Syrian government says recapture of Aleppo complete

Syrian government says recapture of Aleppo complete
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The Syrian government is in full control of Aleppo for the first time in four years after the last buses evacuating residents and rebels left the city, Syrian state media reported Thursday.

“The restoration of security and stability to Aleppo is a victory which forms a strategic juncture and important turning point in the fight against terrorism, from one point, and a blow to the terrorist project and its supporter from another,” the Syrian army’s general command said in a statement, according to the Syrian Arab News Agency, or SANA.

The Syrian government considers all rebels, including those backed by the U.S., to be terrorists.

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The fall of Aleppo marks a major turning point in the five-year civil war, which has killed more than 400,000 people. It does not end the war, as rebels still control parts of the country, particularly in Idlib province.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has been emboldened by the Aleppo victory.

In a meeting Thursday with a visiting Iranian delegation, Assad framed the victory as a defeat against terrorism and as a rebuke of the countries that support the rebels.

“Liberating Aleppo from terrorism is a victory not only for Syria, but also for those who really contributed to the fight against terrorism, especially Iran and Russia,” Assad said, according to SANA. “It is also a relapse for all the countries that are hostile towards the Syrian people and that have used terrorism as a means to realize their interests.”

Rebels have controlled eastern parts of Aleppo since 2012. In September, the Syrian regime launched a major offensive, backed by Russian airpower, in a final push to retake the city.

Russia and Syria had been accused of atrocities as they closed in on their goal of retaking the city, including summary executions of civilians and destroying every hospital in rebel-held territory.

Last week, with just a sliver of the city left in their control, rebels agreed to a deal to begin their evacuation, along with the evacuation of civilians, ensuring Assad’s victory in the city.

Prior to the last buses leaving, the International Committee of the Red Cross said Thursday that 34,000 people had been evacuated since Dec. 15, including 4,000 fighters who left overnight.

The Red Cross also said that freezing conditions with heavy snow and wind caused evacuations to move slower than expected.