Aleppo rebels surrender in deal to bring carnage to end
ALL day yesterday, White Helmets rescuer Ibrahim Abu al-Leith heard the cries of women and children from under the rubble of their flattened homes, with no one able to reach them.
There were no longer any ambulances, working hospitals or medics in the one-square-mile pocket of east Aleppo to treat them even if they could.
"We hear their moans but we cannot save them because of the constant heavy shelling," said Mr Leith. "The bodies of the dead are filling the streets."
The battle for the Syrian city of Aleppo ended in victory for Bashar al-Assad's government last night after the last-remaining rebels agreed to surrender.
Rebel officials said fighting would end yesterday evening and insurgents and the civilians in east Aleppo would leave the city for opposition-held areas of the countryside to the west.
After months of bombardment, brutal siege and near starvation, they could fight no more. The United Nations described the scenes in Aleppo yesterday as "a complete meltdown of humanity".
In an impossibly small enclave, tens of thousands of tired and hungry residents had been squatting in abandoned and bombed-out buildings as the rain poured down.
One by one, each of our contacts inside Aleppo has gone silent in recent days. Messages to their phones are no longer answered. The hope is that they are safe in regime areas, but many had expressed fears before their disappearance that they would be punished for their rebellion.
Among those is seven-year-old Bana al-Abed and her family, whose fate is unknown. "My name is Bana, I'm 7 years old," her last tweet read yesterday afternoon. "I am talking to the world now live from east Aleppo. This is my last moment to either live or die - Bana."
Her mother had been afraid that if they ended up in regime hands they would be arrested, tortured, or worse.
People's fears of revenge attacks appeared to have become a reality. The UN reported that more than 80 civilians had been killed by pro-government forces in the last 48 hours.
Syrian troops and allied Iraqi militias had entered homes after recapturing them and had executed residents "on the spot".
"The reports we had are of people being shot in the street trying to flee and shot in their homes," said Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the UN human rights office. "We're filled with the deepest foreboding for those who remain in this last hellish corner."
Some 11 women and 13 children were killed in four different neighbourhoods. One family of eight was reportedly executed in their home in the Bustan al-Qasr district after refusing to leave.
Mr Colville said he had been told that others had been burnt alive, and that it had received reports of women committing suicide, in order not to be raped by marauding soldiers.
"All these reports evoke the darkest days of the history of the United Nations," Mr Colville said.
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More than 6,000 men and boys have been reported missing since mid-November, after crossing from east Aleppo into the government-held western side of the city.
The brother of one, an NGO worker, said last week he was taken away by secret service officers after his name was checked against a list.
The regime denied the claims, instead accusing the rebels of holding the population of east Aleppo as human shields. The UN has pushed the Syrian government to allow monitoring of its treatment of fleeing civilians, including those detained.
Screening by Syrian government forces of people leaving the city must itself be monitored, Mr Colville urged.
"It needs international eyes on the situation if the fears of the worst kinds of things happening - summary executions, torture, etc - are to be allayed," he said.
Matthew Rycroft, the UK's representative at the UN, said: "Assad's forces, propped up by Russia and Iran, have once again redefined horror. They have gone from siege to slaughter. This is a dark day for the people of Aleppo, surely the darkest of the past five years."
But his words were too little too late for the hold-outs of the rebellion. Many had long been pleading for foreign governments to intervene, and yesterday accused their allies of abandoning them to their fate.
"In other massacres and in other wars, like Srebrenica, they can perhaps claim they did not know," said activist Monther Eatky. "They cannot claim that here. We have documented every war crime, every chemical attack. This was happening in front of the eyes of the world. But still they did nothing."
The US, which has spent the last five years calling for Assad's removal, had been reduced to negotiating with Russia over how to evacuate remaining civilians out of opposition territory.