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A year since the vicious battle for East Aleppo, Syria and the city are still reeling from the government-led offensive initiative. The Middle-Eastern nation faces a humanitarian crises as figures released by a UN refugee agency state that“more than 6 million Syrians are still displaced.”
Syrian government forces—with the support of its Western allies and Russia—began their offensive initiative in September 2016, aiming to oust rebel forces from the area.
The rebel forces are composed of several different factions that have had multiple titles during the prolonged Civil War. Initially they were united under the Free Syrian Army (FSA) banner, whose origins lie in Syrian Army defectors that were disillusioned with the Assad regime. In this entity they were supported by foreign powers, namely the Obama Administration. The FSA rebel group emerged as a revolutionary force that grew out of rising popular discontent for the governing powers. The FSA commander, former Air Force Colonel Riad al-Asaad called for the army to “stop pointing their rifles at their people’s chest… [and to protect] all sections of the Syrian people with all their sects.” And yet by 2015, commentators such as Eric Banco of the International Business Times, had proclaimed that “the Free Syrian Army has collapsed.”
The FSA lacked the arms and the financial backing to provide a genuine challenge to government forces. As international support waned so too did the FSA’s influence in the conflict. While the FSA were considered a moderate rebel group, their diminished role as the oppositional force in the Civil War left a vacuum. In its place, better-armed and increasingly militant groups began to flourish, namely ISIS and ISIL. Throughout the country, these groups have pushed out civilians who supported the moderate FSA and instead look to install their own, more extreme, ideology as the ideology for the opposition force in the Civil War. The turmoil of the Civil War has fuelled the rise of poverty and gave rise to various humanitarian issues.
In the siege of Aleppo, last year alone, the Observatory for Human Rights estimates that there was as at least 450 casualties including that of 62 children. Despite the Syrian Government claiming they had “fully recaptured” eastern Aleppo in December 2016, Al Jazeera News reported earlier this week that more than 60 people were killed in the surrounding area. This was the result of three government led air raid strikes that were targeting rebel fighters. East Aleppo has been the unfortunate host to some of the worst fighting of the Syrian conflict. It has reduced much of the ancient city to rubble and in the process has made living conditions in the city extremely testing. According to UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, electricity supplies are unreliable or non-existent across much of the city.
Aleppo was the most populous city of Syria and was considered an economic hub pre-conflict. The fallout of the Civil War has left the city ravaged. The city lost vital infrastructure in the fighting and the absence of schools and hospitals led to the mass migration of its citizens. However, emerging signs suggest the city is starting to recover. In 2017, an estimated 440 000 Syrians have returned to the city and surrounding area. Many of these are returning to neighbourhoods that are lacking power or water. There are various aid efforts in place to provide assistance to help those returning re-establish a stable and safe community. Aid efforts so far have been focused on re-building homes, establishing mobile medical services and providing legal assistance.
The re-population of Aleppo is a positive step to stabilizing Syria, but the country still faces a host of challenges. One critical issue that has to be addressed is education. Education was one of the first pillars of society to collapse during the Civil War with as many as 1.75 million children of school age currently out of school and a further 1 million at risk of dropping out. The country faces an uphill task to restore normality to its cities and the current state of Aleppo serves as a sombre reminded that the true victims of a civil conflict are the civilians.