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The Battle for Aleppo

A photo essay from an inconvenient war.

In mid-September, I left the Turkish border town of Kilis, had my passport stamped at a checkpoint operated by the Free Syrian Army (FSA), and walked into Syria. From there, with the help of the FSA, I made the three-hour drive to Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, which has become a major battleground in the ongoing civil war between President Bashar Al Assad’s forces and the FSA.

Close to 30,000 people have been killed since the war began 20 months ago, and some 100,000 more have flooded over the border into Turkey. What’s striking is not the destruction of the city itself—though it’s as devastating as anything I’ve seen—but the resolve of the people to stay and create some semblance of normal life in the face of chaos and grave uncertainty. Aleppans do laundry and shop for dinner amidst shelling and firefights. It’s not uncommon to turn a corner and find a body on the street, deemed too dangerous to claim during the previous night’s battle. When I expressed surprise at this willingness to stay under such conditions, Ahmed, a middle-aged shopkeeper I met in the residential neighborhood of Saif Al Dawla, asked me where I suggested they go. “What do you want us to do—leave our homes and run to Turkey? I would rather live in my home than live in poor conditions as a refugee.” Much was made of the surprise rebel offensive that broke out in Aleppo in July. But for the FSA fighters whose photographs appear on these pages, who begin each day after morning prayers rationing machine gun rounds, it’s hard to imagine victory when you’re counting bullets.

--Sebastiano Tomada Piccolomini

In Aleppo, it’s not uncommon to turn a corner and find a body, unclaimed from the previous night’s battle.

Once an Assad stronghold, Aleppo has become a critical battleground since the Free Syrian Army (FSA) launched a surprise offensive in July. FSA fighters carry a wounded comrade out of a firefight. 

An FSA commander regroups after a surprise attack destroyed a key outpost.

A clash between FSA and government forces.

Rebel fighters break for a meal near the front line. 

Prayers at a mosque that doubles as a refuge for the resistance.

Gathering belongings in preparation to leave for Turkey. 


An FSA brigade praises Allah before replacing comrades on the front line.

In Syria's largest city, whole neighborhoods have given way to urban warfare.

With scarce resources, the FSA is forced to rely heavily on homemade materiel. An FSA fighter throws a homemade grenade.

Text and images by Sebastiano Tomada Piccolomini, a photojournalist based in New York City and the Middle East. This photo essay appeared in the November 8, 2012 issue of the magazine under the headline “Bloody Aleppo.”