16 Oct 2014

Driving through a war zone to Aleppo

We took the long way round. Not that there was any choice if we were to avoid the fighting. It takes eight hours to drive from Damascus to Aleppo now, twice as long as before the war.

We passed trucks and tankers with the same destination – the road from Homs through Sulemiyah and north through Khanaser is the only supply route to Syria’s second city. A few miles to the east is territory controlled by jihadis from the Islamic State, while other rebels groups hold land to the west.

But the narrow corridor the government controls did not feel insecure – the soldiers on checkpoints were relaxed and every few miles they had built up a dug-in position from which to survey the flat scrubland on either side.

It wasn’t until we neared Aleppo that I felt we were driving through a war zone. Pancaked buildings provided evidence of previous battles, possibly airstrikes. Debris littered the road side. Some villages were deserted. A small boy kicked a blue barrel up the road. Another kid splashed in a puddle made by a bomb crater.

As we entered the city a scene of devastation revealed itself. We drove past row after row of bombed out buildings. I watched two small girls on a balcony, in the wall to their left a hole made by a rocket or mortar. People are living in devastated apartment blocks.

The Bruce Springsteen song My City of Ruins began to play in my head.


Image: credit Thom Walker

As I looked east from our hotel room towards the part of Aleppo controlled by the rebels, the sound of the muezzin, generators and occasional gunfire interrupted the music. The song is about an American town in economic decline – it ends “Rise up! Rise up!”

But Aleppo is still divided and dangerous. There are dozens of frontlines. Islamic State militants are in the north fighting other rebels. The US-led coalition is bombing them and Jabat al-Nusra, a group linked to al-Qaeda. The government is still dropping barrel bombs on rebel areas.

Aleppo is nowhere near rising up. It may yet have further to fall.

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