The end of the battle for Aleppo
On December 13, Russian ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin told the Security Council that military action had ended in eastern Aleppo. A deal had been reached for the rebels to leave the city. The rebels confirmed the deal had been made.
The Battle of Aleppo, the battle and the siege that became the symbol for the humanitarian disaster that is Syria, the battle which since 2012 had pitted the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against an array of disorganized opposition rebels in what was essentially a standoff until massive Russian bombings turned the tide and enabled government troops and Iranian-sponsored militias to break through, that battle appeared to be over.
The news came in the wake of what UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called "reports of atrocities against a large number of civilians," including summary executions and even burning of people alive, atrocities committed by government troops and particularly by the militias in the final days of the battle.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights referred to "butcheries" carried out "every hour" and Jens Laerke of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs called it "a complete meltdown of humanity."
But at least it appeared it was over and the haunting question "What would you do about Aleppo," the question to which no one had a good answer, the question that could only bring the heart-shredding realization that sometimes there is nothing you can do, nothing that will not just increase the suffering, the death, the bloodshed, it appeared that question was finally silenced.
Except - the temptation is to say of course - it wasn't. The ceasefire agreement fell apart in less than a day.
It had been negotiated by Russia and Turkey and apparently Syria and Iran were ticked off they they weren't involved. As a result, the Iranian-backed militias refused to allow the evacuation even of the wounded, much less the rebels, to proceed.
The bombing, the destruction, the death, resumed, even intensified, only for another ceasefire to go into effect a day later, achieved after a concession to - notably - not Syria but Iran, involving arranging for a similar evacuation of two villages where Iranian-supported militias are under siege by rebel forces.
This time, it seemed to work. In the very early hours of Thursday, December 15, the International Committee of the Red Cross confirmed that the evacuation of the wounded from Aleppo had begun and Russia’s TASS news service said the evacuation of 5,000 Syrian rebels and their families was also under way.
So maybe it really is finally over. Over, that is, at least for the moment, at least for a few.
On a more if you will practical level, this is undeniably a military and perhaps more important political victory for Assad, for Russia, and perhaps even more for Iran. Aleppo was the last major urban center held by the rebels against the Assad regime.
But this does not mean in any sense that the war is over. Rebel forces in their varying forms, which include, we need to keep reminding ourselves, a variety of terrorist groups including some - such as the al-Nusra front - the US has supported as "moderates" solely because they say they oppose ISIS, still hold a significant amount of territory and the fact is, Assad is now almost entirely dependent on Russia and Iran for his survival.
Meanwhile, Daesh - that is, ISIS - has retaken the city of Palmyra and launched an attack on a major Syrian airbase.
The future of the war and the future of Syria is a very different question from the end of the battle for Aleppo. The blood continues to flow.