W.G. Dunlop, AFP
Last updated: 9 October, 2012

Wounded Syrians pack hospital as Aleppo is shelled

The blaring horns of cars and trucks speeding down the street announce the arrival of more horribly wounded or dead Syrians at an Aleppo hospital, as shellfire echoes down the street.

A young boy is carried inside the Dar al-Shifa hospital, his head covered in blood. In the street outside, his father curses God as others try to shut him up, fearful that he will anger nearby rebel fighters.

Family members of victims shout and cry, tempers flare and people crowd the hospital entrance.

A rebel fighter fires in the air, trying to restore order, and fighters periodically yell for people not to gather at the hospital, saying it is dangerous.

Shells explode not far away.

A man whose right leg has been shredded is brought to the hospital by rebel fighters and laid on the dusty sidewalk, barely breathing. When he is carried inside, his foot is left lying near the hospital steps.

The area just inside the hospital is crowded with beds, and staff attend to a man missing part of his leg while he is lying on the floor. Blood is everywhere.

One rebel fighter stomps on a picture of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that lies in the broken glass and concrete piled on the sidewalk near the hospital entrance.

“You are the hope,” the poster reads.

Aleppo, once Syria’s commercial capital, has become a battleground marked by burned cars and trucks, piles of refuse, and constant danger from shelling and bombing as forces loyal to Assad and rebels seeking his overthrow fight for the city.

Earlier in the day, rebel commander Abu Furat, a defector from the Syrian army, toured smashed buildings at the front line in the Salaheddin and Saif al-Dawla areas, inspecting his troops and giving orders amid sporadic shelling.

“Normal, normal, what’s the problem?” he asks fighters who jump when a shell explodes.

Most of the rebel fighters are only lightly armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles, though some have sniper rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

Holes have been knocked in the walls of adjoining buildings on the front line so the fighters can move between them without being exposed to sniper fire, though they must sprint across some streets at the front.

Abu Furat, sipping a South American drink called “mate” as a helicopter circles overhead, says he is looking for “weak points in the front line for the possibility of moving forward … to occupy and liberate new areas.”

Shuhada (Martyrs) Street, which was once a residential area with a number of small shops, has been smashed by the fighting, with buildings raked by shrapnel and rubble ranging from broken concrete to shoes lying in the street.

Abu Furat puts fighters who were initially more interested in posing with a rocket-propelled grenade launcher to work building firing positions on the street, to prepare for attack by pro-regime troops deployed nearby.

The street is quiet except for occasional shots fired by the rebels that sends flocks of pigeons flying.

Abu Abdullah, a 21-year-old defector from the Syrian army who is among the fighters on the street, says the rebels are ready to fight, but lack ammunition.

“There is no ammunition … there is no support for us. It is hard to bring food here,” says Abu Abdullah.

But “we are ready,” and await ammunition “to try to break through the streets where the army is, and liberate them.”