As Aleppo comes under attack, with hundreds of dead and wounded, Caritas Syria aid crucial

At least 202 people have been killed over the past week in Syria’s northern metropolis, including civilians (and many children). A MSF-supported hospital in a rebel-held area and two under government control are hit. “People are scared," but they "still want to stay,” according to Caritas Aleppo. The latter’s operatives visit hospitals to "respond to emergencies."

Aleppo (AsiaNews) – Aleppo is "under attack". Many parts of the city “have been shelled and bombed”. Two bombs have hit an area “under government control” where "the Caritas headquarters and my house” are located, said Joseph Yeghia, head of communication for Caritas Aleppo.

Speaking to AsiaNews, the Catholic charity official confirmed that the “capital” of northern Syria is going through an escalation of violence. According to the latest estimates by the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has an extensive network of contacts on the ground, at least 202 people were killed in the past week.

Government and rebels have blamed each other for violating the truce by carrying out air raids and shelling civilians. UN envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura warned that the ceasefire agreed a few weeks ago is now "barely alive".

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on both the United States and Russia to exert pressure to stop the violence.

The upsurge in violence is centred in northern Syria, in Aleppo province whose main city, Aleppo proper, is the country’s second largest urban area, and is currently divided between a western sector under government control and an eastern part, which is in rebel hands.

The renewed violence has endangered the fragile ceasefire in force since 27 February, which has improved the humanitarian situation and raised hopes for a quick end to the hostilities.

Local witnesses said that rebel shelling into government-held areas killed 71 civilians, including 13 children. Government air raids have killed 123 people, including 18 children.

Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said the al-Quds hospital, which is in a rebel-held area, was also hit, and some of the city’s last paediatricians killed.

The spiral of violence and terror continues to tear Syria apart. Since March 2011, at least 270,000 people have died and millions have been displaced, creating an unprecedented humanitarian emergency.

Aleppo is one of the most affected areas as Jihadi groups like the Islamic State and the al Qaeda-affiliated al Nusra Front are fighting other rebel groups as well as government soldiers. Civilians are the main casualties in this fight without quarter.

In a press release, Caritas Syria reports that in the last few days more than 1,300 mortar shells fell on the city, hitting various neighbourhoods in violation of the truce.

The city’s hospitals are on the verge of collapse as the number of wounded rises and medical, blood and other supplies dwindle. Deprivation is widespread.

Lorries and other vehicles run along city streets "full of wounded, many of them children" and the horizon is "obscured by a thick blanket of black smoke”. The “sound of ambulances is nonstop."

“Violence, attacks, and bombs are everywhere in the city," Joseph Yeghia told AsiaNews. “People are scared," and yet they "want to stay and get on with their lives. There is hope to live here; no one wants to leave."

“We Caritas activists visit hospitals, and collect information to see how we can help, heal the wounded, and respond to emergencies,” the Caritas official explained. However, "We do not know the exact number of dead and wounded. Not even hospitals have a precise idea."

In addition to the MSF-supported hospital hit in a rebel-held area, two hospitals in a part of the city controlled by the government were also shelled, Yeghia said. “It is unclear which wards were affected.”

"We just want peace for our country, Syria,” the Caritas official said, “because we cannot go on living like this after five years. We call [on the international community] for an end to the war.”

Addressing western Christians, he said, “We ask you to pray for us. We only need your prayers. All we want is for God to grant us peace.