Middle East
2:48 am
Wed September 5, 2012

A Syrian Village Is Oasis Of Calm Amid Conflict

Originally published on Wed September 5, 2012 6:58 am

Driving into Kfar Ghan, you notice the difference right away: The shops are open, there are kids on the street, there's even a row of open-air vegetable stalls and a crowd of shoppers.

There is a full spread of watermelon, eggplants, peppers and tomatoes. All the farmers from the area have brought their produce to the market in this Syrian village, about a mile from the Turkish border.

Kfar Ghan is protected. The Syrian helicopter gunships and fighter planes that regularly strike villages even 5 miles away don't fly over it. The Turkish government warned that any Syrian military aircraft near the border would be a target. The warning came in June after Syria shot down a Turkish jet over the Mediterranean.

Village Is Safe

The village is now safe enough to open a new hospital run by a specialist in internal medicine.

Dr. Mahmoud Hasson says he was a military doctor but defected to join the rebels. Now his patients are civilians and rebel fighters. He says he is well-supplied with medicine and medical equipment. Doctors come from abroad to give training courses.

"Many organizations, international aid organizations, or Saudis or Libyans, when they come, the first thing they ask is, 'Do the airplanes come here? Is there shelling?' " he says in Arabic.

Kfar Ghan is safe, he tells them.

Kfar Ghan is also free, he says — 100 percent free. The rebels govern here now. There is a police force and a new prison. It was opened by Riad Nadeff, who owned a clothing shop before he joined the rebels.

Nadeff is now in charge of the jail — an empty room that is relatively clean and has one toilet.

He says they've had up to 10 prisoners in the room, "but we only held them for a couple of hours."

Rising Population

The village population has swelled in recent weeks, as families crowd in from towns under heavy shelling. With so many packed into schools and abandoned government buildings, tensions sometimes break out into fights, Nadeff says.

"It's a village that's been oppressed by the regime for years. There are many problems and we are solving them slowly," he says.

With the Turks providing unofficial cover, Kfar Ghan has become a hub for the displaced and the wounded. But just a few miles away, the Syrian air force patrols the skies, targeting rebel supply lines and the civilians who support them.

In an olive grove near the town of Azaz, a rebel brigade is training at night. The commander says they now have night-vision equipment for their rifles. Three young rebels are learning how to shoot in the dark, but a bright flash from a government military airport brings the training to a halt.

They use six rockets at a time, says the commander, to hit Azaz and other towns. The rebels all have families in Azaz. It will be hours before they know where the shells have hit.

Rima Marrouch contributed to this report.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We're hearing next from northern Syria. One hundred thousand Syrians fled their country in the past month. The United Nations says that is the highest number since the revolt began a year and a half ago. Many Syrians stay in camps in Turkey, but some Syrians are now finding safety inside their own country, staying close enough to the Turkish border that Syria's military is not taking the risk of striking them. It's become a kind of unofficial no-fly zone. NPR's Deborah Amos reports from a village in northern Syria.

(SOUNDBITE OF HORN HONKING)

DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: Driving into Kfar Ghan, you notice the difference right away: The shops are open, kids on the street, there's even a row of open-air vegetable stalls and a crowd of shoppers.

We're driving through a market and there's a full spread of watermelon, eggplants, peppers, tomatoes. All the farmers from the surrounding area have brought their produce here.

The Syrian village, about a mile from the Turkish border, is protected. The Turkish government warned that any Syrian military aircraft near the border would be a target. The wording came in June after Syria shot down a Turkish jet over Mediterranean.

The Syrian helicopter gun ships and the fighter planes that regularly strike villages, even five miles away, don't fly over Kfar Ghan.

The village is now safe enough to open a new hospital, run by a specialist in internal medicine.

DR. MAHMOUD HASSON: (Foreign language spoken)

AMOS: Dr. Hasson says he was a military doctor, but defected to join the rebels. Now, his patients are civilians and rebel fighters. He says he is well supplied with medicine and medical equipment. Doctors come from abroad to give training courses here.

HASSON: (Through Translator) Many organizations, international aid organizations, or Saudis or Libyans, when they come, the first thing they ask is: do the airplanes come here? Is there shelling?

AMOS: Kfar Ghan is safe, he tells them.

HASSON: (Foreign language spoken)

AMOS: Kfar Ghan is also free, he says, 100 percent free. The rebels govern here now. There's a police force and a new prison. It was opened by Riad Nadeff. He owned a clothing shop before he joined the rebels. He's now in charge of the jail.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRISON DOOR)

AMOS: It is an empty room, relatively clean, and one toilet.

How many prisoners have you had in this room?

RIAD NADEFF: (Foreign language spoken)

AMOS: Up to 10, he says, but we only held them for a couple of hours. The village population has swelled in recent weeks, as families crowd in from towns under heavy shelling. With so many packed into schools and abandoned government buildings, tensions sometimes break out into fights, says Nadeff.

Do you feel that this village, you are running this village and you are back to normal?

NADEFF: (Through Translator) Yes, thank God, I feel that we are. It's a village that's been oppressed by the regime for years. There are many problems and we are solving them slowly.

AMOS: With the Turks providing unofficial cover, Kfar Ghan has become a hub for the displaced and the wounded. But just a few miles away, the Syrian Air Force patrols the skies, targeting rebel supply lines and the civilians who support them.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNSHOTS)

AMOS: In an olive grove near the town of Azaz, a rebel brigade is training at night.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Foreign language spoken)

AMOS: We now have night vision equipment for our rifles, the commander says.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNSHOTS)

AMOS: Three young rebels are learning to shoot in the dark, but a bright flash from a government military airport brings the training to an abrupt halt.

So every time we see one of those flashes that is shells falling on Azaz.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Foreign language spoken)

AMOS: They use six rockets at a time, says the commander to hit Azaz and other towns. The rebels all have families in Azaz. It will be hours before they know where the shells have hit.

Deborah Amos, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: It is MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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