Trapped east Aleppo resident: ‘Russia and the regime are not agreeing to anything’

“As I write to you, dozens of shells are falling on us,” Ahmad a-Najjar, a citizen journalist in rebel-held east Aleppo, told Syria Direct’s Celien Baker on Tuesday.

A-Najjar is from the neighborhood of al-Mashhad, one of the last few districts under rebel control as regime forces wage an unprecedented advance on the city’s besieged, bombed-out eastern districts.

On Tuesday, the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and its allies constricted a-Najjar and an estimated 100,000 others who chose to stay behind in their homes.

“They want us to surrender or die,” a-Najjar said. “We chose our path and we will die with dignity.”

The world, he says, “has abandoned us and you’ll learn from your mistakes.”

Q: Regime forces reportedly seized parts of several east Aleppo neighborhoods today, while continuing its heavy bombing campaign and executing at least 80 civilians. Can you tell me more about the executions taking place? Who is being targeted?

An entire shelter was burnt to the ground in the Fardous district. Inside were children, the elderly and women, held on charges that they were working with terrorists.

 East Aleppo residents flee their homes Dec. 13. Photo courtesy of Aleppo Media Center.

Q: How are civilians still inside the rebel-held districts reacting to the regime’s advances, as well as the heavy bombing today? Are there still people trying to flee towards areas under government control? What happens to those who do?

From 4am until right now, we’ve recorded about 150 shells on our districts: al-Mashhad, parts of Saif al-Dowla, Salah a-Din, and a-Sukkari.

It’s terrifying, and the fear is widespread. We’re afraid the army will enter our neighborhoods, we’re afraid of a massacre unprecedented by any other in our history. There are 150,000 people trapped in the remaining rebel-held neighborhoods, facing genocide at any given second.

Those who flee their homes go to the regime-held areas to surrender. It doesn’t matter if they are young men, women or elderly—they are forced to go to Jabrin, where they undergo inspection. Afterwards, they are sorted. Some are investigated further, others are executed, others are sent out into the ranks of the army.

Q: What about residents who choose to stay in their homes, as rebels continue to lose ground to regime forces?

The army is stealing and looting my neighborhood’s homes of family heirlooms, and completely stripping houses of their possessions before civilians can reenter.

Right now, we are encircled. No one has lifted the siege. No one is defending us. Russia and the regime are not agreeing to any opening of any safe crossing to evacuate us. They’re not agreeing to anything.

With regard to our fate…our fate is clear. They want us to surrender or die. We chose to defend our honor and our dignity and our children. We decided our fate. We chose our path, and we will die with dignity. We won’t wait for [rebel forces] in the countryside, negotiations or for the West. If we wanted to leave Aleppo, we would’ve done so a long time ago. We know our fate, and we still reaffirm our decision.

Q: What now? What is your reaction to those who say the regime’s total capture of east Aleppo is imminent? 

Let us leave with all of our dignity, or leave us to our inevitable fate. You abandoned us and you’ll learn from your mistakes. All of the world will hear my voice. At any given second, there could be the largest massacre in history against us, and this is because of the abandonment of the UN, Muslims and our people in the countryside.

Forgive us, because we weren’t able to complete the liberation of Syria with you all. You all must complete this revolutionary journey on a free and dignified path.

As I write to you, dozens of shells are falling on us. Bodies are littering the streets, and corpses are everywhere. We leave our own family members beneath the rubble because there is no means—no hope—of getting them out. There are no medical workers left at all. People are dying because they are bleeding.

Celien Baker

Originally from Aleppo, Celien grew up in Amman and used to visit Syria every summer. She has volunteered with several local Syrian-run NGOs in Jordan.

Justin Schuster

Justin was a 2015-2016 fellow at the Center for Arabic Study Abroad program (CASA I) in Amman, Jordan. He received his BA from Yale University with a double major in Global Affairs and Modern Middle Eastern Studies. While at Yale, he served as the Editor-in-Chief of the political journal, The Politic. His previous work and research in the Middle East includes time spent in Egypt, Lebanon, Tunisia, Jordan, and the West Bank.

Madeline Edwards

Madeline Edwards graduated from the College of Charleston with a bachelor’s degree in International Studies and Political Science in 2016. She was a Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) recipient in Arabic in 2013. Her studies have brought her to Jordan, Palestine and Turkey.