In Northern Syria, 'Staggering' Devastation Amid Ghost Towns

PHOTO: A Syrian boy stands in the rubble of a destroyed police station at the border town of Azaz, some 20 miles north of Aleppo, Syria, on July 29, 2012.
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As the sun came over the horizon, word came that the border was clear.

We raced up the hill, hiding from a nearby Turkish military post, and crossed through a gaping hole in the border fence.

The Syrian Army is increasingly scarce in this part of northern Syria. The free Syrian flag waved in the first village in which we arrived.

But the army's presence is felt everywhere. Like in the town of Atareb, just 15 miles from Aleppo, which was shelled heavily by tanks and rockets.

The devastation here is absolutely staggering. There is hardly a building that hasn't been damaged in some fashion. And it's essentially a ghost town. Everyone has fled. We were told that there are villages and towns like this all across the region.

Two who remained: Kayes Mahmoud, a farmer, and his 2-year-old niece, Amina.

"We couldn't leave the house," he said of the fighting. "How could we go out while rockets are falling all the time?"

Mahmoud said regime forces had executed his brother and burned down his house.

"In several years, when this is hopefully all over, how will you explain to your baby niece what happened here?" I asked.

"I will tell her exactly what happened," he said. "That the army did this to us."

We drove south into Idlib Province, which has seen some of the worst fighting.

In a small village, we met Adbellatif al-Hamoud and his wife, Sabriya. They are parents of 15 children. Three of their sons have been killed fighting with the rebels.

"When the revolution started, I provided my sons," Hamoud said. "Three were killed. I still have six. And I pray to God for the others to be martyrs like their brothers."

"What your sons were fighting for, the end of [President Bashar al-Assad's] regime. Is it worth the price that you've paid in your sons' death?" I asked.

"Each of my sons was the whole world to me," his wife said. "I told them to leave the village. ... But they all went to fight."

Everyone, it seems, has a story of heartbreak. But rather than weaken them, the stories have only strengthened their resolve to rid Syria of Assad.

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