Syrians pray in the ancient Umayyad mosque in the old city of Aleppo, as civilians are allowed access to some neighbourhoods recently retaken by Syrian government forces.(STRINGER / AFP/Getty Images)
A shell punches through one of the ancient Khans (marketplaces) in the old city of Aleppo.(Nabih Bulos/Los Angeles Times )
A bulldozer removes rubble from a road as Syrian pro-government forces re-open a street in Aleppo’s old city that was formerly barricaded, dividing the government-held and rebel-held areas of the city.(YOUSSEF KARWASHAN / AFP/Getty Images)
Syrian pro-government forces sit in the government-held old city of Aleppo. Trapped Syrian civilians and rebels waited desperately Saturday for evacuations to resume from an opposition-held enclave in Aleppo.(STRINGER / AFP/Getty Images)
A Syrian man walks past a bulldozer removing rubble from a road as Syrian pro-government forces re-open a street in Aleppo’s old city that was formerly barricaded, dividing the government-held and rebel-held areas.(YOUSSEF KARWASHAN / AFP/Getty Images)
A member of the Syrian pro-government forces watches buses during an evacuation operation of rebel fighters and their families from rebel-held neighborhoods in Aleppo.(YOUSSEF KARWASHAN / AFP/Getty Images)
A wounded by sits inside an ambulance as Syrian civilians and their families gather at the rebel-held al-Amiriyah neighborhood as they wait to be evacuated from Aleppo.(KARAM AL-MASRI / AFP/Getty Images)
An elderly Syrian man is carried during an evacuation operation of rebel fighters and their families from the embattled city of Aleppo.(KARAM AL-MASRI / AFP/Getty Images)
Syrians wave their national flag bearing a portrait of the Syrian president during an evacuation operation of rebel fighters and their families from rebel-held neighborhoods in Aleppo.(GEORGE OURFALIAN / AFP/Getty Images)
An elderly Syrian woman in a wheelchair waits next to a bus during an evacuation operation in Aleppo.(KARAM AL-MASRI / AFP/Getty Images)
The inhabitants of the eastern neighborhoods of Aleppo are seen inspecting their belongings and houses.(EPA)
Syrian residents, fleeing violence in the Bustan al Qasr neighbourhood, arrive in Aleppo’s Fardos neighborhood. Syrian rebels withdrew from six more neighborhoods in their one-time bastion of east Aleppo in the face of advancing government troops.(AFP/Getty Images)
Syrians try to keep warm in Aleppo’s Fardos neighborhood after fleeing from another area retaken by government troops.(AFP/Getty Images)
An image released by the official government news agency purports to show Syrian soldiers walking next to a tank in eastern Aleppo.(Syrian Arab New Agency)
A Syrian pro-regime fighter speaks with a child as residents flee the Bustan al Qasr neighborhood of Aleppo.(AFP/Getty Images)
Syrian residents arrive in Aleppo’s Fardos neighborhood after fleeing their own area, which was retaken from rebel fighters by the troops of President Bashar Assad.(AFP/Getty Images)
A Syrian pro-government fighter walks past closed shops in the Bab al Nasr district of Aleppo’s Old City. Once renowned for its bustling souks, grand citadel and historic gates, Aleppo’s Old City has been rendered virtually unrecognizable by some of the worst violence of Syria’s civil war.(George Ourfalian / AFP/Getty Images)
Buildings lie in ruins in the Bustan al Qasr neighborhood after pro-government forces captured the area in eastern Aleppo.(George Ourfalian / AFP/Getty Images)
Syrian pro-government forces walk through Aleppo’s Bustan al Qasr neighborhood.(George Ourfalian / AFP/Getty Images)
A Syrian army soldier holds a national flag during a battle with rebel fighters at the Ramouseh front line, east of Aleppo.(Hassan Ammar / Associated Press)
Caught between rebels and government forces, the Syrian city of Aleppo has largely been cut off from the rest of the world in recent months. But this week, as Syrian forces advanced on rebel-held areas, residents took to social media to send pleas and heartbreaking farewells to a global audience.
As the shelling of the city continued, residents reported on the carnage (“Every bomb is a new massacre”) or suggested their most recent communication might be their last.
On Tuesday, under the terms of a cease-fire brokered by Turkey and Russia, Syrian rebels were to be allowed to leave for rebel-held territories and civilians were to be evacuated. But after just a few hours of calm, shelling resumed, and the green buses meant for shuttling opposition fighters out have remained empty.
Aleppo, once Syria’s most populous city, has been the focus of intense fighting between anti-government rebels and forces loyal to President Bashar Assad.
The tweets, photographs and videos beaming out of the city in recent days were liked, shared and retweeted thousands and sometimes tens of thousands of times. Often the sounds of warfare can be heard in the background, and the speakers’ dress even when inside — heavy clothing and wool caps — is a reminder that utilities have been inconsistent or completely cut off.
Here is what some of them, writing or speaking in English, said:
Lina Shamy, activist
The young woman wearing a hijab and oversize glasses posted a video from Aleppo early Tuesday morning:
“To everyone who can hear me, we are here exposed to a genocide in the besieged city of Aleppo. This may be my last video. More than 50,000 of civilians who rebelled against the dictator Al Assad are threatened with field executions or dying under bombing…The civilians are stuck in a very small area that doesn’t exceed 2 square kilometers.
“With no safe zones, no life. Every bomb is a new massacre. Save Aleppo. Save the humanity.”
Two days later, after the cease-fire broke, Shamy asked her followers to continue their efforts. The sound of explosions could be heard in the distance:
“Civilians are stuck again in the city. No one could have leaved [sic] the city under this agreement. How can we trust Russia after they have promised that this agreement will occur and that no one would attack the civilians?”
Rami Zien, activist and journalist
Lit only by his phone, Rami Zien spoke hopefully Tuesday about the cease-fire.
“What we have seen the last two days is indescribable. Anyhow the cease-fire is ongoing and we’re hoping that the agreement about evacuation in the city and the fighters will reach and will be implemented so we can go all safely. Thanks for everyone who prayed for us, and we still need your prayers and your voices.”
Later that night, in a video streaming on Periscope that had over 100,000 views, Zien described his hopes of fleeing to the countryside and then Turkey – and maybe one day, London.
Abdul Kafi Alhamdo, teacher and activist
“This is a call and might be the last call,” Alhamdo tweeted Monday. “Save Aleppo people. Save my daughter and other children. #StandwithAleppo.”
A few hours later: “the last message. Thanks for everything. We shared many moments. The last tweets were from an emotiomal [sic] father. Farewell, #Aleppo.”
On Tuesday, in a live stream on Periscope, Alhamdo described the situation:
“Now it’s raining, bombs a little bit calmer, the Assad militias are maybe 300 meters away, no place now to go. It’s the last of days. I hope we can speak again…. Really I don’t know what to say but I hope you can do something for Aleppo people, for my daughter, for the other children.”
Ismail Alabdullah, Syria Civil Defense volunteer
On Wednesday, he bid a farewell to the city in a tweet: “You are more than a mother to me, you will stay in my heart even in my grave my beloved #Aleppo.”
The civil defense workers, volunteers known as the White Helmets for their headgear, are trained in basic first aid and respond to airstrikes and bombings. Some Aleppo residents call them heroes, others suspect them of being rebel fighters.
A few hours later, over what sounded like a steady stream of rain punctuated by shelling, Alabdullah spoke brokenheartedly about leaving Aleppo in a video posted by the Syria Civil Defense organization:
“This time maybe it is the last time that I talk to you from Aleppo…. Another crime, forcing the people to leave their city. Today we couldn’t help the injured people, we couldn’t bury the dead bodies because of the situation, because of the bombing before the cease-fire.
“All of that because the whole world let us down and we couldn’t stay in Aleppo city to help our people, to help our kids, and now you can’t help us. You can’t help us anymore.”
Salah Ashkar, activist
In a video posted Wednesday on Twitter, Ashkar stepped over rubble and appeared out of breath.
“A missile just fell on the roof of my building,” he narrated as he climbed over debris. “Now the people who were awaiting… the bus, have to run back for their life again and find shelter.”
He panned to the destruction on the roof and looked into the camera one last time before shutting it off.