Syrian forces combing Aleppo after mass exodus ends


CAIRO: Syrian government troops and allied paramilitaries were on Friday combing eastern Aleppo for potential explosives left behind by rebel fighters a day after mass evacuations from the enclave were completed, a monitoring group said.
The forces were defusing landmines in a number of neighbourhoods in eastern Aleppo after the last opposition fighters and residents left the area late on Thursday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights added.
The week-long evacuation has given forces of Syrian President Bashar al Assad full control over Aleppo that had been divided between his regime and the opposition since 2012.
Following the completion of the eastern Aleppo evacuation, Al Assad’s supporters took to the streets of several Syrian cities celebrating what they called “victory in Aleppo,” according to Syria’s state news agency SANA.
Rebel defences in eastern Aleppo, their last foothold in a major urban centre, collapsed in late November after a five-month siege by government forces aided by Russian military power.
Aleppo, Syria’s second city, was an economic powerhouse for the country before the war, and locally-born businessman Aly Akkam predicted it would rise once more.
“Aleppo will bounce back even stronger,” Akkam said, adding he planned to return to the Old City where he had a textile shop that he had to abandon.
A rebel official said the loss was a major blow for the revolt against President Bashar al Assad.
“On the political level, this is a great loss,” Yasser al Youssef of the Nureddin al Zinki rebel group said.
“For the revolution, it is a period of retreat and a difficult turning point.”
The army announcement came after state television said 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.
Rebel forces, who seized east Aleppo in 2012, agreed to withdraw after a month-long army offensive that drove them from more than 90 per cent of their former territory.
The deal was brokered by Russia, which launched air strikes in support of Assad’s regime last year, and Turkey, which has supported the rebels.
Once the beating heart of Syria’s commercial and cultural industries, second city Aleppo had been split since July 2012 between rebels in the east and the government in the west. East Aleppo became a powerful symbol for Syria’s opposition,
which set up its own administration to run schools, electricity and water there.
Moscow’s military intervention in support of Assad marked a major turning point.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday said that the recapture of Aleppo was the most important part of stabilising Syria.
“The liberation of Aleppo from radical elements is the most important component of full normalisation in Syria, and, I hope, in the region as a whole,” Putin added at a meeting with Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, according to state news agency TASS.
The liberation has involved the “decisive participation and influence of our (Russian) military personnel,” Putin added.
In September 2015, Russia started an air campaign in Syria in support of Al Assad, saying its intervention was aimed at extremists there.
— dpa