Saturday, 15 October 2016

'We need deeds, not words': bombs fall on Aleppo as MPs debate Syria

Syrian boys cry following Russian air strikes on the rebel-held Fardous neighbourhood of the northern embattled Syrian city of Aleppo

 ' “At the moment we have an aircraft in the sky above the hospital, so we are hoping that we won’t get hit,” said Hamza Khatib, one of the handful of medics still working in rebel-held Aleppo, who lost two patients on Tuesday morning alone.

 As MPs debated the risks and benefits of a no-fly zone, he said it was the only hope for about a quarter of a million people in rebel-held Aleppo.

 “The only thing that we really need is to stop the main source of the violence and killing: Russia and the regime aircraft. We don’t want medical aid, we don’t want food – that will make us last longer, but if there is still bombing, it will not save our lives.”

 Monther Etaky, a journalist, stayed home with his wife and baby son during the debate. He had raced back to comfort them after the bombardment began and, with a surveillance plane circling overhead, said he was worried the jets would return. “Even the small children in Aleppo can recognise every plane by its sound now,” he said.

 Like many in Aleppo, he is frustrated by the international attention focused on a proposal from the UN special envoy to Syria. Staffan de Mistura has offered to personally escort the most radical rebel faction out of Aleppo if doing so would bring a halt to the bombardment.

 “I wonder if he is really interested in our situation and saving Syrian blood and life? If so, I invite him to deliver aid here personally,” Etaky said. “I invite him to escort the prisoners out of Assad’s jails, I invite him to escort out the sectarian groups fighting for Assad.”

 For many in Aleppo, the debate was just another day of talking that will bring no change in their suffering.'

“There are debates and speeches outside Aleppo, and Assad and Russians are killing us inside,” said activist Abdulkafi Alhamdo. “We need deeds, not words.”

Friday, 14 October 2016

Young filmmaker aims to tell besieged Syrians' story

 'A Syrian filmmaker whose harrowing footage of sarin gas victims in 2013 was seen around the world is using his experience of the attack and conflict to make a drama looking at why people take up arms in a war which began as a peaceful revolution. Humam Husari's self-financed short film explores the chemical attack near Damascus through the eyes of a rebel fighter who lost his wife and child but was denied time to bury them. Instead, he is called to defend his town from a government offensive. The story is based on real-life events, he said.

 "We need to understand how people were pushed into this war and to be part of it," said Husari, 30. "I am talking about a story that I lived with. They are real characters."

 Making the film was an emotional but necessary experience for Husari and his performers, who were witnesses to and victims of the attack, and not trained actors.

 "The most difficult thing was the casting and auditions," said Husari, who took about two months to write, produce and direct the 15-minute film and is currently editing it. "A 70-year-old man said to me: I want to be part of this movie because I lost 13 of my family ... I want the world to know what we've been through. And all I wanted from him is just to be a dead body," he said.

 "I was amazed with how much those people were able to express their tragedy and to cooperate with me on this movie."

 Mohamed Demashki, a business student and professional bodybuilder before the war who plays the main character, said he took part in the film because of its message.

 "It tries to convey to the world that the people who live here are not just fighters, they are not terrorists. They are people with a life. The war conditions them to become fighters," he said.

 When the sarin attack happened, Husari took his camera to the makeshift hospitals that sprang up to cope with thousands of victims and sent the footage to international media.

 "I wasn't filming because I am a cameraman, I was filming because this is the only thing I could do for the victims," he said.

 "During it, you can't feel anything, you just feel shock ... After, when you just think about what you have witnessed, you rethink how big and real and really tragic this was. It is not easy for me to watch my footage."

 Husari, who studied film at the Brighton Film School in Britain, now makes a living covering the Syrian conflict for international news organizations, but still hopes to make filmmaking his career. Husari said that living the daily reality of war will equip him to tell the story of the conflict when the war ends and films can start to be made.

 "Let's just think about how I reacted to those war jets in the sky. It has become something very normal to me, and this is something it is really hard to understand from the outside," he said.

 He has acquired the tools to direct actors to accurately respond to events in a conflict setting, he said.

 "I feel I have a responsibility in the future to tell this story, these stories, through cinema and drama. That's usually what happens after every war," he said.

 With parts of Damascus's Ghouta under opposition control from the beginning of the conflict, a number of areas have come under siege by Syrian government and allied forces. Making cinema in a place where there is no free passage of food, people and other supplies is tough. Husari made his lighting equipment and camera track himself, but had the good fortune to have access to a good quality camera.

 "It is an irony that in a besieged area you can find the best cameras you need," he said.'