For the first time in months, children are finally playing outside again among the rubble in the Syrian city of Aleppo. People are wandering the streets and going to the shops securely thanks to a partial halt to the war. People strongly doubt that peace will take hold, yet, for now, they are relieved.
“Look at the markets. Where were all these people hiding?” bewildered Mahmoud Ashrafi told Reuters over the phone after picking through opposition-held areas of Aleppo worn-out by barrel bombs and air strikes.
The “cessation of hostilities” agreement drawn up by Russia and the United States has failed to bring the five-year-long war to an end; nonetheless, parts of Syria have enjoyed an infrequent period of peace since the agreement came into effect on Saturday.
The United Nations hopes the agreement will allow for peace talks to get proceed towards settling the conflict that has killed more than 250,000 people and left thousands fleeing the country, creating a refugee crisis in the Middle East and Europe. More aid has been delivered into opposition-held areas since the agreement came into effect.
Only a few weeks ago, Syrians in opposition-held parts of Aleppo were trying to escape, fearing President Bashar al-Assad’s advancing forces were about to impose a siege after cutting the opposition’s supply lines north of the city.
But this week, some of those who fled Aleppo, which has seen some of the Syrian war’s worst bombing and house-to-house fighting, have returned.
An Aleppo resident Jamila al-Shabani told Reuters she had been out strolling parts of the city she had not visited in a long time because of what she described as her “self-imposed confinement” at home. “People were afraid to go out,” she said.
“The park yesterday was a beehive where children and families flocked,” Reuters cited Abdullah Aslan, another Aleppo resident. “It was lovely and sunny. The park was full, people now when they go out with their families feel safer,” he said.
Also, residents told Reuters of the bustling scenes in the market, some likening it to the last-minute rush before the start of a big religious holiday. “People are more assured,” said Abdul Munim Juneid, an orphanage supervisor.
Before the long, brutal war, Aleppo was one of tourists’ favorite places in Syria, being the country’s second city and one of the oldest inhabited in the world. With timeworn antiquity, studded streets, old souks and special architectural gems — bathhouses, palaces, churches and mosques – Aleppo is one of the richest historical sites in the Middle East.
Both, the opposition and the Syrian government have accused each other of violating the cessation of hostilities agreement, and both denied the accusations assuring their commitment to the truce.
The US-Russian brokered agreement excluded operations on terrorist groups including ISIS and al-Nusra Front.
The pace of the war is almost unchanged in some parts of northern Syria, markedly on frontlines near the border with Turkey where anti-Assad groups report attacks by government forces seeking to seal the frontier.
The government is giving no details about military operations in those areas.
While the government says it is cooperating with international efforts, the opposition is voicing deep reservations. It says aid deliveries are reaching a fraction of those in need and that Assad is pressing his war effort in violation of the agreement.
Army helicopters have dropped leaflets calling on protestors to lay down their arms and vowing to fight those who resist.