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Aleppo, Syria Desperate for Cease-fire to Hold

September 15, 2016

Devastated area of Aleppo.
Fighting in Aleppo, Syria has destroyed property, local business and lives.

A surge of mortar fire and bombings preceded a new cease-fire that went into effect at sunset on Monday (Sept. 12) in Aleppo, Syria, leaving civilians between extremes of despair and hope.

Some 2 million people in Aleppo, Syria's largest city before civil war broke out in 2011, were in danger of coming under siege from various factions before the cease-fire, an indigenous missionary based in the city said.

"Ferocious fighting has rocked and divided Aleppo in recent weeks, with rebels and the Syrian Army having rival access routes and cutting off residents," he said. "Two million people in the city are living in fear of confinement, including up to 275,000 people trapped in east Aleppo."

Fighting in Aleppo is reported to have killed at least 300 civilians since the end of July and has damaged the city's hospitals, clinics, and power and water networks, he said.

"In a major push three weeks ago, a coalition of rebels, Islamists, and jihadists cut off Aleppo's main access road on the southern edges of the city," he said. "Each side has used their newly acquired territory to bring some food and other supplies into the neighborhoods of the city they control, but the roads are still not safe for civilians to use."

'As long as the conflict continues in Aleppo, we need to continue remembering the incredible suffering which has followed, and continues to follow, the people who are left behind,' the ministry director said.

The United Nations reported that aid trucks were prepared to deliver supplies to besieged residents of the city as the cease-fire appeared to hold. At least 250,000 civilians were reportedly trapped in rebel-held eastern Aleppo, while others were cut off from aid supplies in other areas. Russian forces supporting President Bashar al-Assad were said to be ensuring that the ceasefire held along a key access road in northern Syria leading to the eastern area.

A previous cease-fire in February fell apart within weeks.

Both rebels and government forces have raised accusations against each other of sporadic violations of the most recent cease-fire, but there were no verified reports of civilian deaths. Russia claimed after the first full day of the cease-fire that U.S.-backed rebels violated it more than 20 times, including killing two government soldiers on a rebel-held road to Aleppo. Also on the first day, the United Kingdom-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported pro-government forces had shelled two villages near Aleppo.

While U.N. officials said aid trucks would not roll until peace was assured, the Syrian regime said it would not allow aid, especially from its longstanding enemy Turkey, into Aleppo without prior coordination with Assad's government and the United Nations. A city official told Reuters that fuel, flour, wheat, infant formula and medicines were in especially high demand. The United States has pledged to work with Russia to ensure routes are secure for aid convoys.

While the cease-fire offers hope for some, a record of failed peace initiatives leaves others continuing with despair. Rebel groups were wary of how the cease-fire would be implemented, with a statement from 21 opposition factions, including the U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army, reportedly saying they were "fully aware of the trap being set to make us sink in a quagmire of concessions or lead us to infighting that divides our ranks and disunites us."

The truce excludes Islamic terrorist groups such as the Islamic State (ISIS), but it has been increasingly difficult to distinguish them from the "moderate" rebels. The statement from the 21 rebel groups said they opposed taking military aim at Jabhat Fateh al-Sham - a terrorist group formerly known as the Nusra Front, "as this would weaken the military power of the revolution and strengthen the Al-Assad regime and its allies."

Inside of partially destroyed house in Aleppo.
Large parts of Aleppo have been left in ruins.

If the cease-fire holds for seven days, terms call for the United States and Russia to carry out coordinated air strikes on ISIS and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham. Washington and Moscow hope the cease-fire will make a negotiated end to the war possible.

SOHR estimates the death toll from more than five years of fighting to be about 430,000, and the U.N. estimates the war has driven 4.8 million people from the country and displaced another 6.5 million internally.

The Christian leader native to Syria said he prays that God will fill hearts with hope for a brighter future.

"May He hear the cries of the people of Syria; bring healing to those suffering from the violence, and comfort to those mourning the dead," he said. "May He also convert the hearts of those who have taken up arms, and strengthen the resolve of those committed to peace."

As the war has ruined Aleppo's economy, the ministry is providing cash, help with rent and tuition for children's schooling, along with medical aid.

"As long as the conflict continues in Aleppo, we need to continue remembering the incredible suffering which has followed, and continues to follow, the people who are left behind," he said. "The people face the daily struggle to survive in a country with the lack of almost everything. Thanks for remembering Syrian people in your prayers."

To help indigenous missionaries to meet needs, you may contribute online using the form below, or call (434) 977-5650. If you prefer to mail your gift, please mail to Christian Aid Mission, P.O. Box 9037, Charlottesville, VA 22906. Please use Gift Code: 414EHCS. Thank you!

Help meet physical/spiritual needs of displaced Syrians
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