U.N. Security Council to vote Sunday on Aleppo evacuation monitors

By Michelle Nichols UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations Security Council is due to vote Sunday on a French-drafted resolution aimed at ensuring that U.N. officials can monitor evacuations from besieged parts of the Syrian city of Aleppo and the protection of civilians who remain. The draft text, seen by Reuters on Saturday, also "emphasizes that the evacuations of civilians must be voluntary and to final destinations of their choice, and protection must be provided to all civilians who choose or who have been forced to be evacuated and those who opt to remain in their homes." A vote has been scheduled for Sunday morning, diplomats said. The evacuation of rebel-held areas of east Aleppo 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. It was not immediately clear how Russia would vote on the French drafted U.N. resolution. Before the draft was circulated to the council, Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said on Friday: "If it is a sensible initiative and we see it on paper, why not entertain this initiative?" Russia, an ally of Damascus that has provided military backing to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's troops, has vetoed six Security Council resolutions on Syria since the conflict started in 2011. China joined Moscow in vetoing five resolutions. The draft resolution asks U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to "redeploy the United Nations humanitarian staff already on the ground to carry out adequate, neutral monitoring, direct observation and to report on evacuations from besieged parts of Aleppo and protection of civilians inside Aleppo." It asks Ban to deploy further staff if needed and demands that all parties provide the monitors with safe, immediate and unimpeded access. The draft also "demands that all parties allow complete, immediate, unconditional, safe and unhindered access for the United Nations and its implementing partners" through the most direct route throughout Syria. It asks the U.N. secretary-general to report back to the council on implementation of the resolution within five days of adoption. 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 G Crosse)