The United Nations is calling for a 48-hour ceasefire to allow food and medicine to enter the embattled city of Aleppo, but a row over which route the aid convoys are to use has brought the plan to a halt.
The UN wants to use Castello Road, the road north of Aleppo that after weeks of bombing the regime captured last month to complete its encirclement of east Aleppo.
“If Castello Road becomes an aid corridor, the regime will make it impossible for us, as the opposition, to take it back,” Muhammad Fadila, the head of the Provincial Council of Aleppo, tells Syria Direct’s Bahira al-Zarier.
Representatives of the provincial council met with officials from the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) on Monday to explain their decision to refuse aid from Castello. The UNOCHA representatives said they would “convey the council’s position” to the UN’s Special Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura for further review, Fadila said.
Instead of Castello, Fadila and the council are demanding that aid enter through the southwestern Ramouseh route. The Ramouseh district was captured by rebels weeks after Castello fell, effectively breaking the regime’s short, but total, siege of east Aleppo.
Ramouseh is “unacceptable and unrealistic,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharov, whose government expressed support for the UN plan, said in a statement published on the foreign ministry’s website on Monday.
“These pseudo-fighters for the Syrian people…have no scruples about using the [population’s] hard humanitarian situation for achieving their own destructive goals,” said Zakharova.
Syria Direct spoke with five residents of rebel-held east Aleppo, including the directors of two aid organizations, all of whom said they preferred the entrance of aid through Ramouseh.
“We completely reject the entrance of aid through Castello Road,” Hanaa al-Qassab, president of the Aleppo-based Syrian Women’s Association, told Syria Direct. Below, she explains why.
Muhammed Fadila, head of the Opposition Aleppo Provincial Council
Q: Why is the Aleppo Provincial Council refusing the entrance of aid by way of Castello Road?
If Castello Road becomes an aid corridor, the regime will exploit it to turn it into a political bargaining chip and ultimately make it impossible for us, as the opposition, to take Castello Road back. Additionally, the entrance of aid from Ramouseh will be a safer avenue for humanitarian workers.
When we called on the United Nations and international community to halt the regime’s vicious attack on Castello Road, at the time the only humanitarian corridor into the city, no one responded. When the regime encircled [east] Aleppo, we issued a plea for aid from the international community. Again, no one answered.
Wreckage on Castello Road. Photo Courtesy of Aleppo Media Center.
Q: Given that Ramouseh is under constant threat of airstrikes and attack, why do you want aid to come from there?
Ramouseh was seized through the efforts of the opposition. If we agreed to the entrance of aid through Castello Road, it would be as though we were betraying the blood spilt to take Ramouseh.
Much was sacrificed to turn Ramouseh into a humanitarian passage.
Q: Is there popular demand calling for aid to come from Ramouseh rather than Castello?
Yes. As a council representing the people, we stand with any popular movement that demands its legitimate rights. Which is exactly what is happening; we are responding to popular opinion.
Popular opinion prompted us to refuse aid but also to organize demonstrations against the entrance of aid.
Without a doubt, this is a popular demand.
Hanaa al-Qassab, the president of the Aleppo-based Syrian Women’s Association
As women of Aleppo, we completely reject the entrance of aid through Castello Road. This kind of move would give the regime legitimacy in the eyes of the UN and the international community and place the fate of thousands of east Aleppans in the hands of the regime.
If the international community was actually concerned about the wellbeing of Aleppo’s civilians, why is it insistent on sending aid through Castello Road?
The Castello Road is a battleground between the regime and the opposition.
Every family in Aleppo has lost either a brother or husband on this road. Hundreds have died there, while the rest of us remained besieged. The UN wasn’t able to stop either the ground attacks or airstrikes on the road.
It couldn’t even bring the regime to deliver a bag of flour to us [during the siege].
Why now, after the opposition sacrificed their lives to open up Ramouseh and break the siege, do they want to use Castello [as an aid corridor]?
We’ve gone days where we couldn’t even find bread in our homes, but no one cared.
We are asking the UN to send aid through Ramouseh because it is better for the people of Aleppo. If their concern is really for the people of Aleppo, they would follow through.
Abd al-Jawad al-Jabir, the director of the Aleppo-based al-Salam Charity
Q: Given that you work you in the field of aid distribution, what is your opinion of the Aleppo Provincial Council’s statement refusing aid through Castello Road?
As you know Castello Road is under regime control. Ramouseh on the other hand is controlled by the opposition, so there are more facilities for aid to enter through this area.