A devastating land and air campaign by Iran-backed Syrian government forces to retake rebel-held districts in Aleppo has culminated in a successful push to retake most of the city, which has been at the heart of a devastating war since 2011.
As regime coalition forces close in on what little remains of the once large swaths of rebel-held territory in eastern Aleppo, activists, militants and reporters sent out tweets and Facebook messages that they said would be their last.
“I am waiting to die or be captured by the Assad regime…Pray for me and always remember us,” wrote photographer Ameen al-Halabi on Facebook.
According to a Syrian military source who spoke with Reuters, the Iran and Russia-backed Syrian army are in the “last moments before declaring victory” in Aleppo after major setbacks faced by rebels earlier this week. The disintegration of rebel defenses and the retaking of the Sheikh Saeed district on Monday pushed the remaining fighters and civilians into a tiny pocket of heavily bombarded territory.
The Russian Defense Ministry said that more than 2,200 rebels had surrendered and 100,000 civilians had fled rebel-held districts since the start of the battle.
Iran has been criticized for its heavy involvement in the retaking of the city. While Russia has been widely condemned for engaging in devastating air strikes on eastern Aleppo since September, Iran’s contribution of extensive ground support has not attracted the same level of attention. #Putin_Assad_Iran_Genocide and other hashtags noting Iran’s complicity in the brutal siege gained traction on Twitter on Monday and Tuesday.
Activists have claimed that the majority of the executions that occurred on Tuesday were by Iran-backed Hezbollah forces. Many Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) members directly participated in the killings.
Desparate appeals for international aid and condemnation of the inaction of outside actors poured out of Aleppo through social media.
“Where are our supporters?” asked Radhwan Salem. “Believers in humanity, I don’t understand how the entire world (can) watch this and do nothing. Oh, God, help us.”
The U.N. has claimed that Syrian government forces have entered into the homes of fighters and civilians in retaken districts and shot men, women and children on the spot in what it described as a “complete meltdown of humanity“.
The National Council of the Resistance of Iran, whose president, Maryam Rajavi, has condemned the attacks on civilians in Aleppo as war crimes, reported on their website that hundreds of civilians have been excuted by Syrian and Iranian forces. While a large number of summary executions have been officially recognized by the U.N., those on the ground in Aleppo claim many more such deaths have gone unrecognized.
“There are more than 100 corpses and others who could be still alive under the rubble whom no one is able to get to,” said civil defence chief Ammar al Selmo.
Jan Egeland, the U.N. humanitarian adviser on Syria, tweeted that the Russian and Syrian governments would be held responsible for such attacks on civilians.
“The Gov’ts of Syria & Russia are accountable for any and all atrocities that the victorious militias in Aleppo are now committing!,” said Egeland.
“We’re filled with the deepest foreboding for those who remain in this last hellish corner of eastern Aleppo,” said U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville.
“The situation on the ground is catastrophic”, said Ammar al Salmo, leader of the Syrian civil defense in Aleppo, to VICE News.
“Every moment is worse than before. Right now there are 100,000 civilians trapped in 3-5 square kilometers – the remaining part of the besieged areas. Everything has stopped except the shelling, except the starving, except the cold of the winter and the fear and the terror. Everything has stopped.”
“The battle in eastern Aleppo should end quickly. [The rebels] don’t have much time. They either have to surrender or die,” said Lieutenant General Zaid al-Saleh, head of the government’s Aleppo security committee, to reporters after the Sheikh Saeed district was retaken on Monday.
While many on both sides suggested that the rebels had definitively lost the battle, others suggested that fighting would continue in what little territory still remained in rebel hands.
“It is expected there will be a new front line,” said an official from Jabha Shamiya, a rebel faction in Aleppo, suggesting the insurgents could make a new stand along the west bank of the river.