War forcing average Syrian families to be constantly on the move

By Ben Hubbard

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Aug. 23 2012 8:07 p.m. MDT

But no community has been left unaffected, whether by rising prices for food and fuel, destruction brought by fighting or influxes of civilians.

Every morning in the tiny village of Sawran near the Turkish border, hundreds of men and boys form long, dense lines that snake from the two windows of a small bakery under the glare of the sun. Most of them have fled to the area from Aleppo or from largely destroyed towns further south and now sleep in schools or farmhouses, often 10 to a room.

Ali Jassem, a stonemason, brought his family from Aleppo and hasn't worked in two months. He said he can barely afford bread, much less gas for his car, so he walks 5 miles each morning to the bakery, waits in line for an hour, then walks back to the farmhouse of friend where he is staying.

"The hardest part is food and poverty because there is no work anywhere," he said. Minutes later, a fight broke out in the line and men rushed to intervene.

"This happens all the time," Jassem said with a shrug. "It's chaos."

For Mariam, a 42-year-old mother of four, life has become a series of rushed moves whose end has yet to come.

Three months ago, Syrian forces started firing occasional artillery shells at her home village of Mayer, north of Aleppo, she said. Residents guessed their Sunni Muslim village was targeted because they live near a Shiite village that supports Assad's regime.

At first, the family would sleep in nearby fields, but the shelling continued, so they moved to Aleppo.

Then Aleppo's fighting erupted, and neighborhoods were consumed by fighting between rebels and government forces. Mariam's family moved three times inside the city, and finally returned to Mayer.

"We decided that if we were going to get shelled, it might as well be in our own house," she said. The family had also run out of money to rent places to stay.

The shells continued to fall and the family slept in an underground storeroom, though the summer heat made it sweltering. The booms terrified her children, who sometimes screamed in their sleep.

"They all started wetting their beds. Even the teenagers," said Mariam, who asked that her full name not be used for fear of reprisals against her family.

Then the fighter jets came, dropping bombs that shook the walls and destroyed buildings, so a group of families rented a vegetable truck to take them to the Bab al-Salameh border crossing with Turkey. Most didn't have passports, making it hard to leave, so they laid out a plastic mat on the sidewalk to sleep on until they could decide what to do next.

Scores of other families had camped out nearby.

Ironically, other families have fled the same Aleppo suburb that Ghorab fled to.

Abdel-Basit Mustafa's family once ran a successful construction company in Kafar Hamra, which he said remained quiet while violence further north drove entire towns into the town.

Then the shells came their way, too.

On two successive days, several artillery shells hit the town, Mustafa said, one peppering his brother's car with shrapnel. The next day, an airstrike killed three people who had fled to the area from Aleppo.

The next day, Mustafa's family hired a truck to take them to a large olive grove along the Turkish border where many Syrians collect before entering refugee camps on the other side.

Unlike many, the family had the money to rent an apartment in Turkey, but many lacked passports, making it unsure if they could cross at all.

So they waited.

"That's our family over there," Mustafa said, pointing to a dozen women and children in the scant shade of an olive tree. "We'll probably sleep there tonight, on the dirt."

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