SYRIA – Renewed airstrikes in Aleppo just this week have killed at least 32 people, including some children. The attacks, which struck a children’s hospital and also a blood bank, were carried out by either Syrian or Russian warplanes, Reuters reported, citing the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
In addition, the bombings hit an internationally celebrated animal sanctuary that was hailed as a place of peace and hope in the war-torn city.
The sanctuary was a refuge for literally hundreds of cats, as well as local children who would spend time with the animals and play on an adjacent playground.
Mohammad Alaa Aljaleel, who is the man who runs the sanctuary and cares for the cats, is alive, stated Alessandra Abidin, an Italian woman who helps Aljaleel run a Facebook group to communicate with his supporters.
Excuse us today we can not show you the cats,because ……
ladies and gentlemen, this is our home of Ernesto cats today. pic.twitter.com/XiaVzAOH6x
— Il Gattaro D' Aleppo (@gattarodialeppo) November 16, 2016
Aljaleel, who is an electrician and ambulance driver, has stayed behind in Aleppo to care for the city’s many stray cats, some of which had been left behind when their owners fled the region. He said to the BBC in a September interview that he would stay and protect the animals, “no matter what.”
On Wednesday, Abidin announced on social media that bombs had indeed hit the sanctuary and killed multiple cats and a dog. The dog, whose name was Hope, was known as the sanctuary’s mascot.
The strike also hit Aljaleel’s own house, killing two cats, including a tabby that had been entrusted to him by a young girl when her family had fled to Turkey.
It’s yet unclear what the future of the sanctuary will be, though photos taken since the bombing show some cats alive and apparently uninjured on the premises.
House of cats Ernesto in Aleppo pic.twitter.com/V2YTlkMpk6
— Il Gattaro D' Aleppo (@gattarodialeppo) November 4, 2016
The Facebook group called Il Gattaro D’Aleppo ― meaning “the cat man of Aleppo” in Italian ― allows Aljaleel to post daily photos of the cats and aids supporters in making donations. Those funds allowed him to build the cats a proper shelter, construct a playground for the local children, and even purchase food for the cats as well as local people in need. He always emphasizes the connection between compassion for humans and animals.
“There is a firm bond between humanitarianism and caring for animals,” he said to Syria Direct.
The airstrikes on rebel-held eastern Aleppo were part of a major military escalation by the Syrian government and its allies following a three-week pause.