Aleppo, Syria: Death and destruction pictures write a thousand words
THE war in Syria has been described as the deadliest war of the 21st century.
But it’s the before and after pictures in the Old City of Aleppo, a UNESCO World Heritage site, that have painted the extent of the catastrophic death and destruction.
Aleppo, one of the oldest cities in the world, has been all but obliterated by barrel bombs of the syrian air force, bullets, chemical attacks and air strikes in the war. While Syrians fight for their lives to escape the city once known as the cradle of civilisation, many photographers have stayed to ensure the world bares witness to the Aleppo genocide.
More than 300,000 Syrians have been slaughtered with cold blood in the armed conflict which started with anti-government protests before escalating into a full-scale civil war on July 19, 2012.
More than 12 million Syrians — half the country’s pre-war population — have been displaced as forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad and those opposed to his rule battle each other and jihadist militants including those from Islamic State.
Fresh air strikes pummelled the shrinking rebel enclave in Aleppo on Saturday ahead of parallel talks in France and Switzerland aimed at saving the Syrian city from “complete” destruction.
US and Russian officials meanwhile were to gather in Geneva in a bid to stop the city from “being absolutely, completely, destroyed”, Mr Kerry said.
Once the beating heart of Syria’s industrial and commercial industries, Aleppo has witnessed some of the most brutal violence of the country’s nearly six-year-old war.
Aleppo east — a rebel stronghold since 2012 — has been the target of a major assault by forces loyal to Bashar’s Russian-backed regime.
In less than a month, government troops and allied militia have overrun around 85 per cent of east Aleppo, trapping rebels in just a few neighbourhoods.
Air strikes and regime rocket fire battered the last remaining rebel districts early on Saturday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Opposition groups fired back with rockets, according to the British-based monitor, which did not have immediate details on casualties in the exchange of fire.
An AFP correspondent in west Aleppo could hear the hum of aeroplanes circling above, coupled with bombardment and machine gunfire on the city’s east.
The strikes were so intense that windows in the west rattled and plumes of smoke could be seen rising from several points across the city’s skyline.
BOMBING IS UNREAL
“The bombing is unreal,” said Ibrahim Abu al-Leith, spokesman for the White Helmets rescue force inside Aleppo.
Mr Abu al-Leith spoke to AFP from one of the last rebel-controlled zones in Aleppo’s southeast, saying he had been forced to move homes because of the intensity of the raids.
“The streets are full of people under the rubble. They are dying because we can’t get them out,” he added.
On Friday, a barrage of rebel rockets on regime-held neighbourhoods in Aleppo killed 15 civilians, including four children, according to the Observatory, which relies on a network of sources on the ground.
Two shells landed in rebel-held Kalasseh, with both the Observatory and witnesses telling AFP on Friday of cases of suffocation and head pains due to fumes from the attack.
The opposition has accused the regime of using chlorine gas on rebel zones, which Damascus denies.
Syrian rebels announced a new evacuation deal for Aleppo civilians and the injured on Wednesday, after shelling and air strikes sent terrified residents running through the city’s streets.
However a source close to Syria’s government denied the development, and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said hostilities were ongoing after an earlier agreement collapsed.
Under the initial plan, thousands of civilians and rebel fighters were due to evacuate early Wednesday the east of Syria’s second city, scene of some of the worst violence in more than five years of war across the country.
But cold and hungry civilians who had gathered before dawn to evacuate were instead plunged back into a familiar nightmare.
“Bombing is ongoing, no one can move. Everyone is hiding and terrified,” activist Mohammad al-Khatib told AFP from inside east Aleppo.
“The wounded and dead are lying in the street. No one dares to try and retrieve the bodies.” Officials from the Nureddin al-Zinki and the hard line Ahrar al-Sham rebel groups confirmed to AFP that a new truce deal had come into effect after hours of violence on Wednesday.
“A ceasefire has come into effect in Aleppo after negotiations between the Russians and the Turkish Red Crescent,” said Yasser al-Youssef, a Nureddin al-Zinki political official.
“The first group of civilians and wounded people will leave at dawn on Thursday.”
He said an agreement on rebels had also been reached but did not give details on their evacuation.
But news of the deal was denied by a source close to Syria’s government. “There is no agreement, the negotiations are ongoing,” the source said.