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In this Tuesday, July 24, 2012 photo, Free Syrian Army soldiers are seen at the border town of Azaz, some 20 miles (32 kilometers) north of Aleppo, Syria.

Turkpix/The Associated Press

This is far from the first time people have fought over Aleppo, Syria's largest and most outward-looking city. Since the 16th century BCE , conquering armies have taken or tried to take the place, which sits at a major crossroads in Asia Minor.

Alexander the Great conquered it in 333 BCE, and the Armenians who had come to rule over it surrendered it to Pompey in 64 BCE.

Arabs, radiating out from the Arabian Peninsula with the word of God in the form of the Koran, won over the city quickly in 637 CE, and the Crusaders from Europe twice attempted to defeat the garrison of the city and failed, continuing on, nevertheless, to the more easily captured Holyland.

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Saladin came to control the great city, still flourishing then as the last stop on the Silk Road before Europe and the Mediterranean. However, Mongol forces riding down that Silk Road captured it in 1260.

Tamerlane took it in 1400; the Ottomans in 1516.

There is scarcely a single regional warrior or leader who could resist trying to conquer the city.

Domestically, too, there long has been rivalry between Aleppo and Damascus. The French split Syria during their mandate period from 1920s to 1940s, with separate states of Aleppo and Damascus.

After independence, and during an effort to reunite the country of Syria, the people of Aleppo said they would prefer union with Iraq, then ruled by a Hashemite monarch, rather than union with Damascus, which leaned toward Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

It wasn't to be and, once more, in the past few months, and especially in the past few days, the people of Aleppo are paying the price as the rebels from Syria joined by fighters from Iraq are trying to take the city, while an army and air force, directed by Damascus, don't hesitate to blast away at the city they already think of as foreign.

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