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The Weather, a Measure of Life and Death

ALEPPO — Wintery cold and record snowfall have threatened the lives of Syrians living in unheated homes in Aleppo.

Written by Mohammed al-Khatieb Published on Read time Approx. 2 minutes

The Syrian Network for Human Rights said that no less than 22 people died in Syria this week, nine of whom were children, from sub-zero temperatures in the face of lengthy power shortages.

In Aleppo, once the country’s economic capital, electricity has been scarce since continued shelling took out power lines. The exorbitant prices of oil and diesel, and even wood, prevented many from being able to keep warm.

Local activists said Abdul Kader Habbal, 50, a resident of Aleppo’s Saif al-Dawla neighborhood, died on Monday because he did not have sufficient clothing to keep him warm.

Activists also posted a video of a five-year-old who died showing signs of frostbite. The video’s commentator says that “the children of Rastan city are being martyred by the harsh cold.”

Death From the Air

In a reverse effect, winter storms can also bring an element of relief to the streets of Aleppo, bringing government air raids to a halt. Syrian government planes don’t fly as often when the weather is cloudy.

It’s a common refrain in Syria’s embattled second city: “It’s not raining today. May God save us.”

This week snowstorm Alexa, the worst winter storm in decades, pounded the Middle East. It brought snow and torrential rains to Syria and Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, neighboring countries flooded with refugees.

As Alexa petered out, government air strikes resumed as part of what analysts said was the largest escalation in fighting in the city in months, with barrel bombs dropping on opposition-controlled areas.

Rebel fighters are unable to shoot down government helicopters with anti-aircraft weapons because they fly at such a high altitude; activists said the fighters have been attempting to shoot the bombs as they drop, in an attempt to detonate them before impact.

“We feel helpless when we see the jet fighters circling above,” said one Free Syrian Army fighter. As skies cleared, civilians could be seen looking up at the sky, watching for jet fighters.

“I look at the sky and I wait for the plane to drop the TNT barrel,” said Sami, a 13-year-old Aleppine who shows a fatalistic acceptance of the risks from above. “It makes me feel a semblance of calm, not knowing whether I or any of my relatives would be among the victims.”

Medical workers in Aleppo rose to the challenge, treating hypothermia and other cold-borne illness. There were also the usual injuries to tend to. An unborn baby girl was rescued from the womb of her dead mother, hit in the heart by shrapnel. She was later named after her mother.

An image that went viral this week on social media was of a man who just lost his taxi — his sole source of income —  in an air raid that targeted a busy parking lot in the Haidariyeh neighborhood. Crying, the man holds onto his car plate — all that is left of his livelihood.

This article was translated from Arabic by Naziha Baassiri.

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