Battle for Aleppo 'over' as Assad's forces reclaim '98pc of the city'
The battle for Aleppo appeared over in all but name last night after the rebels surrendered most of their remaining territory and civilians began to be evacuated en masse.
Government forces closed in on the ever-shrinking opposition enclave in the "final phase" to reclaim the city.
"The battle of Aleppo has reached its end. It is just a matter of a small period of time, no more, no less... it's a total collapse," Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), said.
The Syrian government claimed its forces had retaken 98pc of the city, while the SOHR said it was more likely around 90pc.
Whatever the figure, it was clear the revolution was in its dying hours yesterday. More than half of an estimated 200,000 residents have so far been evacuated, while 2,200 of some 8,000 rebels have surrendered or been captured.
Now tens of thousands of civilians and a few thousand fighters are holding out in a five-square-mile patch in the southern suburbs of the city.
The remaining rebels had been offered a deal hashed out by the US and Russia: safe passage out with civilians if they surrender.
Osama Abo Zayd, a legal adviser to the Free Syrian Army rebel coalition, said some fighters had agreed to evacuate but that the Russians had demanded that all militants surrender, something he said was impossible.
"This pushes us to fight to the last breath despite what we have to face," he said.
The opposition, which has become increasingly fractious, has yet to agree to the proposal and one senior member of the rebel group Noureddine al-Zenki said they would stay to defend what was left.
A US official said Russia, a key ally of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, had refused an American proposal for a temporary halt to the fighting. As leaders discussed the plan in Geneva, the Syrian regime bombed the rebel-held pocket with unprecedented ferocity.
"It is doomsday in Aleppo," activist Abdulkafi al-Hamdo said in a desperate text message yesterday.
"People are running but they don't know where to, some people are alive under the rubble of their homes but there no one can go to help them because of the bombing."
He said men were sending their wives and children to government areas to surrender themselves rather than risk getting caught in the battle.
A dozen doctors and activists inside east Aleppo had stopped sending out messages and their fate was unknown.
A medical administrator said he and the staff of the last remaining clinic in rebel-held districts were huddled in a shelter as Syrian government forces pushed in.
"Those killed and wounded are left on the streets," Mohammed Abu Rajab said.
The situation has become so desperate that many residents who had held out for more than four years said they were ready to give up and looking for any safe way out of the fighting.
"We're exhausted, it's hopeless," Umm Leith, a mother of three young children whose husband was killed last year in fighting, said.
"I have always believed in the revolution but now it is time to think about my family. Enough people have died in this war."
Mr Assad has starved and bombed Aleppo into submission, knowing the fate of the city would decide his own.
Some believe the Syrian government and its Russian allies were never serious about reaching a political settlement for Aleppo, but rather had used the stalling talks as a cover for its military manoeuvring on the ground.
The loss of Aleppo would mark the greatest defeat for the rebels since the conflict began in 2011. The insurgents still control the north-western Idlib province as well as scattered patches of territory elsewhere in the country. (© Daily Telegraph, London)