Aleppo residents, battered by war, struggle to survive

C.J. Chivers reports: Inside the classrooms where they once studied, the boys darted like a pack. Their banging and clanking could be heard for a city block.

The playground outside had been hit by a Syrian Air Force airstrike, which fractured the school’s walls. Now the children were smashing the furniture, prying off wooden desktops and bench seats, rushing away with what they could.

The Isam al-Nadri School for Boys was being dismantled for the firewood it contained. One sixth grader, Ahmed, clutching the kindling he had made by ransacking a room, offered an irreducible argument for looting his own school. “I want heat,” he said.

Winter is descending on Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and the bloodied stage for an urban battle, now running into its sixth month, between rebels and the military of President Bashar al-Assad.

As temperatures drop and the weakened government’s artillery thunders on, Aleppo is administered by no one and slipping into disaster. Front-line neighborhoods are rubble. Most of the city’s districts have had no electricity and little water for weeks. All of Aleppo suffers from shortages of oil, food, medicine, doctors and gas.

Diseases are spreading. Parks and courtyards are being defoliated for firewood, turning streets once lined with trees into avenues bordered by stumps. Months’ worth of trash is piled high, often beside bread lines where hundreds of people wait for a meager stack of loaves.

One of the Middle East’s beautiful and historic cities is being forced by scarcity and violence into a bitter new shape. Overlaying it all is a mix of fatigue and distrust, the sentiments of a population divided in multiple ways. [Continue reading...]

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