In Case the Planes Come Again: Harsh Life in Aleppo Goes On

The latest "soul-shattering" Russian and Syrian government bombings have destroyed an already devastated Aleppo's largest hospital, along with humanitarian aid convoys, in what U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power called "the most savage week" of "an incredibly savage five-plus-year war,” rendering particularly the rebel-held eastern half of Aleppo "hell itself." The renewed barrel bomb attacks, some of the most intense of the war, came after a brief failed Russian ceasefire lapsed; in the last week, they killed up to 1,000 people and at least 100 children. The violence has been widely, repeatedly condemned as war crimes, and yet persists.

From the U.N.'s Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, "Just when we think it cannot get any worse, the bar of depravity sinks lower.” The U.N.'s chief humanitarian official Stephen O’Brien: Aleppo represents "the pitiless and merciless abyss of a humanitarian catastrophe unlike any we have witnessed...Syria is bleeding. Its citizens are dying." Doctors Without Borders, whose hospitals have been repeatedly attacked - including one in Kunduz, Afghanistan by U.S. forces exactly a year ago - blasted what has become "a race to the bottom" where doctors and civilians are killed despite an earlier U.N. resolution aimed at protecting them: "This failure reflects a lack of political will...There can be no more waiting."

In Aleppo, meanwhile, up to 275,000 people including over 100,000 children scramble to go on living amidst the carnage, rubble, trauma, terror, siege and incessant bombings. Using online media, The Guardian managed to hear and publish stories from those who feel trapped in "a prison, a really big but claustrophobic prison." They describe little or no water, fuel, medicine, electricity; streets empty but for abandoned cars and unburied bodies; scrounging for one meal a day, often lentils and bulgur; burning furniture and debris to stay warm; crouching in bunkers at each bombardment as children scream and cry in terror; serving as or seeing White Helmet volunteers at breaking point from pulling too many bodies from rubble; laboring to retain a sense of normalcy for children afraid each time a parent goes out to the street, and hearing them declare each harsh new morning, "Thank God we are still alive.”

For Abo Awad, a taxi driver when there was fuel, one of the best sounds each morning is his neighbor turning on his generator, after which residents meet to charge phones, drink tea, and exchange news - though it's usually "that someone else has been killed." Often, he says, "We feel we are waiting for death." For parents and those who help the war's many orphans, the focus is to stay calm despite "worrying about what tomorrow will bring." Thanks to kids' famed resilience, the strategy can work, but only to a point. With schools mostly closed, mother and teacher Afraa Hashem says even when they come to class in an underground shelter, "there is happiness in their eyes." But she also watches her kids suffer each time she leaves, and mourn their cakeless birthdays, and tremulously remember friends who have left or died: "They make models of them from paper and talk to them as if they are still here. I listen to my boys telling them stories about their lives."


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