Sunday, 18 December 2016

Forced to Leave, Aleppo Evacuees Tell of Their Pain

 'Death in Aleppo was personal for Modar Sheikho. He lost his sister to government bombing early in the revolt. His brother was killed last month. And as they looked for a place to bury him, another airstrike killed his father. Still, Shekho held out in the besieged city as long as he could. When he finally was forced to evacuate Friday, he made a video bidding farewell to the city.

 "We were asking for our freedom. This is what we get," he said against a backdrop of bombed-out buildings and thousands of people waiting for buses to take them away from Aleppo.

 But even in his first hours of exile, the 28-year-old nurse longed to return.

 "My soul is torn out more with each step away from Aleppo."

 Of the more than half-dozen residents and activists that AP has maintained regular contact with in recent months, only one said he felt disillusioned with the rebellion. Most seemed haunted by the city's struggle, saying they can't let go of their dream to create a Syria without Assad. They said they will continue their anti-government activities somehow from wherever they end up.

 One gynecologist who had refused to leave her patients said her husband forced her to flee to a government-controlled area for safety. Farida said she could not stand living for even two days in the government-controlled sector and fled to the countryside, where the rebels are in control.

 "Despite how hard it was under siege and bombardment, I was at peace with myself," she said. Farida's husband, also a doctor, followed. But she is still angry at him for forcing her to leave, adding: "I can't continue my life with him."

 Sheikho left on the first day of the evacuation, which was monitored by the Red Cross. He and thousands of other holdouts boarded green government buses with portraits of Assad in the windshield and were taken to rebel-controlled areas.

 "It is very painful that I separate from my city of 28 years," Sheikho said. "I hope it is quickly liberated so I can return to it."

 On the first day of the government's big ground offensive three weeks ago, Sheikho and his family sought a new home to avoid intense bombing. Like many others, his family was caught on the road by the bombardment, and his brother was killed on the spot. He and his father had to search for a cemetery because Aleppo was running out of burial space. In the process, his father — a prominent professor of Arabic — also was killed.

 Four years earlier, an airstrike killed his sister outside the hospital where she worked as a nurse.

After mourning his father and brother, Sheikho had told the AP: "We are all on the road to death. May God accept them as martyrs." '


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