On the ground in Syria's bloody civil war

By Paul Schemm

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Sept. 24 2012 2:06 p.m. MDT

"When we are under bombardment, the water and electricity can be cut for days," he said, explaining that if he had the money, he would try to follow the hundreds of thousands of other Syrians who have fled for the border. Since the uprising against Assad began 18 months ago, activists estimate that at least 23,000 people have been killed.

The streets between the shattered apartment buildings are choked with garbage that can no longer be collected.

Although meat is scarce, residents of Aleppo are eating adequately, said Alaa Mursi, gesturing at the eggs, chickpeas, tomatoes and other produce being sold. Many, however, are surviving on handouts.

"People give us food to eat," he said. "There are rich people who distribute food for us."

Just a few blocks away is the neighborhood of Hanano, on the city's edge, where the rebels began their assault two months ago. The streets are largely deserted because most residents were recent immigrants who could flee to relatives in the comparative safety of the countryside.

A few men lounge in the shade of a scraggly tree in the otherwise grim vista of cheaply built concrete five-story buildings.

Overhead is the whirring noise of a jet's engines — a mundane sound in the West that can mean sudden, inexplicable and random death in Aleppo.

"We are afraid to stay in the houses, so we hang out on the street," said Abu Alaa, a jovial 30-year-old who hasn't worked in months. "We sent our families to the countryside and we stay here to look after the place, in case of thieves."

The sound of the jet suddenly builds to a crescendo and there is a muffled crump, mercifully in the distance. Another airstrike. The men gesture in the direction of the explosion and say that just this morning, a bomb fell a block away, killing a woman.

"We can't sleep here during the night or day," said Abu Abed, who looks much older than his 40 years. "In the morning, it's the jets. In the afternoon, it's the helicopters. And at night, it's the shelling."

09/10/2012

Syrian countryside gives vital support to rebels

SURAN, Syria — When the uprising against President Bashar Assad started, Fatima Zahra gave up her life as a dressmaker in a small town in northern Syria and began cooking and delivering meals for the rebels.

Bucking tradition in conservative rural Aleppo province, the stern, blue-eyed matron has also opened her and her husband's home to soldiers defecting from the army, providing them with sanctuary before they either join the rebels or head back to their villages.

"There are two or three other families in the village doing this kind of work but they are afraid to be known," she said. "I am not afraid of what I am doing because I believe the revolution will be successful."

Support from rebel-controlled towns and villages dotting the rich farmland of this northwestern pocket near the Turkish border is likely one reason that rebel forces have been able to keep going in a now 2-month-old battle for control of Syria's largest city, Aleppo. The region is the rebels' strategic depth. Towns provide fighters. Residents help funnel food, supplies and ammunition to the front lines. And rebels engaged in the fight can find a safe refuge to rest and recuperate.

Rebels in July launched an audacious assault on Aleppo, Syria's commercial hub that until then had been untouched by the fighting. Eight weeks on, the rebels have held large chunks of the city and show no signs of being driven out as they were in a failed assault on the capital of Damascus over the summer. According to the rebels, the vast majority of those fighting in Aleppo come from the towns and the villages to the north, many of which have been free from government control since May.

The rebels are proving the wisdom of Che Guevara, who preached the importance of establishing safe havens and local support in the countryside. "The guerrilla fighter needs full help from the people of the area. This is an indispensable condition," he wrote in the introduction to his 1960 manual "Guerrilla Warfare."

Get The Deseret News Everywhere

Subscribe

Mobile

RSS