CNN crew visits embattled Syrian city during current ceasefire
Residents are picking up the pieces; questions about aid to rebel-held areas
Simply driving into Aleppo brings home the brutality of Syria’s civil war.
Our route Thursday took us through the suburb of Ramouseh which, only a few weeks ago, was the scene of some of the fiercest fighting in the country’s largest city. Various rebel factions managed, for a short time, to break the siege that government forces and their backers had managed to lay on the opposition-held eastern districts.
Driving through this area now, we couldn’t find a single building left untouched. Smoke was still rising over the battlefield, even though fighting stopped several days earlier.
Aleppo is reeling from more than five years of civil war. This city has been on the front lines and saw some of the worst battles.
It’s no wonder then that the people here cherish the quiet that the current ceasefire has brought, even though they know the agreement is very fragile.
In the Shihan neighborhood, devastated by years of urban combat, we met 9-year-old Abdul Majid and two of his friends, hauling tree branches on a small car.
“We need this wood to cook dinner because we have nothing else,” the boy told us.
His parents wanted to make a proper dinner for the family now that they didn’t have to fear shelling. The children said they had witnessed much of the violence over the past years.
“There was a lot of shooting,” Abdul Majid said. “But at least our apartment is safe.”
The same cannot be said for many other buildings in this district. The streets only about 100 yards away used to be a rebel stronghold, the two sides almost constantly firing at each other.
Ahmad Yazji is one of those affected. He lives in an apartment overlooking what used to be the front line with his wife and eight children. The house was hit by several shells and the flat next door completely destroyed.
Yazji’s living room was badly damaged. A few tarpaulins now provide some shelter from the elements, where a wall used to stand.
“It was very dangerous. We were too afraid to go out because there was also a sniper covering the street. And we couldn’t even go into this living room,” Yazji told me as two of his young children were sleeping on some cushions in a corner of the wrecked room. He says the family was lucky that they were not home when a makeshift rocket hit the building.
Yazji says he is happy about the ceasefire and hopes it can lead to reconciliation. But for the moment, there are more pressing needs.
The United Nations is struggling to get aid to the eastern districts of Aleppo. They are held by opposition forces and surrounded by government troops.
We were able to get to the road that UN aid trucks will take when they are allowed to enter the city. It is called the Castello Road and runs north of the city before branching off toward the rebel-held areas.
The part of Castello we got to was also lined with the carcasses of war-ravaged buildings. But the road itself is clear and could accommodate the aid trucks, which will carry food and medicine.
It is not clear when that will happen, but the UN says it is working round the clock to get the necessary permissions.
Staffan de Mistura, the UN special envoy for Syria, said the convoy is ready to go. “They are ready and sealed and once they move, they will not be harassed. They will not be investigated, and they will be moving through that road all the way to eastern Aleppo.”