Aleppo battle ends, but rebel evacuation delayed

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Aleppo: The evacuation of rebel fighters from eastern Aleppo — as part of a ceasefire deal between rebels and the Syrian government which marked the end of the nearly five-year battle for the city — has been delayed, media reports said on Wednesday.

Government buses that were standing by for the evacuation, slated to begin at 5 a.m. local time, were still awaiting the rebels, reportedly because the Syrian government has demanded simultaneous evacuation of its own injured fighters from nearby towns encircled by opposition forces, BBC reported.

The ceasefire was declared in Aleppo on Tuesday.

However, activists and civilians told the BBC that parts of eastern Aleppo were shelled again on Wednesday morning, with Syrian ally Russia says the Syrian army resumed firing after the rebels broke the truce.

Eastern Aleppo has been under rebel-control since 2012, but they have been cornered in a small area of the city in recent months by a major government offensive, backed by Russian air power, the report said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he expected “that the rebels will stop their resistance in the next two to three days”.

Under the evacuation deal, brokered by Turkey and Russia, civilians and rebels from eastern Aleppo were to be evacuated to rebel-held areas in northern Syria.

The battle for Aleppo, the worst of a civil war that has drawn in global and regional powers like US, Russia, Turkey and Iran, has ended with victory for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, his military coalition and Shia militias.

Meanwhile, horrific images surfacing on social media show the city’s once-grand Umayyad Mosque, also known as the “Great Grand Mosque”, in ruins. Several of the walls surrounding the Unesco-listed building have been razed to ground.

For rebels, their expected departure for opposition-held regions, west of the city, was a big blow to their hopes of ousting Assad after revolting against him during the 2011 Arab uprisings.

The war, however, is far from over, with insurgents retaining their rural strongholds of Idlib province to the southwest of Aleppo, and the Islamic State holding swathes of the east and recapturing Palmyra this week, media reports said.

On Tuesday, Syrian forces were accused of “massacring 82 civilians in their homes” during “the century’s worst humanitarian tragedy”. It came as harrowing photos emerged of dead children amid claims of a new chemical attack in a village in Syria’s Uqayribat district, according to the Daily Mail.

Aleppo citizens have posted harrowing “death bulletins” on various social media platforms pleading for help from the outside world as Syrian government forces swept through the city.

Terrified residents filmed themselves, describing their plight in the besieged city with one doctor calling the situation “apocalyptic” and another saying: “This may be my last video.”

The turnaround in the government’s fortunes came after decisive support from its allies Iran and Russia, which has waged a bombing campaign in support of Assad since September last year.

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