Living in a ruined town on the front line, Syrians know hell on earth

Civilians in Afes argue that it is better than living in the camps; at least there is something like a roof over your head when it rains, snows, or the heat becomes overwhelming, writes Borzou Daragahi

Sunday 17 April 2022 12:22 BST
That people live in Afes is a sign of how desperate they are
That people live in Afes is a sign of how desperate they are (Yusuf Sayman)

It was once a schoolhouse, filled with laughing children, scolding teachers, well-worn textbooks and chalkboards. Now it is a rotting, bombed-out, skeletal husk of a building, littered with debris.

This was once a neighbourhood – an up-and-coming, middle-class enclave in rural Idlib province, home to perhaps 3,000 people. Now it is mostly piles of rubble and twisted concrete slabs. There was once a thriving market, with vendors selling pastries, hardware and children’s clothes to the several thousand people who lived in this Syrian town.

Now there is but one tiny grocery store, operated by Hossein, a 46-year-old man who is the de facto mayor for the 400 people or so who live in the ruined remains of Afes, a town on the front line between rebel fighters in northwest Syria and regime forces loyal to dictator Bashar al-Assad to the south.

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