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SYRIA DEEPLY

A Ravaged Syria Through The Eyes Of A Bus Driver

What was once a simple and relatively quick commute through Aleppo now takes up to 12 hours, as battered roads, endless checkpoints and ISIS violence take their toll. A bus driver's view.

A bus in Aleppo
A bus in Aleppo
Ayham al-Khalaf

ALEPPOAnas, 27, drives one of the world's most unusual and dangerous bus routes. Every day, he travels between parts of Aleppo under the control of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and areas controlled by ISIS, and still others run by the government. A typical journey, he says, takes up to 12 hours because of battered roads and endless checkpoints.

And yes, his bus has been hit by shelling while traveling along al-Haidaria Street in Syria's largest city.

Anas, who lives in the al-Shaar neighborhood, considers driving the bus a step down from the taxi he used to pilot around in the northern city, but with a wife and two children to support, he needs the work. The bus, he says, actually belongs to his neighbor.

On most days, he takes about 14 passengers, most of them elderly men and women because of the government's decision to recruit men between the ages of 19 and 45. Every day, he must go through a multitude of checkpoints, where baggage is searched, IDs are checked and bribes must be offered.

Atharia separates the government and ISIS areas. "This is a National Defense Forces checkpoint, and they don't ask for IDs," he says. "They just ask for no less than 500 liras for each bus."

After Atharia, the bus reaches a military police checkpoint at the border of Khanasser town. They then go into Khanasser town, which connects Aleppo province with Hama province. There are four National Defense and security checkpoints. Then there is Safira town, where they pass by a Hezbollah checkpoint. "Of course, there are Syrian members at this checkpoint, but their leaders are Lebanese," Anas says. "When we pass through Khanasser and Safira, we see houses and farms that have been completely destroyed by battles and shelling."

After the many regime checkpoints at the entrances of towns, they arrive at al-Ramousa, which is the entrance of Aleppo from the southwestern side. Here they stop at a regime checkpoint that examines IDs and forces passengers to pay taxes on valuable assets. "Sometimes I can be detained at this checkpoint for three to five hours, but sometimes it's only half an hour," Anas says.

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In Aleppo — Photo: Syria Deeply

Afterwards, they arrive at al-Hamadania, where the checkpoint has a bad reputation for harsh inspections. "Many people have been arrested and beaten while passing through it for the silliest reasons," Anas says. "However, anyone can pay them and pass safely."

Then they reach the New Aleppo area with no checkpoints, and the journey of eight to 12 hours ends. Anas says the worst part for his passengers is their fear of ISIS. "Their members have repeatedly assaulted civilians," he says. "One of the passengers once told me that when he passes by these checkpoints, he feels like he's not in Syria but in Afghanistan or Chechnya."

The passengers tend to be people who trade products, college students traveling weekly or monthly from the Free Syrian Army areas into the government areas, or people seeking treatment in hospitals in the government areas.

"I feel sorry when I see how much citizens have to pay from al-Bab to al-Sulaimania," Anas says, saying he passenger pays about 2,000 liras ($10.60) for the trip. "While they used to pay no more than 10 liras (5 cents) in a bus and 50 liras (25 cents) in a taxi in a journey that took no more than 10 minutes, now they suffer all this for the same distance. It hurts me a lot to see what has become of our country, and I don't think any of the parties will win. The military solution is not the answer...And the biggest loser in it is these poor people."

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