This week saw an end to the 4 years of fighting in Aleppo, as an agreement between the rebels and the government forces was reached on Tuesday, December 13th, whereby the rebels agreed to surrender. The deal was to be followed by a ceasefire after which civilians and rebel fighters were to be evacuated early on Wednesday morning. However, the deal broke down as heavy bombardment continued on Wednesday, which made it too dangerous for evacuations to take place.
The war in Aleppo began in 2011 when rebels protested against President Bashar al-Assad and his regime. The city, which was once the country’s financial and industrial centre, has been demolished over the past 4 years and has resulted in the displacement of approximately 6.5 million people. During this time, the city had been divided in half – with the east controlled by Government forces, which have been heavily propped up with Russian and Iranian support and the west being controlled by the rebels, who have been supported by the US, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. By December 13th, over 90% of the city was taken by government forces, including the area of “essential Syria,” described by Assad as the urbanized stretch between Aleppo and Damascus.
The resumption of fighting on Wednesday included air strikes over rebel-held areas in which an estimated 50,000-100,000 civilians still remain. These individuals have been trapped in an area as small as 2.5 square miles without access to food, water, or medicine. The United Nations also reported instances of detentions, arbitrary arrests, summary executions, and forced recruitment into the Syrian army in recent days. The UN Human Rights Chief described the resumption of bombardment as “almost certainly a violation of international law and most likely constituting a war crime.”
A new deal reached on Wednesday saw the successful evacuation of 3,000 people on Thursday to the nearby rebel-held province of Idlib. The UN has been invited to monitor and assist with the evacuations and will be working alongside the Red Cross and World Health Organization to carry out a three-pronged plan, which includes medical evacuations, evacuations for vulnerable civilians, and the evacuation of rebel fighters. The World Health Organization also reported that a delivery of 12 medical shipments had been successfully carried out, which would be sufficient to treat more than 290,000 patients. The Syrian Arab Red Crescent also began critical repairs on water pumping stations in the city, which will restore water supplies to eastern Aleppo. Britain and the US have committed to continuing the supply of aid, with the UK announcing a further $25 million would be provided on Thursday. Evacuations will continue around the clock, however, there is still much to be done as winter conditions make the evacuation journey difficult and UN relief camps are already overcrowded with 10-20 people sharing one room.