Beirut: Syrian and Russian forces are engaged in an all-out blitz to retake the eastern districts of Aleppo, the northern Syrian city that has become a major flashpoint in the country’s five-year civil war.
Here’s what you need to know:
Why is Aleppo so important?
Aleppo was a key economic hub for the Damascus government before the war, and its recapture is vital to President Bashar Al Assad’s aim of re-establishing full control over the country. When rebel forces captured the city’s eastern districts in 2012, they appeared ascendant, boasting that a march on Damascus would be next. Four years later, the area they control lies in ruins, and opposition fighters have been outgunned.
If government-allied troops fail to recapture the city, questions will be raised about their ability to win the war with force.
Who is fighting there?
Pretty much everyone. On the government side, Al Assad’s forces are heavily supported by Iranian troops and Iran-backed militias, as well as by Russian warplanes and commanders. On the other side is an array of Islamist and moderate rebels.
What are conditions like in east Aleppo?
The eastern, rebel-held districts have been subject to a crippling siege since July, leaving their 250,000 residents with severe shortages of food, medicine and fuel. Streets have been shattered by four years of government — and, more recently, Russian — air strikes. Civilian areas and hospitals have been systematically targeted in the strikes. The area resembled an apocalyptic wasteland in recently released drone footage.
How many people have died in the latest offensive?
In eastern Aleppo, the White Helmets rescue group said at least 300 civilians have been killed and more than 820 wounded since November 15.
Is a military solution the only option for Aleppo’s warring parties?
The UN envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, has proposed a political solution — rebel fighters leave eastern Aleppo through safe exits, government and Russian forces stop the bombing, and a council from the opposition-held districts takes control of the area. But the Syrian government has roundly rejected this. According to one minister, retaking Aleppo in full is now a key military priority.