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"2 bitter options" for Syrians trapped between Assad and extremists

But people are still coming.

In recent days, more than 10,000 fighters and civilians have been sent to Idlib to surrender parts of eastern Ghouta. They are traumatized, exhausted and disillusioned, often with children suffering from malnutrition after years of siege.

The government has treated the province as a landfill for those who do not want it in its territory, and paints the province as a nest of jihadists. But the overwhelming majority in Idlib are civilians, including nonviolent activists, who could be arrested and tortured if they stay in government areas and often turn against hardliners in the province they believe have co-opted the revolt.

Marwan Habaq, who survived the barrages in East Ghouta in a cellar with his wife and little daughter Yasmina, brings them to Idlib. It's a tough decision, because since they have no place in Idlib, they will have to leave the parents of his wife behind and they will get more shelling. But if they stay, he is sure that he will be arrested or forced into military service.

"Two bitter options," he said. "Go into the unknown or stay in Assad's hands."

But the step only delays the inevitable.

"It's a shame for the world," said Mehran Ouyoun, a member of the opposition council in exile for the Damascus suburbs, who are meeting in Turkey. "If you approve the war crime of eviction, at least make sure that these people do not suffer again and again."


The government has paid fleeing families and brought armed men to Idlib, where the population has doubled since the beginning of the war.

Youssef Badawi / EPA, on Shutterstock

Idlib was once controlled by a patchwork of clashing insurgents, some of which were led by American army defectors who demanded a civilian state. Others, including an Al Qaeda affiliate, welcomed foreign fighters and represented a range of Islamist ideologies. But hardliners have gained the upper hand and play with the representation of the region in the government, even if they cause tensions with residents who oppose them.

While fighting for survival, many residents are caught between government attacks from the skies and the ruling dominance of extremist groups that dominate the ground.

Nisrine joined the revolution in early 2011, pushing for a secular, bourgeois democracy. Like a dozen other Idlib residents interviewed by phone and e-mail for this article, she was asked to be completely unidentified from either side for fear of retaliation.

She participated in a bus for Idlib last year after surviving a year of siege and bombing. in the hope that her son Abdullah, 10, would not starve like some children in her city Madaya. At first she was looking forward to reuniting with her husband, a former law student and rebel fighter who had gone to Idlib two years earlier.

She did not regret leaving Madaya. After the government takeover, her brother and sister-in-law were drafted and sent to the front with minimal training. They died in battle.

But Nisrine was disturbed by the ubiquitous Idlib City jihadist billboards, facials, and coffee that separate women and forbid them from smoking hookahs. When she wears her usual headscarf and modest coat, religious law enforcement officers tell her she has not covered her face.


The Syrian government and its ally Russia bombed hospitals and clinics in Idlib, including this one in Kafr Nabl, last month.

Yahya Nemah / European Pressphoto Agency

An ultra-religious neighbor was constantly talking about fighting Shiites, never about building a new country. Finally, Nisrine lost control.

"Why did you climb the back of the revolution?", She remembered asking the woman. "I did not join the revolution to see that."

Her husband Ahmad, who had been a rebel fighter in Madaya, also struggled to find a way to continue fighting for a cause he believed two of Idlib's most important Islamist factions, he announced, becoming a paralegal.

"They regarded me as infidels," he said of the factions, "and I considered them extremists."

But the episode that shocked Nisrine the most was the day her son announced after a few months with other children in Idlib: "I want to join Jihad."

Horrified, Nisrine decided to develop education alternatives and quietly began to protest against the recruitment of children into harsh religious schools and rebel factions.


Refugees near the Lebanese border are waiting for buses for Idlib last year. Idlib has recorded a mix of fleeing civilians, defeated rebels and hardline jihadists.

Agence France-Presse – Getty Images

She also helped a section of Dameh, Arabic for Hug, an organization that provides psychological support and cultural activities.

Umm Abdo, 36, a philosophy professor from Syria's largest city, Aleppo, takes a confrontational approach. She escaped to Idlib in 2014 for fear that she would be arrested after the government forces detained her husband.

"I'm not silent," she said. "I'm not afraid of death Welcome, Death!"

She said she does not leave the house without a gun.

She could not find work in Idlib University; Philosophy had been banned as "polytheism". She became a traditional healer, treating mostly women, and found that her already limited freedoms among the hardliners who controlled Idlib had continued to shrink.

She heard from students brainwashing parents unbelievers, teenage girls sold in marriage. A woman came unable to speak. It turned out that her husband had brutally beaten her after she caught him cheating.

With a degree in Islamic law, she began to defend outsiders at the Islamic court. It helped farmers prevent attempts by the factions to take their lands away. She won the divorce for a woman whose father sold her to a foreign fighter who raped and raped her.


Children playing outside their destroyed school in a rural Idlib village last month.

Omar Haj Kadour / Agence France-Presse – Getty Images

"When we decided to revolt, it was against oppression," she said. "But today we are facing the worst repression."

Life in the conservative idlib poses challenges for any relatively cosmopolitan Damascus, but especially for single women.

Rima, a former political prisoner from Madaya, arrived in Idlib without divorced family ties or male relatives to protect her. Only a few landowners would rent to a single woman, and one robbed her when she refused his advances.

"Even taxi drivers ask," Why are you single? Why do not you have brothers? "" She said.

Recently, local authorities in Idlib City announced that single women should live in special camps.

The problem was solved for Rima when she was engaged. The catch: her fiance wants her to cover her face.

"I will," she said, "not because I'm convinced, but because I love him."

Fitting remains challenging, but there are few options.

"Idlib was not the best choice," she said. "It was the only choice."

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