Scenes from East Aleppo as the Regime Closes in

It is difficult to describe the situation in Aleppo. As of the writing of this article, opposition forces and an estimated 75,000 civilians are now encircled in a space no larger than three square kilometers in the al-Ansari and Mashad neighborhoods. The latest massacre was the killing of all civilians and wounded at the al-Hayat Medical Center in the Kalasa district. Salah al-Ashqar, a city media spokesman, as well as Salem, a dentist working at the center have both confirmed the massacre. Dazed civilians wander around, hunted with ease by regime snipers. Corpses fill the streets, with neither Civil Defense nor medical personnel able to clear them from the rubble. The screams of childeren emerge from the debris. But amid this horrific scene, it seems like the apocalypse for Syria’s second largest city is only just beginning.

Bilal Abdul Kareem, an American journalist working in besieged Aleppo for the website On the Ground News, sent a message, which he said may be his last, thanking the people of Aleppo for offering him aid despite their poverty. He is one of many in East Aleppo recording farewell messages, unsure of their fate once the regime forces take full control of east Aleppo. He also sent a message to Turkish president Erdogan expressing what many Syrians feel: that their once-backers have abandoned them. “Nice recitation of the Quran, but you really blew it this time. You had the opportunity to be the hero and fly in here with a cape and help out these poor people with your troops just 25 kilometers away but you blew it.

Activists in the city, including Salah Ashkar and Lina al-Shami, have also sent final messages to the world and involved nations, appealing to anyone who can do anything to protect vulnerable citizens in the city. In terms of opposition losses, the Raya al-Sham Brigade, a small group totaling 35 fighters and affiliated with the Sham Legion, was completely wiped out in the Kalasa district as it attempted to halt the advance of regime forces and Iranian militias. Dozens of fighters laid down their arms in surrender. Writing on a personal website, Bashar al-Hawi stated, “We will resist to preserve what remains of our dignity, to preserve a foothold for freedom in this world. We will resist, not recklessly or scornfully, but a resistance to protect our land and our honor.”

Speaking from Aleppo, Amin al-Halabi stated, “What is happening in Aleppo is truly an apocalypse. Forgive me, pray for my forgiveness, and remember me fondly. This may be my last message but I promise I will die with honor.”

People have been seen with small bags holding as much of their valuables as they can carry. A large segment of these civilians are victims of Shia militias that steal property right under the noses of regime soldiers and senior officers. A private audio recording from an organization official inside Aleppo confirms an increase and intensification of bombing, that some opposition elements are surrendering to regime forces and laying down their weapons, and that there is no longer any functional medical facility in the city. A group of three doctors remains, led by Hamza al-Khatib, the director of Quds Hospital, the last hospital that remained open but which is now under the control of Assad forces after its doctors fled. Majid Abdelnour reports, “There are many wounded and no medicine. The hospital has been transformed into a crypt, and what remains of Aleppo now resembles a slaughterhouse, with groaning, tortured voices calling out. We have no one else but you, O God.”

Dozens of activists have sent SOS messages calling on opposition members to join the battle in order to relieve the besieged fighters in the city. But rebel factions, whether in Daraa, Idlib, or even the Aleppo province, have been unable to halt the regime and its allies’ advance, in spite of the declaration of a so-called “General Alarm” made by large fighting forces such as Fath al-Sham.

Some Arab media outlets had been giving round-the-clock coverage to the round-the-clock massacre in Aleppo. But more recently, senior journalists and international channels have refused to cover what is happening in city, leading many Syrians to believe that they  accept what the regime is doing there, according to journalist Hadeel Awis.

Syrians in other parts of the country are desperate to help Aleppo. They have cut off streets in Idlib, demanding that opposition leaders unite, and put up roadblocks along streets that lead to any direction other than Aleppo. People in tents closely follow news from what was once Syria’s economic capital, many of them believing that Idlib will be the next center of gravity to be abandoned by the allies. Everyone is asking what Idlib’s fate will be, which now contains more than two million displaced persons from all provinces of Syria. Meanwhile, demonstrations protesting the situation led by Syrians, human rights activists and sympathizers are taking place in front of Russian embassies in Istanbul, Paris, Stockholm, and London.

As for hope for political solutions to the violence, Mehmet Mastu, a journalist at Anadolu News Agency, confirms that there are signs of an agreement between Turkey and Russia, although the terms of any deal are not yet clear. At the same time, U.S.-Russia talks have reached an impasse, as Moscow confirms that it will wait to discuss the situation in Syria with US President-elect Trump’s team.

Saleem al-Omar is a freelance journalist who has written for Al-Jazeera, Alquds Alarabi Newspaper, Arabi 21, and Syria Deeply.

Image: Photo: A Turkish student cries during a protest to show solidarity with trapped citizens of Aleppo, Syria, in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina December 14, 2016. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic