My latest trip to Syria was spent in Aleppo and Damascus. During my time in East Aleppo I was struck by the hive of activity, pockets of industry, rebuilding the stricken neighborhoods, stone by stone. Despite lack of electricity and water, in each street and alleyway, the sound of welders and the beat of hammers, rang out.
The sparks from a trio of welders spilled onto the pavement where we sat and drank coffee with residents, returning to their communities that had been so fractured by the almost 5 year occupation of these districts of East Aleppo, by Nusra Front-led extremist brigades.
In Jaramanah, Damascus we met with many internally displaced people. The estimated 6.4 million IDPs in Syria have almost invariably, fled to Syrian government controlled areas for refuge from the US Coalition extremist factions who have driven them from their hometowns and villages across Syria.
This area had historically been Druze and Christian populated. Now it has been crowded with Syrians from all walks of life, backgrounds and regions. All spoke to me of their hardship under the US Coalition armed & funded extremist & terrorist factions. Many had been driven from their homes by the armed mercenary forces, suffering hideous wounds in the process.
One old man from Talbiseh in Homs had lost one leg, been shot in the spine and had his remaining foot crushed by the Nusra Front brigades who had invaded his village and driven inhabitants from their homes by force. He was selling bread on the street, provided by his wife, to pay for an apartment with no roof. He “spat” on the “freedom and democracy” that his attackers have brought to his life, according to the western corporate media.
I asked him what he wishes to happen now. He fixed me with a direct gaze and simply said, ” I want to go home”
Everyone we spoke to from Raqqa, Homs, East Ghouta, Daraa – all said the same thing. They dreamed of going home, back to the lives they had before the “conflict”, back to their pre-war, peaceful lives. Many of the women did not want to be photographed, their husbands were fighting in the Syrian Arab Army and their lives would be in danger if their image were to be made public. One such woman, from East Ghouta, Hadia, told me:
“We had “freedom” before the crisis. These so called “freedom fighters” brought nothing but suffering, they drove us from our homes. They brought nothing but weariness, loneliness, death and poverty”.
Another woman told us that her two brothers had been kidnapped when the US Coalition extremist factions had invaded her home town in Northern Syria. For the last six years, she has had no information regarding their whereabouts. She clings to the hope that they are still alive. She has a son fighting in the Syrian Arab Army and she prays they are victorious so she can return to her home, after 6 years selling fresh mint & vegetables on the streets of Damascus to eke out a living and to provide for her family. When we asked her about the “freedom fighters”, she laughed, “they are losers – thanks to them I am here and paying for my accommodation while they live in my house”
The daughter of one of these women also spoke to us. Shyly she explained that she missed her home, she missed her school and she wanted, more than anything, to go back, “when it was safe“.
“Nothing is the same here, nothing is like my home”
During my time in Aleppo, we visited the Sid Al’Ose street and square in the Alsh’ar district. In this area, Nusra Front and associated extremist brigades such as the Turkish funded, Abu Amara, had executed civilians accused of being “shabiha” – loyal to the Syrian government or simply refusing to adhere to the extremist ideology of the occupying forces. Forces backed, promoted and armed by the western and Gulf state nations working to destabilize Syria and enforce “regime change”.
Life had returned to quasi-normalcy in this vibrant street. We spoke to shopkeepers and residents, all of whom shied away from talking about the horrors they had witnessed, preferring to erase such memories from their psyche.
One shopkeeper, however, did tell us that the area next to his shop was where the terrorists had brought the bodies of 7 civilians who had been murdered at the Bayan hospital (see above photo), close by. They had been shot multiple times and one had been flung from the multi-storey roof of the Bayan hospital. Their bodies had then been dumped outside the lock-up, in the street, as a warning to residents to stay where they were and not to attempt to escape East Aleppo for the safety of West Aleppo.
Everywhere in Aleppo, people are returning to normal…
Kids in the Alsh’ar district. This street was occupied by over 1500 foreign and Syrian mercenaries, operating as Abu Amara brigade and Nusra Front, according to residents. (Photo: Vanessa Beeley). August 2017
The following report from Russia Today further demonstrates the reality (admitted by the UN) that over 600,000 external refugees have returned to Syria, since the SAA and allies have advanced militarily and cleansed entire swathes of Syrian territory of the US Coalition-armed and funded, terrorist-led insurgents.
“Aleppo, a city retaken by Damascus from rebels in December last year, has become a major destination for displaced Syrian returning home in 2017 as numbers of returnees to Syria spills over 600,000, according to the UN.
Over the first seven months of 2017, over 600,000 displaced Syrians returned home, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said Friday, citing its own figures as well as those of the UN Migration Agency and partners on the ground. The returnees are overwhelmingly internally-displaced people, but 16 percent returned to Syria from other nations, primarily Turkey. The number almost matched that recorded in the whole of 2016.
An estimated 67 percent of returnees went to government-controlled Aleppo Governorate, with the provincial capital itself being the primary destination.
The city of Aleppo – the largest in Syria prior to the conflict – was retaken by the government army last year, aided by Russia, with hostilities ending in mid-December. For years before that, it was divided between two parts, held respectively by government forces and by a disjointed collection of militant groups, including hardcore jihadists. The battle for the city ended with a ceasefire deal, which allowed remaining rebel forces and their families leave Aleppo and go to Idlib governorate, which currently remains a rebel stronghold.
Earlier an increasing number of refugees returning to their homes in Syria was reported by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), which said more than 440,000 internally-displaced persons and 31,000 refugees in other countries had done so over the first six months of 2016. Aleppo and other government-controlled governorates like Hama, Homs and Damascus were mentioned as destinations for the returnees.
“Given the returns witnessed so far this year and in light of a progressively-increased number of returns of internally displaced people and, in time, refugees, UNHCR has started scaling up its operational capacity inside Syria,” the agency said.”
Despite its deep wounds and scars, Syria will rebuild and it will emerge, renewed, stronger, and more resilient than ever before. From out of the fire of neocolonialism, will be born a new more powerful Syria, wiser and reinforced by new alliances, the much strengthened historical alliances and expanded geopolitical savvy.
Children playing next door to Bana Alabed’s deserted house in the midst of 20 Ex-Nusra Front military centres. (Photo: Vanessa Beeley). August 2017