A quick trip to the border of Turkey and Syria.
The New Republic
February 13, 2014
A few days ago, as the number of refugees streaming out of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, began to escalate dramatically, I phoned an aid worker friend of mine who knows the city intimately.
He was traveling in southern Turkey at the time, but when I got him on the line, he sounded frantic. "The bombing is unprecedented today," he said. (I promised not to identify him because he hopes to continue working inside Syria as soon as conditions allow it.) “In the past few weeks they have dropped so much fucking hardware on everything. Every part of Aleppo—marketplaces, vegetable stands, anywhere there's a big collection of civilians. It’s incredible."
The regime bombardment of the rebel-held, eastern part of Aleppo—much of it in the form of indiscriminate “barrel bombs,” which are little more than metal cylinders filled with explosives and rebar—has been ongoing for more than a month. But more recently, the aid worker and several exiles from the city told me, the cascade had grown much more intense, driving out even the most hardened holdouts. Upwards of a quarter-million people have fled the east for safe havens to the north or, in some cases, across town into regime-controlled quarters, according to official estimates. All of the infrastructure of rebel-controlled Syria has shut down: the local councils, which help run city administration; the various relief agencies; even the bakeries that, with international assistance, produce bread for the starving population. Almost no one has been left behind in some parts. “There’s been areas that are just completely emptied out—not a living soul,” the aid worker said. “It’s obvious that they're hoping to drive everyone out.”
What’s disturbing about the current round of bombings and evacuations is not simply that it’s a humanitarian disaster, but that it seems to fit a pattern of the Syrian government’s campaign to retake rebel-held parts of the north: destroy a city, empty it out. In November, the Syrian army recaptured the town of Safira, just outside of Aleppo, after a bombing campaign that lasted a month and reportedly forced the entire population to evacuate. When a neighborhood of Hama, another city in the north that has figured prominently in the revolution, appeared to harbor rebel fighters, the regime simply had it leveled — every single building. And before this week’s deliveries of food aid to besieged populations in rebel-controlled Homs, the regime argued vociferously that residents should be evacuated, rather than have food brought in to them.