Syrian vendors sell fruits and vegetables in the rebel-held Bustan al-Qasr district in eastern Aleppo on May 4, 2016, a few hours before a ceasefire took effect
Syrian vendors sell fruits and vegetables in the rebel-held Bustan al-Qasr district in eastern Aleppo on May 4, 2016, a few hours before a ceasefire took effect © Karam al-Masri - AFP/File
Syrian vendors sell fruits and vegetables in the rebel-held Bustan al-Qasr district in eastern Aleppo on May 4, 2016, a few hours before a ceasefire took effect
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Karam al-Masri, AFP
Last updated: January 1, 1970

Life returns to Syria's Aleppo after two weeks of fighting

After two weeks of hiding at home or underground to escape death, residents emerged onto the streets in Syria's battered second city Aleppo as a truce took hold there Thursday.

"Last week it was ghost city -- even if residents were still here -- as they were too scared to step outside," father-of-three Mohammed Helwani said.

"Today of course the situation is better with the truce," the 31-year-old owner of an Internet cafe said.

The Syrian army late Wednesday said it had agreed to calls from Russia and the United States for a two-day truce in Aleppo that would begin from 1:00 am on Thursday.

"Some residents have gone out into the streets, but they're still afraid air strikes will return – and with them massacres and death," Helwani said.

More than 280 civilians were reported killed since April 22 in the fighting in divided Aleppo, with regime air strikes pounding the opposition-held east while rebels fired a barrage of rockets into the government-controlled west.

But on Thursday afternoon, some residents in the city's rebel-held east sat outside their homes drinking tea and smoking cigarettes, an AFP reporter there said.

Electricity and water supply had returned and local council bulldozers cleared rubble from stricken areas, he said.

Renewed fighting in and around Aleppo in recent days had threatened the full collapse of a landmark ceasefire agreed between President Bashar al-Assad's regime and non-jihadist rebels in late February.

- Regime 'resting a little' -

In the past two weeks, residents had only dared to venture out for a few hours in the evening to run errands.

One resident said he continued to sell his vegetables in one of the city's markets in the daytime when there was no bombing in the area, but that he saw very few customers in the morning.

"People started to come out to shop at around 5:00-6:00 pm and I started to really make sales then until 9:00 pm," 26-year-old Khaled said.

After those couple of hours "movement slowed down again and most shops closed because of the nighttime airstrikes," he said.

On Thursday morning, fruit and vegetable markets -- one of which was struck in an April 24 raid that left 12 dead -- were again up and running.

AFP's correspondent said there had been no signs of fresh air raids on the east of the city since the ceasefire took effect.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group, said there had been no bombing in the city, though it said a civilian had died in a western district from rebel shelling that came minutes after the ceasefire took hold.

But some of Aleppo's residents -- who have been at the centre of some of the worst fighting in Syria's five-year war --remained cynical.

"I reckon the regime asked for the truce because they wanted to rest a little before attacking the rebels again later," said Abu Ibrahim, a satellite dish repair man.

Damascus has said it targets Syria's Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front and blamed the jihadists for violating the February 27 ceasefire, which did not include areas where the group is present.

Perfume shop owner Mahmud Sheikh agreed the truce would not last.

"Every time the regime strikes, it just blames it on Al-Nusra's presence -- which is why the truce is not holding," he said.

The sound of war had not completely abated on Thursday evening in Aleppo's east, where residents could hear the sound of fighting to the south of the city.

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