Before the War --- Protest at Aleppo University, May 2011
Liz Sly reports for The Washington Post:
....In the parts of Aleppo under rebel control, the misery is manifest. Fighters with the Free Syrian Army surged into the city in July hoping for a quick victory after ejecting government forces from much of the surrounding countryside. But their offensive was ill-planned and premature, and it quickly stalled, leaving the city carved into a patchwork of front lines across which the two sides shoot and shell one another, along with any civilians in the way.
Government forces control the downtown area and the wealthier neighborhoods to the west, while the rebels hold sway in the traditionally poorer northern, eastern and southern areas. The historic center, a World Heritage site renowned for its ancient citadel and bazaar, is a battleground.
As the fighting ripples and spreads, the infrastructure that had sustained the city of 3 million is crumbling. Government warplanes target facilities that fall into rebel hands, including hospitals and bakeries. Electricity, which had been intermittent for months, has been cut off since the rebels launched an offensive to capture the main power plant a little more than two weeks ago.
An Aleppo Transitional Revolutionary Council is being formed to perform the functions of local government. It has managed to ease, though not resolve, an acute shortage of bread that had people standing in line for up to 16 hours. There are still queues, but they have shortened, and people say they now have to wait no more than an hour to purchase bread.
But the length of the lines is only a partial measure of the crisis. Factories and businesses have ground to a halt. Jobs are almost nonexistent. Fresh meat and produce are available, but at prices far beyond the means of people who haven’t worked in months. For many, flat, thin loaves of pita bread, at 10 times the prewar price, are all they can afford. For some, even that is too much.
“On some days, we don’t eat at all,” said Nadia Labhan, 25, whose husband, a brickmaker, was killed two months ago by a sniper on his way home from buying bread, leaving her with no means to support her two children, Baraa, 7, and Fatme, 5. She has joined the growing number of beggars on the street. “It is so difficult,” she said, hugging her flimsy robe against the driving wind and rain.
Inevitably, disease is spreading among people whose immune systems have been weakened by hunger, in a city where sanitation has broken down. Tuberculosis is ravaging some neighborhoods, and there have been hundreds of cases of leishmaniasis, a skin disease transmitted by sand flies, which are multiplying amid the heaps of uncollected trash, said Saad Wafai, who serves on the crisis committee of the Aleppo council.
At a small clinic in an abandoned shopping arcade — set up by doctors driven out of a hospital destroyed in an airstrike — the number of patients has surged recently, to about 150 a day. For the first time, physician Izzat al-Mizyad said, most show up not with injuries from the war but infectious diseases, including hepatitis, respiratory infections and scabies.
In addition, he said, two or three people are brought in every day after collapsing from hunger in the bread lines. “This is going to become a huge problem,” he said. “It is already a problem, and it is increasing day by day. I expect people to start to die.”
Embittered Aleppans don’t see an end in sight.
“It started with words, then went to bullets, then bombs and rockets and airstrikes. And now we are expecting chemical weapons,” said Awuf, the driver....
Some blame the Free Syrian Army for starting a fight it couldn’t finish. Others blame the government for steadily escalating the use of force to try to crush the rebels. Many, like Awuf, blame both. “We are civilians trapped between the two sides, and they are using us like wood on a fire,” he said. “Both sides are wrong.”