Before the sun rises every morning, Hussein Mohsen wakes up in a small tent he shares with a friend and heads out in search of work. The father of two routinely returns to his camp in northwest Syria after dark, defeated.
Finding a job at a nearby farm or shop is all but impossible. This part of the country is home to hundreds of thousands of internally displaced, out of work Syrians just like him.
Without a steady income, Mohsen can't afford to buy bread or lentils for his children. Instead, his family relies on the generosity of relatives and neighbours in Sarmada who pass along their extra food.
"I'm embarrassed to say, I only have 1,500 Syrian pounds, which is less than $3," he says. "This is my painful reality."
Not long ago, Mohsen was earning a comfortable salary serving in the Syrian army. But after getting caught trying to defect, he was thrown into the regime's notorious torture prison Sadnaya. Since his release in 2014, Mohsen and his family have moved from city to city, fleeing military offensives first in Hama and now in Idlib.
"Honestly, sometimes I wish I were still in jail and doing nothing," he said. "I'm carrying a heavy burden here."
In late April, Bashar al-Assad set his sights on retaking Idlib province. The northwestern enclave bordering Turkey is the last major pocket of territory still in the hands of the opposition after eight years of war.
The area was meant to be protected by a de-escalation agreement reached by Turkey and Russia last year that was never fully implemented. In recent months, government airstrikes have bombarded hospitals, schools and other residential areas in Assad's quest to take back every last square inch of the country.
According to the United Nations, more than 1,000 civilians have been killed in the latest onslaught, including 304 children. UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet blamed nearly all the recent deaths on regime forces and their allies.
Both Moscow and Damascus claim they are targeting extremists operating in the area, including the powerful Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) group.
But Idlib is also home to some three million civilians, roughly half of whom ended up in the province after fleeing regime offensives elsewhere in Syria. According to the UN, more than two thirds of those currently living in Idlib are women and children.
Source: The New Arab.