Army takes control of Aleppo after evacuations end
AFP photoThe Syrian army has retaken full control of the devastated city of Aleppo, it said Dec. 22, after the evacuations of rebels, their families and civilians ended on the same day, thus scoring the Syrian regime its biggest victory against opposition forces since the civil war erupted in 2011.
The announcement came after a landmark evacuation deal that ended a ferocious month-long offensive waged on east Aleppo by government forces and allied militia.
The operation ended a battle that lasted nearly four and a half years, and transformed the city into a worldwide symbol of bloodshed and devastation.
Thousands of inhabitants in the western part of the city - which had remained under the regime’s control throughout the conflict - took to the streets, chanting slogans and shouting their jubilation despite extreme cold.
Cars crawled along, their drivers sounding their horns, and in city squares, children had the colors of the Syrian flag painted on their cheeks.
“Our joy is immense. Life returned to Aleppo today,” said lawyer Omar Halli, who predicted “victory over all of Syria”.
An army statement said the general command “announces the return of security to Aleppo after its release from terrorism and terrorists, and the departure of those who stayed there.”
The army announcement 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.
Ingy Sedky, the spokeswoman in Syria for the International Committee of the Red Cross, said about 34,000 people had left rebel areas of Aleppo under the evacuation plan.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Dec. 23 that the recapture of Aleppo was a “very important” step towards stabilizing the war-torn country.
“The liberation of Aleppo from radical elements is a very important part of the normalization in Syria, and I hope, for the region overall,” Putin told Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu in a meeting, the Kremlin said.
“Everything needs to be done for fighting to stop on all Syrian territory,” Putin said.
“In any case, we will strive toward this.”
Putin said during his annual press conference Dec. 23 that he hoped that fresh peace talks could get all sides in the conflict to agree to a nationwide cease-fire.
“The next step must be the conclusion of a ceasefire agreement on all of Syria’s territory,” he said.
Meanwhile, Russia sent a battalion of military police to keep order in Aleppo, Shoigu said Dec. 23.
“We sent in a battalion of military police yesterday evening to maintain order in the liberated territories,” Shoigu told Putin.
A Russian battalion normally numbers between 300 and 400 soldiers.
The Syrian army’s recapture of Aleppo has put an end to hopes that President Bashar al-Assad’s regime could be ousted, the head of Lebanon’s powerful Shiite movement Hezbollah said Dec. 23.
“After Aleppo, one can comfortably say that the goal of regime downfall has failed,” Hassan Nasrallah, whose Shiite party has fought alongside Assad’s forces since 2013, said in a televised address.
“Because the regime has Damascus and Aleppo - the two biggest cities in Syria - and Homs, Hama, Latakia, Tartus, Sweida... this regime is present, strong, effective, and no one in the world can ignore it,” Nasrallah said.
Syrian rebels shelled Aleppo on Friday, killing three people, state television reported, a day after insurgents finished withdrawing from their last pocket of territory in the city.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based war monitor, said about 10 shells had fallen in al-Hamdaniya district in southwest Aleppo.