“I will pack my bags in ten minutes and head to the safe zone as Asad requested. But would he please tell me where is that safe zone in Aleppo?!”
“There is more to come and the strikes will intensify.” This is how the Syrian regime addressed the remaining residents of the regions controlled by the opposition in Aleppo, who refused to leave the city despite the on-going shelling with barrel bombs for over two years.
The announcement came in leaflets dropped by Syrian planes over the rebel-held neighbourhoods, in which the regime demanded the residents to evacuate the city and head to Syrian Army checkpoints, carrying with them the so-called “safe cards” that fell from the sky. This was a few days after Russian jets officially entered northern Syria on September 30, providing air cover for the regime troops, the Iranian militias and the Lebanese Hizbullah in their offensive from the south toward Aleppo
At first, the citizens of Aleppo did not take the leaflets seriously, although some people did leave. “Those who stayed despite the barrels will not be frightened by some leaflets,” said Mahrus (1), a 25-year-old resident of the Jubb al-Qubbah neighbourhood. Abu Tariq, the head of the local council (2) in the Aqyul neighbourhood also commented sarcastically on the leaflets, saying: “I will pack my bags in ten minutes and head to the safe zone as Asad requested. But would he please tell me where is that safe zone in Aleppo?!”
The Asad Regime’s Threats Hinder Daily Life
“The knockout will take place tomorrow at 12:00,” said one of the leaflets dropped by the Syrian planes over Aleppo on October 19, but it did not specify whether the strike would be during the day or at night. In the same fliers, the regime also demanded that the residents stayed at home.
Samar, a math teacher in her twenties, was not late for her class that was scheduled at the same time as the strike, but the residents of Aleppo had a different reaction. “Many did not send their children to schools for fear that they would be targeted by the aircrafts just like in every new campaign announced by the regime,” she explained.
The situation was not any better in the markets. In the wholesale market in Jubb al-Qibbah, which was unusually empty of customers, Abu Ahmad, a sugar tradesman in his fifties, sat in front of his shop chatting with the neighbours. “Those who used to buy five bags of sugar now think twice before buying just one. I already cancelled two orders of sugar and the business doesn’t look promising,” he told Good Morning Syria.
Just like Abu Ahmad, tradesmen in most wholesale markets constantly cancel orders, since the customers hesitate to buy products that would last them longer than their daily need, and this results in stagnating merchandise, according to 37-year-old Abu ʿAbdu, who was designated by the Shariʿa Authority in Aleppo to monitor the wholesale market in Jubb al-Qubbah.
The same goes for the clothes market in Sadd al-Lawz, which is now empty of all the kids and women who used to visit it every day. Shop owners sell the products they already have without buying new ones, even though the winter season is approaching. “I went to the market to buy some clothes but I didn’t find anything new. A shop owner told me that they (the salesmen) refrain from buying anything new out of fear of the campaign launched by the regime to storm Aleppo and the increased dollar value,” the teacher Samar said. The US dollar has actually witnessed its highest value against the Syrian pound yet with the dollar exchange rate over 345 SYP in the last days.
The price of food products, especially vegetables, has also rocketed because clashes and airstrikes were blocking the roads. Consequently, the colours of fresh fruits and vegetables no longer embellish the ash-Shiʿar market that had swiftly recovered from the massacre inflicted by the regime air force. In September, the market was in fact hit by a vacuum bomb, which caused the death of twenty people and dozens of injuries.
Russian Airstrikes Target Civilians Rather than the Islamic State
The military campaign launched by the regime troops with the Russian air cover resulted in the displacement of over 70,000 residents of the villages in Aleppo’s southern countryside (mainly from the al-Hadir village). People fled to quickly-built camps in agricultural lands nearby, where even life’s basic necessities are not available. In fact, the upcoming winter and the desert nature of the southern countryside make life in tents more difficult. Moreover, the residents fear the possibility of having to move again. “We might be forced to leave these camps again soon. The Russian jets might track us here if the military operations advance in our direction,” explained Abu Nasir, a man in his forties who was displaced from the al-Hadir village.
According to 33-year-old media activist Abdur-Rahman Ismaʿil, the Russian attacks were no different from those carried out by the regime planes. “When the Russian strikes began, we expected them to target more precisely Daʿish. However, the weapons used by the Russians turned out to be inaccurate and targeted especially civilians, in addition to some opposition factions (such as the headquarters of the Nur ad-Din az-Zanki Movement, one of the biggest brigades fighting the Islamic State in the northern countryside, and those of the governorate council in Deyr Jamal, which is affiliated to the Syrian Interim Government formed by the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces),” Ismaʿil told Good Morning Syria, using the Arabic derogatory acronym for IS.
The activist found something strange in one of the dropped leaflets, where the regime ordered the citizens of Aleppo to head east. “The regime described the eastern regions controlled by Daʿish as safe, which means that the Russian strikes won’t target Daʿish,” Ismaʿil said.
In the end of September, the Russian authorities announced the beginning of their military operation in northern Syria, with the declared aim of defeating the Islamic State. The US Secretary of Defence and the French Minister of Foreign Affairs later stated that the Russian strikes were not targeting IS positions. Speaking on condition of anonymity with Good Morning Syria, a Syrian source from Reporters Without Borders said that video analysts had confirmed that most of the regions in the clips broadcasted by Russian media to prove that Moscow was shelling the Islamic State were actually opposition-held regions in Aleppo and Idlib. This conclusion was drawn after comparing the nature of the lands shown in the videos with the actual Syrian territories.
Nearly one month after the beginning of the Russian campaign in northern Syria, the opposition forces have managed to repel most of the regime’s attempts to advance toward Aleppo, thanks to the TOW missiles they were supplied with. They have also destroyed more than twenty regime tanks and armoured vehicles. As for the regime, it has not achieved any substantial strategic progress yet.
The most important result of the Russian intervention has been the killing and dislodgment of more Syrians, increasing the number of camps. The Islamic State has also taken control of the Khanasir road, the only way in and out of regime-held areas in Aleppo, thus besieging the civilians there. Therefore, the consequences of Moscow’s intervention affected all the residents of the city, even if on different scales, regardless of their neighbourhoods or political affiliations.