‘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 8 - Visiting frontline targeted areas
The Syrian Catholic Church of Aleppo still has a gaping hole in one wall since being hit by terrorist shelling roughly two years ago. At the time of the attack, the congregation was inside worshipping, the choir singing.
A church leader said it had been targeted five times, the last incident apparently involving a rocket just a few weeks prior to our arrival. Terrorist factions were an estimated 300-500 meters away, he said.
He estimated that one-third of the 1,350 families who used to worship there have fled to other areas of Syria or abroad, mainly due to safety concerns.
“We were living in security and peace. These areas are being targeted, they want to force us to leave. Every Syrian is being targeted,” he told the delegation.
Some of the remaining congregation members have chosen to worship in a narrow corridor inside the building over the past two years.
Further in the city, the Maronite Church of Aleppo’s Bishop Joseph Topji said roughly two-thirds of his community of around 800 families have left, hoping to find safer conditions elsewhere.
Inside a building belonging to the church, Bishop Topji welcomed us and explained:
“We don’t have a church now. We used to have two churches, but both are destroyed. We only have this place, a chapel which holds around 70 people.”
Walking along darkened streets in Talal, an area historically rich with churches that are now destroyed or massively damaged, Shehabi urged caution: “We are 50 meters from al-Nusra. Beyond these buildings, the frontline.”
Rev. Ibrahim Nseir, pastor of the Arab Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Aleppo, led us through the Christian areas of Talal, reminding us to remain as silent as possible.
“No voices, because that will let them hear that we are here. It will be very dangerous,” he said quietly. “Quickly, ya eini… Please, everybody, quickly…”
We then took a bus to Midan district, where we walked along the darkened streets. Our Syrian military accompaniment urged the group to stay together and listen carefully.
As we walked, Rev. Nseir described attacks on schools and the area, an Armenian district, which was heavily hit.
“Here we are in one of the most targeted places,” he said, pointing out ruts in the ground from mortar strikes.
A local resident told us:
“On September 5, two gas canister bombs his this area, we had three martyrs, shebab around age 30. One was married with a 1-year-old child. Another was about to get married. Four days before his wedding, he was killed. Over six days in September, we received 85 shells.”
As we walked, Shehabi cautioned: “Bela dow, bela dow—no light. There’s a sniper, guys, there’s a sniper. Turn off your lights.” The sniper was an estimated 1 km away, according to the locals walking with us, who said snipers sometimes come within 500 meters.
With night settled in, it was difficult to ascertain the intensity of the damage, but the darkened homes and streets spoke volumes of a neighborhood abandoned by former residents with deep safety concerns.