Historic city of Aleppo is now rubble, after waves of bombing
Published 15/03/2014 | 02:30
The bombs had killed his grandfather and his cousin and injured his father, but still Hassan Ali stayed on in Aleppo. Then his own street came into range.
The barrel landed next to his house, destroying his neighbours' dwelling, with the shrapnel clattering into the side of his home.
The family tried to help their neighbours, but it was impossible. Twelve people were dead. "We tried to find the mother and her daughter," Mr Ali said. "We couldn't find a single piece."
A three-month bombardment, unparalleled even in this war, has levelled large parts of Aleppo, Syria's biggest city and one of the world's most resonant historical names.
The onslaught of barrel bombs has continued since before Christmas.
In some neighbourhoods, half of all homes have been left in rubble. The streets have emptied.
A year ago, Aleppo – where rebels and regime troops had fought each other to a stalemate – became a magnet for refugees from elsewhere, the population swelling to more than three million. Now it is a ghost town.
One by one, since the first big protests of the Syrian uprising on March 15, 2011, cities and suburbs have come to encapsulate the revolution: first Dera'a, in the south, where they began, later Baba Amr, in Homs, and Qusayr, the site of a key victory for the regime.
But Aleppo is the biggest prize, a symbol of the country that reflected its history and make-up: a hub of Sunni commerce since time immemorial, home to a vibrant Christian minority and also a centre for conservative Islam.
Seeing the rebels weakened by infighting, the regime seems to have decided to soften up the city's rebel-held half for an assault by driving out the inhabitants.
A group of Aleppan lawyers and civilian activists in the Turkish city of Gaziantep, two hours' drive away to the north, estimates that between December and the beginning of March more than 1,000 barrel bombs were dropped.
Nobody knows why the regime chooses this makeshift device – a crude container packed with up to half a ton of TNT and shrapnel – normally just unloaded from the back of helicopters. It may be it is running short of its Russian-made missiles, or that it wants to save them for military rather than easy civilian targets.
But the group calculates that 4,000 people have been killed, of which 2,600 have been identified. Others, like Mr Ali's neighbours, were simply incinerated. At one point in January, up to 30 barrels were dropping a day. The suburbs hit are a roll-call of the poorer, Sunni Muslim districts, previously a magnet for people from the countryside seeking work.
The group says that 90pc of the residents of these areas have now fled the city, mostly to Turkey. (© Daily Telegraph, London)