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After a recent snowfall in Aleppo
After a recent snowfall in Aleppo
Anti-regime activists
Mohammed al-Khatieb

ALEPPO — The toll in what was once Syria's thriving capital of commerce is also being measured by low temperatures and record snowfall. Activists say the people of Aleppo risk dying every day in unheated homes.

The Syrian Network for Human Rights said that no fewer than 22 people died in Syria last week, including nine children, from sub-zero temperatures as lengthy power shortages were recorded.

In Aleppo, once the country’s economic capital, electricity has been scarce since continued shelling took out power lines. The exorbitant prices of oil and diesel fuel, and even wood, prevented many from being able to keep warm.

Local activists posted a photo (below) of Abdul Kader Habbal, 50, a resident of Aleppo’s Saif al-Dawla neighborhood, who reportedly died last week because he did not have sufficient clothing to keep him warm.

Activists also posted a video expand=1] of a five-year-old who died showing signs of frostbite. The video’s commentator says that “the children of Rastan city are being martyred by the harsh cold.”

At the same time, winter storms can also bring a moment of relief to the streets of Aleppo, bringing government air raids to a halt, since Syrian government planes don’t fly as often when the weather is cloudy.

It’s a common refrain in Syria’s embattled second city: “It’s not raining today. May God save us.”

Last week snowstorm Alexa, the worst winter storm in decades, pounded the Middle East. It brought snow and torrential rains to Syria and Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, neighboring countries flooded with refugees.

As Alexa petered out, government air strikes resumed as part of what analysts said was the largest escalation in fighting in the city in months, with barrel bombs dropping on opposition-controlled areas.

Rebel fighters are unable to shoot down government helicopters with anti-aircraft weapons because they fly at such a high altitude; activists said the fighters have been attempting to shoot the bombs as they drop, in an attempt to detonate them before impact.

“We feel helpless when we see the jet fighters circling above,” said one Free Syrian Army fighter. As skies cleared, civilians could be seen looking up at the sky, watching for jet fighters.

“I look at the sky and I wait for the plane to drop the TNT barrel,” said Sami, a 13-year-old Aleppo boy. “It makes me feel sort of calm, not knowing whether I or any of my relatives will become the next victims.”

Medical workers in Aleppo rose to the challenge, treating hypothermia and other cold-borne illness. There were also the usual injuries to tend to. An unborn baby girl was rescued from the womb of her dead mother, who'd been hit in the heart by shrapnel. She was later named after her mother.

An image that went viral this week on Syrian social media was of a man who just lost his taxi — his sole source of income — in an air raid that targeted a busy parking lot in the Haidariyeh neighborhood. Crying, the man holds onto his car plate — all that is left of his livelihood.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

When Did Putin "Turn" Evil? That's Exactly The Wrong Question

Look back over the past two decades, and you'll see Vladimir Putin has always been the man revealed by the Ukraine invasion, an evil and sinister dictator. The Russian leader just managed to mask it, especially because so many chose to see him as a typically corrupt and greedy strongman who could be bribed or reasoned with.

Putin arrives for a ceremony to accept credentials from 24 foreign ambassadors at the Grand Kremlin Palace on Sept. 20.

Sergiy Gromenko*

-OpEd-

KYIV — The world knows that Vladimir Putin has power, money and mistresses. So why, ask some, wasn't that enough for him? Why did he have to go start another war?

At its heart, this is the wrong question to ask. For Putin, military expansion is not an adrenaline rush to feed into his existing life of luxury. On the contrary, the shedding of blood for the sake of holding power is his modus operandi, while the fruits of greed and corruption like the Putin Palace in Gelendzhik are more like a welcome bonus.

In the last year, we have kept hearing rhetorical questions like “why did Putin start this war at all, didn't he have enough of his own land?” or “he already has Gelendzhik to enjoy, why fight?” This line of thinking has resurfaced after missile strikes on Ukrainian power grids and dams, which was regarded by many as a simple demonstration of terrorism. Such acts are a manifestation of weakness, some ask, so is Putin ready to show himself weak?

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However, you will not arrive at the correct answer if the questions themselves are asked incorrectly. For decades, analysts in Russia, Ukraine, and the West have been under an illusion about the nature of the Russian president's personal dictatorship.

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