The Syrian Front: Waiting to Die in Aleppo

By Christoph Reuter in Der Spiegel

A typical street scene in Aleppo. The front lines in the city are no longer the scene of intense fighting, as the focus of the battle has moved elsewhere. But the city remains divided and death commonplace.

Driving through the outer districts of the city, a ghostly wasteland begins. The streets and the half-destroyed residential buildings are empty and the only sounds come from shredded metal signs moving in the wind — and the occasional thunder of distant artillery.

Eastern Aleppo has been virtually abandoned, as have most residential districts located away from the front. Those left in the city prefer to crowd into housing right up against the battle lines, which have remained virtually static in the last two years. Paradoxically, people feel safest living within range of enemy tank and sniper fire. Such are the rules of Aleppo.

The reasons are pragmatic. For one, the lower floors of the buildings along the front still offer some protection from artillery shells. More important, however, is the fact that no “baramil” fall here, those half-ton barrel bombs dropped from helicopters flying high overhead. The bombs are murderously effective, but they are so imprecise that the Syrian Air Force refrains from using them too close to its own troops.

The rest of eastern Aleppo, though, is fair game. Filled with explosives and shrapnel, the bombs can destroy entire buildings and the Syrian army has tried out various designs in the city. Some even have tanks of gasoline attached so as to start fires when they detonate; others are so heavy that they are rolled out of the helicopters on small gun carriages.

The helicopters appear in the mornings and late afternoons, usually at the same times each day, and circle for a while at altitudes of 4,000 to 5,000 meters (13,000-16,000 feet), little more than tiny dots in the sky, before dropping their payloads. The sound of the bombs falling can only be heard seconds before impact — enough time to know that you are about to die, but not enough time to flee.

Even if there were, effective shelter is at a premium. And there is no one left shooting at the helicopters from the ground. Doing so would be largely pointless anyway because the helicopters fly too high for the Syrian rebels’ old Russian anti-aircraft guns.

Read more at Der Spiegel

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Categories: History, Human rights, Middle East, Military history, Syria, War crimes, World news

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