This visit is highly symbolic, since the city of Aleppo, Syria’s second largest city and economic capital, has since 2012 been the scene of fierce fighting between government forces on the one hand and rebel factions and the Islamic State group ( EI) on the other hand.
The city was finally taken over by the regime in 2016, with crucial help from Russia which intervened militarily.
In a message broadcast on Telegram, the Syrian presidency claimed that Mr. Assad and his family “visited the historic Umayyad mosque in Aleppo (…) and strolled through the souks of the old city which have opened on the occasion of Eid al-Adha”, the great Muslim festival of sacrifice.
The Umayyad mosque and the old souks, witnesses of the rich Aleppo historical heritage, suffered enormous damage during the fighting between 2012 and 2016.
Earlier on Friday, Mr. Assad had visited the Aleppo power station in the east of the eponymous province and had witnessed the reopening of a water pumping station, two infrastructures which had been destroyed during the conflict.
“The province of Aleppo has suffered more than the other provinces,” said the presidency, quoting Mr. Assad. “And no major city has suffered as much as Aleppo, in terms of water, electricity, services, shells, destruction and terrorism.”
The total rehabilitation of the plant, one of the largest in the country, would help supply electricity to Aleppo and its suburbs.
This is Assad’s first visit to the city and province of Aleppo since the start of the deadly conflict which since 2011 has claimed around 500,000 lives, devastated the country’s infrastructure and displaced millions of people.
The battle for control of the city of Aleppo is considered the most important victory for the government forces and the biggest setback for the opposition factions that controlled the eastern districts of the city.
The regime has not taken over the entire province, however, with the border strip with Turkey being controlled by the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces on one side and Ankara-backed Syrian factions on the other.