The fall of Aleppo timeline: How Assad captured Syria's biggest city

IBTimes UK looks back at five years of bitter conflict that have left the historic city in ruins.

The battle of Aleppo has ended with victory for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his military coalition of Russia, Iran and regional Shia militias. IBTimes UK looks back at five years of bitter conflict that have left the historic city in ruins.

Before the civil war started, Aleppo was the country's largest city, a busy commercial powerhouse and a proud historic centre. Aleppo landmarks included a millennium-old minaret towering above Umayyad mosque, a medieval souk (covered market) and an imposing citadel overlooking the old city centre.

Visitors walk inside Aleppo's Umayyad mosque in October 2010Khalil Ashawi/Reuters
People are pictured inside the Khan al-Shounah market, in the Old City of Aleppo in December 2009Khalil Ashawi/Reuters
People are seen outside Aleppo's historic citadel in December 2009Khalil Ashawi/Reuters

The Syrian crisis began with a small protest in Damascus on 14 March 2011, in response to the arrest and torture of high school students who scrawled anti-government graffiti on a school wall. Demonstrations soon spread to other cities, with a few small protests held in Aleppo.

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27 March 2011: Supporters of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad shout slogans during a rally in AleppoGeorge Ourfalian/Reuters
23 December 2011: Demonstrators protest against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad after Friday prayers. The banner reads, 'O people of Aleppo, the history is written, where are you?'Reuters

In early 2012 rebels took control of rural areas northwest of Aleppo city, seizing the Minnegh military air base and the largely Shia towns of Nubl and Zahra. Protesters in Aleppo were shot at for the first time in July 2012 and rebels started to fight for the city itself. Poorer eastern districts quickly fell to the insurgents. Fighting in the Old City damaged much of the historic covered market. In April 2013 the 1,000-year-old minaret of Aleppo's Umayyad Mosque collapsed after being struck during fighting.

10 February 2012: Syrian security personnel inspect the site of one of two explosions targeting security bases in AleppoGeorge Ourfalian/Reuters
20 February 2012: Soldiers loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad patrol the streets in al-Sabaa Bahrat district, an area controlled by Free Syrian Army fightersGeorge Ourfalian/Reuters
7 August 2012: A Free Syrian Army fighter screams in pain after he was injured in his leg by shrapnel from a shell fired from a Syrian Army tank in the Salaheddine neighbourhood of central AleppoReuters
29 August 2012: A woman and her baby are seen through the scope of a rebel fighter's sniper gun, as she flees the Saif al-Dawla neighbourhood of Aleppo, amid heavy street fightingZac Baillie/AFP
12 August 2012: A man and woman cry over the body of their son who was shot by a sniper in the Salaheddine district of AleppoGoran Tomasevic/Reuters
14 August 2012: A Free Syrian Army fighter fires his sniper rifle from a house in AleppoGoran Tomasevic/Reuters
16 August 2012: A Free Syrian Army fighter carries the body of a fellow fighter through a hole in a wall in AleppoGoran Tomasevic/Reuters
1 September 2012: A Syrian Air Force fighter jet launches missiles at El Edaa district in AleppoYoussef Boudlal/Reuters
12 September 2012: Ahmad, a Syrian boy living in Aleppo, shows off his collection of shrapnel and bullet cases in front of a destroyed house in Tariq al-Bab districtZain Karam/Reuters
3 October 2012: Men run amid wreckage after three blasts ripped through Aleppo's main Saadallah al-Jabari Square, and a fourth a few hundred metres awaySANA/Reuters
15 October 2012: Members of the free Syrian Army use a catapult to launch a homemade bomb during clashes with pro-government soldiers in AleppoAsmaa Waguih/Reuters
30 December 2012: A Free Syrian Army fighter fires his weapon during clashes with forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar Al-Assad in Aleppo's Bustan al-Qasr districtMuzaffar Salman/Reuters
31 December 2012: Ayman al-Sahili, a Reuters cameraman, reacts as he was shot in the leg while filming on the front line in Aleppo by a sniper loyal to Syrian President Bashar el-AssadReuters
3 January 2013: A father in Aleppo reacts after the death of two of his children, whom activists said were killed by shelling by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-AssadReuters
17 February 2013: Free Syrian Army fighters walk past an unexploded missile embedded in a street near Al Neirab airport in AleppoHamid Khatib/Reuters
Left: A rebel fighter is pictured standing in front of the minaret of Aleppo's ancient Umayyad mosque on 16 April 2013. Right: Rubble is seen on the ground on 24 April after the minaret was destroyedDimitar Dilkoff/Jalal al-Halabi/AFP
11 August 2013: A damaged Russian-made helicopter that belonged to the Syrian Army is seen at the Mineegh military airport near the border with Turkey, after it was seized by rebelsMahmoud Hassano/Reuters

Rebels gained control of the main highway from Aleppo to the south and besieged much of the western, government-held half of Aleppo. Government and allied forces retook the area in October 2013. As 2014 progressed, the government increasingly used jets and helicopters to strike rebel-held areas of the city.

19 June 2013: A female Kurdish fighter points her weapon as she takes up a position to guard an area in Aleppo's Sheikh Maqsoud neighbourhood after the Popular Protection Units (YPG) joined the Free Syrian Army to fight against forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-AssadNour Kelze/Reuters
22 August 2013: A 15-year-old Free Syrian Army fighter is reflected in a mirror as he takes position in a house in Salah al-Din neighbourhood in AleppoMuzaffar Salman/Reuters
4 September 2013: A Free Syrian Army fighter points his weapon through a door as he tries to locate forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in the Ramouseh area of AleppoMolhem Barakat/Reuters
13 September 2013: A Free Syrian Army fighter fires his weapon towards Aleppo's Justice Palace, controlled by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-AssadHamid Khatib/Reuters
21 September 2013: Free Syrian Army fighters carry their fellow fighter after he was wounded on the front line in Aleppo's Sheikh Saeed neighbourhoodMolhem Barakat/Reuters
20 October 2013: Residents run from a fire at a petrol and oil shop in Aleppo's Bustan Al-Qasr neighbourhood. Witnesses said the fire was caused by a bullet fired by a sniper loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad at the Karaj al-Hajez crossing, a passageway separating Aleppo's Bustan al-Qasr and Al-Masharqa neighbourhoodsReuters
25 October 2013: Free Syrian Army fighters prepare to fire a home-made rocket towards forces loyal to President Bashar Al-Assad in Ashrafieh, AleppoAref Hretani/Reuters
14 December 2013: Free Syrian Army fighters fire a rocket towards forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Old AleppoMolhem Barakat/Reuters
15 December 2013: Residents look for survivors at a site damaged by what activists said was an air strike from forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in the Takeek Al-Bab area of AleppoMolhem Barakat/Reuters
28 December 2013: A man stands in a building damaged by what activists said were air strikes from forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in the Maysar neighbourhood of AleppoReuters
14 February 2014: A man holds a baby rescued from under rubble, after what activists say was an air strike by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Masaken Hanano in AleppoHosam Katan/Reuters
7 March 2014: Emergency personnel extinguish a fire following a reported air strike by Syrian government forces during the Friday prayer in the Sukkari neighbourhood of the northern city of AleppoBaraa al-Halabi/AFP
27 March 2014: A man looks down at an unexploded barrel bomb reportedly dropped by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad at a cemetery in the al-Qatanah neighbourhood of Aleppo.Mahmoud Hebbo/Reuters
8 May 2014: Forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad search for survivors under the debris at a hotel used by Assad's forces in Old Aleppo. Rebels detonated a huge bomb underneath the hotel, destroying it and damaging other buildings on the edge of the city's medieval citadelGeorge Ourfalian/Reuters
3 June 2014: A man carries a young girl who was injured in a reported barrel-bomb attack by government forces in Kallaseh district, AleppoAFP
7 June 2014: A Free Syrian Army sniper aims his rifle through a hole in a wall in AleppoReuters
6 October 2014: A blindfolded man suspected of passing on military information to the Syrian government waits to be interrogated after being arrested by Free Syrian Army fighters, inside an FSA-run prison in AleppoAbdalrhman Ismail/Reuters

A series of rebel advances in 2015 put the government under pressure in northwest Syria, where Aleppo is located. But in October 2015 the first Russian air strikes took place and swiftly put the rebels on the back foot. Advances by the army and allies with Russian air support in February 2016 cut the most direct road from Turkey to rebel-held east Aleppo. Government forces recaptured Minnegh air base, ending the rebels' siege of Nubl and Zahra and putting pressure on insurgent supply routes.

2 April 2015: A boy carries his belongings at a site hit by what activists said was a barrel bomb dropped by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Aleppo's al-Fardous districtRami Zayat/Reuters
30 October 2015: Medics search for survivors under the rubble following a reported air strike by Russian or regime warplanes on the rebel-held neighbourhood of al-Kalasa in AleppoThaer Mohammed/AFP
7 December 2015: Civilians look out from their homes in a damaged building in Aleppo following a reported air strike by government forcesKaram al-Masri/AFP
28 April 2016: An injured woman reacts at a site hit by air strikes in a rebel-held area of Old AleppoAbdalrhman Ismail/Reuters

On 27 July government forces fully encircled eastern Aleppo for the first time, but the siege was broken 10 days later by a rebel counter-attack on the Ramousah district that briefly opened a perilous way into eastern Aleppo from the south. Russian air power and Shia militias from Iraq and Lebanon helped the army recapture Ramousah on 8 September, firmly re-encircling the rebel enclave.

7 July 2016: Syrian emergency personnel carry the bodies of children after removing them from the rubble of a damaged building following reported air strikes in Aleppo's rebel-held neighbourhood of Tariq al-BabThaer Mohammed/AFP
25 July 2016: Syrian civil defence volunteers, known as the White Helmets, dig out a young boy trapped under the rubble of destroyed buildings following reported air strikes on the rebel-held neighbourhood of Al-Mashhad in AleppoKaram al-Masri/AFP
18 August 2016: A civilian removes the rubble in front of a damaged shop after an airstrike in the rebel-held al-Saleheen neighbourhood of AleppoAbdalrhman Ismail/Reuters
25 August 2016: A man carries the body of a dead child after an air strike on the rebel-held Bab al-Nairab neighbourhood of AleppoAbdalrhman Ismail/Reuters
27 August 2016: Men inspect a damaged site after double air strikes on the rebel-held Bab al-Nairab neighbourhood of AleppoAbdalrhman Ismail/Reuters
26 September 2016: People dig in the rubble in an ongoing search for survivors at a site hit previously by an air strike in the rebel-held Tariq al-Bab neighbourhood of AleppoAbdalrhman Ismail/Reuters
5 September 2016: Forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad walk through a military complex after they recaptured areas in southwestern AleppoSANA/Reuters

On 22 September, the heaviest air strikes in months hit east Aleppo and the government announced a new offensive to retake it. After weeks of intense bombardment, in which many hospitals and other civilian infrastructure were hit, Russia and Syria's government declared a pause in their campaign on 18 October, urging rebels and civilians to quit east Aleppo. A last rebel offensive aimed at breaking the siege began on 28 October from the countryside to the city's west, but after making some progress in the first two days, it lost momentum and all gains were reversed within a week.

10 October 2016: Rebel fighters drive their vehicles celebrating what they said was the taking over of Baraghedeh and Kafr-Ghan towns, in al-Rai town, on the ooutskirts of northern AleppoKhalil Ashawi/Reuters
28 October 2016: A rebel makeshift military front loader drives in Dahiyat al-Assad, west AleppoAmmar Awad/Reuters
30 October 2016: A rebel fighter in Dahiyet al-Assad fires a shell towards regime-held Hamdaniyah neighbourhood, west AleppoAmmar Abdullah/Reuters

Intense air strikes resumed against east Aleppo on 15 November, putting all hospitals out of action. On 28 November, pro-government forces took the northern part of the rebel sector in a sudden advance that reduced its size by more than a third. Another swift advance on 5 and 6 December brought the al-Shaar district and much of Aleppo's historic Old City under government control, leaving the rebels trapped in a small southern portion of their former enclave.

On 12 December, the army made a series of new advances after taking the Sheikh Saeed district after days of intense fighting and under a heavy aerial bombardment, leaving rebels stuck in only a tiny part of the city. On 13 December insurgents agreed to withdraw in a ceasefire deal which would see them evacuate to rebel-held areas outside Aleppo with their families and any other civilians wanting to leave.

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28 November 2016: Syrian pro-government forces celebrate on a street in the Haydariya northeastern neighbourhood in Aleppo after they took control of the area from rebel fighters as part of their assault to retake the entire northern city George Ourfalian/ AFP
28 November 2016: Syrian pro-government forces walk past destroyed buildings in Aleppo's Bustan al-Basha neighbourhood, during their assault to retake the entire northern city from rebel fightersGeorge Ourfalian/ AFP
28 November 2016: A member of Syrian pro-government forces stands on top of a building overlooking Aleppo in the city's Bustan al-Basha neighbourhood, during their assault to retake the entire city from rebel fightersGeorge Ourfalian/AFP
29 November 2016: Syrian families, fleeing from various eastern districts of Aleppo, wait to board vehicles in the government-held eastern neighbourhood of Jabal Badro, before heading to government-controlled western Aleppo, as the Syrian government offensive to recapture rebel-held Aleppo prompted an exodus of civilians George Ourfalian/ AFP
5 December 2016: A member of Syrian pro-government troops inspect a tunnel in Aleppo's eastern Karm al-Jabal neighbourhood as they advance towards al-Shaar neighbourhood during their offensive to retake Syria's second city on George Ourfalian/ AFP
7 December 2016: A general view taken from Aleppo's citadel show smoke rising following shelling on neighbourhoods in the old cityGeorge Ourfalian/ AFP
8 December 2016: Syrian pro-government forces manoeuvre a tank in the newly retaken areas of Sahat al-Melh and Qasr al-Adly in Aleppo's Old CityGeorge Ourfalian/AFP
8 December 2016: Syrian government troops gather as they patrol Aleppo's al-Shaar neighbourhood after taking control of the area in the eastern part of the northern Syrian cityGeorge Ourfalian/AFP
8 December 2016: Residents fleeing the violence gather at a checkpoint, manned by pro-government forces, in the Maysaloun neighbourhood of AleppoYoussef Karwashan/AFP
10 December 2016: Syrian pro-government forces hold Syrian flags bearing the portrait of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as they patrol Aleppo's Bab al-Nairab neighbourhoodGeorge Ourfalian/AFP
12 December 2016: Syrian pro-government forces hold a position in Aleppo's Sheikh Saeed district after troops retook the area from rebel fightersGeorge Ourfalian/AFP
12 December 2016: A Syrian pro-government fighter carries a wounded woman who was reportedly shot by rebel sniper fire while fleeing with her family Aleppo's eastern al-Salihin neighbourhood, after troops retook the area from rebel fightersGeorge Ourfalian/AFP
12 December 2016: Syrian residents flee violence in Aleppo's eastern al-Salihin neighbourhood after regime troops retook the area from rebel fightersGeorge Ourfalian/AFP
13 December 2016: Syrian pro-government forces walk in the historic Umayyad mosque in the Old City of Aleppo after they captured the area. The Citadel can be seen in the backgroundGeorge Ourfalian/AFP
13 December 2016: Syrian pro-government forces take a selfie in the courtyard of the Umayyad mosqueGeorge Ourfalian/AFP

A ceasefire deal between rebels and the Syrian government in the city of Aleppo effectively collapsed on Wednesday 14 December, with fighter jets resuming deadly air raids over the opposition's densely crowded enclave in the east of the city. The attacks threatened to scuttle plans to evacuate rebels and tens thousands of civilians out of harm's way, in what would seal the opposition's surrender of the city.

The war is still far from over, with insurgents retaining major strongholds elsewhere in Syria, and the jihadist Islamic State group holding swathes of the east and recapturing the ancient city of Palmyra.

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