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Idlib countryside shelters Syrian rebel forces

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
September 30th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Rebel forces, along with refugees from battered Syrian cities have sought shelter in the Idlib countryside. Government forces still batter these outposts with regularity, and there are concerns with winter faster approaching, there will be little food to go around for those in hiding.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Rebel forces that seek the overthrow of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have created zones in northern Syria where local revolutionary councils are the interim governing force.

The rebels have organized basic services, such as field hospitals, policing, courts and rubble cleanup. One town is able to publish a small newspaper.

The Syrian government still maintains lethal control over these scattered strongholds. Assad's forces drop bombs from aircraft and shell villages where rebels are active, endangering civilians.

The government has also cut off water from much of the countryside and switches electricity on and off. Some towns are punished with longer blackouts, depending on residents' suspected sentiments.

Life in the Idlib countryside has been transformed into a dreary struggle for survival among moments of spectacular and often indiscriminate violence. With cold weather rapidly approaching, many crops are at risk and fuel is in short supply. Syrians say the outlook is grim.

"We are afraid of the winter," Moyad, a member of the governing revolutionary council in Kafr Takharim, a city of about 25,000 people. "During these last months we have received fuel only twice, and we have not much flour for bread. This winter will be cruel."

On the other hand, the rebellion's tactical successes have been undeniable. At the beginning of this year, rebel forces remained largely in hiding.

After a campaign of ambushes and roadside bombs, swaths of territory have been cleared and army and militia convoys now avoid most roads. Even the M5 highway, an asphalt ribbon linking many of Syria's largest cities, has long stretches that remain in rebel hands.

The rebels' flag flies over their own border crossings to Turkey, at Bab al-Hawa and at the Syrian side of Kilis, beckoning to areas of the country the rebels call free.

Syria's military and militias, however, remain entrenched and ever ready for the next battle. They have concentrated forces in cities and retained part of the archipelago of outposts since the crackdown intensified last year. An air campaign, dropping free-fall bombs or firing rockets onto rebel territory, has killed many unarmed civilians.

Some families have crowded into others' homes, where women and children huddle, sometimes with wounded fighters, listening for the next blasts and wondering where to go.

One exile who has been displaced for months, says that she and her family had been uprooted, forced to survive off the hospitality of friends.

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"We are afraid to go back," she said. "We don't know what happened there. They are destroying houses over the owners' heads."

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