FRONTLINE producer Jamie Doran, Guardian reporter Ghaith Abdul-Ahad and freelance cameraman Jeremiah Bailey-Hoover traveled with rebels in northern Syria in August, during one of the bloodiest months of the war against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Their report, The Battle for Syria, airs Tuesday night on PBS’ FRONTLINE.
The team accompanied rebel fighters as they battled government forces in and around the city of Aleppo, including on the frontlines in the southwestern neighborhood of Salahuddin.
It was nearly constant government shelling of rebel strongholds and sniper fire, Doran told us. “You’d be sitting at night and suddenly you’d hear a ‘whoosh’ overhead and that was the beginning of the bombs falling.
“Not many of the rebels are killed; it’s the civilians who are killed,” he said.
“We found ourselves literally burrowing through people’s (abandoned) homes — the rebels smashing holes in people’s living room and kitchen walls to get to the frontline to avoid the snipers along the way,” said Doran.
In Aleppo, a city of about 2.5 million, an estimated 300,000 have fled.
But some residents make the perilous choice to remain. “Salahuddin is one of the poorest neighborhoods of Aleppo, and people have worked all their lives to buy a small apartment,” said Doran. “They’re reluctant to leave because it’s the only thing they own in the world, and they hope by staying that somehow or other they’ll be able to keep it.”
With limited groceries in supply, he said he’d regularly see 100 to 150 people waiting in line at little hole-in-the-wall bread shops hoping to get something to eat.
Doran said he tried to get into the minds of the snipers, who would sometimes gun down regular citizens in addition to the rebel fighters. “As you see in the film, we came across some horrific scenes: A man in a car hugging his wife in a last attempt to protect her, and their young son lies dead in the back.”
In light of all this, we asked if it was tempting to portray the rebels in a sympathetic way.
“Not for a second. As you see from the film, it’s very much looking at the rebels, warts and all. We look at the total disorganization of the rebels, and infighting” between the secularists and religious groups seeking jihad, he said.
Right now, there’s a marriage of convenience between the two anti-government factions, he added. But if the regime topples and if the religious extremists “hijack” the revolution, as some put it, the result could be “disastrous” — a whole other war.
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