Europe

US supports French proposal for independent Aleppo monitors

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power speaks during a press briefing on Syria, during a break in closed meetings of the Security Council, Friday Dec. 16, 2016 at U.N. headquarters. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power speaks during a press briefing on Syria, during a break in closed meetings of the Security Council, Friday Dec. 16, 2016 at U.N. headquarters. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)  (The Associated Press)

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations said Friday she favors a French-drafted U.N. resolution calling for independent international monitors to oversee the evacuation of civilians and rebel fighters from war-torn Aleppo. But Russia's ambassador was not as quick to embrace the plan, saying "it takes weeks to deploy observers."

The comments by Samantha Power and Vitaly Churkin to reporters came after a closed-door Security Council meeting called by France on the Syrian government takeover of eastern Aleppo, which had been a rebel stronghold in the civil war since 2012.

Power said the council could vote this weekend on the resolution, but an emergency special session of the General Assembly is possible if the council reaches a stalemate.

"The least that Russia can do is ensure that monitors are there," Power said. "Surely that is not too much to ask."

Churkin, whose country has been an ally of Syrian president Bashar Assad in his war against opposition fighters, opposed that idea of a General Assembly emergency session, saying he didn't see "what useful purpose" it would serve. He said the most urgent task in Syria now is to end all military activities and resume negotiations between the government and opposition.

The Russian ambassador told the Security Council during an open meeting on Middle East affairs earlier Friday that "Damascus has more than once confirmed its readiness to take part in these negotiations."

Evacuations from eastern Aleppo sealed the end of the Syrian rebels' most important stronghold and marked a watershed moment in the country's civil war, now in its sixth year.

An overnight evacuation effort stalled after an eruption of gunfire raised fears that a peaceful surrender of the opposition enclave could fall apart with thousands of people believed to be still inside.

Earlier, outgoing Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the U.N. stands ready to help rescue as many people as possible — even as the overnight rescue operation had to be suspended.

Speaking to reporters during his final news conference at U.N. headquarters, Ban called the war in Syria "heart-breaking for me." He said thousands of people had been evacuated from eastern Aleppo overnight with the help of U.N. agencies, the Red Cross and the Red Crescent, including 194 patients who were moved into hospitals in other parts of Syria and Turkey.

"I feel very much regret we had to stop this operation at this time," he said.

Power said humanitarian affairs chief Stephen O'Brien addressed the Security Council during its closed meeting and he described a nightmarish situation on the ground in eastern Aleppo.

"People are freezing, hungry and still being bombarded," she said. She said a cease-fire needed to be "up and running again."

New Zealand Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully told Security Council members that the council has so far been unable to meet its responsibilities of removing civilians and providing humanitarian aid to the city.

"Unless that is going to change, it is our view that an emergency special session of the General Assembly is an appropriate next step," he said.