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A city on the brink of destruction: Can anything save Aleppo?

Once the second city of Syria, much of Aleppo has been destroyed by four years of non-stop fighting.

Mideast Syria War Q&A (File photo) A Syrian man carries his sister who was wounded in a government airstrike hit the neighbourhood of Ansari, in Aleppo, Syria. Source: AP Photo/Abdullah al-Yassin, File

ALEPPO IS A city on the brink of destruction.

The besieged Syrian city, which in the beginning had avoided being sucked into the civil war that has overtaken the country, has now become the site of the biggest humanitarian disaster in the over five years of fighting.

The eastern half of the city – home to about 250,000 residents – has been subjected to a near ceaseless bombing campaign in recent weeks by the combined forces of the Syrian government and Russian airforces following the collapse of a tenuous ceasefire.

Hospitals have been levelled, UN aid convoys attacked and hundreds of civilians killed in the last three weeks alone.

As more talks for a ceasefire get underway, and the city teeters on the brink of being totally annihilated, we take a look at what’s going on.

What’s happening in Aleppo?

The city of Aleppo is the capital city of the northern Aleppo province. It is the ‘second city’ of Syria (after Damascus), and its old city district (which has been mostly destroyed in the war) is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Before the civil war started, it was called the commercial capital of Syria.

ALEPPO UNDER FIRE The exteriors of the M10 hospital, the main trauma centre, which is supported by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). The hospital has been severely damaged and forced to suspend activities due shelling. Source: MSF/Ghaith Yaqout Al-Murjan

The city and surrounding towns had long-been a stronghold for more moderate Syrian rebels supported by Turkey, as well as Kurdish militia groups and some more extreme armed groups.

Militants from the Islamic State group used to control several neighbourhoods in Aleppo, but they were forced out by other rebels in early 2014.

The city is close to Turkey, which is sympathetic to the rebels. This has enabled rebels to receive much-needed supplies from across the Turkish border. This, as well as its status as the second capital of Syria, make it a key position to hold.

It has been under siege by the Syrian army with the support of Russia for over two months now. Supplies and food are dangerously low.

Following the collapse of a tenuous ceasefire in September, Syrian government forces with support from Russia announced an offensive to capture the whole city.

Sergei Rudskoi Lt. Gen. Sergei Rudskoi of the Russian military’s General Staff speaks at a briefing at the Russian Defence Ministry’s headquarters in Moscow, Russia, on Thursday. Source: AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev

What has ensued is some of the worst violence in the five years of conflict which has killed over 300,000 people (the majority of them civilians) and uprooted millions.

The assault has levelled apartment blocks and put hospitals out of service, creating a humanitarian catastrophe.

More than 370 people, including nearly 70 children, have been killed in regime and Russian bombardment of east Aleppo since the assault began, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Dozens of civilians, including children, have also died in rebel bombardment of regime-controlled western districts, according to the monitor, which compiles its information from sources on the ground.

Hospitals in eastern Aleppo have been all but destroyed and by many accounts there are only about 30 doctors still working in the area, which is too volatile for outside medical help to be sent in.

ALEPPO UNDER FIRE The exteriors of the M10 hospital, the main trauma centre, which is supported by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). The hospital has been severely damaged and forced to suspend activities due shelling. Source: MSF/Ghaith Yaqout Al-Murjan

The charity Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) said the situation has become unbearable in the city.

“The situation is unbearable,” said Carlos Francisco, MSF’s head of mission in Syria.

The few remaining doctors with capability to save lives are also confronting death. Only a few days ago, the manager of one of the health centres we support and his whole family, including kids, were killed by a barrel bomb.

The city has become a flashpoint for the entire war, its total destruction has been likened to Berlin after World War Two.

Russia and the Syrian government have been accused by other countries of committing war crimes in its bombardment. Accusations which president Vladimir Putin has flatly rejected.

The campaign has further damaged the relations between Russia and the US, which have become increasingly strained over recent years.

So what happens now?

Assad has said recently that capturing Aleppo would provide the Syrian army with a ”springboard” from which to liberate other areas of the country.

“You have to keep cleaning this area and to push the terrorists to Turkey to go back to where they came from, or to kill them,” Assad said in an interview with a Russian media outlet, Komsomolskaya Pravda, released on Thursday.

There’s no other option.

As is plain to see, rebels are not going down without a fight – but under the dual bombardment of Russia and government forces it’s looking more likely that the Syrian army will win out.

ALEPPO UNDER FIRE The exteriors of the M10 hospital, the main trauma centre, which is supported by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). The hospital has been severely damaged and forced to suspend activities due shelling. Source: MSF/Ghaith Yaqout Al-Murjan

Talks were held yesterday in Switzerland between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry around coming to a ceasefire arrangement.

UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura will attend, along with the chief diplomats from Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar – all backers of Syrian opposition forces.

Then in London, Kerry will likely meet up with his counterparts from Britain, France and Germany.

United Nations Syria-Diplomacy Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, left, and United States Secretary of State John Kerry talk as United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura looks on during a meeting of the International Syria Support Group in December. Source: AP Photo/Jason DeCrow

Lavrov has said he hopes discussions in Switzerland could help “launch a serious dialogue” based on the now-defunct US-Russian pact.

For now it’s the only sign of any chance of a negotiation being reached by the multi-faceted warring sides.

With reporting from AFP and AP

Read: Aleppo has eight hospitals – four have been bombed in the last five days

Read: Warnings of humanitarian catastrophe as bombing turns city into a “giant kill box”

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About the author:

Cormac Fitzgerald

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