Syria, meet the man who looks after the cats of war-torn Aleppo

Mohammad Alaa Jaleel si prende cura di un centinaio di gatti rimasti senza padrone a causa della guerra civile che ha costretto i proprietari a lasciare la Siria.

War knows no boundaries. It strikes regardless of social class, age or species. The civil war that has been tearing Syria apart for 5 years has caused thousands of deaths – 470,000 according to the Syrian Centre for Policy Research – and millions of refugees. Victims, however, aren’t only found among humans. The conflict has also affected pets that used to live in their homes before Syrian cities were turned into rubble.

Cat man of Aleppo
In Syria, cats are victims of the war, too © Ensar Ozdemir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The cat man of Aleppo

The cats living in the city of Aleppo, Northern Syria, can count on a guardian angel: Mohammad Alaa Jaleel. He looks after more than a hundred cats that have been abandoned by their owners who fled destruction. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 6.5 million Syrians have left their home becoming internally displaced people, while 4.8 million people have crossed the border into Jordan.

A sanctuary for cats

Alaa Jaleel has managed to create a sanctuary for stray and abandoned cats where they can find shelter, food and affection. “Some people just left them with me knowing that I love cats,” he said to the BBC. “I was surprised. There were about twenty to thirty cats. About a year later there were more than a hundred”. He also added, “One time a little girl brought me one cat. Her parents wanted to go abroad. She cried as she handed her cat to me and they left the country. I’ve been taking photos of the cat and sending them to her in Turkey”.

Gatto estratto dalle macerie da una casa di Aleppo
A cat rescued from a building after a Russian air bombing, Aleppo, Syria. Photo by Beha el Halebi/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

A life under siege for the love of cats

Unlike most of his compatriots, and despite the lack of medical facilities, food, water and electricity, Mohammad Alaa Jaleel decided to stay in Aleppo to look after cats. “I’ll stay with them no matter what happens,” he said. “Someone who has mercy in their heart for people has mercy for every living thing”.

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