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Syrian war: Red Cross doctor's heart-breaking letter from Aleppo

Battle hardened doctors used to war zones, lost for words

As some of the most vulnerable people in Aleppo were moved from a former old-people's home near the city's front line on Wednesday, a Red Cross doctor involved in their evacuation sent the BBC this letter:

Working as a doctor for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), I have seen many things in Syria during the past five years. But nothing like this.

We'd tried to reach the centre the previous day, but couldn't get the necessary security guarantees. The fighting had been too intense. Three people at the centre died during that time.

Now we'd got permission to go to the former old people's home, which had become a refuge for around 150 people, some disabled, some mentally ill and the rest just desperate people with nowhere else to go.

We, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and the ICRC, were there to take them out of eastern Aleppo.

"An end of the world place. Like a fury had swept through"

It was already going dark as we drove into the narrow streets of the Old City. I'd known the area before the war, a thriving, bustling place.

Now, it was a sea of rubble. I couldn't recognise streets, never mind buildings. A ghost town of smashed concrete. An end of the world place. Like a fury had swept through.

Gunfire rattled in the distance but here there was no noise, no people.

We had to walk the last bit that vehicles couldn't pass.

In the midst of the landscape, two crumbling buildings. One building for the men, one for the women.

We entered the yard. A group of patients sat huddled round an open fire. They had few clothes and were shivering.

Many looked bemused. They were very near to each other, pushing their shoulders together, looking around, trying to reassure one another.

To one side, there were bodies, maybe around 10 of them.

I knew the man who ran the centre and we found him. We learnt that he'd lost his entire family three days earlier: among them, his wife, son and grandson. He'd brought his family here because he thought no-one would attack the centre.

Some of the bodies in the yard were members of his family.

Doctors tried to establish which people needed evacuating the most badly

There were many dead bodies among the living

As darkness closed in and temperatures dropped further, we had to move fast. We identified those who needed help most. As we worked, an old man died in front of us from the cold.

No medicines. No heating, No fuel to cook the food.

I checked a few nearby buildings to see if there were any other people. There weren't.

But there was another body. We could see it, but it was trapped under a collapsed building. We couldn't do anything about it.

The evacuation was not simple. Many, especially those with mental illness, didn't want to leave. They were confused, helpless. They didn't realise they were living in a war zone.

Some had been living there for four or five years. They knew nothing else. "We have no other relatives, we have nowhere else to go." Some said they'd prefer to stay.

And then some soldiers arrived. They brought six children with them. They'd been found among the rubble, lost, helpless. The oldest was a seven-year-old girl, the youngest a seven-month-old baby boy. They hadn't eaten for two days.

They'd all just become orphans, their parents killed by a bomb during the past few days. They had nothing, and no-one. What can you say? What can you do?

The Red Cross and Red Crescent evacuated injured people as well as elderly and mentally disabled

Some of the mentally disabled didn't want to leave – "they didn't realise they were living in a war zone"

At the centre, 18 people wanted to stay behind. Because they had nowhere else to go.

I hope we can get back soon to bring them some help.

Another chapter in a god-awful war.

Those people paid the cost of this terrible war which they had nothing to do with and did not decide to be a part of. They were the most vulnerable of the vulnerable. And no side protected them.

This is not about who is right, or who is wrong. Who is winning, who is losing. This is about people: flesh and blood, human beings. Bleeding, dying, being made orphans, every day.

I feel so very sad, today. Please, there have to be some limits to this war.

Civilians killed on spot as battle for Aleppo nears end

Reports of civilians summarily executed and trapped in buildings as Assad troops near takeover of Syria's biggest city.

Pro-government forces have reportedly executed scores of civilians in Aleppo, including women and children, according to the UN, as the battle for Syria's largest city nears its end.

Forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad have in some cases entered homes and killed those inside, and in others "caught and killed on the spot" fleeing civilians, Rupert Colville, UN rights office spokesperson, said on Tuesday.
He called the situation "a complete meltdown of humanity".

Colville said government forces on Monday killed 82 civilians – including 13 children and 11 women – in the neighbourhoods of Bustan al-Qasr, al-Kalleseh, al-Firdous and al-Salheen – taken over that day by government forces.

Fears have been growing for thousands of trapped civilians as the rebels make a desperate last stand in their remaining pocket of territory in the former opposition stronghold of east Aleppo.

After weeks of heavy fighting, government forces were poised on Tuesday to take full control of Aleppo, dealing the biggest blow to Syria's rebellion in more than five years of civil war.

The Syrian army said on Tuesday evening it could declare full control over east Aleppo "at any moment" as it advanced against rebels holed up in just a handful of neighbourhoods.

About 80,000 civilians are now trapped in the few square miles of east Aleppo that remain under opposition control.
In an alarming statement made on Tuesday, UNICEF said that nearly 100 unaccompanied children were trapped in a building under heavy attack in east Aleppo, citing an unnamed doctor in the city.

"According to alarming reports from a doctor in the city, many children, possibly more than 100, unaccompanied or separated from their families, are trapped in a building, under heavy attack in east Aleppo," said Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF regional director.

(The rest of the article is here.)

Battle for Aleppo: The final goodbyes from a city under siege

A man pushes a cart with an elderly woman deeper into one of the few remaining rebel-held areas of Aleppo

As the battle for Aleppo heads towards a conclusion, people trapped in a small area of east Aleppo still held by the rebels have been sending harrowing messages with their final goodbyes.

As the bombing by Syrian government forces intensified, the calls for help from those trapped in rebel-territory have grown more desperate.

Lina, an activist tweeting last night, makes this desperate plea: "Humans all over the world, don't sleep! You can do something, protest now! Stop the genocide".

She posted this powerful farewell video message:

Others appear to have given up hope, posting messages as bombs fall around them.

One man says it is the last video he will post. "We are tired of talking, we are tired of speeches. No one listens, no one responds. Here comes the barrel bomb. This is the video's ending."

As he signs off, a bomb explodes nearby.

And waking up on Tuesday morning, still alive, Monther Etaky writes: "I still here [sic], facing the genocide with my special friends without any comments from the world."

But the threat of imminent death is still here. "I hope I could broadcast our live death to you," he says bitterly.


Bana Alabed, the seven-year-old girl who has been tweeting from an account managed by her mother, wrote a heart-breaking message on Tuesday morning.

"I am talking to the world now live from East #Aleppo. This is my last moment to either live or die."

Earlier, she tweeted "Final message. People are dying since last night. I am very surprised I am tweeting right now and still alive."

And a few hours later: "My dad is injured now. I am crying."


It is obvious from many messages that Aleppo is under its worst bombardment yet.

"It's hell", says a tweet by the White Helmets – a Syrian volunteer group which has been working in East Aleppo – in a harrowing message from late on Monday.

"…All streets & destroyed buildings are full with dead bodies".


Those who could, fled

Descriptions of the situation in Aleppo all paint Armageddon-like scenes. Abdul Kafi Alhamado, an English teacher inside one of the remaining rebel-held areas of Aleppo said it felt like "Doomsday" as government forces advanced.

"Bombs are everywhere. People are running, they don't know where, just running. People are injured in the streets. No-one can go to help them," he told BBC News.

"Some people are under the rubble, no-one can help them. They just leave them under the rubble until they die – these houses as their graves," he said.

Some were only able to send the BBC text messages. One father in the city wrote: "Guess it's goodbye. Thanks all who stand for us and pay for us. But it's almost over and they are just hours away of killing us."

And another father, whom the BBC has regularly spoken to over the past year, tweeted this: "The last massage. Thanks for everything. We shared many moments. These are last tweets from an emotional father. Farewell, Aleppo."


Additional links:
-Aleppo battle ends as Syria rebel deal reached. In the latest news, a deal has just been reached.
-Background on the Syrian conflict is here and here.
-Background (LONG!!) post on Islamic State and its origins is here.
-On the use of chemical weapons during this conflict.

OP: I thought people might like some links with regards to how to help.

(1) UN Refugee Agency: Donate and Rush Emergency Aid to Syrian Families.
(2) Petition at Amnesty International. Syria: Stop the bombing. Deliberate attacks on civilians, hospitals and other medical facilities are war crimes. Join Amnesty’s call to the five permanent members of the UN Security Council to urgently protect civilians in Syria. (Petition is here.)
(3) Donate to the International Committee of the Red Cross (i.e. donate specifically to help in Syria).
(4) Donate to MSF/Doctors without borders. Here is a link to what MSF are doing in Syria as well as to help Syrians outside of Syria.
(5) This probably sounds sophomoric and obvious and is NOT meant to be condescending, but it does help keep the issue in the mind of parliamentarians: write your representative. Here is a link for finding your representative in the House of Representatives (US) and another for the Canadian federal parliament.

OP: A tiny bit of justice, if not good news: Russia was recently denied membership in the UN human rights council after a campaign by rights groups over its bombing of Syria.

Source: ONTD_Political

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