Syrian rebels carve paths through buildings to avoid snipers

Updated 13 August 2012

Syrian rebels carve paths through buildings to avoid snipers

ALEPPO, Syria: Four men from the rebel Free Syrian Army check their assault rifles and sling them over their shoulders.
Their commander, Abu Thabet, calls them over to give final instructions before they head through the deadly, sniper-ridden neighborhood of Salaheddine in Aleppo.
“Keep your heads down, stick close to the sides of the buildings and walk fast,” he tells them.
Aleppo, Syria’s biggest city and the engine room of its economy, is seen as a vital prize by both sides in the 17-month-old uprising against President Bashar Assad.
A Reuters crew joined the group from the Seyoof Al-Shahbaa brigade on its way to reinforce 20 of their men.
Rebels took control of Salaheddine early this month but last week troops backed by tanks, warplanes and helicopter gunships launched a fierce offensive to drive them out.
Army snipers are now posted in the area, a southern gateway to Aleppo, after tanks and jets battered rebels for days.
Rebels short of ammunition are up against Assad’s superior firepower, even if tanks are hard to maneuver through narrow residential streets in this city of 2.5 million.
Abu Thabet’s men walk into the edge of Salaheddine in single file, hugging the buildings and tightly clutching their rifles.
In fatigues and a sleeveless T-shirt, their leader’s left arm lies in a sling after a piece of shrapnel broke his shoulder a few days ago. In his good hand he holds a pistol.
On either side of the ghostly empty streets, flies buzz over huge piles of rotting garbage.
High in a building, a rebel sits on a windowsill, barefoot and holding a rifle ready to return fire on any army snipers.
Clambering up the fallen concrete using a makeshift wooden ladder, the group enters a bombed-out building. Abu Thabet’s men have broken holes in the walls to create safe passages for them to move around in Salaheddine, out of the snipers’ sights.

ABANDONED LIVES
“Now we are on a street parallel to Al-Albesa Street,” Abu Thabet explained. “On our right are snipers and on our left snipers. So we will go through these buildings to get to the Salaheddine roundabout.”
This building takes them into a maze of holes through deserted homes and apartment hallways back to back until they reach the roundabout that for now marks the frontline.
The holes in the walls are tight and their edges jagged with broken brick. Rebels squeeze through, legs first, then arms, scratching their skin and turning their hair white with dust.
There is evidence of abandoned lives all around.
A prayer mat lies on the floor of an empty bedroom. Another room has a cabinet filled with china tea cups and crystal glasses. A bird cage stands empty. In a kitchen, a jar of pickles sits half-eaten and rotting on the counter, flies circle around a pile of dishes in the sink.
In one apartment, rebels use the master bedroom as a weapons depot, placing ammunition and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) on top of the red blanket covering a bed.
The hallways are dim and the zig-zag route, up stairs, through bedrooms, from apartment to apartment, makes it hard to keep track of how many buildings have been traversed.
The last hole is through a large wooden closet, its back smashed through and behind it a gap two meters (six feet) wide, opening into an apartment filled with water bottles and bread.
About five rebels are crammed in a hallway waiting for orders. In a small living room a candle lights up a sofa set and family pictures sitting on a small television.
“We are now at the Salaheddine roundabout. The new frontline of the battle of Aleppo,” announced Abu Thabet, walking out into the bright street. “The army is just behind this building.”

INTO BATTLE
At the edge of the small street facing the roundabout, a group of five rebels take cover behind a broken wall.
“The army is advancing into the Salaheddine roundabout and bringing more reinforcements,” said Abu Yazen, 29, an army defector who was in charge of the fighters at the roundabout.
“Their strategy now is to try to break the walls of the buildings around us so that they can advance and take our positions,” he said.
Sniper fire starts up, the bullets snapping through the air overhead.
Suddenly, the slow rumble of a tank could be heard from one street over. “Tank, tank, tank,” yelled one man.
Quickly, a rebel shifted an RPG over his shoulder and skipped down to squat on the rubble-filled ground.
“Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar (God is greatest),” shouted one man, raising his arms over his head encouraging the men to join him. All 20 men screamed: “Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar.”
Seconds later, the RPG goes off with a swoosh and boom.
“I got it, I got it,” cried the man who fired it, as his comrade prepared a new grenade, twisting its cone-shaped head onto the launcher.
Then the mundane bleep of a text message, a government announcement claiming its forces control Salaheddine and have cleansed it of rebels. The men laugh.
But minutes later, a tank shell flies overhead and explodes on a building nearby, deafening ears.
Then another tank shell booms, and the rebels fire another RPG, only to be met with a rain of mortar bombs filling the sky with smoke and shrapnel. “They’re going to send more mortars. Hide in the doorway,” Abu Yazen screams.
Panicked rebels told journalists to leave for their own safety.
“They’re taking revenge, they’re going to mortar this place to bits,” shouts one rebel waving his automatic rifle.
On the way back, more mortar rounds land and a nearby building is shelled, sending an electricity pole crashing down, cables swinging wildly to the ground.
Five tank shells explode. The air is thick with hissing, burning, black smoke. Warplanes rumble overhead, firing downwards.


Resumed cargo flights: Thaw in Israel-Turkey ties?

Updated 25 May 2020

Resumed cargo flights: Thaw in Israel-Turkey ties?

  • Ankara’s involvement in Syria’s Idlib province against the Tehran-backed Assad regime has recently provided a common denominator for Turkey and Israel to reconcile
  • Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians remains a major irritant in relations with Ankara – Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday reiterated his support for the Palestinians

ISTANBUL: Israeli airline El Al has resumed cargo flights twice weekly between Tel Aviv and Istanbul for the first time in 10 years — a sign that decade-long bilateral tensions might be easing.
A cargo flight landed in Istanbul on Sunday morning to pick up humanitarian aid and protective equipment destined for US medical teams fighting COVID-19.
Burhanettin Duran, head of the Ankara-based think tank SETA, wrote that Turkey’s regional empowerment is “obliging Israel to search for normalization steps with Ankara.”
Dr. Nimrod Goren, head of the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies, said the cargo flight is a positive and visible development in bilateral relations that was probably approved by top government officials on both sides and required diplomatic efforts.
“However, the fact that this step takes place in parallel to a discussion about Israeli annexation in the West Bank, and to criticism of annexation by regional and international actors, might impact how it’s viewed in Turkey,” he told Arab News.
Goren said while the Israeli and Turkish governments continue to have significant policy differences, they should work to restore their relations to ambassadorial level, and to relaunch a strategic dialogue on regional developments of mutual interest.
“The forming of a new Israeli government, and the appointment of Gabi Ashkenazi as a new foreign minister, could be an opportunity to do so, and the cargo flight brings some positive momentum,” he added.
Turkey expelled Israel’s ambassador in May 2018 after the US moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Ankara’s involvement in Syria’s Idlib province against the Tehran-backed Assad regime has recently provided a common denominator for Turkey and Israel to reconcile, as it also serves the latter’s strategic interests in weakening the Iranian presence in Syria.
But Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians remains a major irritant in relations with Ankara. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday reiterated his support for the Palestinians. 
In a video message on Twitter, he said the issue of Jerusalem “is a red line for all Muslims worldwide.”
He added that Israel’s “new occupation and annexation project … disrespects Palestine’s sovereignty and international law.”
Ryan Bohl, Middle East analyst at geopolitical-risk firm Stratfor, told Arab News: “Turkey is trying to create economic ties with Israel because … Erdogan is finding the political ground changed, caused in part by demographic changes as young Turks are less incensed by the Palestinian issue, and in part by a general weariness among Turks about putting too much skin in the game to solve the Palestinian question,” 
Israel is expected to annex large parts of the occupied West Bank on July 1 under the terms of a coalition government agreement. Ankara has strongly criticized the plan.
Israeli and Turkish officials are rumored to have held talks behind closed doors to reach a deal on maritime borders and exclusive economic zones in the eastern Mediterranean. 
Israel’s Foreign Ministry recently said it was “proud of our diplomatic relations with Turkey.”
But Goren said it is currently unlikely that Israel will advance a maritime demarcation deal with Turkey as it would shake several regional balances at the same time.
“It will put in jeopardy, and run in contrast to, the important alliances in the eastern Mediterranean that Israel has fostered in recent years with Greece, Cyprus and Egypt,” he added.