Aleppo Diary

July - December 2016

The story of a reporter's survival during the rebels' defeat in east Aleppo and his evacuation to Idlib

By Zouhir al-Shimale

Meet Zouhir

After graduating from the University of Aleppo with a law degree in 2014, Zouhir started working at a medical facility in the rebel-held east to help residents.

Aged 25 and having lived in Aleppo all his life, Zouhir sought to improve his English and help foreign journalists learn about the Syrian civil war. By the end of 2015, the conflict had killed at least 300,000 Syrians and driven nearly five million people out of the country.

Zouhir later began reporting for Middle East Eye, where he helped convey the stories of ordinary people caught in the siege.

The Siege

Pro-government forces, with the help of Russia and Iran, began a six-month siege of east Aleppo from July 2016 onwards.

The siege left an estimated 250,000 people cut off from basic food and medicine in the rebel-held area.

Eyewitness

After nearly six years of war, Aleppo was divided into government- and rebel-held areas. In mid-November, after months of intense air strikes targeting hospitals and medical facilities, the Syrian army began a major advance to break rebel control of the east.

Audio from Zouhir al-Shimale
28 November 2016

Escalation

Air strikes by Syrian and Russian warplanes injured and killed thousands of civilians in eastern Aleppo.

With food and fuel stocks running low and winter weather setting in, many residents sent desperate pleas for help to the rest of the world on social media.

'Total Chaos'

Despite the situation worsening by the day, Zouhir continued to risk his life and send through daily dispatches from Aleppo.

Here he reports on the situation as Syrian government warplanes tear through the sky near his home.

Destruction

By the time a ceasefire was agreed on 14 December, months of bombardment by Russia and the Syrian government had destroyed what was once the economic hub of Syria.

Assad never looked stronger, thanks to the backing of Russia, Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah militia.

The Evacuation

After the rebels lost their territory, evacuations began of civilians who had endured months of bombardment.

Several deaths were reported during the exodus, including four babies, as thousands waited to leave the obliterated neighbourhoods amid plummeting temperatures and transport delays.

Destination Idlib

Many of those evacuated headed for the opposition stronghold of Idlib. Aid workers said that the situation there was already a humanitarian disaster, and warned that the influx of refugees from Aleppo would only make matters worse.

In November and December 2016:

Source: The Independent

The Aftermath

The government regained control of more than 90 percent of Aleppo by December.

Many of those who left eastern Aleppo suffered physical and psychological scars after living with constant conflict for more than five years.

Residents will struggle to find or recognise their former homes if they ever return. Years of barrel bombs and air strikes destroyed swathes of the city. The deprivations under siege caused further damage.

As the war continues elsewhere in Syria, the former residents of eastern Aleppo are now grappling with the fact that their city has been changed forever.

Reflections

Zouhir moved from Idlib to Turkey in the hope of starting a new life, although he is finding it hard to adapt after leaving his home, Aleppo.

  • Produced by
  • MEE Graphics
  • Videos by
  • MEE Video team
  • Edited by
  • Areeb Ullah
    Nick Hunt