As government troops capture large parts of eastern Aleppo from rebel forces — and appear set to seize the entire city — here’s a look at the role of the metropolis in the country’s 5-year conflict.
Once the commercial heart of Syria, Aleppo has gone from a bustling city of more than 2 million people — about the size of Houston — to a devastated war zone where entire blocks are reduced to rubble.
Eastern Aleppo in particular has become the wretched epicenter of the civil war, with hundreds of thousands of residents either dying or fleeing the “apocalyptic” violence.
The Syrian regime, backed by Russian air power, has increasingly bombarded this part of the city in an effort to oust rebels who took control in 2012.
The government already controls western Aleppo, and retaking the whole city would mark a major turning point in the war.
It would spell the end of the rebels’ last urban stronghold, put the Syrian regime back in control of the country’s four major cities and make an opposition government less likely.
How did this happen?
In 2011, the regime, led by President Bashar al-Assad, launched a violent crackdown on activists who were demanding more economic prosperity, political freedom and civil liberties.
His actions sparked a nationwide uprising and eventually a civil war with armed rebels — many of whom defected from the military.
The rebels took over eastern Aleppo in the summer of 2012, holding back the better-equipped Syrian military and showing they could get popular support in urban areas.
Who’s in control of the city now?
Aleppo has largely been divided between the government-held west and rebel-held east for more than four years.
But in mid-November the regime stepped up its offensive into eastern Aleppo, gaining control of more than half of the district.
The Syrian government now controls about 93% of eastern Aleppo, Russia’s Defense Ministry said Friday.
What’s Russia got to do with it?
Russia is the most powerful ally of Assad’s regime and has carried out airstrikes since September 2015 to prop up the embattled leader.
But Moscow has recently tried to distance itself from the current assault in eastern Aleppo, saying last week it hasn’t bombed the city since October 18.
As one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, Russia has also used its veto powers to block a political solution to end the war.
What’s the human toll?
In August, a video of Omran Daqneesh, the bloodied little boy waiting in an ambulance, captured the world’s attention as a stark reminder of the brutal human toll in eastern Aleppo.
But four months later, as many as 100,000 people remain trapped inside the shrinking rebel-held neighborhoods with dwindling food, fuel and medical supplies.
The few medical facilities still operating are packed with injured people and resemble “slaughterhouses” with no proper equipment, one activist inside eastern Aleppo told CNN.
In regime-held western Aleppo, rebel rockets have also claimed civilian lives. Last month at least 10 children were killed when rebel rocket fire hit a school, according to the Syrian government.
And the cultural impact?
Many of Aleppo’s ancient buildings have been destroyed in the fighting — including much of its UNESCO World Heritage-listed old city.
The old city’s grand Citadel of Aleppo — a “testament to Arab military might from the 12th to the 14th centuries,” according to UNESCO — has been reduced to a war-scarred shadow of its former glory.
What does the rest of the world say?
A joint statement Wednesday by the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Britain and the United States called for an “immediate ceasefire” in Aleppo and condemned the Syrian regime and Russia for their actions.
The Western countries urged the United Nations to hold accountable those who have committed war crimes and said “only a political settlement can bring peace for people in Syria.”
Meanwhile, Russia and China on Monday vetoed a UN Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire in Aleppo to allow desperately needed aid into the war-ravaged zone.