Date
18 November 2017
Evacuees from the Shi'ite Muslim villages of al-Foua and Kefraya ride a bus at insurgent-held al-Rashideen in Aleppo province. Photo: Reuters
Evacuees from the Shi'ite Muslim villages of al-Foua and Kefraya ride a bus at insurgent-held al-Rashideen in Aleppo province. Photo: Reuters

Syrian army claims victory in Aleppo in boost for Assad

The Syrian army said it had retaken complete control of Aleppo on Thursday after the last rebel fighters were evacuated from the battered city.

That handed President Bashar al-Assad his biggest victory of the nearly six-year-old war, Reuters reports.

The military said it had brought “the return of safety and security to the city of Aleppo”, ending four years of rebel resistance in the northern Syrian city.

“This victory constitutes an important turning point,” an army statement said.

The recapture of Aleppo is Assad’s most important gain so far in a war that has claimed 300,000 lives. But the fighting is not over with large parts of the country still controlled by insurgent and Islamist groups.

Assad said retaking Aleppo was a victory shared with his Russian and Iranian allies.

Russia’s air force conducted hundreds of raids that pulverized rebel-held parts of Aleppo. Iranian-backed militias, led by the Lebanese group Hezbollah, poured thousands of fighters into the city.

In the western part of the city, controlled by the government throughout the war, there was celebratory gunfire, fireworks and street parties on Thursday night, witnesses said.

Crowds sang, danced and waved flags and pictures of Assad, chanting slogans praising the army and the president.

The last group of rebels and their families holed up in a small eastern enclave of Aleppo were evacuated under a deal that gave the army and its allies full control of the city, Syrian state television said.

At least 34,000 people, both civilians and fighters, have been evacuated from east Aleppo in a week-long operation hampered by severe winter weather, according to the United Nations, which estimates that thousands more remain behind.

“The process for evacuation was traumatic, with crowding, and vulnerable people waiting for hours and exposed to sub-zero temperatures,” U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters in New York.

Remaining civilians must be allowed to leave safely if they choose to do so, he said.

The last evacuees left a tiny pocket that was all that remained of a rebel sector that once covered nearly half the city before being besieged in the summer and hit by intense air strikes that reduced much of it to rubble.

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CG/RA

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