In Syria, Milky Way Glimmers Over Sea of Rubble
Years of violence in Syria's last major opposition bastion has created a landscape of ruin, eerily lit in the early hours of Saturday by the Milky Way in the night sky.
Over the bombed-out town of Ariha in Idlib province, the stars looked like specks of dust shining over the town's pulverized buildings.
Ten long-exposure pictures taken by an AFP photographer on an unusually clear night with no moon show the stark contrast between the grim devastation on the ground and the Milky Way.
A Russian-backed government offensive between December and March ravaged Ariha and other parts of northwest Syria, displacing nearly a million people.
A truce reached on March 6 had largely reduced the fighting but Russia resumed airstrikes this month for the first time in an alarming uptick.
Some 780,000 of the nearly 1 million displaced are estimated to remain in displacement, according to the United Nations.
Perched on a mountainous region in Idlib, Ariha is held by the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham alliance (HTS), led by Syria's former Al-Qaeda affiliate, and its rebel allies.
It was home to almost 70,000 people before the regime's latest offensive but it is now nearly deserted.
Its streets are dotted with the skeletons of buildings damaged by previous rounds of bombardment.
Barely any lights emanate from the ground, except the dim glow of mobile phones carried by passersby.
Nearly half of Idlib's population of three million has been displaced from other parts of Syria that have come under regime control.
The war in Syria has killed more than 380,000 people and displaced nearly half of the country's pre-war population since it started in 2011.
With the help of his Russian and Iran allies, President Bashar al-Assad has clawed back more than 70 per cent of the country.