Ruth Maclean reports: A small group of boys play football, dodging tangled metal in the ruined Umayyad mosque of Aleppo’s old city. When they were last able to come here, before the war, the vast courtyard’s patterned floor was beautifully polished, and the pile of bricks in a corner was a millennium-old minaret.
Now, the boys pick at the sandbags piled in its huge, fire-blackened arches. For them, this ancient place-of-worship-turned-fortress is a playground in a hellscape.
“It seems bigger now, maybe because I didn’t see it for such a long time,” says Yamin Saeed, a sweet-faced 14-year-old in a fake Armani jumper. Before the war, he and his friends were like children anywhere – they went to school, they loved Tom and Jerry – but the battle for Aleppo aged them overnight.
“I saw a human head once,” says Mohammed Sheni, who is also 14. “We were walking and then there was a rocket and people died. I’m trying to forget it, but you can’t forget something like that.”
It is a windy day. The boys walk home, steering clear of the narrow back streets to avoid dangling steel and falling concrete.
Amid a countrywide uprising against Bashar al-Assad’s government, rebels took control of Aleppo’s eastern half in 2012. In the following years, it was held by a mishmash of different groups, often at war with each other as well as with forces loyal to Assad. [Continue reading…]