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Epic destruction leaves Aleppo an empty shell at siege’s end

December 15, 2016 at 6:40 PM EST
People walk as they gather to be evacuated from a rebel-held sector of eastern Aleppo, Syria December 15, 2016. REUTERS/Abdalrhman Ismail - RTX2V626
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HARI SREENIVASAN:  The brutal fight for Aleppo seems to now be over.  Evacuations of civilians and fighters from the rebel-held east began today, as the pitched four-year battle ends.

Dan Rivers of Independent Television News is there.

DAN RIVERS, ITN:  After so many false dawns, the siege of Aleppo is over.  But even this morning, President Assad’s artillery couldn’t resist one last go at killing those still trapped.

Inside the rebel enclave, those he targeted for four and a half years prepared to leave.  And these pictures show that while fighters were among them, most appeared to be civilians.  They included women, children, the injured and the vulnerable, all caught up in the catastrophe of this conflict.

The scale of the destruction they were leaving was laid bare, as was the enmity with which they regard those who’ve besieged them.

CHILD (translated):  It’s true we’re leaving Aleppo.  But once we grow up, we’re going to come back and liberate Aleppo, god willing we’re going to come back and liberate Aleppo, me and all of my brothers.  All of us.

DAN RIVERS:   Outside, the regime buses were lined up and ready.  A solitary vehicle carrying a Red Crescent flag emerged from rebel lines.  Terms agreed.  It was time to end the suffering.

The buses threaded their way through the debris to start the evacuation.

The call to prayer cut through the silence as a tense city held its breath and hoped for peace.

Then, the first sign.  Flashing lights, a convoy of ambulances and buses emerging onto Aleppo’s ring road.  The occupants of the buses came almost face to face with the men who’d sought to kill them.  But they were allowed to leave unhindered.  And it didn’t take long for President Assad’s supporters to start their celebrations.

(CHANTING)

MAN:  I feel very happy.  I feel that this victory will continue to all Syria.

DAN RIVERS:  But after so much bloodshed, this shouldn’t have been a day of celebration.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  Dan Rivers joins me from Aleppo.  You can imagine, it’s not the easy satellite connection.  So, please excuse the interference on the line.

Dan, you were there the last month.  Tell me the main differences between then and now, beyond the obvious victory by the Assad forces, especially among members supportive of the regime.

DAN RIVERS:  When we were here a month ago, this war was waging outside the window I’m standing in front of.  But in the intervening time, they have lost, day after day, chunks, districts have fallen week after week, until they have just been reduced to about one square mile.

And the devastation across the city is absolutely jaw-dropping.  To see today, finally, the battle coming to an end, seeing a piece of history and a watershed in this conflict.

We didn’t manage to speak personally to anyone who came out because we were prevented from doing so.  We’ve spoken to people in refugee camps.  Many of them were terrified coming over into government-controlled Aleppo.

HARI SREENIVASAN: We’ve seen pictures of the destruction over the last few weeks.  What’s left of the city?  What have Assad and his allies actually won?

DAN RIVERS: They’ve won a shell of the city in the east.  The destruction is epic.  That’s the only word I can use to describe it.

We were taken to the old city the other day, and just the loss of heritage, of this, a city that claims to be one of the oldest in the world.  I can only liken it, I guess, to something you would see in maybe the Second World War.  People have talked about it being Syria’s Stalingrad.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Dan Rivers of Independent Television News joining us tonight from Aleppo, Syria — thanks so much.

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