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Aleppo: Cease-Fire Deal Reached in Besieged Syrian City, Rebels Say

The bloody four-year siege of Aleppo appears to be nearing the end.

A cease-fire agreement has been reached that would allow civilians and remaining rebel fighters trapped in the besieged Syrian city to evacuate, NBC confirmed Tuesday.

Five buses will head into the enclave in the eastern section of the city to pick up the survivors around 5 a.m. Wednesday local time, a source said.

It was not immediately clear what weapons the fighters will be allowed to take with them, they said.

"My brothers, cease fire in all neighborhoods of besieged Aleppo city, total ceasefire but all units be prepared in case of any breach of the cease-fire," Alfarouq, the leader of the Ahrar ash-Sham rebel group, who negotiated the deal, declared in a statement. "Now it is a ceasefire but it's still in the beginning (and) might fail. So cease fire, but stay on high alert. God bless you."

There was no immediate confirmation of the agreement from the Syrian government, which has been waging a brutal campaign to recapture what was once the country's biggest city — and which is now in ruins. But NBC confirmed that much of shelling and air strikes stopped in Aleppo when the cease-fire was announced.

Image: BESTPIX SYRIA-CONFLICT
Syrian residents, fleeing violence in the restive Bustan al-Qasr neighborhood, arrive in Aleppo's Fardos neighborhood on December 13, 2016, after regime troops retook the area from rebel fighters. STRINGER / AFP/Getty Images

Russia's envoy to the United Nations said the buses are just for the fighters, not for the civilians.

"Now it's going to be under the control of the Syrian government, so there is no need for the remaining civilians to leave and there are humanitarian arrangements in place," Vitaly Churkin said.

A short time later, Russia announced that all military action in eastern Aleppo was over and that the Syrian government was now in the control.

"I can't confirm the veracity of these reports that this....arrangement has in fact been reached," State Department spokesman John Kirby said."That said, I've also seen nothing to indicate that those reports were not true."

David Miliband of the International Rescue Committee said the ceasefire was too little, too late.

"Eastern Aleppo has become a bloody graveyard for thousands of innocent people," said Miliband.

The development came after dozens of civilians were killed by Syrian forces in what the United Nations described as “a complete meltdown of humanity” during the final battle for Aleppo.

Citing accounts of women and children being burned alive and of families choosing suicide over surrender, the U.N. human rights office said it received reports of pro-government forces killing at least 82 people as they tightened their grip on the city.

Rupert Colville, spokesman of the U.N. human rights office, said before the agreement was announced that he feared retribution against thousands of civilians still holed up in a "hellish corner" smaller than one square mile.

Image: Civilians flee the Sukkari neighborhood towards safer areas in southeastern Aleppo, Monday.
Civilians flee the Sukkari neighborhood towards safer areas in southeastern Aleppo, Monday. AFP - Getty Images

Eleven women and 13 children were among those killed in four different neighborhoods late Monday, Colville told a news briefing, adding that there could be "many more."

"The reports we had are of people being shot in the street trying to flee and shot in their homes."

Jens Laerke, U.N. humanitarian spokesman said that it looked like "a complete meltdown of humanity in Aleppo."

U.N. agency UNICEF said “many children, possibly more than 100, unaccompanied or separated from their families, are trapped in a building, under heavy attack in east Aleppo,” citing reports form a doctor on the scene.

Arab media reported that scores of civilians were burned alive by regime forces, although this was not confirmed by observers at the Aleppo Media Center or the U.K.-based Syria Observatory for Human Rights.

Charles Lister, a Syria expert and senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, said there were “truly shocking stories from Aleppo including husbands and wives taking each other’s lives in family suicides” and that hundreds may have died during Monday’s fighting.

Trapped activists posted farewell messages on social media, saying they were “waiting for death or captivity” while others fled to government-held areas. As the front lines shifted, thousands carried what possessions they could, some pushing relatives in wheelchairs, before a heavy overnight rainstorm.

In an emotional Skype interview with NBC News, Ismail Alabdullah, a volunteer with the White Helmets, said: "All the world let us down, even they can't protect our volunteers or protect the civilians, so we can't carry out our missions".

"We're not scared of bombing anymore, all we're scared of is Assad's forces more than ever. Me and everyone, even the white helmets."

Image: Civilians celebrate in the government-held Mogambo neighborhood of Aleppo after pro-Assad forces won more territory in the city.
Civilians in government-held areas cheered after pro-Assad forces won more territory. George Ourfalian / AFP - Getty Images

In the rebel area, photographer Ameen Al-Halabi posted what he described as a “last letter” on Facebook.

“I'm waiting for death or captivity by the Assad regime,” he wrote, saying that “to die victorious on earth dust is better than despair … please forgive me and pray for forgiveness and remember me well.”

Twitter user ‘Mr.Alhamdo,’ who says he is an Aleppo resident, posted a video update saying farewell to his followers.

PHOTOS: Aleppo on the Brink: Syrians Flee Besieged City

"I don’t believe any more in the U.N., don’t believe any more in the international community," he said. "Russia doesn’t want us to go out alive, they wants us dead. Assad is the same.

"Yesterday there many celebrations on the other part of Aleppo, they were celebrating on our bodies. It’s okay, this is life but at least we know that we were a free people, we wanted freedom. This world doesn’t like freedom it seems. Don’t believe that you are free people in your countries any more. “

Another user, Monther Etaky, posted: "I would like to thank all the humans whose stood ... with our [cause] ... I will never forget you if we pass to the other life."

None of the accounts could be independently verified by NBC News. Syria’s military says the claims of atrocities are "a desperate attempt" by rebel forces to gain international sympathy.