SYR­IAN ARMY NOW HAS FULL CON­TROL OF BAT­TERED ALEPPO

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Philip Issa

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.

Ge­orge Ourfalian, AFP/Getty Im­ages

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.

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