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A Syrian Village Is Oasis Of Calm Amid Conflict

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Driving into Kfar Ghan, you notice the difference right away: The shops are open, there are kids on the street, there's even a row of open-air vegetable stalls and a crowd of shoppers.

There is a full spread of watermelon, eggplants, peppers and tomatoes. All the farmers from the area have brought their produce to the market in this Syrian village, about a mile from the Turkish border.

Kfar Ghan is protected. The Syrian helicopter gunships and fighter planes that regularly strike villages even 5 miles away don't fly over it. The Turkish government warned that any Syrian military aircraft near the border would be a target. The warning came in June after Syria shot down a Turkish jet over the Mediterranean.

Village Is Safe

The village is now safe enough to open a new hospital run by a specialist in internal medicine.

Dr. Mahmoud Hasson says he was a military doctor but defected to join the rebels. Now his patients are civilians and rebel fighters. He says he is well-supplied with medicine and medical equipment. Doctors come from abroad to give training courses.

"Many organizations, international aid organizations, or Saudis or Libyans, when they come, the first thing they ask is, 'Do the airplanes come here? Is there shelling?' " he says in Arabic.

Kfar Ghan is safe, he tells them.

Kfar Ghan is also free, he says — 100 percent free. The rebels govern here now. There is a police force and a new prison. It was opened by Riad Nadeff, who owned a clothing shop before he joined the rebels.

Nadeff is now in charge of the jail — an empty room that is relatively clean and has one toilet.

He says they've had up to 10 prisoners in the room, "but we only held them for a couple of hours."

Rising Population

The village population has swelled in recent weeks, as families crowd in from towns under heavy shelling. With so many packed into schools and abandoned government buildings, tensions sometimes break out into fights, Nadeff says.

"It's a village that's been oppressed by the regime for years. There are many problems and we are solving them slowly," he says.

With the Turks providing unofficial cover, Kfar Ghan has become a hub for the displaced and the wounded. But just a few miles away, the Syrian air force patrols the skies, targeting rebel supply lines and the civilians who support them.

In an olive grove near the town of Azaz, a rebel brigade is training at night. The commander says they now have night-vision equipment for their rifles. Three young rebels are learning how to shoot in the dark, but a bright flash from a government military airport brings the training to a halt.

They use six rockets at a time, says the commander, to hit Azaz and other towns. The rebels all have families in Azaz. It will be hours before they know where the shells have hit.

Rima Marrouch contributed to this report.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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