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Eight years after President Bashar Assad responded to peaceful protests with violent force, the Syrian civil war slowly grinds on, and so does the protest movement.
The first, consistent armed rebellion against Assad’s brutal regime began in Idlib — now one of the last rebel strongholds. And there, demonstrations haven't stopped.
Abu Maher Saleh was among some of the first protesters in the early phases of the war, but after the government besieged his hometown in Eastern Ghouta, he was forced to flee.
Today, he leads small protests in Idlib, inspiring other Syrians who fled there to rally around their original cause.
“The demands we had in 2011 are still the same in 2018: to topple Bashar Al-Assad’s regime, to hold the criminals accountable,” Saleh told VICE News. “ We should protest every single second, whenever we have the chance.”
Saleh has been able to hold protests in Idlib because of a ceasefire that Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan brokered in September. In hopes of preventing around 3 million possible refugees from streaming across its border, Turkey agreed to try to disarm hard-line fighters in exchange for Russian support in holding back an Assad offensive.
But that deal is all but completely broken. Russian and Syrian regime warplanes started bombing Idlib last week, claiming extremists have increased attacks since the ceasefire was agreed upon.
Saleh hopes his protest will be heard, but it's unlikely they’ll hold off an offensive.
“We still want to tell the people, and not the government, that we’re not terrorists,” Saleh told VICE News. “We’re people who rebelled to get our rights. And we won’t stop until we get them.”
This story was edited by Ross Laing and Kimmy Gorden and aired on March 11, 2019.
Amer Almohibany contributed to this reporting.