With rebel Aleppo to fall, Syr­i­ans abroad pon­der cost

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

As the bat­tle for Aleppo en­ters its fi­nal phase, Syr­i­ans now liv­ing in Greece feel ut­terly con­sumed by the hu­man cost of the four-year rebel fight for the trau­ma­tized city. “For th­ese years, Aleppo was free,” says Majd Ah­mad, a 26year-old, cur­rently liv­ing in a squat­ters apart­ment in the bo­hemian Athens district of Exarchia. “We fought for the rev­o­lu­tion and now ev­ery­thing is col­laps­ing. Ev­ery per­son who wanted more lib­erty in Syria is ei­ther dead or had to flee.”Hav­ing ar­rived in Greece nine months ago, like the ma­jor­ity of the 62,000 ex­iles stuck here since the clo­sure of the coun­try’s north­ern bor­ders, Ah­mad feels help­less.

“What was the pur­pose of our fight?” asks the for­mer univer­sity stu­dent, ex­hal­ing the smoke of one cig­a­rette be­fore light­ing an­other, while scour­ing his smart­phone for the lat­est news up­dates. “I have lost so many loved ones. I do not want to lose more.” Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar Al-As­sad’s forces now hold more than 90 per­cent of the one­time op­po­si­tion strong­hold of east Aleppo, and ap­pear on the verge of re­tak­ing the en­tire city. Its fall would deal the rebels their worst de­feat since the be­gin­ning of Syria’s con­flict in 2011, and leave the gov­ern­ment in con­trol of the coun­try’s five ma­jor ci­ties.

“I can­not de­scribe my sor­row,” says an­other ex­ile, a 24-year-old for­mer stu­dent now in Athens speak­ing un­der the pseu­do­nym of Abu Habib. “My en­tire city has been de­stroyed, so many chil­dren died, and for what?” says Habib, who fled Syria to avoid forced con­scrip­tion. The rebels seized con­trol of east Aleppo in 2012, a year into an up­ris­ing that be­gan with anti-gov­ern­ment protests but spi­raled into a civil war af­ter a regime crack­down.

An es­ti­mated 120,000 peo­ple have fled rebel-held districts, many head­ing to­wards dis­place­ment cen­tres in gov­ern­ment-con­trolled ar­eas to the west. In the three-week as­sault by the Rus­sian­backed As­sad’s forces to re­take east Aleppo, the coun­try’s big­gest city, ob­servers de­scribed air strikes and regime rocket fire so in­tense that win­dows in the west rat­tled. Many crushed un­der rub­ble have been left to die be­cause res­cue crews can­not reach them.

‘Pray to stay alive’

Lodged in squats or flats rented by the UN refugee agency, the young men in Athens spend most of their time on Twit­ter and Face­book, try­ing to stay in touch with loved ones in the city. “My grand­par­ents and cousins are still in the city,” says Habib. “They can­not go out, they are run­ning low on food and medicine and each time they hear a plane fly over­head they pray to stay alive,” he adds. Abu Rmosh-an­other pseudonymlost his wife and two chil­dren, aged one and three, in the bom­bard­ments.

Af­ter hav­ing fled the coun­try to es­cape forced mil­i­tary ser­vice, the 30year-old re­grets leav­ing his par­ents and other rel­a­tives be­hind. “I lost ev­ery­thing. My fam­ily, my life,” the blue-eyed Syr­ian says, ad­ding that there was “no sense” in the fight for Aleppo, with both sides guilty of killings and theft of hu­man­i­tar­ian aid. Like many fel­low Syr­ian refugees, Abu Rmosh is also seething at the ap­par­ent in­ac­tion of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity.”Why did the United States and other great pow­ers al­low a mas­sacre of this scale to hap­pen,” he asks.

Ra­doslaw Rze­hak, UNICEF’s field of­fice chief in Aleppo, es­ti­mates that half a mil­lion chil­dren in Aleppo need some kind of psy­cho­log­i­cal and so­cial sup­port, in­clud­ing 100,000 who need more spe­cial­ized as­sis­tance. “I have never seen in my life such a dra­matic sit­u­a­tion (as) what is hap­pen­ing to chil­dren in Aleppo,” Rze­hak, who has been work­ing for UNICEF for the past 15 years said. Some Western ob­servers say the fall of Aleppo will be a piv­otal turn­ing point akin to Stal­in­grad in World War II, while oth­ers ques­tion whether As­sad can still pre­vail in a coun­try where he is widely de­spised. —AFP

CAIRO: Egyp­tian Pres­i­dent Ab­del Fat­tah Al-Sisi (cen­ter) speaks next to Egypt’s Cop­tic Pope Tawadros II dur­ing the fu­neral of the vic­tims of a bomb ex­plo­sion that tar­geted a Cop­tic Ortho­dox Church the pre­vi­ous day in Cairo. —AFP

TAL SHEER: The body of a Syr­ian Army sol­dier lies on the ground af­ter heavy clashes with gov­ern­ment forces at a mil­i­tary academy be­sieged by the rebels in Tal Sheer, Syria. —AP

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