ALEPPO, Syria — The rumble of engines in the sky immediately set the Aleppo neighborhood below on edge. Men peeked from shops anxiously at the Syrian warplane circling slowly overhead. Housewives emerged on balconies to gauge whether they were about to be hit. But the kids hanging out on the street were unfazed. One kept dribbling his basketball.
Finally, the jet struck. Engines revving louder, it dove and unleashed a burst of heavy machine-gun fire into a nearby part of the city. It soared back up under a hail of rebel anti-aircraft fire, then swooped back down for a second strafing run.
The women on the balconies broke into tears, fearing for the children in the street. But the boys just pointed at the jet, shouting “God is great" in challenge. “God send you to hell, Bashar," one boy yelled as the jet flew away.
With death lurking around every corner, the survival instincts of Aleppo’s population are being stretched to the limit every day as the battle between Syria’s rebels and the regime of President Bashar Assad for the country’s largest city stretches through its fourth destructive month. Residents in the rebel-held neighborhoods suffering the war’s brunt tell tales of lives filled with fear over the war in their streets, along with an ingenuity and resilience in trying to keep their shattered families going.
And while residents of the rebel-held areas express their hatred of Assad’s regime and their dream of seeing him go, they also voice their worries over the rebels and the destruction that their offensive has brought to their city. Graffiti on the shutter of a closed store declares the population’s sense of resignation: “God, you are all we’ve got."
Since the rebels launched their assault in July to drive government forces from Aleppo, the two sides have fought to a stalemate. Each holds about half the city of 3 million people and neither is able to deal the other a decisive blow. While government-held areas have seen some fighting from occasional rebel forays, the opposition districts are hit daily by artillery, mortars, sniper fire and airstrikes.