How seven years of war turned Syria's cities into 'hell on Earth'

Updated 12:22 AM ET, Thu March 15, 2018

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Architectural masterpieces dating back centuries have been annihilated. Bustling marketplaces turned ghostly quiet. And basic infrastructure -- hospitals, schools, roads -- has been pummeled into dust.

Syria's civil war, which marks its seventh year on Thursday, has transformed ancient cities into scenes of apocalyptic devastation.
Since the March 2011 uprising against President Bashar al-Assad's regime exploded into a civil war with a dizzying array of fighting factions battling each other, entire neighborhoods have been wiped from the map.
Even in cities were the fighting has officially ended -- such as Homs, Aleppo and Raqqa -- government reconstruction is almost nonexistent, instead falling to civilians to mend the pieces of their broken neighborhoods as best they can.
And with governments and NGOs reluctant to hand money to Assad-controlled Syria for reconstruction, its once-vibrant cities continue to crumble.
Here's a look at the before and after.

    Greater Damascus: 'Garden of Eden turned Hell'

    Eastern Ghouta's devastated Jobar neighborhood, pictured February 27, 2018.
    Founded in the 3rd millennium B.C., Damascus is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities on Earth and the seat of power of Assad's regime. While the UNESCO World Heritage-listed old city has escaped much of the ravages of war, its sprawling outer suburbs have been pounded to near-oblivion.
    The rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta, on the northeast outskirts of Damascus, is home to about 400,000 people and since mid-February has been the focus of a renewed offensive by the Russian-backed Syrian regime.
    Eastern Ghouta is one of the last major rebel-held areas of Syria, along with Idlib in the north. Were the Assad regime to take back control -- as it appears poised to do -- it would mark a significant turning point in the country's civil war.