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(Aleppo Civil Defense/Pool/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

WRITTEN BY ASMAE DACHAN for Avvenire (print edition of 12 January, 2019)

Sixty thousand civilians of the city outside Aleppo are living under siege by the Jihadists of al-Qaeda. Two hundred who oppose are “wanted” by the terrorists. They are also not spared Assad’s bombs

The ordeal of Syrian civilians appears to be endless. The advance of the militias of Hayat Tahrir al Sham (HTS), a group affiliated to al-Qaeda, in the citadel of al-Atareb, in the Aleppo province, opens up a new, disturbing scenario. Roughly sixty thousand people live in the area, many of them displaced from other cities. In recent days, the militia bombed al-Atareb, which was under the control of the last pockets of resistance, the opposition forces, as well as being one of the first cities to have declared itself independent of the regime in 2012. In this town, civilians had organised themselves into committees for self-government. The HTS has surrounded the city, succeeding in easily advancing in an area where the forces of the National Liberation Front (NLF), a military opposition group supported by Turkey, are in the minority. According to the agreements signed by Turkey, Russia and Iran last September in Sochi, Ankara would have the task of curbing the terrorist militias of the north-west of Syria, supporting the military actions of the NLF, but the resounding advance of HTS at al-Atareb, just like at Darat Izza, simply reinforces the many perplexities regarding its implementation expressed by many parties. Al-Atareb is seen as an important conquest to many because it is in a highly strategic area, both from the logistic and economic point of view, because here one finds the main route of connection between Aleppo and the Bab Al Hawa pass (the only official border crossing with Turkey).

The terrorists immediately disseminated a list with the names of about two hundred matlubin, a “wanted” list, that included many women, all active in the self-government committees and protagonists of the revolts against both the regime and ISIS. Among them we also find the eighty-year-old Hajja Hamra Akush, known as “the mother of the opponents”, a woman known to everyone and whose home had served as a safe house for military deserters who refused to fight against their fellow countrymen.

Civilian sources report executions, kidnappings and violence, in addition to the closure of all schools. Concerning public health, the situation is dire; there is a lack of medicine and the few remaining medical staff is unable to provide for the needs of the entire population. The particularly harsh winter only aggravates the situation. Al-Atareb is one of the most emblematic examples of the way in which the moderate opposition, made up of civilians, women and men, who only sought a different Syria, without a regime and without extremists, were left entirely to their own devices, abandoned and at the mercy of the countless forces on the field. The fear of civilians in the area now is that the presence of the terrorists in al-Atareb is going to be used as a pretext to justify a new wave of joint Russian-Syrian regime bombing. According to civilian sources, more than seven hundred people have been killed in the city in recent years. No one can tell just how much more blood has to be shed by civilians before their lives become the priority in international negotiations.

A rally in al-Atareb on September 28, 2018 for the Syrian Revolution. Chants include:  “The Baathists [the party of Bashar al-Assad] went crazy when we demanded freedom”:

 

Translated by Mary Rizzo

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