How Syrians came to fear the sky

Martin Fletcher writes: For three years President Assad’s regime has relentlessly pounded the rebel-held tracts of the city with barrel bombs dropped from helicopters, missiles fired by fighter jets, ground-launched rockets called “elephant missiles” because of the noise they make and snipers’ bullets fired from the Citadel, the hilltop fortress in the heart of Aleppo.

It has hit some districts so heavily that they have been abandoned. It targets markets, hospitals, bakeries, mosques — anywhere that people gather. It often bombs a site twice in quick succession so rescuers are killed too. “They target every living thing, everything that moves,” [Zaina] Erhaim says.

Erhaim, 30, is a former BBC Arabic journalist who returned to her native Syria early in 2013 to help the revolution by training citizen journalists, especially women. She recently won a prestigious international prize for courageous journalism. She used to love the sky. She once hoped to use the Arabic word for sky as a name for a daughter, but not any more.

“My biggest dream is for the sky to stop being as horrific as it is, for the sky to be the sky again and not a source of fear, a source of inevitable and unavoidable death,” she says. Back in London this summer to see her employers, the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, she was walking down Tottenham Court Road when she saw some people staring upwards. They were merely inspecting a new building, but momentarily she panicked.

Erhaim is a tough young woman. She has been almost literally tempered by fire. Yet even she briefly crumples and cries as she names more than a dozen friends who have been killed — some by the regime, others by zealots of Islamic State who control territory surrounding Aleppo. Hamoudi died filming on the front line. Obaida was seized by IS and never seen again. Maen was killed by a bomb. Hassan was tortured to death by the regime. Bassel died in a shelling. She still posts messages on their Facebook pages, refuses to delete their names from her phone and leaves food on their graves. [Continue reading…]

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