World

Battle for Aleppo has ended in 'uncompromising military victory': UN

Rebel resistance in the Syrian city of Aleppo ended on Tuesday after years of fighting and months of bitter siege and bombardment that culminated in a bloody retreat, as insurgents agreed to withdraw in a ceasefire.

War far from over as insurgents retain major strongholds elsewhere in Syria

Supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad celebrate in the streets of Aleppo after insurgents agreed to withdraw in a ceasefire. The retreat follows years of fighting and months of bitter siege and bombardment. (Omar Sanadiki/Reuters)

Rebel resistance in the Syrian city of Aleppo ended on Tuesday after years of fighting and months of bitter siege and bombardment that culminated in a bloody retreat, as insurgents agreed to withdraw in a ceasefire.

The battle of Aleppo, one of the worst of a civil war that has drawn in global and regional powers, has ended with victory for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his military coalition of Russia, Iran and regional Shia militias.

For rebels, their expected departure with light weapons starting on Wednesday morning for opposition-held regions west of the city is a crushing blow to their hopes of ousting Assad after revolting against him during the 2011 Arab uprisings. 

However, the war will still be far from over, with insurgents retaining major strongholds elsewhere in Syria, and the jihadist ISIS group holding swathes of the east and recapturing the ancient city of Palmyra this week.

A member of forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad attempts to erect the Syrian national flag inside the Umayyad mosque in the government-controlled area of Aleppo on Tuesday. The city's rebels are withdrawing after a years-long battle for the war-torn city. (Omar Sanadiki/Reuters)

"Over the last hour, we have received information that the military activities in east Aleppo have stopped, it has stopped," Russian United Nations Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told a heated UN Security Council meeting.

"The Syrian government has established control over east Aleppo."

Rebel officials said fighting would end on Tuesday evening and a source in the pro-Assad military alliance said the evacuation of fighters would begin at around dawn on Wednesday. A Reuters reporter in Aleppo said late on Tuesday that the booms of the bombardment could no longer be heard.

Fighters and their families, along with civilians who have thrown in their lot with the rebels, will have until Wednesday evening to quit the city, a Turkish government source said on Tuesday.

The ceasefire was negotiated by Turkey and Russia, without U.S. involvement.

People carried their belongings as they fled deeper into the remaining rebel-held areas of Aleppo earlier on Wednesday. The Arabic words read, 'No to monopolizing commodities and raising prices under the siege.' (Abdalrhman Ismail/Reuters)

A commander with the Jabha Shamiya rebel group said that Aleppo was a moral victory for the insurgents.

"We were steadfast ... but unfortunately nobody stood with us at all," the commander, who declined to be identified, told Reuters.

'A total uncompromising military victory'

The plight of civilians has caused global outrage in the wake of a sudden series of advances by the Syrian army and its allies across the rebel enclave over the past two weeks.

"We appear to be witnessing nothing less than ... a total uncompromising military victory," UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the Security Council on Tuesday.

The rout of rebels from their ever-shrinking territory in Aleppo sparked a mass flight of terrified civilians and insurgents in bitter weather, a crisis the United Nations said was a "complete meltdown of humanity."

There were food and water shortages in rebel areas with all hospitals closed.

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," UN spokesman Rupert Colville said. "There could be many more."

Aleppo will join the ranks of those events in world history that define modern evil, that stain our conscience decades later.- U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power.

"They have gone from siege to slaughter," British UN Ambassador Matthew Rycroft said.

U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power 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."

The Syrian army has denied carrying out killings or torture among those captured, and its main ally Russia said on Tuesday rebels had "kept over 100,000 people in east Aleppo as human shields."

Fear of arrest, execution among survivors 

An official with an Aleppo rebel group said the bulk of about 50,000 people was expected to be evacuated.

Fear stalked the city's streets. Some survivors trudged in the rain past dead bodies to the government-held west or the few districts still in rebel hands. Others stayed in their homes and awaited the Syrian army's arrival.

For all of them, fear of arrest, conscription or summary execution added to the daily terror of bombardment.

A wounded Syrian is moved after being rescued from under the rubble of a collapsed building in Aleppo in July. Rebel defences in the city collapsed on Monday, leading to a broad advance by the Syrian army across the remaining insurgent territory. (Thaer Mohammed/AFP/Getty Images)

"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.

Refugees fleeing en masse

State television broadcast footage of a tide of hundreds of refugees walking along a ravaged street, wearing thick clothes against the rain and cold, many with hoods or hats pulled tight around their faces, and hauling sacks or bags of belongings. 

Thousands of Syrians flee in search of safety

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Duration 0:55
Syrian civilians and insurgents flee in bitter weather amid what the UN calls a "complete meltdown of humanity" 0:55

At the same time, a correspondent from a pro-Damascus television station spoke to camera from a part of Aleppo held by the government, standing in a tidy street with flowing traffic. In some recaptured areas, people were returning to their shattered homes.

A woman in her sixties, who identified herself as Umm Ali, or "Ali's mother," said that she, her husband and her disabled daughter had no water. They were looking after the orphaned children of another daughter killed in the bombing, she said, and were reduced to putting pots and pans in the street to collect rainwater.

"The crushing of Aleppo, the immeasurably terrifying toll on its people, the bloodshed, the wanton slaughter of men, women and children, the destruction — and we are nowhere near the end of this cruel conflict," UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein said in a statement.

Fleeing Syrian men separated from women in government-controlled territory

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UN received reports about civilians being killed by Syrian government troops 0:20

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