Workers fix a destroyed dome of a mosque that damaged by shelling in Aleppo, Syria.
Aleppo’s largest square was packed with people of all ages: young men performing a folk dance, children playing, others buying ice cream, popcorn, peanuts and salted pumpkin seeds. A giant sign spells out in colourful English letters, “I love Aleppo”.
The scene in Saadallah al-Jabiri Square on a recent day was a complete turnaround from what it was during nearly four years of warfare that wracked the Syrian city. Rebel sniper fire and shelling — and a triple car bombing that killed dozens — made it a no-go zone. For much of the fighting, the square stood near the front line dividing the government-held western half of Aleppo from the rebel-held eastern half.
Thirteen months after government forces captured the east, crushing rebels, there have been some improvements in Aleppo. The guns are silent, allowing life to return to the streets. Water and electricity networks are improving. But the city has barely begun to recover from devastation so great and a civilian flight so big that residents find it difficult to imagine it could ever return to what it was.
Aleppo’s eastern half remains in ruins. Its streets have been cleared of rubble but there’s been little rebuilding of the blocks of destroyed or badly damaged buildings.
Though some residents have trickled back, hundreds of thousands still have not returned to their homes in the east, either because their homes are wrecked or because they fear reprisals for their opposition loyalties.
Also, after the victory by the forces of President Bashar Assad, there’s little sign of attempts at reconciliation in Syria’s largest city or talk of how part of the city rose up trying to bring down Assad’s rule.
To reporters, residents — whether out of genuine sentiment or fear of state reprisals — express only pro-Assad sentiment and dismiss the rebels as militants backed by foreign powers.
Die-hard opposition sympathisers likely have not returned or keep it to themselves, and everyone is more focused on grappling with the destruction in the city.
“I feel very sad, I cry. Sometimes I cry in the morning because this was a very good neighbourhood,” said Adnan Sabbagh, standing on a balcony in his building in the once rebel-held eastern district of Sukkari.
The view from his balcony is a landscape of wreckage. Across the street is a pile of rubble a block long that used to be the Ein Jalout school compound that his three daughters and two sons once attended. —AP