Rebels to evacuate final few blocks in surrender deal as fighting ends; government control restored to what was once country’s largest city
Syrian rebels reached a cease-fire deal to evacuate from eastern Aleppo in an effective surrender Tuesday, as Russia declared all military action had stopped and the Syrian government had assumed control of the former rebel enclave.
The dramatic developments, which appeared to restore the remainder of what was once Syria’s largest city to President Bashar Assad’s forces after months of heavy fighting and a crippling siege, followed reports of mass killings by government forces closing in on the final few blocks still held by the rebels.
Damascus confirmed the evacuation deal, and the U.N. envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, called for immediate access to the former rebel enclave to confirm the end of military operations and to oversee the safe departure of tens of thousands of civilians and opposition fighters. He was at the Security Council, where an emergency meeting for Aleppo was underway.
Russia’s U.N. ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, took to the floor near the end of the session at the Security Council to announce fighting had ended.
“According to the latest information that we received ... military actions in eastern Aleppo are over,” Churkin said. “The Syrian government has re-established control over eastern Aleppo.”
Minutes earlier, he had announced that “all militants” and members of their families, as well as those wounded in the fighting, were being evacuated through “agreed corridors in directions that they have chosen voluntarily,” including the rebel stronghold of Idlib province.
As word spread of the deal, celebrations broke out in the government-controlled western sector of Aleppo, with convoys of cars driving around honking their horns and waving Syrian flags from the windows.
Retaking Aleppo, which has been split between rebel and government control since 2012, would be Assad’s biggest victory yet in the civil war. Aleppo, the country’s former commercial powerhouse, has long been regarded as a major gateway between Turkey and Syria and the biggest prize in the conflict.
The agreement Tuesday came after world leaders and aid agencies issued dramatic appeals on behalf of trapped residents, and the U.N. human rights office said that pro-government forces reportedly killed 82 civilians as they closed in on the last remaining rebel areas.
That and other reports of mass killings, which could not be independently confirmed, reinforced fears of atrocities in the final hours of the battle for the city.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the emergency meeting he had received “credible reports” of civilians killed by intense bombing and summary executions by pro-government forces.
“To the Assad regime, Russia and Iran — three member states behind the conquest of and carnage in Aleppo — you bear responsibility for these atrocities,” said U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power.
Several residents and opposition activists said government forces carried out summary killings of rebels in neighborhoods captured Monday, but the Syrian military denied the claim, saying such allegations were “a desperate attempt” to gain international sympathy.
None of the residents witnessed the alleged killings, and the reports came amid deepening chaos in the remaining rebelheld areas. Mohammed Abu Rajab, the administrator of the last remaining clinic in rebel-held parts of the city, said the dead and wounded were being left in the streets.
Bashar al-Ja’afari, Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations, denied any mass executions or revenge attacks, but he added it was Syria’s “constitutional right” to go after “terrorists,” a reference to all opposition fighters.
“Aleppo has been liberated from terrorists and those who toyed with terrorism,” he said. “Aleppo has returned to the nation.”
Syrian residents, fleeing violence in the Bustan al-Qasr neighborhood, arrive in Aleppo’s Fardos neighborhood Tuesday after regime troops retook the area from rebel fighters.