Five things to know about Syria’s Aleppo
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.
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