Syrian rebels facing a new threat – the flesh-eating ‘Aleppo boil’


Explosions and gunfire rang out across the northern Syrian city of Aleppo last night as rebel factions continued to defend the former economic hub against the superior weaponry of regime forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.

The Tawhid Brigade, commanded by Adbul Qader Saleh, is known to be one of the dominant rebel factions fighting in the area. There were reports that rebel fighters had received the first shipment of Russian-made Konkurs anti-tank missiles from US ally Saudi Arabia, following a White House pledge for military aid. But this could not be independently verified.

Meanwhile, the threat of Western intervention has sent the Syrian pound tumbling. It dropped to an all-time low of 210 to the US dollar this week, a fall of 20 per cent in four days, as sanctions bite. Before the conflict began in 2011, the US dollar was worth 47 Syrian pounds.

Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi claims the country has enough foreign currency reserves. On Wednesday, he said he had taken a number of measures to confront the “unfair economic, media sanctions” targeting the country.

Today, six of Syria’s eight World Heritage sites were placed on an endangered list. The sites at risk include the old cities of Damascus, Aleppo and Basra, two crusader castles and the ruins of Palmyra. Before the conflict, tourism accounted for 12 per cent of the country’s GDP and employed 11 per cent of its workforce.

Amid the continued fighting in Aleppo, as the regime attempts to capitalise after it recaptured the important strategic city of Qusayr, concern is growing about the spread of a flesh-eating disease in the city.

Cutaneous leishmaniasis, which is not lethal but creates open boils, has been prevalent in the province for decades, hence its nickname, the “Aleppo boil”.

The World Health Organisation reported 1,047 cases of the disease across Syria in May. The sandflies that spread it flourish in waste and sewage, and as sanitary conditions deteriorate, cases have increased.