Civilians in eastern Aleppo are attempting to evacuate today as militants allied with the Syrian government continually threaten the agreed upon ceasefire that would allow for innocents to flee the bombarded rebel-held neighborhoods.
Aleppo was the industrial center of Syria before 2012, when rebel fighters took control of the eastern portion of the city, while the western portion remained under government rule. The government advanced into the rebel territory in mid-November, at which time nearly 130,000 people fled.
In the last week, troops loyal to Bashar al-Assad regained control of most of the city and have continued to heavily bomb houses and apartment buildings, forcing many of the 100,000 civilians left into the streets or to take shelter in the few buildings that remain, heightening international discussions over evacuations.
According to Abdullah Othman, head of one of the largest rebel groups, some civilians could no longer endure the constant bombings and tried to flee to the regime held areas. He reports, “Seventy-nine of them were executed at the barricades. The rest—everyone under 40—were taken to warehouses that look more like internment camps. They face an unknown fate.”
On Wednesday evacuations were halted after militias loyal to the government began firing on the buses and ambulances transporting women and children to either government-controlled western Aleppo or rebel held territories farther to the west.
White Helmets, the brave volunteers who for months have been saving the injured from bombed buildings, report that a government sniper shot four of their members today as they cleared the rubble from the streets to allow the evacuation convoys to pass, killing one.
Many residents fear that if they aren’t evacuated they will be massacred when the regime regains full control of the area. The UN reported on Tuesday that at least 82 civilians, including 11 women and 13 children, had been executed by government forces. Hundreds more have died in the barrel bombings, a concoction consisting of a metal canister filled with high explosives and shrapnel. People have taken to social media to say goodbye to loved ones and ask journalists to share their stories.
There are reports of women committing suicide to avoid being raped by the government militants or in the regime prisons that have a documented history of mass rape. In a distressing last letter, one woman wrote, “I am one of the woman in Aleppo who will soon be raped in just moments…there are no more weapons or men that can stand between us and the animals who are about to come called the ‘country’s army’…I am committing suicide because the Day of Resurrection has taken place in Aleppo and I don’t think Hell-Fire will be worse than this.”
A top human rights official at the United Nations condemned the inaction of foreign governments, warning if the United States and others fail to intervene in this scenario, the Syrian government will carry out the same brutality on other rebel held territories.