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13 Dec, 2016 17:27

Military operation in eastern Aleppo over, govt restoring control – Russian UN envoy

Military operation in eastern Aleppo over, govt restoring control – Russian UN envoy

The fighting in eastern Aleppo has stopped and the Syrian government has regained control over the territory after the withdrawal of militants from the city was agreed, Russia’s UN envoy Vitaly Churkin told the UN Security Council meeting in New York.

"The latest information that we have received during the past hour or so is that military operations in eastern Aleppo have concluded,” Churkin said.

“So, there is no issue of any ceasefire or special humanitarian operations. The Syrian government has regained control of the eastern Aleppo, so the stage of practical humanitarian actions begins,” he said.

UPDATE: Sporadic fighting between the Syrian Army and the militants continued throughout the day, RIA Novosti reported, but as of late Tuesday the sounds of heavy gunfire had largely lulled.

It was not immediately clear if ceasefire has indeed been reached on the ground, or if the remaining militants were going to uphold it.

The Al Mayadeen TV channel reported that some 5,000 militants and their families will leave Aleppo on Wednesday, adding that the withdrawal would be facilitated by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). At least some of the militants will reportedly head to the rebel-controlled areas of the province of Idlib.

Ahead of the emergency UN Security Council meeting, the Russian envoy told reporters that the "latest information is that they indeed have an arrangement achieved on the ground that the fighters are going to leave the city." Churkin said Tuesday ahead of the emergency UN Security Council meeting in New York.

According to Churkin, the militants, who have been holed up in eastern Aleppo for years, are scheduled to leave the city "within hours."

The envoy added that the withdrawal of militant fighters will put the city under the control of the Syrian government and there will be no need for eastern Aleppo residents to leave their homes.

During his speech at the meeting, Churkin told the UNSC members that the “counterterrorist operation in Aleppo will conclude in the next few hours.” The fighters are currently leaving the city through corridors that they chose themselves, including ones leading to Syria’s Idlib province, Churkin stressed.

"The counter-terrorist operation in Aleppo will be completed within a few hours. All the militants along with their families and the wounded are now withdrawing through the agreed corridors in the directions they themselves have chosen, including in the direction of Idlib,” the Russian envoy said.

An official with one of the militant groups in Aleppo earlier told Reuters that an agreement had been reached with Russia on Tuesday, while another rebel representative reported, “There are signs of a breakthrough in the coming hours.”

However, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has urged the Syrian government and its Russian and Iranian allies to "urgently allow the remaining civilians to escape" Aleppo and facilitate humanitarian aid access to the city.

"In recent days and hours, we appear to be witnessing nothing less than an all-out effort by the Syrian government and its allies to end the country's internal conflict through a total, uncompromising military victory," Ban told the UN Security Council.

After the Security Council meeting on Tuesday, Churkin called Ban’s participation in it  an “ill-advised” decision.

“The Secretary General speaking on a formal meeting of the UN Security Council, he shouldn’t be relying on unchecked information,” he said.

The UN head “should be more careful to not be an instrument to spread fake news,” he added.

Ban’s stance turned out to be in line with the US and its allies, who have been supporting the so-called "moderate opposition" in Aleppo and on Tuesday called the city’s liberation a “dark day.”

US envoy Samantha Power claimed that “the Assad regime and Russia appeared dead set on seizing every last square inch of Aleppo by force no matter how many innocent bodies piled up in their wake.”

Her statement was echoed by British UN Ambassador Matthew Rycroft, who went even further in his rhetoric.

“This is a dark day for the people of Aleppo. Surely, the darkest of the past five years. Assad’s forces, propped up by Russia and Iran, have once again redefined horror. They’ve gone from siege to slaughter,” Rycroft told the UNSC.

Aleppo has been divided between the government forces and the militants since the start of the Syrian conflict in 2011.

However, in recent weeks, the Syrian Army has made significant gains in eastern Aleppo and is close to liberating it from the militants.

The successful offensive allowed thousands of people to flee the area and receive humanitarian assistance from the Russian and Syrian military.