VOA's Scott Bobb traveled to the war-torn northern Syrian city of Aleppo Thursday and left with vivid impressions of a complex community wracked by suffering and fear.
As Bobb and his rebel guides approached the city from the north, near-constant government mortar and artillery shelling could be heard. A single MiG jet made at least four flyovers, strafing the city with machinegun fire designed to intimidate civilians.
"Its clear these airplane raids, which occur regularly, appear less designed to take out rebel-held positions, although they may target them," said Scott Bobb.
Bobb said such attacks frequently miss their targets and hit residential areas. For the last month, he said, the number civilian casualties has skyrocketed.
"These are children, women, civilians. Yes, you do see fighters with injuries. The injuries of the fighters tend to be bullet wounds. The injuries you see many civilians with are shrapnel, bombings, limbs missing, very gruesome physical damage to the person. This is what's terrorizing the population at this time," he said.
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Bobb spoke to many people, a number of whom wanted to leave Aleppo but could not for various reasons. A young unemployed taxi driver stayed to care for his wounded brother. Another man did leave with his family, but the conditions where they had absconded were worse, so they returned.
The rebels, he said, hold parts of the Old City and the front is a ragged line that roughly cuts Aleppo in two from north to south around ever-changing government- and rebel-controlled areas. Parts of the city are often deserted at night as many people leave to sleep out in the open countryside where they feel safer.
Bobb described scenes of widespread destruction but also the small details of a community in decay.
"We were near the front line today in a rather elegant neighborhood that is completely deserted. All the inhabitants have fled. There were water mains that had burst in certain apartment buildings and water was flowing through the main door, down the stairs with no one to fix it. There was a fire burning on the top floor of another apartment building with no one to extinguish it," said Bobb.
Bobb did not experience Aleppo as a city divided between pro-rebel Sunnis and pro-government members of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's minority, ruling Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam.
"I've spoken to Alawites who say they are against the Assad regime. And there are Sunnis who just want to stay out of it. There are some who say its really not a sectarian issue at all, but really a struggle against a 40+ year-old dictatorship - a very brutal one at that," he said.
Bobb added that while it is fair to say the conflict has tended to polarize sentiments along the Sunni-Alawite split, the reality on the ground is much more basic.
"What you can say is that Aleppo is a city at war: the war is within it, and it's destroying it," said Bobb.