Syrian rebels in Aleppo mostly poor, pious, rural

By Hamza Hendawi

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 16 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

For some of the Aleppo rebels, the war against the regime has inspired a turning point in their personal journey of faith.

The rebel Abu Ahmed has images stored on his mobile phone of party dresses he once designed as a tailor working in Egypt, Lebanon and Aleppo: low-cut, strapless, see-through in parts. He says designing such revealing dresses was part of a past he has now put behind him.

He also has a picture of himself with a bruised forehead and a deep cut under his left eye — what he said was the result of a beating from regime loyalists while taking part in a street protest in May 2011. He now is an ambulance driver for the rebels, who revere him for his seeming fearlessness in battle zones.

"Initially, I wanted it to be a peaceful revolution against the regime, but now it is a war fought in defense of our faith," according to the bearded Abu Ahmed.

It is impossible to gauge the degree of support enjoyed by the rebels in the parts of Aleppo they control. The rebels acknowledge that many residents are fed up with the hardships they endure.

Regime forces punish the city daily with artillery and airstrikes. Civilians are killed and wounded while standing on bread lines, walking the streets or watching TV at home. Snipers target civilians in areas where rebels have positions. The staff at the rebels' field hospital said 80 percent of the 100-120 cases they treat daily are civilians.

Even in rural Aleppo, there is a degree of disgruntlement over the impact of the fighting on the local economy. State-supported farmers' associations that once sold fuel, seeds and fertilizers no longer do so. Black market prices for the items are so high it's not worth planting some crops when the season starts in December.

The fighting also almost completely shut down markets that traditionally bought their produce of wheat, barley, chickpeas and olives.

"Supplies were available for the last farming season, but this season will be a very difficult one," said Mazen Aleto, a local council member in Tel Rifaat, a village north of Aleppo. "There may not be a harvest this time."

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