13 urgent facts about the epic siege that’s just begun
For eight millennia, Aleppo withstood epic battles and occupations from the likes of Pompey and Alexander the Great. At the turn of the century, in times of peace, it attracted thousands of tourists who came to witness history, wander the city’s ancient souks and admire its mosques, churches, and citadels.
But Syria’s largest city was no match for Russian and Syrian regime jets and missiles that have left most of Aleppo and its cultural heritage lying in ruins and its civilians trapped, displaced or killed.
Aleppan students joined the uprising in 2012, marching in their thousands from classrooms around the city. Chanting against the Assad dictatorship, they instigated “the Revolution of Universities”.
The regime of Bashar al-Assad violently crushed peaceful demonstrations across Syria, punishing entire towns and cities for joining the uprising. In Aleppo, the universities were the first to be bombed.
Across Syria, people took up arms in response to the regime’s violence. Opposition forces took control of the Eastern part of the city in 2012. For four years, the city remained divided in two: the west is controlled by the Syrian regime and the east by opposition forces. The regime, desperate to take back the East, has been bombing it to smithereens since.
Syrian regime barrel bombs target anything that provides life support for the 250,000 people in the opposition-held part of the city. Deliberate attacks have taken place daily on hospitals, medicine warehouses, schools, and water and fuel infrastructure. When the Russians began their own airstrikes in 2015, things became even worse.
“We haven’t seen a good day in years. The shelling never stops, even for an hour or two. Life has changed, all the places you remember are gone: forget them, it is too painful… Everything is changed, destroyed or deserted, without life” said one resident in Aleppo.”
In addition to regime barrel bombs filled with nails and shrapnel that hurtle down on civilian homes and hospitals, civilians are now being targeted by internationally banned weapons including cluster bombs and incendiary weapons.
At first glance, the bombs look like fireworks in the sky, but they are actually incendiary weapons that cause severe burns and are nearly impossible to extinguish.
Airstrikes by the Russian and Syrian regime airstrikes continue to strike areas with no military target such as homes, schools and hospitals, resulting in thousands of civilian deaths.
In recent months, a drastic uptick in Syrian regime and Russian airstrikes have allowed the regime to completely encircle the eastern, opposition-held, part of the city and cut off its main supply line – the famous Castello Road. Castello Road was nicknamed “The Road to Hell” because of the constant airstrikes and attacks on humanitarians crossing it to deliver food and medicine.
250,000 people are trapped inside East Aleppo without access to food, water or medical care and constant, constant airstrikes.
The UN food rations ran out last week and Eastern Aleppo is expected to run out of food and medical supplies in less than 20 days, ‘after which we risk losing more than a quarter-million people to mass starvation and restricted access to lifesaving medical care.’
There is very little food left, and even when civilians are able to find it, a kilogram of meat costs around $40, a price that most cannot pay.
One million people are already under siege in Syria. Many have already starved and died due to a lack of food and medical care.
On Friday morning there were five functioning hospitals, by evening there were three and by early Saturday morning the Aleppo Health Directorate said that there were no hospitals in service.
More than 250,000 men, women, and children living in Eastern Aleppo are now without access to hospitals and only 29 doctors left to care for them.
Any injured people who need specialised treatment and need to be taken out of Aleppo are now completely trapped.
Babies in the Children’s Hospital in Eastern Aleppo suffering from chemical weapon attack. The hospital was soon bombed afterwards.
One of the hospitals destroyed was the last children’s hospital — it was bombed whilst the pediatricians treated the victims of a chlorine gas attack.
“Between us we serve over 90,000 children who remain trapped in the city. We thought: what if we are all killed here today, in this basement? Who will treat the children in the city? What will happen to them? – Dr Hatem, said one of the last doctors in Aleppo.
The children’s hospital has been targeted several times, including in April, when the last pediatrician in Aleppo was killed by a regime airstrike.
Last week’s attacks came after a dire text message to residents in Eastern Aleppo, telling them to flee or be killed in the bombings.
Despite the threat and a worsening humanitarian situation, many are refusing to leave because they do not want to put their lives in the hands of the very same regime that is targeting their hospitals, schools and homes.
The White Helmets are the first ones on the scene when a barrel bomb hits. They’ve pulled entire families including children out of the rubble, at times with their bare hands.
In the past few days, all White Helmet centres have been bombed out of operation. A message from the White Helmets said : “No one can even look out from the window of the centre” due to the intensity of shelling.
Despite it all the remaining medical workers and White Helmets continue to risk their lives to save others.
They’ve already given over 72,000 people a second chance at life.
Roughly 95 percent of Aleppo’s doctors have fled, been detained or killed. Those who remain inside Syria are forced to work underground because of the constant threat of Russian and regime airstrikes.
And the conditions inside Syria’s hospital are hellish.
“The screaming never let up. Children covered in blood and dust and pockmarked with shrapnel screamed for their parents and siblings. Some would be reunited whole; others would learn whom they had lost, or which of their children’s limbs were missing or mutilated. Some had the bone shards of disintegrated bystanders embedded in their skin — routine findings after such attacks.”
13. The people of Aleppo suffer while the world sleeps
Little has actually been done to stop a massacre that is unraveling at the world’s watch even though diplomats have compared Aleppo’s plight to that of Sarajevo during the Bosnian war.
Syrian-American doctor Samer Attar describes what has become the daily existence for Syrians inside Aleppo.
“Here, innocent civilians being blinded, amputated, burned, paralyzed, crushed and mutilated by bombs is the routine. Here, the world has shown little solidarity with innocents being massacred.”
What is happening in Aleppo is not and should never be normal. It’s time for the international community to finally draw a red line speak up against the disproportionate crimes and atrocities being committed by the Syrian regime and its allies.
“We have to work together immediately to help the people of Aleppo…This appeal we are making is a human one. We are calling on the international community to stand with us now and in solidarity with the people of Aleppo.
We must all come together and place pressure on our governments to lift the siege on besieged areas especially in rural Damascus, Homs and, in line with the U.N. Security Council resolution, all other regions across Syria and allow for food and medical supplies to enter immediately. We are asking you to mobilize, place pressure on your governments and demand that the people of Syria be granted the supplies they urgently need.”