As peace talks began in Geneva in February, Syrian and Russian forces launched their most intense offensive, breaking a three-year rebel siege of two villages outside Aleppo and taking them within 3km of their objective of encircling the rebels in the city. The first round of peace talks fell apart after the opposition negotiators walked out, while tens of thousands of Syrians fled the intensifying assault around Aleppo and headed for Turkey. Russia said its assault was targeting al-Nusra, the only group other than Islamic State to be universally outlawed by the United Nations and therefore a legitimate target.
Feb. 5, 2016
After a nationwide truce lasting almost two months, fighting restarted in April. The rebels had one remaining supply route, the Castello Road, which skirts north of Sheikh Maqsoud, a Kurdish-held district in western Aleppo. Enmity between the Kurdish YPG militia and rebels had spilled into all-out war in the Aleppo area since late 2015, which rebels say resulted from YPG attempts to cut the road.
In July, the Syrian army texted residents telling them to leave and the army air dropped leaflets. The governor of Aleppo said humanitarian corridors would be set up to evacuate civilians, and rebels who surrendered within three months would be given an amnesty. The UN said humanitarian aid was a job for the UN, and France said the Russian plan was not credible and the US said it could be a ruse. More than 150 civilians left on July 30. Air strikes on medical facilities intensified, with 15 strikes reported during July.
On Aug. 1 the besieged rebels launched a major assault in the southwest, overrunning the fortress-like Ramouseh military base and breaking the siege within a week, with 6,000-8,000 fighters and dozens of tanks advancing in the wake of targeted suicide vehicle attacks. The advance threatened to cut government supply lines and besiege Western Aleppo.
After a month of sustained pressure on the rebels, government forces, including thousands of Hezbollah and Iraqi Shi’ite militia fighters, recaptured lost areas in southern Aleppo and re-sealed the siege of the eastern sector, starting the final chapter of the battle.
Russia said its air raids targeted Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, the renamed Nusra Front, but more and more hospitals were hit by air strikes, and food and medical supplies were running out. Late in October Russia called a three-day truce, and it held off air attacks for four weeks.
The rebels massed thousands of more forces outside Aleppo and launched a new offensive on Oct. 28 to try to punch through western districts to reach the besieged zone. The massive attack failed to break through, and after two weeks pro-Assad forces recovered the territory lost in the assault. By mid-November food warehouses were empty and all hospitals in the besieged zone were out of action
On Nov. 28 the Syrian government forces cut the besieged zone in half, driving rebels from the northern third of eastern Aleppo and sending at least 20,000 civilians fleeing.
Population under attack
Cumulative fatalities since the start of the civil war, as of Dec. 19
Regional fatalities as a percentage of all fatalities, as of Dec. 19
Sources: Institute for the Study of War (areas of control); Center for Documentation of Violations in Syria (fatalities); UN (buildings damaged)
By Christian Inton, Gustavo Cabrera and Michael Ovaska | REUTERS GRAPHICS