Syria takes full con­trol of war-rav­aged Aleppo af­ter four years.

Marks sig­nif­i­cant vic­tory for As­sad

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY ZEINA KARAM

BEIRUT | The Syr­ian gov­ern­ment took full con­trol of Aleppo on Thurs­day for the first time in four years af­ter the last op­po­si­tion fight­ers and civil­ians were bused out of war-rav­aged east­ern dis­tricts, seal­ing the end of the re­bel­lion’s most im­por­tant strong­hold.

The evac­u­a­tions ended a bru­tal chap­ter in Syria’s nearly six-year civil war, al­low­ing Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad to re­gain full au­thor­ity over the coun­try’s largest city and for­mer com­mer­cial pow­er­house. It marked his most sig­nif­i­cant vic­tory since an up­ris­ing against his fam­ily’s four-decade rule be­gan in 2011.

The an­nounce­ment was made via an army state­ment broad­cast on Syr­ian state TV shortly af­ter the last four buses car­ry­ing fight­ers left through the Ra­mousseh cross­ing.

“Thanks to the blood of our heroic mar­tyrs, the heroic deeds and sac­ri­fices of our armed forces and the al­lied forces, and the stead­fast­ness of our peo­ple, the Gen­eral Command of the Army and the Armed Forces an­nounces the re­turn of se­cu­rity and sta­bil­ity to Aleppo,” an army gen­eral said in the state­ment.

West­ern Aleppo erupted in heavy cel­e­bra­tory gun­fire, with Syr­ian TV show­ing uni­formed soldiers and civil­ians shout­ing “Aleppo, Aleppo!” and “God, Syria and Bashar only!”

“No more east and west, Aleppo is back for all Alep­pans,” said the Syr­ian TV cor­re­spon­dent, sur­rounded by peo­ple wav­ing Syr­ian flags.

For Syria’s op­po­si­tion, it was a crush­ing de­feat that sig­naled the start of a new strug­gle to forge a way for­ward.

Ah­mad al-Khatib, an op­po­si­tion me­dia ac­tivist who left the city be­fore the siege, said the fall of Aleppo was a date “we’ll never for­get and we will never for­give.”

“Let the world bear wit­ness that Bashar As­sad has killed and dis­placed and de­stroyed Aleppo, and he cel­e­brates in his vic­tory over the blood and off­spring of Aleppo … with the agree­ment of the Arab and West­ern na­tions,” he posted on Twit­ter.

The an­cient city had been di­vided into rebel and gov­ern­ment parts since 2012, when rebels from the coun­try­side swept in and took hold of east­ern dis­tricts. That set the stage for more than four years of bru­tal fight­ing and gov­ern­ment bom­bard­ment that laid waste to those neigh­bor­hoods.

The army state­ment said the vic­tory in Aleppo is a “strate­gic trans­for­ma­tion and a turn­ing point in the war on ter­ror­ism and a deadly blow to the ter­ror­ist project and its sup­port­ers.”

It was a fur­ther in­cen­tive to keep fight­ing to “erad­i­cate ter­ror­ism and re­store se­cu­rity and sta­bil­ity to ev­ery span of the home­land,” it added.

Ear­lier in the day, Mr. As­sad said his forces’ achieve­ments in Aleppo are a “ma­jor step on the road to wip­ing out ter­ror­ism” and end­ing the civil war.

The rebel evac­u­a­tions were set in mo­tion af­ter a months-long siege and Russian-backed military cam­paign. Years of re­sis­tance were stamped out in a re­lent­less cam­paign over the past month that saw hos­pi­tals bombed, bod­ies left un­buried and civil­ians killed by shells as they fled for safety.

The cam­paign tar­geted all re­main­ing hos­pi­tals, knock­ing them out of ser­vice. Med­i­cal and food sup­plies ran out and fight­ers were left de­mor­al­ized and aban­doned by their re­gional al­lies.

Un­der a deal bro­kered by Rus­sia and Tur­key, tens of thou­sands of res­i­dents and fight­ers be­gan evac­u­at­ing to op­po­si­tion-con­trolled ar­eas in the sur­round­ing coun­try­side, a process that took a week.

More than 35,000 fight­ers and civil­ians were bused out, ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions.

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