BEIRUT – With rebel defenses crumbling in eastern Aleppo, President Bashar Assad is on the brink of regaining full control of Syria's largest city and one-time commercial center. Holding the city is seen as key to overall victory in the Syrian conflict, and a defeat in Aleppo would be a crushing blow to the rebels.
Here's why it matters:
Aleppo has been a crossroads of civilization for millennia. As one of the longest continuously inhabited places, its Old City was added to UNESCO's list of World Heritage sites in 1986. The city was one of the last to join the uprising against Assad's government in June 2012. It has been carved up since then between a rebel-held eastern and a government-controlled western sector.
The divided city has paid dearly as a central theater of the war. Thousands have been killed and wounded. Landmarks have been used as bases for fighters and damaged in the conflict, including the 11th-century Umayyad Mosque, where a minaret collapsed in 2012; the 13th-century citadel and the medieval marketplace, where fire damaged more than 500 shops in its narrow, vaulted alleyways.
WHERE THINGS STAND
With rebel defenses crumbling in eastern Aleppo, Assad is on the brink of regaining full control of the city. Syrian government forces and their allies have regained control of three-quarters of the rebel enclave in recent days, and eastern neighborhoods continue to surrender in quick succession. The rebels are now boxed in, mostly in the southern part of their shrinking sector. Under severe strain and facing brutal defeat, Syrian rebel factions are proposing a five-day cease-fire so the wounded, sick and other civilians can be evacuated.
WHY IT MATTERS
Aleppo has long been described as the weather vane of the Syrian revolution because of its symbolic and strategic importance. Holding the city is seen as key to overall victory in the Syrian conflict. A government victory, aided by the interventions of his Russian and Iranian allies, would significantly bolster Assad's position in the international arena.
Rebels still hold other pockets around Syria, but any movement to unseat Assad would have to reckon with the reality that he holds the country's four largest cities and its coastal region. A defeat in Aleppo would be a crushing blow to the rebels, giving them little chance of recovering momentum.