East Aleppo, Syria – Syrian government forces sent a text message to residents of east Aleppo on Sunday, demanding they leave the rebel-controlled area within 24 hours or risk their lives during a major offensive.
“Our dear people living in east Aleppo, the militants kill your children and take your women,” read the text message, which declared the government’s intent to retake rebel-held districts of the city.
Approximately 250,000 people are believed to be living in besieged east Aleppo, and Syrian government forces have reversed recent gains rebels made last month in their effort to break the siege.
East Aleppo resident Shamel Mohammad understood the text message loud and clear, but he is not going to leave. “In general, I don’t want to leave. I just want the supply route to open, for food and aid to return to the city, and to go back to how things were before the siege,” said Mohammad, who sells stationery.
Other residents of east Aleppo, although they have already stayed through five years of civil war, now want to leave owing to the current conditions. “Of course, I want to get out,” Fatima Lababidi, a schoolteacher and mother of four, told Al Jazeera. Both she and Mohammad live near the dividing line between government- and rebel-held areas in Aleppo, near the citadel.
But whether or not they want to leave, many agree that leaving is nearly impossible. “There’s no way out. The regime doesn’t open the route for us and doesn’t stop bombing,” said Lababidi.
I don't want to move away. My biggest dream is we return to the security and safety of six years ago … that we may eat and drink and live a little.
Despite deteriorating conditions and dwindling food supplies, Mohammad said: “I don’t want to move away. My biggest dream is we return to the security and safety of six years ago … that we may eat and drink and live a little.”
According to Mohammad, opening a supply route to east Aleppo by linking it to rebel territory west of the city, not migration, will accomplish this. “The last time the route at Ramouseh [military academy] was opened, people died there but aid could get in.”
Small amounts of aid from other parts of Syria reached east Aleppo when rebel groups took the Ramouseh military academy in August.
Conditions are getting worse in east Aleppo, according to many observers. “Electricity is always cut off, [there’s a] high increase in prices, and an acute lack of vegetable availability, fuel is almost non-existent in markets, the bread quality and quantity is abating,” Humam al-Malah, a member of the Syrian Network for Human Rights, in the Aleppo governorate, told Al Jazeera.
“Maybe the most difficult obstacle is the lack of stored fuels that is required for the generators.”
Late last week, the UN warned that east Aleppo risks mass starvation if food is not allowed in immediately, and pleaded that the Syrian government, Russia, and rebel groups permit food to be delivered.
It has been disputed who is responsible for civilians’ inability to leave east Aleppo. Recently, Syrian state media reported that rebel groups are preventing civilians from escaping, seeking to use them as human shields. However, many east Aleppo residents say it is the government, not rebel groups, that is preventing their escape.
“From what I’ve seen, the regime is the one attacking the people here,” said Lababidi, when asked about reports of attacks against people trying to flee east Aleppo. She said leaving is impossible due to the government-imposed siege and the general violence: “There’s no way out. All the routes are closed and there are battles all around the city.”
Some observers, such as al-Malah, are sceptical about the routes that the government says exist for people to leave. “From our point of view, it is only to deceive the public, because the crossings are monitored by the regime’s snipers, and any attempt by anyone to cross it might lead to them being shot,” he said.
“The people also fear crossing to the regime territory as it might lead to their arrest, especially without international parties guaranteeing their safety.”
Until the situation changes in east Aleppo, Mohammad waits. “The worst part of it all is that no one cares or pays attention to our suffering, death, agony or starving,” he said. “If things ease up, only God knows.”