The six-year-old girl was found trapped under the rubble of her home, destroyed by an airstrike in Syria’s rebel-held city of Aleppo. “Dust!” she wailed as rescue workers dug away the stones and debris on top of her, finally freeing her and placing her on a stretcher as she screamed for her father.
“Forget the dust. I’ll wash your face and give you water. Come on, sweetheart,” one rescuer said.
Bruised and battered but alive, Ghazl Qassem was among the lucky survivors of the attack earlier this week. Four days later, rescue workers were still digging through the rubble of the apartment building after pulling out the bodies of 20 people, including nine children, most from Ghazl’s family. They were searching for at least three others believed to be inside.
At least 96 children are among the 320 people killed in Aleppo since a ceasefire collapsed on 19 September, according to Unicef, as Syrian and Russian warplanes batter the city’s eastern opposition neighbourhoods, trying to crush more than five years of resistance there. Almost a third of the 840 people wounded over the same period are children, according to the World Health Organization.
“Aleppo is one of the most dangerous places in the world, and in the last week it has become perhaps the most dangerous place in the world for children,” Juliette Touma, the UN children’s agency said.
Yesterday it emerged an air raid on the eastern half of Aleppo hit the area’s largest hospital for the second time in a matter of days. The Syrian American Medical Society said it had been struck by barrel bombs. The M10 hospital was said to be out of service after a raid on Wednesday but it was reported a small group of patients and staff had been inside.
Nearly 300,000 people – including 100,000 children – are trapped in Aleppo’s rebel-held eastern districts, a pocket of resistance some eight miles long and three miles wide that civil defence workers say has been hit by 1,900 bombs in the past week.
Parents desperately struggling to keep their families safe fear the threat of an imminent ground offensive.
They hold little hope for the future, with no regular schooling and little access to nutritious food. Images of wounded and screaming children, covered in dust or being pulled out of rubble, have become a daily reality in Aleppo.
“We are totally resigned to God’s will,” said Khaled Sakka, a father of 10 children, all under the age of 14. Wounded children are often left untreated, sometimes to die, in Aleppo’s overwhelmed hospitals. Only 30 doctors remain in opposition-held neighbourhoods: one physician for every 10,000 people, compared to a peacetime standard of one for every 1,000.
Ghazl Qassem was at home with her four siblings, her pregnant mother, cousins and grandmother when the bomb struck on Tuesday around midday.
The children’s father, Hussein, was not home at the time. Since Tuesday’s attack he has not moved from the rubble as the bodies of his family members have been pulled out one after the other, including his wife and three other children.
Ghazl is staying with an aunt.
“She is having nightmares. She is still in shock. She sleeps and wakes up, reaches for her mother’s phone and watches photos there and cries,” said a neighbour.