For weeks, eastern Aleppo has been under siege by Syrian government forces and their Russian backers, who have warned civilians to leave the city before an expected push to retake it from rebel forces. Amid the bombs, sniper fire and mortars, a quarter million people still live among the ruins of the ancient city, including thousands of children. Their existence appears increasingly precarious.
For months, day and night, the bombs have fallen all around Bana al-Abed’s house in East Aleppo. But mobile phone networks still work, allowing her to communicate the horrors of life in the city.
“I am afraid of the bombing. I want peace,” said Bana, speaking to VOA via Skype.
Seven-year-old Bana is becoming a star of social media. With the help of her mother Fatemah, she set up a Twitter account and reports on life in the besieged city from a child’s perspective.
Also speaking via Skype, Fatemah describes Aleppo as a living hell.
"There is always bombing. Especially at night," she said. "When the night starts it is a horrible time for us, and for the kids. They do not take enough time to sleep. And in the day they live like a prisoner. Now they use heavy bombs. Even basements are not safe.”
Fatemah and her husband have considered fleeing the city with their three children. Syrian government forces, backed by Russia, said last week they had set up safe corridors for civilians to escape the siege. But Fatemah says it is a trap.
“They open corridors, as the whole world knows. But it is like a trick. It is not the truth. In the first cease-fire, there were snipers,” she said.
The charity Doctors Without Borders says at least 136 children in Aleppo have been killed and 468 wounded by airstrikes since late September.
Hospitals are desperately overcrowded and short of staff and medicines.
Abu Almoutassen, an emergency pediatric nurse, says they recently had a child in the hospital who needed surgery, but they could not find a surgeon in the whole of besieged Aleppo, and the child died.
Malnutrition rates are soaring. Children are dying not only from the bombs, but also from malnutrition and disease. Fatemah says the siege overwhelmingly targets civilians.
“Almost all of them are kids. And women. And old men. They want to be here and live in peace,” she said.
Peace seems a long way off. For Aleppo’s children, the daily fight for survival is getting harder.