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Aleppo sees cautious calm amid cease-fire

The truce agreement between opposition and government forces has allowed life to return to many areas in Syria, but many residents worry that it won't last long.
Children play near a bus barricading a street, which serves as protection from snipers loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, in Aleppo's rebel-controlled Bustan al-Qasr neighbourhood, Syria April 6, 2016. REUTERS/Abdalrhman Ismail - RTSDWK5

ALEPPO, Syria — Umm Ahmed, 50, sat on the grass with her daughter in a garden in Sukkari, an Aleppo neighborhood. She sipped tea and talked with some of the other women in the garden as her grandchildren played around them on this sunny day. The atmosphere was comfortable and calm. The cease-fire agreement between the opposition and President Bashar al-Assad’s regime has allowed life to return to many areas, including Aleppo and Idlib, that had long ago grown weary of the civil war.

Under the agreement, sponsored by Russia and the United States, fighting between opposition and regime forces was to be brought to a halt, as the agreement put it, in a cessation of hostilities. Airstrikes on Aleppo decreased significantly after the truce went into effect Feb. 26. Incredibly, the sounds of shooting and shells, to which people had grown accustomed during four years of fighting, stopped.

Before the truce, the Sukkari garden was almost completely deserted. One found few people there. These days, however, it has become a lively space, with hundreds of people looking to relax.

Umm Ahmed told Al-Monitor, “We feel much safer after the truce. We now go out on the streets and live our lives normally, without worrying. In the past, we could not trust letting our children out of the house. No one knew when an aircraft would pass over and bomb [us].”

Aleppo is still divided between the opposition and the Assad regime. The destruction caused by the regime forces’ bombs is visible in opposition-controlled areas. It prompted around 75% of the population to flee.

Umm Ahmed insists on holding on in the city where she was raised. “We have suffered harsh days under the warplanes’ bombs and explosive barrels, in addition to long electricity and water cuts, but despite all that, I did not leave my city,” she said. Umm Ahmed sees the truce as a chance to feel at ease and have a little peace of mind. “Just give us safety so we can make Aleppo a heaven on earth again, so we can make life reemerge from under the rubble and death,” she said.

Aleppo was known for being the economic capital of Syria, famous for its merchants and skilled workers. The truce has allowed activity to return to the city's markets.

In the Ferdaws neighborhood, a few hundred meters from al-Sukkari garden, the loud voices of merchants could be heard in a popular vegetable and food market. The street is busy, packed with tens of merchants who have parked their carts on the side of the road with the purpose of making a living.

One merchant, Ahmad Basbous, told Al-Monitor, “The market’s activity has improved remarkably. Demand has increased, but the increase in prices and the decrease in the Syrian pound’s value still worries customers. This perhaps prevents many from buying their daily needs.”

Basbous takes good care of the vegetables he sells. As he cleaned tomatoes with a piece of cloth, he said, “The cease-fire has given people a sense of security. Some of my neighbors returned to their homes after having fled to the countryside. But will this truce continue?”

Over a month has passed since the cease-fire went into effect. The Syrian Network for Human Rights has documented some 900 breaches, which resulted in the death of 129 people. Despite the sharp decline in the number of airstrikes and missile and artillery fire across Syria, Basbous' question is the one that concerns everyone.

When asked whether the truce would hold, Mohammed Hakk, 24, responded, “No,” without hesitation. Most of those asked the same question in the Ferdaws market agreed. Although residents do not think the cease-fire will last, for now they are seizing the opportunity to bring life back to their city.

Hakk, who works in the media, said, “I hope the truce will continue, and I believe all the Syrian people share my wish. We have had enough with all the killing and displacement. However, I am not optimistic about the truce holding.” Hakk was on point.

On April 5, battles erupted in Aleppo’s southern countryside when opposition forces downed a government fighter plane near the town of Eis. Fighting also returned to the countryside of Latakia and Damascus.

The truce has brought some hope to the hearts of Syrians and given them a chance to breathe something of a sigh of relief after five years of war. They can only hope it continues despite some breaches.

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