Syria is a country with two clashing armies. On one side is President Bashar Assad and his more than 200,000 men, tanks, mortars and weapons from Russia. Opposing them is a phenomenon called the Free Syrian Army, a loose franchise of lightly armed military defectors and, in some areas, civilians, who are waging a growing number of guerrilla campaigns in their hometowns and cities. The FSA fighters count on weapons that enter clandestinely from Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq. Every Syrian man who flees across the border is “FSA in waiting,” according to a human-rights activist in Jordan, where Kalashnikovs have been going for about $1,600. Most of the men go back into Syria as soon as they secure a weapon, he says.
Back in their homeland, they face a regime that is out to annihilate all who oppose it. Photographer Alessio Romenzi was among the enemies of the Assad government, with fighters of the Free Syrian Army and people of Bab Amr, a rebellious district in the besieged city of Homs. On assignment for TIME, he took shelter with locals in a basement of a home in Bab Amr. There, no one dares to step outside or even venture upstairs for fear of government shells crashing onto them. Bodies have been dragged into homes from the streets so they will not rot out in the open. It is too dangerous to hold funerals. Romenzi counted 25 civilian fatalities in just two hours of bombardment in the area. As he wrote in an e-mail, “The word ‘safe’ is not in our dictionary these days.”
Romenzi is a freelance photographer based in Italy. You can see more of his work here.
Abouzeid is a Middle East correspondent for TIME. Follow her on Twitter at @raniaab.