FEAR IN MAREA

Trip Start Aug 12, 2012
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Trip End Aug 16, 2012


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Flag of Syria  , Aleppo,
Thursday, August 16, 2012

MAREA WAS THE FIRST PLACE IN ALEPPO PROVINCE TO STAGE PROTESTS IN THE SPRING OF 2011,IN SUPPORT OF DERAA AND HOMS.
 ON 22/4/11,THE PEOPLE CAME OUT IN SYMPATHY,AND TO DEMAND THEIR FREEDOM AND RIGHTS.THEY DID NOT,AT THIS STAGE,CALL FOR REGIME CHANGE.
 THE HEAVY HANDED RESPONSE OF THE GOVERNMENT EVENTUALLY PROVOKED THIS STANCE.POLICE,SHABIYA AND INTELLIGENCE MINISTRY FORCES WERE REPEATEDLY SENT IN,OFTEN IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT,DRAGGING PEOPLE AWAY IN THEIR UNDERWEAR TO BE BEATEN AND TORTURED.
PEOPLE STOPPED SLEEPING AT NIGHT,AND IF THEY WERE WARNED THAT SECURITY FORCES WERE ON THEIR WAY,THEY WOULD FLEE TO THE FIELDS.

BY LAST WINTER,THE FSA ENTERED THE TOWN.
 ON 10/4/12,ONE DAY BEFORE THE UN BROKERED CEASEFIRE WAS SUPPOSED TO COME INTO EFFECT,I AM INFORMED THAT THE REGIME ATTACKED THE TOWN OF MAREA WITH HELICOPTERS,ARTILLERY AND GROUND TROOPS,BURNING 500 HOUSES AND WOUNDING MANY PEOPLE,ALTHOUGH I DID NOT SEE MUCH EVIDENCE OF IT,AND WAS TOLD THAT THE HOUSES HAD BEEN REBUILT. MOST OF THE TOWNSFOLK FLED.
ARTILLERY AND HELICOPTERS HAVE CONTINUED TO BOMBARD THE TOWN REGULARLY EVER SINCE,ALTHOUGH MOST CIVILIANS HAVE RETURNED,THEIR NUMBERS SWOLLEN BY THE INFLUX OF REFUGEES FROM THE SURROUNDING COUNTRYSIDE.
 THERE IS LITTLE ROOM IN TOWN FOR JOURNALISTS,SPARED ONLY FLOOR SPACE IN ONE HOUSE NOW USED AS A MEDIA CENTRE,WHERE THE TOILET SOON BLOCKED,THE AIR CON FAN WAS BROKEN,THE SHOWER NON EXISTENT,AND PURIFIED DRINKING WATER WAS SCARCE.
 ''THE CEASEFIRE IS A JOKE'' DECLARED MY WITNESS,WHO POINTED OUT THAT THE COOKER OF THE KITCHEN IN HIS OWN FAMILY HOME HAD BEEN DESTROYED BY A ROCKET THROUGH THE CEILING.HE CLEARLY FEARS FOR HIS YOUNGER SIBLINGS,AND STRUGGLES TO SLEEP AT NIGHT EVEN NOW.HE SEES NO POSSIBILITY OF A NEGOTIATED SETTLEMENT,AND DOES NOT BELIEVE THAT ANY OF THE OPPOSITION,INCLUDING THE CO-ORDINATING COMMITEES,ARE WILLING TO TALK WITH THE ''CRIMINAL'' REGIME. 

A CAMERA CREW FROM CNN,ONLY THE DAY BEFORE MY ARRIVAL,HAD VISITED THE TOWN.ALMOST AS SOON AS THEY LEFT,MIGS BOMBED THE TOWN AT 1AM,THE FIRST TIME IN A WHILE,MACHINE GUNNING ONE END OF TOWN NEAR TO THE CEMETERY.THE FOLLOWING DAY,JUST AS I ARRIVED ON THE ROAD FROM KILIS,THE MIG RETURNED TO ''PLOUGH THE FIELDS'' AT THE OTHER END OF TOWN NEAR THE SWIMMING POOL,PERHAPS DELIBERATELY MISSING BECAUSE OF A SYMPATHETIC PILOT

MY WITNESS WAS HIMSELF AN ENGLISH LANGUAGE STUDENT AT ALEPPO COLLEGE,UNTIL THE WAR FORCED HIM TO STAY AT HOME.UNWILLING TO JOIN THE NATIONAL ARMY UNDER ASSAD,HE HAD ALREADY DELAYED 3 COURSES TO AVOID THE DRAFT.HE NOW ANTICIPATES DOING HIS MILITARY SERVICE IN THE FSA IN FUTURE.HIS BROTHER SUFFERED A SHOULDER INJURY FIGHTING IN SALAHEDDINE DISTRICT OF ALEPPO RECENTLY AND WILL RETURN TO THE FIGHT WHEN HE RECOVERS.

OUR CONVERSATION TURNED TO THE PREVIOUS REBELLION AGAINST THE ASSAD REGIME,IN 1982.ALTHOUGH THIS CENTRED ON HAMA,HE SAYS THAT ABOUT 50,000 PEOPLE WERE KILLED ALL OVER SYRIA.
IN MAREA,ABOUT 20 PEOPLE WERE DISAPPEARED AT THIS TIME.NO ONE HAS HEARD OF THEM SINCE.TO THIS DAY,ANYONE FROM MAREA WHO APPLIES TO ENROL AT UNIVERSITY IS ASKED IF THEY ARE RELATED TO ANY OF THESE DISAPPEARED.
MY WITNESS WAS CLEARLY TIRED.''DID YOU SLEEP LAST NIGHT'' HAD BEEN HIS FIRST QUESTION WHEN I MET HIM EARLIER.HE HAD HEARD THE SOUND OF DISTANT BOMBING AND LAY AWAKE MOST OF THE NIGHT TRAUMATISED.AS WE FINISHED OUR CONVERSATION,WE COULD HEAR THE REGULAR DULL THUD OF DISTANT BOMBING AGAIN.CHILDREN CAME IN AND OUT OF THE GROCERY SHOP TO BUY THEIR EVENING TREATS,SOME CARRYING FLAGS ON THEIR WAY TO A DEMONSTRATION DOWNTOWN.NO ONE EXPECTS ANY QUICK SOLUTIONS,AND THE MOOD IS DESPONDENT.UNABLE TO ARRANGE A CAR GOING MY WAY,I AM DIRECTED TO THE HIGHWAY TO FLAG DOWN ANY PASSING VEHICLE.AT LEAST ASSAD'S FORCES ARE NOT EXPECTED TO BE ON THE GROUND IN THIS AREA ANY MORE,BUT I WAIT AT THE EDGE OF TOWN FSA CHECKPOINT,WHO WITNESS ME CLIMBING INTO AN OPEN TRUCK WHERE A MOTHER AND DAUGHTER HUDDLE AMONG BAGS ON THE FLOOR,AND A MAN STANDS LEANING ON THE BARS,AS WE HEAD FOR KALJIBREEN WHERE I WILL CHANGE CARS FOR AZAZ,HOPING TO WITNESS THE AFTERMATH OF YESTERDAY'S MASSACRE OF 80 PLUS CIVILIANS BY HELICOPTER ASSAULT.BOMBS ARE DROPPING EVERYWHERE AND MORE PEOPLE ARE FRIGHTENED AWAY,BUT THE POOR HAVE NOWHERE TO GO,AND IT IS THEY WHO BEAR THE BRUNT OF THE ATTACKS

  

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