The war-torn city of Aleppo has been recaptured, the Syrian army said Thursday, marking its biggest victory in the country’s long civil war.
“The restoration of security and stability to Aleppo is a victory which forms a strategic juncture and important turning point in the fight against terrorism, from one point, and a blow to the terrorist project and its supporters from another,” the army’s general command said in a statement posted by the Syrian Arab News Agency.
President Bashar al-Assad’s government has full control of Aleppo, the country’s most populous city before the war, for the first time since 2012.
The rebel forces agreed to withdraw from the city after a monthlong army offensive drove them from 90 percent of their original territory.
The announcement came hours after the last convoy of residents was reported leaving the city, the last of a weeklong evacuation effort.
But the United States remained wary of the victory, citing reports of increased violence in other parts of the country as well as the future of those evacuated from Aleppo.
“Certainly, seeing these reports that they are claiming to have all of Aleppo, I am in no position to dispute that,” U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said. “But they bear responsibility for what they did to Aleppo and Aleppo’s citizens.”
The United Nations also echoed concerns over increased violence elsewhere in Syria. Speaking Thursday in Geneva, U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura warned that Idlib, where many evacuees have gone, “could be in theory the next Aleppo.”
The International Committee of the Red Cross said that by Thursday, about 34,000 people had left eastern Aleppo, which rebels held for four years in their effort to push Assad from office.
Hundreds more people have left Foua and Kefraya, the villages in Idlib that the government insisted be included in an evacuation agreement.
“Thanks to the blood of our martyrs and the sacrifices of our valiant armed forces as well as allied forces … the general command of the armed forces announces the return of security to Aleppo after its release from terrorism and terrorists, and the departure of those who stayed there,” the army said in a statement, according to the French news agency AFP.