Five things to know about Syria’s Aleppo

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Syria’s one-time eco­nomic hub, Aleppo city and the sur­round­ing coun­try­side have suf­fered some of the heav­i­est fight­ing of the nearly six-year civil war that has now cost more than 300,000 lives. The armed op­po­si­tion seized the east of the city in July 2012 and govern­ment forces have been bat­tling to re­cap­ture it ever since. Forces loyal to Pres­i­dent Bashar AlAs­sad made a ma­jor break­through on Mon­day, cap­tur­ing all of the city’s north­ern neigh­bor­hoods pre­vi­ously un­der rebel con­trol. Here are five facts about Aleppo:

Aleppo is one of the world’s old­est con­tin­u­ously in­hab­ited cities, dat­ing back to at least 4000 BC. Listed as a UNESCO World Her­itage site in 1986, Aleppo’s citadel is a jewel of me­dieval Is­lamic ar­chi­tec­ture. It was dam­aged by a blast in July 2015. Two years ear­lier, fight­ing de­stroyed the 11th cen­tury minaret of the city’s famed Um­mayad mosque. There has also been ex­ten­sive dam­age to the city’s an­cient cov­ered mar­ket.

War comes to Aleppo

In April and May 2011, thou­sands of stu­dents demon­strated in the city, echo­ing sim­i­lar protests against As­sad’s govern­ment that broke out in other parts of Syria in March. The protests were bru­tally crushed but rebel fight­ers took con­trol of sev­eral ar­eas of the coun­try­side which they used as launch­pads for their en­try into the city in July 2012. The army fought back with tanks and re­tained con­trol of western dis­tricts, leav­ing the city di­vided. The first air strikes on rebel ar­eas fol­lowed shortly af­ter­wards.

Much of the once-flour­ish­ing city has been re­duced to a waste­land by air and ar­tillery bom­bard­ment. Since De­cem­ber 2013, the army has dropped hun­dreds of bar­rel bombs-crude un­guided ex­plo­sive de­vices that cause in­dis­crim­i­nate dam­a­geon east Aleppo. The rebels have re­tal­i­ated with rocket fire on govern­ment-held neigh­bor­hoods. Since July 17, rebel dis­tricts have been un­der near-con­tin­u­ous siege by the army, af­ter troops cut off the last sup­ply route from other rebel-held ter­ri­tory. Some 250,000 civil­ians in east Aleppo have faced food and fuel short­ages and heavy regime bom­bard­ment has tar­geted nearly all hos­pi­tals in the area.

Regime of­fen­sive

Govern­ment forces have pressed sev­eral of­fen­sives to re­take east Aleppo and re­gain con­trol of the whole city in the past months. The lat­est as­sault launched on Novem­ber 15 made ma­jor gains at the week­end and Mon­day, when regime forces over­ran all of north­east Aleppo. The regime’s ad­vance has prompted an un­prece­dented ex­o­dus of thou­sands of des­per­ate civil­ians-ei­ther to dis­tricts held by the govern­ment or Kur­dish forces, or the ar­eas still un­der rebel con­trol fur­ther south.

Aleppo was Syria’s most pop­u­lous city be­fore the war, and lies at the cross­roads of key routes, mak­ing it a strate­gic prize for both sides. An­a­lysts say As­sad is de­ter­mined to re­take Aleppo to deal a de­ci­sive blow to the rebels be­fore US pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump takes of­fice. If As­sad’s forces con­trol both the cap­i­tal and Aleppo in Jan­uary when Trump is in­au­gu­rated, “he may say re­plac­ing the regime is cat­e­gor­i­cally out of the ques­tion,” po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst Mathieu Guidere said. If Aleppo falls, As­sad will con­trol the coun­try’s five largest cities, leav­ing him with the up­per hand if UN-bro­kered peace talks re­sume, an­a­lysts add. — AFP

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