Conflict in Aleppo, Syria: A Retrospective Analysis

I. Introduction
II. Data and Methods
III. Results
IV. Conclusion

I. Introduction

In September 2012, Amnesty International, USA (AIUSA) requested that the Geospatial Technologies and Human Rights Project of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) investigate human rights-related reports stemming from the escalating conflict in Aleppo, Syria (Figure 1). Two images from August 2012 were obtained and analyzed. This analysis documented over one hundred instances of damage to buildings and infrastructure, numerous shell craters, multiple improvised roadblocks, and the presence of heavy armored vehicles in civilian neighborhoods, and resulted in the AAAS report "Satellite Imagery Analysis for Urban Conflict Documentation: Aleppo, Syria".1


Figure 1: Overview

Since August 2012, what has been called the "Battle for Aleppo"2 has continued with further reports of heavy fighting,3 civilian casualties,4 and the destruction of segments of the Anceint City of Aleppo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.5 As the conflict in the region has continued, AIUSA again requested to partner with the Geospatial Technologies and Human Rights Project to investigate human rights-related reports.

Figure 2: Neighborhood map of Aleppo

Click here for legend

II. Data and Methods

I. Image Acquisition

Using information provided by AIUSA and media reports, seven additional images of Aleppo and its environs were acquired to supplement the two images obtained previously (Table 1). These images provide a snapshot of Aleppo at regular intervals between August 2012 and June 2013. Image acquisition was also influenced by media reports of major incidents, such as damage to the Umayyad Mosque within the Old City, with the goal of validating these reports. All images cover the same one hundred and eighty-two square kilometers analyzed in the prior AAAS report except for the image from February 24, 2013, which covers the northernmost one hundred and twenty-six square kilometers of the study area.

Table 1: Imagery

Date Sensor Image ID Angle Off-nadir
9 August 2012* Quickbird-2 101001000FF96D00 30.6
23 August 2012* Ikonos-2 2012082308175390000011607379 18.3
9 September 2012 Ikonos-2 2012090908372280000011627194 23.1
12 October 2012 Ikonos-2 2012101208393920000011612539 44.65
4 November 2012 Pleiades DS_PHR1A_201211040822231_FR1_PX_E037N36_0205_01800 23.5
15 December 2012 Geoeye-1 2012121508203041603031605709 23.1
24 February 2013** Pleiades DS_PHR1B_201302240811169_FR1_PX_E037N36_0208_00739 24.3
1 March 2013 Pleiades DS_PHR1B_201303010822282_FR1_PX_E037N36_0206_01175 11.6
26 May 2013 Geoeye-1 2013052608202281603031608019 21.1

* Image was used in previous Aleppo report
** Image does not cover full 182 km2 study area

II. Image Analysis

Analysis of the city focused on four categories of observations. The first of these surveyed the deployment of military equipment, and included observations of machinery, including artillery, tanks and other armored vehicles, helicopters, and fixed-wing aircraft. The second category consisted of barriers in the street, and was created because the previous analysis of Aleppo had revealed the presence of numerous improvised roadblocks. The third counted signs of damage and destruction, including observable harm to buildings, debris in the road indicating damage to facades, and shell craters. Finally, special attention was paid to damage to Aleppo's many cultural sites, especially within the Ancient City of Aleppo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The size and population density of Aleppo presents several unique challenges to image analysis and interpretation. The city contains many neighborhoods comprised of high-rise buildings in close proximity to one another, which often cast deep shadows on the nearby streets. This situation was further exacerbated by the fact that the satellites' operators had sometimes rolled the spacecraft away from a directly downward orientation in order to enable their cameras to capture the city of Aleppo as they passed over (see Table 1 for specific off-nadir angles). While this image collection method resulted in timely imagery of the evolving conflict, it had the side-effect of introducing a horizontal component to the imagery, in which the vertical faces of structures appear to "lean over" adjacent open space (see Figure 17, for example). When combined with the effects of shadows, this rendered large portions of the city invisible from above; in these areas, relevant events may have taken place that could not be detected. In addition, the high density of very small buildings often made it difficult to see between them and identify damage in some parts of the city, particularly the Old City. Despite these challenges, it was possible to observe many signs of the conflict throughout the study area.

III. Results

I. Military Vehicles and Equipment

Throughout the course of the study, evidence of military activity was apparent at numerous locations around the city. At an athletic field of the Al-Assad military academy, for example, an unusual cluster of vehicles and an area of disturbed soil was first observed on 12 October (Figure 3A). The origin of this disruption became apparent on 4 November, when a helicopter with a profile and rotor configuration matching that of an Mi-17 or Mi-24 multirole attack/transport helicopter appeared in the same location (Figure 3B), suggesting that the field was being used as an improvised staging area. On 15 December, the helicopter was no longer present, but the vehicles (now presumed to be supporting the helicopter) remained visible on the sidelines.

Figure 3: Athletic field used as landing site

On 12 October 2012 (A), vehicles and disturbed ground are visible at the athletic field of the Al-Assad military academy. On 4 November (B), a helicopter is visible using the field as a landing area. Coordinates: 36.180 N, 37.093 E. Imagery © 2013 DigitalGlobe (A) and Astrium (B).

A similar phenomenon was observed at the artillery academy located approximately three kilometers to the southeast, where a helicopter was observed at a truck depot on 15 December 2012 (Figure 4A), along with recently-applied helipad markings (Figure 4B).

Figure 4: Vehicle depot used as landing site

On 4 November 2012 (A), a vehicle depot at the Artillery Base southwest of Aleppo appears to be deserted. By 15 December 2012, however, it has been converted into a helicopter landing zone. Coordinates: 36.164 N, 37.115 E. Imagery © 2013 Astrium (A) and DigitalGlobe (B).

In addition to these observations, a number of military helicopters (also probable Mi-17s or Mi-24s) were observed on the tarmac at Aleppo International Airport. The numbers and relative positions of these aircraft changed frequently, suggesting regular use. Similar behavior was observed for fixed-wing combat aircraft such as MiG-23s and L-39s, as well as an Il-76 strategic airlifter, all of which were intermittently present on the airport's flight line (Figure 5). These observations are consistent with reports that government forces have been using both fixed and rotary wing aircraft to support combat operations in and around Aleppo. A summary of military aircraft observations by month is presented in Table 2.

Table 2: Monthly breakdown of military aircraft in Aleppo

 

 

Helicopters

Fixed-Wing Aircraft

  Multirole Attack/Transport Ground Attack Strategic Airlift
  Mi-17/Mi-24 Mig-23 L-39 IL-76
9 September 2012 9 7 0 1
12 October 2012 7 7 4 0
4 November 2012 9 8 4 0
15 December 2012 10 9 3 0
24 February 2013 5 10 4 1
1 March 2013 8 10 3 1
26 May 2013 9 10 6 0

 

Figure 5: Changes in aircraft deployments

On 15 December 2012 (A), eight helicopters (likely Mi-17s or Mi-24s), eight MiG-23s, and three Aero Vodochody L-39s are visible. On 1 March 2013 (B), three helicopters, all L-39s, and most MiGs have changed position, suggesting ongoing operations. Intermediate images showed nearly continuous change in aircraft positions, as well as the occasional presence of heavy transport aircraft. Coordinates: 36.186 N, 37.217 E. Imagery © 2013 DigitalGlobe (A) and Astrium (B).

Figure 6: Tanks and destruction at an intersection south of Aleppo

On 26 May 2013, three tanks (yellow arrows) -likely T-55 or T-72, based on their dimensions- were observed guarding an intersection near the southern approaches to Aleppo. Destroyed buildings which had been intact the month before (red arrows) were observed nearby. Coordinates: 36.148 N, 37.155 E. Imagery © 2013 DigitalGlobe.

Military land vehicles were also present, ranging from tanks and other armored vehicles to artillery and surface-to-air missile batteries. Their deployments were both observed directly, as when three tanks were spotted reinforcing an intersection at the southern approaches to the city (Figure 6), and inferred via phenomena such the changing numbers and positions of vehicles at staging areas (Figure 7A-B), and tracks left in soil following maneuvers (Figure 8).

Figure 7: Build-up at military vehicle depot

On 9 September 2012 (A), little activity is visible at a vehicle depot at the Al-Assad Military Academy. By 26 May 2013, however, numerous tanks and armored vehicles are present, their number having increased steadily over the intervening months. Coordinates: 36.179 N, 37.098 E. Imagery © 2013 DigitalGlobe.

Figure 8: Heavy vehicle tracks in fields surrounding Aleppo

Tracks left by heavy vehicles, the spacing of which is consistent with tanks known to be in service with the Syrian Army, are visible in many areas surrounding Aleppo, such as in this image of the southwest of the city, observed on 26 May 2013. Coordinates: 36.154 N, 37.203 E. Imagery © 2013 DigitalGlobe.

II. Roadblocks

A key characteristic of the fighting in Aleppo has been the creation of roadblocks to control movement within the city. Many of these consist of vehicles placed to block streets and intersections (Figure 9A). These appear to be mostly trucks or busses placed across strategic intersections. In some cases, however, it is possible that the barriers are actually disabled vehicles that have not been removed. Other roadblocks include multiple earthen barricades placed at major intersections (Figure 9B). In a few cases, deep trenches have been dug to completely block major highways (Figure 9C). Only three instances of this type of barrier were counted, all north of the Youth Housing Project neighborhood.

Figure 9: Various types of roadblocks present in Aleppo



In this series of images from 26 May 2013, four trucks (red circles) have been placed across intersections in the center of the city (A). Coordinates 36.195 N, 37.144 E. A major intersection in the west has been heavily barricaded with earthen barriers (B). Coordinates 36.208 N, 37.11 E. North of the city, a trench approximately 90 meters long, 15 meters wide, and 8.5 meters deep has been dug to sever the highway (C). Coordinates: 36.257 N, 37.141 E. Imagery © 2013 DigitalGlobe.

The total number of barriers observed in the city has steadily increased over the course of the study period (Table 3). This trend holds true even between 12 December 2012 and 24 February 2013, where the total number of barriers observed increased despite 150 existing roadblocks falling outside the image extent. These additional roadblocks are the result of both barriers being added to previously unblocked streets (Figure 10), as well as the augmentation of existing roadblocks with additional obstructions (Figure 11). It should be noted that some of these barriers are not permanent; a relatively small number have been removed over the course of the study period.

Table 3: Roadblocks in Aleppo

 

Barriers Observed

New Barriers

Removed Barriers

9 August 2012* 228 NA NA
23 August 2012* 302 89 14
9 September 2012 371 85 16
12 October 2012 532 205 44
4 November 2012 694 191 37
15 December 2012 863 228 51
24 February 2013** 879 233 67
1 March 2013 1113 66 10
26 May 2013 1171 258 200

* Image was used in previous Aleppo report
** Image does not cover full 182 km2. 233 new roadblocks were observed within the image extent but 150 roadblocks from 15 December 2012 were outside the image extent

Figure 10: Roadblocks added to an intersection in west Aleppo

Between 12 October 2012 (A) and 4 November 2012 (B) five roadblocks (red circles) have been added around an intersection. Coordinates 36.175 N, 37.09 E. Imagery © 2013 DigitalGlobe (A) and Astrium (B).

Figure 11: Additional barriers to a roadblock in west Aleppo

Between 15 December 2012 (left) and 24 February 2013 (right) six new barriers (yellow circles) have been added to the five already present (red circles). Coordinates: 36.208 N, 37.110 E. Imagery © 2013 DigitalGlobe (A) and Astrium (B).

The proliferation of roadblocks has not been evenly distributed across the city; much of the increase is concentrated on the west side of the city, both inside and outside the highway that encircles Aleppo (Figure 12). Roadblocks also tend to be concentrated on major roads. The number of roadblocks on the highway circling Aleppo, as well as the highway entering Aleppo from the east has steadily increased. Roadblocks have also proliferated at interchanges between these highways and smaller roads leading in and out of neighborhoods.

Fewer roadblocks were observed in the east of the city and in central neighborhoods. In central neighborhoods, particularly the old city, this may be a result of narrow streets and the aforementioned shadows limiting the number of barriers that can be observed. In eastern sections of the city, however, structures tend to be smaller and the streets are wider, so shadows are less of a factor. As a result, the lack of observed roadblocks likely reflects the situation on the ground.

Figure 12: Proliferation of roadblocks in Aleppo
This series of graphics illustrates the proliferation of roadblocks througout Aleppo -particularly in the western half of the city- from September 2012 through May 2013. As described in Table 3, the number of observed roadblocks increased substantially throughout the study period, from fewer than 400 at the start of observations to over one thousand in the latest observations. The black area surrounding certain images occurs when its extent is narrower than the full 182km2 study area. Imagery from September, October, November, December, and May © 2013 DigitalGlobe; imagery from November, February, and March © 2013 Astrium.




III. Destruction of Buildings and Infrastructure

Numerous residential and industrial areas of Aleppo have been progressively damaged or destroyed over the course of the conflict. The effects of this continuous degradation to the city's buildings and infrastructure were primarily visible in three ways: the formation of debris aprons, the direct observation of destruction, and the presence of craters resulting from bombs or artillery fire. The first of these, debris aprons (examples of which are shown in Figure 13), form when the exterior walls of a structure are compromised, causing their remains to fall into the adjacent streets where they can be seen from above. Because this type of damage often leaves the major structural components of a building intact, it can be difficult to evaluate the extent to which structures associated with these features have been damaged. Furthermore, shadowing effects may obscure many debris aprons from view, particularly in narrow streets or alleyways, which Aleppo possesses in abundance. Despite this limitation, however, the 'top-down' perspective of satellite imagery often makes debris aprons the only available means of determining that an un-collapsed structure has been damaged at all.

Figure 13: Formation of debris aprons adjacent to damaged buildings

Debris aprons directly adjacent to structures (red arrows) often indicated the presence of damage that would otherwise be difficult to discern. Top: Comparison located at 36.214 N, 37.179 E, between September and December 2012. Bottom: Comparison located at 36.240 N, 37.100 E between October 2012 and March 2013. Imagery © 2013 DigitalGlobe (A,B,C), Astrium(D).

In cases where destruction was directly visible, it was sometimes accompanied by signs of combat including roadblocks, scorch marks on pavement, and rubble filling the streets. In some neighborhoods, the destruction was so complete that it was difficult to discern the remains of individual structures from the surrounding debris, as in the case of Karm al-Jabal district, where large swaths of the district were reduced nearly to rubble (Figure 14). Occasionally, signs of fire were also present, and in a few rare instances, potential agents of the destruction were observed in close proximity to the damaged areas (e.g., the tanks visible in Figure 6). At other times, such as in imagery from 24 February, destruction appeared to occur in highly localized patches surrounded by undamaged areas, both of which lacked any indications of street fighting (Figure 15). From the imagery alone, no firm conclusions can be made with regard to the origin of this phenomenon. However, its discrete nature and nearly circular shape are consistent with the effects of missile strikes, several which reportedly took place in the same districts where this unique pattern of damage was observed, just two days before the imagery was acquired.6, 7 Also observed, though rarely, was destruction in progress. In the Al-Myassar Jazmati district near Aleppo's airport, for example, a fire engulfing several buildings of an industrial plant was observed producing large billowing clouds of smoke on 24 February, which was still smoldering five days later, on 1 March (Figure 16).

Figure 14: Massive destruction in Karm al-Jabal district

On 9 September 2012 (top), Aleppo's Karm al-Jabal district is completely intact. By 15 December 2012, however, large areas of the district (outlined in red) have suffered extensive damage, one large multistory tower (red arrows) has been destroyed, and another (yellow arrows) has partially collapsed. Roadblocks and debris in the streets suggest heavy fighting. Coordinates: 36.211 N, 37.177 E. Imagery © 2013 DigitalGlobe.

Figure 15: Intense localized destruction between 15 December and 24 February

Severe, highly localized destruction was observed in Helwaniyeh (A), Hanano (B), and Jabal Badro(C) districts between 15 December 2012 (left) and 24 February 2013 (right). In all cases, the destruction was nearly total within a diameter of ~60-80 meters, and occurred in the absence of other signs of fighting. This pattern is consistent with contemporaneous reports of missile strikes. Coordinates: A (36.207 N, 37.198 E); B(36.217 N, 37.201 E); C (36.212 N, 37.205 E). December imagery © 2013 DigitalGlobe; February imagery © 2013 Astrium.

Figure 16: Burning industrial plant in Al-Myassar Jazmati district

Smoke billows from a burning industrial plant in Al-Myassar Jazmati district on 24 February 2013 (B), that was intact on 15 December 2012 (A). Five days later, on 1 March 2013, the area continues to smolder. Coordinates: 36.192 N, 37.214 E. Imagery © 2013 DigitalGlobe (A), Astrium (B,C).

As with roadblocks, observations of damage and destruction increased throughout the study period. When plotted against time, the trend in these observations was remarkably linear (Figure 18), suggesting a nearly constant rate of about three visible destructive incidents per day. Due to the limitations of the "top-down" perspective provided by the majority of the available imagery, this is likely an underestimate, however, as many structures in Aleppo are capable of sustaining damage without total structural failure (e.g., Figure 13, above). In instances where this type of damage occurs without the formation of a visible debris apron, it is unlikely to be detected (Figure 17).

As illustrated in Figures 18 and 20, the number of observations of destruction increased steadily over time. In addition to its remarkably stable increase from image to image, however, one of the more striking features of the destruction was its spatial distribution. When the overall map of observed incidents is compared with the administrative divisions of the city at the neighborhood level, a clear pattern emerges, with certain districts being heavily affected by the conflict, while others remain largely - or in many cases totally - unaffected (Figure 19). The contrast becomes even more striking when the controlling authority was taken into account; of the 713 events observed between 9 September 2012 and 26 May 2013, only six took place in districts that the United States Agency for International Development reported were under the control of forces loyal to the Assad regime. The remaining 707 incidents (99.3% of the total) occurred in areas that were either under rebel control (44%), Kurdish control (0.28%), whose authority was actively being contested (42%), or for which there was no data (12.6%). Furthermore, the destruction observed in solidly rebel districts frequently occurred far behind the front lines, in areas otherwise unaffected by signs of fighting. While multiple scenarios might result in such a pattern, the explanation that rebel districts have been subjected to ranged attack by aircraft, missile, and artillery fire is consistent with both media reporting and with the movements of military aircraft described above.

Figure 17: Damage invisible from directly above

Due to an unusually oblique imaging angle, fire damage to the side of this building in northern Aleppo is apparent in imagery from 15 December 2012 (A). At more typical angles, as in image (B) from 1 March 2013, this cannot be observed. Coordinates: 36.239 N, 37.110 E. Imagery © 2013 DigitalGlobe (A), Astrium (B).

Figure 18: Cumulative incidence of damage and destruction over time

The highly linear increase in observations suggests that the city has experienced a nearly constant rate of destruction (~3 incidents/day) for most of the study period.

Figure 19: Cumulative distribution of destruction compared with controlling authority

The spatial distribution of destruction in Aleppo is severely lopsided with respect to political control; of the 713 instances that were observed during the study period, only six occurred in areas reported to be occupied by regime forces. The remaining 99% took place in areas classified as either contested, under rebel control, or unknown. Much of the destruction in rebel-held areas appears to have occurred far behind the front lines, suggesting long-range bombardment. Neighborhood control data courtesy U.S. Government. Imagery © 2013 DigitalGlobe.

Figure 20: Monthly distribution of damage and destruction
This series of graphics illustrates the increase of damage and destruction throughout Aleppo from September 2012 through May 2013. As plotted in Figure 18, observations of destruction increased steadily throughout the study period, from fewer than 100 incidents documented between 23 August and 9 September, to over seven hundred present in the lastest observations. The black area surrounding certain images occurs when its extent is narrower than the full 182km2 study area. Imagery from September, October, November, December, and May © 2013 DigitalGlobe; imagery from November, February, and March © 2013 Astrium.






Craters resulting from bursting artillery shells were observed most prominently in areas where the underlying terrain was conducive to their formation, such as soil, sand, or gravel. Less frequently, marks consistent with impact or near-surface airbursts also appeared on more durable surfaces, such as asphalt, concrete, or metal roofing materials. The sizes of craters ranged from the limits of the images' resolution up to ten meters in diameter (Figure 25), and were often accompanied by debris and other signs of destruction (Figure 21).

Figure 21: Craters observed in Aleppo

Shell craters (yellow arrows) occurred in a number of surfaces, including roofing materials (A), asphalt (B, C), and soil (D, E). Often, they were accompanied by signs of damage, as indicated by the red arrow in (A). Coordinates: (A) 36.237N, 37.121E; (B) 36.240 N, 37.122 E; (C) 36.209 N, 37.191 E;(D) 36.187 N, 37.209 E; (E) 36.218 N, 37.173 E. Imagery © 2013 DigitalGlobe (A,C,E), Astrium (B,D).

IV. Destruction of Cultural Artifacts

Aleppo is located at the crossroads of trade routes that date back to the 2nd millennium B.C. At the center of the city lies the Citadel of Aleppo, which contains evidence of continuous occupation dating back to the 10th century B.C. The citadel itself contains the remains of mosques, and palace and bath buildings and is an excellent example of Arab military construction between the 12th and 14th centuries A.D. The walled city around the citadel is laid out in a Greco-Roman style and contains 6th century Christian buildings, mosques and madrasas from the Ayybid and Mameluke era and more recent palaces and mosques from the Ottoman period. In 1986, the area around the citadel was inscribed onto the UNESCO World Heritage list as the Ancient City of Aleppo (Figure 22).

Figure 22: Boundary of the UNESCO designated Ancient City of Aleppo

Imagery Date: 26 May 2013, © 2013 DigitalGlobe. Boundary Data: UNESCO.

Reports indicate that there has been heavy fighting within the Ancient City of Aleppo.8 In September 2012, damage to the Souq al-Madina, the world's largest covered market, prompted UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova to comment that, "The human suffering caused by this situation is already extreme. That the fighting is now destroying cultural heritage that bears witness to the country's millenary history - valued and admired the world over - makes it even more tragic."9 On April 24, 2013, the destruction of Umayyad Mosque's 45 meter tall minaret again brought international attention to the threat to cultural artifacts in Aleppo.10

In addition to these two high profile incidents, AAAS documented multiple instances of damage to structures within the Ancient City of Aleppo (locations noted in Figure 23). In addition to visibly damaged structures, there were numerous examples of debris in streets, which could indicate damage to facades that could not be observed via satellite imagery.

Figure 23: Ancient City of Aleppo with figure locations

Imagery Date: 26 May 2013, © 2013 DigitalGlobe. Boundary Data: UNESCO.

Fighting in the northern section of the Ancient City has led to the destruction of at least ten multi-story structures (Figure 24). Damage to this section began between 9 September 2012 and 12 October 2012, when burn marks appear on a roof (Figure 24A-B). On 4 November 2012, debris appears in the road next to a possibly damaged multi-story building (Figure 24C). By 15 December 2012, that building had collapsed (Figure 24D) and the image from 1 March 2013 reveals another collapsed multi-story building (Figure 24E). Between 1 March 2013 and 26 May 2013, three additional isolated structures were demolished (Figure 24F). Additionally, a large block of at least four multi-story structures was destroyed.

Figure 24: Damage to structures in the Ancient City of Aleppo

On 9 September 2012, this section of the city is relatively undamaged. Coordinates: 36.21 N, 37.164 E. Image © 2013 DigitalGlobe.

Between 9 September 2012 and 12 October 2012, the roof of a structure is clearly damaged (red arrow). Coordinates: 36.21 N, 37.164 E. Image © 2013 DigitalGlobe.

As of 4 November 2012, debris can be observed in the road next to a possibly damaged structure (yellow arrow). Coordinates: 36.21 N, 37.164 E. Image © 2013 Astrium.

On 15 December 2012, the possibly damaged structure has been destroyed (red arrow). Coordinates: 36.21 N, 37.164 E. Image © 2013 DigitalGlobe.

By 1 March 2013, a nearby structure has also collapsed (red arrow). Coordinates: 36.21 N, 37.164 E Image © 2013 Astrium.

By 26 May 2013, three more structures have been destroyed in the same area (red arrows). The blue arrow indicates another destroyed building while the green arrow points to a cluster of at least four buildings that have all been destroyed. Coordinates: 36.21 N, 37.164 E. Image © 2013 DigitalGlobe.

Cultural artifacts outside the Ancient City have also been damaged. Figure 25 shows a large hole in the wall of a mosque just east of the UNESCO boundary appearing between 4 November and 15 December 2012. In the same image damage to a cemetery wall is visible and a ten meter wide crater has appeared in the middle of the cemetery.

Figure 25: Mosque and cemetery just outside ancient of Aleppo

Between 4 November 2012 (A) and 15 December 2012 (B) a large hole appears in the wall of the mosque and the cemetery fence has been damaged (red arrows). A ten meter wide shell crater has also appeared in the cemetery itself (yellow arrow). Coordinates: 36.201 N, 37.17 E. Imagery © 2013 Astrium (A), DigitalGlobe (B).

Further damage can be seen in the western section of the Ancient City. Figures 26 and 27 show four structures destroyed between 12 October 2012 and 26 May 2013.

Figure 26: Destroyed structures in the Ancient City

The red box shows a structure destroyed between 12 October 2012 (A) and 4 November 2012 (B). Coordinates: 36.201 N, 37.156 E. Imagery © 2013 DigitalGlobe (A), Astrium (B).

The neighboring multi-story building (yellow box) was then destroyed between 15 December 2012 (C) and 24 February 2013 (D). Coordinates: 36.201 N, 37.156 E. Imagery © 2013 Astrium (C), DigitalGlobe (D).

Figure 27: Destroyed structures in the Ancient City

Between 1 March 2013 (A) and 26 May 2013 (B), two multi-story buildings (red boxes) have been demolished. Coordinates: 36.201 N, 37.154 E. Imagery © 2013 Astrium (A), DigitalGlobe (B).

Some of the most well-known historical sites in Aleppo have been damaged during the conflict (Figure 28). Just west of the citadel lies the sprawling Souq al-Madina, the Umayyad Mosque (Great Mosque of Aleppo), and multiple smaller mosques and madrasas. Between 9 September and 12 October 2012, a 45 meter by 10 meter section of roof of the Souq al-Madina collapsed (Figure 28A-B). Between 4 November and 15 December, an additional 20 meter by 9 meter section of roof also collapsed and fighting around the mosque had damaged the facade of a neighboring structure (Figure 28C-D). A corner of the Halawiye Madrasa abutting the Umayyad mosque was also damaged between 24 February and 1 March 2013 (Figure 28E-F). The worst damage, however, occurred between 1 March and 26 May 2013 (Figure 28G-H). Over the course of fighting around the Umayyad Mosque, the 45 meter tall minaret in the northwest corner completely collapsed leaving a large hole in the wall of the mosque. In addition, a new section of the Souq al-Madina roof, measuring 90 meters by 30 meters, collapsed.

Figure 28: Damage to the Umayyad Mosque, Souq al-Madina, Halawiye Madrasa and vicinity

Between 9 September 2012 (A) and 12 October 2012 (B), the roof of the Souq al-Madina sustained damage (red arrows). Coordinates: 36.199 N, 37.159 E. Imagery © 2013 DigitalGlobe.

Between 11 November 2012 (A) and 15 December 2012 (B), the roof of the Souq al-Madina sustained further damage (red arrow) and the façade of a separate structure sustained damage spilling debris into the street (yellow arrow). Coordinates: 36.199 N, 37.159 E. Imagery © 2013 Astrium (C), DigitalGlobe (D).

Between 24 February 2013 (E) and 1 March 2013 (F) the corner of the Halawiye Madrasa was damaged (red arrow). Coordinates: 36.199 N, 37.159 E. Imagery © 2013 Astrium.

Between 1 March 2013 (G) and 26 May 2013 (H), the minaret of the Umayyad Mosque was destroyed and a large hole was created in the wall (green arrow). Furthermore, the roof of the Souq al-Madina suffered additional damage (yellow arrows). Coordinates: 36.199 N, 37.159 E. Imagery © 2013 Astrium (G), DigitalGlobe (H).

This analysis has shown widespread destruction within the Ancient City of Aleppo. At least ten multi-story buildings have been demolished over the course of the fighting. Major historical sites, such as the Umayyad Mosque and the Souq al-Madina, have also been extensively damaged. The battle has also damaged less famous mosques and disturbed gravesites in cemetaries. In addition to these instances of severe damage to buildings, multiple roadblocks and instances of debris in the street were noted within the UNESCO Ancient City boundaries. This implies that the damage documented here does not represent the full extent of fighting within this area.

IV. Conclusion

Space-based monitoring of the conflict in Aleppo has revealed a steady and continuous trend of degradation to the city's buildings and infrastructure, including residential, religious, commercial, and industrial facilities. Roadblocks and other makeshift fortifications have continued to proliferate, with over a thousand visible in the latest imagery. Other signs of military activity, such as shell craters, armored vehicle tracks, and evidence of aircraft deployments are likewise visible, and are consistent with reports of ongoing combat involving heavy weaponry in civilian areas. Damage resulting from fighting has resulted in severe losses to the city's cultural heritage, both in the city as a whole as well as the area designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Although large areas of the city remain intact - particularly in areas controlled by regime forces - contested areas or those controlled by the opposition have been heavily damaged (Figure 29) and some have had substantial portions of their area completely destroyed. In some cases, entire city blocks have been razed, and destruction patterns consistent with aerial bombardment have appeared in areas otherwise untouched by obvious signs of fighting. Though other interpretations may be possible, this striking dichotomy in damage, in conjunction with direct observations of military activity, is consistent with reports that government forces have been using aircraft, missiles, and long-range artillery to bombard rebel-held areas. 11, 12

Figure 29: Damage and destruction to different zones of control


1. http://shr.aaas.org/geotech/syria/aleppo.htm

2. http://www.reuters.com/news/pictures/slideshow?articleId=USRTR35Q9W#a=1

3. http://www.thenation.com/article/174688/battle-aleppo#axzz2WmEuIzXM

4. http://www.aljazeera.com/video/middleeast/2013/06/2013618181150366554.html

5. http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2013/04/201342522210314500.html

6. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/23/world/middleeast/scud-missile-aleppo.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

7. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/20/world/middleeast/syrian-army-rocket-kills-19-and-levels-buildings-in-aleppo-rebels-say.html

8. http://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/12/19/aleppos-history-under-threat/

9. http://whc.unesco.org/en/news/940

10. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-22283746

11. http://in.reuters.com/article/2012/08/04/syria-crisis-aleppo-idINDEE87305U20120804

12. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/23/world/middleeast/scud-missile-aleppo.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0