From the elementary school shooting in Connecticutand continued protests in Egypt to Syrian refugees in Turkey and the Pope’s first tweet, TIME presents the best images of the week.
Syria has always been a tough place to cover for journalists. Confidently authoritarian with a ruthlessly formidable security and intelligence apparatus, Syria has long been one of the most policed of Arab police states. So when some Syrians defied their government to take to the streets in the southern city of Dara‘a in March 2011, the temptation to cover the story was overwhelming for many, including myself.
The story of the Syrian uprising is ultimately the tale of regular citizens silencing the policeman in their heads, breaking their own personal barriers of fear to speak, to demonstrate, to demand, to reject, to no longer be afraid, to live in dignity. It’s about what these people will do, what they will endure, and what they are prepared to become to achieve their aims.
It is also the story of a significant portion of the population that considers the regime of President Bashar Assad the country’s best option, because they believe in its Baathist secular ideology or directly benefit from its patronage or don’t have confidence in Assad’s opponents and fear what may come next. Understanding what this segment of the population will accept in terms of state violence, the narratives they choose to believe and their concerns is a critical component of the story, though one that is harder to obtain, given the paucity of press visas issued by Damascus.
The only way to tell the Syrian story, really tell it, is to be on the ground with the men, women and children who are central to it, whether in Syria on in the neighboring states that many Syrians have fled to. It isn’t easy to do — the Committee to Protect Journalists, based in New York City, has dubbed Syria the “most dangerous place for journalists in the world” — but it is essential. Nothing beats being there. There is no compensating for seeing, feeling, touching, capturing, living the story.
The images here are a testament to the power of being on the ground, of sharing and capturing a moment for posterity, of translating an element of a person’s life through imagery.
Take a look at the photos. Can you place yourself in these situations? Can you imagine what it must be like? What do you feel when you look at the images? Are you drawn into them, or are you repulsed? Can you relate to them, or are they too alien? This is the power of translating on-the-ground reporting to an audience. This is why we must and will continue to document the Syrian uprising from inside the country when we can, and we — members of the foreign press corps — are not alone. Sadly, as is often the case, local journalists (both professional and citizen) have disproportionately borne the brunt of the casualties in this crisis. Still, this story is not about members of the media and what we go through to tell it; it’s about the Syrians who entrust their testimonies, their experiences, their hopes, their fears, their images to us in the hope that they will help explain what is happening in one of the most pivotal states in the Middle East.
This collection of testimonies is the third in a series by TIME documenting iconic images of conflict. See “9/11: The Photographs That Moved Them Most” and “Afghanistan: The Photographs That Moved Them Most” for more.
Abouzeid is a Middle East correspondent for TIME. Reporting by Vaughn Wallace.
It was a typical day at one of the hospitals here in Aleppo, a typical three hours, to be even more specific. Children seemed to be everywhere, on hospital beds, in the hospital lobby and waiting with listless faces outside the clinic. Blood seemed to seep through every piece of clothing they had. Some, as young as three, composed themselves as needles pierced their skin to stitch up deep wounds.
Mohamed, 13, tried hard not to cry as he lay on a hospital bed, wincing in pain from the injury he’d sustained after a shell landed near the breadline where he had waited for hours. No one knew he’d been hurt yet and his cousin arrived only thirty minutes later to transfer him to another hospital.
More civilians flooded in, and those who were conscious had a resigned look of acceptance—this was just what happened now these days.
A teenage son, his face smeared in red, collapsed in tears over his father’s body laying on the gurney. He was hit in the head by a bullet, caught in the crossfire as their car made their way through the confusing myriad of streets, unaware of where the snipers or perhaps even the army was. He didn’t seem to register the reality and stared at his father’s bloodied body in disbelief. The doctors bound his father’s hands together and covered him in a blue sheet. They carried his body into the back seat of the car, his feet sticking oddly out of the right window. The boys in the back couldn’t hold it in any longer—as the car pulled away, they wailed.
A man’s body, uncollected by his relatives, lay on a bed in an alley behind the hospital. Another man came rushing in, his eyes wide with fear. In his arms was a bleeding young girl. The hospital staff were all busy attending other civilians and fighters. “What do I do?” he screamed. He was panting, panicking. Someone told him to go to another field hospital. Back in the surgery room, almost easy enough to miss, was an 8-year-old girl who had apparently died in an airstrike. Her body was being wrapped in a shroud and a doctor picked her up to bring her to a waiting taxi.
And minutes later, 15-year-old Fareed was rushed into the hospital. His eyes were wide open as he took deep, labored breaths—his last few before turning motionless. The doctors rushed him to surgery, attempting to resuscitate him. His mother appeared in the lobby, screaming, hyperventilating, crying and grasping at her face in disbelief.
Fareed couldn’t be saved. The little piece of shrapnel had entered his back and passed through his heart—there was nothing the doctors could do here. The hospital had so many needs—for staff, surgeons in particular, and crucial medical equipment like oxygen tanks. It is simultaneously a little house of horrors, and a little house of miracles, where death hangs heavy in the air but every saved life brings a renewed sense of purpose for the doctors.
“I feel a lot of pain inside. A lot of pain, when I see women and children injured. But I have to control myself because I have to help them,” says 28-year-old Abu Ismail, an anesthetist from Aleppo. Abu Ismail wears a black headband with white writing: There is no God but Allah, and Mohamed is his prophet. “This headband gives me strength. I don’t save the lives—Allah does,” he says calmly as the horns of cars rushing to the hospital echo downstairs. Abu Ismail doesn’t flinch—his eyes remain excited and he is always smiling, even though he slept less than two hours the night before.
These are the everyday scenes in one hospital of one neighborhood in Aleppo. A microcosm of what the war looks like for the civilians of Syria, where every day the horror multiplies for even the youngest sufferers in this war. They are often the ones who cry the least as they are treated by doctors, while just a few beds over, grown men, fighters of the Free Syrian Army, scream out in pain. Daily shelling and attacks by helicopters and fighter jets seem to not break the civilian spirit. They remain resilient—they remain because they have no other place to go. Or simply, because they would rather die at home.
Nicole Tung is a freelance photographer who previously documented the uprisings in Libya and Egypt. Tung has previously filed dispatches from Syria recounting the aftermath of an airstrike in Aleppo and civilian funerals in Idlib.
Earlier this month, TIME published A Syrian Tragedy: One Family’s Horror, a series of images shot by freelance photographer Nicole Tung. The images, shot in Aleppo as the Syrian city was under attack, portray civil casualties, highlighting how the war has torned apart families. For the past four months, Nicole has been documenting the uprising in Syria. Months before, she was in Libya, covering her first violent conflict at just 25.
Nicole started taking pictures when she was 15, living in Hong Kong, her hometown. “A good friend of mine, who also became a photographer, also served as one of my inspirations,” she says. “He showed me the first book in contemporary photojournalism that I clearly remember today, Winterreise by Luc Delahaye.” She studied journalism and history at New York University, and has since been published by The New York Times, TIME and Global Post among many other magazines and newspapers.
In an interview with Photojournalism Links, she tells us more about her work in Syria, how she gained access to the country and what she’s seen there.
Mikko Takkunen and Olivier Laurent: Why did you decide to go to Syria?
Nicole Tung: I decided to go to Syria because I felt that the coverage was lacking from the inside. But I was also personally curious and I wanted to fulfill something that the late Marie Colvin once said: “Our mission is to report these horrors of war with accuracy and without prejudice.” Marie was a friend and I felt that her death could not, should not, cow journalists from carrying out their missions. She would have been disappointed to know that her death was the reason so many decided to turn off from directly covering Syria. I admired her deeply, and felt the best way to honor her, and other colleagues killed in the past year was to continue working.
MT & OL: How did you manage to enter the country?
NT: I entered the country through Turkey, like many journalists do. Up until a few weeks ago, all the crossings in to Syria via Turkey had to be illegal. It involved some running across border areas with gear in hand, to avoid the Turkish military police.
MT & OL: How did you make your way to Aleppo?
NT: I first went to Aleppo city a week before the fighting began on July 20. I was in the Reef Aleppo (the country side), spending time in the towns there that were experiencing frequent helicopter and shelling attacks by the government forces. At that time, Aleppo was still in full control of the military, intelligence, and police units and getting in meant sneaking through back roads, avoiding the plentiful checkpoints, and high tailing it in to a safe house in the city. One could not really work as a photographer in Aleppo just four weeks ago– spies were everywhere and you were busy focusing on not sticking out, so having a camera in public, even out in the car, was absolutely out of the question.
MT & OL: Was sending your work back to your editors a struggle? How did you manage it?
NT: When I went back to Aleppo as the fighting started, sending work back to editors was and is, certainly a struggle. Many of the activists there were caught off guard, I think, by the actual fighting having finally reached Aleppo. I saw a steady decline in the quality of communications over a three-week period. Phone networks in the city started to fail, and the 3G Internet the activists often relied on began to shut down too, besides the fact that it was very difficult to buy credit. Only a few, highly skilled activists could set up satellite Internet quickly enough, or run DSL connections out of still-government controlled areas of the city. Added to that was the severe electricity cuts that about 70% of the city was experiencing. I managed to send images out because of the Syrians, who would often go to the ends of the Earth to help me. They worked tirelessly to get a car, to get fuel for the car, to make sure the roads were safe, then worked to get you to a physical location in order to connect to the Internet. And then they stayed with you, drank tea and coffee with you, for hours on end while your files were beamed halfway across the world. It is a cumbersome way, but often the only way, to work in Syria. I have never experienced such patience and generosity from people who are themselves going through the darkest hours of their life.
MT & OL: Where you working with other photographers/journalists while there?
NT: I was working with one other videographer whilst I was there. It’s difficult to work in Syria in big groups because of the logistics. Also, in a dangerous situation, having too many opinions from too many colleagues often causes more problems.
MT & OL: Did you have an assignment before you left for Syria or were you confident you were going to get published once you were in the country?
NT: The first time I went into Syria at the end of May this year, I did not have an assignment. I was there to establish contacts and get a better idea of what things looked like on the ground. I went back several times, selling images to various publications before getting an assignment in June to go back in with Die Zeit. When I was not on assignment — I want to say I was confident, but in those situations you just never know — I knew for a fact that there were very few journalists covering Syria from the inside because of the dangers it posed and for logistical reasons. I thought that having a view from the ground might be somewhat valuable in itself.
MT & OL: Your work for TIME in Aleppo has received particular attention. Can you tell us about your experience on the ground in Aleppo?
NT: I witnessed the situation in Aleppo both before and after the fight for the city began on July 20. It was incredible to see the changes because the neighborhoods which are experiencing the heaviest fighting now, and which have been hardest hit, were the most defiant in terms of staging almost nightly demonstrations against the government even in a very tightly controlled city. When I first went there, checkpoints had been set up on all the main arteries of Aleppo. I moved around with doctors and activists who took incredible risks to do their jobs and added more risk by having a foreign journalist in their car. I couldn’t have my camera out at all, because there were pro-government militias known as ‘shebiha’ all around, and informers for the regime, as well. The only time I could take my camera out briefly was when I was at the demonstrations, running the risk that the protest would be broken up at any given time if the security forces open fired on the crowd, which they did very often.
I saw the Aleppo Underground as it was. There were doctors clandestinely treating injured protestors at private and sometimes public hospitals, and falsifying their medical reports (taking care not to write ‘gun shot wound’ or any other violence related injuries) to avoid scrutiny by security. There were pharmacists shuttling medical supplies in and out of the city to other affected areas around the country. Women who left the comfort of their middle-upper class life to deliver clothes, food, and formula to families who sought refuge in Aleppo from places like Homs and Hamah. One woman even counseled girls who had been raped. There were teenagers, all high school students, who dared to protest and were arrested, often tortured before being released and they were back on the streets the very next day protesting again. And then there were the Aleppo University students who became the heart of the uprising in city, through their shows of multiple, daily demonstrations in front of their faculties. They paid a high price for it, often getting beaten, shot at, and arrested by the security forces on campus. No less than one dozen students were killed on university grounds over the months of protests, and in June 2012, three medical students were found bound, shot, and their bodies burned for attempting to treat an injured protestor. The revolution was very much alive, and it was conducted almost completely through peaceful means. But finally, the war came to Aleppo, and since then, overcrowded neighborhoods have become ghost towns, the chatter and noise of daily life and children has given way to the sound of incoming mortar rounds, tank shells, the drone of helicopters and furious sound of diving fighter jets. Shelling in the contested areas of the city has no pattern and it is indiscriminate, often hitting civilians in their own homes. The Free Syrian Army has continued to pour in to the city. They have the advantage of knowing the streets and urban warfare is their forte. But they still lack weapons to make any real gain on the government forces. Civilians in some neighborhoods have fled to other parts of the city, to parks, university dormitories, and mosques whilst others have gone to Aleppo’s countryside. Some families have been displaced twice over as they left Hamah and Homs, only to be leaving their refuge in Aleppo. That was my experience in Aleppo: the situation was fluid, and working around it was incredibly difficult.
MT & OL: You concentrated a lot more on civilians rather than FSA fighters. Was this something you had decided beforehand or did it just happen?
NT: I did not decide beforehand that I would cover specifically civilians, but it became very apparent to me, once I was there, that it was necessary. The war is fought by two sides with particular, sometimes varying, agendas. Photographing combat is dangerously addictive to some people. I have a one-day tolerance for it when I’m there before I find that most of those images end up looking the same and provide little scope for what else is happening. Certainly the FSA is up against a violently disproportionate use of weapons but the civilians are the quiet sufferers of what happens on the battlefield. Assad’s forces don’t hesitate to kill them if they peacefully demonstrate or harbor FSA fighters in their neighborhoods. Often, the FSA base themselves there to try and protect the civilian population or use it as a point from which to attack the Syrian Army. But it’s the civilians who pay the price because they lose their lives and lose their homes. Sometimes there’s no reason at all for killing civilians. The worst is seeing children getting injured, or dying. For what, though? When I witnessed an airstrike last week that killed five children from the same family, it occurred to me that it was something beyond comprehension, beyond reason. At that point, agendas don’t matter at all.
MT & OL: How widely have your images been published?
NT: Certainly the advantage of having published with TIME is that many people see those images, and I have the editors there to thank for their support when I was working in an extremely difficult situation. They have since gone on to CNN, Human Rights Watch, Paris Match, other European publications and will also be screened at Visa Pour l’Image in September.
MT & OL: How different was covering Syria compared to Libya?
NT: Syria is far more dangerous and complicated than anything I ever experienced in Libya. Libya was the first combat zone I’d ever been to and I was lucky to have so many veteran journalists around who looked out for me and guided us younger photographers. We also shared rides with them and listened to (or more correctly, noted) their advice, followed them as they worked, and learned from them. I was fortunate to have security consultants lend me body armor and give me crash courses in first aid. Syria has none of those luxuries. I’ve since picked up my own body armor, took a combat medical training course, and made a fair number of my own contacts inside. You are on your own from beginning to end, and you cannot rely on anyone but yourself. The government’s use of fire power is unlimited. At least there was a no-fly zone very quickly established in Libya, but in Syria, anything goes. The people of Libya and Syria are not so different, though. I have met some of the most generous, warm hearted people working in both countries and their hospitality often knows no bounds.
MT & OL: Now that you are out of the country, what are your plans? Are you going back? Or will it prove difficult to go back?
NT: I will continue to go back to Syria because, like Libya, I have become committed to the story and the path of where the country will go. It will prove difficult going back only because of people’s concerns about my safety, which I certainly understand.
MT & OL: How do you see the situation evolving in Syria in the coming weeks?
NT: In the coming weeks, the fight for Aleppo will still be going on. The rebels there are no match to the forces of Assad, especially when they continuously run low on ammunition. The country is already in chaos when you think about how many millions are displaced by fighting, how many thousands of lives have been lost, and the amount of destruction this war has wrought, physically, financially, and emotionally. Added to that is the lack of unity from both political and military groups from the opposition. While Damascus and Aleppo become the biggest news stories, other cities near Idlib and Hamah continue to get pounded by government forces. And let’s say Assad were to be finished off tomorrow, what will a new government look like? Will minority groups be proportionately represented? And what about the regional implications of this war? These are all questions the Syrians are still wrestling with. Most don’t have answers that would satisfy the international community.
For more information about Nicole Tung, visit her website at www.nicoletung.com.
Like the work of most great artists, the best of Walker Evans’ pictures are marvels of contradiction. Or, rather, they acquire their power through the contradictions they deftly reconcile. One especially striking example: a photograph from 1930 (slide 11 in this gallery) comprised of elements so incongruous that, taken together, they really should not bear scrutiny for more than a few moments before the viewer, shrugging indifferently, moves on.
But through Evans’ uncanny visual alchemy, that particular photograph’s disparate graphic elements—family photos; a half-hidden American flag; dried flowers; a truly hideous plant growing with almost unseemly vitality from a battered wooden bucket—appear not only to belong together, but to need one another in order to make sense.
As seemingly chaotic and even unappealing as the image might feel at first glance, those wildly variant aspects of the photo—the flag, the plant, the faces—somehow cohere into something far more than the sum of their parts. Despite its initially jarring message, “Interior Detail of Portuguese House” does not, in fact, spurn scrutiny—it commands, and rewards, scrutiny. And what’s more amazing is that, after a time, the photograph appears to be gazing back. It is the viewer, and not the picture, that is the subject of an unblinking inquiry—and it’s unsettling.
But if Evans’ pictures are evidence of a rare facility for both creating and resolving contradictions, his career might be seen as his masterpiece. A fierce, determined artist, Walker Evans was for decades on staff at Time Inc.—a salaried editor at, of all places, Fortune magazine from the 1940s until the mid-1960s. That the man behind one of the seminal photographic efforts of the 20th century—the 1938 masterwork, American Photographs—went to the office each day, like any other nine-to-fiver, might astonish those photography buffs who have always, understandably, imagined Evans as nothing if not an irresistible creative force.
And yet, here again, Evans’ intrinsic contradictions—managed as Rodin might handle a lump of clay, or Koufax a curveball—are ultimately resolved in the photographs, singly and collectively, that he produced. He is both iconoclast and working stiff; company man and virtuoso.
This year marks the 75th anniversary edition of American Photographs, reissued by the Museum of Modern Art in an edition that recaptures, for the first time since its original release, what might be called the book’s radical purity. (The book itself, as a physical object, is a pleasure to hold; the duotone plates are gorgeous and crisp, and the size of this edition—an at-once solid and easily handled 7.75″ x 8.75″ hardcover—does justice to the serious, unfussy, thrilling nature of the work inside.)
As in the first edition, Evans’ pictures in the MoMa release appear only on the right-hand side as one turns each page, the utterly blank page on the left—without even a caption to distract the eye—adjuring one to look, to really look, at each picture, one after the other. And as the pages (slowly, slowly) turn, Evans’ accomplishment grows more evident, more impressive, more engaging.
The standard line on Evans is that no one—with a camera or a paintbrush—had ever captured America in quite the clear-eyed, unsentimental, honest way that he did. But that patently true declaration still fails to encompass the scale and the sustained excellence of his achievement. In American Photographs, in images made during the Great Depression in places as divergent as Pennsylvania, Alabama, New York City and Havana, Cuba, Evans did not hold a mirror up to his country and his time: no mirror ever made, after all, could so clearly reflect what he saw, and what he wanted others to see.
Instead, each and every one of Evans’ pictures provides a window—or an unadorned window frame—from which even the glass has been removed, and through which we witness a scene of such clarity and immediacy that our own contemporary surroundings, if only for a moment, seem somehow less freighted with history. Less grounded. Less real.
The details of a house in Maine (slide 17)—the surprisingly jaunty, seemingly tilted windows; the elegant shapes, graceful patterns and, above all, the textures that give the structure its personality—are not merely the handiwork of people who obviously cared about their hard work; the details of the house are reminders of, and tributes to, the enduring value of hard work and the attention to craft.
The stance, the clothing and the unreadable expression on the face of a lean, dapper citizen of Havana in 1932 (slide 9) are not merely separate elements of a snapshot: like the details of a portrait by an Old Master, they combine to suggest a time, a place and an attitude (defiant, dignified) that have survived the passing decades intact—even if, by now, the man himself must be long dead.
These pictures, and the other pictures in American Photographs, are intensely daring precisely because the man who made them worked so hard to hide—to efface—the effort that went into creating them. Each image stands on its own, while at the same time each picture references the photograph that comes before, and the photograph that follows. It is a straightforward book that stirs complex emotions. It is a treasure.
‘Walker Evans: American Photographs (Seventy-Fifth Anniversary Edition)’ is available through the Museum of Modern Art.
Ben Cosgrove is the editor of LIFE.com.
Goran Tomasevic of Reuters has been doing amazing work in Aleppo, Syria during the past week. One of his photos from yesterday showing a FSA sniper taking a position inside a living room reminded me of a James Nachtwey frame from Bosnia, which has a sniper inside a bedroom.
Tomasevic also shot the above FSA sniper right up close (see for instance, here) and most websites seemed to go with that, but I actually prefer this wide version published in today’s International Herald Tribune (Europe edition).
War has come to Aleppo on full scale. In the southwestern neighborhoods of Bustan al-Qasr, Sikari and Salaheddine, explosions rock buildings on a daily basis, and on almost every street you look, glass, debris and rubble litter the place. It is a far cry from the Aleppo I visited almost three weeks ago, when nightly demonstrations filled the air with defiance and protesters slipped into the pink, blue and fluorescent lights of these working-class neighborhoods. Now, Salaheddine is emptied of its residents who have fled to schools, mosques and parks around the city. But Bustan al-Qasr is different. Most of its residents stayed, and in a densely populated area frequently hit hard by shells, airstrikes and helicopter attacks, it means a high casualty rate.
Civilians have tried to go about their daily business as Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters patrol the streets and head out for missions in nearby neighborhoods. Some afternoons are quiet in Bustan al-Qasr, but shells land consistently in the distance and then suddenly, the explosions visit this area. At about 2:30 p.m. today, aMiG-29 screamed overhead, flying extremely low, with the distinct sound of an impact a few seconds later. Out on the streets, civilians ran in all directions fleeing the scene. An apartment block had been hit, and the injured were being carried out. Two girls with paled, shocked faces came running out, unable to make sense of what had just happened. And then a man, covered in dust, dressed only in an undershirt and trousers, stumbled out after them, his face in disbelief. He was screaming over the telephone in the middle of the street, and on the shop shutter behind him graffiti was scrawled: “Zero hour has come, God, Syria, Freedom.”
The MiG returned, screamed overhead again, sending the man and the crowd nearby scrambling for cover. FSA fighters raised their AK-47s and tried to shoot at the plane in a futile attempt to do something. article writing submission . The second bomb droppedjust half a block away, and the street instantly became filled with dust and debris, falling like confetti. FSA fighters joined the fray, and instantly more men, women and children were running. One man held a green telephone, clutching it in one hand and holding a girl in the other as they ran. Chaos. Men, armed and unarmed, ran toward the other damaged building to search for injured and then a third bomb dropped on a building across the street, sending more debris raining down. People came pouring out of the apartments screaming, their hands on their heads, all unable to understand. They looked at the cars on the street, flattened by falling concrete, turned their heads toward the sky and ran back inside as they heard the plane again. This time, there was no explosion.
On a bloodied mattress, the lifeless body of Abdul Latif Qureya was being hurried by five men toward a pickup truck that would take him to the secret field hospital. And then another mattress, this time with a man who miraculously survived, was carried out. More women and children came out, carrying few possessions and the clothes on their backs as they fled.
At the secret field hospital, the bodies began arriving. Qureya’s was already there, then his children and extended family began coming in. Lying near him was Bara’a, 8. Then came Hatem, 15, who was barely alive as he was plucked from the rubble of his apartment. But he didn’t make it, and he was dead on arrival. Qureya’s wife Wahiba was cut in half, and her body remained missing. Somewhere in the apartment was his other son Mahmoud. And then Qureya’s niece Takreet, 7, came in, her purple T-shirt and her face covered in dust. She too was lifeless, her mouth slightly ajar, probably as she took her last breath. A few minutes later, a man ran through the door holding a small blanketed body, Youssef, 1, Qureya’s nephew. He was limp in his underwear and undershirt.
In total, seven of the Qureya family were killed. Five of them were children under 15 years old. Two more bodies, of men, were brought in. One was Samer Bassar, 37, dressed in a beige djellaba and holding prayer beads, covered in blood. Another man was unidentified.
Horror visits Aleppo in many forms. Today, it was by way of a warplane.
Nicole Tung is a freelance photographer who previously documented the uprisings in Libya and Egypt. See more of her work here.
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.