Justin Vela

Recent work from Aleppo…

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Syrian rebels head into a fight with regime forces in Aleppo, Syria on August 15, 2012.

Syrian rebels head into a fight with regime forces in Aleppo, Syria on August 15, 2012.

Istanbul – Last week, I was in the war torn Syrian city of Aleppo and the surrounding countryside.

During this time I accompanied Syrian rebels into combat in two different locations around the city. During one battle, the rebels faced off with regime aircraft, as I described for Foreign Policy:

Suddenly, we were there. A regime jet, probably an L-39 Albatros, screamed low overhead as rebels who were already engaged in battle fired on it with two truck-mounted Dushka guns. A fighter firing one of the weapons, a Soviet-era heavy machine gun, watched open-mouthed as the plane darted overhead. His truck sped down the street after it, but it was already out of range. Absent extraordinary luck, the rebels’ weapons were simply incapable of downing the jet.

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I also met and interviewed fighters from Jabhat al-Nusra, a rebel group with alleged links to al-Qaeda, for the Washington Post.

On a recent morning, three jihadist fighters chambered rounds into their AK-47 rifles as their bearded driver sped through Aleppo’s streets in a bullet-ridden white van.“If shooting starts, put your head down,” one of the jihadists said as the van headed toward the flashpoint Salahuddin neighborhood, blending in with the battle-scarred vehicles of other fighters hurtling through the streets.

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In one of the most heartbreaking moments of the trip, the border town of Azaz was bombed and about 40 people killed. Since men were badly wounded the death count could continue to climb. I described the aftermath for al-Monitor.

Tiny pieces of a dead woman were picked up one by one and placed in a white piece of cloth. It might have been a scarf or perhaps simply at hand when it was needed for a final task that certainly had not been its intended purpose. The young men filled the cloth with bits of the woman’s remains and moved broken pieces of concrete from around the rest of her body. The men carefully collected as much of her as possible.

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In the midst of all this, I ran into some foreign fighters, including one from the United Kingdom who I featured in The National.

Wounded Syrian rebels being carried in and out of crowded hospitals are hardly an unusual sight. But when one young fighter passing through the hospital doors says, “Excuse me, guys”, in perfect British English, bystanders take notice.

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See photos of Syria’s rebels


Written by Justin Vela

August 23, 2012 at 3:15 pm

Posted in Published work, The Middle East

Tagged with , , ,

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