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Photos show double blow of war and earthquakes in regime-held Syria

Aya Batrawy/NPR
The city center of Jableh is home to older buildings as well as newer, less regulated construction. An image of President Bashar Assad hangs over a street cart with the slogan "We continue with you" in Arabic.

JABLEH, Syria — Last month's earthquakes were catastrophic for parts of Turkey and Syria, but this is only the latest crisis to upend life here. The country's long-running civil war has left no part of the country untouched, no family unscathed.

President Bashar Assad's government lost full control of Syrian territory in the north to various armed groups, but it still rules much of the rest of the country. Rights groups cite extensive evidence of torture, imprisonment, disappearances as well as the bombing of civilian areas by the government and its Russian allies to hold onto power.

The region of Latakia in western Syria was spared much of that fighting. This is the president's ancestral homeland and a regime stronghold. Members of the minority Alawite community, from which Assad hails, retain key posts throughout this region that is home to Christians and Sunni Muslims, as well.

NPR gained rare access in February to this part of Syria after the earthquakes. Access to the city of Jableh in Latakia province was made possible by accompanying aid workers from the United Arab Emirates, including flights and lodging provided by the UAE, as they assisted Syrians devastated by the earthquakes and 12 years of conflict.

The photos taken in Jableh offer an intimate look at life for millions of people here. Some of these images were taken from a moving car as the Emirates Red Crescent convoy traveled through towns and villages, accompanied by Syrian security forces. Other photos were taken during interviews with Syrian families who say they are traumatized and exhausted by war, and now by the earthquakes and its aftershocks.

Jableh, once brimming with tourists drawn to its Mediterranean coast and on the cusp of a construction boon, is without electricity most of the day and impoverished. It is isolated from much of the world as a result of U.S. sanctions.

Countless numbers of internally displaced Syrians relocated to Jableh over the course of the war, living in tents or half-finished structures with shoddy construction. Thousands more are now homeless after the earthquakes, setting up makeshift tents in open fields and awaiting any assistance to arrive.

The president's image looms large over dilapidated buildings and shuttered storefronts throughout Jableh. His image, washed out and faded on posters and army checkpoints, harken to an era of stability that too has faded from view.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.