Homs: Over the course of the 700-day blockade, her world shrunk to her living room and her kitchen. She survived by eating plants and reading books. She refused to look in the mirror, because seeing her withered state might break her spirit.
Zeinat Akhras, a 65-year-old pharmacist, still bears the effects of nearly two years trapped in her home, surrounded by rebel fighters during the government`s siege on the ancient quarters of the central Syrian city of Homs. She`s still a wispy 38 kilograms , even after gaining four kilograms (eight pounds) since the blockade ended in early May with the fall of the rebels in the city.
"Every day, we said it will end tomorrow," Akhras said in a recent interview with The Associated Press in her home. "If we counted the number of days, we would have given up."
Homs` Old City, a series of crowded neighborhoods, was under siege and bombardment in a campaign by government forces to starve out rebels. Homs had been one of the first to rise up against the rule of President Bashar Assad with protests in March 2011, turning the city into a battleground as government forces cracked down and opponents took up arms.
Government forces clamped the seal over the opposition-held districts in early 2012. Most of the tens of thousands of residents of the areas had already fled. With the siege dragging on, rebels began deserting as hunger spread, and morale collapsed in late 2013. Finally, the last few dozen fighters were evacuated in May to areas further north under a cease-fire, and government forces took full control of the city.
Akhras and her two brothers were among the few civilians who stayed until the end, in their multi-story family home in the al-Maljaa quarter, decorated like many of the area`s homes in an Arab medieval style of black-and-white geometric facades.
They stayed because they feared rebels would seize the building the fate of other abandoned homes — or would loot the family pharmacy or clothing shop.
In the beginning, the siege was tolerable because Akhras` family had hoarded provisions for the sometimes long lockdowns during previous gunbattles. They were well stocked with rice, beans and cracked wheat and fuel.