Seven-year-old Syrian girl Bana Alabed stands on the balcony and sticks her fingers in her ears, flinching with each earth-shuddering detonation in a video her mother posted on Twitter.
From besieged eastern Aleppo, the girl’s mother, Fatemah, tweeted Sunday: “Bomb bomb bomb...we don't know if we will die tonight, please please pray for us.”
Bana and her mother, an English teacher, have been tweeting since September 26 from their home in a rebel-held district in Syria’s largest city, appealing for help and posting video footage of neighboring houses demolished in the unrelenting airstrikes. They say food is running low and medicines are in short supply.
Despite being trolled and attacked on social media by supporters of the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and his backer Russia, mother and daughter have maintained — electricity and internet permitting — a stream of tweets recording the devastation and suffering they’re witnessing. “Doctors in #Aleppo leave some people to die and treat those who have chance to survive. That’s #Aleppo dear world,” Fatemah tweeted at the weekend.
“Everyday a child must die,” reads one of Bana’s recent tweets.
And many more children are likely to in the coming days, warn Western officials.
President Assad and Russia appear determined to press home a scorched-earth offensive on eastern Aleppo with the aim of overrunning rebel-held neighborhoods before the inauguration of a new U.S. president. “They are calculating a new president might reset Syria policy,” says a senior French official.
“There’s absolutely no chance in my mind that any serious cessation of hostilities can now be negotiated this side of the U.S. elections,” a European diplomat based in Turkey told VOA. “They are going for broke in Aleppo now — they are determined to crush the rebels knowing that."
"President Obama isn’t going to shift and harden policy with just weeks to go before he leaves office,” he added.
Speaking at the annual conference in Birmingham, England, of Britain’s ruling Conservative Party, Britain’s Foreign Minister Boris Johnson said he saw no prospects either for peace talks, arguing the ferociousness of the Aleppo bombings precludes any serious negotiating. He accused Russia of complicity in war crimes, condemning the airstrikes on rebel districts that have seen residential areas and hospitals struck time and again.
"It is the continuing savagery of the Assad regime against the people of Aleppo and the complicity of the Russians in committing what are patently war crimes - bombing hospitals, when they know they are hospitals and nothing but hospitals, that is making it impossible for peace negotiations to resume," Johnson told party delegates. A few hours before he spoke the the M10 hospital was hit for the second time in four days, this time by two barrel bombs, a rocket and two cluster bombs, according to civil defense volunteers in the city.
And a few hours after, the M3 hospital in Aleppo was hit, say U.N. officials.
Tweets by Bana and her mother make clear there was no let up at the weekend in the regime offensive on Aleppo. It was launched last month by the Syrian military with Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias to the fore and supported by Russian warplanes dropping powerful munitions, including bunker-busting missiles and phosphorous and incendiary bombs.
On Monday after a night of airstrikes, Fatemah tweeted: “Hello world we are still alive. Wake up this morning alive.”
The assault on rebel districts has over the last few weeks nearly wiped-out eastern Aleppo's makeshift healthcare system, U.N officials say. Only 30 doctors remain in rebel-held districts for a population estimated at about 250,000. “Putin used to seem to care about maintaining some aura of respectability. Now in Aleppo he's joined pariah Assad,” says Kennth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch.
Moscow and Damascus appear unperturbed by Western outrage over the relentless bombardment. Both governments insist they are fighting terrorists and on Saturday Russian diplomats warned the U.S. against taking direct action against the Syrian regime, saying it would cause negative consequences across the Middle East. The warning came as reports surfaced that Washington might be considering giving Gulf allies the green-light to supply rebels with surface-to-air Stinger missiles.
Russian airstrikes continued to target rebel supply lines Monday in the Malah district and there were fierce clashes in the Suleiman al-Halaby neighborhood, north of Aleppo's Old City, say rebels. Syrian officials claimed their forces have made advances into the old city, something denied by rebel commanders with the Failaq al-Sham militia.
The pro-opposition monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based network that relies on activists on the ground for its reporting, said along with widespread indiscriminate shelling, regime forces are pressing a ground offensive and confirmed at the weekend that government militias seized al-Kindi Hospital and the nearby Barakah quarries after nearly a week of see-sawing fighting.
Rebel militias were battling Monday not only regime forces but also fighters with the Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units, or YPG, around a series of factories in al-Shaqif at the strategic al-Jandoul roundabout in north Aleppo.