Syrian army says it has retaken Aleppo: statement

BEIRUT/GENEVA, Dec 22 (Reuters) - The Syrian army said on Thursday that it had retaken complete control of Aleppo after the last rebel fighters were evacuated from the city, handing President Bashar al-Assad his biggest victory of the war.

The army said it had brought "security and safety" to Aleppo, ending four years of rebel resistance in parts of the northern Syrian city.

The last group of rebels and their families holed up in a small eastern enclave were evacuated on Thursday, under a deal that gives the army and its allies full control of the city after years of fighting, Syrian state television said.

Related: Children affected by conflict in Aleppo

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Children affected by conflict in Aleppo
TOPSHOT - EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / Syrian civil defence volunteers, known as the White Helmets, retrieve bodies from under the rubble of a building following a reported airstrike on September 23, 2016, on the al-Muasalat area in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo. Missiles rained down on rebel-held areas of Syria's Aleppo, causing widespread destruction that overwhelmed rescue teams, as the army prepared a ground offensive to retake the city. / AFP / THAER MOHAMMED (Photo credit should read THAER MOHAMMED/AFP/Getty Images)
A Syrian boy awaits treatment at a make-shift hospital following air strikes on rebel-held eastern areas of Aleppo on September 24, 2016. Heavy Syrian and Russian air strikes on rebel-held eastern areas of Aleppo city killed at least 25 civilians on Saturday, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, overwhelming doctors and rescue workers. / AFP / KARAM AL-MASRI (Photo credit should read KARAM AL-MASRI/AFP/Getty Images)
EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / Syrian civil defence volunteers, known as the White Helmets, retrieve bodies from under the rubble of a building following a reported airstrike on September 23, 2016, on the al-Muasalat area in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo. Missiles rained down on rebel-held areas of Syria's Aleppo, causing widespread destruction that overwhelmed rescue teams, as the army prepared a ground offensive to retake the city. / AFP / THAER MOHAMMED (Photo credit should read THAER MOHAMMED/AFP/Getty Images)
EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / Syrian civil defence volunteers, known as the White Helmets, retrieve bodies from under the rubble of a building following a reported airstrike on September 23, 2016, on the al-Muasalat area in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo. Missiles rained down on rebel-held areas of Syria's Aleppo, causing widespread destruction that overwhelmed rescue teams, as the army prepared a ground offensive to retake the city. / AFP / THAER MOHAMMED (Photo credit should read THAER MOHAMMED/AFP/Getty Images)
ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUALS COVERAGE OF SCENES OF INJURY A civil defence member transports an injured girl into an ambulance after an airstrike in the rebel-controlled city of Idlib, Syria June 15, 2016. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah TEMPLATE OUT
Men inspect the damage after an airstrike on the rebel held al-Qaterji neighbourhood of Aleppo, Syria September 25, 2016. REUTERS/Abdalrhman Ismail
ALEPPO, SYRIA - SEPTEMBER 26: A wounded kid is seen after Syrian and Russian army carried out an airstrike on residential area at Maadi town of Aleppo, Syria on September 26, 2016. (Photo by Jawad al Rifai/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
A Syrian man carries the body of an infant retrieved from under the rubble of a building following a reported airstrike on September 23, 2016, on the al-Muasalat area in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo. Missiles rained down on rebel-held areas of Syria's Aleppo, causing widespread destruction that overwhelmed rescue teams, as the army prepared a ground offensive to retake the city. / AFP / THAER MOHAMMED (Photo credit should read THAER MOHAMMED/AFP/Getty Images)
EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / A Syrian woman carries the body of her infant after he was retrieved from under the rubble of a building following a reported airstrike on September 23, 2016, on the al-Muasalat area in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo. Missiles rained down on rebel-held areas of Syria's Aleppo, causing widespread destruction that overwhelmed rescue teams, as the army prepared a ground offensive to retake the city. / AFP / THAER MOHAMMED (Photo credit should read THAER MOHAMMED/AFP/Getty Images)
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At least 34,000 people, both civilians and fighters, have been evacuated from east Aleppo in a week-long operation hampered by severe winter weather, the latest U.N. figures show. But the United Nations estimates that thousands more remain.

"The process for evacuation was traumatic, with crowding, and vulnerable people waiting for hours and exposed to sub-zero temperatures," U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters in New York.

The last evacuees left a tiny pocket that was all that remained of a rebel sector that covered nearly half the city before being besieged in the summer and hit by intense air strikes that reduced swathes of it to rubble. As the months of bombardment wore on, rescue and health services collapsed.

Related: Aleppo before the war

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Aleppo before the war
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Aleppo before the war
A general view shows the Old City of Aleppo as seen from Aleppo's historic citadel, Syria December 11, 2009. Picture taken December 11, 2009. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
A general view shows AleppoÃs legendary Baron Hotel, Syria October 6, 2010. Picture taken October 6, 2010. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
A vendor sits inside an antique shop in al-Jdeideh neighbourhood, in the Old City of Aleppo, Syria December 12, 2009. Picture taken December 12, 2009. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
BASILICA OF SAINT SIMEON, ALEPPO, SYRIA - 2010/03/25: Tourists at the ruins at the Church of Saint Simeon Stylites, built in the the 5th century AD and the oldest surviving Byzantine church, near Aleppo, Syria. (Photo by Leisa Tyler/LightRocket via Getty Images)
A man crosses a street in Aleppo, Syria December 12, 2009. Picture taken December 12, 2009. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Visitors walk inside Aleppo's Umayyad mosque, Syria October 6, 2010. Picture taken October 6, 2010. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A view shows an ornate entrance to Aleppo's Umayyad mosque, Syria October 6, 2010. Picture taken October 6, 2010. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
Costa Coffee and Second Cup coffee branches are seen inside the Shahba Mall in Aleppo, Syria December 12, 2009. Picture taken December 12, 2009. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
People walk inside the Khan al-Shounah market, in the Old City of Aleppo, Syria December 11, 2009. Picture taken December 11, 2009. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
People stand inside the Shahba Mall in Aleppo, Syria December 12, 2009. Picture taken December 12, 2009. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
Christmas ornaments decorate a balcony in Aleppo, Syria December 12, 2009. Picture taken December 12, 2009. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
A man walks past a shop in al-Jdeideh neighbourhood, in the Old City of Aleppo, Syria December 12, 2009. Picture taken December 12, 2009. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
People walk in al-Jdeideh neighbourhood, in the Old City of Aleppo, Syria December 12, 2009. Picture taken December 12, 2009. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
People walk inside the Shahba Mall in Aleppo, Syria December 12, 2009. Picture taken December 12, 2009. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
Tourists vist the historical Hamam El Nahasin, in the Old City of Aleppo, Syria October 6, 2010. Picture taken October 6, 2010. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
People walk in the Town Mall in Aleppo, Syria December 12, 2009. Picture taken December 12, 2009. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
A church is pictured in Aleppo, Syria December 12, 2009. Picture taken December 12, 2009. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
A man walks past shops in al-Jdeideh neighbourhood, in the Old City of Aleppo, Syria December 12, 2009. Picture taken December 12, 2009. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
A man stands outside an antiques shop in al-Jdeideh neighbourhood, in the Old City of Aleppo, Syria December 12, 2009. Picture taken December 12, 2009. REUTERS/Khalil Asia
A view shows a Mashrabiya in al-Jdeideh neighbourhood, in the Old City of Aleppo, Syria December 12, 2009. Picture taken December 12, 2009. REUTERS/Khalil Asia
A view shows the entrance of the Shahba Mall in Aleppo, Syria December 12, 2009. Picture taken December 12, 2009. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
Customers, covered in towels, rest after taking a bath at the historical Hamam El Nahasin, in the Old City of Aleppo, Syria October 6, 2010. Picture taken October 6, 2010. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
Visitors tour Aleppo's historic citadel, Syria December 11, 2009. Picture taken December 11, 2009. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
People walk near Aleppo's Bab al-Faraj Clock Tower, Syria October 6, 2010. Picture taken October 6, 2010. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
People tour inside Aleppo's historic citadel, Syria December 11, 2009. Picture taken December 11, 2009. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
People walk along a street near Aleppo's historic citadel, in the Old City of Aleppo, Syria December 12, 2009. Picture taken December 12, 2009. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
People are seen outside Aleppo's historic citadel, Syria December 11, 2009. Picture taken December 11, 2009. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
[UNVERIFIED CONTENT] Local people approaching steps into Aleppo citadel in Syria.
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IDLIB WARNING

A senior United Nations official warned that those evacuated from Aleppo after the crushing government offensive could suffer the same fate in their new place of refuge outside the city.

"Many of them have gone to Idlib, which could be in theory the next Aleppo," U.N. Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura said in Geneva.

He said a cessation of hostilities across Syria was vital if another battle like the bloody struggle forAleppo was to be avoided.

Thousands of refugees from Aleppo were taken to Idlib, arousing fears that the rebel-held city in northwestern Syria could be next. Assad has declared that the war is far from over and that his armed forces would march on other rebel-held areas.

Assad said earlier that retaking Aleppo was a victory shared with his Russian and Iranian allies.

In comments after meeting a senior Iranian delegation, Assad said his battlefield successes were a "basic step on the road to ending terrorism in the whole of Syria and creating the right circumstances for a solution to end the war."

Related: Inside destruction and fighting in Aleppo, Syria

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Inside destruction and fighting in Aleppo, Syria
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Inside destruction and fighting in Aleppo, Syria
A young Syrian boy cries as he sits on the rubble after a missile fired by Syrian government forces hit a residential area in the Maghayir district in the old quarter of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on July 21, 2015. According to the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights more than 35 homes were destroyed in the attack killing at least 18 civilians, adding that the death toll was likely to rise. AFP PHOTO / KARAM AL-MASRI (Photo credit should read KARAM AL-MASRI/AFP/Getty Images)
Syrians carry a body on a stretcher over the rubble after a missile fired by Syrian government forces hit a residential area in the Maghayir district in the old quarter of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on July 21, 2015. According to the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights more than 35 homes were destroyed in the attack killing at least 18 civilians, adding that the death toll was likely to rise. AFP PHOTO / KARAM AL-MASRI (Photo credit should read KARAM AL-MASRI/AFP/Getty Images)
People walk past a damaged building in the al-Kalasa neighbourhood of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on July 19, 2015. AFP PHOTO / AMC / KHALED KHATEB (Photo credit should read KHALED KHATEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Syrians stand on the rubble of a destroyed building following a reportedly barrel bomb attack by Syrian government forces in an rebel-held area in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on July 8, 2015. More than 230,000 people have been killed in Syria since the country's conflict began in March 2011 . AFP PHOTO / AMC / ZEIN AL-RIFAI (Photo credit should read ZEIN AL-RIFAI/AFP/Getty Images)
A Syrian man carries the body of a child wrapped in a cloth after its been removed from under the rubble of destroyed buildings following reported airstrikes by government forces on the rebel-controlled part of Aleppo's Maadi residential district, on June 21, 2015. AFP PHOTO / KARAM AL-MASRI (Photo credit should read KARAM AL-MASRI/AFP/Getty Images)
A member of the Syrian Red Crescent rests at the Garage al-Hajz crossing in the rebel-held neighbourhood of Bustan al-Qasr district in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo ahead of a reported exchange operation between the Syrian regime and rebel group fighters on June 11, 2015. Arabic writting on the wall reads' Free Masons are those who stand behind Bashar [al-Assad]'.AFP PHOTO / KARAM AL-MASRI (Photo credit should read KARAM AL-MASRI/AFP/Getty Images)
Smoke rises from buildings in the area of Tal Sharba following government air strikes on the outskirts of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on December 27, 2015, as government forces seized the area from Islamic State (IS) group jihadists. AFP PHOTO / GEORGE OURFALIAN / AFP / GEORGE OURFALIAN (Photo credit should read GEORGE OURFALIAN/AFP/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - DECEMBER 25: A man runs away as flames rise after the war crafts belonging to the Russian army carried out airstrikes on two hospital in the Azaz town of Aleppo, Syria on December 25, 2015. (Photo by IHH/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - OCTOBER 13 : Wreckage of buildings are seen after Russian war crafts hit the Syrian opposition controlled town Hayan in Aleppo, Syria on October 13, 2015. (Photo by Ahmed Hasan Ubeyd/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - OCTOBER 13: A view of the attack site after Russian war crafts hit the Syrian opposition controlled town Daret Ezza in Aleppo, Syria on October 13, 2015. (Photo by Mamun Abu Omer/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - MAY 14 : Smoke rises after US-led coalition forces hit Daesh targets in northern Aleppo, Syria on May 14, 2015. (Photo by Huseyin Nasir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - MAY 12: Members of al-Shamiyya Front fire artillery as they attack the western side of Sehba Dam which is under control of Daesh in northern Aleppo, Syria on May 12, 2015. (Photo by Huseyin Nasir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - MAY 12: Members of al-Shamiyya Front are seen before they attack the western side of Sehba Dam which is under control of Daesh in northern Aleppo, Syria on May 12, 2015. (Photo by Salih Mahmud Leyla/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - AUGUST 09: Smoke rises after Russian forces airstrike over opposition controlled cement plant located in southeast of Aleppo, Syria on August 09, 2016. (Photo by Beha El Halebi/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - AUGUST 08: Members of the Syrian oppositions launch rocket attack to military headquarters at Assad Regime controlled Hamdaniya district of Aleppo, Syria on August 8, 2016. (Photo by Beha El Halebi/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - JULY 26 : Syrians inspect the damage after Asad Regime forces' attack on opposition controlled Meshed region in Aleppo, Syria on July 26, 2016. (Photo by Mustafa Sultan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - JULY 17: Smoke rises after an ammunition depot belongs to Assad Regime forces, exploded due to an unknown reason at Sufayra district of Aleppo, Syria on July 17, 2016. (Photo by Muhammed Kurab/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
People walk past a damaged barbershop in a government-controlled district of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on May 21, 2016. In Syrias second city Aleppo, war-weary residents have replaced their fragile glass windows with nylon plastic. Because of the clashes, shelling and the sharp increase in the price of glass, residents across divided Aleppo no longer use glass. A square meter of glass costs 3,300 Syrian pounds now -- compared to 425 before the war began. But a meter of nylon plastic costs a maximum of 500 Syrian pounds. / AFP / GEORGE OURFALIAN / TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY KARAM AL-MASRI AND AHMAD ABOUZEID (Photo credit should read GEORGE OURFALIAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Orphans children in a shelter in the city of Aleppo. Syria. (Photo by Eduardo Martins/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - APRIL 5 : Wreckage of a Syrian Regime Forces' warplane is seen after it has been shot down by the opposition forces in Aleppo's Ays district, Syria on April 5, 2016. (Photo by Firas Faham/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - APRIL 3: Smoke rises as the war-crafts belonging to the US-led coalition forces carry out airstrikes on Daesh terrorist organization's positions near the Tat village in Aleppo, Syria after Syrian opponents took control of three villages on April 3, 2016. (Photo by Huseyin Nasr/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
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Russia's air force conducted hundreds of raids that pulverized rebel-held parts of Aleppo while Iranian-backed militias, led by the Lebanese group Hezbollah, poured thousands of fighters into the city.

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Russian air strikes in Syria had killed 35,000 rebel fighters and halted a chain of revolutions in the Middle East.

LAST STAGES

Fighters and civilians were evacuated overnight and on Thursday from east Aleppo to opposition-held areas under an agreement between the warring sides, the International Committee of the Red Cross said.

"Most are heading towards camps, or to their relatives, or shelter locations," said Ahmad al-Dbis, a medical aid worker heading a team evacuating patients from Aleppo. "The humanitarian situation in northern Syria is very difficult, because the area is already densely populated since it has people displaced from all over Syria."

Those leaving Aleppo were not only going to Idlib, a city and province southwest of Aleppo, but to villages in the countryside in Aleppo province that lies west and north of the city and has also been heavily bombed.

Hundreds of other people were also evacuated from two villages besieged by rebels near Idlib and taken to government lines in Aleppo, part of the deal that has allowed insurgents to withdraw from the city carrying light weapons.

A rebel official said a heavy snow storm that hit northern Syria and the sheer numbers involved had delayed the evacuation.

"The numbers of civilians, their cars alongside and of course the weather all are making the evacuation slow," Munir al-Sayal, head of the political wing of Ahrar al Sham, said.

(Reporting by Ellen Francis; Editing by Catherine Evans)

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