Viet Nam News
ALEPPO, Syria — The army said on Thursday it had retaken full control of Syria’s devastated second city Aleppo, scoring its biggest victory against opposition forces since the civil war erupted in 2011.
The announcement came after a landmark evacuation deal that ended a ferocious month-long offensive waged on east Aleppo by government forces and allied militia.
The operation climaxed a battle that lasted nearly four and a half years, and transformed the city into a worldwide symbol of bloodshed and devastation.
Thousands of inhabitants in the western part of the city -- which had remained under the government’s control throughout the conflict -- took to the streets, chanting slogans and shouting their jubilation despite extreme cold.
Cars crawled along, their drivers sounding their horns, and in city squares, children had the colours of the Syrian flag painted on their cheeks.
"Our joy is immense. Life returned to Aleppo today," said lawyer Omar Halli, who predicted "victory over all of Syria."
An army statement said the general command "announces the return of security to Aleppo after its release from terrorism and terrorists, and the departure of those who stayed there".
The army announcement came after state television reported that the last convoy of four buses carrying rebels and civilians had left east Aleppo and arrived in the government-controlled Ramussa district south of the city.
Earlier, the Red Cross said more than 4,000 fighters had left rebel-held areas in the final stages of the evacuation.
The loss of east Aleppo is the biggest blow to Syria’s rebel movement in the nearly six-year conflict, which has killed more than 310,000 people.
It puts the government in control of the country’s five main cities: Aleppo, Homs, Hama, Damascus, and Latakia.
Syria’s conflict began with anti-government protests in March 2011 but spiralled into a civil war after a brutal government crackdown on dissent.
It has drawn in proxy powers and attracted foreign jihadists, but successive attempts to negotiate a political solution to the conflict have failed.
Assad’s victory in Aleppo is a boon for his allies in Moscow and Tehran and a defeat for the opposition’s backers, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and some Western states.
Because of the intensity of these global rivalries -- particularly between Russia and the United States -- the international community struggled for years to respond to the bloodshed in Syria.
"The liberation of Aleppo is not only a victory for Syria but also for those who really contribute to the fight against terrorism, notably Russia and Iran," state news agency SANA quoted Assad as saying before the army announcement on Thursday.
The final stages of the evacuation had been hampered by heavy snowfall and freezing temperatures.
"Overnight between Wednesday and Thursday, in one of the last stages of the evacuation, more than 4,000 fighters were evacuated in private cars, vans, and pick-ups from eastern Aleppo," said Ingy Sedky, the spokeswoman in Syria for the International Committee of the Red Cross.
She said about 34,000 people had left rebel areas of Aleppo under the evacuation plan.
The United Nations said it had deployed observers to monitor the final evacuations, under a Security Council resolution adopted on Monday. — AFP