Russia says all of Aleppo has fallen to Syrian government control

BEIRUT - The Russian government said Tuesday that military action in eastern Aleppo has stopped and the Syrian government is now in control of the long-fought-over city. 

Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said Tuesday near the end of an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council, saying “according to the latest information that we received in the last hour, military actions in eastern Aleppo are over.”

He said that as a result, “there is no issue of some cessation of hostilities, or some special humanitarian operation.” He added that “the Syrian government has re-established control over eastern Aleppo.”

Churkin said earlier that “all militants” and members of their families, as well as those wounded in the fighting, “currently are going through agreed corridors in directions that they have chosen themselves voluntarily, including toward Idlib,” a rebel stronghold.

Rebels had said earlier Tuesday that they had reached an agreement with Russia for a cease-fire in Aleppo to evacuate remaining civilians and rebels from besieged districts, just as the U.N. released a report claiming civilians were being slaughtered by government and Russian forces converging on the city.

Retaking Aleppo is probably Syrian President Assad’s biggest victory yet in the 5-year-old civil war. Aleppo has long been regarded as a major gateway between Turkey and Syria.

But a government win in Aleppo does not end the conflict - significant parts of Syria are still outside government control and huge swaths of the country are a devastated wasteland. More than a quarter of a million people have been killed since the conflict began in 2011 with peaceful protests against the Assad family’s 45-year-long reign over the country.

Pro-government forces reportedly killed 82 civilians “on the spot” as they closed in on the last rebel enclave in Aleppo Tuesday, the U.N. human rights office said earlier in the day.

That and other reports of mass killings, which could not be independently confirmed, reinforced fears of atrocities in eastern Aleppo in the final hours of the battle for the city, which has been split between rebel and government control since 2012.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told an emergency meeting of the Security Council on Tuesday that the U.N. human rights chief has received reports of civilians, including women and children, in four neighborhoods being rounded up and killed.

Ban said it is “wishful thinking” to believe that military advances will solve Syria’s crisis, and called for an immediate end to violence by all sides.

Ban said negotiations are taking place among the parties for an evacuation deal facilitated by Russia and Turkey.

He said “we support these efforts and stand ready to help implement and oversee such an agreement, which we understand may now be imminent.” 

Several residents and opposition activists have told The Associated Press that government forces carried out summary killings of rebels in the streets in neighborhoods captured on Monday, but the Syrian military flatly denied the claims, saying such allegations were “a desperate attempt” to try gain international sympathy.

None of the residents reached by AP witnessed the alleged killings. Their statements reflected the deepening chaos in the remaining rebel-held areas. Mohammed Abu Rajab, the administrator of the last remaining clinic in rebel-held parts of the city, said people who were killed or wounded are being left in the streets.

Aref al-Aref, a nurse and activist in eastern Aleppo, said civilians had taken cover in a medical center in one of the last rebel holdouts after its staff evacuated two days earlier. He said the army killed them, but pressed for details, he said he only heard it from others.

Monther Etaky, a resident of eastern Aleppo, said he also heard reports of summary killings and knows the name of three families who have reportedly been killed.\