Earlier this year, Abu Mohammed heard the thundering echo of an airstrike, just outside his family home in Kafr Halab. Living in a town that straddles the border between the opposition-controlled provinces of western Aleppo and northern Idlib, he and his wife had grown numb to the constant barrage of bombs dropping nearby.
But this one was too close to home. From his window he could see the billowing smoke of an air raid launched by Bashar Assad's regime and its Russian allies.
So they began to prepare.
“After the air raids started here and they started bombarding other cities, we thought about making this shelter by digging inside the rock,” Abu Mohammed told VICE News in June.
“We became so scared of air raids because we don't know what will happen in the coming days.”
Abu Mohammed may be right to worry for the safety of their six adult children and five grandkids. The northwest is occupied by some of the final pockets of opposition — both former Al Qaeda affiliates and the Free Syrian Army — and regional analysts expect the regime to turn the northwest into its next battleground once it completes operations in Dara’a and its outskirts in southern Syria.
Technically, the northwest is part of a 2017 ceasefire deal, but the regime and its Russian backers have repeatedly shown a willingness to ignore the pact. Eastern Ghouta was also part of that deal and ultimately endured a brutal 7-week bombing campaign that killed more than 1,400 people before the regime regained control.
“What everybody is worried about here is that after they're done with Dara’a, they would turn to us. They will cancel treaties and agreements, including the ceasefire treaty,” Abu Mohammed said, “this is a very easy thing for them to do.”
This segment originally aired July 24, 2018 on VICE News Tonight on HBO.