By Erika Solomon
ALEPPO, Syria, July 31 (Reuters) - There are no coloured lights, no crowds of shoppers thronging the markets for the Islamic holy month of Ramadan in rebel-held Aleppo. Trash lines the roadsides, and a few worried faces make their way past quickly.
While some Aleppo residents welcome the arrival of the rebels, others seem wary of the ragtag fighters who have seized parts of this ancient city, which for months stood on the sidelines of the 16-month revolt against President Bashar al-Assad that has shaken most of the country.
The revolt finally came to Aleppo this month, with rebel fighters from the countryside pouring in with ambitions to "liberate" Syria's economic centre and its 2.5 million inhabitants. The army has hammered back some areas with helicopter gunships, artillery and mortars.
In some of the slums on the outskirts of the city, men in traditional white robes cluster on the doorsteps of each other's squat, cinderblock homes. They debate the situation as they wile away the final hours before they can break the daily Ramadan fast for the evening.
Some are excited to be under opposition control, but admit that freedom has been less comfortable than they hoped.
"I would say 99.9 percent of the people aren't fasting. How can you fast when you hear mortars and artillery hitting the areas nearby and wondering if you will be next?" said Jumaa, a 45-year old construction worker with deep wrinkles etched into his leathery skin.
"We have hardly any power or water, our wives and kids have left us here to watch the house and have gone somewhere safer. It's a sad Ramadan."
Despite that, Jumaa is excited to see rebels on the streets of Syria's second city. "My spirits are high. Seeing them from my doorstep makes me feel the regime is finally falling."
Crouched on the next stoop, his neighbour sees it differently.
"All we have now is have chaos," Amr grumbles.
Some of the men object angrily. "But they are fighting to free us from oppression," one says.
Amr shakes his head. "I'm still oppressed, stuck between two sides making me to choose. I just want to live my life."
"THE SIDE OF TRUTH"
When crowds of children rush to greet Free Syrian Army rebels driving past on flatbed trucks, others grab their mothers' hand tightly, and stare at the ground.
Rebel fighters, most of whom have come into the city from the countryside, are bewildered by the mixed reception.
"I think many Aleppans want to be rid of the regime but they want us villagers to do it for them, lose our relatives and jobs. They want this without suffering themselves," said a fighter named Mustafa, who came from a nearby village to fight in Aleppo.
At the market, in a neighbourhood on the city outskirts, most shops are shuttered, and those open have little more than canned and boxed goods.
Each day, vans and taxis crammed with families, pillows and blankets head out of town. Down one alley, a family puts all of its belongings - clothes, beds, closets - into a moving truck.
"We're going to the country," says the father. But he refuses to say why. "We just felt like it."
Closer to the city centre, in the stone alleyways heading toward wealthier areas, there are plenty of fresh vegetables, meat and nuts on offer. But few shoppers are tempted to buy. Some warily eye fighters manning machineguns and checking people's identifications on nearby streets.
The rebels seem to have their hands full trying to run the parts of the city they control. Gunmen now patrol traffic, smiling at cab drivers who wave and joke with them: "How do you like playing government?"
Mounds of trash are piled up, some so high rebels make them into roadblocks.
Whenever rebels idle their trucks on the street, residents come up asking for help to get gasoline for their cars. Many beg the fighters to open more bakeries so the breadlines move faster, and spare people an exhausting hours-long wait in the hot sun.
But some in line nod approvingly.
"They don't let anyone cut in, no one is better than anyone else now. The bakers aren't allowed to hike prices on us," says Umm Khaled, her face wrapped in a conservative black veil. "For the first time in this city, I feel like all of us are equal."
Down the street, a crowd of men gather to watch rebels inspecting a burned out police station they stormed last week. Papers, stray shoes and police caps litter the charred building.
One man shakes his head as he watches the scene.
"We don't even know these fighters, they don't talk to us much. But people here just accept whoever has power," one man whispered. "I'm not with anyone, I am with the side of truth. Right now, that is only God." (Editing by Giles Elgood)
09/09/2012 12:25 PM EDT
Syria Blasts Aleppo By Air
09/05/2012 7:50 AM EDT
Syrian City In Flames
08/25/2012 1:45 PM EDT
Lebanese Pilgrim Freed
Hussein Ali Omar, 60, one of 11 Lebanese Shiite pilgrims that Syrian rebels have been holding for three months in Syria, hugs his mother, right, upon arrival at his house in the southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, 2012. Syrian rebels freed Omar on Saturday in a move aimed at easing cross-border tensions after a wave of abductions of Syrian citizens in Lebanon. The Shiite pilgrims were abducted May 22 after crossing into Syria from Turkey on their way to Lebanon. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
08/24/2012 12:22 PM EDT
This image made from video and released by Shaam News Network and accessed Thursday, Aug. 23, 2012, purports to show the funeral of children in Daraya, near Damascus, Syria. Syrian troops backed by tanks and helicopters broke into a Damascus suburb on Thursday following two days of shelling and intense clashes as part of a widening offensive by President Bashar Assad's forces to seize control of parts of the capital and surrounding areas from rebel fighters, activists said. At least 15 people were killed in the offensive on Daraya, only a few miles (kilometers) southwest of Damascus. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network SNN via AP video)
08/24/2012 11:05 AM EDT
Lebanon Sees Heaviest Clashes In Months
Clashes between Assad supporters and opponents of the Syrian regime killed two people in Lebanon on Friday, the Associated Press reports. 17 people were injured.
The AP gives more context:
Syria was in virtual control of its smaller neighbor for many years, posting tens of thousands of troops in Lebanon, before withdrawing under pressure in 2005. Even without soldiers on the ground, Syria remains influential, and its civil war has stirred longstanding tensions that have lain under Lebanon's surface.
Read more on HuffPost World.
08/24/2012 11:02 AM EDT
A Sunni gunman fires a gun during clashes that erupted between pro and anti-Syrian regime gunmen in the northern port city of Tripoli, Lebanon, Friday, Aug. 24, 2012. The latest round of fighting first erupted on Monday in northern Lebanon and at least 15 have been killed in Tripoli this week and more than 100 have been wounded in fighting that is a spillover from Syria's civil war. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
08/24/2012 11:00 AM EDT
Refugee Numbers Soar
@ KenRoth :
UN reports 200,000 #Syria refugees, 30,000 in past week alone. Many more internally displaced not counted. http://t.co/BaM6u59j
08/23/2012 2:00 PM EDT
Syrian boy Musataf Alhafiz, 11, who fled his home with his family due to fighting between the Syrian army and the rebels, carries his brother Saif, 9 months, while he and others take refuge at the Bab Al-Salameh border crossing, in hopes of entering one of the refugee camps in Turkey, near the Syrian town of Azaz, Thursday, Aug. 23, 2012. Thousands of Syrians who have been displaced by the country's civil war are struggling to find safe shelter while shelling and airstrikes by government forces continue. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)
08/23/2012 12:09 PM EDT
Heaviest Bombardment This Month
Helicopter gunships shelled Damascus on Wednesday as Syrian security forces intensified their assault on the capital. Activists report that at least 47 people were killed.
"The whole of Damascus is shaking with the sound of shelling," a woman in the neighborhood of Kfar Souseh told Reuters.
Read more on HuffPost World.