In bitter weather, thousands of people are fleeing the fighting in Aleppo.
Behind them, Syrian government forces are advancing on the final pockets of rebel resistance in the city.
What Russia says
The Syrian government military offensive in Aleppo is over, according to Russia’s envoy to the UN.
Ambassador Vitaly Churkin says an agreement has been struck for rebels to evacuate the north-western city.
He insisted civilians would not be harmed, despite western and UN allegations of them being intentionally killed.
“Over the last hour, we have received information that the military activities in eastern Aleppo have stopped, it has stopped,” Churkin told a heated UN Security Council meeting, called by France and the UK.
“The Syrian government has established control over eastern Aleppo.”
Churkin told reporters that Russian military personnel have not seen “any abuses of international humanitarian law.”
What the UN says
The UN says it has reports claiming Syrian soldiers, along with allied Iraqi fighters, have summarily shot dead 82 civilians in recaptured districts of Aleppo.
In his briefing to the council, UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon called on the Syrian government, Russia and Iran to urgently allow civilians to escape the city.
There was an abundance of early warning given to this council regarding the situation in Aleppo,” Ban said. “We have collectively failed the people of Syria..history will not easily absolve us.”
“They have gone from siege to slaughter,” British UN ambassador Matthew Rycroft told the 15-member council.
UN Syria mediator Staffan de Mistura told reporters after the meeting that the UN wants its representatives to be allowed to be there when civilians are evacuated from the city and opposition fighters withdraw.
De Mistura estimated:
- 50,000 civilians remain rebel-held areas
- 1,500 opposition fighters remain
- 30% of whom are Nusra Front
The UN’s human rights office in Geneva says it has reports of abuses, including claims the army and allied Iraqi militias summarily executed at least 82 civilians in captured city districts.
What the US says
The US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, said the Syrian government, Russia and Iran would be responsible for atrocities committed in Aleppo.
“By rejecting UN/ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) evacuation efforts, you are signalling to those militia who are massacring innocents to keep doing what they are doing,” Power told the meeting in New York.
“Aleppo will join the ranks of those events in world history that define modern evil, that stain our conscience decades later – Halabja, Rwanda, Srebrenica and now Aleppo,” she continued.
A US State Department officials says the ceasefire was reportedly brokered between Russia and Turkey without US involvement.
What the Syrian army says
The Syrian army has denied carrying out killings or torture among those captured.
Thousands flee Aleppo
Thousands of people are fleeing the front lines of fighting in Aleppo as the Syrian military advanced on the city’s final pocket of rebel resistance.
The rout of rebels from more than half of their ever-shrinking territory in the east of the city sparked a mass exodus of civilians, despite the bitter weather.
What happens now?
Turkish and Russian officials will meet on Wednesday to discuss a possible ceasefire and the opening of a corrider, an unidentified Turkish official has told the Reuters news agency.
A crackdown on by President Bashar al-Assad on pro-democracy protesters in 2011 led to civil war.
ISIL militants have used the chaos to seize territory in Syria and Iraq.
Half of Syria’s 22 million people have been uprooted. More than 400,000 have been killed.
A surrender or withdrawal of the rebels from Aleppo would deliver Assad his biggest battlefield victory in the nearly six-year conflict.