LATAKIA, Syria (AFP)– Taiseer Hamash cradled his two-month old daughter Noor Sham in his arms as he stood by the entrance of the tarpaulin tent his family has called home in war-wracked Syria for over a year.
“She has never seen our old house,” said the former factory worker, 29, who fled the fierce fighting in his home region of Aleppo.
“One day I hope she will be able to grow up in the same streets I did,” he told AFP as his two young sons Hussein and Mohammed stood coughing nearby.
Hamash and his family are among around 5,000 people who fled the fighting in their home regions and now live in what was once the main sports complex in the government stronghold of Latakia, the coastal heartland of the clan of President Bashar Assad.
The displaced — all fierce supporters of Assad’s regime — have taken over basketball courts and a football stadium as they try to eke out an existence in a city that has managed to escape most of the violence.
Now, as the conflict in their homeland grinds on towards a fifth year, they say they have one reason to hope that their desperate situation might change and they may one day head home — Russia’s military intervention on the side of Assad.
‘Thank you, Putin’
“I say to President Bashar Assad and to President Putin: thank you to the Russian people for the help offered by their military,” said former truck driver Ali Ahmed Edrees, 41, during a stop in a tightly regimented press tour to Syria organised by the Russian defense ministry.
“Thank you, Putin, we hope that with the help of God you will rid us of terrorism.”
Russia launched its bombing campaign in Syria at the end of September at the request of its long-time ally Assad and says it is targeting the Islamic State jihadist group and other “terrorist” organizations in the war-torn nation.
Moscow argues that backing regime forces is the best hope of ending the war.
But the West argues that the Kremlin has simply rescued a brutal tyrant who has used barrel bombs and chemical weapons against his own people and that its intervention will only prolong the fighting.
“The Russian forces have come in to help accelerate the military victory, but the Syrian army anyway had the intention to carry on its operations to kill the terrorists and chase them from Syria,” Latakia’s governor Ibrahim al Salem told journalists.
For the displaced people living in the camp, the international wrangling over the Russian intervention seems a long way off.
Their daily concerns focus more on just getting by and struggling to stay healthy in the tough conditions some have now lived in for years.
“The situation according to everyone here is bad — it is better than a lot of other refugee camps, but it is still bad,” said Sarah Hassan, an English literature undergraduate at the university of Latakia and volunteer with the local NGO Albostan that works in the camp.
“They live in tents, there are no bathrooms, kitchens, toilets — the basic human needs are not supplied,” she said.
Both the Russian and Syrian militaries say forces backing Assad have pushed back the frontline from Latakia by dozens of kilometers since the start of Moscow’s bombing campaign.
But there appears to have been little concrete progress around the more fiercely contested cities such as Aleppo to the north.
That has left some of the displaced in the camp hoping that Russia might ramp up its involvement still further and send ground troops to Syria.
“We want to go home any way possible,” said Yasser Edress. “That means we want as many Russian forces to come as possible.”