Syrians take advantage of Eid lull on front line

Posted at 10/26/12 10:53 AM

ALEPPO, Syria - Few believe a truce will hold for the Muslim feast of Eid al-Adha in Syria, but a relative lull means families are returning to bombed out homes on the front line to recover possessions and inspect the damage.

"He's a cheater," spat Abu Ali, an electrician and father of four, when asked if he believes President Bashar al-Assad will abide by the promised, if conditional, truce due to start on Friday for the four-day Muslim festival.

"Nobody believes him. He'll give you a promise then do whatever he wants," he snapped en route to collecting his children's winter clothes from his home in Salaheddin, a bastion of rebel support in Aleppo heavily damaged by fighting.

"I've seen death 20 times. Twenty times I've seen a MiG above my home. The place I put water and diesel on the roof has been destroyed by Assad's army. We saw bodies cut to pieces," he added.

He spoke to AFP next to a Free Syrian Army (FSA) checkpoint blasting out pop music where a fighter wearing a tracksuit sat with his arm in a sling, apparently wounded by machinegun fire in fighting early last month.

This part of Aleppo is incredibly dangerous. Rebels say there are snipers on rooftops. Shells crash in the background and residents fled months ago, leaving behind bullet-scarred homes with shell-holes in the walls.

Windows in multi-storey apartment blocks are smashed. Rubbish and discarded food lies rotting in the street, oozing noisome fumes. In some of the safer streets, men and women huddle in their coats, forming long queues for bread.

The military and the FSA, Syria's main rebel force, have agreed to a conditional ceasefire from Friday, but both say they reserve the right to respond to any attacks.

If followed through, it would be the first real halt in a 19-month conflict that rights groups say has killed more than 35,000 people.

But the FSA does not speak for all of Syria's fractious rebel groups, and although most people in Aleppo are sceptical about a truce, the battleground city of three million has been relatively quiet for the past three days.

One rebel-controlled hospital reported only one injured on the morning before Eid.

Digging in for the long haul

Ziad, the receptionist, thought it was mostly because of the overcast weather, which grounds fighter jets. "Nobody expects a truce for Eid," he said.

But displaced families from Salaheddin have taken advantage of the lull to recover warm clothing and blankets for winter, realising as rains and biting winds set in that they need to dig in for the long haul.

"It makes me feel very bad. I worked 40 years for that home and in 40 minutes it has disappeared," says Abu Khalid, standing thin, almost gaunt, in the street. Like many others, he prefers not to reveal his real name.

He took AFP up to his apartment, where shells have blasted craters through the wall of his children's bedroom and also the sitting room.

Dust covers the ornate, Rococo-style three-piece sofa set. A table is upended. Children's clothes are strewn across beds and a slinky leopard-print dress, a sign of better times, hangs forgotten in his wife's wardrobe.

"We're taking our stuff and leaving because it's not safe here. I'm taking my stuff and my neighbours' stuff, but I'm afraid of snipers," Abu Khalid said.

He rolled up his jumper to reveal two scars on his chest. He says he was shot during Ramadan. That was in the summer and that was when he moved the family out.

Another pick-up truck trundled down the street, blankets and carpets tied to the roof, with an old-fashioned computer stuffed on the back seat next to three boys.

Abu Ahmed, 42, the boss of a small textiles factory, jumped onto the pavement, eager to introduce his family as they made their way back to their new, rented home.

"No, it's not safe," he said when asked why he had brought the entire family along for the removal operation. "But I need them to come with me to help."

He says he used to export clothes to Iraq but that the business has flatlined, forcing the family to survive on their savings or sell off some of their gold.

"This will be a very bad Eid. I don't think there will be a ceasefire," he told AFP.

Fellow local resident Abu Saleh was even more frank.

"God willing, there won't be a ceasefire until we kill him (Assad)," he said.

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