Syrians look at a flag bearing a portrait of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad placed on a trash container in Aleppo
Syrians look at a flag bearing a portrait of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad placed on a trash container as they ride a three-wheel motorcycle in the Bustan al-Basha district of Aleppo. For the people of Aleppo, the Muslim holy feast of Eid al-Adha brought little relief or joy, despite a brief respite in the fighting that has plagued Syria's second-largest city since mid-July. © Philippe Desmazes - AFP
Syrians look at a flag bearing a portrait of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad placed on a trash container in Aleppo
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Sarkis Kassargian, AFP
Last updated: October 26, 2012

Eid brings little holiday joy to Aleppo

For the people of Aleppo, the Muslim holy feast of Eid al-Adha brought little relief or joy, despite a brief respite in the fighting that has plagued Syria's second-largest city since mid-July.

Markets, normally packed with shoppers buying children's clothing for the holiday, were empty; restaurants and parks were deserted, many parents kept their children off the streets, afraid of fresh fighting.

"Although there was no gunfire this morning, there was nothing that made it feel like Eid today," said Hany, 35, a restaurant owner in the central district of Azizia.

"Last Eid, I started working in the early morning and had so many reservations for lunch and dinner. But today no one reserved, no one came."

"The night before Eid, people normally would go to the markets to buy new clothes. But yesterday night I didn't see anyone in the streets."

While fighting was lighter than usual in the northern metropolis, clashes were reported by mid-day after rebels tried to overrun a checkpoint near the Mohasab army base in the northeast Seryan district, residents told AFP.

Clashes also broke out between rebels and Kurdish militias trying to keep the insurgents out of their district of Sheikh Maqsud, with residents reporting casualties.

Elsewhere, families took advantage of the relative lull in fighting to check on their property. An AFP reporter in the northern rebel bastion of Bustan al-Basha saw cars of families returning to check on their homes.

In some rebel-held neighbourhoods, children even played outside, wearing new clothes and eating sweets.

But Shams, a mother in the northwest Sabil district under army control, canceled her plans to take her young daughter and son out to eat after fighting broke out in nearby Seryan.

"I wanted my children to feel some happiness on Eid, which is a holiday for the young. But there is no way we can go out. The clashes could start up again at any moment. There is no security."

"I'm disappointed there was an attack on the army barracks near my house, that the ceasefire is only a political phrase and not a reality on the ground."

Ahmed, a 40-year-old textile seller, was at a loss to give his daughter any sense of holiday joy, let alone new clothes, as the family fled their house in Seryan on the eve of the feast.

"My wife and I had planned to gather the whole family for the feast at our house. Who knows if we will be alive or not next Eid?"

But the fighting on Thursday forced the family to give up their plans: "We had to flee our home last night because of the clashes to go to my parents' home in the Sabil neighbourhood" nearby.

"Any joy we would have taken from the feast day is gone. We're just overwhelmed with sadness and anxiety," the father added.

In the east of the city in rebel-held Tariq al-Bab, an Aleppo University student said he was unable to visit his relatives in the centre of the metropolis.

"I asked a microbus driver to take me to my relatives' house in the centre of the city but he refused. It's the holiday and it's too dangerous with all the army checkpoints," Mohammed, 27, told AFP.

"Transportation is nearly non-existent. Even if you manage to get a taxi, you'll be stopped every five minutes at a checkpoint," he added.

According to an AFP correspondent on the ground, army and rebel checkpoints have proliferated across the city. Residents make every effort to avoid them, fearing the inevitable barrage of questions and the possibility of attacks.

Far from the markets and restaurants, a number of soldiers stood at a checkpoint guarding an entrance to the Old City, their fingers poised on their triggers, indifferent to the holiday.

A 20-year-old soldier from the central city of Hama said he heard about the ceasefire announcement on television.

"My duty is to keep the rebels from advancing in this area. If any rebel group tries to enter here for sure I will fire at them. I understand from the ceasefire agreement that no one has the right to attack," he said.

"I've been here for over 100 days without seeing my family. I promised them I would go back and see them as soon as the fighting ends in Aleppo.

"My dream is to be home with my parents and brothers and sisters, and the girl I love."

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