In the early stages of the Syrian crisis, Aleppo was largely spared the violence that engulfed Homs, Hama, and other parts of the country.

Today, Aleppo has come to symbolise the devastation wrought on Syria and its population, having witnessed the worst violence of the conflict and unimaginable levels of human and physical destruction.

For years, the city has been physically divided between regime- and rebel-aligned forces and thus mirrored the larger military stalemate throughout the country.

What distinguished Aleppo from other parts of the country was its strategic value for rebel groups as a major hub on the supply route from Turkey and as a major population centre outside of regime control.

As such, when ceasefires and a cessation of hostilities were being negotiated after the Russian intervention, the Syrian regime was keen to isolate Aleppo and continue its onslaught to regain control over the city.

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The Syrian regime and its allies, and now even the United States, have argued that Aleppo was mostly under the control of al-Nusra Front, which is outside of the cessation agreements.

Although blatantly untrue, the move has justified the continued bombardment of Aleppo and the imposition of a suffocating siege while maintaining the appearance of the regime’s honouring of the ceasefires.

In an effort to stave off the city's fall, rebel groups have similarly intensified their attacks against regime-held areas. Caught in the middle are the hundreds of thousands of civilians who have already braved profound violence and who are suffering from what may turn out to be the conflict's most deadly and decisive battles.

The civilian situation as accurately summarised by a Red Cross worker: "Wherever you are, you hear explosions of mortars, shelling and planes flying over. There is no neighbourhood of the city that hasn't been hit."

The intensification of violence has led to hundreds of deaths in the city on both sides of the frontlines and a further devastation of civilian infrastructure. It has been estimated that the recent violence has led to the death of a Syrian every 25 minutes.

What we are witnessing today is the regime's most aggressive push to wrestle Aleppo away from rebel groups and to impose new realities on the Syrian conflict that shift regional and international calculations in the regime’s favour.

Healthcare and schooling are now virtually non-existent in the rebel-held areas and the encirclement of the city by regime-aligned forces means that basic necessities, such as food, are in short supply.

An aid worker confirmed this, stating that "the most vital areas in Aleppo" have been the targets of aerial attacks while the key supply highways leading to Turkey and to the eastern areas are under constant bombardment and siege.

The head of the Doctors Without Borders (MSF) mission to Syria stated that in Aleppo, "the sky is falling". For the first time in Aleppo's history, Friday prayers were cancelled by the city's legal council to ensure the safety of civilians.

What we are witnessing today is the regime's most aggressive push to wrestle Aleppo away from rebel groups and to impose new realities on the Syrian conflict that shift regional and international calculations in the regime’s favour.

Regime-aligned forces are doing so through some of the most horrific and indiscriminate means of violence, including barrel bombings and brutal sieges that leave civilians without basic necessities.

Such strategies have been marshalled with tremendous success in other parts of the country where the goal of regaining nominal military control over territory supersedes any concern with civilian life.

The intensification of violence has nothing to do with fighting the imaginary al-Nusra Front and Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group combatants that control the city. Instead, Aleppo's bombardment is the continuation of a military strategy that has materialised in the context of a political process designed to satisfy the regime and its allies' larger strategic goals.

This strategy involves the gradual recapture of territory through sustained aerial bombardment and suffocating sieges while paying lip service to a political process aimed at reducing the violence.

What this process has accomplished is the granting of a right of permanent exception to the regime and its allies to break ceasefires under the cover and pretext of battling Nusra and ISIL.

In this way, the destruction and besiegement of Aleppo can continue while international leaders maintain that the cessation agreements are working and that they have had "a profoundly positive effect".

One wonders how a political process can both justify and reduce violence at the same time.

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The city of Aleppo represents a significant obstacle to the regime and its allies' strategic goals of territorial recapture. It is thus extremely naïve to assume that in this context ceasefires can be extended to Aleppo, as US Secretary of State John Kerry has suggested, until the regime-aligned forces are satisfied that the military situation is under their control.

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This is precisely the formula for other parts of the country, such as Homs and Hama: Invoke the ISIL and Nusra threat to justify sustained attack and siege and, when the areas are cleansed, impose a ceasefire.

This is the strategy being invoked in Aleppo and why the city will, for now at least, remain outside the ceasefire zone.

In the meantime, one of the most brutal and destructive battles of the Syrian conflict rages on. Civilians on either side of the frontlines have suffered immensely, and will continue to do so as the regime-aligned forces pursue their vision for Syria and rebel groups attempt to stave off total collapse.

One resident stated that at this point "those who wanted to leave Aleppo have fled" and that those who stayed have decided to do so "under all circumstances of shelling and siege".

In what is an increasingly desperate situation, rebel groups have congealed around Aleppo and are coordinating attacks against regime-aligned forces and civilian areas.

For the more than 400,000 residents who remain in Aleppo, the immediate future is bleak.

Source: Al Jazeera