Middle East

Syria's civilians are trapped in a deadly no-man's land

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Media captionThe streets of Aleppo, damaged by heavy shelling

"We are dead." It was a terrifyingly simple assessment of the grim reality for Aleppo's residents.

Abu Stayf says he has lost his wife and six children; they were all killed when a rocket landed on his house.

Yet he refuses to leave. He sleeps in an abandoned basement on a street where rotting rubbish piles up and rubble from shelled buildings spills across the pavement.

Caught in a no-man's land between government forces and rebel fighters, he asks: "Where should I go? You'll die wherever you go. Our homes have been destroyed, our children are dead and we have no-one left."

The bakery just down the road was the target of a government attack a few weeks ago in which 20 people died, according to activists.

It was the final straw for many of the residents and most of them have now fled.

But Abu Stayf won't leave. He sits on a vinyl-covered chair with two friends while artillery shells crash in neighbouring streets; the sound and fury of gun battles breaking bouts of pregnant silence.

"We have no food, no water, no electricity. There is shelling every day, bombardment every day," he says.

'Between two fires'

Abu Stayf lives on the edge of the historic old city. With the medieval citadel at its heart, the Unesco World Heritage Site used to draw thousands of tourists to Aleppo every year.

Today, it is one of many neighbourhoods that are being fought over in a vicious civil war that pitches the government of President Bashar al-Assad against the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA).

Some of the residents who have stayed behind are unhappy with both sides. One man who did not want to give his name said: "We are between two fires, wherever the FSA goes they are a target for the regime."

Most like Abu Stayf reserve their harshest criticism for their president.

"The FSA is providing us with food, water and electricity. Bashar al-Assad is killing us; he's destroying our houses even though we worshipped him and his family for 42 years".

Image caption The makeshift refugee camps often only have a handful of toilets for thousands of people

Whichever side they support, civilians have long borne the brunt of a conflict they did not choose and that no-one seems capable of stopping.

The city's hospitals are a grisly testament to an indiscriminate campaign of shelling by the Syrian army.

Many of those who decided to leave Aleppo have been given rooms with family and friends elsewhere in the province.

But even here they are not truly safe, as rural areas face daily attacks from government helicopters, fighter jets and artillery.

Forlorn and forgotten

Thousands of families have made their way to the border with Turkey.

For many months Ankara opened its arms to those fleeing, but in the last few weeks the gates have remained largely closed and the olive groves and buildings around the border have now become a makeshift camp.

Misery haunts those trapped here. Some complain that they have been camped out for weeks with no washing facilities and only a handful of toilets for thousands of people. They are the forlorn and the forgotten.

"We are refugees, we have our rights. Even if we are animals, we have rights," said one man who wanted to remain anonymous.

Like many here, he is angry at what he sees as the indifference of the international community and he demands to know: "Where is the world and the relief organisations?"

Many Syrians, fighters and civilians, ask the same question.

The FSA recently announced the start of a decisive battle for Aleppo. President Assad has vowed to crush them.

In truth, each side has made small advances and concessions in the last few weeks, but neither is winning.

There are only losers - the dead, the wounded and the displaced - as Syria's descent into chaos goes unchecked.