Tuesday, 18 October 2016

‘Are You Silent Because There Are Muslims in Our Country?’

‘Are You Silent Because There Are Muslims in Our Country?’

 'Last week was the worst yet for the besieged neighborhoods of eastern Aleppo. Russian and Syrian government warplanes launched a new campaign of indiscriminate bombing Tuesday, terrorizing the city and causing a wave of casualties. On Friday, the warplanes targeted the area’s food supply, destroying a bread distribution facility and attacking a flour mill.

 A staggering 174 airstrikes were launched over the course of the week on eastern Aleppo, the rebel-controlled portion of the city, and 159 deaths were reported through mid-afternoon Friday.

 For one resident of eastern Aleppo, the silence of the United States and its allies — which have not taken any military steps to stop the onslaught — has made an already intolerable situation even worse.

 “I want to ask the Western world, which has laws to protect animals: Where are you when it comes to protecting women, children, the elderly, and the disabled?” said Fatima Kaddour, “Are you silent because there are Muslims in our country and they should be exterminated?”

 Kaddour, a 56-year-old housewife and mother of 11 children, lives in a one-room apartment, along with her son and two daughters, close to the front lines with government forces. It is not her flat. Like so many of their neighbors, her family was internally displaced, forced to move from their old home in the Salahuddin district of eastern Aleppo when their house was destroyed in January.

 She railed at the ruling regime for attacking Syrians but said she’s ready to leave the rebel-held areas if given a chance. Like many other Syrians, she is perplexed by the U.S. fixation on destroying Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, the al Qaeda affiliate formerly known as the Nusra Front, rather than acting to stop the regime’s assault on civilians. Jabhat Fatah al Sham is a relatively small player in Aleppo and runs the areas under its control in an orderly, nonabusive fashion, she said.

 Although she and her children have tried to fix up their new home, the bombing campaign has broken the windows and damaged the doors. It is full of sunlight, and there is room for the children to study, she said. But when they hear warplanes overhead, usually once or twice a day, “We run to the bathroom or the hall.”

 Compared with some other residents of eastern Aleppo, they are lucky. Not long ago, the Russian or Syrian air force bombed a building nearby that had housed five families, reducing it to a heap of rubble. All 20 inhabitants were killed, and most are still under the debris, she said.

 The sole survivor from one of the families was a girl of 10, who had not been in the building. For a full week, she slept in the street, waiting for the civil defense volunteers to dig out her relatives, Kaddour said. But the volunteers lacked the equipment to recover the bodies, and the ruins have become their grave. The girl was so traumatized that she would not speak to a family that offered to informally adopt her, and in frustration they took her to an orphanage in the Shaar neighborhood of Aleppo.

 “She never laughs. She never cries. She never asks for anything, even food,” Kaddour said. “The other children feed her.”

 Meals for those living in besieged Aleppo are spartan, consisting of Syrian flat bread, which humanitarian aid groups distribute every other day, rice, lentils, and bulgur, a local grain that can be cooked or consumed raw when mixed with water. The grains are distributed in food packets every second or third month. Residents obtain water from a water delivery service, which provides 250 gallons to fill a tank for $10 — as long as the purchaser can supply the fuel to power the delivery truck. But fuel is almost impossible to find.

 Because of the cost of cooking fuel, residents comb destroyed buildings for scrap wood, which they use for a fire to boil water, Kaddour said.

 The situation in Aleppo is at the edge of a still bigger disaster, with the main vulnerabilities in the area being fuel and water, according to the top official in rebel-held parts of the province. The city had built up supplies in anticipation of a siege of up to six months, said the official, Mohammad Fadelah, in a phone call Friday. But it cannot use them all due to a fuel shortage.

 “We brought in substantial amounts of wheat, but the problem is we don’t have the fuel to run the mills to make the flour,” said Fadelah, the president of the provincial council.

 The fuel shortage also threatens to paralyze water filtration systems, which make the area’s well water fit for human consumption. The enclave also suffers from a growing crisis in health care, as two of the 10 hospitals in the area were recently destroyed, and a shortage of medicine grows worse.

 “We had our strategic plan before the siege to keep functioning for six months,” he said. “But with the recent escalation, I don’t think we would be able to serve that long.”

 The children of eastern Aleppo, however, are forced to take on tasks that would terrify even the bravest adults. Kaddour is both proud of and worried for her teenage son, Amir, who volunteers at a local hospital, helping rescue people pinned down when buildings collapse. He got involved in the job after enrolling in a first-aid course without telling her, using his pocket money to buy a first-aid kit.

 “I don’t want him to leave the house when there is bombing,” she said. “Sometimes he listens to me. Other times he sneaks out and leaves without telling me.”

 On one occasion, when Amir was working, two missiles struck the building next door to her and set it on fire. Neighbors told her that they’d seen her son and he was safe. But when she began searching for him, she came upon the bodies of two young men who’d died in the attack.

 “I lost consciousness. I didn’t feel anything for six hours. Even when I was awake, I couldn’t remember anything for a week,” she said.

 Now she and her family live in fear for their future. Bashar al-Assad’s regime and Russia appear determined to reconquer all of Aleppo, which was once the country’s largest city. Kaddour believes they want to expel the people of eastern Aleppo, as they have the population of Darayya and other towns near Damascus.

 “They have destroyed us, expelled us, and killed us only because a group of youths protested and asked for freedom, the freedom of opinion, of education, and to live as you like,” she said. “They took away everything from us, even the air, which they polluted with chlorine gas, with phosphorus and the smell of ruin.”

 “Now after all the suffering, we are worried they will take us out in the green buses,” she said — referring to the state-owned fleet used to deport Darayya residents from their hometown to rebel-held areas. She said she’d go willingly to Gaziantep, Turkey, where she has a married daughter, and others would go to rebel-held Idlib or even to the regime-held areas.

 “The international community has ignored us,” she said. “We are unarmed. And we are fed up.” '

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