AZAZ, Northern Syria — Residents in northern Syria are trying to carry on with their lives despite a conflict that has killed thousands of people nationwide since March, 2011. Helping them are rebels from the so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA), who are organizing ad hoc local governments in areas under their control and offering services and supplies.
At this makeshift gas station along the roadside in northern Syria, fuel sells for about $2 a liter. It is one of the precious resources the Free Syrian Army is helping to secure.
The FSA is organizing Local Coordination Committees to help residents get back on their feet.
Samir Haj Omar is a former school teacher and now head of the FSA political council in the town of Azaz. He says they still lack necessities like milk for babies, and medicine, but have been able to organize basic services. "The services [we are providing] are securing water, electricity, bread, street cleaning, et cetera," he said.
The Syrian government calls the rebels "terrorists" and is vowing to eliminate them. But the rebels are not discouraged. In Azaz, despite an airstrike that killed at least 50 people last week, the main market was open for business the next day.
Hamdan Kanou was back to work, running his produce stand as he has done for 20 years. "Today we want to open our shops because people want to come and buy food and stuff to cook. Our life will keep going even if he's striking us by plane. We are not afraid of Bashar al-Assad," he said.
Down the street, a baker opened his doors, selling cakes and cookies to customers, even though most of the neighboring shops remained shuttered. And some pharmacies were operating, offering medicine to the sick and those wounded from the attack.
Captain Ahmed Ghazali, head of security for the Free Syrian Army in Azaz, says local officers are working to establish trust. "The biggest challenge for us is making the people who trusted us satisfied with us, as well as dealing with the shortages that these people are facing because of the crisis we're living in," he said.
But one attack can set back any gains the rebels have made. It took several years for this state hospital to be completed, but it was destroyed in a matter of days during a battle last month. Now residents have to travel across the border to Turkey for medical attention.