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In Aleppo’s ancient district of Bab al-Hadid, the basalt stone alleyways and aged limestone buildings speak to a history that has long transcended the fluctuations of war. Yet the violence today has not spared the mosques of this quarter, or people’s lives.
“Five people died in this house,” says Sheikh Ahmad Habush, taking a visitor on a walk. Up one alley, an entire house has been destroyed by a single barrel bomb – a barrel full of TNT dropped from a helicopter. “Three people died there,” he says, pointing. Then he issues a warning: “Watch out for snipers, they are in that high building.”
Several shots ring out, striking the area harmlessly. Mr. Habush says sarcastically: “This president loves his own people, he gives them presents.”
He received his own “gift” some time ago. Habush shows where shells landed on his centuries-old house; shrapnel cut through the walls and upstairs rooms, a toppled child’s bicycle nearby. In the courtyard below four parakeet cages sit empty in a corner.
IN PICTURES: Battle for the heart of Syria: inside Aleppo
Musicians once gathered every Wednesday night inside the meeting hall here, its red velvet cushions now dusty. In the cool dark, a table is littered with remains of old coffee, cigarette butts. Amid the silence, Habush holds a photo of him performing a year ago in New York, one of 100 countries where he says he has played.
“Many people outside Syria hate the Syrian people, because they think they are just like the government, but they are simple and lovely,” says Habush. “For 40 years, the regime taught people lies and told them: ‘You must love the regime, or we will imprison you, or kill you.’”
Awards stand on one shelf, one from the “Culture Administration of Aleppo.” Habush wipes away tears when asked about the future.
“The end is not so close, because the Iranians support [Assad], the Russians and Hezbollah,” says Habush. “Yet everything has an end, and finally this revolution will win. The Assad family are killers … everyone knows it. For Syrians, Bashar is finished in their hearts and their minds. But it will take time.”