World

From Aleppo to the world, a Syrian girl’s Twitter feed chronicles war up close

by Dan Traylor

Staff Writer

Bana Alabed’s home had just been destroyed, and the 7-year-old Syrian girl was injured and on the run.

“I am hungry. I want to live,” she wrote this week, in a story that is being told entirely through a Twitter account managed by her mother, Fatemah, that is offering a chilling, up-close account of the bloody conflict.

On Tuesday, Fatemah responded to questions posed by The Japan Times on Twitter about her family’s plight, offering a grim picture of their current situation.

Earlier in the week, as the family’s home in the Syrian city of Aleppo came under renewed attack by pro-government forces, the Twitter posts grew more urgent.

“Last message — under heavy bombardments now, can’t be alive anymore. When we die, keep talking for 200,000 still inside. BYE. — Fatemah,” a tweet posted Sunday night said.

The family emerged from the latest violence alive and has found a temporary place to stay, Fatemah wrote to The Japan Times on Tuesday. “I found a place but we have no home,” she said. “We are miserable.”

“Heavy fighting. Many people are homeless, everything is destroyed,” she added, describing the scene in her neighborhood. “Please come to our safety right now, not another time.”

Bana’s Twitter account, which has nearly 182,000 followers, has been verified by Twitter. The verification service is designed to authenticate high-profile users and distinguish them from fakes. While some on the social network have suggested the account is a fake, Bana has also been profiled and interviewed by a variety of international media.

The destruction of the family’s home came as the Syrian Army and allied forces recaptured large portions of rebel-held areas in east Aleppo, where Bana and her relatives remain.

The surge in violence has “killed and injured scores of civilians” in recent days, with increased ground fighting and “indiscriminate aerial bombardment,” Stephen O’Brien, the United Nations undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, said in a statement Tuesday.

According to O’Brien, thousands of civilians have been displaced in recent weeks, with food supplies nearly depleted and no working hospitals left. “It is likely that thousands more will have no choice but to flee should fighting continue to spread and intensify over the coming days,” he wrote.

A Tuesday report from the International Committee of the Red Cross said up to 20,000 people had fled Aleppo in just the last 72 hours.

The U.N. Security Council was set to hold an emergency meeting Wednesday on the humanitarian crisis unfolding in what was Syria’s largest city before the war.

Bana’s Twitter account began on Sept. 24 with a simple message, “I need peace.”

Multiple posts per day followed, including videos and photos of Bana and her friends and family. Some of the posts show happier times; as recently as Friday, she is shown in photos reading a “Harry Potter” book, a gift from British author J.K. Rowling. But just hours later, videos showed smoke rising nearby and a photo was posted showing the lifeless body of a young girl.

“Oh dear world, I am crying tonight, this is my friend killed by a bomb tonight. I can’t stop crying. — Bana,” the accompanying tweet read.

According to Human Rights Watch’s Bill Van Esveld, a researcher in the group’s children’s rights division, Bana and others like her are victims of war crimes — casualties in a long list of horrendous acts committed throughout Syria’s bloody five-year civil war.

“They are killed by Syrian-Russian airstrikes in East Aleppo,” Van Esveld wrote on the organization’s website Monday. “We occasionally glimpse the results, like the two young boys filmed in an East Aleppo suburb, grieving after the death of their brother after an airstrike in August.”

Days later, Van Esveld added, Syrian aircraft bombed the funeral procession as well as those who came to the rescue.

While the conflict has taken the lives of Bana’s friends and others, her mother has continued to post photos of the bombings, damaged buildings, injured or killed civilians and other scenes of war in Bana’s name, asking why the global community has not stepped in to help.

“This is our house,” Bana said in a Monday tweet, with a photo of a bombed out home attached. “My beloved dolls died in the bombing of our house. I am very sad but happy to be alive.”