Regime nowhere to be seen along porous borderlands
Rebels here co-ordinate supplies for opposition forces fighting in Aleppo, writes MARY FITZGERALD, Foreign Affairs Correspondent, on the Turkey-Syria border
EVERY TIME Fadi crosses the border into Syria, the same text message pops up on his mobile phone: “Ministry of tourism welcomes you in Syria. Please call 137 for information or complaints.”
Fadi allows himself a wry smile. His phone is on a Turkish network – its signal can be better than Syrian networks, which are often disrupted by the regime – but he is Syrian.
Several months ago he turned revolutionary, deciding to take up arms against the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad after government forces killed several people in his hometown nestled deep in Syria’s northern flank.
These days, when he’s not ferrying injured fighters and refugees over the porous border with Turkey, Fadi is helping co-ordinate supplies for opposition forces battling the regime some 50km (30 miles) south of here in Aleppo, Syria’s most populous city and a major commercial hub.
Like his fellow rebels, Fadi moves freely through this broad swathe of northern Syria, where the three-starred green, white and black flag of the opposition flutters from homes, businesses and former regime buildings.
At border posts seized by the rebels last month, the flag flies proudly above faded murals of the two-starred red, white and black standard of Assad’s Syrian Arab Republic.
The regime is nowhere to be seen along these rugged borderlands and locals believe it will never be seen again. They say the Syrian military is too stretched fighting insurrection elsewhere to regain control here in this bucolic landscape of gently rolling hills and olive groves.
“Here we breathe the air of Free Syria,” Fadi smiles. “Bashar will never be able to take it back.”
Over iftar, the evening meal that breaks the fast during Ramadan, at a nearby house, the talk is of Aleppo. “We’ve heard terrible stories from people who fled their homes there,” says Um Mohammed, as she scoops up molokiya, a traditional stew made of greens, served with roasted lamb. “But it’s not over yet. At this stage, after everything we have seen over the last year, we think Bashar is capable of anything. God help Aleppo.”
In a local school-turned-rebel- brigade base, they also speak of Aleppo. A rebel fighter who spent the previous day in Salahuddin, the rebel-held district of the city that has been pounded by the regime’s bomber aircraft this past week, relays details of the situation there.