‘We were living in security and peace. These areas are being targeted, they want to force us to leave. Every Syrian is being targeted,’ one Syrian religious leader told a delegation of reporters who visited Aleppo earlier this month.
by Eva Bartlett
Part 2 - Returning to Aleppo
From Damascus, the bus traveled along smooth, paved roads to Homs, where we passed the entrance to Zahraa, a neighborhood plagued by terrorist car and suicide bombs. Moving out of Homs, we continued eastward along a narrow road for about an hour until we reached the Ithriya-Khanasser road, and the last leg of the trip to Aleppo.
Though the Ithriya-Khanasser road was flanked by the wreckage of buses and cars, attacked mostly by Da’esh (an Arabic acronym for the extremist group commonly referred to in the West as ISIS or ISIL) in recent years, and although Da’esh continues to creep onto sections of the road at night to lay mines, our travel there was without incident.
When I reached the southeastern suburb of Ramouseh in July, it was by taxi. The driver sped through the suburb, fearing Nusra Front snipers less than a kilometer away. He floored it for at least 500 meters, speeding through risky spots and weaving in and out of a valley in perfect range of terrorist shellings, ultimately reaching an SAA checkpoint before entering Greater Aleppo.
Castello Road was only means of entering Aleppo in August. The road, which runs into the northern part of the city, had recently been secured but still threatened by terrorist shelling.
Ramouseh was re-secured prior to our November visit, and again became the main means of entering Aleppo. In November, we traveled by bus, escorted by security, and the threat of snipers was weakened by SAA advances in recent months. Above the sniper embankment of barrels and sandbags, I had a clearer view toward Sheikh Saeed district — areas which terrorist factions had long occupied and from which they sniped and shelled Ramouseh.
One of our first stops was the Aleppo Chamber of Industry, where MP Shehabi outlined the systematic looting of Aleppo’s factories.
According to Shehabi, of the 70,000 small to large enterprises and factories which once thrived in Aleppo, only about half have survived that widespread destruction and gutting of factories. Of the roughly 35,000 enterprises now operating in Aleppo, he estimated that only about 7,000 are factories and they’re operating at just 15 percent capacity.
Shehabi said the Chamber has photo and video evidence of burglaries in factories. He continued:
“We documented the transfer of our heavy equipment, production equipment, like power generators, like textile machinery. These are heavy, not something you can smuggle easily. These would be on the highway, under the monitoring of Turkish police. Stolen production lines, how can you allow stolen production lines to enter your country without any paperwork?”
The Chamber, along with other Syrian industry associations, filed a lawsuit against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in European courts in 2013, seeking damages. That lawsuit and others launched by Syrian authorities accuse Erdoğan of not just harboring terrorists, but allowing and even enabling them to enter Syria to destroy or disassemble factories and return to Turkey with stolen machinery and hardware.
None of these legal proceedings have been resolved, and Shehabi describes the Chamber’s lawsuit as “stumbling.” Shehabi was among four of Aleppo’s top businessmen to be hit with EU sanctions in 2011. These sanctions, the MP said, represent a hurdle preventing a fair resolution.
The Chamber now operates out of a rented villa, as the historic building which housed the Chamber of Industry in the Old City was destroyed on April 27, 2014, when explosives were denoted in an underground tunnel. Shehabi said he had gone on Syrian national television, calling on governments to impose a commercial boycott of Turkey, about two weeks prior to the attack.
“They didn’t bomb the building next to it, there was only one security guard inside [no military personnel], and it’s not at the frontline, so why bomb it?” he asked, noting his suspicion that the Chamber had been deliberately targeted due to the legal action it was taking against Erdoğan.