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.
TEXT SIZE - +
— 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

Abuja Blast Impacts Lives, Livelihoods

Officials say they are looking at ways to help bombing victims and boosting security More

Cambodia Technology Adviser Criticizes Cybercrime Draft Law

Phu Leewood says current criminal code can be used to prosecute offenders and that there is no need for a separate law More

Photogallery A Year Later, Boston Remembers Deadly Marathon Bombings

City pauses to honor victims and salute emergency workers who came to their assistance in frantic moments after blasts 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.
Google Buys Drone Companyi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X
George Putic
April 15, 2014
In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ray Bonneville Sings the Blues and More on New CD

Singer/songwriter Ray Bonneville has released a new CD called “Easy Gone” with music that reflects his musical and personal journey from French-speaking Canada to his current home in Austin,Texas. The eclectic artist’s fan base extends from Texas to various parts of North America and Europe. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin.
Video

Video Millions Labor in Pakistan's Informal Economy

The World Bank says that in Pakistan, roughly 70 percent work in the so-called informal sector, a part of the economy that is unregulated and untaxed. VOA's Sharon Behn reports from Islamabad on how the informal sector impact's the Pakistani economy.
Video

Video Passover Celebrates Liberation from Bondage

Jewish people around the world are celebrating Passover, a commemoration of their liberation from slavery in Egypt more than 3,300 years ago. According to scripture, God helped the Jews, led by Moses, escape bondage in Egypt and cross the Red Sea into the desert. Zlatica Hoke reports that the story of the Jewish Exodus resonates with other people trying to escape slave-like conditions.
Video

Video Police Pursue Hate Crime Charges Against Kansas Shooting Suspect

Prosecutors are sifting through the evidence in the wake of Sunday’s shootings in a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri that left three people dead. A suspect in the shootings taken into custody is a white supremacist. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, he was well-known to law enforcement agencies and human rights groups alike.
Video

Video In Eastern Ukraine, Pro-unity Activists Emerge from Shadows

Amid the pro-Russian uprisings in eastern Ukraine, there is a large body of activists who support Ukrainian unity and reject Russian intervention. Their activities have remained largely underground, but they are preparing to take on their pro-Moscow opponents, as Henry Ridgwell reports from the eastern city of Donetsk.
Video

Video Basket Maker’s Skills Have World Reach

A prestigious craft show in the U.S. capital offers one-of-a-kind creations by more than 120 artists working in a variety of media. As VOA’s Julie Taboh reports from Washington, one artist lucky enough to be selected says sharing her skills with women overseas is just as significant.
Video

Video UN Report Urges Speedier Action to Avoid Climate Disaster

A new United Nations report says the world must switch from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources to control the effects of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the report (Sunday) following a meeting of scientists and government representatives in Berlin. The comprehensive review follows two recent IPCC reports that detail the certainty of climate change, its impacts and in this most recent report what to do about it. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble has the details.
AppleAndroid