(Repeats story from Wednesday)
* Family hopes life in Aleppo can return to normal
* Syria's war has divided communities
* Harsh conditions in bombed out streets
By Angus McDowall
ALEPPO, Syria, Feb 8 The Batash family are
working with their bare hands to clear debris from Aleppo's
al-Mouassassi Street, rebuilding their wrecked neighbourhood
after years of fighting that came to an end in December.
Heyam Batash, 56, has sores on her fingers from scrubbing
clothes in freezing water, her sons Ayad and Youssef forage
firewood from wrecked houses and her grandchildren fetch bread
from a charity-run bakery nearby.
"We hope life can get back to what it was before," said
Heyam, wearing a purple dress and black headscarf.
Syria's civil war has not only unleashed carnage across the
country but shredded its social fabric, dividing those who
backed different sides, scattering families and communities, and
ruining millions of lives.
The Batash family is not politically active. But they said
the army careers of several of their men made them lean towards
the government. One of their cousins joined the rebels, which
caused bitter conflict.
Their story shows how ordinary Syrians have suffered at the
hands of both sides in the war, driven from their homes and
forced to endure looting, bombardment, death, disappearance and
separation from loved ones.
Living in bitter cold, without electricity or running water
and using paraffin lamps for light, the Batash family are among
the tens of thousands of Aleppans returning to the rubble of
their neighbourhoods rather than fleeing as refugees.
Aleppo, Syria's most populous city before the war, was split
into government and rebel zones until the army retook the
insurgent-held east, where al-Mouassassi Street is located, in
battles that devastated whole neighbourhoods.
When the defeated rebels departed, tens of thousands of
residents of east Aleppo chose to leave too, fearing reprisals
by President Bashar al-Assad's army.
But tens of thousands of others remained in their
war-damaged homes and have been joined by people who had fled
rebel areas to seek shelter with the government in western
It is a pattern repeated across Syria, where the government
aided by Russia, Iran and Shi'ite Muslim militias from Lebanon,
Iraq and Afghanistan has retaken rebel areas.
Al-Mouassassi street was once at the heart of a close-knit
neighbourhood in al-Kalasa district, with shops at street level
and apartments above that were homes to middle- and
The Batash family have been there since the 1980s when
Heyam's father, a retired army sergeant, built a house for some
of his 10 offspring, who lived on different floors with their
own children and grandchildren.
But the narrow street, about a hundred metres long, is now
piled with rubble, its buildings damaged by bombardment or
blackened by fire and many of its inhabitants scattered across
Syria, Lebanon or Turkey.
About five families and a few other residents live in the
street after staying there for all but the worst of the fighting
or returning after the army recaptured it in December.
Small children with dirt-ingrained hands and few clothes
against the cold, and cats with soot-stained fur, pick among the
debris. Loud bangs, like a door being slammed, are from fighting
outside the city.
When shells first started to fall in their neighbourhood in
Ramadan of 2012, killing a little girl, and as rebels took over
Kalasa, the family took diverging paths.
Heyam's brother Eymad, 54, decided to stay in the street
with his wife and family because they had nowhere else to go.
He says the rebels who ran the neighbourhood were mostly men
from the countryside around Aleppo. They were idealistic at
first but became divided, dictatorial and prone to looting.
Government bombardment by artillery, air strikes and barrel
bombs dropped from helicopters has destroyed much of Kalasa.
Eymad survived one shell blast that destroyed most of a
house's upper floors, by ducking into a doorway opposite, and he
watched a barrel bomb hit a building along the street, causing a
fire that razed the block behind.
Another of Heyam and Eymad's eight siblings was killed when
a barrel bomb hit a market where he was buying vegetables.
Fighting also killed the husband of Heyam's daughter Afrah.
But while Eymad stayed in al-Mouassassi Street, danger from
bombs and harassment by rebels made Heyam flee to
government-controlled Hamdaniyeh in west Aleppo with her
children and grandchildren.
THREATS AND DISAPPEARANCES
A cousin of the Batash family, a man called Sharif, had
joined the rebels and was angry with his relatives because
Heyam's husband had been in the army and her son Mohammed was
doing military service in Hama.
"We will drink a cup of your blood and the blood of your
brother and your father," Heyam's son Ayad said Sharif had told
him. Ayad later heard that Sharif was paralysed during the
fighting in December and later arrested.
He does not know what has happened to him. "We had a normal
relationship. But he chose one side and we chose another," Ayad
Another of Heyam's daughters, Zainab, 25, lost her husband.
He was detained at an army security branch checkpoint in 2013
and has not been heard from since, although soldiers have told
them he was conscripted and is fighting around Palmyra.
Army security denied having held him, Zainab said, but she
believed he may have been arrested despite being politically
inactive because he shares a name with cousins who joined the
Although family members could sometimes speak to Eymad by
phone from the school in Hamdaniyeh where 20 of them lived in
several classrooms, they were not prepared for the destruction
in al-Mouassassi Street when they returned, Heyam said.
"I've been living in this house for 25 years. Thank God we
have a place to stay. This is my home," she said. Most of all,
she was glad to be reunited with her brother Eymad, she said.
Heyam now lives with Zainab and her two daughters in the
basement of the house on al-Mouassassi Street. They share two
small rooms with plastic sheets for doors.
The rooms open onto a concrete yard, sheltered by a
tarpaulin, where the family spend much of their time. Last week
it was cold enough to see the children's breath as they crowded
around their grandmother in sandals and thin clothes.
Around the neighbourhood, there are signs of returning life.
A greengrocer sells fresh produce that is still a novelty for
those who survived the siege.
Fresh meat hangs from hooks outside a butcher's shop between
two wrecked buildings. With schools still not open, the streets
are full of children playing in the rubble.
Heyam's youngest son, Youssef, left al-Mouassassi Street to
begin military service this month. Ayad, 33, is now the only
working-age member of his part of the Batash family. He cannot
return to his pre-war job restoring houses in the old city of
Eymad, a carpenter, lost his tools and workshop in the
fighting, so he is also unable to work for now.
Instead, the Batash men are using their hands to clear up
their street. They have heard from neighbours now living
elsewhere in Aleppo, in other cities in Syria, and in Lebanon
Although government bulldozers are clearing rubble from the
main road, they have not yet turned to smaller streets.
However, Ayad spent a day last week connecting an
electricity cable to the house from a generator that a neighbour
has installed nearby.
He made sure the cable had enough capacity to serve his
family and others he believed would return. "I've been asking
them to come back," he said.
(Editing by Giles Elgood)