s the four-month siege of Syria’s eastern Aleppo neared its end, some survivors trudged in the rain past dead bodies to the government-held west or the few districts still in rebel hands. Others stayed in their homes and awaited the Syrian army’s arrival. For all of them, fear of arrest, conscription or summary execution had added to the daily terror of bombardment.
Restoring full control over Aleppo, Syria’s most populous city before the war, has been seen as critical to the fortunes of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in a multi-sided war now in its sixth year.
The fall of Aleppo would deal rebels their worst blow since the beginning of Syria’s conflict in 2011, and leave the government in control of the country’s five major cities.
The Syrian Observatory has said that around 130,000 people have fled rebel areas, moving mostly to government-held territory. The ruinous war in Syria has killed over 300,000 people and displaced half the population.
The government assault on Aleppo has killed at least 413 civilians since mid-November, according to the Observatory. Another 139 civilians have been killed in rebel fire on the west of the city in the same period, it said.
Diplomatic efforts to bring an end to the conflict have repeatedly failed but Russia last week said talks were underway with US officials on securing a ceasefire in Aleppo and the withdrawal of all rebel forces from the city.
Insurgents who had held the eastern part of the city since the early days of the war effectively agreed to surrender what remained of their besieged enclave and evacuate after a fierce government assault. The Russian Defence Ministry was cited as saying on Thursday that the evacuation of 5,000 rebels and their families from Aleppo has begun on Thursday.
Syrians emerge from a dust cloud following a reported airstrike on Kafr Batna, in the rebel-held Eastern Ghouta area, on the outskirts of the capital Damascus, on September 30, 2016. ─ AFP