Two Syrian rebels take sniper positions at the heavily contested neighborhood of Karmal Jabl in central Aleppo on October 18, 2012.AFP Photo/Javier Manzano

Fighting for Aleppo, inch-by-inch

by Javier Manzano

On October 18, 2012 I traveled to the frontline of the Karmel Jabl neighborhood of Aleppo. The precincts of Karmel Jabl and Al-Arqoob are strategically important because of their proximity to the main road that separates several of the key battlegrounds in the city from one of the largest rebel-controlled regions in Aleppo. It is hard to know how many troops the regime has deployed here, considering that this region is one of many frontlines scattered along the western and southwestern sections of the city. Moreover, the popular belief is that if the regime ordered its infantry – composed largely of Sunni Muslims – to charge the rebels, a large number of the soldiers would defect to the opposition. Indeed, face-to-face combat is rare. The regime relies instead mostly on tanks, indirect fire (mortars and artillery), airplanes and snipers. Snipers can hold a line of several streets and can take weeks for the rebels to locate and neutralize. Both sides rely heavily on snipers, who play a deadly cat & mouse game across the city.

When I arrived at the frontline, I saw that a rocket-propelled grenade had destroyed a regime tank earlier that morning. Its inert carcass lay in the middle of the street. Two regime snipers had closed several side streets, keeping the rebel positions in check. As the Free Syria Army soldiers attempted to flank them by punching holes in the walls of houses – combatants on both sides have learned to travel this way up to several blocks from house-to-house without being seen, especially by snipers – the regime forces reinforced their positions with tanks which only move a few meters at a time, mostly under the cover of night in order to minimize their exposure to rocket-propelled grenades. Assuming the opposing side is also trying to flank them, the rebels took turns guarding their machine-gun nests, each side looking at the other though small holes made on the sides of empty buildings. Such was the scene where I shot the photograph of the light rays coming through a tin wall pierced by bullets and shrapnel, the air impregnated with dust from more than one hundred days of shelling, bombing and firefights.