Wednesday, 22 September 2021 06:41 GMT

Five things to know about Aleppo

(MENAFN- The Peninsula) Beirut: Syria's one-time economic hub, Aleppo and the surrounding countryside have suffered some of the heaviest fighting of the five-year civil war that has now cost more than 300,000 lives.

Rebels seized the east of the city in July 2012 and government forces have been battling to recapture it ever since with the front line carving through the heart of the city.

On Thursday, the government and its ally Russia began a "humanitarian pause" in the latest devastating assault to allow civilians to flee, but it was immediately tested by clashes on the front line.

Here are five facts about Aleppo:

War comes to Aleppo

In April and May 2011, thousands of students demonstrated in the city, mirroring similar protests against the government of President Bashar al-Assad which broke out in other parts of Syria in March.

The protests were brutally crushed but rebel fighters took control of several areas of the countryside which they used as launchpads for their entry into the city in July 2012.

The army fought back with tanks and retained control of western districts, leaving the city divided. The first air strikes on rebel areas followed shortly afterwards.

Strategic prize

Aleppo remains Syria's second most populous city, with more than 250,000 people living in rebel-held areas and more than 1.2 million living in the government-held west.

It lies at the crossroads of key road routes, making it a strategic prize for both sides.

The outcome of the battle for the city will also affect their relative bargaining power if UN-brokered peace negotiations ever resume.

Three-month siege

Since July 17, rebel districts have been under near-continuous siege by the army, after troops cut off the last supply route from other rebel-held territory.

A ceasefire that went into effect from September 12 to 19 raised hopes of relief deliveries but they never materialised.

On September 22, the army launched a new offensive and devastating Syrian and Russian air strikes pounded rebel areas, only halting on Tuesday.

Around 400 people have been killed and more than 2,000 wounded since the assault began, according to the United Nations.

Russia has said Thursday's unilateral ceasefire will last until at least 1600 GMT and could be extended.

The Syrian army has said it will last three days.

A devastated city

Much of the once-flourishing city has been reduced to a wasteland by the air and artillery bombardment.

Since December 2013, the army has dropped hundreds of barrel bombs -- crude unguided explosive devices that cause indiscriminate damage, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The rebels have retaliated with rocket fire on government-held neighbourhoods.

Doctors say that access to medical care in rebel areas has deteriorated sharply after several hospitals were hit.

The UN Syria envoy has warned that without a halt to the bombing east Aleppo "may be totally destroyed."

Ancient city

Aleppo is one of the world's oldest continuously inhabited cities dating back to at least 4,000 BC.

Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1986, Aleppo's citadel is a jewel of mediaeval Islamic architecture. It was damaged by a blast in July 2015.

Two years earlier, fighting destroyed the 11th century minaret of the city's famed Ummayad mosque.

There has also been extensive damage to the city's ancient covered market.

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