The Destruction of Aleppo

The Battle of Aleppo was a major military confrontation in Aleppo, the largest city in Syria, between the Syrian opposition (including the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and other largely-Sunni groups, such as the Levant Front and the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front) against the Syrian government, supported by Hezbollah, Shia militias and Russia, and against the Kurdish-led People’s Protection Units (YPG). The battle began on 19 July 2012 and was part of the ongoing Syrian Civil War. A stalemate that had been in place for four years finally ended in July 2016, when Syrian government troops closed the rebels’ last supply line into Aleppo with the support of Russian airstrikes. In response, rebel forces launched unsuccessful counteroffensives in September and October that failed to break the siege; in November, government forces embarked on a decisive campaign that resulted in the recapture of all of Aleppo by December 2016. The Syrian government victory was widely seen as a potential turning point in Syria’s civil war.

The large-scale devastation of the battle and its importance led combatants to name it the “mother of battles” or “Syria’s Stalingrad”. The battle was marked by widespread violence against civilians, alleged repeated targeting of hospitals and schools (mostly by pro-government Air Forces and to a lesser extent by the rebels), and indiscriminate aerial strikes and shelling against civilian areas. It was also marked by the inability of the international community to resolve the conflict peacefully. The UN special envoy to Syria proposed to end the battle by giving East Aleppo autonomy, but the idea was rejected by the Syrian government. Hundreds of thousands of residents were displaced by the fighting and efforts to provide aid to civilians or facilitate evacuation were routinely disrupted by continued combat and mistrust between the opposing sides.

Before and after photos

 

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In late September 2016, Russia and Syria began performing nightly air raids on rebel-held parts of the city. Russian and Syrian forces were also accused of conducting “double tap” airstrikes which purposefully targeted rescue workers and first responders at hospitals and other civilian structures that they had already bombed, however this is disputed by government and Russian sources. To prevent civilian casualties, Syrian and Russian forces opened up humanitarian corridors to allow the civilian population of Aleppo to evacuate, away from the fighting. During evacuation, several East Aleppo residents reported that evacuating civilians were shelled by rebels. During the 2016 Syrian government offensive, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights warned that “crimes of historic proportions” were being committed in Aleppo.

 

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The battle caused catastrophic destruction to the Old City of Aleppo, a UNESCO World Heritage site. With over four years of fighting, it represents one of the longest sieges in modern warfare and one of the bloodiest battles of the Syrian Civil War, which left an estimated 31,000 people dead, almost a tenth of the overall war casualties.

 

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