(Bloomberg) -- Syrian President Bashar al-Assad accused Western countries of caring more about protecting “terrorists” than civilians in Aleppo, where his Russian-backed military drove out opposition fighters in an onslaught condemned worldwide for its brutality.
Pressure on Syria’s Russian and Iranian backers to arrange a cease-fire in Syria’s former commercial hub was tantamount to saying, “Please, stop the advancement of the Syrian army against the terrorists,” Assad said in an interview with Kremlin-funded RT television that airs Wednesday, according to an excerpt on the station’s website.
The city’s fall into into government hands on Tuesday after four years of fighting is Assad’s biggest victory since the start of the conflict in 2011. The city was the symbolic center for the anti-Assad insurgency, but both the president and rebel forces have said its capture won’t mean the end of the war. While outbursts of violence marred a cease-fire, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Syrian government forces may have full control of the city within two to three days.
The Syrian government has labeled all rebels, including moderate ones, as terrorists since peaceful protests against Assad began in March 2011. The fighting later evolved into a civil war that has killed about 450,000 people and wounded over 2 million, according to the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. At least 1,073 people, including 88 children, have been killed in the battle to retake the eastern part of Aleppo between Nov. 15 and Dec. 12, according to SOHR.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Tuesday that he was receiving “alarming reports of atrocities against civilians including women and children in eastern Aleppo. We must do all we can to stop the carnage.”
Russia had no information about reported mass arrests, disappearances and bloody reprisals “against so-called civilian activists,” the country’s ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, told the UN Security Council. In a heated exchange with U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power over Russia’s role in the bloodshed, he retorted: “Remember your own country’s track record and then you can start speaking from the position of any moral supremacy.”
Aleppo fell 15 months after the Russian air force started bombing operations to prop up a coalition of Assad’s army, Lebanon’s Hezbollah fighters and Iranian Revolutionary Guards on the verge of defeat by opposition and radical Islamic forces. Russian engagement in the conflict in effect sidelined the U.S., which sought to back “moderate” rebels as a force against Islamic State fighters.
“You don’t achieve a victory with civilian massacres,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault told France2 television when asked if the capture of Aleppo meant Assad’s regime had “won.” Ayrault said there is “total confusion” about the situation on the ground, and called on the Syrian regime and its Russian backers to allow international observers.