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The Conversation: Aleppo – A Tale of Two Cities

Fighting in Aleppo, Syria’s second largest city, has been at a stalemate for months, with government troops holding the west, and the rebels largely controlling the east. The divide not only separates the combatants, but also families, some of whom continue to make the dangerous crossing.

Written by Alison Tahmizian Meuse Published on Read time Approx. 3 minutes

Mohammed, a 22-year-old media activist, talks to Syria Deeply about keeping family ties in a split city. 

Do you know that there are people wounded by gunfire at the crossing every day? The regime has three snipers posted along the dividing line, and has closed off all the roads leading to the Free Syrian Army (FSA) areas.

There is one way to cross, which is in the Bustan al-Qasr district. No one can pass there except pedestrians, because the regime prohibits the passage of cars. There was another way, which is the Aleppo-Damascus highway, but this has been closed because of fighting.

It is true that the FSA closed the Bustan al-Qasr crossing at one point to regulate the entry of some goods. But it’s the rebels who are the ones under siege by the regime, and not the other way around.

Some of my relatives live on the other side, the regime side. Why would we want to besiege our own families?

My relatives who live on the regime side support the opposition. There are a lot of families with the same story.

I keep in touch with them by mobile, though the network is cut off most of the time. When we talk the calls are monitored, but it has become normal to speak openly about politics, the regime and the war over the phone.

I haven’t seen those family members on the other side in two months, because crossing between the two sides is dangerous. The biggest risks are the regime checkpoints and the sniper fire. Every so often there is sniper fire from the regime side to intimidate people. I never cross to the regime side, but my relatives come to me. Then once they get here, there is also the risk of shelling.

For me it’s better to live in the liberated areas. I’m wanted by the security services, so I don’t have a choice.

For others it’s better to live in the regime areas because their work is there, and they want to keep their children safe from shelling. The universities are also in the regime areas.

There is no shelling in the regime areas, while the areas controlled by the FSA face daily bombardments by aircraft, artillery and tanks. The regime areas have telecommunications. They have better access to electricity. There are no telecommunications in the liberated areas because the regime cut them off. And our electricity cuts for long periods because the shelling damages the electrical wires.

There are problems both sides face, like different goods being unavailable because of the difficulty of movement. But we are under shelling every day.

Yes, there is some resentment that they don’t face shelling like we do, but soon all the areas will be liberated, and there will be no difference between us.

People on the rebel side have gotten used to the shelling. It became something routine, like eating. People also got used to the cutting off of communications, water and electricity.

When the electricity started cutting out and the gas ran out, the bakeries stopped working. So people went back to basics and started baking bread over the fire in a kiln. We’re using trees for firewood.

I’ve been working for the revolution for two years as a media activist. Before, I was an information-engineering student in Damascus. It’s been two years that I haven’t attended university, since I’m wanted by security.

I move around in Aleppo, depending on where my work is. This is mostly in the Tariq al-Bab and Shaar districts. If something happens, I go there to take pictures and do interviews. If there is a demonstration or revolutionary activity I go to take part. Then I put the news online.

Of course I have my days when I lose hope. But then it always comes back. The martyrs are what keep me going.

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