Aleppo’s fall to rebels — back in 2012 a much more moderate bunch than the often al-Nusra-infected alliances we see now — was a symbolic moment: the commercial heart of Syria turning on the country’s own government. Now, as thousands flee to the Turkish border from Russian airstrikes pounding the city and government forces moving in, the battle for Aleppo is again gaining significance.

The towns of Nubul and Zahraa were reached by government forces late Wednesday and their seizure could mark a turning point in the war in northern Syria. Not because they are significant in themselves, but because to reach the towns, the regime had to cross through towns that mark the main supply route into the rebel-held area of Aleppo. Nearly five years into the civil war that has killed more than 250,000 people, according to the United Nations, Aleppo remains split in two with 320,000 civilians thought to be in the rebel-held area in the east of the city. FULL REPORT