Rubble at the End of The Road for Aleppo Returnees

Near East

18 February 2020, 20:09

SYRIA-CONFLICT-ALEPPO

Syrian businessman Alaa Samani and his wife Hanaa Ismail join bumper to bumper traffic heading into an Aleppo district recently retaken by the regime to check on their chocolate factory, VOA news reports.

“Everything was destroyed,” says Samani, driving into the city that was once Syria’s main economic hub.

Ghostly silhouettes of gutted shopping malls line the road, the signboards of major commercial brands including retail giants Carrefour and Virgin Megastore still visible.

The road is an obstacle course of craters caused by air strikes and shelling, flanked by mounds of rubble and levelled buildings.

“I just went to check on my small factory, my shop and my farm,” says Samani, who is in his forties.

The Liramoun roundabout is gridlocked as hundreds of people rush to visit areas that were under rebel control for years.

Government troops and allied forces have in recent days made major gains in areas around Aleppo city, securing a key highway connecting the country’s four largest cities and allowing for the reopening of the international airport.

FILE PHOTO: Internally displaced Syrians from western Aleppo countryside, ride on a vehicle with belongings in Hazano near…
Internally displaced Syrians from western Aleppo countryside, ride on a vehicle with belongings in Hazano near Idlib, Feb. 11, 2020.

Rebel groups backed by Turkey and jihadist fighters used to fire rockets on Aleppo from those regions, preventing the government from reopening Syria’s second city to business.

Hundreds killed

“We used to have the largest chocolate factory in the whole of Syria, it was founded in 1923,” says Ismail, in the passenger seat next to Samani.

“The important thing however is that we are now rid of the shelling and we are going to live safely,” she says.

Ismail says 16 members of her family died from rebel shelling of Aleppo.

According to a senior medical source, 1,204 people in total were killed in rebel shelling since December 2016.

The Liramoun roundabout is a location from which anti-regime armed groups used to fire on Aleppo, says a military commander accompanying an AFP team in the area.

“Now the city is completely secure,” he says.

Syrian army soldiers advance on an area in the northern Aleppo countryside, Feb. 17, 2020.
Syrian army soldiers advance on an area in the northern Aleppo countryside, Feb. 17, 2020.

Aleppo is one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities. Until the war erupted in 2011 after the regime brutally repressed anti-regime demonstrations, it had maintained its status as the country’s economic capital.

Many of its millennia-old landmarks have since been levelled by what many describe as the worst conflict of the 21st century. But Ismail is confident it will rise from the ashes to regain its past glory.

“The state will help — to some extent — its industrialists and businessmen to rebuild their factories,” she says.

Above the pockmarked road, broken highway signs still bear the names of other Syrian cities — some controlled by the regime such as Damascus, and other like Afrin and Azaz still under rebel control.

‘Hard to fix’

President Bashar al-Assad on Monday however said the recapture of the entire Aleppo area was a significant step in the drive by the government to reassert its authority over the whole country.

Rescue workers known as the White Helmet search for victims amidst the rubble of a house that was destroyed during a pro-regime forces airstrike in the western countryside of Aleppo, Syria.
Rescue workers known as the White Helmets search for victims amid the rubble of a house that was destroyed during an an airstrike by pro-regime forces in the western countryside of Aleppo, Syria, Feb. 12, 2020.

Rebels and jihadists are now confined to an ever-shrinking territory in Idlib province, with the northwards drive by Russian-backed regime forces pushing them and hundreds of thousands of civilians towards the Turkish border.

According to the United Nations, the offensive has forced 900,000 people from their homes since December, the largest wave of displacement since the war began.

Returning from a visit to Hraytan, north of Aleppo, Mohammed Azmarli is finding it hard to hide his disappointment after a nine-year wait to see his home.

“It’s badly damaged, it’s going to be hard to fix,” the 42-year-old says.

Also stuck in the traffic, Imad watches a military convoy overtake the queue of cars, soldiers flashing victory signs to the journalists as they hurtle by.

“I have had no news of my house since 2013,” the 44-year-old man says. “I bought it, I furnished it and I never lived in it.”

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