Fighting Rages On In Syria's Commercial Capital

Aug 2, 2012

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

We're going to get a firsthand account now of the fighting in Aleppo, Syria. Erika Solomon is Middle East correspondent for Reuters. She made it into Aleppo a week and a half ago and just left this morning. She joins us now from Turkey. Erika, give us a sense of what life was like in Aleppo, where you stayed, what you saw.

ERIKA SOLOMON: The whole time I was there, you could sense that residents were a bit confused as to what to do, where to go. Most of the shops were closed so the busiest places that we saw were the breadlines and the rebels had been trying to keep a somewhat steady supply of flour in order to be making bread for people. The rebels are patrolling the streets, as there are cities in the area they control. They have bases, which where I saw, were always at elementary or middle schools.

And some civilians can come in and make special requests if they need fuel or money or food or something. I don't know - I didn't get any insight into how easily those requests were granted, but they were trying to sort of make themselves an administrative presence as well in the area.

CORNISH: We also saw a video this week suggesting rebels are committing atrocities, executing captured members of government-backed militias. Did you see any sign of that?

SOLOMON: Yes. I didn't see the execution itself that has gotten a lot of play on some news channels, but I was near the area where they took over Salhin Police Station, which is where, allegedly, they took a large group of what they argued were unofficial militia men, which in Syria they call Shabiha. And they insist that they knew their faces and they knew who they were and they felt justified in killing these people.

And some of the rebels openly admitted to me that they saw some of these men and they got chances to, you know, abuse them, basically kick them or step on them. And they would insist to me that this was totally fair. They would say things like, you know, our cousins were raped. They sent my brother to jail. These people are horrible people. What else would you expect us to do? We suffered so long because of them.

On the other hand, they didn't treat everyone that way. When I made it to one of the rebel bases where rebels had attacked that police station, they had a large group of prisoners as well who, as far as I could see, hadn't been touched. They say that these are people who they agreed with ahead of time to surrender themselves and they said to me, they really don't want to have to fight everyone.

So if there's a group of people that wants to surrender, they'll take them as prisoners and transfer them to court. They have made their own, what they say, their own Sharia court, which is a form of Islamic law. And they say that they'll try them there.

CORNISH: Erika, you described rebel groups trying to maintain some kind of order. Can you tell us what the morale is among the rebels that you saw?

SOLOMON: The rebel morale is very high. They really feel like their winning this battle and they really think they have a chance at advancing and taking the center of the city, which is a square called Saadallah Al-Jabri. And they say that if they can take this square, symbolically they'll have toppled the regime in Aleppo, at least. They're less than a kilometer away, so they feel really confident.

But residents don't have the same rosy view. They say all it takes is the government to decide that we'll just come in and shell them or fire on them with our planes and helicopters and all of the advances that the rebels have made will have been moot. So that's what worries the locals.

CORNISH: So right now, people may hear the news and assume that the government is essentially going all out against the rebels in Aleppo, but you're saying essentially that the government is holding back, right now at least.

SOLOMON: Yes. I do get the sense that there's an impression of what's going on in Aleppo that anywhere you stand you're going to get shelled and that's actually eerily not the case. And residents have told me they kind of feel like they're living in this calm before the storm, that they just don't believe that the government is going to allow a large swath of the city to stay under rebel control. But they've been waiting for days now, almost maybe seven days and there hasn't been a very heavy shelling campaign on the eastern part of the city that the rebels are controlling.

So for now, I mean, they're in a holding pattern and the rebels are going to try to keep advancing. But all of these advances won't mean much if the government still has the option and chooses to use the option of shelling them.

CORNISH: Erika Solomon is Middle East correspondent for Reuters. She spent the past week and a half in Aleppo, Syria. Thanks so much, Erika.

SOLOMON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.