The pastor says people are "exhausted" by the escalation of the fighting and violence. The government army seized two rebel-held eastern neighbourhoods. For anti-Assad forces, this is "the worst defeat" since the beginning of the war. The humanitarian crisis in the eastern sector is getting worse. As surviving remains the main concern, families continue to flee.
Aleppo (AsiaNews) – The situation in Aleppo is "critical" and, with the intensification of the offensive, "more and more bombs fall on the city." Now "we live from day to day, counting houses, churches, schools and hospitals affected, the victims and the wounded,” said Fr Ibrahim Alsabagh, 44, a Franciscan, guardian and priest of the Latin parish of Aleppo.
Speaking to AsiaNews, the clergyman described the population as “exhausted” by the war that has become even more violent and tragic in recent weeks.
"A secondary school has just been evacuated in the western sector,” he explained, “and last night a missile hit another school. Fortunately, the building was empty and there were no casualties."
Even in the western sector, where most people live, "the movement of people on the streets is minimal. Uncertainty and suffering prevail." Yesterday, "fewer worshippers than usual came" for Sunday Mass.
Aleppo is "powerless and fearful," Fr Ibrahim added. "We are all waiting to see what will happen in the coming days. Families, west and east, are exhausted; they only want peace in the face of an increasingly difficult life. So we decided to intensify prayers for peace during Advent."
Meanwhile, Syrian government forces have captured a strategic area in east Aleppo, splitting in two the rebel-held area. Government sources and activist groups confirm that, early this morning, Assad’s forces seized the suburbs of Sakhur, Haydariya and Sheikh Khodr. At the same time, Kurdish militias took Sheikh Fares from the rebels.
For Rami Abdulrahman, director of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has an extensive network of informants on the grounds, this “is the worst defeat" for the rebels since the start of the war. Syrian military sources said that "the advance continues" with mopping up operations to remove explosives and mines.
After a weekend of violent clashes, thousands of civilians have fled the eastern sector of Aleppo; however, several hundred displaced families trapped in the besieged area.
The army's goal is to seize the whole of Aleppo, Syria’s second largest city and once the country’s economic and commercial capital. Since the summer of 2012, it has been divided into two sectors: the government-held western section, home to 1.2 million people, and the rebel-held eastern section with about 250,000 people, who have lived under siege for months.
Scott Craig, the spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Syria, stressed that the local population, including 100,000 children, need urgent aid. "The situation on the ground in eastern Aleppo is almost beyond the imagination of those of us who are not there," he said.
According to the White Helmets, a controversial rescue group, at least 500 civilians have been killed in the latest offensive and more than 1,500 people have been wounded.
"The shelling and aerial bombing does not stop and we our neighbours decided to leave with the army approaching," said Abdullah Ansari, who fled from Haydariya to areas further south within the besieged area with his family of six.
"We left Hanano because of the bombardment from the Syrian army during their advance, and the chlorine gas," Muhammad, who declined to use his full name out of fear for his safety. He was waiting with his wife, mother and three children at a minibus stop, hoping to travel on to government-held west Aleppo.
"Many people are being displaced from the eastern to the western neighbourhoods of besieged Aleppo,” said Ibrahim Abu Laith, an official at the civil defence rescue organisation in east Aleppo. “There were about 300 families which moved, but there are families who are exhausted and the army is advancing in a very big way”.
Among those plunged in this tragedy in the eastern sector there is Alabed Bana, a seven-year-old girl who has been describing the violence on her mother’s Twitter account. Her 94,000 followers include international media, intellectuals and academics including writer J. K. Rowling, who has re-twitted her many appeals.
Her latest tweets, posted over the weekend, show her covered in dust. “Tonight we have no house, it's bombed & I got in rubble. I saw deaths and I almost died. - Bana #Aleppo.” Then, "Last message - under heavy bombardments now, can't be alive anymore. When we die, keep talking for 200,000 still inside. BYE.- Fatemah.”
Aleppo Christians have responded to the war and the violence with prayer and fasting. "With the beginning of Advent,” said Fr Ibrahim, “we want to launch some initiatives for peace and we asked the faithful to pray more for this intention."
One intention involves children. "Every first Sunday of the month, starting on 4 December, we shall conduct a procession with songs and prayers for peace." The initiative goes beyond the boundaries of the city and will take place "in every Franciscan home and parish in the world".
"We hear the news about the governmental offensive but they are distant voices,” the pastor said. “What we experience every day are bombs, missiles, explosions in both sectors of the city."
The main concern "is to survive", as evinced by the families who eat for a month with the food supplies provided by the Church "that are barely enough for two weeks."
In view of all this suffering, many families are trying to flee in search of refuge and salvation far from Aleppo, crossing the borders of Syria.
"We continue to pray for peace,” said Fr Ibrahim, “and also for those who drop bombs on our houses, and churches."