The Syrian army is in the "final stages" of retaking the warzone city of Aleppo from rebel groups, with heartbreaking messages coming from those stuck inside the city.
Syrian girl Bana Alabed, whose tweets captured the imagination of the world, joined journalists, activists and regular citizens in sending out what may be their final messages to the world as government forces closed in.
Their grief and sadness is clear; considering they backed the rebel groups, they fear they will be jailed, tortured or killed once the city is recaptured by government forces.
Tens of thousands of people are fleeing eastern Aleppo as government warplanes continue to pound rebel-held areas with airstrikes. pic.twitter.com/03ib2lK4e6— AJ+ (@ajplus) December 12, 2016
As the four-year battle drew to a close, the thoughts of observers went to the civilians trapped inside Aleppo -- those who had opposed the government forces, and who feared reprisal once the rebel groups were officially defeated. Media working in the area reported 60 rebels had been executed by advancing government forces, while people fleeing Aleppo had been forced to take up arms and join Assad's forces.
Reuters has grim photos from government-controlled W. Aleppo—where men who recently fled rebel areas are being conscripted into the military pic.twitter.com/zGxxuHmWj4— Avi Asher-Schapiro (@AASchapiro) December 12, 2016
Bana, whose tweets from inside Aleppo captured the hearts of many, laid out what was happening.
The army is so near now. I don't know what to do. only way to flee is to regime side which I fear coz they will kill me. - Fatemah #Aleppo— Bana Alabed (@AlabedBana) December 11, 2016
Final message - I am very sad no one is helping us in this world, no one is evacuating me & my daughter. Goodbye.- Fatemah #Aleppo— Bana Alabed (@AlabedBana) December 12, 2016
Final message - people are dying since last night. I am very surprised I am tweeting right now & still alive. - Fatemah #Aleppo— Bana Alabed (@AlabedBana) December 12, 2016
CNN managed to speak to Bana and her mother Fatemah yesterday.
On Tuesday, others shared messages from inside the city as bombs rained down from government forces. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported more than 10,000 civilians had fled eastern Aleppo in the last day, seeking refuge in government-controlled areas.
It is the doomsday inside Aleppo. Bombs bombs are over the head of civilians. people are running running but don't know where to go.— @Mr.Alhamdo (@Mr_Alhamdo) December 12, 2016
Understand this. I can't simply surrender and being captive. I am speaking out and this is a crime. I might then ask death and not got it.— @Mr.Alhamdo (@Mr_Alhamdo) December 12, 2016
We are still here in #Besieged_Aleppo regime did not take the city, people are needs for help,we are calling for an international protection— Monther Etaky (@montheretaky) December 12, 2016
Journalists and activists reported difficulties in reaching their sources inside the city, and feared the worst.
Activists in Aleppo are tweeting out their final, harrowing goodbyes. They will almost certainly be detained/tortured/killed upon capture.— Ben Taub (@bentaub91) December 12, 2016
Every message now that I'm receiving from east Aleppo is preceded with "this may be my last message". The heart breaks.— Kareem Shaheen (@kshaheen) December 12, 2016
The sinking feeling in your stomach as you read contacts' last messages from Aleppo. God forgive us for not helping our own people.— اسلام (@AfroArabian_) December 12, 2016
The messages I'm receiving from East Aleppo are all goodbyes. It's haunting, beyond words. Humanity is dead.— (((جووي أيوب))) (@joeyayoub) December 12, 2016
Journalist Bilal Abdul Kareem had a stark message for Muslim countries that did not intervene in or support the rebel efforts -- "you blew it".
Perhaps my final message from E. Aleppo. Regime forces are closing in and bunker busters are raining down. pic.twitter.com/XgK0DSa08x— Bilal Abdul Kareem (@BilalKareem) December 12, 2016
On the other side, other sources reported celebrations from pro-government citizens inside Aleppo.
The battle for Aleppo has raged since 2012. The largest city in Syria, with a population of 2.5 million before the battle, was caught in the country's civil war which burst out of the 2011 Arab Spring uprising against oppressive regimes across the Middle East.
Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad, was opposed by Sunni rebel groups who began protests and armed opposition against his regime. Rebel groups sought to take Aleppo in mid-2012, sparking a four-year conflict that killed untold thousands, blew entire districts of the city to rubble, and drew international condemnation and horror for the tactics used by both sides, with civilians and families caught in the middle.