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How a young Syrian girl’s plea for peace drew worldwide attention

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.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    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.

  • Marcia Biggs:

    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.

  • Bana Alabed:

    They still bomb in the night, in the morning, in afternoon, in the evening.

  • Marcia Biggs:

    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.

  • Marcia Biggs:

    What was it that made you stay so long?

  • Fatemah Alabed:

    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.

  • Marcia Biggs:

    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.

  • Bana Alabed:

    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.

  • Marcia Biggs:

    When Bana’s school was bombed, her mom says, Bana came up with the idea to post a video online.

  • Bana Alabed:

    First thing I said to mom, “Why the people didn’t know about us.”

  • Fatemah Alabed:

    So she want to post in Facebook, but I said “No, Twitter is more strong or more powerful.”

  • Marcia Biggs:

    It reaches more people?

  • Fatemah Alabed:

    Yes.

  • Marcia Biggs:

    Bana’s first tweet said simply, “I need peace.” Hundreds more Tweets followed, many with pictures and videos, shot by her mother.

  • Bana Alabed:

    “Good morning from Aleppo.”

  • Bana Alabed:

    “We don’t have food, Aleppo under siege.”

  • Marcia Biggs:

    Appealing to Presidents Assad and Putin to stop the bombs. Bana begged the world to listen and help children just like her.

  • Bana Alabed:

    I want them to go to the park, play, learn, when they hurt themselves go to the hospital.

  • Marcia Biggs:

    And you felt like if you told the world what was happening.

  • Bana Alabed:

    Yeah, they will help.

  • Marcia Biggs:

    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.”

  • Marcia Biggs:

    How do you react to those who say that she was only Tweeting what you told her to Tweet?

  • Fatemah Alabed:

    I did what she wants.

  • Marcia Biggs:

    And she wanted to post all the time?

  • Fatemah Alabed:

    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.”

  • Marcia Biggs:

    Fatemah says they are not going to stop speaking out.

  • Fatemah Alabed:

    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.

  • Bana Alabed:

    “Hello my friends how are you, we are fine today.”

  • Marcia Biggs:

    She says the positive responses on Twitter saved them.

  • Bana Alabed:

    “I love you my friends.”

  • Fatemah Alabed:

    That’s make us feel, not just hope, no, we feel that the war will end, and we’ll get peace again.

  • Bana Alabed:

    “I want to try to be alive on Sunday if there is no bombing, thank you, bye.”

  • Marcia Biggs:

    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.”

  • Bana Alabed:

    She was like sleeping, she was dead. Yeah, I feel sad and my mom said, “let’s go Bana.”

  • Marcia Biggs:

    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.”

  • Marcia Biggs:

    Fatemah recorded this video the next day.

  • Fatemah Alabed:

    Our home disappeared. Like, there was no hope now. Everything now became like a shadow for us. I became a refugee in my country.

  • Marcia Biggs:

    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.

  • Bana Alabed:

    I was very happy to see fruits and orange, apples, bananas, I feel very happy.

  • Marcia Biggs:

    It had been a long time since you had eaten any of those things?

  • Bana Alabed:

    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.

  • Bana Alabed:

    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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