In Syria frontline town, residents 'stuck' between rivals
Tadif (Syria) (AFP) – Khalil Ibrahim lives a few blocks away from his north Syria home, but a border separating regime and rebel-held territory makes it impossible for him to reach his front door.
"I currently live in a friend's house, only 300-350 metres (985-1150 feet) away from my own home," he told AFP from the town of Tadif, where rebel and regime fighters split control.
"It was a four-room home with a beautiful view, and I fixed it all up myself," the 46-year-old said of the dwelling, now located in a government-held area.
Tadif, located about 32 kilometres (20 miles) east of Aleppo city, is a quiet front line between regime forces and Ankara-backed rebels in a part of Syria controlled by a patchwork of rival forces.
Ibrahim escaped the town in 2015, months after it fell to the Islamic State jihadist group, but he returned four years later.
Residents of the government-held pocket have not yet returned to their homes. Ibrahim said he refuses to go back to regime rule.
A taxi driver, he now lives on the front line because he cannot afford expensive rent elsewhere in Syria.
"I live in a house without doors or windows," he said.
"I can't even set up utilities or spend much on it... because I don't know if I'm going to stay or leave."
'Better than a tent'
In 2017, Russian-backed regime forces seized control of a part of Tadif following battles with IS.
During that period, Turkey and its Syrian rebel proxies launched a months-long operation in northern Syria targeting jihadists as well as Kurdish fighters labelled by Ankara as "terrorists".
Turkey's Syrian proxies have since taken control of several areas in the country's north, including a pocket in northern Tadif, where they command several neighbourhoods.
Regime forces control the rest of Tadif -- the only town in Syria where regime and Ankara-backed rebels coexist in relative peace.
"My children ask me: Our house is so close, will we never return to it?" Ibrahim lamented.
The streets of Tadif still bear evidence to the battles and bombardment that destroyed swaths of the town before IS was expelled from the area.
At its northern entrance, bullet-riddled IS billboards loom over devastated streets and bombed-out buildings.
At the front line, sandbags and large stones are stacked into a make-shift border.
The regime-run side is inhabited exclusively by Syrian soldiers and allied militia fighters.
The rebel-run pocket is home to many Tadif natives as well as rebel fighters and their families.
Public services there are non-existent, leaving many without power.
There is only one vegetable store in the area, pushing most to travel to the neighbouring town of Al-Bab, less than four kilometres away, to source the rest of their basic needs.
"People return here because of extreme poverty and high rent in other areas," said local official Rami al-Mohammed Najjar.
"Some of them used to live in camps and they returned to their home or the house of their relatives because living under a roof is better than living in a tent."
- 'Stuck' -
In northern Tadif, children have made a playground of bombed-out homes.
Some sit on the remains of a destroyed roof, others run and jump over the rubble of a nearby building.
There are no schools, so they take lessons in maths, reading, writing and religion at a local mosque under the tutelage of a religious imam.
Boys and girls are given separate lessons to avoid intermixing.
Like Ibrahim, Fatima al-Radwan, 49, lives in a skeleton of a house in northern Tadif, a stone's throw away from her home on the regime-controlled side.
"We were happy, we lived together as a family" in a three-room home with a big kitchen, the mother of five said.
Radwan's current house has no power, and she burns plastic in order to heat her large cooking pot.
She can't return to regime-held areas because her son is a former rebel fighter.
Other parts of Syria's north have become too expensive for her family, who make a living collecting and selling scraps of plastic.
"The rents are expensive and I don't have enough to feed my children... but here we make do despite fearing shelling."
Regime and rebel fighters have yet to engage in a serious confrontation in Tadif, barring sporadic and limited skirmishes.
"They are fighting each other and we are stuck between them," Radwan said.
© 2021 AFP