In key Syrian city, snipers and bombing tear at fabric of daily life

As rebels and the Syrian government battle for control of Aleppo, residents tap caution – and dark humor – to survive.

A mother's struggles

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    An ancient doorway is damaged from government air and artillery bombardment after three months of intense fighting against rebels of the Free Syrian Army in Aleppo, Syria, on October 23, 2012.
    Scott Peterson/The Christian Science Monitor/Getty Images
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A few doors down from the hospital, sitting on a low chair on a broken sidewalk, a Syrian mother is lost in confusion, feeling the dangers of this war without understanding why they have torn apart her life.

Umm Mohamed’s distress reaches through the black chador that covers her completely. Her left hand clutches a fistful of bread; her curly-haired 3-year-old daughter – one of seven children – sucks her thumb and stays close, her evident curiosity at the street scene in sharp contrast to her mother’s fear.

The family lived in Salaheddin, a rebel enclave in southwest Aleppo pummeled since government forces launched an assault there in late July.

“The regime sent papers saying, ‘Get out, we will attack, run for your lives,’ so we got out,” recalls Umm Mohamed.

As she speaks, the wounded 10-year-old boy, his leg now bandaged, is wheeled out of the hospital to a safer, underground operating theater – this stark reminder of the daily danger barely eliciting a glance from those on the street. A medical orderly runs after them, carrying two units of blood.

The woman’s family, fleeing explosions and gunfire, and escaping unharmed from two close blasts, now lives in a basement in a “safer” district: “If my girl comes and says ‘I am hungry,’ it breaks my heart. We survive by the force of God.”

And also by the benevolence of the Free Syrian Army, says this mother. The rebels have provided money, food, and milk since Umm Mohamed’s husband disappeared two months ago. He was a taxi driver, arrested for taking wounded anti-regime protesters to the hospital.

“Why is the world keeping Assad at the head of his people? He is killing his people!” says Umm Mohamed. “In our hand there is nothing we can do. Maybe we will die.”

The daughter pulls her thumb from her mouth and waves when she spots a friend. The other little girl races over and they embrace. Yet Umm Mohamed’s mind focuses not on their playfulness, but on the number of snipers in their neighborhood.

“Yes, it’s full of snipers. When the dark is coming, we can’t go outside because they shoot immediately,” says the mother. “I am so afraid.”

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