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Who Burned Aleppo’s Souk? Doesn’t Matter, It’s Destroyed

Regime and rebel forces traded blame for a fire that raged in Aleppo’s Old City over the weekend. No matter who is responsible the end result is the same: the beautiful ancient marketplace with its network of stone archways and cobble streets has been torched, bombed, and nearly demolished. A few pictures are available here and here.

The WSJ reports on the fighting that has raged in the city over the past few days and the ensuing arguments over who did the damage:

The Aleppo native [who was interviewed for this story] said members of the Tawhid Brigade, the main rebel group now fighting in Aleppo, have become rogue “armed gangs” that are only nominally associated with the Free Syrian Army. […]

One of Tawhid’s leaders, defected army colonel Abdel-Jabbar al-Ughaidy, rejected the Aleppo native’s assessment during a telephone interview, blaming regime forces for instigating the attack in Aleppo’s old city. […]

A man, who identifies himself as a Free Syrian Army fighter, can be heard on a video [posted on YouTube by activists] saying that regime forces fired mortar and artillery shells at rebels amassed in the ancient market, causing the conflagration.

“They are shooting at us with snipers so that we do not extinguish the fire, these are people’s shops, their livelihood,” shouts the man as gunfire pops could be heard in the background.

Is Aleppo going the way of Beirut in the 1990s, when rival militias divided the city and hunkered down for years of destruction and fighting? Beirut’s ancient souks were entirely demolished during Lebanon’s civil war. In the years since, the ancient marketplace has been rebuilt into glitzy modern Versace and Lamborghini shops. Is that what Aleppo has to look forward to?

Syria’s civil war doesn’t look likely to end soon. Indeed, the signs point to an expanding conflict: a suicide bomber killed as many as eight people in a Kurdish city of northeast Syria—the first such attack in a region that had previously avoided the war. The bomber’s affiliation is still unclear, but the dead were apparently Syrian state security men. The Kurds are going to find it increasingly difficult to remain neutral.

The specter of a long and destructive civil war looms darkly on the horizon. Syria’s remarkable riches of ancient monuments and architectural treasures has survived many bitter wars and disasters in the past. We can only hope that both the people and the monuments of Syria survive this latest orgy of destruction and that real peace will quickly take root in this increasingly divided land.

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