Life returns to Idlib, but fear remains

Life returns to Idlib, but fear remains
Traders are back in the marketplace, and the children are going to school, but for how long?
3 min read
25 September, 2018
Life here is far from 'normal', but it carries on [AFP]

The threats of the Syrian regime and Russia to bomb Idlib have subsided after an agreement was reached with Turkey - which supports the Syrian opposition. Yet life isn't exactly easy in the northern province, with its three million residents - more than half of whom have already been displaced at least once by Syria's war - continue to fear a final onslaught. 

For now though, some life has returned to the city. Vendors with vegetable carts and toys have returned to market places, selling their wares from the early hours of the morning as pedestrians again walk the streets. 

Students gather to buy beans from a wagon, falafel restaurants reopen, and clothing is once again in shopfronts. 

These familiar scenes have returned to Idlib after a period of quiet, as residents anticipated a war. Any future battle now seems to have been deferred by the agreement made by between Turkey and Russia last week. 

"We were scared," said Abu Suhaib, selling fruit in the market.

"You may have wondered around al-Andalus street, and found only one or two shops with the rest closed. Yet after the agreement, we thank God that spirit has returned to the city - not only as we have seen in the recent past, but much better than before. People have returned to their livelihoods.

"Last Thursday, for the first time in almost two months, I found many types of good fruit to sell. Many traders were fearful of Russian threats and staying away from the area, but today things are getting better," Abu Suhaib said. "I promised to go out on the street and sell my fruit."

Mohammed Nasim, 38, another stallholder, agreed.

"There is no comparison between the situation a week ago - when fear ruled everything, and all talk revolved around the war - where will people go, and which camps we will stay in - I didn't buy new merchandise. Some young men asked me about winter clothes, but I told them I had closed everything for the start of the Idlib battle," said Nasim.

"It is true that today we feel somewhat reassured, but there is still fear. The regime and Russia are not honourable - you can't take their word. Even after the agreement I noticed that Russia continues to accuse the opposition factions of possessing chemical weapons." Russian state media has repeated accusations which many here said were an attempt to justify a looming invasion. 

Salma al-Omar told The New Arab that she feels safe when her children go to school in the morning.

"I now go to the market to buy vegetables and prepare dinner for the children," she says. "I have been reluctant to send them to school before, as shelling started on the southern Idlib region, and we feared the possibility of the city being bombed."

Meanwhile 50-year-old Mustafa Abu Khaled continues to fear renewed threats of a war against Idlib.

"What I fear the most is Turkey abandoning us - we do not know what conditions they will face from Russia," he said.  "Russia and the regime are capable of breaking the agreement any time, then we will return to suffering and fear in Idlib.

"We are tired of this situation and the threats it poses to our lives and the lives of the children."

Others are more hopeful. Kassem al-Sayyed, 36, insisted "things will be better". He feels that a new war in Idlib is only a distant possibility. He returned to Syria eight months ago, after struggling with life in Europe, and still feels there is hope for the last rebel-held province in the country. 

He hopes to expand his business and import more goods from Turkey: "Activity has returned to the city."

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