In key Syrian city, snipers and bombing tear at fabric of daily life

As rebels and the Syrian government battle for control of Aleppo, residents tap caution – and dark humor – to survive.

The front line

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    A Syrian rebel with an Islamic headband holds his gun at a frontline post, 75 feet from government snipers in Aleppo, Syria. In this critical battleground of Syria's 20-month uprising, FSA commanders say they control more than half of Syria's second city and commercial hub.
    Scott Peterson/The Christian Science Monitor/Getty Images
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The rebel fighter kneels down at the corner of the building, takes a smudged shard of mirror in his hand, and gingerly holds it up to peer with relative safety at the Syrian government sniper just 25 yards away.

On this front line in southwest Aleppo, it doesn’t take much to rouse the snipers, as this correspondent found during visits to four separate front lines.

At this spot, where rebels with bayonets affixed to their rifles are burrowed into the honeycomb of an apartment complex, the sniper would have seen through his scope a bearded rebel with a black headband with an Islamic saying – someone who was ready to “play” with him.

The rebel tosses a bit of trash into the sniper lane, then jumps across the gap itself. Silence, though the walls behind are scored with dozens of previous shots fired here. A few more run past, raising the stakes.

At the next sniper lane, a rebel adds a plastic tube to the end of his Kalashnikov, making it look more like a long-barreled anti-aircraft gun.

“They are just playing with the sniper,” explain an FSA commander Abu Issam, as he watches the antics. Then the sniper shoots once, and again, with no result, and there is laughter among the rebels, for whom this is a familiar ritual.

Tea is brought, and stories told. “Soldiers of Assad defect from the Army because they are forced to kill their neighbors, and are ordered to kill anything alive,” states Abu Issam. Two who defected the day before confirmed that, they said – even cats were to die. But the officer corps are well trained and “very professional,” they acknowledge.

“Assad can’t ever, ever take this city, but maybe he attacks hard,” says Abu Issam, a computer engineer who sports a scar between his eyes. “Aleppo can’t fall in our hands until we have anti-aircraft missiles. Even when we take control of any neighborhood, [government] artillery is killing us.”

As if on cue, the regime sniper fires another round, this time its impact causing splinters to enter one rebel’s hand. It is quickly bandaged.   

“We will keep fighting because we have a cause: We want freedom and dignity, we don’t want to pray to Assad,” says Abu Issam. “We take our strength from the people, and will give our souls for freedom. I may die, but if I do there will be five more to replace me.”

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