The Commercial Appeal

In Syria’s Aleppo, divided residents share fear of siege

- By Philip Issa

BEIRUT — Syria’s largest city, Aleppo, used to be the country’s economic locomotive, but four years of grinding battles have rendered it almost uninhabita­ble. Pummeled by bombs and rocket fire, residents on both sides of this divided metropolis have experience­d severe water and power shortages, soaring living costs and collapsing public services.

In 2012, the city split between rebels and forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad. Now the prospect of a total siege looms over both sides.

As government forces mount attacks to close the only road to the opposition­held areas in the east of the city, rebels outside Aleppo are slowly constricti­ng the passage to the western, government-held side.

After a two-month lull following an internatio­nally brokered cease-fire in February, the death toll is rising on both sides. The Syrian Observator­y for Human Rights, a Britainbas­ed monitoring group, recorded that 302 civilians in opposition neighborho­ods have been killed in presumed Russian and government airstrikes since hostilitie­s resumed on April 22. In that time, 236 civilians have been killed in indiscrimi­nate shelling and rocket attacks by the rebels.

Locals across the city worry that a day will come when they can no longer go in or out of their neighborho­ods.

“People are saying ‘goodbye’ as though they don’t know whether they will see each other again,” said an Aleppo native who has fled to Lebanon and last visited her home, in the government-held side, in May. Like many others who spoke to The Associated Press, she asked for anonymity for fear of being stopped at a checkpoint and questioned for speaking to the media.

“It has never been so bad before,” she said of her hometown.

The U.N.’s children agency, UNICEF, estimates 1.5 million people live under government control in the city. As recently as January, the government and NGOs were filling rocket craters and fixing street lights, managing water wells, and distributi­ng food baskets and other handouts, according to one family that left government-held Aleppo for Lebanon.

Any sense of normalcy has since been shattered by an intensifyi­ng barrage of rebel-launched rockets and mortars, and a tightening siege.

“You don’t go outside unless you need to,” said the Aleppo native, who described how mortars made of repurposed kitchen gas canisters had landed on two buildings near her house, once killing three members of the same family. “You don’t know where a rocket will fall.”

Residents of the government-held Sheikh Najjar industrial suburb, to the northeast, described even greater hardships.

“Power comes only one hour a day,” said Imad al-Khal, 63, a commercial director at a textile company. “I can’t leave my house because I’m afraid it will be ransacked. I couldn’t go to my job for two weeks because the road was unsafe.”

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