The dangers involved with his work are obvious. An activist friend was shot by a sniper three weeks ago. The family received his mutilated body from security forces only last week.
Many residents are still stunned by how rapidly the fighting spread across the city. “I was extremely surprised when the situation escalated so fast in Aleppo. One day I’m going to my work and hearing about fights around Syria,” said a 28-year-old man who asked not to be identified for safety reasons. “The next I’m hiding home in my bathroom with my family while my little niece is crying her heart out to the sounds of bombs.”
The area hit hardest by the fighting has been Salahuddin, a hardscrabble neighborhood of mostly working-class Sunnis in southwest Aleppo. The neighborhood is full of opposition supporters and is next to the Al Assad military academy. Each time soldiers leave the base to travel to the city center, they pass through Salahuddin, kicking off fierce clashes with rebel fighters, according to opposition activists. In the past week, the military has pounded Salahuddin with artillery.
“The fight in Aleppo is a matter of life or death for both the opposition and the regime,” Abu Thabet, a Free Syrian Army commander in Salahuddin, said in a phone interview. “We have military plans and determination. The regime has superior weapons, but we are stronger in street-fighting tactics inside the cities.”
Rebel forces have been able to hold territory for longer periods in Aleppo than they have in other cities, and in the areas they control, they have occasionally distributed food and fuel.
Still, there are residents of Aleppo, like those in the predominantly Christian Sulaimaniyah district near the city center, who fear the rebel fighters. Yekso, a 40-year-old mother of two who is an Armenian Christian, said she and her family barely leave the house. Her husband owns a spare-parts store, but he hasn’t opened the shop in more than 10 days. They have primarily relied on donations of bread and water from a local Armenian club for their survival.
Earlier this week, she watched, terrified, as rebel fighters planted bombs in the streets around her neighborhood. It took the army several hours to dismantle the bombs the next day. “We are very afraid that the Free Syrian Army will come out in the streets and we get caught in the middle of the fighting,” she said.
Other Christians in Aleppo said they fear radical Islamist fighters within the opposition.
As the fighting intensifies in Aleppo, analysts say, sectarian enclaves are likely to develop. The worst-case scenario would be a complete reshuffling of the demographic makeup of the city, which happened during the height of the sectarian violence in Baghdad in 2006 and 2007.
A government defeat in Aleppo still may not signal the end of Assad. “Even if Assad loses Damascus and Aleppo, he’ll flee to the coast among the Alawites,” said Khashan, the AUB professor. “He’ll become a militia leader.”
Ahmed Ramadan and Suzan Haidamous contributed to this report.