Aleppo City’s New ‘Road of Death’: Risking Everything on Ramousah Road

Aleppo City Update 29/08: Free Movement of Aid into Aleppo Still Prevented

Destroyed homes in Al Saleheen Neighbourhood. Photo: PIN archive

Since May 2016, Aleppo city has seen some of the worst fighting of the five year Syrian conflict. The east of the city was placed under siege between July the 7th and August the 6th. In August the siege was ‘broken’ by opposition forces after they launched an offensive in the south west of the city which led to the carving out of a route into the besieged eastern neighbourhoods via Ramousah road. As the only route into and out of east Aleppo city and the location of intense indiscriminate fighting, Ramousah road has replaced Castello road as the new ‘Road of Death’.

Aleppo city areas of control —Data from Liveuamaps.com

The number of airstrikes and barrel bombs has increased significantly both inside the city and around Ramousah road in recent weeks. Fighting between opposition and pro-Government forces around Ramousah has intensified and civilians on both sides have been caught in the fire and paid the highest price.

Whilst the siege has been broken and vehicles have been able to pass in and out of the city, the front lines around Ramousah continue to shift and anyone on the road puts their life in danger. Civilians trying to leave and humanitarian actors striving to bring items into the city have been killed or injured in their attempts to make the journey since 6th August. To say the city is no longer besieged is to state a technicality — the airstrikes rain down on civilian homes and infrastructure, access to clean drinking water via public systems is no longer possible, and civilians put their lives in grave danger by choosing to leave the city.

While some food items have been brought into the city via Ramousah, such quantities remain limited due to the risk and as such the humanitarian conditions for those living in the east of the city have improved very little in recent weeks.

In the last fortnight, at least three buses on or near Ramousah road have been hit by airstrikes or barrel bombs. These buses were transporting civilians out of the city. At least 17 people were killed and many more were injured. Families had chosen to leave their homes having measured the risk of staying against the risk of leaving. Many of those injured and killed were women and children. The lorry of a local NGO carrying aid into the city was hit last week, injuring the driver and destroying the vehicle and its contents

No NGOs have been able to freely or safely enter the city since July 7th, unable to ensure that drivers and delivery teams will not be killed in the transportation. The UN is currently trying to negotiate the entrance of a humanitarian convoy into the city via Castello road. Prior to the siege this was the last remaining route under opposition control into the east of the city. The road was taken by Government forces on the 7th of July and remains in Government hands. Ramousah road is now the only route connecting opposition controlled areas in the south and west of Aleppo to the surrounded east of Aleppo city.

There continue to be negotiations with all actors in order to address some concerns that the use of Castello road will set a precedent for the delivery of aid and jeopardize the free movement of civilians and humanitarian aid through Ramousah road. PIN has been involved in these negotiations and continues to advocate for the humanitarian needs of its beneficiaries in east Aleppo.

PIN reached out to Rami, a young man living in the east of the city, asking him to explain first-hand what the situation is like in the eastern neighbourhoods of Aleppo today.

“Since the siege has been broken the humanitarian situation has not become much better. Very few vehicles and humanitarian convoys managed to get access. The newly-opened route is being targeted by airstrikes day and night. Deep in the city, the bad humanitarian situation continues and the poor services are not getting better. The electricity station and cables providing power for the water station for all Aleppo has been damaged and rendered out of service. No clean drinking water is available and people have to buy water at high prices. Sometimes people get access to water from wells they have dug recently. This water is not very clean and it might cause diseases as well. The fact that people now have to buy water puts even another burden on households which have lost their livelihoods and sources of income.”

Food prices in the city have soared in recent months. For years the population in east Aleppo city has relied heavily on humanitarian aid. According to People in Need’s surveys conducted prior to 2016 , every single surveyed household reported that they were unable to meet food needs without support from NGOs. This was during a period when market functionality and food availability and accessibility were vastly better.

60–80% of all shops have closed since the the onset of the siege and those that remain continue to be hit alongside markets and other civilian infrastructure. Just 4 days ago, 13 civilians were killed and 10 more were injured in an airstrike on a market in Sukkari neighbourhood.

Shop fronts in al-Saleheen neighbourhood. Photo: PIN archive

Attacks on Health Infrastructure

Health centres continue to be hit. There are now fewer than 35 doctors remaining in the east of the city. Citizens who have remained there have been forced to adapt to an environment in which clinics and hospitals are bombed every week; where births and surgeries have to take place underground; and trucks of aid are the target of airstrikes. On the 22nd of August, two health centres were hit in the same day. One NGO supported hospital in Ansari Mashhad was impacted in an airstrike which resulted in the death of two people and damages to an ambulance. The second health centre in Sukkari neighbourhood was rendered out of action in an airstrike two hours later that day. One staff member was killed.

No international aid has entered east Aleppo city for almost 2 months. Prevention of the free access and movement of humanitarian aid constitutes a grave violation of international law. All parties to the conflict must prioritize the protection of civilians.

Next People in Need update on Aleppo City 02/09

Eleanor McClelland, PIN Regional Communications and Advocacy Officer Turkey-Syria-Iraq

Sari Haj Jneid, PIN Field Communications Officer in Syria