Middle East

No trust: Aleppines fear retribution at exit corridors

Smoke billows from buildings during an operation by Syrian government forces to retake control of the rebel-held district of Leramun, on the northwest outskirts of Aleppo, on July 26, 2016. AFP / GEORGE OURFALIAN

BEIRUT: Defiant residents of Syria’s second-largest city are bracing for the worst after the Syrian regime and its Russian ally announced an aid operation in the encircled rebel-held part of Aleppo Thursday. City residents feel that the move by the regime to open three humanitarian corridors is a signal of the worsening conditions awaiting them: the tightening of the siege and the increase of air and ground bombardments.

“I will not leave my city. [Bashar] Assad wants to eliminate us all,” said a 30-year-old woman who wished to remain anonymous, “It’s an act. He only wants to empty the city so when he attacks us he can justify the aggression.”

With a recent surge in attacks on several medical facilities in the city, hospitals are also facing extreme challenges, despite efforts by medical staff to fortify hospitals or work underground. Dr. Ousama Abo Ezz, a general surgeon, said difficult medical circumstances in the city, where there is roughly one doctor for every 10,000 people and a lack of dialysis and cancer treatment, could push some sick people to use the corridors.

“It will be a very difficult decision for Aleppo’s residents. As doctors we cannot advise them otherwise.”

Abo Ezz said that hospitals are running on cached medical supplies but he warned that these would only last for a few months, and “by then the hospitals will not be able to operate unless the siege is lifted.”

The doctor added that the medical teams all over the city are suffering from fatigue with some teams being forced to work 20 hours a day due a lack of personnel.

“They will collapse one day. There are only 33 doctors for the whole city who have to treat 350,000 people,” he said, “It’s a disaster.”

Hospitals are also facing energy problems, damaged equipment and an overflow of patients coupled with a lack of beds, the doctor said.

“The corridors are only an illusion. People do not trust the regime; how can they trust these corridors? They are only a continuation of its crime,” he said.

Abo Ezz believes that anyone who uses the corridors is a target for detainment, investigation or torture, a sentiment echoed by civilians in the city.

Bakri Azzin, an activist and a resident in Aleppo, said it is impossible for him to leave the city, adding that two people were killed by the regime when they tried to use the corridors in Salaheddine and Bustan al-Qasr.

“The people do not trust the regime that is bombing them. Very few will think of using these corridors. It is a big lie that the regime is using to show it’s committed to human rights,” Azzin said.

Locals, who are already suffering from a severe shortage of essential supplies, have started preparing themselves for what seems to be a long-term siege.

“We had already started dealing with the situation. People are rationing the supplies and trying to find alternative ways to source essentials in the future, such as alternative fuel sources,” Azzin said.

Another activist, Baraa al-Halabi, said that both the Syrian government and the Russians are trying to change the demographics of the city by making people leave the rebel-held areas.

“What people want is the opening of the roads and not humanitarian corridors. They want to be able to bring in food, fuel and medical supplies. The supplies we have are not merely enough to cover the needs of such a great number of people,” Halabi added.

“People are thinking of each other. We are working together to face the days ahead,” the 30-year-old woman said, “This is the last thing we have of our homeland.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 29, 2016, on page 8.

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