BEIRUT

Middle East

Aleppo News, a media mouse that roars

A Syrian rebel cross a road in the Saif al-Dawla district during clashes with government forces of the northern city of Aleppo, on October 9, 2012. AFP PHOTO/Tauseef MUSTAFA

ALEPPO, Syria: Aleppo News must surely be the world's smallest news agency, with a handful of amateur journalists and technicians operating from a shelled-out building in Syria's war-ravaged second city.

Its staff gather and sift through news from the front line in their makeshift Aleppo office, ready for dissemination via the Internet including on their YouTube channel.

Abu Mahmud is a 20-year-old technician who prefers not to divulge his real name for security reasons. As he shows AFP their "studio" -- two laptops, an Internet connection, a table and two chairs, he insists on being filmed only from behind.

"Aleppo News took off in February," says the student-cum-rebel, just under a year after the initially peaceful revolt against President Bashar al-Assad began, escalating into a civil war after it was violently suppressed.

"When we heard a bombardment or were alerted by walkie-talkie, a journalist would head for the scene immediately," Abu Mahmud says.

The Aleppo News studio also contains cushions and mattresses -- the team both works and lives here.

Abdulrazaq, 24, small in stature but with an air of determination, makes up one half of the agency's reporting staff of two, both of whom are embedded with fighters of the Free Syrian Army battling against Assad's regime forces.

"I saw too many people killed by the criminal Assad regime," says the former magazine journalist who joined Aleppo News four months ago. "Many of my friends are dead -- that's what made my mind up."

Yaarop, the other journalist, is even younger. He says he is 18.

"I used to sell clothes before becoming a singer and slogan chanter in demonstrations. But I stopped that to become a reporter," he says.

On the front line he is meticulous in his note-taking, recording on paper what he sees and filming with a small video camera, securing eyewitness reports from both residents of the embattled northern city and from the fighters themselves.

The team's footage is uploaded to YouTube alongside the shaky amateur video shot by Syrians seeking to make a daily record of the terrible violence of a conflict that is tearing their country apart.

"I go every day, but only spend a couple of hours at the front for security reasons," Yaarop says. "I do like this job as a reporter, but above all I'm doing it for jihad," the struggle to defend Islam.

The rebellion against Assad's minority Alawite-dominated regime, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, has been led by Syria's Sunni Muslim majority, some elements of whom in their rhetoric view the struggle as both national and religious.

Businessmen opposed to the Assad regime give Aleppo News enough money to keep the team going, in both materials and food.

Every day in Syria's second city and commercial capital brings something new for the Aleppo News team to report, from artillery barrages by government forces to rebel offensives.

In the afternoons, Abu Mahmud feeds their information by low-speed Internet connection to independently-run Aleppo TV, which then broadcasts it.

It was not possible for AFP to meet Aleppo TV staff or visit their transmission site.

For security reasons, its members operate clandestinely from neighbouring Turkey, which supports the rebellion against Assad's regime.

Aleppo News's footage, meanwhile, goes on the Internet, adding to the countless videos that testify to the intense violence of the Syrian conflict.

 

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