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'We Are Being Killed': Desperate Calls From Aleppo As Assad Regime Closes In

A man carries a child with an IV drip as he flees deeper into the remaining rebel-held areas of Aleppo on December 12.

Some of the tens of thousands of citizens in eastern neighborhoods of the devastated northern Syrian city of Aleppo still controlled by rebels opposed to President Bashar al-Assad have been sharing "final messages" and calls for help on social media.

Reports are swirling that the Syrian government is poised to retake those regions -- with support from Russian air strikes -- after four years in the hands of Assad's enemies.

The United Nations' humanitarian adviser on Syria, Jan Egeland, has warned that "atrocities" are being committed in eastern Aleppo by Syrian government forces advancing into neighborhoods previously out of their control.

Humanitarian watchdog Amnesty International issued an "urgent plea" in connection with UN warnings of extrajudicial killings and said reports that residents "are being massacred in cold blood in their homes by Syrian government forces are deeply shocking but not unexpected."

Syrian residents fleeing violence in the restive Bustan al-Qasr neighborhood arrive in Aleppo's Fardos neighborhood on December 13.
Syrian residents fleeing violence in the restive Bustan al-Qasr neighborhood arrive in Aleppo's Fardos neighborhood on December 13.

Muhammad Shbib, a media activist based in Aleppo, told RFE/RL via WhatsApp on December 13 that many people are "terrified" of the Syrian regime taking control of the city.

He says he and many others are preparing themselves for the worst.

"We may be killed or imprisoned. We don’t know," Shbib said. "There is no safe place [to hide]."

Elsewhere, on social media, another activist posted a video that said simply, "We are being killed."

"This may be my last video," another activist, Lina Shami, said in a video posted on Twitter.

Graphic designer Monther Etaki, also based in eastern Aleppo, said he didn't believe Assad forces could take full control of the city -- formerly Syria's largest with well over 2 million residents before civil war erupted in 2011 -- without committing “war crimes.”

Etaki, speaking to RFE/RL via social media, said on December 13 that he was trying to keep his family, including an infant, safe. But he added that no one is completely safe in eastern Aleppo.

He described the situation facing residents as a "genocide" and talked of "mass executions" by Assad forces supported "from the sky" by Russian jets that have been attacking the city without "any mercy."

"It’s like a prison where you can’t get anything," Etaki added, saying the siege on eastern Aleppo has left its people in desperate need of basic necessities.

"I can see people carrying water gallons, people standing for a long time, waiting for bread," he said.

He said many people are without shelter to keep them warm.

"[There are] little boys [breaking up] furniture to burn it to keep warm," he said.

Etaki said his message for the international community was that it should feel responsible toward civilians and that "criminals" should be punished.

"I don’t know how they can sleep at night..." he said.

The capture of Aleppo would mark the biggest military victory for Assad since the civil war erupted following a government crackdown on pro-democracy protests in 2011.

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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL focusing on Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is one of the authors of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.