Syria - Cradle shaken - Idlib 2012/13 { 186 images } Created 24 Jun 2012

Syria's north western Idlib province is a vital gateway for the ongoing struggle against Bashar al-Assad, and a regime which is yet to loose much high-ranking support from within. The area comprises of predominantly anti-regime towns and villages, and is an invaluable geographic location exploited by the Free Syrian Army (FSA), to move fighters, weapons, aid, the injured, and refugees across the hills and olive groves that mark the official border.

Idlib province neighbours Turkey's Hatay; currently home to tens of thousands of refugees, humanitarian supplies, the Syrian Free Army leadership, and vital communication links with the outside world. The Free Syrian Army (FSA) are fighting to remain in control of the olive-groves that line the province, in the hope of maintaining some breathing space and safety for the local population.

The lightly armed FSA and fighting against an army increasingly fond of aerial attacks, to avoid defections by sending in ground troops, something which the armed opposition have little to prevent and protect against.

A recently defected soldier, now loyal to the FSA told me that, “When the U.N (U.N Supervision Mission in Syria) came to our area, we were all given police ID cards and a sheet of paper with answers to the questions the U.N would ask. My entire military battalion was turned into a police force - on paper”

Along with helicopter strikes, feared Shabiha militia are raiding villages, burning homes, shooting indiscriminately and spreading fear and terror. Osama, a major general in the FSA from Idlib expressed his dislike of the current situation, "We're not happy to defect and kill other Syrians, we're not happy to do this, but the regime forced us to do this because they are bombing and shelling us. We don't want an armed revolution but we don't have any choice".

Despite the conflict showing no signs of abating soon, the FSA are already considering the effect that so many weapons in the hands of the population will mean in post-revolution Syria. Commanders are now recording and tracking who owns which weapon, quantities of ammunition, addresses, etc., in an attempt to successfully unarm the country post-conflict, avoiding a fate similar to that of Libya, where militias are still running areas of the country.
Lives of course continue within such surroundings, and urban areas made up of mostly women, children and older people, are the epicenter of the hope from which the sons and fathers fighting in the FSA are drawing their energy.

Cooking, cleaning, mourning their losses, and keeping watch, the villagers of Idlib are the backbone of the opposition movement.
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