The Syrian city of Aleppo’s main square is now filled with activity. There are people of all ages: young men dancing, children playing, others buying ice cream, popcorn, or peanuts. A large sign there said in English, “I love Aleppo.”
But nearly four years of warfare has destroyed much of the city. 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 there have been some improvements in Aleppo. The guns are silent and people have returned to the streets.
Water and electricity are improving. But the city has just begun to recover from destruction and a civilian flight so great that it is hard for citizens to believe the city could ever rebuild.
Aleppo’s eastern half remains in ruins. Much of the wreckage has been cleaned from its streets, but the many damaged buildings have not been rebuilt.
Though some citizens are back, hundreds of thousands still have not returned to their homes in the east. This is because their homes were destroyed or because they fear reprisals from opposition supporters.
After the victory by the forces of President Bashar al-Assad, there are few signs of agreement in Syria’s largest city.
No one speaks of how part of the city fought against Assad’s government. Residents express only pro-Assad opinions to reporters. They say the rebels were Islamic militants supported by foreign powers. Strongly anti-Assad residents have probably not returned or stay quiet. Most want to fix the destroyed city.
“I feel very sad, I cry. Sometimes I cry in the morning because this was a very good neighborhood,” said Adnan Sabbagh who lives in the Sukkari area. It was once held by rebels.
Sabbagh’s six-story building continues to stand, but it is badly damaged. The top three floors have no walls.
The 47-year-old construction worker fled to live in the coastal town of Jableh five years ago when the rebels captured Aleppo’s east.
All three of his daughters are married to soldiers in the army. So, he feared the fighters would not let him remain in the city.
In the fall of last year, he returned home and fixed up his apartment on the second floor where he now lives with his wife and youngest son.
He uses generators set up in the streets because there is no electricity in Sukkari — the government is still working to rebuild it. But there is running water, although it is only available every other day on both sides of the city.
Before the war, Aleppo had a population of 2.3 million people and was Syria’s largest city and its business center. It also had its own culture in Syria.
Aleppans are proud of their Syrian Arabic accent and of their famous food. The city’s history is more than a thousand years old, and tourists used to visit its historic places. However, the most violent battles of Syria’s war have taken place in the city.
In 2016, government forces backed by Russian airstrikes surrounded the city hitting it with bombs for months.
The rebels surrendered in December of 2016. Many fled to other places. Eastern Aleppo was once home to over 1 million people. Now, it is empty and destroyed.
Life returning to the city
Since that time, some people have returned. The top United Nations official in Syria, Ali Al-Za’tari, said estimates are difficult to make. But, the U.N says about 200,000 people now live in the east.
Most of the factories in Aleppo’s 15 industrial districts are closed, many of them damaged from the bombs dropped by Assad’s forces.
In western Aleppo, there is less damage. People show a feeling of freedom from life under warfare. Electricity comes on several hours a day and soon will be available all day.
Sand blockades that had been set up on many streets have been removed.
Im el-Nour, a 51-year-old woman who drives a taxi, says she is the only female cab driver in the city. She says she has seen an increase in work. She can drive in the east, where conservative women call her for rides to avoid riding with a male driver.
She also works playing music at weddings or at women-only parties.
El-Nour is divorced. Her son died while fighting in Assad’s army. Now, between two jobs, she makes more than $100 a month. That is a little more than a civil servant earns.
Besides increasing business, there are other signs that life is returning to Aleppo.
In the main square, Abdullatif Maslawi, a 21-year-old student, performed a traditional dance with a group of his friends.
“Aleppo was wounded and now it is being cured,” he said.
I’m Susan Shand and I’m Pete Musto.
Susan Shand adapted this story for VOA Learning English from an Associated Press story. Mario Ritter was the editor.
Words in This Story
Square – n. an open area in a village, city, etc., where two or more streets meet
Reprisal – n. something that is done to hurt or punish someone who has hurt you or done something bad to you
Generator – n. a machine for converting mechanical energy into electricity
Tourist – n. a person who travels to a place for pleasure
District – n. an area or section of a country, city, or town
Divorce – v. the ending of a marriage by a legal process