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.

The emergency room

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    A 10-year-old Syrian boy with a severe shrapnel wound arrives at an Aleppo hospital on Oct. 24, 2012. The hospital receives 150 cases a day, severely stressing the staff's capabilities.
    Scott Peterson/The Christian Science Monitor/Getty Images
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The city street outside an Aleppo hospital comes alive every time casualties arrive, carried to this nondescript facility in charging vehicles from wherever government artillery and aircraft bombs have hit their mark.

These are the gory results that have traumatized Aleppo and created no-go zones so damaged they resemble the 1990s Russian destruction of the Chechen capital, Grozny. This hospital is frequently attacked; upper floors are wrecked, and almost every building around has taken direct hits.

One truck arrives, bearing a 10-year-old boy and an older woman, both with serious shrapnel wounds to their thighs. The brother of the boy is so distraught he shouts himself hoarse and butts his head inconsolably against the unforgiving metal railing of the truck. The father holds his head in horror as his son is loaded onto a gurney and wheeled inside.

Quickly moving to the boy’s side as the doctors begin their painful work is an older nurse wearing a black head scarf. She comforts the boy, holding his head and kissing it, when the reassuring touch of her fingers alone are not enough.

When the boy calls out for his mother, the nurse is there.

“This war, the civilians are paying for it, the women, the children,” says Abu Mohamed, a hospital staffer. “If we had Stinger [anti-aircraft missiles], this war would be over in a month. We are so angry, because most of the injured are women and children. It breaks our heart.”

Such sentiments are often heard in Aleppo – that the US and Europe could do more to help the rebels fight, to more quickly end the war. Abu Mohamed pleads: “I hope the government of the United States will protect the civilians here, at least, because she raises the flag of democracy and it is her duty.”

This hospital receives 150 cases a day; after one especially lethal attack a month ago, the wards were overwhelmed with 40 dead and 70 seriously wounded. (An earlier Monitor story reported on the risks for volunteer medics.)

“There is one attack on a hospital every two days. We could die at any moment, but we must continue,” says Abu Mohamed. “In our religion, we believe nothing happens to us that isn’t fate. God wrote every moment [of our lives]…”

Outside, a man has reached breaking point. “I will kill Bashar and cut his head! I want him dead!” he shouts, as gunmen guarding the hospital try to calm him.

Exiting the hospital, another man carries a dead 7-year-old girl wrapped in a sheet. This is a dangerous spot, so he quickly opens the door of a waiting taxi, laying the young body gently in the back seat for her final ride home.

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