Nine months of battle shatter Syria’s Deir Ezzor

Bombed homes, streets littered with broken glass and the steady thud of mortar blasts — Syria’s eastern city of Deir Ezzor lies in ruins after nine months of combat between regime troops and rebels.

By (AFP)

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Published: Tue 19 Feb 2013, 12:58 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 5:40 PM

‘It’s like this every day. Sometimes it is more intense. Today it is actually quiet and peaceful,’ Firas, a fighter from the rebel Free Syrian Army told AFP amid the sound of exploding mortar rounds.

Some 3,500 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in nine months of fighting that have devastated the city since June, said Mohammed, a citizen journalist at an anti-regime media centre in Deir Ezzor.

‘Most of the province has been liberated but regime forces still control several parts of the city,’ said Haykal, an activist from the city which has been pummelled by intense aerial bombardment and artillery attacks by regime forces.

Tareq Razzak, a rebel leader, said government forces still control western Deir Ezzor ‘because they have their intelligence and security bases there.’

‘About 80 percent of the city is under the control of the FSA,’ he said, with just three neighbourhoods still in the hands President Bashar Al Assad’s troops.

‘Assad forces are also positioned in the south, on a hill from where they bombard the city.’

Around 750,000 people lived in the city before the war came to Deir Ezzor, said Firas, who estimates that the population has fallen to around 200,000 since June.

In his neighbourhood of Shaikh Yassin, some 600 people have stayed behind, while the rest have fled, leaving the streets deserted.

‘City residents have taken refuge in the countryside, much of which has been liberated. Others have fled to the border with Turkey, some 300 kilometres (180 miles) away,’ Firas said.

Although Turkey, which supports the revolt against Assad, is much farther from Deir Ezzor, ‘very few people try and flee via the Iraqi border, because the Iraqi government supports Assad’s regime,’ he added.

The violence, which came to a peak in Deir Ezzor in June when rebels began to make advances in the province, did not spare Rawi mosque, located across from Mashtal park in the Shaikh Yassin neighbourhood.

‘Victory or death!’ reads a slogan painted in purple on the wall of the mosque whose shattered green dome lies by its side.

Nearby markets and houses are also in ruins — a result of intense air raids by regime warplanes, said Haykal.

‘Seventy percent of the houses in the city have been struck by artillery shells, while those on the front lines are 100 percent destroyed,’ he said.

Four enormous craters puncture Ben Al Walid Street.

‘Warplanes struck this neighbourhood with full force,’ said Haykal.

Neighbourhood’s shops are closed, their metal shutters twisted from the force of the blasts.

Bassel Al Assad Square, once named after the current president’s brother who was himself being groomed to lead Syria before he died in a car accident in 1994, has been renamed Liberty Square. It is littered with rubble and broken glass.

A regime sniper hiding in a nearby tall building targets almost everything that moves, rebels say.

But despite the massive destruction and continued explosions, residents such as Abu Mohammed and Umm Tarek have no intention of leaving their home in the city’s Jbeila district, one of the front lines.

‘Our house is here and we have no intention of abandoning it,’ the elderly brother and sister said.

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