Back to life: Syrians marry, learn and love again under fragile ceasefire
DERAA, Syria - Two weeks since a relative calm fell over the city of Deraa as a result of the ceasefire, the city’s residents have begun to return to normalcy, with students going back to school and families starting to rebuild their lives.
In this southern city, where rebels have long battled government forces and where in recent months Russian jets have bombed, anti-government protesters turned out to once again chant against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
On Friday, crowds gathered at a dilapidated stadium for the second successive week to defy Damascus, just as they did in the early days of the Syrian uprising of 2011 when Assad brutally began to crush dissent in the city.
Family life has also started to slowly slot back into place, with children back in school, families seizing the opportunity to get together and many betrothed couples getting married.
“Our weddings show that we are holding onto life, despite all the destruction, death and ruin that Syria has seen,” said Abu Audh, who attended a party to celebrate one young couple earlier this week.
“People are reviving thanks to the ceasefire.”
The temporary ceasefire, which came into force at midnight on 26 February, is the first of its kind since the war began in 2011. While there have been hundreds of reported violations by all sides, the fragile peace has allowed Deraa residents to start rebuilding.
The two-week deal was due to expire at midnight 11 March, but the UN has said it expects it to hold. Deraa locals also told Middle East Eye that they were desperate to see the delicate calm continue and a political solution to the almost five-year conflict reached when the warring sides meet in Geneva next week.
“Since this unprecedented ceasefire began, people have seized the opportunity to celebrate,” said Abu Adeeb, who has also been able to attend a wedding during the two-week ceasefire.
“People in the town have been feeling some kind of security, which has been totally lost since the war began.”
Abu Osama, another local resident, said he has made a point of attending every wedding in his area held during the truce.
“I'm so happy with the ceasefire. Life has returned to something like its natural state. Now we want to feel joy.”
Residents say that, despite the uncertainty, they have slowly started to rebuild the town's shattered roads using cement shipped in from Damascus or across the border from nearby Jordan.
Schools have also reopened, with parents once again letting their children walk to class, and families are also seen taking strolls throughout Deraa.
Faris, 10, was one of the children streaming out of a local primary school at the end of the day who said he and his classmates were happy to be back at school.
“Since the ceasefire began we've been living in security and peace. There's no Russian planes in the sky or anything. We can go to school like normal," he told MEE.
Fatima, 7, agreed: “We're so happy with the ceasefire. We can come and go to school, we can play, go to the gardens.”
For all the smiles and happiness, the scars of the conflict are deep. Many people have lost loved ones, some have lost their homes, and few can hide their ongoing hatred and distrust of Assad.
“I am demonstrating against the regime to show that the revolution continues,” said Abu Maher during a protest at a Deraa stadium, once used as a makeshift prison to hold hundreds of anti-government activists during the siege of the city in 2011.
“We want to show the world that we love peace and freedom, not arms and war. The Syrian people took up arms to protect itself from the regime, not out of love for murder.”
Abu Mohammed, who took part in last Friday's demonstration, said he expected demonstrations to continue.
“When people went out to protest against the Assad regime five years ago, they did not know they should fear the response,” he said.
“Now, during the ceasefire, people are protesting without fear again, but only because after all the death and destruction we have seen, most people have nothing left to lose.”