One of Syria’s landmark historic sites is on fire as rebels battle loyalist troops in the heart of Old Aleppo.
Fires sparked by clashes between government troops and rebels raged through the medieval marketplace of Aleppo on Saturday, destroying hundreds of shops lining the vaulted passageways where foods, fabrics, perfumes and spices have been sold for centuries, activists said.
Some described the overnight blaze as the worst blow yet to a historic district that helped make the heart of Syria’s largest city and commercial hub a Unesco world heritage site.
The souk, a labyrinth of narrow alleys lined with shops, was once a major tourist attraction, but has been the scene of near-daily firefights and shelling in recent weeks after rebels who fought their way into the city two months ago pushed toward its center. Activists say regime troops and snipers have taken up positions in the citadel that dominates the city.
Amateur footage posted online by activists showed flames raging through the stone passageways, the wooden doors of shops crackling in the heat as rebels struggled to put out the blaze with a garden hose. Other videos showed a pall of smoke hanging over the city’s skyline.
The fire started late Friday amid heavy government shelling, and was still burning Saturday morning, activists said. One, who is based in the city, estimated that the majority of the neighborhood’s hundreds of shops were destroyed.
“It’s a disaster,” said Ahmad al-Halabi, speaking from the site by telephone. “The fire is threatening to spread to remaining shops.” Syrian authorities had cut the city’s water supply, he added, making it more difficult to put out the flames. He said rebels and civilians were working together to control the blaze with a limited number of fire extinguishers.
“It is a very difficult and tragic situation there,” he said. “There are narrow, hard to reach streets where the fire is still burning.”
Syria is disintegrating. Eyewitnesses call Aleppo a “dead city”:
A paralysed UN, an enraged and merciless regime, regional proxy war players and an increasingly radicalised rebel force have reduced Syria’s cultural and business capital, location of a Unesco World Heritage Site and once a favourite haunt of tourists, to a scene of free-falling desolation. It is a city where a horrified civilian population are dying in droves, a place that knows neither hope or mercy.
“We are taking in on average a hundred wounded here a day,” said Abul Barra, an exhausted anesthetist in a small emergency hospital north-east of the medina.
“And that’s just this hospital. On a bad day we get so many at once that we have to step on their bodies just to get into the emergency room.
“About 40 per cent of those that manage to reach us are either dead on arrival or die as we treat them.”
Behind him a 10-year-old girl, Leyla, lay crying on a stretcher having her face stitched up. Her home had just been hit by a shell.
Outside, just beyond the blood- spattered admission steps, three huge craters from a MiG’s air strike pitted the street on each side of the hospital, clothes from victims still hanging in a tree.
It was deliberate targeting, and distraught doctors begged me not to identify the hospital by name for fear that the next strike would finish them for good.
The number of civilian deaths in Aleppo is now impossible to verify, accelerating beyond the reach of any viable method of record. Some apartments collapsed by air strikes still stink of unrecovered bodies.
In a street near the citadel, rebels said five of their own men and 23 civilians lay dead and rotting in the rubble, out of reach because of snipers on the citadel walls.
Russia and Iran are resupplying President Assad with impunity — no worries about being sanctioned or even called out for their enabling the murder of civilians.
What do you suppose the reaction would be if a US ally was cracking down on civilians like Assad and we were resupplying his forces? The question answers itself. And the lethal hypocrisy of the UN and much of the world is the reason Syria continues to burn.