As Syria’s armed conflict continues for the last five years, the death toll has escalated beyond count. As the horrors unfold, everyday the situation gets worse in Aleppo, the largest city of Syria. The number of people trapped in Aleppo’s rebel-held eastern districts includes nearly 300,000 people – a 100,000 of them children.
Aleppo is a pocket of resistance, some eight miles long and three miles wide that civil defense workers said has been hit by 1,900 bombs in the past week. The campaign has wreaked destruction on hospitals, clinics, residential buildings, water stations and electric generators.
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At least 96 children are among the 320 people killed in Aleppo since a cease-fire collapsed on September 19, according to UNICEF. This results as Syrian and Russian warplanes barrage the city’s eastern opposition neighborhoods, trying to crush more than five years of resistance there. According to the World Health Organization, almost a third of the 840 people wounded over the same period are children.
“Aleppo is one of the most dangerous places in the world, and in the last week it has become perhaps the most dangerous place in the world for children,” Juliette Touma, regional chief of communications for the UN children’s agency told The Associated Press.
AirSrtikes Targets Militants points Eastern Aleppo pic.twitter.com/MesoKuJtMr
— Yusha Yuseef (@MIG29_) September 23, 2016
As reported by The Associated Press, parents have been desperately struggling to keep their families safe fearing the threat of an imminent ground offensive. They have little hope for the future, with no regular schooling and little access to nutritious food. Wounded, screaming children, covered in dust and being pulled out of rubble, have become a daily reality in Aleppo.
Wounded children are often left untreated, sometimes to die, in Aleppo’s overwhelmed hospitals. Only 30 doctors remain in opposition-held neighborhoods: One physician for every 10,000 people, compared to a peacetime standard of one for every 1,000, Touma said. “It is very difficult to know how many (children) are traumatized, but one would imagine every single one is impacted by the horrors, especially with the intensification of the violence in the past week,” she said.
So-called bunker-busting bombs, designed to target underground structures, have been widely used, possibly to crush tunnels or bunkers used as refuge by the thousands of rebel fighters defending the districts. But the powerful bombs also threaten the underground shelters where civilians take refuge and where children go to school. For the past several years, most classes have been held in basements because of the constant fighting and threat of airstrikes.
— sima (@EnsiheKhis) September 23, 2016
“The use of bunker-busting bombs means there is literally nowhere we can keep children safe, ” said Nick Finney of Save the Children, which runs 13 schools in eastern Aleppo, eight of them held underground. “We’re now more likely to see children being pulled from the rubble or treated on the floor of a hospital than sitting at a school desk.”
When schools opened across the country this month, they remained closed in eastern Aleppo because of the danger, said Brita Haj, the head of the local council in the rebel-held part of the city. Medics say the death toll among children and other residents may be far higher than reported, since some families bury their dead without taking them to hospitals or morgues, and many victims remain buried in the rubble.
Dr Hatem, a pediatrician, said women and children make up a large percentage of the victims because they are the ones who stay at home. As one of two pediatricians in besieged Aleppo, Hatem said he had an enormous load even before the last week’s intensification of fighting, treating 80 to 120 children a day.
Watch the dramatic rescue of a little girl from the rubble of a building in Aleppo destroyed in an airstrike http://t.co/SwmlNMhXdz
— Sky News (@SkyNews) September 23, 2016
Now he’s seeing a spike in wounded children in intensive care, from four or five a month to four or five a day. There is also a rise in aggressive behavior among children and various signs of trauma such as bed-wetting or losing the ability to walk or talk, said Hatem, who gave only his last name out of security fears.
A Syrian opposition monitoring group that tracks Syria’s civil war said a year of Russian airstrikes have killed 9,364 people in the war-torn country. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the dead include 3,804 civilians, among them 906 children. The dead also include 2,746 members of the Islamic State group and 2,814 from other rebel and militant groups, including al-Qaida’s affiliate in Syria.
– With inputs from Associated Press