Syrians forced to seek refuge in unusual dwellings amid conflict
Inside a rusty, abandoned bus in north-western Syria, Ms Umm Joumaa washes a silver tray and glass teacups, light pouring into her makeshift kitchen through broken windows.
Around her, towels, bed sheets, clothes and plastic bags hang from wires that stretch across the smashed-out vehicle where the 44-year-old widow lives with her six children.
“We used to live in Al-Shariaa,” she said, referring to a village in the north-western province of Hama.
“My home was hit once, and then hit a second time, while we were living there,” she said, adding that this forced her to flee to olive groves in the neighbouring province of Idlib.
Now, she lives in the village of Birat Armanaz in western Idlib, in a bus riddled with holes, its interior cleared of all furnishings.
“We cleaned the bus and I settled here with my children,” said Ms Joumaa, whose husband was killed seven months ago by artillery fire from the Syrian regime.
Her set-up is rudimentary: Foam mattresses and thick blankets are arranged at the rear, while a kettle and basic utensils are stored inside a plastic crate. Water containers and firewood are propped against the mangled front bumper.
Over 400,000 Syrians have been displaced by violence in the militant-run Idlib region since the end of April, the United Nations says.
A four-months-long Russian-backed regime offensive has killed more than 970 civilians, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
A ceasefire announced by Moscow on Aug 31 has reduced air strikes, but skirmishes on the ground persist despite the agreement. Syrian troops shelled the south of Idlib yesterday, according to rescuers and residents in the rebel stronghold.
A rebel official said fighters were on high alert and had reinforced the front lines.
Syrian state TV said yesterday that troops had opened a corridor for residents who want to cross out of insurgent territory in Idlib towards army lines. It accused militants of preventing people from leaving.
The truce was the second such deal between the Syrian government and Islamist militants since Aug 1. The previous ceasefire collapsed after just a few days.
The Hayat Tahrir al-Sham alliance, led by Al-Qaeda’s former Syria affiliate, controls most of Idlib as well as parts of neighbouring Aleppo and Latakia provinces.
The region of around three million people is one of the last holdouts of opposition to the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
In a tight cave near the Turkish border, Mr Abu Ahmad and his young son chip away at stone walls with metal rods and hammers.
The 49-year-old father of three has dug a cave for his family in the village of Kafr Lusin, three months after fleeing bombardment of his home town of Termala, south of Idlib.
“I had dug a cave in Termala where we were living throughout the revolution, so I had the idea of digging a cave here as well,” Mr Ahmad told Agence France-Presse. “There, I dug a cave out of fear of air strikes and bombing, but here, it’s out of fear of the cold.”
Mr Ahmad said the cave is a better place to live in than a tent, especially in winter or during periods of heavy bombardment.
“The tent does not protect you, not in summer or winter,” he said.
Sitting cross-legged on a large green carpet on the cave’s floor, his wife lamented her losses.
“Look around, this is where I live, this is my life,” she said. “This is the alternative to a home.”