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BEIRUT (AP) – Syrian rebels reached a cease-fire deal to evacuate from eastern Aleppo in an effective surrender on Tuesday, as Russia declared all military action had stopped and the Syrian government had assumed control of the former rebel enclave.
The dramatic developments, which appeared to restore the remainder of what was once Syria’s largest city to President Bashar Assad’s forces after months of heavy fighting and a crippling siege, followed reports of mass killings by government forces closing in on the final few blocks still held by the rebels.
Damascus confirmed the evacuation deal and the UN envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, called for immediate access to the former rebel enclave to confirm the end of military operations and to oversee the safe departure of tens of thousands of civilians and opposition fighters. He was at the Security Council where an emergency meeting for Aleppo was underway.
Russia’s UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin took to the floor near the end of the session at the UN Security Council to announce fighting had ended.
“According to the latest information that we received … military actions in eastern Aleppo are over,” Churkin said.
“The Syrian government has re-established control over eastern Aleppo.”
Minutes earlier, he had announced that “all militants” and members of their families, as well as those wounded in the fighting, were being evacuated through “agreed corridors in directions that they have chosen voluntarily,” including the rebel stronghold of Idlib province.
As word spread of the deal, celebrations broke out in the government-controlled western sector of Aleppo, with convoys of cars driving around honking their cars and waving Syrian flags from the windows.
Retaking Aleppo, which has been split between rebel and government control since 2012, would be Assad’s biggest victory yet in the civil war. Aleppo, the country’s former commercial powerhouse, has long been regarded as a major gateway between Turkey and Syria and the biggest prize in the conflict.
The agreement Tuesday came after world leaders and aid agencies issued dramatic appeals on behalf of trapped residents, and the UN human rights office said that pro-government forces reportedly killed 82 civilians as they closed in on the last remaining rebel areas.
That and other reports of mass killings, which could not be independently confirmed, reinforced fears of atrocities in the final hours of the battle for the city.