Saving lives in Aleppo

If you only read one thing today (hell, this week) make it this incredible article about members of a Civil Defense team in Aleppo. Day after day, in a city being turned to dust by Assad's barrel bombs, these young men rush to the sites of bombings to try to rescue survivors. (Or used to rush: they've left too now, as this postscript explains). 

To be hit by an explosion at close range is to experience light and sound as darkness and silence; silence as your ears ring louder than any sound, darkness as dust and smoke envelop you. The air filled with flying chunks of cinder block, and the men were pitched forward onto their hands, the floor suddenly gritty with debris. Khaled leaped to his feet and rushed with the rest of the team out into the pitch-black lot. The station had half-collapsed, and the power had gone out. One of the guys, Omar, had been hurt and a group led by Khaled threw him into the cab of the truck and peeled out. The rest of the team ran across the road and crouched in a narrow space between two houses — they could hear the planes coming back in, and could see red anti-aircraft tracers arc up from the rebel positions to meet them. Another blast sounded close by; the door to one of the houses opened and a young couple, the man cradling an infant in his arms, came out and hurried off into the night.
After about 20 minutes, the bombing subsided, and they dared to smoke again. Annas and Surkhai came out and stood by the road. The moon had risen in a yellow half-circle above the station; no one wanted to go back in, for fear the planes would return. An ambulance screeched up, and the driver got out, gaping at them in astonishment. “When I saw the bomb drop here, I came as fast as I could,” he said. You could see the whites of his eyes. “God has saved you because he wants you to save others.”
The firetruck returned, and Khaled got out. “Omar’s okay,” he told the group. “He just cut his foot.” He stood for a moment and surveyed the grim-faced half circle. The guys were badly rattled. But the Hanano team had never run from the site of a blast. He quickly made a decision. “We’re going to stay here tonight and guard the station,” he announced. “And in the morning, we’ll go somewhere new.”
Nodding their assent, the guys lit up fresh smokes and started joking to break the tension.
“I hope we move to a nice big school,” said Annas.
“They always bomb schools,” responded Surkhai.
They sat in a line on the curb, leaning their shoulders against each other and listening to the shelling, their cigarette embers blinking in red procession, until the sun rose in place of the moon.

Rebel: 70% of Aleppo with the regime

Syrian rebels fight on for Aleppo despite local wariness

Martin Chulov reporting for The Guardian:

More than a month into the battle for Aleppo, the rebels who seized control of much of the city sense that its residents do not yet fully support them. Opposition fighters – around 3,000 of them – are almost the only people moving around the eastern half that the Free Syrian Army now controls. The small numbers of non-fighters who remain seem to pay them little heed. Few seem openly welcoming.

"Yes it's true," said Sheikh Tawfik Abu Sleiman, a rebel commander sitting on the ground floor of his fourth new headquarters – the other three were bombed. "Around 70% of Aleppo city is with the regime. It has always been that way. The countryside is with us and the city is with them. We are saying that we will only be here as long as it takes to get the job done, to get rid of the Assads. After that, we will leave and they can build the city that they want."

I'm sure a lot is going to be made of that quote, because it raises some very legitimate questions. Aleppo is not Benghazi, where there was massive local support. The rebels are not mostly locals, an indeed may include many foreigners. Residents, which include many minorities that are the most worried about a long civil war, are understandably not happy their city has been turned into a war zone. Aleppo is a strategic point to control the north, that is why the battle has been brought there. The countryside vs. urban sentiment the rebel brings up leads on to many other questions. One doesn't want to extrapolate from a single quote, but therein lies the dilemma of the Syrian civil war: there still is not substantial evidence that there is an overwhelming sentiment among the Syrian population for it — not that many support the regime, but simply that many may not think it's worth it. In wars, though, the undecided and the reluctant rarely decide.