InsideAleppo

For over five years the world has watched as a protest movement in Syria has turned into the bloodiest war of our century. Watched because almost every act of violence and its horrific consequences has been captured on video and uploaded for the world to see.

The Barrel Bomb Baby 6:17

Producer/Director Teresa Smith Edited by Josh Ho

These hundreds of thousands of online clips detail the destruction and death of a country, and yet its hellish descent continues. The coverage of a war can be one of the key factors that prompts world leaders to take political and military action to try and end it. In Syria, the cruel inverse seems to be the rule; the more we see of the violence and suffering the less resolve there seems to be to end the violence.

The Gardener 6:05

Producer/Director Teresa Smith Edited by Agnieszka Liggett and Matthew Welham

The most intense battle of this war has been the struggle for Aleppo, the country’s biggest city. It has been been fought over by all sides, by the multiple Islamist militias of the opposition including al Nusra and ISIS, and of course the Syrian Arab Army. Districts have been overrun, shelled, cowed by snipers, attacked by suicide bombers, strewn with chemicals, and bombed relentlessly from the air. But of all the death and crimes and massacres on all sides, the aerial bombardment of Eastern Aleppo by the Syrian and Russian armies, an asymmetric contest between barrel bomb and human, has stood out.

The Brothers 3:35

Producer/Director Teresa Smith Edited by Matthew Welham

We are now familiar with its horrific choreography, rescuers running to try and save people, screaming relatives, dusty, shocked or lifeless children held up for the camera. These attacks have happened for so long that coverage of them in the media outside of Syria now ebbs and flows. If the death toll is on a terrible scale or produces a defining tragic image of a child’s despair, coverage is guaranteed. But with safe access denied to objective independent journalists from outside, for the media the choice of what to run has become governed by factors which include fatigue and familiarity.

The Architect 5:04

Producer/Director Zahra Mackaoui, Pavel Lopez Exec Producer James Brabazon

During the summer we made a conscious decision to try and report what was happening in Syria, and particularly in Aleppo, on a daily basis. One person, Wa'ad al Kateab, has made this possible. A year ago she made a film of hope about a young boy who dreamed of rebuilding his city. Since the summer and the relentless aerial bombardment of her Eastern Aleppo she has filmed the bloody scenes of the hospital her husband works in, documented the tragedy of families, and revealed the humanity of many of those trapped with her inside one of the world's most dangerous places. She has allowed us to tell the story of Eastern Aleppo as she sees it, and we have created this space to focus on her incredible work and that of many others, and on the City of Aleppo.

Ben de Pear, Editor – Channel 4 News, October 2016

July 2012
The Battle of Aleppo begins as Free Syrian Army fighters enter Aleppo from the surrounding countryside. The rebels quickly establish control over large areas.
June 2013
The Assad regime launches Operation Northern Storm, a major counter-offensive.
December 2013
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says 300 people are killed in 10 days of intensive bombing by government forces.
February 2014
The UN passes a resolution ordering all factions to end the indiscriminate use of barrel bombs and other weapons in populated areas.
July 2014
Human Rights Watch says it has evidence of "650 major new damage sites consistent with barrel bomb impacts on neighbourhoods of the city of Aleppo held by non-state armed groups" in rebel-held neighbourhoods of Aleppo.

Much of Aleppo was overrun by rebels opposed to President Bashar al-Assad in 2012.

This year the Syrian government has been trying to retake the rebel-held areas - helped since the summer by Russian air power.

“Hearing the sound of shelling at night is at least evidence that you are still breathing in air, not the dust of your home in ruins, or the aroma of the blood and flesh of your family members.”

Film-maker Waad Al Kateab

The regime has now encircled the rebel-held east of the city, trapping opposition fighters and an estimated 250,000 civilians.

Syria and Russia have been accused of carrying out war crimes - employing a horrifying arsenal of weapons.

Cluster bombs rain down on civilians in residential areas in the east alongside chlorine gas shells, thermobaric weapons and crude barrel bombs.

Rebel groups are also accused of indiscriminately attacking civilian areas.

“It feels as if the Assad government is trying to wipe out what remains of east Aleppo”

Film-maker Waad Al Kateab
The Current Situation in Aleppo

Access to beseiged east Aleppo is severely restricted.

Aid workers and foreign journalists are unable to get in to the city.

It is left to local people, often citizen journalists, to tell the savage story of the city.

Waad Al Kateab lives in the east of Aleppo. Her husband Hamza al-Khatib is a doctor at al-Quds, the biggest hospital in the rebel-held area.

In July, as government forces moved to cut off eastern Aleppo, the couple decided to make a daring return journey.

They carried their baby daughter Sama in their arms.

The Journey In 6:07

Producer/Director Daisy Ayliffe Edited by Helen Williams
Assad's Arsenal
Human rights groups say some of the most lethal weapons in existence have rained down on residential areas of Aleppo. Both the Syrian government and the rebels have accused each other of using chemical weapons and the UN is investigating allegations of chlorine gas attacks.
Reports suggest Russian planes are using awesomely destructive thermobaric devices, commonly known as "vacuum bombs", in rebel-held residential districts. The regime are also using barrel bombs - a crude mixture of high explosives and shrapnel - and firing mortars indiscriminately into rebel-controlled areas.
Other regime weapons widely reported to have been used include “bunker-busting” bombs designed to destroy underground targets, cluster munitions, incendiary bombs and naval mines.

Waad filmed the journey as the family ran the gauntlet of bombs and gunfire to sneak back into Aleppo along the Castello Road.

It was the last remaining route out of the city and into the northern countryside.

For years the road was the only way of getting people, food and supplies into rebel areas

But pro-Assad forces were trying to cut off the route, completing the encirclement of Aleppo.

As one of around 35 doctors left in the eastern half the city, Hamza felt he had no choice but to return to work,

He says: “Every one of us has a big role to play to top the balance of good against evil.”

“We no longer need to set our alarm clocks to wake us up in the morning. The missiles and barrel bombs are doing this job.”

Aleppo resident
The Agony of Aleppo's Children

The Doctor4:15

As Hamza and his colleagues battled to save lives in the operating theatre, his wife filmed scenes that were by turns heart-breaking, harrowing and uplifting.

One of the most dramatic images of the conflict in Aleppo emerged when doctors at the hospital delivered a baby boy by caesarean after his mother was hit by barrel bomb shrapnel.

The child, Mohammed Hakeem, is in good health, but his mother was left with extensive leg injuries and needed months of medical care.

Dozens of children have died in the last two weeks - the suffering of children has been vividly documented over recent months.

Here are some of their stories:

Marwan 4m 20s
Mohammed 6m 17s
Aisel 2m 54s
Rua 2m 42s
Nour 3m 07s
The Brothers 3m 35s

Waad’s footage of the aftermath of strikes on eastern Aleppo has been broadcast around the world, although some of the images are too distressing to be shown.

She filmed the dazed, bloodstained children brought to the hospital; people beside themselves with grief after learning of the deaths of loved ones; exhausted doctors trying to cope, even as medical centres themselves were hit by bombs.

Here, too, was first-hand evidence of some of the weapons being dropped on residential neighbourhoods

Injuries consistent with chemical weapons and massive craters caused by bombs designed to damage underground infrastructure.

We met Abu Ward, a man tending to plants in Aleppo’s last garden centre.

The flowers he sold helped brighten up roundabouts, a symbol of hope and renewal in the destruction.

On one day, they are daring each other to dive into a make-believe swimming pool formed when a bomb crater filled with water.

Moments of peace are getting harder to find as diplomatic options run out.

We attempted to chart the civilian casualities and explain what life in the city is like over a single week in July, 2016.

The Aftermath 3:24

Producer/Director Teresa Smith Edited by Agnieszka Liggett
A brief ceasefire

West Aleppo 8:25

Producer/Director Teresa Smith Edited by Agnieszka Liggett

A ceasefire deal negotiated by Russia and the US last month collapsed, with western ambassadors accusing Russia and Syria of war crimes.

Local activists say hundreds of people have died in the fortnight since the truce ended, but figures for casualties cannot be independently verified.

Russia says western countries are supporting terrorists fighting on the rebel side, accusing fighters of using the local civilian population as human shields.

September 2015
Russia intervention in Syria starts. The Russian airforce begins targeting various anti-Assad factions with airstrikes at the request of the Syrian government.
July 2016
Pro-regime forces complete the siege of the city by taking the Castello Road, the last supply route into the north of Aleppo.
August 2016
The rebels announce they have broken the siege on east Aleppo after making some advances. But it was short lived. Syrian forces and their allies have since retaken much of the territory briefly gained by the rebels - with Russian air support.
September 2016
Russia and the US broker a seven-day ceasefire deal, which fails to stop the fighting. But the ceasefire broke down.
October 2016
The ceasefire breaks down and airstrikes on east Aleppo continue. The UN envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura says rebel held parts of the Aleppo face "total destruction" in two months. "Thousands of Syrian civilians, not terrorists, will be killed and many of them wounded" he warned.

Who's fighting who in Syria - and Aleppo?

When the Syrian Civil War first broke out in 2011, Aleppo dodged the worst of the fighting. It has since become the most important battleground for the rebels fighting president Bashar al-Assad.

Who's Fighting Who in Syria? 2:38

Anti-government forces who abandoned other strongholds in Homs and some suburbs of Damascus have vowed to fight to the death in Aleppo. The regime depends on Russian air support and fighters from Shia militia groups, including those from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and the Lebanese Hezbollah group. The rebel coalition includes moderate fighters as well as extremist Islamist and jihadi groups including Fatah Al Sham, the group formally known as al-Nusra and designated a terrorist organisation by both the US and Russia. In total there are at least 28 rebel factions fighting in Aleppo. Rebels in the east and regime forces are roughly divided by the river Queiq, while Kurdish fighters hold the northern Sheikh Maqsoud district. Armed groups from the Kurdish minority and the extremists of the so-called Islamic State control large swathes of territory close to Aleppo and are waiting in the wings while the battle is played out.

Death is Close

The Last Paediatrician 2:32

The UN has said medical facilities were being destroyed “one by one” in eastern Aleppo.

“There are lots of sad stories here – of whole families wiped out, or children left orphaned. Death is close to everyone. It feels like it is following us.”

Film-maker Waad Al Kateab

The United States said it was suspending peace talks with Russia, claiming it had increased it airstrikes on civilian targets.

As this relentless battle and carnage continues, Channel 4 News will be reporting what happens in Aleppo in whatever form we can.

The Coroner 4:57

Produced by David Fuller & Lizzy Amanpour Edited by David Fuller and John Eklof

At the end of October, Russian-led air-strikes were briefly put on hold, leading to some rebel gains. A week later, Krishnan Guru-Murthy and his team were able to access the government-held west of the city under the supervision of authorities. Many parts of the west had been pulverised as the Syrian regime took suburbs back from the rebels in the east. The rebels were trying to break the siege, but on the government-controlled side families were also experiencing the agony of death and violence, albeit on a much smaller scale.

Channel 4 News spoke to one family from the east who escaped to the west. Their six year old son Baraa was killed by a sniper. Asked why families stay in the rebel-held east under bombardment, his mother Lama Khawashki told us: "They're not forced to stay, I didn't stay there. I would rather be paralysed on the floor than live between rebels and monsters".

Our presenter Krishnan Guru-Murthy was in Aleppo on 3 November as regime-backed jets dropped leaflets telling residents in the rebel-held east that they had one final window left open to escape the city - the threat being all out war.

Wissam Zarqa, a resident in east Aleppo and an English teacher, told us via Skype that most people feared leaving because they claimed that they would be considered a terrorist by the Syrian regime and may be arrested. "We might be tortured to death."

“I would rather be paralysed on the floor than live between rebels and monsters”

Lama Khawashki, fled east Aleppo

During the humanitarian window, at a crossing point in the West, there was a cease-fire where police, secret police and Russian soldiers were present. We were there two hours. No one left. We returned later, and saw the crossing point deserted, after coming under mortar fire, apparently from the rebels. Fares Shehabi, MP for Aleppo, told us: "[Rebels] don't allow anyone to leave - anyone who wants to approach safe corridors, they shoot at them".

The Family That Fled 3:56

The Threat 4:09

Braced for Violence 3:37

What Assad's Soldiers Say 4:47

Endgame for Aleppo?

Since we were in the city, the Syrian regime began a heavy offensive to retake the rebel east of the city. At the end of November, Russian and Syrian aerial bombardment appeared to have made a decisive impact on the war for this crucial city in the conflict. After months of stalemate, rebels lost critical territory in the districts it controlled and streams of refugees began to seek safety. The conflict stepped up again the day after President Putin spoke with President-Elect Trump – but whether the two are related is unknown.

Hour by hour, the frontlines of the battle were shifting. The breakthrough came as the regime moved into Hanano district, apparently seeking to cut the besieged east into two. In this zone, the White Helmets say that they had run out of supplies to rescue people in buildings hit by airstrikes - unable to save lives in a city they are calling a catastrophe.

Syrian and Kurdish TV showed people rejoicing, billing it as the moment that the people of Aleppo were being freed from the hands of jihadis. If the speed of the regime's advance is anything to go by, forces could soon take the entirety of the rebels' shrinking territory - but at what cost to the civilians left behind?

“We can't even hide inside, there are too many casualties and destruction, it was raining bombs and missiles”

'Baladi', east Aleppo resident, speaking to East Aleppo News Agency

At the end of October the rebels made their last failed attempt to break the siege. November saw renewed airstrikes and a sudden major advance by government forces. By 6th December, Assad’s forces had taken most of the historic Old City and the rebels were trapped in a tiny area. The UN said it had reports of scores of men, women and children being shot dead by pro-government fighters. A deal to evacuate fighters and civilians followed, but the ceasefire broke down with both sides blaming each other. Tens of thousands of people loyal to the opposition remain trapped in the east of Aleppo.

How the Frontline Shifted 0:28

Civilians leaving Aleppo 5:01

The last hospital 3:49


Credits

Producer/Translator on all reports Kamal Kaddourah All films commissioned by Nevine Mabro Executive produced by Nevine Mabro and Federico Escher Website by Mike Smith, Rory Pickering, Patrick Worrall, Felix Renicks