Sumaya Bairuty walked through abandoned streets pocked with shell craters amid rows of destroyed buildings, at times climbing over giant sand barriers before reaching her parent's apartment in Homs. The 38-year-old English-language teacher, who works in Damascus, visits by bus once a week to spend two days with her parents, who live alone in their newly repaired apartment in a heavily destroyed and mostly deserted area. It has been almost four years since the last rebels and civilians withdrew from strongholds in the ancient heart of Homs in May 2014, surrendering to President Bashar al-Assad a bloodstained city once dubbed the "capital of the revolution." Few people have returned, and large parts of the once vibrant old city are still abandoned and destroyed, as if time has stood still since the guns fell silent.
The streets are so shell-pocked and destroyed that cars cannot drive, and the nearest area with shops and vehicles is a 20-minute walk away. Bairuty's father says they now get 12 hours of electricity every day and two hours of drinking water. He walks for about half an hour every day to reach the market to buy groceries. Amid an ongoing civil war, no Western countries have stepped up to help finance Syria's reconstruction. The governorate has renovated the old covered marketplace as well as some of the city's old churches, and the city's famous Khaled bin al-Waleed mosque is undergoing renovation. But most of the neighborhoods are still sprawling ruins. The residents who have trickled back are using their own money or UN assistance to fix their homes just enough to be livable; in the case of Bairuty's parents, the UN helped the family fix it up by installing new windows and doors and closing the gaping holes in the walls, reports the AP.