Al Jdayde, Old City, Aleppo.
I revisited this area (October 2019) that had been occupied and almost destroyed by the various terrorist groups, including Nusra Front, until the liberation of East Aleppo in December 2016.
With me was George Fannon, brother of Joseph Fannoun, who took me on a short tour of the neighbourhood where he had a sweet factory and shop.
The factory had been taken over by the terrorist groups and turned into a military zone, sandbags at the windows with the narrow gap left for snipers to use. The shop was reduced to rubble like so many of the other homes and businesses in this once bustling, tourist area of the Old City.
George also showed me the famous Sissi house restaurant and he confirmed a story I had been told two years ago – in 2010 the President of Syria, Bashar Al Assad, had entertained the Emir of Qatar in this restaurant. After the meal, the Emir left alone and returned to Damascus while the President broke with diplomatic protocol by remaining in Aleppo to talk to civilians. I was told that this was the point at which the President had turned down the proposed Qatari/Turkey oil pipeline in favour of the Iran/Russia deal. George also told me that the Emir had ordered 4 kg of sweets from the shop – the description of the Emir by George was not complimentary.
The winding alleyways, churches and the everlasting scent of jasmine attracted people from all over the world before the invasion of the sectarian extremist gangs funded by the US interventionist alliance, predominantly supported (in Aleppo) by NATO-member-state, Turkey – who pillaged and devastated Aleppo during their proxy annexation of the industrial and historical districts of this ancient and vibrant city.
As we walked, I was impressed with how clean the alleyways were, swept clear of the dust and rubble left behind by the terrorist occupation. The rubble still bordered the cobbled streets but in tidy piles with signs of rebuilding with the original materials that had been salvaged from the destruction.
A very different sight to December 2016 when I stepped foot in these areas hours after the departure of the monsters that had been here for almost 5 years. Then, the gloom of war still hung like a fine mist in the air, the streets were slick and black with soot and dirt, rubbish piled high, buses pushed up against buildings as barriers and protection against snipers. The contrast is remarkable almost three years later.
This short interview is so familiar – the same history of externally fuelled sectarianism and terror, the refusal to accept an ideology so far removed from Syria’s secular culture, the destruction and the determination to rebuild and to restore Syria, not to how it was before but better.