Video: on the front line with Syria’s rebel fighters

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The Scotsman published a photo sequence on 23 October which showed the desperate moments as a unit of Syrian rebels in Aleppo attempted to retrieve one of their comrades after he’d been hit a government sniper in the city’s vicious street fighting.

Now the photographer who snatched the sequence, Magnum’s Jérôme Sessini, has narrated his account of the events of that day, along with video footage he managed to shoot with the aid of a head-cam.

Jerome Sessini/Magnum Photos

Jerome Sessini/Magnum Photos

These are his words on the video:

One of the biggest challenges of being in Aleppo is moving around. You can only move with the fighters. You can’t go around by yourself because of the serious threat posed by snipers, and the constantly changing position of the frontlines.

A neighbourhood under the control of the FSA one day can be suddenly attacked during the night and taken over by the Syrian army the next. If you’re not well informed you can find yourself face to face with soldiers from the Syrian army who are ready to stop you and even kill you.

I’m guided by a young fighter who takes me to the frontline at Al Arkub. He’s 22 years old, a student conscripted by the Syrian Army who deserted shortly after the beginning of the revolution. He takes me to a civilian neighbourhood totally devastated by bombing, and whose inhabitants all fled. The area is completely abandoned, now serving as a post for the Free Syrian Army.

This is the second line. The frontline is 500 metres ahead, with the Syrian Army positioned at about 600 metres ahead.

The fighters from the FSA that I met in this area were mostly between 20 and 25 years old. Some were deserters, some still students, and others held a job before becoming a fighter. I saw some fighters on the frontlines however who really resembled the profile of mercenary, let’s say.

I wasn’t able to photograph them, I saw them only briefly and they were immediately hostile to my presence. I was thus able to stay on the second front with the fighters as long as I respected the condition that I wouldn’t approach those on the front line.

Here we’re in the neighbuorhood of Bustan Al-Bacha. The main road in this area is called Dar Al-Ajazi Avenue.

It’s the avenue which connects the liberated zone with the area still under control of the Syrian army. There are civilians who live on the other side who are obliged to cross the avenue at times. The problem is that at about half-way on the road there are snipers who openly fire on the passing civilians.

In two hours I saw three civilians shot by snipers. One was killed, and the other two gravely wounded. The shooting could not have been considered a mistake, they were very clearly deliberate. The snipers open fired on unarmed civilians.

I think it’s a strategy of attrition and terror. The regime probably believes that perhaps the more civilians are killed; the more likely it is that the general population will turn against the rebels.

Video: Jerome Sessini/ Magnum Photos