Displaced in Syria’s Idlib Dream of Returning to Eastern Aleppo

Destruction in the Syrian city of Aleppo. (Reuters)
Destruction in the Syrian city of Aleppo. (Reuters)
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Displaced in Syria’s Idlib Dream of Returning to Eastern Aleppo

Destruction in the Syrian city of Aleppo. (Reuters)
Destruction in the Syrian city of Aleppo. (Reuters)

A year ago, Syria’s city of Aleppo was on the verge of witnessing a military campaign that left scores dead and ended an important chapter in the country’s conflict.

The campaign brought an end to the Syrian armed factions’ presence in Aleppo and led to the displacement of thousands of civilians from the eastern part of the city.

Activists who were displaced from eastern Aleppo and who now reside in the Idlib countryside and western Aleppo reflected on the current situation a year after the campaign ended.

Activist Afra Hashem told Asharq Al-Awsat: “My last days in Aleppo were very painful, especially since we knew that we were going to leave a city where we grew up.”

“We had mixed emotions. We were happy to be leaving the siege and the fear of dying in the strikes against the city. We were also sad because we were being forced to leave,” she added.

“I wanted to stay, but we were deceived into leaving. One of the hardest moments was when we gt on board the bus to transport us out of Aleppo,” she recalled.

With tears pouring down her cheeks, she said: “We always miss our homes, our destroyed neighborhood and the streets and alleys of old Aleppo. I miss my friends who were killed before my eyes and buried in the city.”

Photographer Bassem al-Ayyoubi told Asharq Al-Awsat: “The final days I lived in the city were very difficult because I knew that they were going to be my last there.”

“I tried to take as many memories with me as possible because I did not know when I will return,” he said.

“As a photographer, I tried to document everything I could see. Unfortunately, I could not take any tangible memories except my camera and some photos taken of Aleppo,” he remarked.

Activist Rasha Nasr spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat of the last days she spent under siege in Aleppo, saying that the city will never witness such difficult days.

“On top of the siege, hunger and cold, Aleppo had to endure intense airstrikes. The jets did not relent and they carried out attacks around the clock,” she stated.

She said that the strikes deliberately targeted health institutions to destroy any chance for life. Relief warehouses were also not spared and there contents of medical and food aid were destroyed to add pressure on the besieged.

Days before the fall of Aleppo, the campaign intensified with the use of all forms of internationally-banned weapons, which led to a spike in the number of casualties.

Mohammed Ali al-Hallak, a prominent civil defense member active in eastern Aleppo, also recalled the difficult days that preceded the fall of the city.

He described how rescue teams faced major difficulties in saving victims caught in the shelling.

“The last ten days were the most difficult for us as a civil defense team due to the very violent shelling,” he said.

“As the regime and Iranian and ‘Hezbollah’ militias advanced, we could no longer help everyone and were forced to retreat,” he revealed.

“Dozens of bodies remained under the rubble and we could not retrieve them,” he said.

“In the final hours, we could no longer use our mechanical equipment because they had run out of fuel. We were forced to retrieve corpses and the wounded with our bare hands,” Hallak said.

“We have hope that we will one day be able to return to our city a year after the displacement. It will not forget who made sacrifices for it,” he stressed.



What Are the Challenges Faced by Hezbollah after 8 Months of Fighting Israel?

People inspect the destruction outside a charred building hit by an Israeli airstrike in the southern Lebanese town of Wadi Jilo, east of Tyre, on June 6, 2024. (AFP)
People inspect the destruction outside a charred building hit by an Israeli airstrike in the southern Lebanese town of Wadi Jilo, east of Tyre, on June 6, 2024. (AFP)
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What Are the Challenges Faced by Hezbollah after 8 Months of Fighting Israel?

People inspect the destruction outside a charred building hit by an Israeli airstrike in the southern Lebanese town of Wadi Jilo, east of Tyre, on June 6, 2024. (AFP)
People inspect the destruction outside a charred building hit by an Israeli airstrike in the southern Lebanese town of Wadi Jilo, east of Tyre, on June 6, 2024. (AFP)

Hezbollah is facing mounting challenges in its eight-month long conflict with Israel in southern Lebanon. Hezbollah, which unilaterally launched the fight in the South, believed that its war in support of Gaza would last a few days or week.

However, the Iran-backed party is now confronted with an open conflict that has transformed into a war of attrition of its forces and no one knows when the fight will end or whether it will develop into a wide-scale conflict against Hezbollah throughout Lebanon.

Experts said the greatest challenge Hezbollah is contending with is Israel’s ongoing assassination of its top commanders.

Political activist and Hezbollah critic Ali al-Amine said another challenge is the possibility that the conflict may spiral into a wide-scale war that the party does not want.

Such a war will lead to unpredictable changes and consequences, he told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Another challenge is the extent to which Hezbollah’s security has been compromised given Israel’s “unprecedented ability in killing several of the party’s top security, military and technical officials.”

“No one predicted that it would be this compromised,” he added.

Another challenge is related to morale and politics. The party will need to regain the trust of its supporters, who believed that it was capable of deterring any Israeli assault on border towns and villages, which have been devastated during the war, al-Amine remarked.

The destruction has prompted several supporters to reconsider whether they would invest in the South - a Hezbollah stronghold - after the war is over, he noted.

04 June 2024, Lebanon, Naqoura: A Hezbollah flag is seen hanged on rubble of destroyed houses caused by Israeli air raids in the Lebanese southern village of Naqoura, located at the Lebanese-Israeli border. (Marwan Naamani/dpa)

Political and strategic affairs researcher retired general Khalil al-Helou said the greatest challenge faced by Hezbollah is the incessant assassination of its top commanders and Israel’s targeted strikes against its positions in the South.

The continuation of the fight will turn the war into one of attrition against the party, he told Asharq Al-Awsat, while dismissing Hezbollah’s shooting down of four Israeli drones.

Another challenge is that Hezbollah is greatly outgunned by Israel, especially in terms of the artillery at the country’s disposal and its air power. Hezbollah doesn’t possess artillery that can rival Israel’s.

Israel also boasts drones that can carry out precise hits, while the party has suicide drones, which can be effective, but it is unknown if they are successful in hitting their targets, Helou said.

Head of the Middle East Center for Studies and Political Research retired general Hisham Jaber said the greatest threat faced by Hezbollah is the possibility that Israel could invade Lebanon.

Hezbollah will definitely not instigate such a war, he told Asharq al-Awsat, but Israel prefers such a scenario.

Should a large-scale war happen, the destruction and casualties will be immense, and Hezbollah will be held responsible for this by internal Lebanese parties, he explained.

“Yes, Israel is being depleted and it is more in crisis than Lebanon, but the attrition is also affecting Hezbollah on all levels,” he added.

“Despite the challenges, Hezbollah cannot stop the war, because it will appear defeated. So, the war will continue and expand in the coming months, but it will not cross a certain line because ultimately a wide-scale war will lead to Iran and the United States’ involvement and they both don’t want that,” he stated.