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Daily airstrikes and specter of ISIS loom over Aleppo civilians

The plight of refugees fleeing the war in Syria has been well documented across the last year, but what is life like for those who stayed behind? Jeffrey Brown talks to journalist and activist Rami Jarrah about how civilians are living in Aleppo.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    This past year, there has been a large focus on the plight of refugees fleeing the war in Syria. But what about the people who have stayed in that country? What are conditions like for them?

    Jeffrey Brown has that.

    RAMI JARRAH, Journalist and Activist: This is the place of the attack yesterday where the Russian airstrike took place on Central Aleppo. This is called the Kalako (ph) area.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Footage captured by Syrian journalist and activist Rami Jarrah in Aleppo, Syria's largest city, and one of the world's most ancient urban centers.

  • RAMI JARRAH:

    A child was caught here under the rubble yesterday, and his father here was screaming for the people to get him out.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Today, it's a scene of destruction and despair, after nearly five years of civil war.

  • RAMI JARRAH:

    All the children have now been taken away. There are still children here. The situation is tense at the moment.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Jarrah has spent the last weeks in Aleppo documenting the impact of Russian bombing.

    Russia says it's attacking terrorist groups, including ISIS. Jarrah and Syrian human rights groups say civilians are being targeted and killed, more than 2,000 of them since Russian airstrikes began in September.

    I spoke with Rami Jarrah by Skype and began by asking him about those still living in Aleppo, whether they have water, electricity, food, any semblance of normal life.

  • RAMI JARRAH:

    In terms of the sort of resources to live on, electricity is locally generated. So, people have generators, and only those that can afford them.

    So, electricity is only available in the evenings. It's a service that has to be paid for through those that provide those generated electricity. And that depends on diesel. The problem with that is that that diesel comes from ISIS-controlled territory.

    And those routes have been cut off due to the attacks that are between ISIS and these areas. So, those routes are cut off. And it basically means that the people are cut off from any supplies of diesel.

    Although that is a good thing, because it hold ISIS back, but it means that the civilians here facing the coming winter also don't fuel to heat themselves. So that's a setback. In addition to that, water is an extremely big problem. The (INAUDIBLE) have cut off water supplies and have — a number of towns actually used their warplanes to destroy water factories that are located in Aleppo.

    And one of the main water factories was destroyed about two months ago. So water is actually being transported from other areas to Aleppo, one of which is Idlib and Latakia. So, in terms of those resources, it's actually a very — the civilians of Aleppo are facing a lot of hardship.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    You have been out on the streets regularly filing reports. And there is a video we have seen here in which you show the aftermath of a bombing in downtown Aleppo. I want to take a look at that, show that to our audience.

  • RAMI JARRAH:

    This is the after-effects of a Russian airstrikes on the Kalako (ph) area of Aleppo.

    Now, the Russians are supposed to be targeting ISIS.

    (SIRENS)

  • RAMI JARRAH:

    The civil defense have just arrived.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • RAMI JARRAH:

    After these strikes, a group of people that are assigned with the task of getting people out from under the rubble. This is where it landed.

    So, this man is explaining that there's only civilians living here.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    So, the Russians are saying that they are targeting ISIS and other — and strategic sites, but that's not what you're seeing.

  • RAMI JARRAH:

    No, Jeffrey, that's definitely not what I'm seeing, and it's definitely not what the civilians here in Aleppo are seeing.

    I think this man in the video is a small example of what is actually happening. He is frantically trying to explain, it's just civilians here. There's no signs of ISIS here. Why are they attacking us? We're going to stay here. We're not going to move, as much as you attack us. Even if it's — if the last one of us has to die, we're going to stay here.

    This is what this man is saying. And it's basically the language that you're going to hear around Aleppo, because the people here are very much convinced that the Russian and Syrian airstrikes are meant and aimed to target civilians and to drive them either out of Aleppo or to kill them.

    And this is something that they have come to believe because of the constant attacks. We're witnessing between 10 to 15 airstrikes in central Aleppo alone on a daily basis. And these airstrikes, what we have been doing is trying to follow these airstrikes. I have gotten my hands on — access to information of when the strikes hit. So, I'm following the civil defense.

    I haven't, until now, seen one attack that has landed on a military unit or a depot. And this is something that we're trying to document and make clear. Now, the problem is that last year U.N. Security Council resolution actually allowed Russia to actually attack areas that have ISIS or al-Nusra in them.

    But that's on the basis that we're taking Russia's take on where those groups are located. But those groups are not located in these areas. And that's the excuse that is being used to attack these areas. So, this is a major problem. It's who decides where these groups are.

    We have been trying to prove that these groups are not located here. If they were, I wouldn't be able to operate. I wouldn't be able to do the reports I was doing.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    So, what are the biggest fears that you're hearing from people now? Is it a government victory backed by Russia? Is it ISIS, especially, perhaps, as it's driven more from Iraq, coming in even stronger in and around Aleppo?

    But what are the fears that people are voicing?

  • RAMI JARRAH:

    The people here are not in any way worried that Assad or Assad's army or Russia or Hezbollah forces are going to invade Aleppo.

    I haven't heard this expressed once. The people here are worried that ISIS is going to, in fact, take over Aleppo, because of the fact that the — not only the Russian airstrikes, but in addition to the coalition airstrikes, they are actually forcing ISIS further away from Iraq and deeper into Syria.

    And what that means is past Raqqa, past Deir el-Zour, and into Aleppo. So there are no signs of ISIS in Aleppo. So, the fear here is that ISIS takes these areas and that there isn't really much preventing that by Russia or the Syrian regime, who are actually more so accepting the idea of Aleppo being taken by ISIS, as a sort of an excuse that can be used at a later stage to allow the rest of the international community also to intervene against the opposition.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Let me just ask you finally about your own work, the dangers of it, the dangers for anyone practicing journalism in Syria today.

  • RAMI JARRAH:

    The dangers, I think they are the same dangers that the people here are witnessing.

    I don't think there is an added danger to the journalists. The fear that I face here is not from the rebel groups here. It's not from bullets. It's from airstrikes. And that is the only danger that my life faces, is the airstrikes.

    So, it's the same danger that the rest of the civilians here are facing. I don't think there is an added danger as a journalist.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    All right, Rami Jarrah in Aleppo, thank you so much.

  • RAMI JARRAH:

    Thank you. Thank you for having me.

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