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FEATURE / Syria's War

East Aleppo: 'Our memories are buried'

Residents evacuated from the Syrian city of Aleppo are beginning their lives anew in Idlib.

by Adam Lucente and Zouhir Al Shimale

Idlib, Syria - Abdullah was one of the last people to leave eastern Aleppo.

Leading up to his evacuation via bus to rebel territory outside of the city, it seemed that hope of an escape was lost for him, his wife and their two children.

"We stayed homeless for many days because regime forces were near us, and we were without food or water, using only our belongings for warmth," said Abdullah, who spoke to Al Jazeera under a pseudonym for security reasons. "People couldn't bring all their belongings when they left, so they burned them."

Abdullah said that he also witnessed attempted harassment of civilians by pro-government forces: "Conditions were really horrible."

At least 35,000 people left east Aleppo this month, after a deal was struck to evacuate the city's remaining rebel-controlled areas. Many went to Idlib province, where they are now starting their lives anew.

In Aleppo, residents faced the threat of starvation due to a protracted government siege [Zouhir Al Shimale/Al Jazeera]

"As of now, the security situation is much better - no bombs or shelling," Mahmoud Taraqji, an Aleppo native, told Al Jazeera.

New arrivals point to the better security situation in Idlib city, contrasted against the frequent air strikes and clashes that have gripped Aleppo in recent weeks.

"The situation in the city is quiet," said Abd al-Latif Tarboush, an Aleppo resident who arrived in Idlib this week. "There's no bombing or clashes, thank God."

There have, however, been some air strikes reported in rural areas of Idlib over the past week.

Taraqji said that, unlike in Aleppo, where residents faced the threat of starvation due to a protracted government siege, his family has enough food in Idlib, and has been relying on takeaway food while they move into a new home. He and his family arrived in Idlib early last week.

But Taraqji says that his family is facing other difficulties, including the trauma of displacement.

"We'll never go back to our old house," he said. "Our lives and memories are buried now, and we can't go back."

Many viewed their flight as necessary due to the rapid incursion of pro-government forces into Aleppo's east [Zouhir Al Shimale/Al Jazeera]

The evacuation deal ended on Thursday as the Syrian army declared itself in full control of the city, which had been divided between rebel and government forces since 2012.

Many viewed their flight as necessary due to the rapid incursion of pro-government forces into the city's east.

"We were forced to leave after the regime put pressure on the rebels to leave after taking most of the city," Taraqji told Al Jazeera.

Taraqji, Tarboush and others say they opted to go to rebel territory after leaving eastern Aleppo in an effort to avoid further run-ins with government forces. Some residents fear detention by the government or worse - fears that escalated after the United Nations reported that hundreds of men had gone missing after entering government territory during the final days of the battle.

In addition to Idlib, some evacuees fled to rebel areas in the countryside west of Aleppo. Others, however, moved to government territory as the rebels lost ground, images from Syria's state-run news agency SANA show.

Many of those who left eastern Aleppo were deeply scarred after more than five years of war, aid groups noted [Zouhir Al Shimale/Al Jazeera]

The city of Idlib, and the province of the same name, is the most prominent rebel stronghold left in Syria after the victory of the Syrian regime and its allies in Aleppo. Various rebel groups, including the Fateh al-Sham Front, maintain a presence in the area.

For those used to living in Aleppo - Syria's prewar largest city - Idlib is quite different.

"Life in Idlib is rural in most areas, and the regime forces aren't here, whereas in Aleppo it's a small area with a big population being bombed," said one doctor from Idlib, who practised medicine in eastern Aleppo before returning home last year.

Now working in Idlib, the doctor said that he has been treating many Aleppan victims.

"They're victims of the bombing. They have multiple fractures and internal injuries," said the doctor, who spoke to Al Jazeera on condition of anonymity.

The massive number of displaced people has raised humanitarian concerns, particularly as the harsh winter sets in [Zouhir Al Shimale/Al Jazeera]

The influx of displaced people from eastern Aleppo, however, has raised new humanitarian concerns in Idlib and elsewhere, particularly as the harsh northern Syrian winter sets in.

"People don't always have proper winter clothing, so we find them a place to stay and give blankets and food," said Christy Delafield, a spokeswoman for Mercy Corps, which has been assisting recent evacuees in northern Syria.

Delafield told Al Jazeera that many of those who left eastern Aleppo were deeply scarred after more than five years of war.

"Everyone is traumatised," she said. "We try to give them some peace."

As the war continues elsewhere in Syria, former residents of eastern Aleppo are grappling with the fact that their city has been forever changed. 

"I wish to get the chance to go back there," Taraqji said. "It doesn't feel close, but I hope I will."


SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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