Special needs centre offers sanctuary in Idlib
DANA - Some bear visible marks -- cigarette burns on the back, broken legs and scars across the face. For others, the trauma of Syria's eight-year-long war is less obvious.
For the mentally ill, the disabled, the war-wounded and the elderly, a special needs centre in the town of Dana in the rebel stronghold of Idlib is providing much-needed relief.
Conditions are not ideal but with limited international aid and support to Idlib's population of nearly three million, the Al Waalan centre in the province's northern countryside is one of few options.
One in five families in Idlib have to support a relative with a disability or chronic illness and an estimated 2.1 million need humanitarian assistance, according to UN figures.
The Al Waalan centre provides food, shelter and medical help to its patients, none of whom can provide for themselves.
An AFP correspondent met six men who stay in the facility.
They sleep in the same bland room, their beds lined up one next to the other. The walls are bare, except for a few sockets and a sealed window. The marble floors are covered with thick carpets.
Their ages range between 23 and 55 and they come from different parts of Syria. They do not talk much and are distant.
Some don't remember their own names or where they came from. One of them recalls growing up in a Damascus suburb.
Around half of Idlib's residents have been displaced from other parts of the war-torn country, after a series of government offensives on former opposition-held areas, including Aleppo, Eastern Ghouta and Daraya.
Nearly 275,000 of them live in informal settlements or overcrowded shelters in poor conditions.
Last month, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a Syrian group led by former Al-Qaeda fighters, cemented its control over Idlib at the expense of smaller, Turkey-backed rebel outfits.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called for a "purge of terrorists" from the rebel-held province after holding talks with his Russian and Turkish counterparts in Sochi on Thursday.
Iran and Russia both back Syria's government in the complex conflict.
The UN has warned that a regime offensive on Idlib would create the worst humanitarian crisis of the 21st century.