ARIHA: As dusk settles on the forest of gutted buildings around them, Tareq Abu Ziad and his family break the Ramadan fast on the remains of their home. The northern Syrian town of Ariha looks like the scene of a monster earthquake-a silent, grey sea of loose cinder blocks and mangled iron rods.
Abu Ziad had to make a little clearing in the rubble on his roof to lay three foam mattresses for his wife and children to sit on as they share their meal. “Now my family and I are here on top of the destruction,” the 29-year-old father of three says. “We are reliving a very difficult and painful memory. I pray that God doesn’t let anyone else experience this.” He and his family fled Ariha late last year when Syrian government troops backed by Russian air strikes launched an offensive against the town, controlled at the time by jihadist and rebel groups.
Within a few weeks, around a million civilians fled the assault on the wider Idlib region, the last stronghold of opposition to the government of President Bashar Al-Assad after nine years of war. Ariha’s entire population headed north as much of the town was razed to the ground. But as a ceasefire held, some of the most destitute have since opted to return and look for cheap accommodation amid the ruins. Abu Ziad came back last month and found a place to stay.
But he wanted to share at least one iftar-the meal that breaks the dawn-to-dusk fast-where his home used to be. “Every year we used to spend Ramadan here and we wanted to spend one day of this Ramadan here,” he says. All around them and as far as the eye could see, there is not a soul-just row after row of destroyed homes etching out a scraggly, sinister skyline in the twilight. The home’s kitchen is long gone, but Abu Ziad’s mother says they came prepared. “We brought ready meals from outside,” she explains. “The most important thing is that we relive our memories and eat in our home.” – AFP