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Refugees Take Shelter Underground in Abandoned Syrian Town

December 5, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
Independent Television News' John Irvine reports from a town called Sirjilla in the Idlib region of Syria. Bombed out and virtually abandoned by its residents, the town now provides an underground home for hundreds of refugees.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: And to an on-the-ground look at the Syrian war.

John Irvine of Independent Television News and his cameraman, Sean Swan, traveled to the Idlib region in the northwest part of the country and filed this report.

JOHN IRVINE: He’s among the injured in the battle for control of the town in the valley below. These rebel fighters have seized a strategic building, only to have it brought down on top of them by Syrian army tank shells.

The wounded were quickly ferried a safe distance away. Dusty, but unscathed, this rebel told me the incident was just a minor setback. The man had trouble hearing my questions, for his ears were ringing from the explosions. Minutes later, we knew how he felt.

A Syrian army tank in the valley had spotted our position.

Where we were — a hit again. Get that.

The rebels fired back with all they had, which wasn’t much. AK-47s against T-55 tanks, you can see why this is such a slog, a battle of attrition. The rebels have the numbers and the motivation, but the Syrian army still has most of the firepower.

It may be slow going, but the nature of the battle has changed. It used to be Syrian army that laid siege to towns and villages here. It’s now the other way round. The rebels own the countryside. But the fighting in urban areas has had dire consequences for ordinary Syrians.

These people have been bombed back to the Dark Ages. Their home destroyed by the Assad regime and they’re now living in a Roman byre. They are among many families forced to take refuge in the ruins of this Byzantine city Serjilla, abandoned around 600 A.D., reoccupied in 2012 A.D.

Living in the remnants of an ancient fallen civilization, they get to listen to the ongoing collapse of their own.

“What am I? A terrorist? What is my little child? A terrorist? May God curse Assad’s soul,” she says.

MAN: He has killed his own people. Before we used to say, yes, yes, Bashar. But after, Syrians, we want to get rid of him. We don’t want Bashar. A president doesn’t kill his own people.

JOHN IRVINE: The regime still won’t leave these people alone. Even here, they have been bombed. The rebels are struggling to answer the aerial threat.

Driving between villages, we heard the chatter of machine gun fire, as above, a Hind gunship prowled for targets.

A week ago, this refugee camp was a target for a MiG jet. Luckily, the newly built compound was still empty. But it seems the regime would stoop to anything.

Back in the Roman ruins, there is despair and no reason for hope. They feel ignored and forgotten by the outside world. Any faith they have left is in nothing earthly.