News / Middle East

In Rebel-Held Syria, Grinding Hardship as Winter Nears

Syrian residents pull a truck that has run out of gas in Aleppo’s Sukari district, Dec. 7, 2012.
Syrian residents pull a truck that has run out of gas in Aleppo’s Sukari district, Dec. 7, 2012.
They huddle around a barely effective aluminum stove that sits in the middle of the room and makes gurgling sounds as it burns its crude-oil fuel.
 
Like other families in Tal Rifat, a town in an enclave rebels carved out this summer in northern Syria stretching from Aleppo north to the Turkish border, 37-year-old Hassan, his wife and four young children are trying to get by the best they can.
 
Estimated Syrian-conflict deaths as of Dec. 20, 2012.Estimated Syrian-conflict deaths as of Dec. 20, 2012.
x
Estimated Syrian-conflict deaths as of Dec. 20, 2012.
Estimated Syrian-conflict deaths as of Dec. 20, 2012.
But living conditions here are getting desperate as the rebellion against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad enters its 22nd grim month.
 
The crude oil they’re using to heat one room in the house is expensive. So is the gasoline for the car that Hassan needs for his work as a driver. Food is five times more expensive than last summer, when it was already high.
 
A week ago, the electricity the 40,000 townspeople rely on for most heat was cut and now they are struggling to keep the bitter winter cold at bay. Hassan and his family only use one room now to eat and sleep — the rest of the house is frigid.
 
“I am not sure we will make it through the winter here,” says Hassan, frowning as he looks at his four children. They tried a refugee camp before, spending three months in the Turkish town of Gaziantep, but conditions there too were rough and Hassan couldn’t work.
 
When the tent they were allocated collapsed in the rain, Hassan brought his family back to Tal Rifat to be close to his four brothers and three sisters.
 
Mostly, he worries about the children, ranging in age from four to 11 — their material needs, but also the stress they’re enduring.
 
“They all have nightmares,” he says through the shadowy light cast by a couple of battery-powered lights. Fatima, a pony-tailed five year-old, cries when she hears warplanes overhead that bomb the town about every two or three days, depending on the weather.
 
This evening the kids are excited, pleased to have the distraction of strangers. Earlier they had been frightened when a Syrian air force plane attacked a house about two kilometers away with a loud crash, illuminating the dark with an orange fireball.
Story continues below
  • A Free Syrian Army fighter carries the body of his colleague Abdullah during his funeral in Aleppo, Syria, December 21.2012.
  • A boy holds pita bread as others stand in line outside a bakery in Aleppo, Syria, December 21, 2012.
  • A damaged tank is seen at the Free Syrian Army controlled infantry college near Aleppo, Syria, December 21, 2012.
  • Syrian refugees,who fled their home in Idlib due to a government airstrike, load their belongings into a vehicle after crossing into Cilvegozu, Turkey, December 20, 2012.
  • A Syrian refugee crosses illegally to Turkey on the border fence, Cilvegozu, Turkey, December 20, 2012.
  • A Free Syrian Army fighter, whose comrades are surrounding a military airport, reads the Quran, Aleppo, Syria, December 20, 2012.
  • People near a damaged building after it was attacked by a Syrian Army jet in Azaz, Syria, December 16, 2012.
  • Damaged buildings are seen in Al-Khalidiya neighborhood of Homs, Syria, December 16, 2012.
  • A Free Syrian Army fighter carries his weapon as he walks along a damaged street in Aleppo's Khan al-Wazeer district, Syria, December 16, 2012.
  • Free Syrian Army fighters pose with a tank after capturing the Military Infantry School following heavy clashes, Aleppo, Syria, December 16, 2012.

 
Hassan’s eldest boy shows off a pile of spent cartridges. “I waved at the rebel soldiers and they gave me this,” he says, holding up his prize.
 
Schools bombed
 
A few weeks ago, the Syrian air force destroyed the local school, explaining that it was being used by fighters from the rebel Free Syrian Army, a claim dismissed by the townspeople. Now, some children attend classes at a makeshift school but most parents don’t send them, too afraid, too worried about airstrikes.
 
Tal Rifat is like other small towns in the rebel enclave — Iaziz, Al Bab, Marea — a rural community of farmers and traders where nothing much used to happen. Now they are in the eye of the storm, struggling to survive a winter that’s going to be harsh and could well push them to the breaking point as the fighting continues.
 
Already there’s grumbling about the FSA, despite the fact that Tal Rifat was one of the first northern Syrian towns to join the rebellion. Many townspeople don’t believe the rebels can end the conflict by force of arms. Instead, they believe the fighting will end only after the West intervenes or one of Assad’s aides assassinates him.
 
And anger is rising toward the West for what locals call a betrayal; they compare their plight to Libya’s, when the rebellion against Col. Moammar Gadhafi received NATO and American support. They conjure up ever more complicated conspiracy theories to explain the absence of western intervention, claiming a tie-up between the U.S., Israel and Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shia militia supporting its onetime patron, Assad.
 
“We have been betrayed by everyone,” says Hussein Khouri. “The West, Iran, Hezbollah. We use to admire Hezbollah when it was fighting Israel,” says the 56-year-old. “It is a conspiracy of hidden relationships. America wants to weaken Syria to help Israel and Iran has always wanted to control Syria, and Hezbollah is Iran’s creature.”
 
Depression over deaths
 
But most of all, local residents are struggling with deep depression over the deaths of relatives and friends, over the destruction of their businesses and homes and livelihoods.
 
Sam Harida is photographer without a camera. The blue-eyed 44-year-old shows clear signs of depression and says the fight has gone out of him. The photography shop he took over from his father was burned down last spring by Syrian army soldiers. “I feel destroyed inside,” he says. “They destroyed my work and my father’s. How do I start again? I don’t have the motivation.”
 
Ever the photographer, though, he pulls a cell phone from a pocket of his photographer’s vest and sighs as he shares pictures of the razed remnants of what his father had built.
 
Male nurses run a makeshift emergency medical facility in Tal Rifat. They worry about the mental health of people in the town and say women, children and the elderly are exhibiting stress-related symptoms of constantly fearing airstrikes. Without training to deal with psychological trauma, the nurses concentrate instead on immediate physical injuries and the war wounded.
 
They relocate the facility every few weeks for security reasons, as medical facilities in Aleppo have been hit by airstrikes or car bombs.
 
“We move it around because we fear it may get targeted," says one of the nurses, who asked not to be named. "We let people know by word of mouth where it is.”
 
This night, eight nurses hunker down in the facility's basement. It’s a quiet night, and over tea and cigarettes they explain how they improvise and do things they weren’t trained to do. Only two doctors have stayed in the area, but they take only private patients. “They will consult with us over the phone when we are really unsure about what to do,” says one nurse.
 
As with other makeshift emergency shelters in the rebel enclave, the facility in Tal Rifat relies on some cash from the FSA to keep going, and still it is short of equipment and drugs. Sometimes the nurses can borrow equipment from nearby Iaziz or even Turkey. They do have two incubators, but can’t use them because they don’t have a generator.
 
“If we had one, we wouldn’t be able to afford the fuel to run it,” says a nurse.
 
The lack of electricity across the rebel enclave is a huge obstacle for medical workers. In the Shaar district of Aleppo, a small surgical facility has been unable to carry out operations for the past two days. A doctor there explained that they normally try to do four operations a day, but now they don’t have the money to fuel their generator.
 
“Each operation costs us about $250 in fuel costs,” says Dr. Mohamed Abu Alaa. “The other day a journalist donated the money to allow us to run the generator for some surgery.”
 
With winter setting in, respiratory illnesses are soaring, and doctors across the rebel enclave worry that, deprived of electricity, families will lose young and old die to flu and pneumonia.
 
“We are going to see a lot of civilian deaths in January and February from the cold,” predicts Dr. Abdul Ahmed, a physician in Aleppo.

You May Like

China May Be Biggest Winner From Ukraine Crisis

Missile sales, oil and gas shipments are among many areas that may drive Beijing and Moscow closer together in coming years More

Obama Faces Chaotic World, Limits of Power

Current foreign policy issues bring into focus challenges for US policymakers who are mindful of Americans' waning appetite for overseas military engagements More

SADC Meeting Lesotho Officials to Resolve Stalemate

Official says regional bloc has been engaged with leaders in Lesotho to resolve political disagreement that led to coup attempt More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Bob
December 20, 2012 11:37 PM
I want to comment this part of text:

Already there’s grumbling about the FSA, despite the fact that Tal Rifat was one of the first northern Syrian towns to join the rebellion. Many townspeople don’t believe the rebels can end the conflict can by force of arms. Instead, they believe the fighting will end only after the West intervenes or one of Assad’s aides assassinates him

I think all townpople want to live in peace. And they do all that they can to protect their legitimate prezident from attack mercenary.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015i
X
Carol Pearson
August 30, 2014 7:14 PM
A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.

AppleAndroid