Meet the seven-year-old girl tweeting from Aleppo

By David Molloy
BBC News

image copyright@alebedbana

Seven-year-old Bana Alabed tweeted a photo a week ago, sitting at a desk with a book, her doll in the background. "Good afternoon from Aleppo," the caption read. "I'm reading to forget the war."

Aleppo, Syria's second city, has been split in two during the country's long conflict. Daily life has become a struggle for those still living there, caught in the fight between rebel and government forces.

Bana's tweets in English - helped by her mother, a teacher - are bringing fresh attention to the struggles they face in rebel-held eastern Aleppo.

In one, Bana appears with her brothers - five-year-old Mohamed, and Noor, three - with the message "drawing with the brothers before the planes come. We need peace to draw."

A short video shows the three together in a bedroom. "We will live forever together," Bana says, before laughing and hugging her brothers.

image copyright@alabedbana
image captionBana and her two brothers live in rebel-held east Aleppo, where bombs fall daily

"The bombs hit next house as you can see," one reads, accompanied by a grainy photo of a ruined building.

"My soul could be taken anytime by the bombs here."

Russian and Syrian forces have been bombing eastern Aleppo on a constant basis for weeks.

The Twitter account - @alabedbana - has gathered thousands of followers in the last few days. Bana's mother, Fatemah, signs many of the tweets herself.

But in a conversation with the BBC, she said her daughter genuinely "wants the world to hear our voice."

"She says, 'mum, why does nobody help us?'"

image copyright@alabedbana

Some of the tweets are disturbing. But Bana, who lost a friend in the bombing of a nearby house, has been exposed to much already.

"She saw everything here," Fatemah said. "She saw her friend killed, and our house bombed. She saw her school bombed. So that affected her."

Despite all that, Fatemah says her daughter is lucky.

In a patchy video call with the BBC, Bana glances off-camera to her mother, who helps her with the more difficult answers.

She wants to be a teacher when she grows up, like her mother - and hopes to teach English, too.

But she hasn't been to school since last year, and wants to go back. Like any seven-year-old, she wants to be able to play with her friends.

image captionSolar power and patchy internet signal make communication difficult, with small windows of reliable access

Solar power gives the family some electricity, but poor internet and telephone services make contact difficult.

Fatemah says there are widespread food shortages. For her family, she says food is running out.

Three-year-old Noor fell ill recently, and she brought him to hospital - where she says they were told there was no medicine left.

Noor is feeling better, though - interrupting the call from time to time to hug his mother.

As the Twitter account has gained followers, Fatemah says people have accused her of running a "fake" account, or using her daughter for propaganda reasons.

Tweets about Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Russia's Vladimir Putin come in for particular criticism.

image copyright@alabedbana

Others question a seven-year-old Syrian girl's excellent English skills.

Bana's father is a lawyer who works in a legal centre in the city. Fatemah studied English for three years in a language institute, and has also been studying law at university.

She said she has been teaching Bana English since her daughter was four years old.

Being accused of lies is disappointing, she said. "All the words come from the heart," Fatemah said. "All are the truth".

She is not part of any charity organisation, she says, and has no help from media organisations in Syria. But she took courses in journalism and politics as part of her university education - and knows how to get her message across.

In a call with the BBC, Fatemah asks if we can hear the planes overhead. She goes to a balcony and looks at the sky.

The noise will continue for hours, she says. "They drop the bombs without any mercy."

"We are not terrorists. We are not ISIS," she says, using an alternative acronym for the Islamic State jihadist group. "We are all innocent here."

An hour or so after finishing the call with the BBC, Fatemah posts another video clip of Bana.

Standing on the same balcony her mother looked out from, she has her fingers in her ears. Loud booms can be heard in the distance.

The tweet reads: "I am very afraid I will die tonight (...) Bombs will kill me now - Bana."

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