Friday, March 31, 2023

Earthquake stuns Syria’s Aleppo even after war’s horrors

For years, the people of Aleppo bore the brunt of bombardment and fighting when their city, once Syria’s largest and most cosmopolitan, was among the civil war’s fiercest battle zones. Even that didn’t prepare them for the new devastation and terror wreaked by this week’s earthquake.
The natural disaster piled on many human-made ones, multiplying the suffering in Aleppo and Syria more broadly.
Fighting largely halted in Aleppo in 2016, but only a small number of the numerous damaged and destroyed buildings had been rebuilt. The population has also more recently struggled with Syria’s economic downslide, which has sent food prices soaring and residents thrown into poverty. The shock of the quake is all too much.
Hovig Shehrian said that during the worst of the war in Aleppo, in 2014, he and his parents fled their home in a front-line area because of the shelling and sniper fire. For years, they moved from neighborhood to neighborhood to avoid the fighting.
“It was part of our daily routine. Whenever we heard a sound, we left, we knew who to call and what to do,” the 24-year-old said.
“But … we didn’t know what to do with the earthquake. I was worried we were going to die.”
Monday’s pre-dawn 7.8-magnitude quake, centered about 70 miles (112 kilometers) away in Turkey, jolted Aleppans awake and sent them fleeing into the street under a cold winter rain. Dozens of buildings across the city collapsed. More than 360 people were killed in the city and hundreds of others were injured. Workers were still digging three days later through the rubble, looking for the dead and the survivors. Across southern Turkey and northern Syria, more than 11,000 were killed.
Even those whose buildings still stood remain afraid to return. Many are sheltering in schools. A Maronite Christian monastery took in more than 800 people, particularly women, children and the elderly, crammed into every room.
“Until now we are not sleeping in our homes. Some people are sleeping in their cars,” said Imad al-Khal, the secretary-general of Christian denominations in Aleppo, who was helping organize shelters.
For many, the earthquake was a new sort of terror — a shock even after what they endured during the war.
For Aleppo, the war was a long and brutal siege. Rebels captured the eastern part of the city in 2012, soon after Syria’s civil war began. For the next years, Russian-backed government forces battled to uproot them.
Syrian and Russian airstrikes and shelling flattened entire blocks. Bodies were found in the river dividing the two parts of the city. On the government-held western side, residents faced regular mortar and rocket fire from opposition fighters.
A final offensive led to months of urban fighting, finally ending in December 2016 with government victory. Opposition fighters and supporters were evacuated, and government control imposed over the entire city. Activist groups estimate some 31,000 people were killed in the four years of fighting, and almost the entire population of the eastern sector was displaced.


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