The Russian government has announced the conclusion of military action in eastern Aleppo, and says the Syrian government is now in control of the city.
Journalist Karam al-Masri, a resident of Aleppo, told CNN news of the evacuation agreement was delivered via cell phone text messages from rebel leaders. He also stated the deal was reached after Turkey entered negotiations for a ceasefire, a detail confirmed by the Turkish Foreign Affairs ministry.
“Representatives of Russia, Turkey and Syrian rebel groups reached an agreement on Tuesday for the rebels to leave the last few pockets of the besieged city of Aleppo that they control,” the New York Times reports.
Those evacuations may begin as early as Tuesday evening or Wednesday morning, although there is much confusion about exactly who will be permitted to leave, and under what terms. Rebel forces and human rights activists believe civilians will be able to evacuate, but the Russians are saying only rebel fighters can exit the city, because now that the rightful government is back in control, there is no reason for civilians to flee.
“Nobody is going to harm the civilians,” promised Russia’s envoy to the U.N., Vitaly Churkin. As the New York Times points out, that promise is fearfully hollow to many Aleppo residents, since the government is the deadly menace they are most worried about.
They have good reason to be afraid. Human-rights activists and U.N. observers have described the final days of the Aleppo battle as a horrifying slaughter, a “complete meltdown of humanity” in the words of U.N. spokesman Jens Laerke.
Laerke told reporters the United Nations has received reports of “people being shot in the street trying to flee, and shot in their homes.”
Another spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said that 82 civilians, including women and children, were executed in their homes and in the streets by forces loyal to the Syrian regime on Monday, prompting an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council.
The U.N.’s agency for children, UNICEF, reported on Tuesday that over 100 children were trapped in a building under heavy attack in eastern Aleppo, in what UNICEF regional director Geert Cappelaere called a “living nightmare.”
Other as-yet-unconfirmed reports spoke of women and children burned alive, massive numbers of civilians pulverized by intense Russian and Syrian bombing, the summary execution of civilians attempting to flee the city, and the suicide of 20 women who feared being raped by victorious troops loyal to the Assad regime.
“Are you truly incapable of shame? Is there nothing you will not lie about?” U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power raged at Syria, Russia, and Iran. “Your barrel bombs and airstrikes… it is your noose. Three member states of the UN contributing to a noose around civilians.”
Despite Power’s fiery invective, the Syrians, Russians, and Iranians appear to have gotten what they wanted, evicting rebel forces from Aleppo after four long years, and most likely beginning the countdown for dictator Bashar Assad’s final triumph over insurgent forces – many of them directly supported by the United States.