A Syrian Tragedy: One Family’s Horror

Nicole Tung
Nicole Tung
All photographs were taken on Aug. 6, 2012
Men carry Hatem Qureya, 15, after he was trapped under rubble following an airstrike in the neighborhood of Bustan al-Qasr in Aleppo, Syria

War has come to Aleppo on full scale. In the southwestern neighborhoods of Bustan al-Qasr, Sikari and Salaheddine, explosions rock buildings on a daily basis, and on almost every street you look, glass, debris and rubble litter the place. It is a far cry from the Aleppo I visited almost three weeks ago, when nightly demonstrations filled the air with defiance and protesters slipped into the pink, blue and fluorescent lights of these working-class neighborhoods. Now, Salaheddine is emptied of its residents who have fled to schools, mosques and parks around the city. But Bustan al-Qasr is different. Most of its residents stayed, and in a densely populated area frequently hit hard by shells, airstrikes and helicopter attacks, it means a high casualty rate.

Civilians have tried to go about their daily business as Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters patrol the streets and head out for missions in nearby neighborhoods. Some afternoons are quiet in Bustan al-Qasr, but shells land consistently in the distance and then suddenly, the explosions visit this area. At about 2:30 p.m. today, a MiG-29 screamed overhead, flying extremely low, with the distinct sound of an impact a few seconds later. Out on the streets, civilians ran in all directions fleeing the scene. An apartment block had been hit, and the injured were being carried out. Two girls with paled, shocked faces came running out, unable to make sense of what had just happened. And then a man, covered in dust, dressed only in an undershirt and trousers, stumbled out after them, his face in disbelief. He was screaming over the telephone in the middle of the street, and on the shop shutter behind him graffiti was scrawled: “Zero hour has come, God, Syria, Freedom.”

The MiG returned, screamed overhead again, sending the man and the crowd nearby scrambling for cover. FSA fighters raised their AK-47s and tried to shoot at the plane in a futile attempt to do something. The second bomb dropped just half a block away, and the street instantly became filled with dust and debris, falling like confetti. FSA fighters joined the fray, and instantly more men, women and children were running. One man held a green telephone, clutching it in one hand and holding a girl in the other as they ran. Chaos. Men, armed and unarmed, ran toward the other damaged building to search for injured and then a third bomb dropped on a building across the street, sending more debris raining down. People came pouring out of the apartments screaming, their hands on their heads, all unable to understand. They looked at the cars on the street, flattened by falling concrete, turned their heads toward the sky and ran back inside as they heard the plane again. This time, there was no explosion.

On a bloodied mattress, the lifeless body of Abdul Latif Qureya was being hurried by five men toward a pickup truck that would take him to the secret field hospital. And then another mattress, this time with a man who miraculously survived, was carried out. More women and children came out, carrying few possessions and the clothes on their backs as they fled.

At the secret field hospital, the bodies began arriving. Qureya’s was already there, then his children and extended family began coming in. Lying near him was Bara’a, 8. Then came Hatem, 15, who was barely alive as he was plucked from the rubble of his apartment. But he didn’t make it, and he was dead on arrival. Qureya’s wife Wahiba was cut in half, and her body remained missing. Somewhere in the apartment was his other son Mahmoud. And then Qureya’s niece Takreet, 7, came in, her purple T-shirt and her face covered in dust. She too was lifeless, her mouth slightly ajar, probably as she took her last breath. A few minutes later, a man ran through the door holding a small blanketed body, Youssef, 1, Qureya’s nephew. He was limp in his underwear and undershirt.

In total, seven of the Qureya family were killed. Five of them were children under 15 years old. Two more bodies, of men, were brought in. One was Samer Bassar, 37, dressed in a beige djellaba and holding prayer beads, covered in blood. Another man was unidentified.

Horror visits Aleppo in many forms. Today, it was by way of a warplane.

Nicole Tung is a freelance photographer who previously documented the uprisings in Libya and Egypt. See more of her work here.

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