The Syrian city of Aleppo has been much in the news lately, but for all the wrong reasons. Aleppo is one of the world’s oldest continually inhabited settlements, a cradle of civilisation and of the Abrahamic religions. Perched on ancient trade routes, the city is – or was – a dazzling mosaic of caravanserais, souks, mosques, churches and synagogues.
Legend has it that Aleppo takes its name from an occasion when Abraham led a flock of sheep through the area and gave away their milk – halev in Hebrew and haleb in Arabic. Some say that one of King David’s generals laid the foundations of the city’s Great Synagogue. Whether or not that is the case, the synagogue, along with the rest of the city, much of which is a UNESCO World Heritage site, is now being pounded into dust and rubble in the bloody war between rebels and the Assad regime.
Rebels control part of Aleppo, but their rule has brought no liberation. Instead, the once cosmopolitan city, home to Muslims, Alawites, Christians, Kurds, Armenians and an ancient Jewish community, has collapsed into murderous sectarianism. An Islamist rebel group in charge of one sector recently executed a 14-year-old boy for a