It could be a set for the apocalypse. Row upon row of bombed-out apartment blocks, their smashed windows staring out at the world like the eyes of a skeleton, and hollowed-out sounds of broken glass and the scrape of metal on concrete whirl through dusty streets.
This is Aleppo’s District 1070, a housing project captured by Syrian government forces just last week from opposition fighters. It’s deemed one of the Syrian army’s most significant gains in recent fighting, securing the regime’s southern corridor into the city.
The scale of the devastation is so enormous that it seems to come from the land of giants, dwarfing the civilians allowed back into the area by the army today to try and salvage belongings left behind when they fled.
Families arrived in small trucks, picking their way carefully through streets where you can still find unexploded mortar shells lying in a pile of rubble outside your front door.
Others came by foot, little boys and their fathers carrying what they could on their heads. Many say their apartments have been not only destroyed but also looted.
Abdel Rahman Dinawi found only a gas tank left in the apartment he hasn’t seen since June. The father of six may have to leave again, though he would prefer not to.
“They [the soldiers] said it’s dangerous for me to stay here with my children,” he said.
The front line has only been pushed back, with rebel pockets still hunkered down just on the outskirts of the housing project.
Fatima Ajami al-Arab isn’t taking the soldiers’ advice. She moved back to the district four days ago, along with her mother, her husband and two children and her brother’s family.
As she walks up the stairwell of the ruins of her home, she passes boys looking for plastic to sell. Looters have taken all the electrical appliances, and there is little more than one big mattress on the floor.
“It’s better than the refugee tent I was living in,” she says. “Because at least here there are walls and a ceiling.”
Al-Arab is convinced that if other families move back, they’ll be able to convince the government to rebuild, maybe even bring in some portable schools.
But she is in a minority. Her next-door neighbour refused her entreaties, packed up a truck and drove away, no doubt to another refugee camp.
In the ultimate irony, the residents of District 1070 who fled the recent fighting were already displaced people. The government offered up this 1,070-unit housing project to them in 2012 … when they also fled the conflict.