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A letter from Aleppo

"A letter from Aleppo" Continued...

In Aleppo, the military situation is at a status quo: the last [major] battle took place on Good Friday 29 March 2013, “120 days ago,” with the capture of the Sheikh Maksoud quarter (Djabal Al Sayde) by the rebels. There have been no [major] combats since, but bombardments here and there with hundreds of houses, building, shops, offices and homes damaged. On the other hand, the humanitarian situation is getting worse and towards a catastrophic status, considering three important facts:

(1) The blockade of Aleppo (at the moment of writing this letter [July 31], it seems that the blockade is slightly alleviated or has been circumvented a bit) has lasted now for more than 40 days: blocking of people, nobody can leave the city to go elsewhere, even to other nearby Syrian towns or abroad; blocking of merchandise, nothing can get into Aleppo. There are no more vegetables, fruits, milk, cheese, meat, chicken or fish, no fuel, gas (for cooking) and very little bread. There remain only imperishable supplies at the grocers such as rice, lentils, canned goods … but at astronomical prices the majority cannot afford. It must be said that one dollar was worth 50 Syrian pounds (LS) before the war, 180 LS a month ago and 300 LS a couple of weeks back then came down again to be around 200+ LS. With all this and the income of families remaining the same, prices are escalating to ten times more than the original cost.

Just to give a couple of simple, painful examples: one of the kitchens for the Christian charitable association “Al-Ihsan,” which used to provide daily meals for 35,000 IDPs (almost all of them are from non-Christian backgrounds), has been closed down for lack of gas, fuel, staff and ingredients; and the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), which used to provide 15,000 daily meals, will be closing down as well soon. So, 50,000 IDPs who are staying in different schools since early 2012 will be without food.

Another aspect, and as a funny result, of the lack of fuel, vehicles cannot be used and the forced march imposed upon all of us has become the sport of the people in Aleppojust walk wherever you like, and keep on walking; we’re spending more time on the roads at high risk. It is supposed to be good for the health of course, if only the average temperature was not 40 degrees! Almost every person has lost weight, about 8-18kg.

The inhabitants have waited in vain for protests by the Western public (so prompt at protesting over the slightest offence) and the pressure of its leaders on the rebels to lift the blockade. It is no longer a military or political problem but a humanitarian issue. Starving a population of 2.5 million people is logically a crime against humanity for those who believe in peace and justice. To be silent is to accept the rule of Western politicians: two weights, two measures.

(2) Mortar fire (last night, 30 July 2013, more than 36 mortars and shells hit our heavily populated Christian residential areas): Every day, mortar shells fall on the quarters inhabited especially by Christians and Armenians. Those mortars are fired by the rebels; they are homemade but are still causing some deaths and seriously wounding dozens. The smell of death is everywhere nowadays. Just in the last couple of weeks in our Christian society, a boy of 14 years, a scout, died from a piece of shrapnel in his head while he was at home; a girl of 8 years received a splinter in the brain; a young woman of 30, a hairdresser, had to have her left arm amputated below the elbow as a result of an injury; a man of 70 was wounded in the spine when he was coming out of church service. Above all those shocking stories, the most tragic event happened last week: A traveling Pullman bus with more than 35 Armenian passengers from Aleppo to Beirut was attacked by the rebels on the safe military road, resulting in five deaths and more than 30 wounded and badly injured. Four families were planning to migrate to Armenia; two of them (they were my patients at my clinic earlier) were wounded and one lost the mother, who had two children. These are a few examples among many other tragedies.

(3) Capturing and kidnapping Christians (mainly the Armenian lay people): What a nightmare to every single Armenian and Christian who plans to leave Aleppo for a safe haven. As you may remember, hundreds have already been kidnapped and no news so far about them, including the two senior archbishops, two elderly fathers and hundreds of young men. Just four days ago, four young Armenian chaps were kidnapped while leaving for Armenia and sadly, last night, 29 July, two very young brothers, aged 12 and 14, were kidnapped while planning to join their father in Istanbul, leaving their mother alone. How you can imagine the heart of this mother and the soul and spirit of these two youngsters? So far no news or any information. If a ransom is requested, it will be unaffordable and unfeasible.

© 2013 Barnabas Aid. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

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