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Little Festivity As Syria's Holiday Cease-Fire Fails

Oct 27, 2012
Originally published on October 27, 2012 9:27 pm

Eid al-Adha is one of the holiest days on the Muslim calendar. The day marks the end of the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. It's the feast of the sacrifice, when any Muslim who is able should sacrifice an animal and donate the meat to the poor.

There is little to celebrate in Syria's largest city, Aleppo, however. A cease-fire called for the holiday is already crumbling, and in some areas it never took hold.

Inside Aleppo's old city, where fighting between government troops and rebel fighters has stepped up in recent weeks, there's an old stone shop where a few dozen sheep await their fate.

The sheep sell for about $150. Last year the shop sold about 100, but this Eid it's only sold 25.

People are going through the streets, some shopping and trying to have a normal holiday, but our interpreter says that most of the shops are closed. People have no money to eat.

The city is quiet in the early-morning hours on the first day of Eid, but then news spreads that the cease-fire has been broken around the country. In one rebel area of Aleppo, fighters claim government forces shot and killed two rebel fighters. Rebels fired back, and the fighting flared up all over again.

Like every Friday for the past year and a half, there are protests. Activists claim government troops fired on protesters in eastern Syria and in the capital, Damascus. The government says the rebels were the first ones to break the cease-fire. Both sides take pains to list all the violations that they say the other has made.

A recent protest in Aleppo wasn't big — most aren't these days — but it was lively. Banners said, "We want to celebrate our Eid with freedom."

It's an Eid tradition in Syria to dress up the family in new clothes and go and visit relatives. Some families are out and about, but others have either left the city or stayed home.

Another Eid tradition is to take the kids out for a swing. At a nearby concrete playground, scores of kids piled onto a huge steel structure that looked like a merry-go-round suspended from the air, swinging back and forth.

Abu Waheed says he's grateful for the reduction in violence. At the very least, the regime's army has stopped flying fighter jets over the city — jets that often let loose their bombs in civilian areas.

Waheed hopes that the cease-fire will hold and they keep on like that all the time. We just want to go and live, he says, and for the children to be safe in the streets.

Waheed says parents try to tell their kids as little as possible about the fighting and to try and pretend things are normal. This year, he says, Eid is for the kids. Us adults, we have no Eid.

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

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. In Syria, a cease-fire that was meant to coincide with the Muslim feast of sacrifice fell apart almost as soon as it started. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says 150 people were killed around the country yesterday. NPR's Kelly McEvers spent the past two days in Syria's largest city, Aleppo, as people tried to prepare for the holiday and she has this report.

KELLY MCEVERS, BYLINE: Eid al Adha is one of the holiest days on the Muslim calendar. The day marks the end of the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. It's also the feast of the sacrifice, when any Muslim who's able should sacrifice an animal and donate the meat to the poor.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRAFFIC)

MCEVERS: Inside Aleppo's old city, where fighting between government troops and rebel fighters has stepped up in recent weeks, we find an old stone shop where a few dozen sheep await their fate. What is the price for one?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (through translator) Thirteen thousand pounds.

MCEVERS: How much?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: $150.

MCEVERS: $150. So, has he been selling many for this Eid?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (through translator) Not like last year, not the same.

MCEVERS: What's the comparison to last year?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (through translator) So, you know, it a lot less. You know, he used to, like, selling 100 last year, now he's selling only 25.

MCEVERS: 'Cause, you know, going through the streets it seems like some people are out shopping for Eid, trying to have a normal holiday, yeah? Trying.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (through translator) He says that most of the shops are closed. People have no money, so they don't have money to eat.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNSHOTS)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (foreign language spoken)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (foreign language spoken)

MCEVERS: It's getting to that part of the day - the witching hour, when dusk comes and fighting between government troops and rebel forces usually starts.

(SOUNDBITE OF GATE CLOSING)

MCEVERS: For now, the sheep stall is closed. The next day is the beginning of Eid. For a few hours in the early morning, the city is quiet. But then news spreads that the cease-fire has been broken around the country. In one rebel area of Aleppo, fighters claim government forces shot and killed two rebels. Rebels fire back, and the fighting flares up all over again.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting in foreign language)

MCEVERS: Like every Friday for the past year and a half, there are protests. Activists claim government troops fired on protesters in eastern Syria and in the capital, Damascus. The government says the rebels were the first ones to break the cease-fire. Both sides took pains to list all the violations that they say the other had made.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting in foreign language)

MCEVERS: This protest in Aleppo wasn't big. They aren't big these days, but it was lively. Banners said we want to celebrate our Eid with freedom. It's an Eid tradition in Syria to dress up the family in new clothes and go out and visit relatives. Some families were out and about, but others have either evacuated the parts of the city that we could access or they stayed home.

Another Eid tradition is to take the kids out for a swing. Here at a concrete playground scores of kids piled onto a huge steel structure that looked like a merry-go-round suspended from the air, swinging back and forth.

ABU WAHEED: (Foreign language spoken)

MCEVERS: Abu Waheed says he's grateful for the reduction in violence. At the very least, the regime's army has stopped flying fighter jets over the city - jets that often loose their bombs in civilian areas.

WAHEED: (through translator) He hopes that the cease-fire will hold and they keep on like that all the time. They want just to go and live, and the children to be safe in the streets.

MCEVERS: Abu Waheed says parents try to tell their kids as little as possible about the fighting, to try and pretend things are normal. This year, he says, Eid is for the kids. Us adults, we have no Eid.

Kelly McEvers, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.