Weak gov­ern­ment fails to re­build Aleppo

The Star Early Edition - - WORLD - REUTERS

ALEPPO: In eastern Aleppo, bod­ies still lie un­der the rub­ble, grave­yards are full, peo­ple are short of elec­tric­ity and bread, and some chil­dren take classes in mosques be­cause their schools have been ru­ined by war.

Seven months af­ter the army drove rebels from their strong­hold in the Syr­ian city, the state looks pa­per thin there, with most ser­vices pro­vided by res­i­dents or with help from in­ter­na­tional aid agen­cies or lo­cal char­i­ties.

Aleppo was Syria’s most pop­u­lous city and in­dus­trial en­gine be­fore the war and its re­cap­ture de­liv­ered Pres­i­dent Bashar al-As­sad his big­gest in a string of bat­tle­field vic­to­ries.

Its re­cov­ery would not just be sym­bolic of As­sad’s im­prov­ing for­tunes, but a sig­nal that the Syr­ian state was ca­pa­ble of re­vival af­ter years of weak­ness.

The UN says about 200 000 peo­ple have re­turned to east Aleppo af­ter it emp­tied dur­ing the fighting, mostly from tem­po­rary ac­com­mo­da­tion in ar­eas held by the gov­ern­ment.

How­ever, in al-Kalasa dis­trict, which Reuters vis­ited in both early Fe­bru­ary and mid-July with a gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial who was present dur­ing some in­ter­views with res­i­dents, the city’s re­cov­ery seemed slow and largely out of state hands.

Elec­tric­ity came from pri­vate gen­er­a­tors, wa­ter from wells or tanks filled by aid agen­cies, bread from char­i­ties, and ba­sic ed­u­ca­tion and health­care with help from the UN.

The gov­ern­ment re­moved moun­tains of rub­ble from main streets af­ter the fighting.

Aleppo’s as­sis­tant gover­nor said the state was ul­ti­mately re­spon­si­ble for the ser­vices pro­vided by aid agen­cies.

But in Kalasa, re­taken in De­cem­ber amid a fu­ri­ous bom­bard­ment with help from Rus­sia and Iran, the strongest signs of the state’s pres­ence were a con­crete check­point and a poster of As­sad pledg­ing: “We will re­build.”

Af­ter six years of war, his state is in tat­ters. Large parts of the coun­try re­main out­side its con­trol. Western sanc­tions have hob­bled the econ­omy. Wa­ter and power ser­vices are in ru­ins, road net­works wrecked and hun­dreds of thou­sands of work­ing-age men re­main un­der arms.

Eight-year-old Ghas­san Batash would have at­tended the Yar­mouk and Sab­bagh school but it is un­us­able.

Its walls still carry the logo of Jaish al-Is­lam, a rebel fac­tion that made the school its base. In the li­brary stands a “hell can­non” or home-made mor­tar.

In the school­yard, two big craters show where air strikes tar­geted rebel fighters, wrecking class­rooms.

It left Ghas­san, who wants to be a sol­dier when he grows up and likes play­ing foot­ball in the street, with the choice of walk­ing to school else­where or go­ing to the mosque.

But at the Ab­du­latif school in Fir­dous dis­trict and the Karameh school in Bus­tan al-Qasr, which run sum­mer pro­grammes sup­ported by the UN, the head teach­ers said class sizes had nearly dou­bled. Fewer than a quar­ter of east Aleppo’s 200 schools are work­ing, said Ab­dul­ghani al-Qasab, the as­sis­tant gover­nor, ad­ding that the gov­ern­ment is work­ing with the UN to re­ha­bil­i­tate 100 more.

PIC­TURE: REUTERS

A street ven­dor sells toma­toes in the al-Kalasa dis­trict of Aleppo.

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