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After the battle, Aleppo shows its scars

Before the war, Aleppo’s ancient walled citadel drew in armies of visitors to one of the Middle East’s greatest treasures.

But for the past four years the Citadel’s high stone ramparts have been on the front line of fighting pitting the Syrian army and its allies against rebels who occupied much of the Old City surrounding the fortress.

Sudden advances by the army led to a ceasefire last week and evacuation of insurgents and many civilians, ending the warfare in Aleppo and putting the city entirely into government hands.

A combination picture shows Aleppo’s Umayyad mosque, Syria, before it was damaged on October 6, 2010 (left) and after it was damaged (right) December 17, 2016. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi (right)/Omar Sanadiki

Reuters photographs from before and after the fighting reveal how the city has been scarred by years of air strikes, shelling, street fighting, fires and neglect.

The fate of Aleppo, listed by the United Nations as a World Heritage Site, has been the subject of great anxiety for city residents, archaeologists, historians and travellers, even as they despair for the human suffering caused by the fighting.

A combination picture shows Aleppo’s Umayyad mosque, Syria, before it was damaged on March 12, 2009 (left) and after it was damaged December 13, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki

“We are now exactly in front of the Citadel’s entrance. These streets are very familiar. My school was nearby. Now, only part of it is left,” said Abdel Rahman Berry, a lawyer. “It was ruined. They ravaged our childhood memories,” he added.

Large sections of Aleppo’s Islamic-era covered market or souk, one of the most extensive in the world, were destroyed in clashes in 2012 and 2013, and the 11th century minaret of the Umayyad mosque was brought down by shelling.

During a visit to the Old City and inside the Umayyad mosque with the Syrian army, reporters were shown rubble-strewn streets and scorched walls that were once part of the souk, pocked with bullet holes and daubed with slogans.

A combination picture shows the Old City of Aleppo, Syria on November 24, 2008 (left) and after it was damaged December 13, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki

The Umayyad mosque was also scarred by the fighting, and the remains of its ancient stone minaret lay in a heap in one corner where it had collapsed after suffering a direct hit, but despite damage, its elegant floor and arcaded walls remained.

A combination picture shows the entrance to al-Zarab souk in the Old city of Aleppo, Syria November 24, 2008 (left) and after it was damaged December 13, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki

A combination picture shows al-Sheebani school’s building, in the Old City of Aleppo, Syria before it was damaged on May 14, 2008 (left) and after it was damaged (right) December 17, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki

A combination picture shows al-Sheebani school’s courtyard, in the Old City of Aleppo, Syria before it was damaged on June 6, 2009 (left) and after it was damaged December 17, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki

A combination picture shows Aleppo’s Umayyad mosque, Syria, before it was damaged on March 12, 2009 (left) and after it was damaged (right) December 13, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki

A combination picture shows Hamam El Nahasin, in the Old City of Aleppo, Syria before it was damaged on October 6, 2010 (left) and after it was damaged December 17, 2016. REUTERS/(right)Khalil Ashawi/Omar Sanadiki

A combination picture shows Aleppo’s historic citadel, in the Old City of Aleppo, Syria before it was damaged on August 9, 2010 (left) and after it was damaged December 13, 2016. REUTERS/Sandra Auger (left)/Omar Sanadiki

A combination picture shows Shahba Mall, one of the largest commercial shopping centres in Syria, before it was damaged on December 12, 2009 (left) and after it was damaged (right) on October 16, 2014. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi (left)/Abdalrhman Ismail

Among important features lost in recent fighting were mediaeval mosques and trading houses. Others, including the al-Shibani church school, evidence of Aleppo’s history of religious tolerance, and the 13th century Nahasin bathhouse were damaged.

Aleppo’s Old City and citadel had been restored in 2004.

One of the tactics used by rebels in the intense street fighting through the Old City’s narrow alleyways was the detonation of mines, dug beneath army positions in tunnels. The soldier said even on top of the citadel one such blast, under the Carlton Hotel, a landmark, had felt like an earthquake.

“The bodies of our comrades are still under the hotel rubble,” he added.

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