The battle of Aleppo has ended with victory for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his military coalition of Russia, Iran and regional Shia militias. IBTimes UK looks back at five years of bitter conflict that have left the historic city in ruins.
Before the civil war started, Aleppo was the country's largest city, a busy commercial powerhouse and a proud historic centre. Aleppo landmarks included a millennium-old minaret towering above Umayyad mosque, a medieval souk (covered market) and an imposing citadel overlooking the old city centre.
In early 2012 rebels took control of rural areas northwest of Aleppo city, seizing the Minnegh military air base and the largely Shia towns of Nubl and Zahra. Protesters in Aleppo were shot at for the first time in July 2012 and rebels started to fight for the city itself. Poorer eastern districts quickly fell to the insurgents. Fighting in the Old City damaged much of the historic covered market. In April 2013 the 1,000-year-old minaret of Aleppo's Umayyad Mosque collapsed after being struck during fighting.
Rebels gained control of the main highway from Aleppo to the south and besieged much of the western, government-held half of Aleppo. Government and allied forces retook the area in October 2013. As 2014 progressed, the government increasingly used jets and helicopters to strike rebel-held areas of the city.
A series of rebel advances in 2015 put the government under pressure in northwest Syria, where Aleppo is located. But in October 2015 the first Russian air strikes took place and swiftly put the rebels on the back foot. Advances by the army and allies with Russian air support in February 2016 cut the most direct road from Turkey to rebel-held east Aleppo. Government forces recaptured Minnegh air base, ending the rebels' siege of Nubl and Zahra and putting pressure on insurgent supply routes.
On 27 July government forces fully encircled eastern Aleppo for the first time, but the siege was broken 10 days later by a rebel counter-attack on the Ramousah district that briefly opened a perilous way into eastern Aleppo from the south. Russian air power and Shia militias from Iraq and Lebanon helped the army recapture Ramousah on 8 September, firmly re-encircling the rebel enclave.
On 22 September, the heaviest air strikes in months hit east Aleppo and the government announced a new offensive to retake it. After weeks of intense bombardment, in which many hospitals and other civilian infrastructure were hit, Russia and Syria's government declared a pause in their campaign on 18 October, urging rebels and civilians to quit east Aleppo. A last rebel offensive aimed at breaking the siege began on 28 October from the countryside to the city's west, but after making some progress in the first two days, it lost momentum and all gains were reversed within a week.
Intense air strikes resumed against east Aleppo on 15 November, putting all hospitals out of action. On 28 November, pro-government forces took the northern part of the rebel sector in a sudden advance that reduced its size by more than a third. Another swift advance on 5 and 6 December brought the al-Shaar district and much of Aleppo's historic Old City under government control, leaving the rebels trapped in a small southern portion of their former enclave.
On 12 December, the army made a series of new advances after taking the Sheikh Saeed district after days of intense fighting and under a heavy aerial bombardment, leaving rebels stuck in only a tiny part of the city. On 13 December insurgents agreed to withdraw in a ceasefire deal which would see them evacuate to rebel-held areas outside Aleppo with their families and any other civilians wanting to leave.
A ceasefire deal between rebels and the Syrian government in the city of Aleppo effectively collapsed on Wednesday 14 December, with fighter jets resuming deadly air raids over the opposition's densely crowded enclave in the east of the city. The attacks threatened to scuttle plans to evacuate rebels and tens thousands of civilians out of harm's way, in what would seal the opposition's surrender of the city.
The war is still far from over, with insurgents retaining major strongholds elsewhere in Syria, and the jihadist Islamic State group holding swathes of the east and recapturing the ancient city of Palmyra.
This article was first published
on December 14, 2016