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After eight long and difficult years, Aleppo, Syria’s second largest city, can now rest easy, free of systematic rocket and mortar shelling of its residential areas by al Nusra and other terror groups. While the city itself — considered the country’s economic capital with over 3 million inhabitants — was liberated in 2016, its western and northwestern suburbs and rural areas remained under the control of pro-Turkish hard-line militias and other militant groups ever since.

Now, Greater Aleppo has been declared fully free of terrorists. Locals have been celebrating the recent victory with spontaneous marches and festivities day and night. Aleppo international airport reopened with a maiden flight from the capital Damascus today, and official commercial flights from and to Aleppo are due to resume tomorrow. The Syrian army and its allies on the ground and in the air have in the space of one week only, accomplished a near-impossible mission including the liberation of major rebel strongholds across 1,300 square kilometers with impressive results.

Assad Slams Erdogan in Aleppo Victory Speech, Vows to Free Idlib and Northeastern Syria

Following the liberation of Greater Aleppo, president Assad sent a number of significant messages in all directions in his 10-minute televised speech yesterday. Appearing calm, confident, calculated and resolute, Assad slammed Erdogan’s threats (without naming the Turkish president in person) as “empty hot air bubbles coming from the north that will not stop the Syrian army from fulfilling its obligations and duties by liberating Idlib and other occupied territories”.

Praising the steadfastness and heavy sacrifices of the population in Aleppo as well as from the Syrian army, president Assad thanked Syria’s allies on the ground who “fought shoulder-to-shoulder with our soldiers, as well as in the air [Russian air force] whose blood mixed with that of our martyrs,” Assad said.

“We realize that victory in a battle doesn’t mean victory in the war at large, and that the liberation (of Greater Aleppo) does not indicate the end of the war nor the concession by the enemies. However, it does indicate their total humiliating defeat”, Assad added.

The Syrian leader — who appeared with a replica of the Syrian Hawk (a national symbol of strength and dignity) to his right, and a large bottle of Damascene Jasmine oil (symbolizing history and peace) — concluded his speech with an emotional message to the families of martyrs “who own much of the victory that has been achieved, which will have ramifications not only for Aleppo itself and Syria at large, but much farther beyond our borders.” Assad’s defiant remarks are bound to fall like a rock on Erdogan’s ears.

Aleppo’s Liberation: Economic Implications and Major Post-liberation Challenges

The liberation of Greater Aleppo heralds the beginning of a long and difficult mission to rebuild the city ad revive its badly-hit economy. Hundreds of its major industrial complexes and establishments, including some of the best textile and pharmaceutical factories in the Middle East have been totally or badly ravaged by the war and ensuing shelling by anti-government and proxy militias in recent years. With the reopening of Aleppo international airport as well as a key border crossing with Iraq a few months back, a rigorous and carefully envisaged plan needs to be put into action straight away.

Hilal al Hilal, Assad’s Deputy Baath Party Secretary General, himself from Aleppo, was on the maiden flight from Damascus to Aleppo airport earlier today. Under clear instructions from the president, Hilal immediately embarked on a series of meetings with local government and economic key figures to formulate an urgent work plan for rebuilding the city and reinvigorate its crucial economic power house.

I asked Faress al Shihabi MP, key businessman and Chairman of Aleppo’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry about the extent of damage, estimated cost of repair and time scale? “More than 10,000 factories (in Greater Aleppo) were liberated this past week. All had been looted and partially or completely damaged.  Estimated damage is around $20 billion, not to mention opportunity costs. It will take us from 5-years max to fully recover and get back to the 2011 figures,” Shehabi explained.

Sheikh Najjar is Aleppo’s main and Syria’s largest industrial city that has suffered colossal damage caused by terror groups who occupied the city for years, dismantled and looted its enterprises and destroyed much of its factories as well as its infrastructure. Aleppo’s shelling nightmare might be over, but another major battle in the form of a lengthy reconstruction and rehabilitation process fraught with challenge and obstacles — exacerbated by US-led international sanctions — has just begun.

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