The Indy's Kim Sengupta on staying alive in Syria

I first went in through Turkey last year and there weren't many journalists going in to the country as the focus was very much on Libya. At the time, because the rebels weren't getting much publicity, they were very keen to have international journalists there.

The industry has grown up with smugglers charging quite high prices to take journalists over the border, however the Free Syrian Army has their own system of taking journalists in the country which again is not free, but is not as exorbitant as the smugglers. From now on, one can theoretically go in legally by going to a Turkish checkpoint, getting an exit stamp and then the FSA has a checkpoint at Bab al-Hawa will give you an entrance visa.

The main issue was Aleppo. We stayed for a few nights and then left, purely because when I arrived the people I stayed with had the internet working. That stopped after a while and then we began having day-long power cuts — it was not so much the living conditions, but the working conditions which became an issue.We decided to base ourselves in Al-Bab, just outside Aleppo, where there was power and internet access, although it wasn't much safer than Aleppo. The regime bombed Al-Bab everyday, sometimes every hour, because it was seen as a centre of resistance.

 

Very few journalists stayed in the city Aleppo and those that did were photographers rather than writers because communication was very difficult. As well as the internet basically disappearing, the regime has managed so far to very effectively block satellite transmission. For the first time ever, bear in mind I've worked everywhere from Helmand to Haiti, you simply couldn't make it work.

The only way I could file copy was by using a 3G dongle. I bought one off a guy in Aleppo and used that and whilst it wasn't always working it became the only source of filing, which is fine for a story but for pictures it became very difficult.

On safety, there's not an awful lot you can do, because a lot of the attacks are not targeted but random. It' not as bad as Baghdad from 2004 to 2008, where you faced suicide bombings. The obvious thing to do was not hang to around with large numbers of rebel fighters for too long, not to stay in particular areas for too long and although the shelling and air strikes were random, there were certain times when they were less frequent than others and it was a case of using the time to maximise how much you can cover.

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