The battle of Aleppo ended on Tuesday as the rebel resistance broke after years of fighting and months of bitter siege and bombardment. Assad regime with the help of his allies was able to force control over the city again, while the opposition’s backers left it to its unknown fate.
The Assad regime forces, backed by Russian air power, Iranian ground forces and Shi’ite militia fighters from Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon, has been tightening its grip on rebel-held districts of Aleppo since the start of this year.
They have gradually closed in on eastern Aleppo this year, first cutting the most direct lifeline to Turkey before fully encircling the east, and launching a major assault in September that killed hundreds of civilians but was blocked by the rebels.
On November 15, the regime started a wide military operation to force control again over the rebel-held areas and were able to retrieve 85% of the region.
Civilians were directly affected by the operations as more than 1500 civilians died since September. Helicopters continue extensively dropping barrel bombs in conjunction with airstrikes by warplanes on areas in the eastern neighborhoods of the city, accompanied by artillery shelling.
Assad regime bombardment targeted the vital point in Aleppo, the hospitals, and civil defense centers. After heavy bombardment no hospitals were left in eastern Aleppo, adding a new suffer and making the victims’ numbers increase.
The complete absence of medical care, starvation forced by the siege and daily bombardment led hundreds of civilians to slow tragic death. The global powers condemned the offensive and asked to stop it, while not mentioning any real steps their countries are willing to do to make this happen.
On Monday sources said that rebels’ losses continued and the regime controlled over 95% of the eastern parts, to announce on Tuesday the surrender of rebels and their withdrawal in a ceasefire agreement.
Ceasefire “surrender” agreement ends the battle
The ceasefire agreement was a result of talks between Russia, Assad’s main ally, and Turkey, a leading backer of the rebels, a Turkish government official said. The guns fell silent late on Tuesday in Aleppo. A Reuters reporter in the city said no blasts had been heard after days of near constant bombardment.
By taking full control of Aleppo, Assad has proved the power of his military coalition, aided by Russia’s air force and an array of Shi’ite militias backed by Iran after his rule was close to ending after major losses in 2015.
“Over the last hour we have received information that the military activities in east Aleppo have stopped, it has stopped,” said Russia’s U.N. envoy Vitaly Churkin late on Tuesday at a heated meeting of the U.N. Security Council.
“The Syrian government has established control over east Aleppo,” he added.
“An agreement has been reached for the evacuation of the residents of Aleppo, civilians and fighters with their light weapons, from the besieged districts of east Aleppo,” Yasser al-Youssef, from the political office of the Nureddin al-Zinki rebel group, told AFP news agency.
He said the deal was “sponsored by Russia and Turkey” and would be implemented “within hours”.
A Syrian military source confirmed the deal to Reuters news agency and said evacuations would begin at 5am local time [03:00 GMT] on Wednesday.
“This deal will allow the evacuation of civilians and armed opposition,” a journalist said.
“It will see the first group of civilians leave Aleppo as early as tonight; the armed opposition will be allowed to leave with light weaponry, and evacuees will be moved to Aleppo’s western and northern countryside.”
— Ahmad Alkhatib (@AhmadAlkhtiib) December 13, 2016
50,000 to be evacuated
Tens of thousands of civilians have fled to government-held western Aleppo since the offensive began last month. But tens of thousands was trapped in the ever-shrinking eastern enclave, and most of them will be evacuated.
An official with an Aleppo rebel group said the bulk of about 50,000 people was expected to be evacuated.
What is left of Aleppo is a wasteland of flattened buildings, concrete rubble and bullet-pocked walls, where tens of thousands had lived until recent days under intense bombardment even after medical and rescue services had collapsed.
— Ahmad Alkhatib (@AhmadAlkhtiib) December 13, 2016
The civilians in Aleppo lived through all kinds of fear in the past days. Fear of death in the hell their neighborhoods were turned into, fear of being arrested and tortured after fleeing to the regime-controlled areas, and at last the fear of being raped or executed by Assad regime and his allied militias after rebels’ withdrawal.
After their escape, the men were abducted by Assad regime and moved to unknown areas.
Residents in Aleppo said that government forces summarily executed dozens of people over alleged connections to rebel fighters after retaking the old city.
“People are saying the troops have lists of families of fighters and are asking them if they had sons with the terrorists. (They are) then either left or shot and left to die,” said Abu Malek al-Shamali in Seif al-Dawla, one of the last rebel-held districts.
The United Nations earlier on Tuesday voiced deep concern about reports it had received of Syrian soldiers and allied Iraqi fighters summarily shooting dead 82 people in recaptured east Aleppo districts. It accused them of “slaughter”
“The reports we had are of people being shot in the street trying to flee and shot in their homes,” said Rupert Colville, a U.N. spokesman. “There could be many more.”
“They have gone from siege to slaughter,” British U.N. ambassador Matthew Rycroft said. “Aleppo will join the ranks of those events in world history that define modern evil, that stain our conscience decades later – Halabja, Rwanda, Srebrenica and now Aleppo,” said U.S. ambassador Samantha Power.
— The White Helmets (@SyriaCivilDef) December 14, 2016
— Human Rights Watch (@hrw) December 13, 2016
Capturing eastern Aleppo is the biggest victory for Assad regime since the start of the revolution against him in 2011, restoring his control over the whole city apart from a Kurdish-held area that has not fought against him.
It is a victory for his allies, Russia and Iran, which have outmaneuvered the West and Assad’s regional enemies through direct military intervention.
For Assad regime, taking back Aleppo will help its forces focus on ending the remaining rebels-held areas. These areas include the rebels’ stronghold in Idlib in addition to isolated areas in rural Damascus, Homs, and Hama.
These areas have been under daily bombardment and crippling siege for years. The Old city of Homs and parts of rural Damascus has already been lost to Assad regime, and the remaining areas are expected to follow.
As a conclusion, defeating the rebels and retrieving Aleppo means destroying the last major resistance stronghold of the Syrian rebels and will lead eventually to the victory of Assad regime and ending the Syrian revolution.
The fate of rebel-held Aleppo spells the abject failure of the west’s contradictory and piecemeal policies. It is a humiliation for the UN. Its fall will be an unequivocal victory for Russian strategy, and the shameful and humiliating defeat for all those who said they stand with the civilians and left them to face annihilation including US, Turkey and all Arab states.
Aleppo will join an infamous list of cities whose names are synonymous with mass crimes committed while the world looked impotently on: Srebrenica, Grozny, even Guernica.
In this moment we serve as a reminder that humanity will always prevail and defy dictatorship. We will not kneel. #saveAleppo
— The White Helmets (@SyriaCivilDef) December 13, 2016