad]'.AFP PHOTO / KARAM AL-MASRI (Photo credit should read KARAM AL-MASRI/AFP/Getty Images)
Smoke rises from buildings in the area of Tal Sharba following government air strikes on the outskirts of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on December 27, 2015, as government forces seized the area from Islamic State (IS) group jihadists. AFP PHOTO / GEORGE OURFALIAN / AFP / GEORGE OURFALIAN (Photo credit should read GEORGE OURFALIAN/AFP/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - DECEMBER 25: A man runs away as flames rise after the war crafts belonging to the Russian army carried out airstrikes on two hospital in the Azaz town of Aleppo, Syria on December 25, 2015. (Photo by IHH/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - OCTOBER 13 : Wreckage of buildings are seen after Russian war crafts hit the Syrian opposition controlled town Hayan in Aleppo, Syria on October 13, 2015. (Photo by Ahmed Hasan Ubeyd/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - OCTOBER 13: A view of the attack site after Russian war crafts hit the Syrian opposition controlled town Daret Ezza in Aleppo, Syria on October 13, 2015. (Photo by Mamun Abu Omer/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - MAY 14 : Smoke rises after US-led coalition forces hit Daesh targets in northern Aleppo, Syria on May 14, 2015. (Photo by Huseyin Nasir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - MAY 12: Members of al-Shamiyya Front fire artillery as they attack the western side of Sehba Dam which is under control of Daesh in northern Aleppo, Syria on May 12, 2015. (Photo by Huseyin Nasir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - MAY 12: Members of al-Shamiyya Front are seen before they attack the western side of Sehba Dam which is under control of Daesh in northern Aleppo, Syria on May 12, 2015. (Photo by Salih Mahmud Leyla/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - AUGUST 09: Smoke rises after Russian forces airstrike over opposition controlled cement plant located in southeast of Aleppo, Syria on August 09, 2016. (Photo by Beha El Halebi/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - AUGUST 08: Members of the Syrian oppositions launch rocket attack to military headquarters at Assad Regime controlled Hamdaniya district of Aleppo, Syria on August 8, 2016. (Photo by Beha El Halebi/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - JULY 26 : Syrians inspect the damage after Asad Regime forces' attack on opposition controlled Meshed region in Aleppo, Syria on July 26, 2016. (Photo by Mustafa Sultan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - JULY 17: Smoke rises after an ammunition depot belongs to Assad Regime forces, exploded due to an unknown reason at Sufayra district of Aleppo, Syria on July 17, 2016. (Photo by Muhammed Kurab/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
People walk past a damaged barbershop in a government-controlled district of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on May 21, 2016. In Syrias second city Aleppo, war-weary residents have replaced their fragile glass windows with nylon plastic. Because of the clashes, shelling and the sharp increase in the price of glass, residents across divided Aleppo no longer use glass. A square meter of glass costs 3,300 Syrian pounds now -- compared to 425 before the war began. But a meter of nylon plastic costs a maximum of 500 Syrian pounds. / AFP / GEORGE OURFALIAN / TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY KARAM AL-MASRI AND AHMAD ABOUZEID (Photo credit should read GEORGE OURFALIAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Orphans children in a shelter in the city of Aleppo. Syria. (Photo by Eduardo Martins/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - APRIL 5 : Wreckage of a Syrian Regime Forces' warplane is seen after it has been shot down by the opposition forces in Aleppo's Ays district, Syria on April 5, 2016. (Photo by Firas Faham/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - APRIL 3: Smoke rises as the war-crafts belonging to the US-led coalition forces carry out airstrikes on Daesh terrorist organization's positions near the Tat village in Aleppo, Syria after Syrian opponents took control of three villages on April 3, 2016. (Photo by Huseyin Nasr/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
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"It is not a miracle meeting but will give all sides a chance to listen to each other," an official from Turkey's foreign ministry said.

At stake is the fate of thousands of people still stuck in the last rebel bastion in Aleppo after a series of sudden advances by the Syrian army and allied Shi'ite militias under an intense bombardment that pulverized large sections of the city.

"JUST WANT TO ESCAPE"

They have been waiting for the chance to leave Aleppo since the ceasefire and evacuation deal was agreed late last Tuesday, but have struggled to do so during days of hold-ups. The weather in Aleppo has been wet and very cold and there is little shelter and few services in the tiny rebel zone.

In the square in Aleppo's Sukari district, organizers gave every family a number to allow them access to buses.

"Everyone is waiting until they are evacuated. They just want to escape," said Salah al Attar, a former teacher with his five children, wife and mother.

Thousands of people were evacuated on Thursday, the first to leave under the ceasefire deal that ends fighting in the city where violence erupted in 2012, a year after the start of conflict in other parts of Syria.

They were taken to rebel-held districts of the countryside west of Aleppo. Turkey has said Aleppo evacuees could also be housed in a camp to be constructed in Syria near the Turkish border to the north.

For four years the city was split between a rebel-held eastern sector and the government-held western districts. During the summer, the army and its allies managed to besiege the rebel sector before using intense bombardment and ground assaults to retake it in recent months.

A Reuters reporter who visited recaptured districts of Aleppo in recent days saw large swathes reduced to ruins, with rubble and other debris clogging the streets and sections of the famous Old City all but destroyed.

Assad is backed in the war by Russian air power and Shi'ite militias including Lebanon's Hezbollah movement and Iraq's Harakat al-Nujaba. The mostly Sunni rebels include groups supported by Turkey, the United States and Gulf monarchies.

East of Aleppo, several villages held by Islamic State have been captured by the Syrian Democratic Forces, a coalition of militias backed by the United States that includes a strong Kurdish contingent, the Observatory said.

The advance is part of a campaign backed by an international coalition to drive Islamic State from its Syrian capital of Raqqa.

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Moments of childhood fun in war-torn Syria
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Moments of childhood fun in war-torn Syria
Children play with water from a burst water pipe at a site hit yesterday by an air strike in Aleppo's rebel-controlled al-Mashad neighbourhood, Syria, September 30, 2016. REUTERS/Abdalrhman Ismail
Children ride in carts on the third day of Eid al-Adha in the rebel controlled city of Idlib, Syria September 14, 2016. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah 
A boy inflates a balloon along a street on the first day of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan, in the rebel held Douma neighborhood of Damascus, Syria July 6, 2016. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh. 
Youths play soccer on a street in Manbij, in Aleppo Governorate, Syria, August 9, 2016. REUTERS/Rodi Said
A boy carries fish in a bag along a street in the rebel held Douma neighborhood of Damascus, Syria March 26, 2016. Picture taken March 26, 2016. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh
Boys swim to cool down from heat inside a swimming pool, in the rebel held besieged town of Douma, eastern Damascus suburb of Ghouta, Syria, June 23, 2016. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh
A boy sits on a bicycle in front of damaged shops after an airstrike on the rebel held al-Qaterji neighbourhood of Aleppo, Syria September 25, 2016. REUTERS/Abdalrhman Ismail
Boys play with toy guns on the first day of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan, in a rebel-held area of Aleppo, Syria, July 17, 2015. REUTERS/Abdalrhman Ismail
Boys on bicycles gather in the rebel held area of Aleppo's al-Shaar district, Syria, June 27, 2016. Picture taken June 27, 2016. REUTERS/Abdalrhman Ismail
A girl pours water over a dog to cool it down, in the rebel held besieged town of Douma, eastern Damascus suburb of Ghouta, Syria, June 23, 2016. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh
Students form a circle as they play during a celebration marking the end of the school year, at 'Syria, The Hope' school on the outskirts of the rebel-controlled area of Maaret al-Numan town, in Idlib province, Syria June 1, 2016. The school is partially occupied and it teaches students until fourth grade. The building that is heavily damaged was used by government forces as a base before the rebel fighters took control of the area. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi 
Children play in the Douma neighborhood of Damascus, Syria November 26, 2015. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh 
A boy rides on a tricycle along a damaged street in the besieged area of Homs, January 1, 2014. Picture taken January 1, 2014. REUTERS/Yazan Homsy
Children play table football on the last day of Eid al-Adha celebrations in the rebel held besieged town of Hamouriyeh, eastern Ghouta, near Damascus, Syria September 15, 2016. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh
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