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Abda Aalah, one of the volunteers in the Civil Defense in Aleppo.
I am part of the local Civil Defence in Aleppo. We are the local rescue force, and we are the first to arrive to places attacked by barrel bombs.
Last year, we were as usual getting ourselves ready in groups, like emergency first aid teams. Because the bombing it so destructive and sudden, no one knows when and where they will bomb. We were preparing breakfast. But we were constantly ready. Everyone was eating close to the door in case something happened.
We had one Canadian journalist with us this time. He stayed for only two days and he wanted to learn how to pray as Muslims. So he was asking us about it, like how many times do we pray during the day, and these stuff. It was fun to talk about other things than the barrel bombs, so we stayed up all the night talking about life and joking, until the sun rose up. Unfortunately, when we just thought we had made the night without any attack, a barrel bomb fell next to our place.
My first aid team ran out to see what we could do to help. When we got out we just saw a huge fire and people screaming. The air thick of ashes and in the rubble we found four dead bodies. Then suddenly one new barrel bomb fell about 10 meters from our place. I ordered my team members to stay behind me. I thought I could protect them and keep them safe. But then more and more barrels started to fall, they fell everywhere, like rain. And three of my friends was killed that morning.
One other of my memories is of Ramadan 2014. We were fasting, so we made two groups. One team was working in daylight, and they finish their job two hours before ‘’Iftar’’, the end of fasting when you’re allowed to eat. And the other team was working by night. I was one of them, because most of us in the night team didn’t had any families to go home to when iftar came.
One day when I was sleeping after a whole night of work, one barrel fell just some metres from where I was sleeping in our office.
So I ran with the others to the location, and we found an old man with his head stuck between two heavy concrete blocks. We tried to help him by pushing and cracking the stones, but the blocks were too heavy. And before we could run and get better equipment’s, one more barrel fell just next to us.
I started to see people running toward me like crazy. I fell down and couldn’t help myself to help the others. I tried to breathe and realized that I was injured badly. I was in real pain.
But I nearly didn’t feel the physical pain, because when I turned my head, I was that the old man was dead. I couldn’t save him, and his heart and old body passed away.
I forced myself to stand up and started to check if there was anyone still alive that I could help, but there was no one alive. Just our photographer who was trying to take some pictures to document the attack.
I can never forget that old man.
The fact that places often are bombed two or more times is a brutal and dark strategy by the regime. They know that after a first attack, people will rush to the location and try to save people who are hurt or trapped. Because of this, they often wait some minutes, so that as many people as possible have had time to run to help. Then they drop the rest of the barrel bombs. This is of course not to kill rebels or armed people, but to kill rescue workers, civilians and family members trying to save their loved ones.
Even if the regime used barrel bombs on us from nearly the beginning of this revolution, it was not frequently used. It was not until 2014 that the barrel bombings intensified. It was increasing day after the other, until it was on a daily basis in our residential areas. At first, people didn’t know what these weapons were. It was so destructive, and often dropped from helicopters. But then we started to find loads of unexploded barrels, and we understood that the government had decided to make a genocide on its own people..
The main reason of this campaign was to make people leave the country: But the regime soon realised that many of the civilians refused to do so and refused to let the regime scare them. So the regime intensified its bombing of markets, residential blocks and schools, until the barrels were like rain and turned people so frustrated, scared and close to crazy. It was really like psychological torture. In the end it was like more than 25 barrels each day. Week after week. Month after month.
One of my hardest memories was later named ”The Hanano massacre”. On that day, 102 persons was killed. The regime target the centre of the city and at a time when people usually gather to buy bread and vegetables. Women, kids, old people queued to buy bread. And they got killed in a second. And another of the barrels fell on a bus full of people. More than 42 civilians was in the bus, and we were only able to rescue two of them, A boy and a girl.
I can never forget all these dead bodies that day. All these memories of days behind me that I always have to carry with me. And I am scared of all these days I have in front of me. I wish they won’t be filled with more death, because it is too much already.