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Last year, Bana Alabed sparked a worldwide following for tweeting from Aleppo in Syria while it was under attack amid a years-long civil war. Now, the 8-year-old is authoring a book about surviving and escaping the conflict. NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Marcia Biggs talked to Alabed and her mother in Ankara, Turkey, where they are living today.
Once Syria's second-largest city, Aleppo has been bombed into ruins during the country's six-year civil war. One of the faces and voices of the plight of the Syrian people during the siege of Aleppo was a seven year old girl named Bana Alabed. As NewsHour weekend special correspondent Marcia Biggs reports, her story underscores the tragic cost of the war.
In Turkey's Capital of Ankara, this is a typical morning in the life of an eight-year-old. Making her bed, brushing her teeth, and getting ready for school. But for Bana Alabed, this is a long way from where she was just one year ago. She was caught between government forces and rebels, along with her parents, two brothers, and thousands of other Syrians, during the four-year battle of Aleppo, which ended last year.
They still bomb in the night, in the morning, in afternoon, in the evening.
Her mother, Fatemah, says the war turned their family's simple and idyllic life into hell. With Syrian President Bashar al Assad relentlessly bombing the rebel-held eastern side of the city, where the Alabed family lived.
What was it that made you stay so long?
We are Syrian people, and this is our country. And what we face there, we kept hoping that this day maybe will, the war will stop, or that they, the bomb will stop this month or next month.
In July of last year, when President Assad blocked deliveries of food into East Aleppo, the possibility of starvation became more threatening than bombs. The Alabed family survived on rice and macaroni.
I was very sick and my dad go outside to find to me medicine. Because there is no medicine, no hospitals. I was too sick.
When Bana's school was bombed, her mom says, Bana came up with the idea to post a video online.
First thing I said to mom, "Why the people didn't know about us."
So she want to post in Facebook, but I said "No, Twitter is more strong or more powerful."
It reaches more people?
Bana's first tweet said simply, "I need peace." Hundreds more Tweets followed, many with pictures and videos, shot by her mother.
"Good morning from Aleppo."
"We don't have food, Aleppo under siege."
Appealing to Presidents Assad and Putin to stop the bombs. Bana begged the world to listen and help children just like her.
I want them to go to the park, play, learn, when they hurt themselves go to the hospital.
And you felt like if you told the world what was happening.
Yeah, they will help.
Inspiring the hashtag "Stand with Aleppo," Bana's Twitter followers grew. Today, she has over 360-thousand. Assad called her account, which is managed by her mother, "propaganda."
How do you react to those who say that she was only Tweeting what you told her to Tweet?
I did what she wants.
And she wanted to post all the time?
Yes of course, she was, she was like, "Yes mom, today there was a lot of bomb, we should tell the people that today I am not fine."
Fatemah says they are not going to stop speaking out.
I am a mother, and I want to go and protect my children. Not just for Bana or her brothers, we were talking in Syria, about millions of families, we are normal family and all the children deserve to live.
"Hello my friends how are you, we are fine today."
She says the positive responses on Twitter saved them.
"I love you my friends."
That's make us feel, not just hope, no, we feel that the war will end, and we'll get peace again.
"I want to try to be alive on Sunday if there is no bombing, thank you, bye."
But as the Alabeds and their Twitter followers watched helplessly, the siege continued, and the bombings intensified. One night airstrikes hit Bana's best friend's house. She witnessed her lifeless body being pulled from the rubble. She later Tweeted, "I can't stop crying."
She was like sleeping, she was dead. Yeah, I feel sad and my mom said, "let's go Bana."
Three days later, the bombs made a direct hit on Bana's own home. She Tweeted, "Tonight we have no house. It's bombed and I got in rubble. I saw deaths and I almost died."
Fatemah recorded this video the next day.
Our home disappeared. Like, there was no hope now. Everything now became like a shadow for us. I became a refugee in my country.
The family finally decided to flee, and last December, they were on one of the last buses out of Aleppo, making a perilous journey on roads lined with bombs and snipers and finally arriving in Turkey.
I was very happy to see fruits and orange, apples, bananas, I feel very happy.
It had been a long time since you had eaten any of those things?
Yes. MARCIA BIGGS: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan capitalized on her celebrity and personally welcomed the Alabeds. And unlike most of the other two-and-a-half million Syrian refugees in Turkey, the family was granted citizenship. Today, in Ankara, Bana can be a child again. But she hasn't forgotten those that she left behind. Bana and Fatemah say their book "Dear World" is dedicated to every child suffering in war. The millions of displaced Syrians as well as those who still remain in cities under siege. I want the kids to be strong, not feel scared from the bombs, don't be scared, help each other, be good.
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Marcia Biggs is a special correspondent for PBS NewsHour, specializing in coverage of the Middle East, where she has over a decade of experience. Recent highlights include a four-part series “Inside Yemen,” as well as in-depth reports on the battle against ISIS in Iraq and the human rights violations taking place against those fleeing Mosul. For her coverage for PBS of Iraq, Biggs has received a Gracie Allen Award, a First Place National Headliner Award, and a New York Festivals World Medal. Most recently, she was named the 2018 Marie Colvin Foreign Correspondent of the Year by the Newswomen’s Club of New York. Before her work with the NewsHour, Biggs reported for Al Jazeera English, Fox News Channel, CNN, and ABC News. Born and raised in Houston, Texas, she received her Masters degree in Middle Eastern Studies from the American University of Beirut and currently resides in New York City.
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