Mass graves with dozens of bodies of civilians subjected to brutal torture have been discovered in Aleppo neighborhoods left by militants, the Russian Defense Ministry said.
Mass graves of tortured civilians found in Aleppo
Aleppo is a city in Syria, serving as the capital of the Aleppo Governorate, the most populous Syrian governorate. For centuries, Aleppo was the Syrian region‘s largest city and theOttoman Empire‘s third-largest, after Constantinople and Cairo. With an official population of 2,132,100 (2004 census), it was Syria’s largest city and also one of the largest cities in the Levant before the advent of the Syrian Civil War.
Aleppo is an ancient metropolis, and one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world; it may have been inhabited since the 6th millennium BC. Excavations at Tell as-Sawda and Tell al-Ansari, just south of the old city of Aleppo, show that the area was occupied by Amorites since at least the latter part of the 3rd millennium BC; and this is also when Aleppo is first mentioned in cuneiform tablets unearthed in Ebla and Mesopotamia, in which it is a part of the Amorite state of Yamhad, and noted for its commercial and military proficiency. Such a long history is attributed to its strategic location as a trading center midway between the Mediterranean Sea and Mesopotamia (i.e. modern Iraq).
The city’s significance in history has been its location at one end of the Silk Road, which passed through central Asia and Mesopotamia. When the Suez Canal was inaugurated in 1869, trade was diverted to sea and Aleppo began its slow decline. At the fall of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, Aleppo ceded its northern hinterland to modern Turkey, as well as the important railway connecting it to Mosul. In the 1940s, it lost its main access to the sea, Antioch and Alexandretta, also to Turkey. Finally, the isolation of Syria in the past few decades further exacerbated the situation. This decline may have helped to preserve the old city of Aleppo, its medieval architecture and traditional heritage. It won the title of the “Islamic Capital of Culture 2006”, and has had a wave of successful restorations of its historic landmarks.
Since the Battle of Aleppo started in 2012, the city has suffered massive destruction, and has been the worst-hit city in theSyrian Civil War. In December 2016, the Syrian government achieved full control of Aleppo following a successful offensive.
Syrian Civil War
The Syrian Civil War grew out of the unrest of the 2011 Arab Spring and escalated to armed conflict after President Bashar al-Assad’s government violently repressed protests calling for his removal. The Syrian government has since then refused efforts to negotiate with what it describes as armed terrorist groups. The war is being fought by several factions: the Syrian Government and its various supporters, a loose alliance of Sunni Arab rebel groups (including the Free Syrian Army), the majority Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces, Salafi jihadist groups (including al-Nusra Front) who often co-operate with the Sunni rebels, and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The factions receive substantial support from foreign actors, leading many to label the conflict a proxy war waged by both regional and global powers.
Syrian opposition groups formed the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and seized control of the area surrounding Aleppo and parts of southern Syria. Over time, factions of the Syrian opposition split from their original moderate position to pursue an Islamist vision for Syria, as al-Nusra Front and ISIL. In the north, Syrian government forces largely withdrew to fight the FSA, allowing the Kurdish YPG to move in and proclaim de facto autonomy. In 2015 the YPG joined forces with Arab, Assyrian, Armenian and some Turkmen groups, forming the Syrian Democratic Forces, while most Turkmen groups remained with the FSA.
International organizations have accused the Syrian government, ISIL and other opposition forces of severe human rights violations and of many massacres. The conflict has caused a refugee crisis. On 1 February 2016, a formal start of the mediated Geneva Syria peace talks was announced by the United Nations but fighting continues.
The human rights situation in Syria had long been the subject of harsh critique from global organizations. The rights of free expression, association and assembly were strictly controlled in Syria even before the uprising. The country was under emergency rule from 1963 until 2011 and public gatherings of more than five people were banned. Security forces had sweeping powers of arrest and detention.
Authorities have harassed and imprisoned human rights activists and other critics of the government, who were often detained indefinitely and tortured while under prison-like conditions. Women and ethnic minorities faced discrimination in the public sector. Thousands of Syrian Kurds were denied citizenship in 1962 and their descendants were labeled “foreigners”. A number of riots in 2004 prompted increased tension in Syrian Kurdistan, and there have been occasional clashes between Kurdish protesters and security forces ever since.
Despite hopes for democratic change with the 2000 Damascus Spring, Bashar al-Assad was widely regarded as having failed to implement any improvements. A Human Rights Watch report issued just before the beginning of the 2011 uprising stated that he had failed to substantially improve the state of human rights since taking power.
Battle of Aleppo (2012–16)
The Battle of Aleppo was a major military confrontation in Aleppo, the largest city in Syria, between the Syrian opposition (including the Free Syrian Army and Sunni fighters, such as the Levant Front and the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front), against the government of Bashar al-Assad, supported by Hezbollah, Shiite militias and Russia, and against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units. The battle began on 19 July 2012 and is part of the ongoing Syrian Civil War. A stalemate that had been in place for four years finally ended in July 2016, when Syrian government troops closed the rebels’ last supply line into Aleppo with the support of Russian airstrikes. In response, rebel forces launched unsuccessful counteroffensives in September and October that failed to break the siege; in November, government forces embarked on a decisive campaign that resulted in the recapture of all of Aleppo by December 2016. The Syrian government victory was widely seen as a potential turning point in Syria’s civil war.
The large scale devastation of the battle and its importance led combatants to name it the “mother of battles” or “Syria’s Stalingrad“. It was marked by widespread violence against civilians, repeated targeting of hospitals and schools, and indiscriminate aerial strikes and shelling against civilian areas. Hundreds of thousands of residents were displaced by the fighting and efforts to provide aid to civilians or facilitate evacuation were routinely disrupted by continued combat and mistrust between the opposing sides.
Various claims of war crimes emerged during the battle, including the extensive use of barrel bombs by the Syrian Air Force, the dropping of cluster munitions on populated areas by Russian and Syrian forces and claims that they conducted “double tap” airstrikes to target rescue workers responding to previous strikes and the use of highly inaccurate makeshift hell cannons by rebel forces. During the 2016 Syrian government offensive, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights warned that “crimes of historic proportions” were being committed in Aleppo. Fighting also caused severe destruction to the Old City of Aleppo, a UNESCO World Heritage site. After four years of fighting, the battle represents one of the longest sieges in modern warfare and one of the bloodiest battles of the Syrian Civil War, leaving an estimated 31,000 people dead, almost a tenth of estimated overall war casualties.