In Aleppo's rebel districts, not everyone has chosen



ALEPPO, Syria, Iskandar Kat- With hardened expressions, three men watched in silence as Syria's rebels danced to celebrate the "liberation" of Shaar district in Aleppo, a sign of the embattled city's divided loyalties.
The mere mention of President Bashar al-Assad prompted them to get up and leave.
The scene of heavy fighting since July 20, Aleppo is split down the middle over the revolt. The east is under rebel control, while the west and the historic centre is manned by regime troops and shabiha, the pro-regime militiamen.



In Aleppo's rebel districts, not everyone has chosen
But even within the districts of Shaar, Hanano, Sukkari and Sakhur, where rebels have declared victory, not everyone has chosen whether to side with the opposition or with the regime.
People's expressions alone are a giveaway.
As men walked past the gate of Bab al-Hadid into Aleppo's Old City, some spoke loudly, praising God, and trampled on Assad's portrait every time they saw one on the ground. Others, however, walked in silence, visibly frightened.
In Aleppo's "liberated" streets, neither democracy, freedom nor Assad are key concerns for most people. Instead, most worry about the lack of water, electricity and food, amid continued shelling.
Violet-clad Iman, 27, who has a six-year old daughter, said she fears for her family's future. "There is no electricity, no one to help, the shops are closed and the country is destroyed," she told AFP.
"My daughter is worried sick because of the shelling," wept Iman.
"The people have fled. All of this, for whom? And now the army is coming to attack us with warplanes. I just want Syria to go back to what it was before. I want to feel safe, and to be able to go out at all hours, without fear."
Asked whether she wanted Syria to be ruled by Assad or not, she said: "I don't care."
An old woman nearby expressed a similar feeling. "The world is finished! There's practically no bread left, and no electricity. And the price of taxis is soaring."
The woman said she doesn't know whose fault it is. "All I know is that it cost me 400 Syrian pounds ($6) to get here."
As the revolt rocks Syria, Assad's supporters have grown quiet, while staunch defenders of the revolt seize the streets. The majority, however, do what has long been done in Syria, and that is to play it safe.
"I support the revolution, but not every day"
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"I support the revolution, " said 27-year-old, unemployed Mohammed. "But not every day."
In areas they have seized from the regime, rebel control is palpable yet discreet. Barricades are rare and the constant buzzing of helicopters serves as a reminder that the army still controls the sky.
Fighters flow into Aleppo continually. They make their journey at night, their vehicle lights off, as they zigzag on roads and paths surrounding the city.
Rebel fighters hold their breath, looking hard at every bright light, to see whether it is a star or a helicopter. When they cross into villages that are sympathetic to their cause, people cheer.
The rest of the rebels' journey is silent, as fear of helicopters above serves as a reminder of the bombings that await them in Aleppo.
In big, black letters, the name of the reputedly 6,000-strong Tawheed Brigade is daubed on the walls of the city.
Portraits of Assad and his father, Hafez, have been destroyed. And on school buildings where Assad's portraits have survived, they've been tagged "donkey" and "dog," while the eyes have been erased.
Mornings at the Shaab hospital are spent getting ready for the arrival of new wounded.
"We have around 50 wounded patients a day, including rebels and civilians," said Abdel Rahman, a vet-turned-medic. "Most doctors have fled because of the shelling, and because they were hunted down by the regime."
Those wounded heavily by the fighting and shelling are transported to Turkey immediately. "Some 90 percent of our operations are for war wounds, caused by bullets or shrapnel," said Osama, a 40-year-old surgeon.
Lately, there has been a new cause for fear: snipers.
In the Old City, rebels deploy several hundred metres (yards) away from the historic citadel, which towers above the city.
"They are there, hidden by the citadel walls, 150 metres (yards) away," said Abu Mohammad, a 39-year-old fighter. "They are very active."
Two weeks after the rebel offensive on Aleppo was launched, no one knows when the army will launch its full-scale attack.
Asked about the future, rebel commander Mohammed Ahmadi paused for thought before saying: "We control 50 percent, but so does the army. This is going to be a long battle."
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Sunday, August 5th 2012
Iskandar Kat
           


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