Most of the 2.5 million inhabitants have fled Aleppo, leaving the streets and buildings of Syria’s commercial hub to the fighters. President Assad’s army is determined to regain control of the city and has mobilised in strength on the outskirts. The rebels are equally determined to battle on until the end.
Aleppo lies just 45 kilometres from the Turkish border and a rebel victory would provide a crucial link to the outside world, allowing arms and supplies to flow freely from Turkey into Aleppo and beyond.
The strategic importance of Aleppo cannot be over emphasised. Professor Bassam Abu Abdullah of the University of Damascus explained: “Aleppo is quite an important city. It is the economic centre of Syria and the northern gate to Turkey. If the rebels take the city, which is near the Syrian-Turkish border, they can easily access weapon supplies from Turkey.”
For the civilians that remain life is tough. The city is constantly peppered by mortar fire and artillery and helicopter gunships menace overhead. Food is scarce and there are queues for bread supplied by the Free Syrian Army.
“The situation is very bad here in Aleppo. They open fire on us, and we have nothing here,” said one resident.
The Syrian state-run news agency described the fight for Aleppo as the “mother of all battles”.
If Assad’s army suffers a defeat it will be an immense psychological and strategic blow hence their determination to win the “mother of all battles” in the city where very few mothers remain.