This story was updated on 12/16/16 with new information at the bottom.
Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed in Syria's war, with cities like war-torn Aleppo becoming a "giant graveyard." Amid a tragic and horrific humanitarian crisis, representatives from Russia, Turkey, and Syrian rebel groups have agreed upon a ceasefire and an evacuation plan for Aleppo.
The Syrian rebel fighters were losing ground in Aleppo, but they still maintained control over some of the eastern parts of the city, according to BBC. Pro-government forces have bombed the rebel-controlled eastern half of the city for years, and in recent months, the city was besieged by pro-government forces. In the last two weeks, the government launched an offensive with support from Russia's air power—the offensive killed at least 82 civilians, including 11 women and 13 children, on Monday alone, according to UN officials who described the bloodshed as "a complete meltdown of humanity," the New York Times reports.
According to NBC News, Russia claims they've ended all military action in eastern Aleppo, where the Syrian government is now in charge. For most of the last four years, the city has been split in two—the government-controlled western half and the rebel-held east.
Before war broke out, Aleppo was Syria's financial center and most populous city.
The Guardian reports there are still tens of thousands of civilians trapped in east Aleppo.
While the rebels will be allowed to leave the city, it's not clear yet who else will be allowed to evacuate. Rebels, as well as activists and aid workers, said they were told that civilians and fighters would be allowed to leave, which would mean that civilians and rebels could avoid being arrested or punished in government-held areas.
But Russian ambassador Vitaly I. Churkin says otherwise. Churkin made it clear, "The agreement is for the fighters to leave." Because the Syrian government would take control after the rebel fighters left, Churkin says the civilians don't need to leave: "The civilians, they can stay, they can go to safe places, they can take advantage of the humanitarian arrangements that are on the ground. Nobody is going to harm the civilians."
Many civilians don't see it that way, though. As the New York Times explains:
"To the civilians who have so far chosen not to go to government-held areas, it is precisely the government they fear. Many have been treated as terrorists, and threatened with prison and torture, for protesting against the government, providing medical care to fighters and other activists, and speaking to foreign journalists."
Similarly, the Guardian explains:
"The reports of extrajudicial killings by the advancing regime forces, who are led by Iranian-backed militias, raised grave concerns over the fate of tens of thousands of civilians, doctors and activists who have remained in the shrinking rebel enclaves, and who faced death if they remained there or torture and execution if they fled over government lines into regime held areas."
The ceasefire doesn't undo the horrors that have taken place. David Miliband of the International Rescue Committee told NBC News, "Eastern Aleppo has become a bloody graveyard for thousands of innocent people."
In a statement to the New York Times, France's Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault described "coldblooded murders of entire families on the ground who were deemed close to the opposition; summary executions, including of women and children; people burned alive in their homes; the continuation of systematic targeting of hospitals, their staff and their patients."
Just earlier today, U.N. agency UNICEF reported, "Many children, possibly more than 100, unaccompanied or separated from their families, are trapped in a building, under heavy attack in east Aleppo."
The Consultative Council in the Levant Front, one of the biggest rebel groups in Aleppo, is led by Abdullah Othman. On Monday, Othman told The Daily Beast, "Women and children — their screams can be heard underneath the rubble. Unfortunately, there is nothing we can do to get them out. Everyone is panicking. There is great fear. Everyone can only think of himself, not about others."
In a statement, U.S. Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) argued that the ceasefire "is not a cause to celebrate, but a sure sign of the fate that awaits other Syrian cities." They wrote, "Having consolidated its power in Aleppo and paid no price for its war crimes, the Assad regime will use the ceasefire to reset its war machine and prepare to slaughter its way to victory across the rest of the country, which will undermine U.S. national security interests and increase the risk to U.S. troops serving in Syria."
Tragically, some people in Aleppo were posting what they fear could be their last messages on social media:
Around 500,000 people have been killed in the conflict so far.
The loss of Aleppo is "a major blow to the armed opposition," according to BBC, and "a major victory for the Russians, the Iranians, Lebanon's Hezbollah and some Iraqi Shia militias." Nonetheless, the war will continue in Syria, as rebels are still in charge of some large areas, as are ISIS jihadists.
12/16/2016: The New York Times reports that the evacuation of civilians and some members of rebel groups halted on Friday after 8,000 people were evacuated from the rebel-controlled portion of Aleppo. The reason for the halted evacuation is unclear, according to the Times.
"A very high number of people" still need to be evacauted from Eastern Aleppo, Elizabeth Hoff, who represents the World Health Organization in Syria told the press on Friday, the Times reports. Hoff estimates there are between 50,000 and 100,000 still in eastern Aleppo.
12/15/2016: According to BBC, the evacuation of eastern Aleppo was supposed to take place on Wednesday, but didn't happen because the ceasefire was broken hours after the agreement was announced. On Thursday, however, around 1,000 people were finally evacuated in buses and ambulances. The full evacuation, however, will probably take several more days, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross.
According to the New York Times, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad praised the "liberation" of Aleppo and added, "I want to confirm that what is happening today is history that is being written by every Syrian civilian."
According to CNN, "Most of the civilians will be taken to rebel-controlled area in the neighboring province of Idlib, one of the few remaining footholds rebel groups still have in the country -- and most likely the regime's next target for recapture."