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Exploring the 'other Syria'

Syria’s regime-controlled cities defy the image that outside observers paint of the country and the Assad government.
A vendor sells traditional sweets near a picture of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan in Damascus, Syria July 8, 2015. Picture taken July 8, 2015. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki - RTX1JOL3
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ALEPPO, Syria — During a recent trip to Aleppo, which self-styled pundits like to call a “Sunni” city, I stopped by the stall of a street vendor, a woman covered in black attire, to see what she had to offer. Filled with Syrian army badges and pins with the Syrian flag along with images of President Bashar al-Assad and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, the stall reflected the spirit at the fore – or being brought to the fore — in regime-controlled areas.

Nasrallah posters are not unusual in Homs, a city with a large Shiite population, but in Aleppo, his image adorning walls next to posters of Assad is a sight that defies comprehension. In the “other Syria,” the one we don't hear about, Hezbollah’s support on the battlefield, from Qusair to Qalamoun, has earned Nasrallah a reputation that transcends sectarian boundaries. This was exemplified by my Christian guide, a native of Homs, who sang along enthusiastically when our Alawite driver played a song in praise of Nasrallah while driving us from Homs to Tartus. I also saw it in Baqdash, the famous ice cream parlor in the old city of Damascus whose walls were once covered with photos of famous visitors, including Turkish first lady Emine Erdogan and Jordan’s King Abdullah. Today, the only frame left on the wall holds a thank you letter from Nasrallah for the financial support the establishment has provided to “the resistance.” Asked why the celebrity photos were gone, the shop owner replied, “No one who undermines this country can have their picture on this wall.”

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