Fall of Aleppo: Why are they fighting in Syria?

Officials from Russia, Turkey and Syrian rebel groups have reportedly reached an agreement for the rebels to leave the beleaguered  city of Aleppo in war-torn Syria, as pro-government forces have retaken an estimated 95 percent of the city.

In what a U.N. official called a “complete meltdown of humanity,” the forces of Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad killed civilians in the streets Monday as they pushed forward in their final offensive to retake the eastern half of the city.

As of 9:49 p.m. local time, Russia says all military action in eastern Aleppo has stopped and the Syrian government is now in control.

U.N. and Russian officials both said that evacuations of the eastern portion of the city could begin as early as Tuesday evening. According to the Russians, the rebel forces are being allow to leave the city with their families to “destinations of their choice.”

The city of more than 2 million people has been virtually dismantled after more than five years of fighting.

Here’s what’s the conflict in Aleppo is about.

Where is Aleppo?

Aleppo is a city in Syria. It was once Syria's largest city, and was named a Unesco World Heritage site because of its importance to the world’s culture and the history of the Middle East. There are about 2.3 million people living there.

Why is Aleppo in the news?

Syria has been embroiled in a civil war for more than five years. The fighting, which began in March 2011 in Deraa, moved to the area in and around Aleppo in 2012 and has been fierce and constant there since then.

Why is there a civil war going on?

Syrians have long complained about corruption in their government, the lack of freedom, high unemployment, and the reign of the ruling al-Assad family. The current president, Bashar al-Assad, has been ruling the country since he succeeded his father, Hafez, when Hafez died in 2000.

Many believe the Arab Spring movements in other Middle East countries inspired the uprising in Deraa. When the government used overwhelming force to combat demonstrations in Deraa, the rebel movement gained support from Syrians opposed to Assad.

Who is fighting?

The troops of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad are fighting insurgent troops known as rebels who are trying to overthrow Assad’s government. In Aleppo, rebel forces have been centered in the eastern portion of the city. The government forces are in the western half.

Why hasn’t the government been able to defeat the rebels? 

For a number of reasons – the main one being the intervention of other countries and groups. Russia, the United States, Iran and Saudi Arabia have all played large roles in the war as has the Islamic State terror organization.

Russia and Iran support Assad’s Shia government, while the United States and Saudi Arabia have – to some degree or another – backed rebel Sunni forces.

How bad has the fighting been in Aleppo?

About as bad as it can be with anywhere from 250,000 to 270,000 people dead, according to humanitarian organizations and United Nation estimates. One monitoring group says the number is closer to 470,000 dead. The U.N. stopped counting casualties in August of 2015.

Nearly 5 million people have fled the country, many of them women and children. They have tried to relocate in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and other Western countries, including the United States. The U.N. says 6.5 million people are internally displaced, meaning they are trying to find a safe haven from the fighting inside Syria, itself.

The United States and other countries have charged Assad with horrific acts during the civil war, ranging from the use of chemical weapons to mass slayings in the streets.

What happened today?

A last brutal push into Aleppo happened on Tuesday as pro-government forces reportedly retook the city, killing 82 civilians "on the spot" as they closed in on the last rebel enclave, The Associated Press reported.

According to the AP: “U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says opposition forces control just 5 percent of eastern Aleppo and the U.N. has received "credible reports" of civilians killed by intense bombing and summary executions by pro-government forces.”

In the past few days there have been reports of other mass killings, including reports that children were burned alive. These reports have not been independently confirmed.

At 8 p.m. local time, the U.N. envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura,  said discussions of a planned cease-fire in eastern Aleppo and the safe withdrawal of people from the besieged area is now "imminent."

At 9:24 p.m. local time, Russian officials said the Syrian-led 'counterterrorism operation' in eastern Aleppo will “end in a few hours,” and that "all militants are leaving eastern Aleppo with their families to destinations of their choice.”

Will this end the civil war?

No, it will not end the civil war because there are still pockets of resistance in other areas of the country.

When the government gains control over Aleppo, they will have control of the four major cities in Syria.

Sources: The BBC; The New York Times; The Associated Press