A government solider stands near the al-Ramousseh crossing, where rebel fighters evacuated the eastern neighborhoods of Aleppo, Syria, and relinquished full control of the key northern city to President Bashar al-Assad's armed forces. More than 30,000 people were evacuated from rebel-held territories in Aleppo over the past week, authorities said. The recapture of Aleppo is viewed as one of the biggest victories for Assad's regime since the civil conflict began in March 2011. Photo by European Pressphoto Agency
DAMASCUS, Syria, Dec. 22 (UPI) -- After weeks of intense fighting, the Syrian government on Thursday said it's finally got control of the entire city of Aleppo -- one of its biggest victories in the bloody civil war, which is now in its sixth year.
The Syrian army announced on state TV the "return of security to Aleppo" after months of control by U.S.-backed opposition forces.
"This victory represents a strategic change and a turning point in the war against terrorism on the one hand and a crushing blow to the [rebel] project and their supporters on the other hand," the Syrian army said.
Assad's forces reassumed control in Aleppo after the last throngs of rebel fighters evacuated late Thursday -- one day after freezing weather hampered efforts by the International Red Cross.
Aid workers said the most critically injured and sick who need medical treatment have been taken out of the city in thousands of buses and private vehicles. The Red Cross said about 34,000 people, including civilians and rebel fighters, have been evacuated in the past week.
On Wednesday, those evacuation efforts were stopped due to the freezing temperatures and a snow storm that made roads impassable. The evacuations resumed Thursday morning after the weather improved.
A report by NPR said families waited for days near evacuation vehicles in the cold weather, without food, afraid they might miss their opportunity to flee the city if they sought shelter elsewhere.
A Syrian child, who was among tens of thousands of people evacuated from Kafarya and Fuah villages in Idlib province this week, flashes a victory sign on Tuesday after arriving at a temporary housing center in the battle-scarred city of Aleppo. Citizens and rebel fighters evacuated from opposition-held eastern Aleppo as part of a cease-fire deal brokered by both parties to the country's five-year civil war. Photo by European Pressphoto Agency
Aleppo has been the epicenter of the yearslong civil conflict, and an all-out government assault a month ago on the rebel-held eastern portion of the city broke through amid a relentless bombing campaign. Assad's regime reclaimed much of the rebel-held territory amid international calls for a cease-fire to prevent Syria's escalating humanitarian crisis.
In the past week, Assad's forces have switched between obeying and ignoring cease-fires as aid workers rushed to evacuate tens of thousands of people to safer locations.
Earlier Thursday, the U.N. General Assembly voted to initiate a war crimes inquiry of Assad's government for the bloody six-year civil war, which has killed more than a half-million people since it started in March 2011. For much of that time, government forces held the west half of Aleppo and rebels the east.
The resolution, proposed by Liechtenstein and Sunni-led Qatar, passed the general assembly 105-15 with 52 abstentions.
Syrian diplomats, along with ally Iran, expressed outrage at the resolution, arguing that the fighting is aimed at quashing terrorists loyal to the Islamic State. In reality, the array of forces aligned against Assad run the gamut of terrorist sympathizers and rebel groups seeking to end Assad's iron grip on Syrian society.
The resolution calls on the U.N. Syria Commission to "collect, consolidate, preserve and analyze evidence of violations of international humanitarian law and human rights violations and abuses" in preparation for criminal proceedings, USA Today reported.
Syria's U.N. ambassador called the measure a "flagrant violation" of Syrian sovereignty.