As US-backed forces prepare a final assault on the Islamic State group’s Syrian bastion Raqa, displaced civilians are dreaming of spending the end of Ramadan feast back home.
The Kurdish-Arab Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) militia is expected to begin its assault on the northern Syrian city as early as next week, after months of fighting to seal off Raqa.
In a camp for the displaced in the town of Ain Issa, 50 kilometres (30 miles) north of Raqa, waves of people arrive every hour.
The conditions are dire, including for those observing sunrise-to-sunset fasts during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, which will end in late June with the Eid al-Fitr holiday.
“I’ve been here for 20 days and I’m still sleeping on the ground,” said Salwa Ahmed, 33, her face covered with a black scarf that revealed only her eyes.
“The camp is so hot all day long, you feel dead by the end of the day,” she said.
“And only the bread is free. Those who don’t have any money will die from hunger,” she added.
Last month a camp administrator said more than 20,000 people had sought refuge in Ain Issa, and appealed for additional assistance.
“In Raqa, the prices were controlled and we could cook 100 different types of food in Ramadan,” said Ahmed.
“I hope that we can return to Raqa and spend Eid in our houses and buy things and make the children happy because happiness has died in people’s hearts.”
The SDF launched an operation to capture Raqa from IS last November, and has since gradually sealed off the approaches to the city from the north, east and west.
Its forces are now several kilometres (miles) from the city on the three fronts, and an SDF spokeswoman said Saturday the final assault on Raqa would “begin in a few days”.
– ‘God willing I’ll return’ –
Ibrahim Mohamed Saeed, sheltering from temperatures around 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) in the shade of a building, is eager to get back home.
“The conditions were very difficult in Raqa but I’ve been here six days sleeping on the ground and they still haven’t given us mattresses,” he said.
“We haven’t received anything… My wife, who gave birth here in the camp is eating tomatoes and cucumbers.”
He said the 14 members of his family were living “on bread and water” and were desperate to get home.
“We hope God makes things easier for us and that we return home as soon as possible,” he said.
Ramadan al-Bako, 38, fantasises about celebrating the Eid al-Fitr back in Raqa.
“The atmosphere of Eid in Raqa is a dream for someone who is far from the city,” he said.
“Whenever Raqa is liberated, whatever time it is, even in the middle of the night, God willing I’ll return. Who wouldn’t want to go back to their home?”
He imagines buying his son the new clothes that are traditionally given to children during Eid, and visiting friends and family.
“I wonder if God has ordained that I will live to see Eid al-Fitr… back in Raqa,” he said.
“That for me would be a dream.”