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Middle East

Syrians use lull to take to the streets

As peace talks on Syria resume in Geneva, people on the ground are using the lull to stage protests against the Assad regime. Anna Lekas Miller reports from Azaz, near the Turkish border.

One night last week Muhammed was up late making signs for a protest the next day.

"It has been a while since there was a demonstration," he told DW, pointing out that in Azaz, a town only a few kilometers away from the Turkish border where he is currently living, Kurdish militias have been advancing with the help of the Russians - in addition to the ongoing bombardment from the Syrian regime and Russian airstrikes.

"But there should be a demonstration at this stage of the political conflict."

Several of the signs are written in Russian, calling out Putin for targeting hospitals and killing children. The rest are in Arabic, repeating a familiar refrain, "the people demand an end to the regime" and "The revolution continues."

The next day, Muhammed and thousands of other Syrians took to the streets of Azaz and other rebel-controlled areas of Syria demanding an end to the Russian airstrikes and calling for the fall of the regime. In Dara'a, the birthplace of the revolution, they danced in the streets, chanting, "the revolution continues!" In Aleppo, they scrawled on a wall, "Beautiful is my city without the sound of airstrikes, but more beautiful it will be without the sound of Assad."

signs copyright: DW/Muhammad Al-Qarkupi

Activists want their anger and frustration to be seen and heard

"It was perfect," Muhammed said, reconvening after the protests. "We were reminded of the first days of the revolution."

A moment of peace

Although Muhammed regularly attends demonstrations - just last month he took to the streets to protest the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) continuous assault on Azaz - it has been difficult to safely demonstrate, due to the constant bombardments. Although he originally thought the ceasefire was "a joke," he and other activists say that it has provided many Syrians with a moment to breathe, giving others the confidence to take to the streets without the fear of bombardment.

"We haven't surrendered. We haven't given up our demands, and we still insist on being peaceful and carrying on with these demands," Dani Qappani, a 27-year-old media activist from the besieged Damascus suburb of Moadamiyeh, told DW.

"Nothing will change until our demands [are] fulfilled - the demands of the revolution, the demands that we sacrificed everything for," he said. "We still demand the release of all detainees, and, above all, the fall of the regime."

However, while surprised by the relative peace brought on by the ceasefire, he accused the international community of double standards and cynical tactics.

"The world can force Assad not to bomb," he said pointing out the international community's role in ignoring and perpetuating the crisis despite its now proven ability to do otherwise.

"If they are able to do that now, why didn't they do it years ago? Why didn't they stop the blood from being shed?"

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Syria ceasefire highlights horrors of war

Uneasy truce

While the ceasefire has allowed normal life to cautiously resume in opposition-controlled areas and humanitarian aid to reach besieged neighborhoods, the truce has not held up everywhere. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, there have been 240 documented deaths in areas covered by the truce, and 552 deaths in "Islamic State" (IS) and Jabhat al Nusra areas, which were not part of the ceasefire agreement.

"As civilians, we have no control over whether or not the truce is upheld," said Suhaib, a resident of Idlib, where both Russian and Syrian regime airstrikes violated the truce in the Jisr al-Shughoor neighborhood within the first few days of the ceasefire.

"The amount of air missions has decreased, but they are still there," he told DW. "We only hope that activists are documenting all of the violations."

Hope amid the despondancy

Although there is hope that the fragile truce will lead to more a more successful round of peace talks, inside Syria there is little hope that this will lead to a lasting solution.

children playing football copyright: DW/Muhammad Al-Qarkupi

A semblance of normality has returned to the streets - but how long will it last?

"They don't care about the daily blood shed of Syrians," Muhammed said, referring to the international players deciding the fate of Syria. "They are only meeting to pursue their interests inside of Syria."

"We all know the truth, who is the criminal, and who is killing who," Qappami added. "So why is this absurdist play continuing?"

Despite the obvious despondancy, Qappami is determined to cling on to every last sliver of hope.

"We hope that they will come up with something, and Syria may be free. Syria will be free. God willing."

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