|"A member of the Free Syria Army walks past a destroyed Syrian forces tank in northern Aleppo province." (Lolo/AFP/Getty Images)|
By Martin Chulov
The Guardian, July 11, 2012
"Fuel oil for cooking began to run out in Derat Azza about a month ago. Now, nightly meals in this village near Syria's second city of Aleppo are prepared with scavenged firewood in the courtyards of people's homes. Thin black columns of smoke start to rise at dusk and are soon absorbed by the gathering dark. Then the only lights visible in this blacked out village on the outskirts of Aleppo are the orange flames of the cooking fires. Most people here say they have not received a salary since 2011 and even the basics of life are well beyond their reach. Where fuel oil can be found it costs about £9 a litre. Meat is also prohibitively expensive, so the people eat eggs or potatoes. Even these are now in short supply. Bootleg petrol costs around £2 a litre, more than 10-times its pre-revolution price, and the few cars that move in Derat Azza run on improvised benzine, crackling and thumping their way around Derat Azza's narrow lanes like cartoon jalopies. The story is the same across a swathe of northern Syria. Villages under siege, dangerous roads and scarce fuel have slowed commerce to a halt. Apart from the crash of the occasional artillery shell, the opposition-held village is eerily quiet. After the paper factory was shelled early this month almost all women and children left. Only men of fighting age remain. Earlier that morning, in a dark, dank meeting room below street level, the weary guerillas of Derat Azza were rallying for another day guarding their town. Their headquarters is a vast, gloomy expanse of upturned plastic chairs, foam mattresses and Kalashnikovs scattered to all points like children's toys. In better times, it acts as a wedding venue and a focal point of community life. A dried and brittle bouquet dated March 2011 lies long-discarded against a wall. Two haggard men sat behind a wooden desk, one of them tapping a Chinese-made walkie-talkie, trying to get it to work. 'Mahmoud!' he yelled into it, trying to summon the local guerrilla leader. 'Report to the desk immediately!' Mahmoud eventually stirred at 1pm and roused five of his colleagues. All, like him, were students from nearby Aleppo university, although they had not turned up for weeks. Nor did they think that their admission to one of Syria's most coveted academic institutions amounted to much anymore. 'The revolution means more than the university,' said Ahmed, 22, a gangly fresh-faced chemical engineering undergraduate. 'I didn't go to my exams and nor did most people. This is a price that I'm more than willing to pay for now.'