Members of the al-Ali family were walking home from shopping when several shells slammed into the busy street on the western edges of the Syrian city of Aleppo. The blast tore through them, killing 2-year-old Salam and one of her cousins, and incinerated a car nearby with a woman and her infant daughter inside. It was one of multiple attacks by rebels firing from Aleppo’s outskirts that killed more than a dozen civilians last month. Nearly three years have passed since President Bashar Assad’s forces gained full control of Aleppo, sweeping out rebels who had held the eastern half of the city through years of fighting. That victory made Aleppo — Syria’s largest city — a symbol of how Assad succeeded with crucial assistance from Russia and Iran in turning the tide of the long civil war, clawing back most opposition-held territory in the country’s heartland and ensuring Assad’s survival. But Aleppo is equally a symbol of how Assad has been unable to secure full victory in the war or bring total security to Syria’s people — and appears unlikely to in the near future. Half of Aleppo remains destroyed, much of its population is scattered, and deadly attacks like the July 24 mortar fire that killed Salam — whose name means peace in Arabic — are still common. Aleppo still sits on the edge of the opposition’s last major stronghold, a territory stretching across the neighboring province of Idlib and parts of Hama province. From positions on Aleppo’s outskirts,
President Bashar al-Assad’s assault in the northwest has been met with a painful rebel counterpunch that underlines Turkish resolve to keep the area out of his hands and shows why he will struggle to take back more of Syria by force. More than two months of Russian-backed operations in and around Idlib province have yielded little or nothing for Assad’s side. It marks a rare case of a military campaign that has not gone his way since Russia intervened in 2015. While resisting government attacks, the insurgents have managed to carve out small advances of their own, drawing on ample stocks of guided anti-tank missiles that opposition and diplomatic sources say have been supplied by Turkey. “They’re even targeting personnel with these missiles … it means they are comfortably supplied,” a rebel source said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was discussing rebel military capabilities. Turkey’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on reports that Ankara has stepped supplies of arms to rebels. With Turkey committed to the rebels, the battle for the northwest stands in stark contrast to a campaign in the southwest a year ago, when Western and Arab states stood by as Assad and his Russian- and Iranian-backed allies took the area. Despite Russian backing in the latest fighting, questions have arisen over whether Assad and his allies are entirely on the same page when it comes to the northwest, where Turkey has deployed forces in agreement with Russia and Iran.
Born in the village of Qardaha in Syria on October 6, 1930, Hafez al-Assad became Syrian president of the country in 1971, after taking part in multiple coups. Though widely criticized for brutal tactics (most notably the 1982 Hama massacre), he is also praised for bringing stability to Syria, and for improving relations between Syria and Western powers by supporting America in the Persian Gulf War. He served as president of Syria until his death on June 10, 2000.
Of the five members of the Ba’ath Party’s Military Committee who seized power in Syria in 1963, Hafez Al-Assad went the furthest. Of the other four, one took the blame for Syria’s loss of the Golan Heights during the Six Day War and was pushed out of politics; one committed suicide; a third was assassinated; the other died in prison after 25 years.
Bashar al-Assad inherited power in July 2000, a month after his father, military strongman Hafez al-Assad died. But since March 2011, his rule over Syria has been under threat, with the country beset by violence that has killed an estimated 465,000 people and embroiled regional and world powers in the never-ending horror.
Despite Western and Arab countries backing the opposition, Assad has survived seven years of war and refuses to step aside.
The number of Russian civilians travelling to Syria, where Moscow is running a military operation in support of President Bashar al-Assad, reached record levels this year, according to official figures published by a Russian security service. The number of Russian civilian trips to Syria grew after President Vladimir Putin announced a partial withdrawal of troops last December, an increase apparently indicating an expansion of Moscow’s activities in the country.