Letter from Aleppo: ‘My city is not just a death toll’

A Syrian Civil Defense member and resident of Aleppo reflects on the worst onslaught the city witnessed since 2011.

A boy inspects a damaged site after airstrikes on the rebel held Tariq al-Bab neighbourhood of Aleppo
'All of this is happening and the international community is still silent' [Reuters]

I don’t remember when I woke up this morning, I don’t remember when I went to sleep. I don’t sleep easily, no one here does. The aerial bombardment is relentless all across the city.  In our lives there is no such thing as sleep. 

I have three civil defence certificates, and another on the laws of war and peace. The last one is not mandatory, they teach it to people who want more information. I can say with full confidence that the international community does not enforce any of the laws of war.

This same community has been watching what is happening in Aleppo for eight days. Aleppo is burning and the world is watching silently.  Russian warplanes have not stopped bombing us, not for a second. 

“We will not be able to keep going this way for long” [Abdalrhman Ismail/ REUTERS]

Journalists ask me how many people died on this day or that day, but Aleppo is not just a death toll.

They’ve dropped all kinds of forbidden munitions: phosphorous bombs, cluster munitions and the powerful bunker buster. I’ve seen these bombs destroy entire neighborhoods and bury people alive.

The regime is targeting areas that were struck before, resulting in more casualties.

There is no food and we are running out of water. The only supply road to the city was closed. No one can afford to buy a piece of bread because the prices are too high. People are eating one meal of rice and mint, or one packet of instant noodles a day

Journalists ask me how many people died on this day or that day, but Aleppo is not just a death toll.

Every fired missile is a story. Seconds after an explosion, our units go straight to the area and start pulling people from under the rubble.

Maybe the bomb destroys the entire building. Maybe there are five families inside when it does.

We saved a man from under the rubble after three hours of searching. After one attack, an 11-day-old baby was missing. We found her by listening to the sounds of her cries from beneath the wreckage. 

Three of our headquarters were also attacked and some of our vehicles were destroyed. So we risked heavy shelling and used our hands to lift the pieces of the shattered homes, and rescue the people underneath.

But even those pulled out might not be saved.

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We are running out of fuel, hospitals are working under fire with limited electricity and medicine.

We will not be able to keep going this way for long.  

This isn’t new for us. This is our routine. Hear a bomb, go to the site, identify people and get them out. In the last few days, we didn’t stop, not even for a moment. The use of powerful munitions mean our work is never done. There is no “start time” for what we do. I don’t have a life outside the White Helmets.

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Of course, the war has an effect on me. I am married, but my wife is not with me. She is safer in the Aleppo countryside. But I am stuck here, in the besieged city.

Before the war I was working as a language teacher and a public servant. I don’t have children.

In four years, I have witnessed the carnage of innocent children. I’ve heard the sound of people struggling to breathe their last under the rubble.

This is not normal. No one can express what this feeling is like.

We always say, when the war ends whoever is left will need psychological help to feel what normal people feel like again. 

I was one of the founders of the Syrian Civil Defense in 2013. In the past three years and a half I have witnessed thousands of massacres, bombings, air strikes.

But the past few days in Aleppo have been unbelievable.  You can see sorrow in the eyes of the people.

You can hear the crash of bombs and death everywhere. They only have memories of blood, displacement and destruction.

As told to Samya Kullab

Source: Al Jazeera