Fritz Schaap writes: On an icy January evening in eastern Aleppo, a grotesque scene of destruction, five men are standing around a fire in a battered oil drum in a butcher’s shop.
Their trousers are dirty and their faces are covered with soot. There has been no running water for a long time. Every evening, the men come here to warm up, burning table legs and chairs from the ruins. In what is left of their apartments, there are no heating stoves.
The fear, though, is finally gone, says shop owner Ahmed Tubal. For over four years, various rebel groups had controlled their neighborhood of al-Shaar, but Syrian and Russian jets recently transformed half of the city into rubble to wipe them out.
The rebels and their supporters have left the city and following the regime’s victory, only those who support Syrian President Bashar Assad have remained. “The bombing was necessary to drive out the Islamists,” says Tubal, a short man with tired eyes. “Otherwise they would never have left.” The other men voice their approval. “We were so exhausted. We just wanted it to stop. And if that meant that everything had to be destroyed even further, then that was just the price we had to pay.”
A visit to Assad’s Syria, a rump state around the large cities in the west, over which the dictator has regained control thanks to Russian and Iranian support, is like entering an apocalyptic world. Large Mercedes tractor-trailers drive water tanks through Aleppo’s ruins while the streets are patrolled by armored vehicles manned by Russian soldiers. Assad can frequently be seen on television while fear can be seen in the eyes of many residents.
Our journey leads us to the three largest cities in northern and western Syria: Aleppo, Latakia and Homs. Aleppo has become symbolic of the brutal bombing campaign. Latakia, the regime stronghold on the Mediterranean, was largely untouched by the war and is still a popular vacation spot in the summer. And Homs, once the center of the uprising, was destroyed and is now slated to become a model of reconstruction. [Continue reading…]