Aleppo enjoys lull as fragile Syrian ceasefire holds | Middle East| News and analysis of events in the Arab world | DW | 12.04.2016
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Middle East

Aleppo enjoys lull as fragile Syrian ceasefire holds

Life has been returning to normal in rebel-controlled Aleppo due to the ceasefire. Violence has subsided, though it continues and residents remain wary. Zouhir Al Shimale reports from Aleppo and Adam Lucente from Beirut.

Muhammad Aslan has spent his formative years in a city consumed by war. The 15-year-old calls the al-Ansari Mashad neighborhood of the rebel-controlled eastern part of Aleppo home. This is where much of the city's destruction has taken place. Vacant buildings, destroyed cars and broken glass dot the streets of al-Ansari Mashad. Despite the war, Aslan walks amid the rubble each day to get to the Shahid Mustapha Qarman school near his house. He says his life is different nowadays.

"Now my mom lets me out of the house to go to the park with my friends after school," he told DW. "Hopefully we'll return to our normal life like before."

Parts of Aleppo remain in ruins, the legacy of the civil war that has been underway for more than five years. But over a month into the ceasefire that began on February 27, Aleppo has been enjoying a period of relative peace. With the downturn in violence, residents have been going outside more, and water and electricity supplies are more abundant. Serious conflict continues in some places, but Aleppo's somewhat calmer situation has been giving residents hope.

Children play on a see-saw in an Aleppo park

Parents allow their kids to play in the parks - for the moment

"Life is back to normal. People, children, women and old people fill the streets and parks," said Murad al-Sari, who lives in Aleppo's Saif al-Dawla neighborhood. Now one sees children playing on swings and slides in the parks. "It's the opposite of before, when planes never left the sky and sometimes shelling and missiles came down upon us," he said, referring to the situation pre-ceasefire.

The city's infrastructure has been on the mend since the ceasefire took effect, according to local politicians.

Steady flows of water and electricity have returned after being cut off for three to five months respectively, said Iman Hashem, an official in the education bureau of the Free Aleppo Governorate Council in rebel-controlled parts of the city. However, electricity cuts have occurred in some areas, DW noted.

Vendors stands at a market in Aleppo

Vendors have been able to keep their stalls open thanks to the ceasefire

With less violence at the moment, Hashem said the council would soon begin repairing its offices, including health clinics damaged by bombings. It has also been able to repair some of the many potholes that leave the roads pocked at frequent intervals. "The stop in destruction to infrastructure and the safety of our personnel has allowed us to work more easily," said Brita Hagi Hassan, the body's president.

Conflict rumbles on

Ghayath Sufi, an emergency services worker with Aleppo's civil defense, too, has noted the improved situation both in his work and personal life: "My job demanded most of my time at the center because of the bombing, but now I'm enjoying more time with my family."

A vendor sells household wares from a wagon in Aleppo

The ceasefire has allowed life back onto the streets

But he is very conscious that fighting in northern Syria and the greater Aleppo region has not completely dissipated.

"We hear the sound of planes, bombs and even clashes in the city … and in the news we hear of clashes between [the 'Islamic State'], the Kurds and the regime in the province and countryside [of Aleppo]," said Sufi said.

Indeed, the conflict continues despite the ceasefire.

"To the best of my knowledge, there have been upwards of 600 violations, so to talk of a cessation of hostilities is to not pay respect to those who have been killed," said Murhaf Jouejati, a scholar at the Middle East Institute in Washington and professor at the National Defense University.

"It is less violent than before, but we need to take into account the hundreds of violations [of the ceasefire], mostly by the regime," he told DW.

A man sells meat from a stall at the market in Aleppo

The return to normality has been a relief but may be short-lived

But with Russia and the Syrian regime apparently planning an offensive to take back Aleppo from rebel control as well as reports of rebel advances in the Aleppo countryside and isolated airstrikes in the city itself, the fragile peace enjoyed by Aslan and other Aleppines is under threat. His days playing outside may be numbered.

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