Syrian refugees who went back to Aleppo for Eid now trapped

The border between Turkey and Syria was once lively and busy, even during the first phases of the civil war.

But over the past year, Turkey has largely shut the crossing points to the neighbouring country, cutting down drastically on the number of people who can go back and forth over the frontier.

In a gesture for the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of Ramdan, the Turkish authorities let tens of thousands of Syrian refugees living in the country cross over, with the promise they could return to the safety of Turkey.

However, those who went to rebel-held eastern Aleppo city to visit loved ones who they have not seen in months or even years, are now trapped, unable to leave, after forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad cut off the only road to the area.

"I just hope the rebels will be able to push back al-Assad's forces and we will be able to go back to our work and families," says Tarek Mohammed, who went to Aleppo to visit his elderly parents. "I am really worried."

The government played a cynical game. At the start of the holiday, it announced a 72-hour ceasefire which was meant to last until Friday night.

Within hours, though, government forces were bombarding rebel-held areas, trying to cut off the vital Castello Road that connects eastern Aleppo to the outside world, the only lifeline for the residents.

By the next day, it was clear that government troops and their allied militias had full fire-control over the road from overlooking hilltops and were able to prevent anyone from leaving or entering the eastern section of the city.

"We can't run from our fate. If God wants me to stay and die here, then I cannot escape my fate and I have to accept it," says Um Ahmed who came from Gaziantep in Turkey, where she was living with her family, to Aleppo.

Several hundred people are believed to have crossed into rebel-held Aleppo during the Muslim holiday. It is unclear if they will be able to get out.

Some fear Turkey will have closed the crossing point again by the time they ever are able to take Castello Road again.

The situation in the city itself is dreadful. Hospitals have been hit by airstrikes; doctors have been killed or fled. The price of bread has doubled in the last few days and people have run out of vegetables.

Despite being stuck in an active war zone, Um Ahmed says she takes joy in being reunited with family members she has not seen in a long time.

Ibrahim Zakaria had not seen his family in Aleppo for three years. He knew there was a risk going into the city, but he jumped at the chance to visit loved ones, not knowing when the opportunity would arise again.

"I was planning to go back on Sunday. But now who knows if I can go," he says by telephone.

Zakaria and Tarek both fear their families will now suffer, with the main breadwinners unable to provide.

"If the siege is imposed that means I cannot go back to Turkey where I have a job and a family. They will be left with no income anymore if I remain here," Tarek said sadly.

Last update: Sat, 09/07/2016 - 12:17
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