December 15th, 2016
Russia on Tuesday declared the end of the four-year long battle over Aleppo, the largest city in Syria. They made the declaration after the rebel fighters agreed to turn over the territory to the Syrian government. Syrian rebels reached a ceasefire deal to evacuate from eastern Aleppo in a surrender on Tuesday.
This was probably the most defining moment for the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad. He recaptured Aleppo after prolonged punishments and air assaults amidst the civil war. Assad had unleashed a carnage in the last four years. Thousands of people died. It displaced half the population in the country, and millions have sought refuge in other countries.
Aleppo was once Syria’s commercial hub. It holds a symbolic and strategic importance as an ancient trading post and long-time gateway to Turkey and the West. The city is also a world heritage site.
Bombings resumed despite ceasefire
Under the deal, evacuations were set to begin at 5 am on Wednesday. But, there was a delay in departures, and there were reports of renewed shelling. On Tuesday, 13 December, the UN said it received reports of the allied Iraqi militias and Syrian troops killing families hiding in the city. The death toll reached 82.
The buses that were meant to evacuate rebels and tens of thousands of civilians from eastern Aleppo returned to their depots. The buses’ departure could signal a significant delay in the evacuations and even the collapse of the ceasefire deal.
Russia said that the rebels broke the truce. And the prompted the Syrian army to retaliate with assault.
Fierce shelling shook the city on Wednesday. Therefore, the deal to evacuate civilians and fighters from rebel-held districts was put on hold. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed shelling and “very intense clashes on every front line.”
Final messages of civilians
Civilians, activists and journalists stuck in the city began sending a deluge of “last messages” on social media. The videos depicted how heartbreaking the situation was.
Where the situation stands today
After a lot of deliberation and negotiations, the evacuation process finally began on Thursday 15 December 2016. 10 Ambulances and 17 buses were seen driving out of the city.
It is reported that people being removed are the opposition leaders. The government has said that civilians wanting to move will also be helped as part of the evacuation deal.
The battle in Aleppo
The Syrian army with the support of Syrian government, Russian allies, and rebels used barrel bombs dropped from helicopters, killing thousands of people. They mainly targeted civilians including hospitals and schools. It is one of the bloodiest and longest modern wars. And it killed close to 31,000 people.
In November 2016, UNICEF estimated that nearly 100,000 children were living under siege in Aleppo. The offensive this year cut off food supplies from the city. It was way back in July 2016 that the last humanitarian supplies could be given. Russian army aided the Syrian government to systematically bomb the rebel help areas, including places like hospitals. By the end of November this year, there were no hospitals left and nearly 20,000 people were displaced.
Human Rights Watch said that between September and October, the military attack killed more than 440 civilians, with more than 90 of them being children.
Successful ceasefire and recapture of Aleppo by Assad means that he finally has the stronghold of the biggest city in Syria. Thousands of lives have been lost in this war. Let us hope that peace can be restored in this war-torn country. Our prayers and thoughts are with all those who have lost their lives during this period.