A year ago, Syria’s city of Aleppo was on the verge of witnessing a military campaign that left scores dead and ended an important chapter in the country’s conflict.
The campaign brought an end to the Syrian armed factions’ presence in Aleppo and led to the displacement of thousands of civilians from the eastern part of the city.
Activists who were displaced from eastern Aleppo and who now reside in the Idlib countryside and western Aleppo reflected on the current situation a year after the campaign ended.
Activist Afra Hashem told Asharq Al-Awsat: “My last days in Aleppo were very painful, especially since we knew that we were going to leave a city where we grew up.”
“We had mixed emotions. We were happy to be leaving the siege and the fear of dying in the strikes against the city. We were also sad because we were being forced to leave,” she added.
“I wanted to stay, but we were deceived into leaving. One of the hardest moments was when we gt on board the bus to transport us out of Aleppo,” she recalled.
With tears pouring down her cheeks, she said: “We always miss our homes, our destroyed neighborhood and the streets and alleys of old Aleppo. I miss my friends who were killed before my eyes and buried in the city.”
Photographer Bassem al-Ayyoubi told Asharq Al-Awsat: “The final days I lived in the city were very difficult because I knew that they were going to be my last there.”
“I tried to take as many memories with me as possible because I did not know when I will return,” he said.
“As a photographer, I tried to document everything I could see. Unfortunately, I could not take any tangible memories except my camera and some photos taken of Aleppo,” he remarked.
Activist Rasha Nasr spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat of the last days she spent under siege in Aleppo, saying that the city will never witness such difficult days.
“On top of the siege, hunger and cold, Aleppo had to endure intense airstrikes. The jets did not relent and they carried out attacks around the clock,” she stated.
She said that the strikes deliberately targeted health institutions to destroy any chance for life. Relief warehouses were also not spared and there contents of medical and food aid were destroyed to add pressure on the besieged.
Days before the fall of Aleppo, the campaign intensified with the use of all forms of internationally-banned weapons, which led to a spike in the number of casualties.
Mohammed Ali al-Hallak, a prominent civil defense member active in eastern Aleppo, also recalled the difficult days that preceded the fall of the city.
He described how rescue teams faced major difficulties in saving victims caught in the shelling.
“The last ten days were the most difficult for us as a civil defense team due to the very violent shelling,” he said.
“As the regime and Iranian and ‘Hezbollah’ militias advanced, we could no longer help everyone and were forced to retreat,” he revealed.
“Dozens of bodies remained under the rubble and we could not retrieve them,” he said.
“In the final hours, we could no longer use our mechanical equipment because they had run out of fuel. We were forced to retrieve corpses and the wounded with our bare hands,” Hallak said.
“We have hope that we will one day be able to return to our city a year after the displacement. It will not forget who made sacrifices for it,” he stressed.