Syria army and civil­ians re­claim Aleppo streets

The goal of regime down­fall failed: Nasar­al­lah

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

ALEPPO:

Syr­ian troops ce­mented their hold on Aleppo yesterday af­ter re­tak­ing full con­trol of the city, as res­i­dents anx­ious to re­turn to their homes moved through its ru­ined streets. The army an­nounced on Thurs­day it had re­cap­tured the for­mer rebel strong­hold of east Aleppo fol­low­ing a land­mark evac­u­a­tion deal that saw thou­sands of op­po­si­tion fight­ers and res­i­dents bussed out.

It was the big­gest vic­tory for Pres­i­dent Bashar al-As­sad’s forces in nearly six years of civil war and a ma­jor win for his for­eign back­ers, with key ally Rus­sia hail­ing the re­cap­ture as “very im­por­tant” step.

Brav­ing the cold, war-weary res­i­dents crossed dis­tricts that had be­come in­fa­mous front lines, ea­ger to re­turn to neigh­bour­hoods they had not seen in years. An AFP correspondent saw civil­ians wrapped in coats trekking through the cold, some rolling their be­long­ings on wheel­bar­rows.

“I came to check on my house, which I haven’t seen in five years,” res­i­dent Khaled Al-Masri said. “I re­ally hope my home wasn’t badly dam­aged.” The evac­u­a­tion op­er­a­tion ended more than four years of fe­ro­cious fight­ing inside Aleppo, which had been di­vided be­tween gov­ern­ment forces in the west and rebels in the east.

Op­po­si­tion forces re­main in con­trol of ar­eas west of Aleppo and yesterday at least two civil­ians were killed in the first wave of rebel rocket fire on the city since it fell un­der gov­ern­ment con­trol, the Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights said.

‘Noth­ing left’

Seven civil­ians were also wounded in the fire on the Al-Ham­daniyeh district, the Bri­tain-based mon­i­tor said, while state news agency SANA re­ported three killed. The evac­u­a­tion agree­ment was bro­kered by rebel backer Turkey and regime sup­porter Rus­sia, which said it would strive to end fight­ing across Syria.

“The lib­er­a­tion of Aleppo from rad­i­cal elements is a very im­por­tant part of the nor­mal­i­sa­tion in Syria, and I hope, for the re­gion over­all,” Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin said. “Ev­ery­thing needs to be done for fight­ing to stop on all Syr­ian ter­ri­tory,” Putin said. “In any case, we will strive to­ward this.”

The Krem­lin also an­nounced that Putin had signed an or­der to ex­pand Rus­sia’s naval fa­cil­ity in the Syr­ian city of Tar­tus, and that it had dis­patched mil­i­tary po­lice to newly ac­quired ter­ri­tory in Aleppo. “We sent in a bat­tal­ion of mil­i­tary po­lice yesterday evening to main­tain or­der in the lib­er­ated ter­ri­to­ries,” De­fence Min­is­ter Sergei Shoigu told Putin. Yesterday morn­ing, gov­ern­ment fight­ers moved into An­sari, AlMash­had, and other neigh­bour­hoods they had not en­tered since mid-2012. They searched for im­pro­vised ex­plo­sive de­vices and mines, clearing build­ings in an­tic­i­pa­tion of civil­ians re­turn­ing, the Ob­ser­va­tory said.

As they fin­ished sweep­ing through the main streets, sol­diers moved into the smaller al­ley­ways to check for bombs, an AFP correspondent in one district said. In Bus­tan Al-Qasr, a heav­ily dam­aged neigh­bour­hood near Aleppo’s famed old city, small bull­doz­ers re­moved rub­ble from the streets.

As the army moved through AlMyas­sar district, Umm Abdo, 42, said she had found her for­mer home but it had been de­stroyed. “There’s noth­ing left... but houses can be re­built,” she said. Syria’s war trans­formed Aleppo from the coun­try’s in­dus­trial hub to a world­wide sym­bol of blood­shed and dev­as­ta­tion.

The army’s state­ment on Thurs­day an­nounced “the re­turn of se­cu­rity to Aleppo af­ter its re­lease from ter­ror­ism and ter­ror­ists, and the de­par­ture of those who stayed there”.

‘Tough­est bat­tles’

It came af­ter state tele­vi­sion said the last con­voy of four buses car­ry­ing rebels and civil­ians had left east Aleppo and ar­rived in the gov­ern­ment-con­trolled Ra­mussa district south of the city.

The evac­u­a­tion deal, over­seen by the In­ter­na­tional Com­mit­tee of the Red Cross and the Syr­ian Red Cres­cent, put an end to a month-long of­fen­sive waged on Aleppo’s east by pro-gov­ern­ment forces.

The as­sault was backed by pro-gov­ern­ment mili­tia, in­clud­ing pow­er­ful Le­banese Shi­ite move­ment Hezbol­lah. In a tele­vised speech yesterday, Hezbol­lah head Has­san Nas­ral­lah said the army’s win in Aleppo put an end to any hopes As­sad’s regime would col­lapse. “Af­ter Aleppo, one can com­fort­ably say that the goal of regime down­fall has failed,” Nas­ral­lah said. He de­scribed the fight for Aleppo as “one of the tough­est bat­tles that the re­gion has seen in years.” — AFP

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