‘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 7 - The Old City: Life among ruins
The small bus ferrying over a dozen journalists and a very alert special forces soldier, Ali, to the Old City at one point suddenly bolted ahead. A sniper was staked out to our left, in an area occupied by terrorist factions roughly 500 meters away, we were told.
After entering the Old City, and crossing a street shielded from sniper fire by an earthen embankment and a metal screen, at times the only means of continuing on in the Old City was by stepping through holes hammered into the walls connecting buildings. By crossing through buildings, we avoided the snipers who are ready fire on anyone who moves on the street.
Across the narrow street, a shock of greenery stood in stark contrast to the grey tones of destruction created by years of fighting against some of the worst terrorism the world has ever known.
Rami, a Syrian soldier from Banias, explained that he had planted herbs and green onions here as he did when he had been stationed along the desert-like Ithriya-Khanasser road in the past. Rami’s soft smile and kind demeanor betrayed his personal loss: a brother killed while serving in the SAA.
While walking through the government-secured areas of Aleppo’s Old City, we came across a single vendor, Mahmoud. He used to sell traditional Arabic musical instruments, but circumstances have forced him to abandon that business in favor of selling basic goods to roughly 25 customers per day. He refuses to leave the Old City, where he’s only about 200 meters from the Nusra Front and other Jaysh al-Fatah militants.
“I’m an ordinary person,” Mahmoud said. “They destroyed everything.”
Walking past devastated shop after devastated shop, and through the graceful arches of covered markets typical of old Syrian cities, MP Fares Shehabi pointed out:
“You see the blackened ceilings? That’s from when the terrorists withdrew. They set fires to stall the advance of the Syrian army, and also to try to hide their looting. They cannot accuse the army of having bombed here, the roof is intact.”
Exiting from this particular market area, we came to a sandbagged, partially-screened area. We were given stern orders not to move forward: The famous Aleppo Citadel was ahead, and to the left and right of our position at the destroyed Carlton Hotel, terrorist snipers lay in wait.
When terrorists detonated mass amounts of explosives in tunnels underneath the Carlton Hotel in May 2014, Col. Abu Majed told us that “all of Aleppo felt it.”
“They have bombed over 20 historic buildings via tunnels,” Shehabi said. “If they were real Syrians, they would not bomb historical buildings.”
At least 7,500 shops in the Old City are gone, lost to burning, looting and utter destruction. “That’s 7,500 families,” Shehabi reminded us.