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For Those In Aleppo, Syria, Commuting Can Be Lethal


Many of you, as you're listening, are on your commute to work, perhaps dealing with traffic, maybe waiting for a late train. But imagine for a moment a different commute, one on foot, where to get to work you have to pass through armed security checkpoints, all the while dodging sniper fire. That is the reality for many people in the Syrian city of Aleppo.

Like so many places in that war-torn country it's been a hard place to reach for reporters. But Anthony Loyd, a correspondent with the Times of London, just spent time there. And, Anthony, thanks for coming on the program to talk about this.

ANTHONY LOYD: (unintelligible) not at all.

GREENE: One of your stories focused on a road in Aleppo, a stretch of road, less than a half-mile, and a very dangerous place for commuters. Can you sort of paint a picture of this place for me?

LOYD: The road is called Qaraj Street and it's in the area of Bustan al-Qasr, which is in southeast Aleppo. The frontline, as run through the city since late summer last year - when rebel forces entered the city, seizing much of it from the regime - now since that time, originally there were a few crossing points in different areas.

As the fighting has become more intense they've all close down, except for this one crossing in this one street. And every day, thousands of Syrians make the journey from one side to the other, usually to their place of work; perhaps to shop for provisions on the regime side of the line where things are a bit cheaper and goods are more available, and then make the journey back to the rebel-held areas. So it's the commuter strip and it's surrounded on three sides by the regime, and it's surrounded on three sides by snipers. Every day there's about 20 snipers who work the patch. They don't all work at once.

You might get a period of an hour when no one shoots and then suddenly, for no apparent reason, a sniper will start up and usually three to five people are killed daily. More than that are wounded, and they think that in the past few months as many as 500 people have been either killed or wounded just commuting.

GREENE: I know you spoke to some of the commanders with the rebels, the Free Syrian Army. Why can't they stop these snipers, do something about it?

LOYD: The commander said a number of things. They sort of admitted between the lines, that they weren't quite strong enough to push the regime back out of that area, but they said every time that their own snipers started to sort of counter the regime snipers, the regime snipers would then go crazy and start shooting lots of people.

GREENE: You know, you have these rebels saying that if they were to try and stop these snipers, they would just shoot more people so they don't do that. It's as if everyone has reached this new normal.

LOYD: This is why this story interested me. It wasn't a story about some terrible new development, or some city falling, or some big advance on the battlefield, or setback here, or victory there, or whatever; it was quite the opposite. It was about the war and the abnormal becoming normal. Because in many areas of Syria, this sort of scene is probably the future of the country. The Syrians themselves have started nicknaming the crossing, the border. They saw it as a sort of fixture and I think there's a very good chance that that's the kind of deal which we're going to evolving out of many areas in Syria, the front lines become fixed and people learn to endure and to get on with dealing with those lines as best they can if they need to cross them to carry on with their lives.

GREENE: And the violence, we should say, in this conflict certainly not one-sided. Both sides have carried out violence in different ways, and I wanted to see if you could tell me about a little boy who you wrote about on the rebel side.

LOYD: Yeah. This happened, I think, a month ago. This boy, his name was Mohammed Qatar(ph). He was a 14-year-old coffee seller on the rebel side. He was selling coffee one morning and someone asked for credit and he made some quip that even if the prophet returned, he couldn't give him credit. Now, there were three men standing nearby. It sounds like they were two foreign fighters and one Syrian fighter, who took this to be an insult on the prophet.

Abducted this kid, returned him to the same area later in the day - in between he had been badly beaten - and then shot him twice down in the street and drove away, driving over his body as they did so. This had a particular irony in that the revolution started in Syria in early 2011 with the arrest of some children, a group of children who had scrawled some graffiti, some anti-regime graffiti on the wall, by the (unintelligible) the secret police.

They were subsequently returned. One of these children had been tortured to death. And this is what really kicked off the rage and the revolution. I'm not saying it has come full circle, but there was terrible irony to the fact, now, that men fighting in the name of the revolution had murdered a young boy for some, you know, alleged offense which was completely nonsensical in the first place. And it really shocked a lot of Syrians on the rebel side of the line, made people wonder exactly what the influence of foreigners in their midst was going to signify for their future.

GREENE: Anthony Loyd, we look forward to your reporting when you return to Syria next.

LOYD: David, thank you so much.

GREENE: He's a foreign correspondent for the Times of London and he joined us from London after returning recently from Aleppo, Syria. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.