SYRIAN ARMY NOW HAS FULL CONTROL OF BATTERED ALEPPO
beirut» Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces and years of fighting have laid waste to much of the city of Aleppo, but he won it back after nearly six years of war. The president now looks more secure than ever since the 2011 uprising against his family’s four-decade rule. But thousands of people have been killed, and hundreds of thousands have been displaced, since the opposition carved out a foothold in Aleppo in 2012. Here are five things to know:
THE IMPORTANCE OF ALEPPO: Aleppo, said to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities on earth, was once the commercial heart of Syria, its biggest city and one of its main tourism draws. It was famous for its Old City, citadel, winding bazaars and historic mosques. Much of it now lies in ruin.
The city was initially spared from the worst of the unrest that convulsed the country in 2011. But after months of antigovernment demonstrations and retaliatory crackdowns, rebels swept into Aleppo’s eastern districts the next year and thrust the city into the furnace of war.
HOW THE GOVERNMENT WON: The Syrian opposition lost eastern Aleppo because it was outnumbered and outgunned by the forces of Assad and his allies and abandoned by the international community.
Militarily, the most important factor was Russia’s powerful and relentless airstrikes. Also, fighters from Lebanon’s Hezbollah group and Shiite militias from Iraq and elsewhere joined Assad’s military on the front lines.
THE ROLE OF THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY: The United States, along with Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and others have provided aid to the Syrian rebels since 2011, but none was willing to intervene directly on their behalf in Aleppo. The United States was on the verge of intervening in 2013 after a chemical attack near Damascus blamed on Assad’s forces, but at the last minute President Barack Obama stood down, accepting instead the surrender of Syria’s chemical weapons program.
Russia used its veto to block any effective action at the United Nations and entered the war directly in September 2015.
The United States spent much of this year trying to secure a cease-fire in Aleppo that would allow for the delivery of aid. But truces were short-lived, and Washington and Moscow traded blame for their failure.
A PYRRHIC VICTORY: Assad now controls Syria’s five largest cities and its Mediterranean coast. His government appears more secure than at any point since the conflict began. But the victory has taken a horrifying toll. An estimated 21,000 civilians have been killed in Aleppo and surrounding areas since 2011, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Hundreds of thousands of people have fled, and many will never return, fearing government reprisals.
Much of the Old City has been destroyed, including the historic bazaar and the 11th century minaret of the Grand Mosque.
THE WAR GOES ON: Syria’s civil war is far from over. The opposition still controls the northwestern Idlib province and pockets of territory elsewhere in the country, and the Islamic State group rules a large swath of the northeast, including the ancient city of Palmyra, seized from government forces earlier this month while all eyes were on Aleppo.
Syrians on Thursday celebrate in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, after the army said it has retaken full control of the devastated city, scoring its biggest victory against opposition forces since the civil war erupted in 2011.