News / Middle East

    Some Areas Enjoy Calm, Glimpses of Normality Amid Syrian Truce

    A boy gestures as he sits with others on a pickup truck in the rebel held Douma neighborhood of Damascus, Syria, March 2, 2016.
    A boy gestures as he sits with others on a pickup truck in the rebel held Douma neighborhood of Damascus, Syria, March 2, 2016.
    Reuters

    Children are outside playing and many people are going to the shops safely for the first time in months in Aleppo, Syria, thanks to a partial halt to the war that is providing relief, even if most doubt that peace will take hold.

    "Look at the markets. Where were all these people hiding?" said a bewildered Mahmoud Ashrafi, speaking to Reuters by telephone after picking through opposition-held areas of Aleppo wrecked by barrel bombs and airstrikes.

    While the "cessation of hostilities" has fallen short of halting the five-year war across the country, parts of Syria have enjoyed an unusual period of peace since the U.S.-Russian agreement came into effect Saturday.

    The United Nations hopes the agreement will lead to talks on settling the conflict that has killed more than 250,000 people and created refugee crises in the Middle East and Europe. More aid has been delivered into opposition-held areas since the agreement came into effect.

    Just a few weeks ago, Syrians in opposition-held parts of Aleppo were trying to leave, fearing President Bashar al-Assad's advancing forces were about to impose a siege after cutting rebel supply lines north of the city.

    But this week, some of those who fled Aleppo, which has seen some of the Syrian war's worst bombing and house-to-house fighting, have returned.

    Youths read and draw in the Ottoman-era Tekkiye Suleimaniye mosque complex in Damascus, Syria, March 2, 2016.
    Youths read and draw in the Ottoman-era Tekkiye Suleimaniye mosque complex in Damascus, Syria, March 2, 2016.

    Aleppo resident Jamila al-Shabani said she had been out seeing parts of the city she had not visited in a long time because of what she described as her "self-imposed confinement" at home.

    "People were afraid to go out," she said.

    "The park yesterday was a beehive where children and families flocked," added Abdullah Aslan, another Aleppo resident contacted by Reuters. "Families fell safer" when they venture out.

    Before the war, tourists enjoyed Aleppo, Syria's second city and one of the oldest inhabited in the world. Architectural gems — bathhouses, palaces, churches and mosques — studded Aleppo's streets, making it one of the richest historical sites in the Middle East. Souks that traced their history back four millennia sold spices, the city's trademark laurel soap and the antique textiles that were coveted in Europe.

    Bustling market

    Residents contacted by Reuters described bustling scenes in the market, some likening it to the last-minute rush before the start of a big religious holiday.

    "People are more assured," said Abdul Munim Juneid, an orphanage supervisor.

    On the other side of the city, which is under government control, residents have also noticed a drop in insurgent shelling. But like Syrians in rebel-held territory, residents remain cautious and fearful.

    "Now, to a small degree, it is different. But there is still fear that any moment they will shell peaceful neighborhoods," said Suheib Masry, 28.

    Both rebel groups and the Syrian government say they are respecting the cessation-of-hostilities agreement, while accusing each other of violating it.

    The pace of the war is virtually unchanged in some parts of northern Syria, notably on front lines near the border with Turkey where rebels report attacks by government forces seeking to seal the frontier.

    The government is saying little about military operations in those areas, where rebel forces viewed as moderate by the West fight in close proximity to jihadists who are not included in the cessation-of-hostilities agreement.

    While the government says it is cooperating with international efforts, the opposition is voicing deep misgivings. It says aid deliveries are reaching a fraction of those in need and that Assad is pressing his war effort in violation of the agreement.

    Army helicopters have dropped leaflets calling on rebels to lay down their arms and vowing to fight those who resist.

    'Calm before the storm'

    Residents in the town of Jisr al-Shughour, captured by rebels from government forces last year, fear it is only a matter of time before the next offensive begins. They say there has been no letup in government shelling there.

    "There is a lot of fear. There is paralysis with no buying or selling, and those who have assets are trying to get rid of them," said Abdullah Akhras, talking from a village near the town. "It's the calm before the storm. This truce is nothing more than a preparation for a huge battle. They [the government] are now amassing forces to begin on every front."

    Residents work on fixing a damaged shop in the town of Darat Izza, province of Aleppo, Syria, Feb. 28, 2016.
    Residents work on fixing a damaged shop in the town of Darat Izza, province of Aleppo, Syria, Feb. 28, 2016.

    Still, in opposition-held areas near Damascus, people are using the relative calm to see to long-neglected tasks, such as repairing damaged homes and even tending to gardens.

    "We now see the kids in the neighborhood going and coming and playing," said Badran al Doumi, owner of a furniture store in Douma, east of Damascus.

    The noise of vehicles has replaced the sound of warplanes that so frequently bomb the area, residents say.

    Boys try to sell biscuits to a man driving a car in Aleppo, Syria, March 2, 2016.
    Boys try to sell biscuits to a man driving a car in Aleppo, Syria, March 2, 2016.

    Instead of carrying reports on casualty tolls from government attacks, the social media feed of a civil defense service operating in the area showed rescue workers repairing vehicles, cleaning mosques and hosting a children's party.

    Just nine kilometers (five miles) away across the front lines in government-controlled areas of Damascus, Samira al-Shawki, 60, hoped the calm would last.

    "The sounds of blasts are fewer to a degree, but we want it to stay this way," she said.

    You May Like

    US-Russia Tensions Complicate Syria War

    With a shared enemy and opposing allies, Russia and the US are working to avoid confrontation

    Video Re-opening Old Wounds in Beirut's Bullet-riddled Yellow House

    Built in neo-Ottoman style in 1920s, it is set to be re-opened in Sept. as ‘memory museum’ - bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity

    Cambodian-Americans Lobby for Human Rights Resolution

    Resolution condemns all forms of political violence in Cambodia, urges Cambodian government to end human rights violations, calls for respect of press freedom

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territoryi
    X
    June 24, 2016 9:38 PM
    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territory

    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Experts: Very Few Killed in US Gun Violence Are Victims of Mass Shootings

    The deadly shooting at a Florida nightclub has reignited the debate in the U.S. over gun control. Although Congress doesn't provide government health agencies funds to study gun violence, public health experts say private research has helped them learn some things about the issue. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
    Video

    Video Trump Unleashes Broadside Against Clinton to Try to Ease GOP Doubts

    Recent public opinion polls show Republican Donald Trump slipping behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election matchup for November. Trump trails her both in fundraising and campaign organization, but he's intensifying his attacks on the former secretary of state. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.
    Video

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.
    Video

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapide’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.
    Video

    Video Florida Gets $1 Million in Emergency Government Funding for Orlando

    The U.S. government has granted $1 million in emergency funding to the state of Florida to cover the costs linked to the June 12 massacre in Orlando. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the grant Tuesday in Orlando, where she met with survivors of the shooting attack that killed 49 people. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video How to Print Impossible Shapes with Metal

    3-D printing with metals is rapidly becoming more advanced. As printers become more affordable, the industry is partnering with universities to refine processes for manufacturing previously impossible things. A new 3-D printing lab aims to bring the new technology closer to everyday use. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Big Somali Community in Minnesota Observes Muslim Religious Feast

    Ramadan is widely observed in the north central US state of Minnesota, which a large Muslim community calls home. VOA Somali service reporter Mohmud Masadde files this report from Minneapolis, the state's biggest city.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora