THE war in Syria has been described as the deadliest conflict of the 21st century.
But it’s the before and after pictures in the Old City of Aleppo, a UNESCO World Heritage site, that have painted the extent of the catastrophic death and destruction.
Aleppo, one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world, has been all but obliterated by barrel bombs, bullets, chemical attacks and air strikes in the war. While Syrians fight for their lives to escape the city once known as the cradle of civilisation, many photographers have stayed to ensure the world bares witness to the razing of Aleppo.
More than 300,000 Syrians have been killed in the armed conflict which started with anti-government protests before escalating into a full-scale civil war on July 19, 2012.
More than 12 million Syrians — half the country’s pre-war population — have been displaced as forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and those opposed to his rule battle each other and jihadist militants including those from Islamic State.
Fresh air strikes pummelled the shrinking rebel enclave in Aleppo on Saturday ahead of parallel talks in France and Switzerland aimed at saving the Syrian city from “complete” destruction.
Foreign ministers from the Western and Arab backers of Syria’s beleaguered opposition — including US Secretary of State John Kerry — were to discuss Aleppo’s plight in Paris.
US and Russian officials meanwhile were to gather in Geneva in a bid to stop the city from “being absolutely, completely, destroyed”, Mr Kerry said.
Once the beating heart of Syria’s industrial and commercial industries, Aleppo has witnessed some of the most brutal violence of the country’s nearly six-year-old war.
The city’s east — a rebel stronghold since 2012 — has been the target of a major assault by forces loyal to President Bashar’s Russian-backed regime.
In less than a month, government troops and allied militia have overrun around 85 per cent of east Aleppo, trapping rebels in just a few neighbourhoods.
Air strikes and regime rocket fire battered the last remaining rebel districts early on Saturday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Opposition groups fired back with rockets, according to the British-based monitor, which did not have immediate details on casualties in the exchange of fire.
An AFP correspondent in west Aleppo could hear the hum of aeroplanes circling above, coupled with bombardment and machine gunfire on the city’s east.
The strikes were so intense that windows in the west rattled and plumes of smoke could be seen rising from several points across the city’s skyline.
BOMBING IS UNREAL
“The bombing is unreal,” said Ibrahim Abu al-Leith, spokesman for the White Helmets rescue force inside Aleppo.
Mr Abu al-Leith spoke to AFP from one of the last rebel-controlled zones in Aleppo’s southeast, saying he had been forced to move homes because of the intensity of the raids.
“The streets are full of people under the rubble. They are dying because we can’t get them out,” he added.