Horrors for Syrian civilians worsening as winter sets in
The old woman continued along the street, seemingly oblivious to the gun battle raging around her. Dressed almost completely in black, she was conspicuous against the off-white walls and the sand-coloured road.
Bullets whistled above her head, but she continued walking, without breaking stride or changing direction. I must say, I couldn’t blame her for paying the gun battle no attention.
We had been speaking to her only minutes earlier, and heard how she had lost her husband and her home to a government aerial attack. She had no money and was reduced to relying on a friend for charity, including a basement to live in.
I’m not sure I’d be too worried, either, about snipers and stray bullets if I had lost as much as she has. Ahmed, our interpreter, had begun to cry while relating the old woman’s tale. “They destroy our homes, kill our loved ones, and arrest [rape] our women,” he lamented.
It wasn’t the first time Ahmed had wept while translating a horror story from one of his people. There is much to weep about in Haram town in northern Syria, where I was a couple of weeks ago with two Goal colleagues who are managing the delivery of consignments of blankets and food to displaced families.
The evidence of conflict was everywhere: barely a building not pockmarked with bullet holes, and every house and shop badly damaged or completely blown apart. What was once a mosque had been reduced to piles of rubble, in the midst of which is a large crater.
A government bomb struck the mosque last month during Friday prayers, killing more than 70 people. Another bomb crater is beside the remains of a row of shops, where several other people were killed. About 700 government troops are stranded in a fort overlooking Haram. The fort is surrounded by rebel forces from the Free Syrian Army, who now control the town and the countryside around it.
As we approached the town centre (or what is left of it), there began an exchange of fire between the opposing sides. This soon developed into the gun battle that the old lady chose to ignore. Our local guides and interpreter kept us well out of harm’s way.
Haram once had a population of 22,000 people. But most fled the periodic bombardments with what they could carry to neighbouring towns and villages. The only remaining residents are those too old or infirm to run away and groups of heavily armed Free Syrian Army fighters, who ride around on motorcycles and pick-up trucks or man frequent roadblocks.