Aleppo offensive is over: Russian envoy to UN

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BEIRUT–Russia declared on Tuesday that the four-year battle over Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, was over, as the last remaining rebel fighters agreed to turn over their territory to the Syrian government.

“Over the last hour we have received information that the military activities in east Aleppo have stopped, it has stopped,” said Russia’s UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin during a UN Security Council meeting.

“The Syrian government has established control over east Aleppo, so the stage of practical humanitarian actions begins,” he added. He noted that the militants within the city will start to leave “within hours” and that there is no need for civilians to leave their homes.

“This very difficult chapter related to the situation in eastern Aleppo has ended,” he said. “Let’s hope that this, indeed, will be a pre-condition for establishing the political efforts, re-launching of negotiations,” he added.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon hailed the event, noting that the global body fully supports such efforts and stands ready to oversee an agreement.

“We remind all parties of their obligations under international humanitarian law: to prioritize the safe passage of civilians out of eastern Aleppo and to ensure that those who have surrendered or been captured are treated humanely and in line with international law,” he added.  

Syria rejects targeting Aleppo civilians

During the session — called by the US, France and Britain — Ban said that the Syrian government, Russia and their allies are determined to end the war through a total military victory. However, Churkin dismissed such claims, stressing that they were all “propaganda, disinformation and psychological” warfare.

The US, Britain and France also claimed that the Syrian government targeted civilians in eastern Aleppo, with the US’s UN Ambassador Samantha Power accusing Syrian forces of killing some 80 civilians in Aleppo over the past 24 hours.

Syrian Ambassador to the UN Bashar al-Jaafari denied all the allegations and hailed the liberation of the city. “Aleppo has been liberated from terrorists and those who toyed with terrorism,” he said. “Aleppo has returned to the nation,” he added. 

Wasteland of rubble

A Syrian military source said the evacuation of fighters would start at 5 a.m. (0300 GMT) on Wednesday. The source said fighters’ families would also leave, but did not mention other civilian evacuations.

“We’re going to watch this closely,” U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said. “Obviously if it is true and there has been a ceasefire arrangement reached that not only stops the bombing and the violence but allows people to safely leave Aleppo, we would welcome it.”

Behind those fleeing was 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.

The once-flourishing economic center with its renowned ancient sites has been pulverized during the war which has killed hundreds of thousands of people, created the world’s worst refugee crisis and allowed for the rise of Islamic State.

The U.N.’s Colville said the rebel-held area had become “a hellish corner” of less than a square kilometer. Its capture was imminent, he added.

The Syrian army and its allies could declare victory at any moment, a Syrian military source had said earlier, predicting the final fall of the rebel enclave on Tuesday or Wednesday, after insurgent defenses collapsed on Monday.

 

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