Rebel fighters of the Free Syrian Army hold up their rifles in the northern restive Syrian city of Aleppo, on August 3
Rebel fighters of the Free Syrian Army hold up their rifles in the northern restive Syrian city of Aleppo, on August 3. It starts with a distant humming from the sky as a bright object edges ever closer. It is a warplane, deployed by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's military to suppress Aleppo's insurgency. © Vedat Xhymshiti - AFP/File
Rebel fighters of the Free Syrian Army hold up their rifles in the northern restive Syrian city of Aleppo, on August 3
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Iskandar Kat, AFP
Last updated: August 5, 2012

Assad's warplanes reap deadly harvest in Aleppo

It starts with a distant humming from the sky as a bright object edges ever closer. It is a warplane, deployed by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's military to suppress Aleppo's insurgency.

In their camp, rebel fighters run in all directions as the first explosions shake the glass of windows. A fighter jet flies at low altitude and its wings are now visible.

The rebels wake up with a start, pick up their guns and scan the skies.

Another explosion echoes and just as fast as it appeared in the skyline, the warplane turns back.

People are worried. Where have the rockets fallen? Has the army pilot completed his mission or will he return for more? Amid the uncertainty, three more explosions are heard. This time, they're in the neighbourhood.

Rebels take cover behind the thick walls of a school, under the staircase or in the cellars, where tank shells, ammunition and fuel oil are stocked up.

A handful of Western journalists refuse to follow them, fearing a rocket or an explosion could blow it all up.

There's a moment of silence, but it's misleading. Soon enough, the engine of a plane is heard again. Within minutes, there are new explosions.

Just outside, the rebels take advantage of a lull to move one of the tanks they seized from the army.

Hidden under a massive tarpaulin, the tank releases a cloud of smoke and dust as it churns through the neighbourhood. Nearby, the rebels set up heavy machineguns on pick-up trucks, ready to take on the warplanes.

A van pulls up at a field hospital near the rebel camp. The men cry out as they open the vehicle door. They pull out a young man covered in blood, his legs and back riddled with shrapnel.

With him in the van is a young woman, crying silently as she trembles, wringing his fingers. "He's the son of a neighbour," said an older woman. "The rockets fell on our neighbourhood, Hanano," in the northeast of Aleppo.

Minutes later a group of men carry the wounded man back to the van. His injuries are too severe, and he needs to be taken to the Shaar hospital for treatment.

He is visibly in pain, though he can still move his legs. The men put him in the back of the vehicle, his legs dangling out of the window.

On the streets of Aleppo, there are women and children. On a main street, a tower of flames rises out of a destroyed car, likely hit by a rocket. "You have seen what they are doing? They will destroy the whole city!" shouted a man.

Mohammed Ahmadi, an army officer who defected eight months ago and who commands several hundred rebels, knows it's not enough to control areas on the ground, as Assad's military has command of the sky.

"We need anti-aircraft and anti-tank weaponry," said Ahmadi, stroking his beard. "But I know that neither the Europeans, nor the Qataris will give us such arms."

The rebels buy their stocks from smugglers, Ahmadi added, and the price of a Kalashnikov cartridge in Aleppo has gone down from $3.5 to just over $2.

Since the outbreak of an armed insurrection in Syria's second city on July 20, the situation is at a deadlock.

Free Syrian Army rebels and troops loyal to the regime fight each other in the district of Salaheddin, a rebel stronghold where hundreds of thousands of residents have fled.

But both sides await the regime's major offensive, which has yet to come.

Almost every night, to try and relieve Aleppo, the rebels attack Menagh military airport, which serves as a base for helicopters. As for the fighter jets, they come from the northwestern province of Idlib or further away.

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