The end of the battle for Aleppo is drawing near as over the past weeks government forces have quickly taken control of large swaths of previously rebel-held territory in Eastern Aleppo.
Since September 3rd 2016, when pro-government forces cut off rebel-held areas from supply routes west of the city, Eastern Aleppo has been under a “starve or surrender” siege imposed by pro-government forces – experiencing unseen levels of airstrikes, shelling and the use of both chemical and incendiary weaponry. With hospitals and other critical infrastructure being targeted, the humanitarian situation in eastern Aleppo’s besieged neighborhoods has sharply deteriorated. A lack of medical supplies, food or clean drinking water has led to reports of malnutrition and a lack of basic medical care.
On November 27th, the rebel-held neighborhood of Sheik Fares and Shekh Khodr fell to pro-government forces. Since then rebel-controlled territory in Eastern Aleppo has diminished significantly – reducing to an area that today is less than six-square kilometers.
News of the assault has seen social media flooded with local and international calls to end the assault on the small remaining cordon of rebel control. As neighbourhoods fall to pro-government forces incidents of mass execution and forced recruitment of men and boys into the regime’s military forces have been reported.
As pro-government forces swiftly isolate opposition forces and countless civilians, a last minute ceasefire negotiated between Russian and Turkish officials was put into place on Tuesday December 13th in an attempt to stem the violence. While details of the ceasefire were not immediately clear, sources claimed the agreement included the mass evacuation of rebel fighters and civilians still remaining in besieged areas.
With fighting on pause, and buses preparing to enter rebel-held areas to initiate the evacuation, many assumed that the battle in Aleppo would soon come to an end. But on the morning of December 14th a reported row within the pro-Assad coalition saw the ceasefire collapse and strikes on rebel-held areas resume. Opposition officials reported new conditions imposed by Iran – a key ally of the Assad regime – caused the agreement to falter.
While no official announcement has been made by pro-regime sources, opposition sources have reported that an evacuation may happen Thursday. Though regardless of any impending ceasefire and evacuation, what is clear is that the fall of rebel-held Aleppo is all but an inevitability.
With Assad’s retaking of Syria’s largest city and economic hub, this will mark a turning point for Syria’s civil war. With a reduced foothold, rebel forces will be left with only pockets of control across western Syria. And as the coalition of groups that makes up pro-government forces complete their task of removing the recalcitrant rebel presence in Aleppo, the question remains where they will turn their attention to next.