Medical staff work in an operating room at al-Razi hospital in Aleppo
Medical staff work in an operating room at al-Razi hospital in Aleppo © George Ourfalian - AFP
Medical staff work in an operating room at al-Razi hospital in Aleppo
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Rim Haddad, AFP
Last updated: January 1, 1970

Rebel rockets scar west Aleppo residents

Syrian teenager Diaa al-Din Hassan lay in a hospital bed in western Aleppo, his eyes alive but the rest of his body motionless, paralysed after a rebel rocket attack last week.

"I was on my way to work when a shell fell on the Maysaloon neighbourhood. I hit the ground and lost consciousness," the fourteen-year-old told AFP in a shared room at the Razi Hospital.

A piece of shrapnel penetrated his spinal cord, paralysing him from the neck down.

Diaa left school two years ago to become his family's only breadwinner, earning a meagre salary at a small sewing factory.

Blinking away her tears, his mother said she tried to warn him not to venture out when the rebel shelling on their west Aleppo neighbourhood became heavy, but without success.

"I have to go to work because I'm the breadwinner. If I don't go, we won't eat," Diaa insisted.

"If I stayed at home, then maybe the rockets that were raining down everywhere would have also hit the house."

The teenager said several friends had been wounded in previous rebel shelling while at school.

"It was my turn," he told AFP.

Diaa is one of thousands of Aleppo residents wounded -- some of whom will never recover -- since violence first divided the northern city in 2012.

Since then, government forces have bombarded rebel-held positions in the east, while opposition factions have fired mortar rounds and rockets into western districts.

Rebel fire has intensified in recent weeks after Syria's army launched an all-out assault that has seen it seize three quarters of the one-time opposition stronghold.

Aleppo's surgeon general Fawwaz Hajjo told AFP at least 1,330 people have been killed in west Aleppo since the beginning of the year, the vast majority in rocket attacks.

- 'Fate follows people' -

Lying next to Diaa is 23-year-old Jamila Abdulrahman.

Days ago, she was hanging laundry from her third-storey apartment in west Aleppo's Ithaa district when an artillery shell crashed into her home.

The force threw her off her balcony, breaking her spine, hip, and leg and permanently paralysing her.

Her 68-year-old mother Saliha is distraught.

Even if she finds a way to pay for her daughter's treatment, "I don't know where we will go," she told AFP.

"We don't have anywhere to live since our house has been seriously damaged. The doors were ripped off and the walls collapsed -- it's uninhabitable."

Once Syria's celebrated cultural and commercial hub, much of Aleppo has been reduced to rubble-strewn streets and partially-crumbled buildings, particularly in the east.

But the west has also been affected, and on Monday a missile tore through the centre of a four-storey building in Al-Masharqa, killing eight people.

Half of them were women from a single family, according to 30-year-old Safaa Qabbani.

"We were chatting and watching television after dinner when we heard a huge boom. The ceiling collapsed, there was dust and water coming from everywhere," recalled Qabbani, who lived on the first floor with her husband, mother and three sons.

In a daze, she picked up her two-year-old and took him outside.

"Only then did I notice the blood streaming down my forehead," Qabbani told AFP, adding that her children "have been traumatised by the incident."

She and her family had moved several times around west Aleppo to escape rocket fire.

"Fate follows people no matter where they try to hide," she said.

- 150 wounded per day -

As it advanced into the eastern neighbourhood of Masaken Hanano in late November, the army discovered a warehouse it said had been used by rebels to assemble and store rockets.

An official from the army's engineering unit said it was used "to fill artillery rounds and old gas canisters with explosives, a weapon called a 'Hellcannon.'"

"They are unguided missiles with a huge margin of error... but could be produced locally very easily," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Radwan Qahwatiya, deputy head of the Razi Hospital, told AFP "the flow of wounded people to our hospital hasn't stopped for a single day."

"Some days we get 150 wounded people, others, as many as 50 in just half an hour," he said.

At times, casualties come in "at such a rate that the cleaners haven't even had a chance to wipe the pools of blood off the floor" before the next wave arrives, he said.

Upstairs, Qabbani's brother Abu Abdo says the unpredictable deluge of rocket fire has left "people living in a constant state of terror and anxiety."

"All they can feel these days is a mortar round falling here, a rocket hitting there, and a gas canister crashing there," he told AFP.

"You think you're living in safety but you don't know what could happen in five minutes."

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