It is the end of December 2016. The Bekaa Valley is covered with snow and the men of the Lebanese army are putting their foot down on the accelerator in order to get me to the border with Syria where I will continue on to Damascus for an interview with President Bashar al Assad. These are crucial days. Regular troops have just reconquered the city of Aleppo, liberating it from the Jihadi threat. For years now the civilians have lived through the nightmare of mortar rounds fired by the so-called “rebels” that controlled the eastern part of the city.
“We have lived through seven years of blackout, fear and a shortage of water”, Nour, a girl who lives in Aleppo, told us a few months after our journey to Syria – “We were terrified of the bombs. Isis and the militiamen of the Free Syrian Army began to target us with mortar rounds, then with explosive devices made from gas canisters and, finally, with real missiles“. This has been the life of the citizens of Aleppo for almost eight years since the battle for the city commenced in July 2012. “I left the house without knowing whether I would return. Every second of life was a gamble with death: will I still be here in an hour or not?”.
The stories of suffering and hope that have arrived from Aleppo over the last few years are in the millions. “The mother of a friend of mine was going to work”, Nour tells us. “They were on the telephone together when she was struck by a mortar bomb fired by terrorists. The woman, as soon as she was hit, stopped talking suddenly. My friend heard everything: he heard that his mother was dying not far from him. A man who was passing by picked up the phone and told him what had happened. My friend ran to the place, saw his mother lying on the ground with her clothes covered in blood. Her tried to take her to hospital but she had shrapnel all over her body and they could do nothing to save her. When we went to visit him, my friend was still holding his mother’s blood soaked clothes. We tried to be close to him and to bring him back to life. I cannot say that he has put everything behind him but he has managed to get back on his feet. And so have we. Today we are shaking off the dust and we are rising again”.
But suffering cannot exist without the certainty of hope: “In this war we have lost so much, that’s true. But I have been surprised by the love that we managed to convey to each other. Even though the bombs were falling we tried to live normally, going to work, to the market or to the clubs. Now we are reconstructing the city, we are alive. We will not stop”.
That was the past. Those were the years of terror. But what is life like now? “I feel safer”, Nour tells us. She continued: “I hope that the army can liberate the whole of Syria so that we can start to reconstruct our future and go back to before the war when we lived in peace and safety”, she went on. But the biggest lesson comes from another citizen of Aleppo whose market was destroyed years ago by the Free Syrian Army: “I will not leave this country and I will achieve what I want. This is not the first war that has struck Syria. Every time there has been a conflict our country has emerged stronger and more beautiful. And now I want to play my part. I will reconstruct my country. And I will not leave my land. My home”.