I visited the village of Al-Ghassanieh on a sunny, cold afternoon in December, after driving down highways and streets now deserted, past kilometers of forest destroyed by rocket fire. The village mayor took me around with the local Free Syrian Army commander, a former officer in Bashar al-Assad’s army. Both were eager to show their visitor the destruction they said had been leveled by the regime, including rocket craters, blown-out windows and bullet holes pocking the sides of family homes.
Al-Ghassanieh is a predominantly Christian village located on Jebel Akrad, in Latakia province, straddling the border with Idlib. It’s a borderland, caught in the crossfire between the opposition and regime forces which battle less than three kilometers from each other. Elevated on a hill, many of the village’s homes directly face open fields and, behind them, territory controlled by the Syrian Army.
Many of its residents have fled the violence; others have stayed and just stay inside. The regime has stepped up the frequency of attacks, according to the mayor. In one case, rockets blared into one of the village churches. What struck me most about Al-Ghassanieh were its empty streets, the total absence of life. As we walked, our voices carried, the only ones you could hear.