Fuel oil for cooking began to run out in Derat Azza about a month ago. Now, nightly meals in this village near Syria‘s second city of Aleppo are prepared with scavenged firewood in the courtyards of people’s homes. Thin black columns of smoke start to rise at dusk and are soon absorbed by the gathering dark. Then the only lights visible in this blacked out village on the outskirts of Aleppo are the orange flames of the cooking fires.
Most people here say they have not received a salary since 2011 and even the basics of life are well beyond their reach. Where fuel oil can be found it costs about £9 a litre. Meat is also prohibitively expensive, so the people eat eggs or potatoes. Even these are now in short supply.
Bootleg petrol costs around £2 a litre, more than 10-times its pre-revolution price, and the few cars that move in Derat Azza run on improvised benzine, crackling and thumping their way around Derat Azza’s narrow lanes like cartoon jalopies.
The story is the same across a swathe of northern Syria. Villages under siege, dangerous roads and scarce fuel have slowed commerce to a halt.
Apart from the crash of the occasional artillery shell, the opposition-held village is eerily quiet. After the paper factory was shelled early this month almost all women and children left. Only men of fighting age remain.
Earlier that morning, in a dark, dank meeting room below street level, the weary guerillas of Derat Azza were rallying for another day guarding their town.
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