LATAKIA (Sputnik) — The skies of Syria’s Latakia are filled with the noise of military aircraft, and it seems that no significant changes have happened in the city after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the withdrawal of a significant portion of Russian troops from the Arab state to begin, however, people seemed to be concerned.
"That’s a shame, that is really a shame. But still, maybe it’s a good sign," an employee of a hotel in Latakia says, looking up into the sky to see the aircraft flying above the city.
Sign of Victory And Peace
Mahmoud, a taxi driver, came to Latakia from a village located near the city of Homs in 2013. He had to leave his home when militants arrived in the village, killing, raping and pillaging.
"My village is one of the tens of thousands of examples in the country… I think every Syrian has a tragic story to share, the war has been going on here for a long time," Mahmoud says, adding that the actions of the terrorists showed that they did not care about the government or the president, but only about money and power.
Of course, Mahmoud knows that Putin arrived at the airbase.
"If he is here, it means everything is really good. God willing, the war is really almost over, and we will all be able to return to our home cities and villages," Mahmoud says.
The withdrawal of Russia's forces from the country followed Putin's December's announcement of Daesh's defeat on both banks of the Euphrates river in Syria, terminating a military campaign started in late September 2015 at the request of President Assad. Since then, numerous cities and settlements have been liberated from the terrorists, and in major cities like Homs, Aleppo and Damascus, reconstruction works are underway to restore cultural heritage sites, plants and factories. Every day, more and more Syrians that fled Damascus during the war are returning to the capital.
Russians Made It Peaceful
However, some locals are worried that once the Russian troops leave the country, the terrorists could use it as a chance to strike back.
"We understand that you fulfilled the task and now it is time to go home… But what if you leave and the terrorists return again?" a medical student at Latakia’s Tishreen University says.
Her friend speaks more harshly, stressing that Russia’s withdrawal means "fear for me personally, because the terrorists still remain there, and there is a lot of them," adding that she still had nightmares about the events of the past three years.
Both girls, like many other medical students, are volunteering at the city’s hospital, as well as at the military hospital. Wounded servicemen and civilians have been brought here from almost entire the country.
What About Nusra Front?
Mahmoud’s uncle, Abu Jaafar, was a military man who served in neighboring Lebanon decades ago, in the 1970s. Because of old age, he could not fight in his home country.
"You remember how Latakia celebrated, when we found out last year that Aleppo was liberated? People were sharing sweets, launching fireworks and singing songs, it was a huge victory. Do you feel a holiday today?" he asks.
Daesh was defeated, but thousands of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (formerly known as Nusra Front, a terrorist group outlawed in Russia) militants are still active, Abu Jaafar pointed out.
"I think you hastened to withdraw the troops," he concludes.
However, when he finds out that the airbase will not be shut down and there are enough airplanes at Hmeimim to fulfill their tasks, the old soldier cheers up.
"That is good, that gives hope. Still, for us, both the IS [Daesh] and the Nusra are terrorists, and I personally will only celebrate the victory when the entire territory of our country is liberated," he insists.
Despite such an attitude, Abu Jaafar ends his speech with a smile.
"One thing I can say for sure. Russia has helped us during the USSR era, and now, your people saved Syria as a state and brought us hope for the peace we lived in before," he says.
According to Putin’s statement, the Russian Defense Ministry’s Center for reconciliation of conflicting sides will continue operating in Syria in line with the international agreements, and the Hmeimim and Tartus military bases will be used on a permanent basis.