In July, several foreign correspondents explained to me the biggest difficulties covering Syria. The Assad regime grants few press visas, forcing journalists to enter illegally and thus face increased risk if caught by the state. There are no discernible front lines and the conditions of roads deemed relatively safe -- like the one Engel traveled with rebels last week -- can change quickly. Still, journalists stressed the importance of bearing witness and frustration when having to cover the war from the outside looking in.
That was five months ago, when the death toll was just under 20,000 and Assad regime appeared to be unraveling. Now it's estimated that over 40,000 Syrians have been killed and the fighting -- going on for 21 months already -- seems likely to to continue for some time.
Foreign Policy caught up Wednesday with several correspondents who said that despite the dangers, they'll continue going back.
The Guardian's Martin Chulov:
"I fear Syria like I have feared nothing else in seven years of covering the region. It is not a crippling terror, more a deep abiding concern. I fear that both the undercurrents of this conflict and the issues at stake are so profound that perhaps nobody can manage them.
"I will keep going back. Like my colleagues, who also remain committed to covering the story, I will likely continue to be viewed by the regime as a subversive threat. I wish I could predict a better year for Syria. But I can't. The next 12 months will likely prove historic. And tragic."
Time's Rania Abouzeid:
"I do it because I'm curious and deeply invested in the story, not because I'm some sort of an adrenaline junkie. I want to know what happens next, to know the people who are effecting change and those affected by it. I also need to be certain I can verify sources...."
"Over the past 21 months, there have been close calls, run-ins at regime checkpoints, shells that fell a little too nearby, things I wished I'd never have to see, friends or contacts who have been killed. Still, I consider it a great privilege to cover Syria during these tumultuous times, and I intend to continue doing so as best I can for as long as I can."
If there's any doubt that a journalist's first-hand vantage point can provide a deeper understanding of war-time life in Syria than what's uploaded by activists on YouTube or aired on Syrian state media, one needs only to look at Wednesday's New York Times, which features a front-page story on the street-by-street fight for Aleppo, accompanied by compelling photos and video online.
The Times C.J. Chivers describes both the current situation for Aleppo's residents and the stakes involved.
As temperatures drop and the weakened government's artillery thunders on, Aleppo is administered by no one and slipping into disaster. Front-line neighborhoods are rubble. Most of the city's districts have had no electricity and little water for weeks. All of Aleppo suffers from shortages of oil, food, medicine, doctors and gas.
Diseases are spreading. Parks and courtyards are being defoliated for firewood, turning streets once lined with trees into avenues bordered by stumps. Months' worth of trash is piled high, often beside bread lines where hundreds of people wait for a meager stack of loaves.
One of the Middle East's beautiful and historic cities is being forced by scarcity and violence into a bitter new shape. Overlaying it all is a mix of fatigue and distrust, the sentiments of a population divided in multiple ways.
Aleppo's citizens scavenge and seethe. And along with the sectarian passions of civil war, some residents express yearnings for starkly opposite visions of the future: either for a return of the relative stability of the Assad government or for the promises of Islamic rule.