Why is Aleppo important?
Aleppo or Halab, one of world’s oldest continually inhabited cities, was once Syria’s largest city and its financial centre. After Syria got its independence, the city developed into a major industrial centre, emerging as a rival of the capital Damascus.
The city consists mainly of Sunni Muslims, most of whom are Arabs but many of them are also Kurds and Turkomans. Aleppo also has the largest Christians population in Syria, apart from Armenians, Shia and Alawite communities.
What exactly happened?
Aleppo didn’t saw the deadly violence that shook its towns and cities during the first year of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad. However, it suddenly became a key battleground in July 2012, when Syrian rebels started a joint effort to oust the government and retake northern Syria.
However, thanks to the unplanned attacks of the rebels, Aleppo ended up being divided into two. While the opposition took control of the east, the government took over the west. Neither of the two forces broke the deadlock until July 2016 when the Assad regime, with a huge help from Russian troops, blocked the rebels’ area and placed around 250,000 people under siege.
The rebels struck back and launched an offensive, catching Assad’s forces off guard and broke the siege. However, the siege was imposed back in September. Accompanied by an aerial bombardment, the government troops launched an offensive on 22 September.
While the air strikes paused unilaterally in mid-October and civilians and rebels were asked to leave the east, very few people agreed to it. The government resumed the strike on 15 November. By the end of the month, they had entered into several northern districts, forcing thousands of people to flee.
Syria is not just a conflict Syrian area out of many but one of the most important battlefields in the world, facing a serious humanitarian crisis and witnessing the death of humanity on an everyday basis.
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Why is Russia engaged in Aleppo?
Though Moscow has time and again again clarified that its aircraft stationed on the Syrian coast does not intend to target Aleppo, Vladimir Putin’s sudden interest in Syrian conflict can prove to be a big game changer in this power battle to control the strategic city.
Moscow always has had powerful links to Syrian military. However, its decision to stand up against the forces and boost Assad’s military and political power has rescued the Assad regime government from collapsing.
While Russia always maintained that their only reason to intervene in Syria is to “stop the black flags’ as ISIS poses a serious threat to the country, Assad’s victory is way more crucial to Moscow on more than one front. For Russia, this new alliance and military power are not just about Syria. It’s one way to prove its supremacy and to prove that it rightly deserves a place among the world’s superpowers. It’s also about getting the same status and prestige as the United States.
Though it’s been speculated if President Assad’s most crucial ally would eventually try to replace him with another less controversial but stronger candidate, Moscow strongly insists that the Syrian leader still has the popular support.
After all, it suits Putin and his allies to keep Assad in charge for now.