Why is Aleppo Important?

The Citadel of Aleppo (Credit: National Geographic)

The ongoing violence in Syria has now spread to Aleppo in a big way, with fighting occurring in much of the city, including the UNESCO World Heritage city centre. Police Stations have been ‘liberated’ and bodies have been documented lying on the streets, but is this city not just another city in Syria that has risen up against President Assad? Why is this latest round of violence in the country important?

The recent violence seen in Aleppo is significant for a number of reasons. First off this city is Syria’s most populous city, at around 2 million, it is bigger than Damascus or Homs, and with large parts of it being suppressed by the Syrian army it suggests that a great many of this population may have begun to turn against Assad.

This is interesting as Aleppo has been relatively pro Assad or indifferent during the unfolding unrest. (I remember seeing a pro Assad demonstration when I was in Aleppo in May 2011. Made up of probably over 1000 people it began at 3pm and ended 12 hours later with no let up of car horns and chants of “Allah, Suriya, Bashar wa bas” [God, Syria, Bashar only]). In addition the reports of Aleppo’s MP Ikhalas Badawi defecting to Syria could also indicate a wider change in support towards Assad from the population of Aleppo. This could have a knock on effect around Syria, with the more deaths caused in Aleppo the more likely it is for family members to join the opposition, thereby increasing the violence and numbers killed. (This factor has been confirmed General Mood of UNSMIS who estimated that for every 15 people killed by the Syrian army, it created over 500 anti regime demonstrators, with at least 100 of these participating militarily in the violence).

This new offensive indicates the growing strength of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and Syrian opposition as this latest offensive comes less that 2 weeks after ‘Operation Damascus Volcano” in which large parts of Damascus were plunged into violence for a number of days. It shows that the Syrian rebels have significantly raised their support and resources.  Behind the scenes too, worrying events could be occurring. With Aleppo’s conservative Islamic make up, could racial Islamic groups (who are known to be operating in the Syrian conflict) find wider support? It is a strong possibility.

J Robinson – Twitter @jprobinsons

This post first appeared yesterday on “The Old UAR“, a Middle East focused blog run by Jonathan Bertman.

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