ALEPPO, SYRIA - Syrian businessman Alaa Samani and his wife Hanaa Ismail join bumper to bumper traffic heading into an Aleppo district recently retaken by the regime to check on their chocolate factory. "Everything was destroyed," says Samani, driving into the city that was once Syria's main economic hub.
Ghostly silhouettes of gutted shopping malls line the road, the signboards of major commercial brands including retail giants Carrefour and Virgin Megastore still visible. The road is an obstacle course of craters caused by air strikes and shelling, flanked by mounds of rubble and levelled buildings.
"I just went to check on my small factory, my shop and my farm," says Samani, who is in his forties.
The Liramoun roundabout is gridlocked as hundreds of people rush to visit areas that were under rebel control for years.
Government troops and allied forces have in recent days made major gains in areas around Aleppo city, securing a key highway connecting the country's four largest cities and allowing for the reopening of the international airport.
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