The journey into western Aleppo is a dangerous one.
I was apprehensive as we set off from Damascus for the seven-hour drive - a route that would have taken almost half that in peace time. Once we passed Homs, we had to take a long diversion around war-ravaged Syria into the desert, heading towards Raqqa.
At one point, we were within a few miles of ISIS territory on one side and a volatile patchwork of jihadists on the other. You definitely don't want a flat tyre here. The road is heavily garrisoned by Iranian and Hezbollah forces, who together with Russian airpower, have turned the tide of this war.
The last time I came to Aleppo in 2013, we flew in. It was the first aircraft to land here but as we emerged rockets and gunfire around the runway signalled it wouldn’t remain open for long.
Today the airport is closed: the road, as dangerous and close to Assad's enemies as it is, remains the only way for troops, supplies, weapons and journalists to enter Aleppo. As you approach Syria's largest city, there is no escaping the appalling toll of five years of vicious civil war.
One of the great cities of the middle east has been devastated. Crumbling ruins line the road into government-controlled territory, buildings with gaping holes, corners drooping as if they have been melted by some celestial blowtorch. It is pathetic and shocking.
As I write this, the dull rumble of artillery punctuates the humid night air. A city that has withstood fallen empires, conquering armies and the rise and decline of trade, now reduced to a hollowed-out shell.