According to a report filed by NBC’s Richard Engel, a large shipment of anti-aircraft weapons arrived in Aleppo on Tuesday for the Free Syrian Army. There was no identification of the source of the weapons, other than the fact that they came through Turkey, but they will make it possible for the rebels to shoot down the helicopter gunships and warplanes that have been pounding the city of Aleppo, as the pounded Damascus and Homs and, well, anywhere that rebels were thought to be.
There were estimated to be 3 million residents in Aleppo (the last census was in 2004), and at least 200,000 have fled the city, many driving and walking westward around 30 miles to a thin spit of Turkey that lies on the Mediterranean. Some are veering north or south of the direct route to Turkey and taking refuge in the mountains along the border. Turkey has amassed troops and armor along their border with Syria to prevent Syrian troops chasing rebels into Turkish territory or attacking the refugee camps, while attempting to establish order for the refugees.
The residents of Aleppo are trying to stay out of the way of the airstrikes, hardly an easy thing to do, taking refugee in schools and public buildings hoping that the regime’s forces will be disciplined in their attacks. Aleppo is one of the oldest cities in the world, and filled with historic buildings and ruins, almost all of them well preserved and protected until now, as well as being Syria’s economic center. It was, by all accounts, one of the most beautiful cities in the eastern coastline arc of the Mediterranean. Now, vast areas of it are rubble. Just as in Homs in 1983, the al-Assad regime is willing to level the city and kill all its occupants to retain control.
Engel’s report from Syria made a strange bookend to a report from London on the same NBC Nightly News program. The Olympic stadium was built in the East End of London, and the report from there was about the World War II blitz, which was concentrated on the East End because of the docks and factories there. The film of the East End being bombed, burning, crumbling, could have been Aleppo today.
The revolution in Syria is not the simple occupation of the center of a city, the battles between the occupiers and rampaging thugs on horse and camel-back like the revolution in Egypt. This is not a clear set of front lines with forward and back movements of identifiable troops as was the revolution in Libya. This is a city-by-city, village-by-village battle between lightly armed army defectors and a regime using the heavy weapons of modern warfare to level those cities and villages. Unlike Egypt and Libya, this revolution has not been covered live by scores of outside journalists. Until recently, whatever Western journalists were able to get into the country became targets of shellings when either they or their communication signals were triangulated. This could end like the Lebanese civil war of 1975-1990, with a once beautiful and cultured, industrialized and modern nation sacrificed on the altar of absolute power.