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Aleppo under full Syrian army control

The Syrian army announced on Thursday that the country’s second city Aleppo has been fully recaptured from rebel fighters

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The Syrian army said on Thursday that it had retaken complete control of Aleppo after the last rebel fighters were evacuated from the city, handing President Bashar al-Assad his biggest victory of the war.

The army said it had brought “security and safety” to Aleppo, ending four years of rebel resistance in parts of the northern Syrian city.

The last group of rebels and their families holed up in a small eastern enclave were evacuated on Thursday, under a deal that gives the army and its allies full control of the city after years of fighting, Syrian state television said.

At least 34,000 people, both civilians and fighters, have been evacuated from east Aleppo in a week-long operation hampered by severe winter weather, the latest UN figures show. But the United Nations estimates that thousands more remain.

Members of the Civil Defence rescue children after what activists said was an air strike by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in al-Shaar neighbourhood of Aleppo, Syria June 2, 2014. REUTERS/Sultan Kitaz/File Photo
Members of the Civil Defence rescue children after what activists said was an air strike by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in al-Shaar neighbourhood of Aleppo, Syria June 2, 2014. REUTERS/Sultan Kitaz/File Photo

“The process for evacuation was traumatic, with crowding, and vulnerable people waiting for hours and exposed to sub-zero temperatures,” UN spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters in New York.

The last evacuees left a tiny pocket that was all that remained of a rebel sector that covered nearly half the city before being besieged in the summer and hit by intense air strikes that reduced swathes of it to rubble. As the months of bombardment wore on, rescue and health services collapsed.

Idlib warning

A senior United Nations official warned that those evacuated from Aleppo after the crushing government offensive could suffer the same fate in their new place of refuge outside the city.

“Many of them have gone to Idlib, which could be in theory the next Aleppo,” UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura said in Geneva.

He said a cessation of hostilities across Syria was vital if another battle like the bloody struggle for Aleppo was to be avoided.

Thousands of refugees from Aleppo were taken to Idlib, arousing fears that the rebel-held city in northwestern Syria could be next. Assad has declared that the war is far from over and that his armed forces would march on other rebel-held areas.

Assad said earlier that retaking Aleppo was a victory shared with his Russian and Iranian allies.

In comments after meeting a senior Iranian delegation, Assad said his battlefield successes were a “basic step on the road to ending terrorism in the whole of Syria and creating the right circumstances for a solution to end the war.”