SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
And another dubious legacy of the Arab Spring is the bloody civil war in Syria. Intense fighting continues in several parts of the country where civilians are trapped by the violence. Reporter Rasha Elass traveled into rebel territory, to a besieged village in central Homs Province. She sent this report.
RASHA ELASS, BYLINE: Taldo is a village in the rebel-held rural area north of the Homs provincial capital. The village has been under siege by government troops for months. Nothing gets in or out unless it's smuggled. This includes food and weapons, cattle and people. To get here, you have to cross a lake, then drive over a rough dirt road. And the journey is dangerous.
Jalal Abu Suleiman is a media activist with the rebel Free Syrian Army in Taldo.
JALAL ABU SULEIMAN: (Through translator) We get shelled from these villages around us, and the fighter jets bomb the lake and this road all the time.
ELASS: After a 20-minute drive, we arrive safely at the village.
(SOUNDBITE OF ROOSER CROWING)Taldo is in ruins and largely abandoned, except for a few hundred men who've taken up arms to fight the government. Some of these rebels still have their families here - parents, wives, children. Several months ago, there were fierce battles here. The rebels now control Taldo, along with a string of other Sunni villages north of Homs City.
The FSA says they have over 10,000 fighters spread out through the region, along with hundreds of civilians. But life here is like living in an open prison. Almost every day, Taldo and the other Sunni villages are shelled or bombed by warplanes.
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ELASS: Every household has a story about how a bomb fell on their home or in their yard; how it killed a loved one, or dismembered a cow. Most villagers cannot leave Taldo. The men are wanted by the government for joining the rebellion. Abu Omar is a rebel fighter who defected from the Syrian army last year and returned to Taldo, as he puts it, to defend his home.
ABU OMAR: (Through translator) If I pass through any government checkpoint, they'll take me in right away. But I would rather die than be captured by the regime.
ELASS: Many of the women who remain don't want to leave either. They've heard horror stories about life in the Syrian refugee camps in Turkey, where many of their relatives and neighbors have already gone. Um Ahmad has five sons and six daughters. Three of her sons are fighting in the rebellion.
UM AHMAD: (Through translator) I hear there's only humiliation in the refugee camps. I don't want to go to Turkey. I'm comfortable here at home, with my family. If we die, we die.
ELASS: Her daughter, Noor, is a newlywed and two months pregnant. Noor dreads the future, yet she still cannot imagine leaving the village.
NOOR: (Through translator) My child's life will definitely be worse than mine, but maybe that's still better than going to a refugee camp.
ELASS: A short drive to the next Sunni village highlights the sectarian fault line in this part of the country. Alawite and Shia villages sit atop most of the hills overlooking the Sunni villages. Government forces have positioned their snipers, tanks and missile batteries on the high ground, with their weapons trained on the Sunni communities below.
Abu Ahmad cocks his Glock pistol and holds it up while driving. He explains that he wants his weapon to be visible, a warning to any snipers in the hills above. Another rebel who goes by the nom du guerre El Muntasir says that despite the brutal sectarian bloodshed here, he's not seeking revenge.
EL MUNTASIR: (Through translator) We lived peacefully with the Alawites and the Shia - and everyone else - all our lives and now, despite the bloodshed, we still say we are not after the Alawites.
ELASS: We're only after the individuals who carried out the massacres against us, he says. For NPR News, I'm Rasha Elass.
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