SYRIA: Mustafa, "The army came to my home to fire on the rebels from the veranda"
DAMASCUS, 11 January 2013 (IRIN) - It was in the countryside that Syrian rebels first started making gains against government forces in 2011. But since then, Syria's civil war has become increasingly urban - with battles taking place on highways, neighbourhood corners, and even people's balconies.
Civilians have accused both sides in the conflict of occupying and looting their homes, causing further displacement, loss and vulnerability.
Mustafa* and his family lived in a strategic location - on a hill overlooking a Syrian town where rebels had been increasing in force. Last fall, they found themselves on the frontline of the government's battle against rebels.
During military operations in a given area, the army would close off entry and exit to the area for days at a time. Soldiers had visited before. Sometimes they asked for bread or simply helped themselves to food in the fridge. But this time was different. Mustafa told IRIN his story:
"It was 7am. There was a knock at the door. My youngest daughter went to open it. She thought her friends had come.
"She opened the door and found around 50 soldiers. The army came to my home to fire on the rebels from the veranda. Some of them stayed at the entrance, and the others came into the house - into the bedroom, kitchen and balcony.
"You cannot ask `Why?'. We were not allowed to leave. We had to stay inside. We hid in the bathroom for nine hours. They said it was not safe to leave with the family. The operation was running on two sides. It was very bad. You could hear the gunfire. It was right next to us, right in front of our eyes. We are in the corridor and they are on the balcony shooting.
"I was screaming more than the kids. My oldest daughter had delivered a baby just a week before they came to the house. I told the officer, `My daughter has just given birth. She is not well. She needs a hospital. Soon, it will be 4pm, the roads will close, and we won't be able to leave.'
"He said, `You cannot leave.'
"I said, `What do you want me to do? Here are the keys to the house. Salamu Alaikum, I am taking my kids and leaving.'
"The area was full of checkpoints and tanks. We walked more than 200 metres - between the homes and the trees to avoid the gunfire - to get to the main road [and catch a ride].
"Until now, I have not been back. The soldiers have since left my home, but most of the time the roads are closed. The house's facade is covered in bullet holes. I have been told some things inside are missing.
"It's not safe for me and my children to go back. Soldiers fired at the [rebel] Free Syrian Army from my home. If the rebels believe the army is still there, they might shoot.
"Now, I am mad at both sides. It's like a donkey-fight. Why did they come to my area? I lost my area. I lost everything."