Syrian army tells last rebels to quit Aleppo

The Syrian army says its closing in on the last rebel enclave in eastern Aleppo.
Aleppo was once Syria's commercial and industrial hub, but it has been divided since 2012 between government forces in the west and rebels in the east.
Aleppo was once Syria's commercial and industrial hub, but it has been divided since 2012 between government forces in the west and rebels in the east.PHOTO: REUTERS
The Syrian army says its closing in on the last rebel enclave in eastern Aleppo.

ALEPPO • Syria's army has urged the last remaining rebels and civilians to leave the besieged opposition enclave in Aleppo as it prepares to take full control of the devastated city.

The evacuation of Aleppo's rebel sector is seen as a pivotal moment in the nearly six-year war that has killed more than 310,000 people and triggered a major humanitarian and refugee crisis.

The government and other parties on the ground have agreed to allow 20 observers to be sent to east Aleppo to monitor evacuations, said United Nations spokesman Stephane Dujarric.

In east Aleppo, soldiers using megaphones called on the remaining fighters and civilians to exit the opposition districts, a military source told Agence France-Presse on Tuesday.

"The army is expected to enter (Aleppo) to clean the area after the fighters leave," the source said.

At least 25,000 people have left rebel districts of Aleppo since the operation began last week, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross, which is overseeing the operation.

COMING TO THE END

I hope today is the last day of rebels leaving, because we've been promised we can go on vacation and rest if the operation ends today.

AKRAM, a soldier, on the evacuation of rebels as the army prepares to take full control of devastated Aleppo.

Spokesman Ingy Sedky said 750 people had been evacuated in parallel from Fuaa and Kafraya, two Shi'ite-majority villages in northwest Syria besieged by rebels, as part of the deal. Ten buses left the battered east on Tuesday morning, said Ms Sedky.

But no other buses moved the rest of the day, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and a medical official overseeing evacuations.

Aleppo was once Syria's commercial and industrial hub, but it has been divided since 2012 between government forces in the west and rebels in the east.

Government forces launched an offensive in the middle of last month to capture the whole city, and had seized more than 90 per cent of the eastern half when the evacuation deal was struck.

In a regime-held neighbourhood on the southern edges of Aleppo, Syrian troops could be seen strolling through the area on Tuesday while others gathered around burning tyres to stay warm.

"I hope today is the last day of rebels leaving, because we've been promised we can go on vacation and rest if the operation ends today," said Akram, a soldier.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 22, 2016, with the headline 'Syrian army tells last rebels to quit Aleppo'. Print Edition | Subscribe