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Syria’s northern city of Aleppo was once a thriving commercial hub with a proud history dating back millennia. Since the Syrian civil war began in 2011, much of the city has been devastated by intense shelling and airstrikes.
As government forces work to wrest back control of Aleppo from an armed rebellion, which is battling against the Assad family’s 40-year rule, aid groups are cautioning that civilians have fewer places to go while their city gets hammered. The U.N. human rights office said Tuesday that government forces had killed at least 82 civilians in the eastern neighborhoods, reported the AFP.
“The worst humanitarian tragedy of the 21st century is unfolding before our eyes,” said France’s U.N. Ambassador Francois Delattre, according to the Associated Press.
Overall, more than 250,000 people have died in the five-year conflict, and repeated attempts to broker a cease-fire have failed.
Courtney Kealy, a television and radio correspondent now based in New York, remembers visiting Syria for the first time in 1999 to do a travel piece for the New York Times.
She covered a Sufi concert in an 8th century palace, watched artisans hand print designs on fabric and bought strands of natural pearls for her family.
Aleppo epitomized Syria’s place on the Silk Road ancient trading route. “The souk (open-air market) was so narrow that you could only send goods through by donkey. You just felt like you’d stepped into another century.”
Now, looking at the images of the destruction is heartbreaking, Kealy says. “It will never be rebuilt in the same way. It will never be this living museum at the crossroads of civilization.”
Reuters photographers have documented the city before and after the war began, in these 2009 images and others taken in the past few days.
The Old City of Aleppo is viewed from the historic citadel on Dec. 11, 2009. Photo by Khalil Ashawi/Reuters
An image taken by a drone shows the Old City of Aleppo and the historic citadel on Oct. 12. Photo by Abdalrhman Ismail/Reuters
Visitors walk inside Aleppo’s Umayyad Mosque on Oct. 6, 2010. Photo by Khalil Ashawi/Reuters
A general view of the damage in the Umayyad Mosque in Old Aleppo on Dec. 15, 2013. Photo by Molhem Barakat/Reuters
A vendor sits inside an antique shop in the al-Jdeideh neighborhood of Aleppo on Dec. 12, 2009. Photo by Khalil Ashawi/Reuters
Men salvage belongings from their gutted shops at a site hit by airstrikes on Nov. 16 in the rebel held al-Shaar neighborhood of Aleppo. Photo by Abdalrhman Ismail/Reuters
A man crosses a street in Aleppo on Dec. 12, 2009. Photo by Khalil Ashawi/Reuters
Residents walk near damaged buildings in the Old City of Aleppo on May 5. Photo by Abdalrhman Ismail/Reuters
People walk in the al-Jdeideh neighborhood of Aleppo on Dec. 12, 2009. Photo by Khalil Ashawi/Reuters
People inspect a site destroyed by an air strike in the rebel-held al-Qaterji neighborhood of Aleppo on Oct. 17. Photo by Abdalrhman Ismail/Reuters
A church is pictured in Aleppo on Dec. 12, 2009. Photo by Khalil Ashawi/Reuters
Photo of damaged site in Aleppo taken on Nov. 19. Photo by Abdalrhman Ismail/Reuters
People tour Aleppo’s citadel, one of the oldest known castles in the world, on Dec. 11, 2009. Photo by Khalil Ashawi/Reuters
The citadel is surrounded by rubble on Oct. 1, 2014, several years after the fighting began. Photo by George Ourfalian/Reuters
Larisa Epatko produced multimedia web features and broadcast reports with a focus on foreign affairs for the PBS NewsHour. She has reported in places such as Jordan, Pakistan, Iraq, Haiti, Sudan, Western Sahara, Guantanamo Bay, China, Vietnam, South Korea, Turkey, Germany and Ireland.
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