Liberating Syria’s second-largest city and economic capital of the country in 2016 from rebel forces was a turning point in the government’s war on terror. The city witnessed large-scale destruction of its industrial infrastructure as well as many of its famous historic sites and monuments. Aleppo has a population of some 3.5 million and thousands of its factories and industrial plants, mainly in the massive Sheikh Najjar industrial city were destroyed or looted, its heavy machinery including some of the largest textile plants in the region were dismantled, smuggled across the borders into Turkey and sold for a minimal price. Aleppo, which has a wealth of historical bazaars, mosques, monuments and the unique famous citadel towering the old town, is considered one of the world’s most ancient places and cradles of civilization. Some of its best-known industries including laurel soap, thyme processing and hand-made fabrics have survived many wars and invasions over the centuries. The Syrian provincial capital has been also renowned for its music and some of the best singers in the Arab world and a wealth of poets and other immortal literary figures throughout its history.
Why Aleppo? And why now?
The Syrian Arab Army started making major advances in neighbouring Hama and Idlib rural areas in recent months, liberating vast sways of territories, strategic towns and dozens of villages controlled by hardline rebel groups for over five years. The remaining anti-government militia fighters including pro-Turkish and Qatari-backed terror groups resumed their shelling of some Aleppo neighbourhoods from the northern and western flanks of the city, killing and injuring scores of innocent civilians including women and children. The SAA and its allies have responded by launching heavy artillery and a real bombardment of major rebel bases and forces in the area to stop attacks on Aleppo, still recovering from over three years of war and destruction.
Rebel rocket fire on the government-controlled northern Syrian city of Aleppo on Thursday killed seven civilians and wounded 30 others. “Seven civilians were killed and 30 more were wounded by a rocket attack carried out by terrorist groups,” the state-run Syrian television networks reported after the last spate of mortar shelling carried out by rebel and jihadist factions in the western parts of Aleppo province. Islamist fanatics of HTS (Hay’ at Tahrir al-Sham terror group) Syria’s version and arm of al-Qaeda terrorist organization, is still operating in western rural areas of Aleppo bordering the Idlib province to the north where other rebel groups are present.
As the Syrian army was deploying more forces and beefing up its military presence in the northeastern region of the country, following the Turkish incursion and the Sochi deal between presidents Putin of Russia and Erdogan of Turkey last month, rebel groups have resumed their rocket and mortar shelling of Aleppo. A salvo of rockets slammed into five districts of the city including Salahuddin, Hamadaniyeh and Jamiliyeh densely-populated neighbourhoods of the city, state-run media said.
Inter-related violence, or intertwined interests?
The return of terror attacks and indiscriminate shelling to Aleppo, in addition to reviving bitter memories of the costly and destructive war it suffered, is bound to have some serious ramifications on the hardly-recovered industrial sector in the city. Damage to over 1340 factories including the country’s largest pharmaceutical and textile factories and other industrial plants in Aleppo is estimated run into billions-worth of US dollars. With growing fears and mounting concern that the total fall of Aleppo could easily spell catastrophic doom for the ailing Syrian economy, struggling hard under the burdens of nine years of unabated conflict, aggravated by years of stringent US-led economic sanctions, Syrian government and allied forces retook Aleppo at the end of 2016 after a massive offensive against an array of heavily-armed and well-trained terror and rebel groups in and around Aleppo
The London-based Syrian Observatory stated earlier that “a rocket fired from western Aleppo hit a car in Salahuddin, killing four civilian occupants.” The death toll was expected to rise as several locals and passersby civilians were injured, some seriously, and were rushed to hospital. Al-Kindi Hospital, Aleppo’s biggest hospital and one of the largest and most modern in the Middle East, was destroyed by terrorists five years ago by detonating a large truck laden with a massive TNT 20-ton payload. Pro-Turkish terrorist captured a dozen SAA soldiers during the attack, who were summarily executed in public in one of the most horrendous and unforgettable war crime scenes of the Syrian conflict which erupted in 2011.
The liberation of the city three years ago quickly and strategically tipped the balance in the Syrian government’s favour, and foiled Erdogan’s sinister plot towards this city in particular. Many Turkish politicians, including Erdogan himself, have on numerous occasions stated their public claim to Aleppo as part of their Ottoman Empire, ignoring the fact that Turkey illegally took Syrian Iskenderun province along with tens of thousands of kilometres than span from Iraqi borders east to Adana on the Mediterranean west, over the past 100 years, in a fraudulent referendum and a shameful World War I conspiracy deal with colonial France which occupied Syria and Lebanon till the mid-twenties of the twentieth century.
With Aleppo once again under renewed terror attacks and random shelling of civilian areas, the Syrian army – albeit largely preoccupied with developments in northeastern Syria and the long-awaited ‘mother of battles’ in Idlib – is expected to launch a fierce campaign against terrorist and rebel groups in the western and northern countryside of Aleppo soon. Recent airstrikes and heavy bombardment of rebel strongholds from where latest shelling of Aleppo had originated, are most likely just a sample and a prelude to the big action yet to come. The Syrian government simply cannot afford to leave its economic powerhouse and regional capital of Aleppo at the mercy of another terror campaign.