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Aleppo activist Edward Dark: ‘People here don't like the regime, but they hate the rebels even more’

Free Syrian Army fighters and civilians react as they run after a jet missile hit the al-Myassar neighbourhood of Aleppo February 20, 2013.

Hamid Khatib/REUTERS

Activist Edward Dark has been in Aleppo, Syria's second city, since the outbreak of revolt. Here he talks to Syria Live about life in the city.

What is life in Aleppo like? Is there electricity, water and internet access? Can people go out shopping and visiting cafes? What are people talking about on the street? Are schools and university open?

The city is divided in half between rebel and government-controlled areas, and getting from one side to the other is difficult and risky. Most roads have been blocked off, and there is very heavy traffic in the morning as people go about their business of trying to get things done. By early evening, the city streets are almost empty, hardly anyone at all ventures out at night. There are frequent and long-lasting power and water outages.

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The garbage hardly gets collected at all in some areas; there is hardly any fuel, and what little there is is sold on the black market at highly-inflated prices. There is a shortage of medicine, and most hospitals have either shut down or are working in limited capacity due to shortages in power, supplies and staff. Many of the well-to-do residents, businessmen as well as professionals, especially doctors, have fled the city and settled abroad.

The university is still open, but a lot of classes are getting canceled and attendance is low. Only a handful of schools are open, the rest house displaced refugees and have no classes at all.

Until last year you were active on Twitter, and then you left for a time. Why were you forced offline, if that was the case?

There have been frequent internet outages in Aleppo. The longest one lasted for just over a month. Add to that the terrible situation of the power supply, which can go off for days at a time.

When you got back online, you presented a very different view of the state of the uprising. What changed?

I, and many other residents of Aleppo saw firsthand how the armed rebels were acting on the ground, and the various crimes and looting they were committing with impunity. Another reason is that there are foreign jihadi fighters with extremist ideologies here. This wasn't what we revolted for, to replace one group of criminals with another.

Aleppo has fallen off the map in terms of international media attention recently. What is the state of play there now? How close are rebel fighters from controlling the entire city?

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The media pays attention to whatever fits their viewpoint and agenda with regards to the conflict in Syria. It's very common to see certain media stations either ignoring, exaggerating, and sometimes even outright fabricating facts on the ground. Aleppo has been in a stalemate for a long time, and will likely remain so, hence the decreased interest in it. It is highly unlikely that rebels can overrun the entire city. The regime maintains a large force in the city, as well as a significant support base among the population.

Is there broad support for the revolt in Aleppo today, or is it localized?

People here don't like the regime, but they hate the rebels even more. The economic hardships and harsh living conditions brought by the rebel assault on the city [last July] added to their crimes and has significantly eroded their support among the people here.

How divided is the city in terms of opposition to and support for the revolt? Has it changed since the early days?

The city is divided in terms of support, yes. And as I have said earlier, support for the revolt has waned ever since the rebel assault on the city.

In your experience, are all rebel fighters dangerous and careless of civilians' lives, or just some?

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In my experience, the majority of rebels show recklessness toward civilian lives, as of course, so does the regime, but that shouldn't be an excuse at all. Some rebel groups are no more than organized crime syndicates, opportunistically engaging in kidnapping, extortion and large-scale looting of factories and warehouses. The fact that the 'good guys' in the rebels haven't been able to stop them casts a very dark shadow on all the rebels here.

Roughly, what percentage of the city is in government hands and rebel control respectively?

Roughly, you could say it's evenly divided. But Aleppo is effectively surrounded by rebel fighters, and all major highways into the city are under various degrees of rebel control, making getting supplies here very difficult, especially fuel.

Are there signs the government is increasingly losing control of the city?

No, it's in a state of stalemate. It doesn't look like it will be changing anytime soon.

Were the rebels that began fighting government forces last summer actually from the city? What does that tell us?

No, they were from the countryside around the city. That's another problem, and adds to the hostility towards them from the city dwellers.

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About the Author

Stephen Starr lived in Syria for five years until February 2012 and covered the revolt as a freelance journalist. He is the author of' Revolt in Syria: Eye-Witness to the Uprising'. More

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