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Living Under the Bombs in Raqqa

An Isis' propaganda poster in Raqqa [photo: Raqqa is being slaughtered silently]

Raids by the regime, Russian attacks and the war against the Islamic State: a Syrian journalist recounts the terror of civilians trapped in the crossfire

In the early stages of the Syrian revolution, only the regime in Damascus was able to use aircraft, but together with the increase of external influences and the rise of the Islamic State, the inroads of other international players into the national airspace have increased. The planes of the American-led coalition (Operation Inherent Resolve) started in September 2014 to strike Isis' positions in Syria. The direct Russian commitment came in response to the request for help by the Syrian president in September 2015, while the French have increased their effort by sending the aircraft-carrier Charles De Gaulle to the Persian Gulf in November 2015. The following month, the first attacks in Syria by the United Kingdom occurred. Since the start of operations, the coalition, which does not include includes Russia, has made over 3,000 raids on Syria alone. All the forces in the field have the stated the objective of fighting the Islamic State, but as you can see from the map below, the areas attacked are different.





The Russians have insisted more on the north-west and near Idlib, whereas the American coalition has focused on the territories controlled by Isis and closer to Iraq, in the north-east. In the immediate wake of the attacks in Paris on 13 November 2015, the French in particular have concentrated their bombing on Raqqa, the "capital" of Isis and the city of Amer Matar, a young Syrian writer now living in Berlin. Below we propose a text that appeared on January 4 2016 in the pages of al-Quds al-Arabi: it describes the conditions in which the population trapped in this conflict are forced to live.



A wreath of dead flies



I gather the planes together with the flies in small containers. Every time I grab a fly by the wings it tries to break free; then I block it against the wall of the room, until I hear the thud made by its small body's explosion and I can see the dark colour of its blood on my nails.



I stretch out on the ground; the summer sun of Raqqa pounds harder than the bombs. Flames rise from the ground. I pretend to be dead; I pray that the flies will not collect on my face, as I've seen them do with the dead in the quarter. They do not come. I look for a flying insect and I kill it. I like killing.



I put the flies in a transparent container, next to the window, and leave them to dry slowly - in the sunlight. I go down the street. I circle the green garbage skip; I lie in ambush; I come home with a jar full of live flies.



The planes fly over the city. I lie under the bed; I look at the containers with the flies, next to the window; I do not want them to be killed by the aircraft; when they go away I kill them myself.



I fall asleep. In my sleep I see my body, high above, emerge from the houses, seize the planes and throw them into the container of flies. In the room I have hidden many jars with dead flies; I'm thinking of making wreaths, giving a bit of them to everyone in the city, and sharing the authority over this lower world. I decide to stop to hunting flies: perhaps, I tell myself, they'll stop the bombings too.



I lie out in the road and close my eyes. I wait for the worms to crawl over my body. They do not come. I half cover myself with stones and earth, like the dead we come across in the rubble, but the worms do not come. Maybe I have to be buried myself for them to decide to come. I declare the hunt for worms a failure.



A barrel falls from the sky. I see the smoke in the distance; I am sorry to have interrupted the war against the flies. Next time I shall be ruthless. I go up to the room, to the resin in a large jar and I make myself a wreath. I go back home; I try to imitate the noise of the planes to frighten the neighbours, but no one takes any notice. They are perfectly able to tell the difference between one of Assad's planes, a Russian or an American.



I fall asleep, and in the dream run in search of someone, just like when I hunt the flies in the street: I imitate their buzz and adjust the wreath on my head. I run and shout louder and louder, hoping to frighten the airplanes.




Text published on January 4 by al-Quds al-Arab. Translation from Arabic to Italian by Luisa Orelli