Syrians Cautiously Resume Daily Activities As Fragile Cease-Fire Holds
In Syria, a U.S.- and Russia-backed cessation of hostilities has reached the one-week mark, ushering in a period of unprecedented calm, despite violations. Battles simmer, but punitive airstrikes are few and are concentrated near the front lines. Civilians have resumed activities they'd long since abandoned, from visiting friends to — once again — protesting in the streets.
Hundreds rallied on Friday in the streets of the Syrian town of Kafranbel, a sight not seen in years. Similar rallies have cropped up from Aleppo to the Damascus suburbs, with people once again calling for the fall of the Assad regime.
Syrian photographer Malek Refaie, reached in his rebel-held Damascus suburb via the Internet, says he hadn't seen a big street protest in more than three years. That was when his suburb, Daraya, came under a crippling government siege.
In the years since, the fight to survive daily bombardments and secure the next meal took precedence over all else. Refaie, 23, says residents didn't believe the bombing could ever really stop.
"The day before the truce, Daraya had 76 barrel bombs," he says. "To get zero the next day was a breakthrough, like a miracle."
For the children of Daraya, the truce means they can go back to school and enjoy a semblance of a normal schedule.
In a video filmed by activists, young students sing a patriotic song at a school celebration on Wednesday. A local leader thanks the teachers for staying committed to the school. Children squirm in their seats, dressed in their best clothes.
Refaie says before the truce, kids were going to school one hour a day, two hours maximum. They'd start at dawn, before the barrel bombs began to rain down.
During the worst times, he says, classes were canceled for weeks on end. But during the truce, classes have been held every day from 7 in the morning to noon.
For Refaie, a return to simple pleasures, like getting together with friends, means a great deal. He and his friends played a card game Thursday night. He recorded it on his phone to give an idea of the mood. They're laughing.
Refaie says Daraya residents are still waiting for promised international aid. In the past week, U.N. convoys delivered supplies to multiple besieged areas, but not Daraya.
Meanwhile, some are starting to make household repairs that were long seen as pointless. Most people who live in first-floor apartments or one-story traditional Arabic homes feared for their lives because of the shelling and airstrikes, Refaie says, so they moved into basements. Now they feel safe enough to start checking on their homes.
But not everyone is expressing relief. A young mother in the Damascus suburb of Douma says via Facebook there were new airstrikes Friday morning, with new victims. Others speak of hurried trips to the market, not entirely trusting the calm.
Early Friday, Refaie says he saw a warplane return to the skies. The sight made him anxious, but it didn't bomb.
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