A Russian military police officer guards in the yard of Aleppo's oldest Umayyad mosque, Syria, Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017. (AP Photo/Max Black)
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Flicking through before-and-after photos of Aleppo's Umayyad Mosque on his phone, the city's Mufti Mahmoud Akkam said that he initially wanted the celebrated landmark to be restored by fellow Syrians. But when Ramzan Kadyrov, the strongman chief of Russia's Chechnya region, offered to repair the damage that the ancient mosque sustained in ferocious clashes four years ago, Akkam felt he could not say no.Syria's second city was battered by four years of fighting between rebels in the east and government forces in the west, until an evacuation deal at the end of 2016 brought it under regime control.Now that it is back under government control, Russia appears keen to help rebuild it.Around 3,500 people were bused back in the past month and a half to towns recaptured by Syrian troops, said Gen. Igor Yemelyanov, who heads the Russian Center for Reconciliation in Syria.Most are from Chechnya, though some are from other Muslim-majority areas in the Russian Caucasus, one Chechen officer said.
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