Murder came from a cloudy sky. The shells that exploded on the pavement of a main Aleppo thoroughfare on Monday killed people in grimly familiar style, chopping up a group of four men, all civilian, in a way so grotesque that I cannot describe it here, though amid the blood and screams of a woman each detail was branded clearly on my mind.
Everything in the manner of their death - the random, casual nature of its award, as careless as a splash from a roadside puddle; the way the mutilated bodies were slung on a flatbed truck like butchered livestock - was so commonplace in that city as to be almost mundane. But there was something novel and ominous in the state of the victims. They died with their bellies empty. For a new and terrible strategy has entered Syria's war: a hunger game.
Just a few weeks ago the two million people living in Aleppo focused their survival on dodging shellfire and bullets on the streets. But today, as leading powers among the Friends of Syria group continue to meet in Marrakesh to talk about political transition and the deteriorating conditions, a freezing rain falls on a city without electricity, fuel, water and phone links, where an abandoned people are sliding into an abyss, forced to devote their energies to the most primitive human search of all, the hunt for food.
Cries of "we are hungry" and "give us bread" stalked my journeys down Aleppo's central streets, where beggary has become commonplace among the ruins and glassy-eyed children huddle beside their parents around improvised stoves in an effort to keep warm.
"We are sliding back into an ancient time," a man said by a street kitchen for the hungry in the Al Sha'ar neighbourhood, where a daily bowl of pasta is handed out by local volunteers in the absence of outside help. "Assad is starving us just as Stalin starved his opponents. I beg you tell the world what is happening here."