Monday 22 January 2018

All military action in eastern Aleppo has stopped and Syrian government in control

*Syrian army takes full control of Aleppo
*Reports of civilians shot in their homes, trying to flee
*Turkish-Russian talks on Wednesday to try to set up corridor
*Corpses lie on streets in rebel-held areas
*Graphic videos of atrocities emerge online

This photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows Syrian troops and pro-government gunmen marching through the streets of east Aleppo, Syria. (SANA via AP)
This photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows Syrian troops and pro-government gunmen marching through the streets of east Aleppo, Syria. (SANA via AP)
This photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows Syrian troops and pro-government gunmen marching through the streets of east Aleppo, Syria. (SANA via AP)
This photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows Syrian troops and pro-government gunmen marching walk inside the destroyed Grand Umayyad mosque in the old city of Aleppo, Syria. (SANA via AP)
Forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad stand atop of a building in the government held Sheikh Saeed district of Aleppo, during a media tour, Syria December 12, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki
Tim Jackson
A man flees with a child deeper into the remaining rebel-held areas of Aleppo. Photo: Reuters
Smoke from an explosion rises in Aleppo. Photo: Reuters
Forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad walk past damaged buildings in the government held Sheikh Saeed district of Aleppo, during a media tour, Syria December 12, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki
Forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad stand in the government held Sheikh Saeed district of Aleppo, during a media tour, Syria December 12, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki
A woman waits with others outside a government military police centre to visit their relatives, who were evacuated from the eastern districts of Aleppo and are being prepared to begin their military service, in Aleppo, Syria December 11, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki
Forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad walk past along a street in the government held Sheikh Saeed district of Aleppo, during a media tour, Syria December 12, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki
Forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad walk past a tank in the government held Sheikh Saeed district of Aleppo, during a media tour, Syria December 12, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki
A member of Forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad walks past a damaged building in the government held Sheikh Saeed district of Aleppo, during a media tour, Syria December 12, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki
Forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad gesture as they ride on a pick-up truck in the government held Sheikh Saeed district of Aleppo, during a media tour, Syria December 12, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki
An elderly man reacts in the government held Sheikh Saeed district of Aleppo, during a media tour, Syria December 12, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki
Free Syrian Army fighters fire an anti-aircraft weapon on government forces from a rebel-held area of Aleppo. Photo: Reuters

Laila Bassam and Orhan Coskun

All military action in eastern Aleppo has ended and the Syrian government has re-established control over the former rebel-held area, Russia's UN ambassador has said.

Vitaly Churkin spoke near the end of an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, saying "according to the latest information that we received in the last hour, military actions in eastern Aleppo are over".

He said that as a result, "there is no issue of some cessation of hostilities, or some special humanitarian operation".

He added that "the Syrian government has re-established control over eastern Aleppo".

Syrians leave a rebel-held area of Aleppo towards the government-held side during an operation by Syrian government forces to retake the embattled city (Photo: AFP)
Syrians leave a rebel-held area of Aleppo towards the government-held side during an operation by Syrian government forces to retake the embattled city (Photo: AFP)
Forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad gesture as they ride on a pick-up truck in the government held Sheikh Saeed district of Aleppo, during a media tour, Syria December 12, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki
Syrian residents, fleeing violence in the restive Bustan al-Qasr neighbourhood, arrive in Aleppo's Fardos neighbourhood after regime troops retook the area from rebel fighters.
Syrians leave a rebel-held area of Aleppo towards the government-held side on December 13, 2016 during an operation by Syrian government forces to retake the embattled city. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Syrians leave a rebel-held area of Aleppo towards the government-held side on December 13, 2016 during an operation by Syrian government forces to retake the embattled city. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
A member of the Syrian pro-government forces stands next to a tank in the old city of Aleppo on December 13, 2016, after they recaptured the area. After weeks of heavy fighting, regime forces were poised to take full control of Aleppo, dealing the biggest blow to Syria's rebellion in more than five years of civil war. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Syrian pro-government forces walk in Aleppo's Bustan al-Qasr neighbourhood after they captured the area in the eastern part of the war torn city on December 13, 2016. After weeks of heavy fighting, regime forces were poised to take full control of Aleppo, dealing the biggest blow to Syria's rebellion in more than five years of civil war. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
A general view shows Syrian pro-government forces walking in the ancient Umayyad mosque in the old city of Aleppo on December 13, 2016, after they captured the area. After weeks of heavy fighting, regime forces were poised to take full control of Aleppo, dealing the biggest blow to Syria's rebellion in more than five years of civil war. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
A member of the Syrian pro-government forces walks in eastern Aleppo's al-Kalasseh neighbourhood on December 13, 2016 (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)
Syrian opposition fighters fire towards positions held by Islamic State (IS) group jihadists in al-Bab on the northeastern outskirts of the northern embattled city of Aleppo on December 13, 2016. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
A general view shows Aleppo's citadel on December 13, 2016, after government forces captured the area. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
A Syrian child cooks in the street in a rebel-held area of Aleppo, on December 13, 2016, during an operation by Syrian government forces to retake the embattled city. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
People carry their belongings as they flee deeper into the remaining rebel-held areas of Aleppo, Syria December 13, 2016. Photo: Reuters
Children walk together as they flee deeper into the remaining rebel-held areas of Aleppo, Syria December 13, 2016. Photo: Reuters
A man pushes a cart with belongings as he flees deeper with another man into the remaining rebel-held areas of Aleppo, Syria December 13, 2016. Photo: Reuters
People carry their belongings as they flee deeper into the remaining rebel-held areas of Aleppo, Syria December 13, 2016. The Arabic words read, "No to monopolizing commodities and raising prices under the siege". Photo: Reuters
People flee deeper into the remaining rebel-held areas of Aleppo, Syria December 13, 2016. Photo: Reuters
Damaged buildings are seen in the government-held al-Shaar neighborhood of Aleppo, during a media tour, Syria December 13, 2016. Photo: Reuters
A general view shows the damage in the government-held al-Shaar neighborhood of Aleppo, during a media tour, Syria December 13, 2016. Photo: Reuters
Syrian troops and pro-government gunmen marching through the streets of east Aleppo, Syria, Tuesday, December 13, 2016. Photo: SANA via AP
A graveyard in east Aleppo, Syria, Tuesday, December 13, 2016. Photo: SANA via AP
Forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad walk inside Aleppo's historic citadel, during a media tour, Syria December 13, 2016. Photo: Reuters
Boys stand amid the damage in the government-held al-Shaar neighborhood of Aleppo, during a media tour, Syria December 13, 2016. Photo: Reuters
A general view shows the damage inside the Umayyad mosque, in the government-controlled area of Aleppo, during a media tour, Syria December 13, 2016. Photo: Reuters

Mr Churkin said earlier that "all militants" and members of their families, as well as those wounded in the fighting, "currently are going through agreed corridors in directions that they have chosen themselves voluntarily, including toward Idlib", a rebel stronghold.

The evacuation of the remaining rebels would mark a major victory for President Bashar Assad and return Syria's largest city to full government control for the first time since rebels seized the eastern half in 2012.

Earlier today a staff member of a Trócaire partner organisation was killed in Eastern Aleppo - as shocking reports of civilians being shot in their homes and corpses lying on the streets come from the city.

Charity Trócaire said people in Aleppo are describing the situation as an "apocalypse".

And it is understood a charity staff member of a partner organisation is among the dead following the shelling of the city.

“We have received a message from a partner in Aleppo who described the situation as ‘an apocalypse' with bodies all over the streets," Niall O’Keeffe, Head of Trócaire’s Programmes in the Middle East, said.

"Parents had to flee leaving their dead children in the streets. Multiple executions are reported.

“Like never before the world is able to follow the terror - in tweets, pictures and videos - that these people are living, and like never before they know that we are watching as the catastrophe unfolds.

A woman waits with others outside a government military police centre to visit their relatives, who were evacuated from the eastern districts of Aleppo and are being prepared to begin their military service, in Aleppo, Syria December 11, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki
A woman waits with others outside a government military police centre to visit their relatives, who were evacuated from the eastern districts of Aleppo and are being prepared to begin their military service, in Aleppo, Syria December 11, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki

"This makes our inaction even more shameful. Civilians must be protected. Those who are committing atrocities must be held to account.

“People in Aleppo are wondering who is left to help them?," he continued.

Forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad walk past along a street in the government held Sheikh Saeed district of Aleppo, during a media tour, Syria December 12, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki
Forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad walk past along a street in the government held Sheikh Saeed district of Aleppo, during a media tour, Syria December 12, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki

"The international community has failed in efforts to protect civilians in Syria, and especially in Aleppo.

"In truth, the efforts of the international community, were, from the start, inadequate and based not on a genuine need to protect civilians, but on political self-interest and economic considerations.

Forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad walk past damaged buildings in the government held Sheikh Saeed district of Aleppo, during a media tour, Syria December 12, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki
Forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad walk past damaged buildings in the government held Sheikh Saeed district of Aleppo, during a media tour, Syria December 12, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki

"As a result we are now witnessing one of the worst massacres since the Second World War. We cannot remain silent in the face of the humanitarian catastrophe that is unravelling before our eyes.”

Mr O'Keefee spoke as thousands of people fled the front lines of fighting in Aleppo on Tuesday as the Syrian military advanced on the final pocket of rebel resistance, and a senior Turkish official said Russia and Turkey would meet to try to set up an evacuation corridor.

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

Forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad stand atop of a building in the government held Sheikh Saeed district of Aleppo, during a media tour, Syria December 12, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki
Forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad stand atop of a building in the government held Sheikh Saeed district of Aleppo, during a media tour, Syria December 12, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki

The U.N. human rights office said it had reports of abuses, including that the army and allied Iraqi militiamen summarily killed at least 82 civilians in captured city districts.

"The reports we had are of people being shot in the street trying to flee and shot in their homes," said Rupert Colville, spokesman for the U.N. office. "There could be many more."

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.

Colville described the rebel-held area as "a hellish corner" of less than a square kilometre, saying its capture was imminent.

The spokesman for the civil defence force in the former rebel area of Aleppo said rebels now controlled an area of less than three sq km. "The situation is very, very bad. The civil defence has stopped operating in the city," he told Reuters.

A surrender or withdrawal of the rebels in Aleppo would mean the end of the rebellion in the city, Syria's largest until the outbreak of war after mass protests in 2011, but it is unclear if such a deal can be struck by world powers.

By finally dousing the last embers of resistance burning in Aleppo, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's military coalition of the army, Russian air power and Iran-backed militias will have delivered him his biggest battlefield victory of the war.

However, while the rebels, including groups backed by the United States, Turkey and Gulf monarchies, as well as jihadist groups that the West does not support, will suffer a crushing defeat in Aleppo, the war will be far from over.

'Fleeing in panic'

Aleppo's loss will leave the rebels without a significant presence in any of Syria's main cities, but they still hold much of the countryside west of Aleppo and the province of Idlib, also in northwest Syria.

Islamic State also has a big presence in Syria and has advanced in recent days, taking the desert city of Palmyra.

The army and its allies had taken full control over all the Aleppo districts abandoned by rebels during their retreat in the city, a Syrian military source said on Tuesday.

After days of intense bombardment of rebel-held areas, the rate of shelling and air strikes dropped considerably late on Monday and through the night as the weather deteriorated, a Reuters reporter in the city said.

However, rocket fire pounded rebel-held areas, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based war monitor, reported. Rebels and government forces still fought at points around the reduced enclave, the Observatory said.

"Artillery shelling is continuing but because of the weather the aerial bombing has stopped. Many of the families and children have not left for areas under the control of the regime because their fathers are from the rebels," said Abu Ibrahim, a resident of Aleppo in a text message.

Colville said he feared retribution. "In all, as of yesterday evening we have received reports of pro-government forces killing least 82 civilians, including 11 women and 13 children, in four different neighbourhoods - Bustan al-Qasr, al-Fardous, Al-Kalasah and al-Saliheen," Colville told a news briefing, naming the Iraqi armed group Harakat al-Nujaba as reportedly involved in the killings.

The military official said the rebels were fleeing "in a state of panic", but a Turkish-based official with the Jabha Shamiya insurgent group in Aleppo said on Monday night that they had established a new frontline along the river.

Celebrations on the government side of the divided city lasted into Monday night, with fighters shooting rounds into the sky in triumph.

Refugees

A daily bulletin issued by the Russian Defence Ministry's "reconciliation centre" from the Hmeimin airbase used by its warplanes, reported that more than 8,000 civilians, more than half of them children, had left east Aleppo in 24 hours.

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.

One man pushed a bicycle loaded with bags, another family pulled a cart on which sat an elderly woman. Another man carried on his back a small girl wearing a pink hat.

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.

Abu Malek al-Shamali, a resident in the rebel area, said dead bodies lay in the streets. "There are many corpses in Fardous and Bustan al Qasr with no one to bury them," he said.

"Last night people slept in the streets and in buildings where every flat has several families crowded in," he added.

The International Committee for the Red Cross appealed for all sides to spare civilian lives. "As the battle reaches new peaks and the area is plunged into chaos thousands with no part in the violence have literally nowhere safe to run," it said.

The United Nations said on Tuesday it had reports that Syrian government troops and allied Iraqi militias had killed civilians in eastern Aleppo, including 82 people in four different neighbourhoods in the last few days.

The Syrian army and its allies have taken full control over all the Aleppo districts abandoned by rebels during their retreat in the city, a Syrian military source said on Tuesday.

Rupert Colville, spokesman for the U.N. human rights office, said he feared retribution against thousands of civilians believed to be holed up in a "hellish corner" of less than a square kilometre of opposition-held areas. Its capture was imminent, he said.

"In all, as of yesterday (Monday) evening we have received reports of pro-government forces killing least 82 civilians, including 11 women and 13 children, in 4 different neighbourhoods - Bustan al-Qasr, al-Fardous, Al-Kalasah and al-Saliheen," Colville told a news briefing, naming the Iraqi armed group Harakat al-Nujaba as reportedly involved in the killings.

"The reports we had are of people being shot in the street trying to flee and shot in their homes" Colville said. "There could be many more".

"The only way to alleviate the deep foreboding and suspicion that massive crimes may be under way both within Aleppo, and in relation to some of those who fled or were captured, whether fighters or civilians, is for there to be monitoring by external bodies, such as the UN," Colville said.

France on Tuesday called on the United Nations to use all its mechanisms to determine what was happening in Aleppo, warning Russia that it risked being complicit in acts of "vengeance and terror" taking place in the Syrian city.

Jens Laerke, U.N. humanitarian spokesman said that it looked like "a complete meltdown of humanity in Aleppo".

Control

Syria's army and its allies have taken full control over all the Aleppo districts abandoned by rebels during their retreat in the city, a Syrian military source said on Tuesday.

On Monday rebel defences collapsed, leading to a broad army advance across more than half of the remaining insurgent pocket in Aleppo and a retreat of opposition fighters to a few districts on the west bank of the city's river

Recapturing the entire rebel pocket of Aleppo will constitute the biggest battlefield victory yet for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his military coalition of Russia's air force, Iran and Shi'ite militias.

For rebels, it will mark a sobering loss and leave them without a significant presence in any of Syria's main cities. They still hold much of the countryside west of Aleppo and the province of Idlib, also in northwest Syria.

After days of intense bombardment of rebel-held areas, the rate of shelling and air strikes dropped considerably late on Monday and through the night, a Reuters reporter in the city said.

The military official said the rebels were fleeing "in a state of panic", but a Turkey-based official with the Jabha Shamiya insurgent group in Aleppo said late on Monday that they had established a new front line along the river.

Celebrations on the government side of the divided city lasted into Monday night, with the Reuters reporter there describing the bullets coming "like rainfall" as fighters shot into the air in triumph.

Meeting

Russian and Turkish officials will hold a meeting on Wednesday in Turkey to assess the situation in Syria's Aleppo, a senior Turkish official told Reuters, after the Syrian army and its allies took full control of districts abandoned by rebels.

The possibility of opening a corridor to evacuate rebels and civilians and the setting up of a ceasefire will be discussed at the meeting, the official said on Tuesday.

Turkey was continuing its efforts with the United States, as well as Iran, the European Union and Gulf countries to help evacuate opposition fighters from Aleppo, the official added. 

Flee

As the frontlines quickly shifted on Monday, however, thousands more people fled the fighting, carrying what possessions they could carry and sometimes pushing relatives in wheelchairs, before a heavy rainstorm began in the night.

The International Committee for the Red Cross issued a plea in an emailed statement early on Monday for all sides to spare civilian life.

The U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was alarmed by unverified reports of atrocities in the wake of the army's advance, his spokesman said late on Monday.

"As the battle reaches new peaks and the area is plunged into chaos thousands with no part in the violence have literally nowhere safe to run," the ICRC statement said.

Zakaria Malahifji, another Turkey-based official for the Fastaqim rebel group fighting in Aleppo said early on Tuesday that there had been no further international contacts over a proposal to spare the city by allowing fighters to withdraw.

Alarm

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is alarmed by unverified reports of atrocities against a large number of civilians, including women and children, in Syria's Aleppo.

"The Secretary-General is conveying his grave concern to the relevant parties. He has instructed his Special Envoy for Syria to follow up urgently with the parties concerned," U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.

It comes after The U.S. State Department said on Monday Russia told the United States it wanted a ceasefire to allow civilians leave the Syrian city of Aleppo delayed for several days, a proposal unacceptable in view of the continued attacks on civilians.

"Rather than accepting the U.S. proposal for an immediate cessation, the Russians informed us that a cessation could not start for several days, meaning that the assault by the regime and its supporters will continue until any agreement will go into effect," State Department spokesman John Kirby said at a news briefing in response to a question about weekend talks in Geneva.

"Given the dire situation in Aleppo and the reports of continued attacks on civilians and infrastructure, this was just simply not acceptable."

Aid Worker

Tim jackson.jpg
Tim Jackson
 

Tim Jackson, a Donegal aid worker who travelled to Syria last summer, has described the UN reporting of the war in Aleppo as "disgracefully biased" and driven by an anti-Government agenda that seeks regime change.

Amidst UN claims today that civilians are being executed by the Syrian army, Jackson asked that sources for these claims be provided, "as there is zero evidence being offered by the UN at the moment."

"I want to make it clear that the death of any innocent person is a tragedy, but reporting of the Syrian war has been abysmally inaccurate so far, and amounted to propoganda for the most part as the mainstream media and western national parliaments continue to ignore the fact that Syria and Russia are fighting jihadi terrorists. NATO's continued arms shipments to these rebels is the elephant in the room."

"Where was the outcry from the UN as civilians fleeing East Aleppo were fired on last week by the jihadi rebels who had been using them as human shields for four years and withholding stockpiles of food and medicines at will?"

Reuters

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