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A frightened few remain in Syrian neighborhood

Los Angeles Times –

ALEPPO, Syria — In a two-room apartment where the paint is peeling off the walls, a woman talked about the bombardment of her neighborhood as her granddaughters, ages 3 and 4, sat nearby clutching teddy bears.

“They tell me, ‘Grandma, tell them not to hit us, not to injure us, not to kill us,’ ” said the woman, who like others in this story didn’t want to give her first name. “We’re just civilians. What’s our crime? We’re not with this side or this side.”

Two weeks into a fierce Syrian government offensive in Aleppo, few residents remain in the Salahuddin neighborhood, where some estimate more than 100,000 used to live in addition to hundreds of displaced families from the shattered city of Homs who found cheap rents here when they were forced to flee.

On Wednesday and Thursday, a few residents began to trickle back into the neighborhood, briefly, to take advantage of a decrease in shelling to come home and grab a few items they didn’t have time to take when they fled.

But some families haven’t been able to leave.

“Where are we going to flee?” asked the two girls’ grandfather, who also has two other grandchildren.

“It’s hard. There’s nothing here, there’s no bread, there’s no electricity,” the grandmother said, adding that she is usually too fearful to walk in the streets. “Since the shelling began, I don’t know what is happening outside my home.”

Their neighbors are all gone, to relatives in other parts of the city or to schools and mosques that have been turned into refugee centers. But their relatives all live in areas that are also being shelled, and the couple say they are too poor to leave anyway.

Fighters from the Free Syrian Army come by to give them bread and formula and diapers for their 8-month-old grandson, the man said.

Elsewhere, two young men had come back to Salahuddin a week after they fled. From a nearby neighborhood they had watched helicopters and warplanes fly above their homes.

So far their home had been spared, but they expected it was just a matter of time. The buildings to the right and the left had already been struck.

“We didn’t believe it at first,” one of the men said, who refused to give his name. “We didn’t expect the government would shell Salahuddin.”

At night the streets are deserted, and the only light comes from the moon and the ends of lit cigarettes.

Normally this part of the city would be buzzing after nightly Ramadan prayers, a time of the year where people stay up late to take advantage of the nighttime hours when eating is permissible.

Ahmad Saed, a 24-year-old activist, walked in near-darkness along the edges of buildings — which provide a modicum of protection or at least the sense of it — as the sound of shelling sounded disturbingly close.

“We’ve become a city of ghosts,” he said.

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