Syrian Rebels Say Evacuation Agreement Met in Aleppo

Ceasefire comes amid UN reports of carnage, civilian deaths

Aleppo Syria airstrike
A Syrian man holds a girl as he stands on the rubble of houses that were destroyed by Syrian government forces air strikes in Aleppo, Syria / AP
December 13, 2016

Syrian rebels have reached a ceasefire agreement with Russia to evacuate civilians and opposition fighters remaining in eastern Aleppo amid reports that regime forces had massacred dozens of civilians in the besieged city, the Associated Press reported.

Osama Abu Zayd, a legal adviser for the opposition Free Syrian Army, told the AP that the deal went into effect Tuesday evening. Civilians and rebel fighters are expected to begin evacuating later Tuesday.

Pro-Assad forces have so far executed at least 82 civilians in the government's latest assault on Aleppo, the United Nations reported earlier in the day. The U.N. children's agency, UNICEF, said at least 100 children were trapped in a building under heavy attack.

Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the U.N. human rights agency, told reporters that troops allied with Syrian President Bashar al Assad have entered homes in the area and shot those inside, including women and children. He said other civilians were shot dead "on the spot" as they fled.

Rebel forces, who have held eastern Aleppo for four years, face almost certain defeat in the city as pro-government forces continue to advance. Opposition troops who remain in the city said government troops have burned civilians alive, according to the Daily Beast.

"We're filled with the deepest foreboding for those who remain in this last hellish corner" of eastern Aleppo, Colville said during a news conference Tuesday morning.

Syrian government forces, who now claim 99 percent control of eastern Aleppo, rejected U.N. reports that they were commiting atrocities against civilians and opposition fighters, calling the allegations "a desperate attempt" to gain sympathy from the international community. Russia, Syria's main ally, meanwhile claimed that rebels had "kept over 100,000 people as human shields."

Pope Francis issued a desperate appeal to Assad on Monday to halt the violence in the country, which has killed more than 400,000 people while displacing millions of refugees over the past six years.

The letter, hand delivered to Assad in Damascus by the Vatican's top diplomat in Syria, begged the president "to ensure that international humanitarian law is fully respected with regard to the protection of the civilians and access to humanitarian aid," the Guardian reported.

More than 100,000 people have fled eastern Aleppo in recent weeks, flooding into government and Kurdish-controlled areas, according to the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Still, thousands of civilians remain in the sliver of territory controlled by rebel forces.