Aleppo, which has been under siege by Russian airstrikes and Iran-backed ground attacks for months, has endured a sustained and indiscriminate bombing campaign since September which has cost thousands of lives and destroyed such civilian targets as schools and hospitals. (Accurate death tolls are difficult to obtain due to the extreme danger faced by reporters in Syria.)
Earlier this year, rebels were able to retake much of eastern Aleppo from the Assad regime’s control, but their advances were halted when Russia and Iran increased their military aid to Assad’s forces. Russian aircraft pummeled eastern districts of Aleppo at all hours of the day, while Iran sent Shia militias from Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, as well as its own forces.
The “unthinkable” fall of eastern Aleppo to Assad’s forces has not ended the war–rebels still hold major strongholds throughout the country, and recently retook the city of Palmyra–but it has shaken up the roles of the international players who have had a hand in the conflict.
A planned three-day evacuation which began on Thursday was suspended due to continued fighting and shelling; the peacefire was also undermined by Iran’s demand that two rebel-held villages outside Aleppo be relinquished, according to rebel sources. Syrian state T.V. claimed that rebels had opened fire upon a convoy and by trying to take captives out of rebel-controlled territory.
Although the U.N. announced that 6,000 people were able to leave the city, more than 50,000 remain trapped and in need of assistance.
On Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that renewed peace talks would soon take place to end fighting in all of Syria. He said he would be working closely with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan to do so.
“The next step is to reach an agreement on a total ceasefire across the whole of Syria. We are conducting very active negotiations with representatives of the armed opposition, brokered by Turkey,” Putin said.
“If (peace talks) happens, it won’t compete with the Geneva talks, but will compliment them. Wherever the conflicting sides meet, in my view it is the right thing to do to try to find a political solution.”
Syrian opposition members have said that they would take part in such peace talks if Putin’s overtures were serious.
Assad has vowed to fight remaining rebel strongholds throughout the country. Rebel groups, however, have vowed not to give in despite the loss of Aleppo.
George Sabra, chief negotiator for the rebel forces’ High Negotiations Committee, said in an interview with the BBC that the opposition would fight on.
“Aleppo is an important place for the revolution but it’s not the last place,” Sabra said.
“Nobody can think about peaceful solutions in these circumstances,” he added.
In April, the UN special envoy for Syria estimated that 400,000 people had been killed after the five years of conflict the country has witnessed. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has estimated that 11 million Syrians have fled their homes since war broke out in March 2011, with some 6 million fleeing abroad (this represents half of Syria’s pre-war population of 22 million). One million have sought asylum in Europe, particularly in Germany and Sweden.