The last clown of Aleppo is dead. Has hope died too?

By Ewan McDonald

Anas al-Basha refused to leave Aleppo, staying to help civilians and give gifts to children in the streets.
Anas al-Basha refused to leave Aleppo, staying to help civilians and give gifts to children in the streets.
UN warned: Aleppo risks becoming ‘one giant graveyard’ of civilians trapped in siege city.

Every morning, Anas al-Basha would get up, daub his face in greasepaint, pull on garish clothes, and go out into the streets to try to make children laugh.

Hungry, frightened, often orphaned children in the bombed, besieged, devastated streets of Aleppo.

This week the laughter stopped. The last clown of Aleppo was killed in an air strike by Syrian government forces.

Basha, 24, was a centre director for a civil society group, Space of Hope, a volunteer trying to care for about 250,000 people living under siege, among them 100,000 children.

Government forces have been pounding rebel-held eastern districts of Aleppo as they continue an all-out assault to regain full control the city.

There are no functioning hospitals left, and official food stocks are exhausted.

“He lived to make children laugh and happy in the darkest most dangerous place,” Mahmoud al-Basha, who identified himself as Anas’ brother, wrote on Facebook.

“Anas who refused to leave Aleppo and decided to stay there to continue his work as a volunteer, to help the civilians and give gifts for the children in the streets to bring hope for them.”

Basha’s supervisor, Samar Hijazi, said she would remember him as a friend who loved to work with children.

“He would act out skits for the children to break the walls between them.

“All of us in this field are exhausted, and we have to find strength to provide psychological support and continue with our work,” Hijazi added.

Basha’s parents left the city before the government began its siege in July. He married just two months ago, and his wife remains trapped in the rebel enclave.

The government offensive has brought unprecedented shelling and bombardment in recent weeks, reportedly leaving hundreds of civilians dead and prompting more than 25,000 to flee their homes.

This week, a top UN official warned that the city risked becoming “one giant graveyard”.

Stephen O’Brien pleaded with UN Security Council members to protect civilians “for the sake of humanity”.

O’Brien, the UN’s humanitarian affairs chief, made the comments as the Security Council met for an emergency session to discuss the crisis.

“For the sake of humanity we call on – we plead – with the parties and those with influence to do everything in their power to protect civilians and enable access to the besieged part of eastern Aleppo before it becomes one giant graveyard,” he said.

Some of those inside opposition-controlled areas are so hungry they are reduced to scavenging.
In an apparent reference to the rebels themselves, he said there were reliable reports that “non-state actors” were preventing civilians fleeing.

Aleppo was Syria’s largest city and its commercial and industrial hub before the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in 2011.

For much of the country’s civil war, the city has been divided into government- and rebel-held areas.

But this year Syria, with the help of Iranian-backed Shia Muslim militias and Russian air strikes, has broken the deadlock, launching an all-out assault in September.

Syrian and international aid agencies have tried to mobilise resources to help civilians crossing the frontlines in search of safety.

The Russian military said it was ready to escort aid convoys into recently recaptured eastern districts, where it estimated more than 90,000 people were living, but that the UN had not yet indicated it was willing to accept the offer.



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