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Barrel bombs slowly erase memory of once-vibrant Aleppo

February 18, 2014 By Elizabeth Parker-Magyar and Mohammed al Haj […]

18 February 2014

February 18, 2014

By Elizabeth Parker-Magyar and Mohammed al Haj Ali

Since the beginning of the Geneva II peace talks in Montreux, Switzerland on January 22nd, the Syrian government has intensified a campaign to recapture Aleppo from rebel troops, dropping hundreds of barrel bombs across every rebel-held neighborhood of the city.

Before the Syrian conflict began, Aleppo was the largest city in Syria and its prime commercial center. Largely spared from violence in the war’s first year, rebels gained control of the city in the summer of 2012.

Today, “about 70 percent of Aleppo is opposition controlled,” Yaseen Abu Ra’ed, a citizen journalist in Aleppo, told Syria Direct.

Led by the Islamic Front, the Syrian Revolutionaries Front and Jaish al-Mujahideen, rebels control most of eastern and central Aleppo, while Syrian government troops have retained control of western neighborhoods near the University of Aleppo, as well as the Aleppo International Airport, the a-Nairab Military Air Base and other towns southeast of the city.

Here, we piece together images and videos to tell the story of Aleppo through the eyes of people on the ground.

The makeshift bombs – metal containers filled with oil, shrapnel and an assortment of explosives – are rolled out of regime helicopters, striking civilian areas indiscriminately.

Here, a barrel bomb drops from a regime helicopter in the Damascus suburb of Daraya. Though barrel bomb use has concentrated in Aleppo, Syrian regime planes have also dropped them in Yabroud, Daraa and the Damascus suburbs.

 “This great violence is because the international community does not hold it [the regime] responsible,” said Mohammed Rafa al-Raya, an activist in Aleppo’s Meydani district.

The United Nations reports 500,000 civilians have left Aleppo since the campaign began, The New York Times reported Tuesday. Before the Syrian conflict began, Aleppo was the largest city in Syria, with approximately 2.9 million residents. Here, residents carry their possessions on their backs, mostly fleeing by private car.


Though many residents have fled to the surrounding countryside, many have also fled to Turkey: the United Nations estimates 2,000 Syrians are crossing into Turkey each day. 

“We are now in the neighborhood of al-Marja in Aleppo,” a reporter says, surveying an abandoned scene. “This is the neighborhood that, in the past few days, has been exposed to the greatest number of barrels that has fallen on Aleppo.” As he begins his next sentence, a barrel bomb hits the ground nearby. After 15 seconds of chaos, the reporter and videographer regain their balance.

 “At this exact moment, a barrel bomb has fallen on al-Marja, dropped by a helicopter,” he says. “We’re witnessing the smoke rising,” he says, noting most civilians had fled the neighborhood due to heavy bombing in recent days. One that remains stands near him, surveying the damage.

 Moments later, another bomb falls. The reporter runs away from where the first bomb has hit, as another citizen moves in the opposite direction, covering their ears and their mouths, and taking shelter under the awning of closed stores.

 “The planes remain, circling above us, as clashes continue near this neighborhood. There are very few citizens remaining,” he says, pointing to a few women and children wandering in the abandoned street and a damaged alleyway, as smoke rises in the background.

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