Syrian woman survives 700 days trapped in house

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Syrian woman survives 700 days trapped in house
In this Thursday, June 5, 2014 photo, Zeinat Akhras and her brother Ayman pose inside a Greek Orthodox church in Homs, Syria. Akhras, a 65-year-old pharmacist, still bears the effects of more than two years trapped in her home, surrounded by rebel fighters, for nearly two years during the government’s siege on the ancient quarters of the central Syrian city of Homs. She’s still a wispy 83 pounds (38 kilos), even after gaining eight points (four kilos) since the blockade ended in early May with the fall of the rebels in the city. (AP Photo/Dusan Vranic)
In this Thursday, June 5, 2014 photo, Zeinat Akhras and her brother Ayman walk to from home to a church in Homs, Syria. Over the course of the 700-day blockade, Zeinat's world shrunk to her living room and her kitchen. She survived reading books, eating plants _ and refusing to look in the mirror, because seeing her withered state might break her spirit. (AP Photo/Dusan Vranic)
FILE - This file photo released on Thursday Nov. 29, 2012 by the anti-government activist group Homs City Union of The Syrian Revolution, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows Syrian citizens walking in a destroyed street that was attacked by Syrian forces warplanes, at Abu al-Hol street in Homs province, Syria. Syria's government and rebels agreed to a ceasefire on Friday, May 2, 2014 in the battleground city of Homs to allow hundreds of fighters holed up in its old quarters to evacuate, a deal that will bring the country's third-largest city under control of forces loyal to President Bashar Assad. (AP Photo/Homs City Union of The Syrian Revolution, File)
In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Flames rise from damaged cars at the site where two car bombs exploded at a commercial street inhabited mostly by members of President Bashar Assad's minority Alawite sect, in Homs province, central Syria, Wednesday April 9, 2014. Two car bombs exploded Wednesday in a government-held district of Syria's battleground city of Homs, killing at least 25 people and wounding more than 100, state media said. (AP Photo/SANA)
This photograph made on a military-led media tour shows damage inside the Um al-Zinar church in the old city of Homs, Syria on Friday, May 9, 2014, where bulldozers cleared rubble from the streets of battle-scarred districts in the central Syrian city after government troops entered the last rebel-held neighborhoods as part of an agreement that also granted opposition fighters safe exit from the city. (AP Photo)
In this photograph made on a government-led media tour, Syrian civilians return to Homs, Syria on Friday, May 9, 2014, where bulldozers cleared rubble from the streets of battle-scarred districts in the central Syrian city after government troops entered the last rebel-held neighborhoods as part of an agreement that also granted opposition fighters safe exit from the city. (AP Photo)
In this photograph made on a military-led media tour, Syrian civilians return to their neighborhood in the old city of Homs, Syria on Friday, May 9, 2014, where bulldozers cleared rubble from the streets of battle-scarred districts in the central Syrian city after government troops entered the last rebel-held neighborhoods as part of an agreement that also granted opposition fighters safe exit from the city. (AP Photo)
In this photo made on a military-led media tour, pro-government troops patrol the old city of Homs, Syria on Friday, May 9, 2014. For more than a year, these neighborhoods were rebel bastions blockaded by President Bashar Assad’s troops and pounded by his artillery and air force. But under a deal struck this week, the government assumed control of the Old City, while in return some 2,000 opposition fighters were granted safe passage to opposition areas north of Homs.(AP Photo)
This photograph made on a military-led media tour shows a resident of the old city of Homs, Syria carrying a photograph and a religious figurine after retrieving them on Friday, May 9, 2014. Bulldozers cleared rubble from the streets of battle-scarred districts in the central Syrian city after government troops entered the last rebel-held neighborhoods as part of an agreement that also granted opposition fighters safe exit from the city. (AP Photo)
In this photograph made on a government-led media tour, Syrian civilians fill a city square as they return to Homs, Syria on Friday, May 9, 2014. Bulldozers cleared rubble Friday from the streets of battle-scarred districts in the central Syrian city after government troops entered the last rebel-held neighborhoods as part of an agreement that also granted opposition fighters safe exit from the city. (AP Photo)
In this photograph made on a government-led media tour, Syrian civilians return to Homs, Syria on Friday, May 9, 2014. Bulldozers cleared rubble from the streets of battle-scarred districts in the central Syrian city after government troops entered the last rebel-held neighborhoods as part of an agreement that also granted opposition fighters safe exit from the city. (AP Photo)
This photo provided by the anti-government activist group Aleppo Media Center (AMC), which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows Syrian citizens forming the word Homs in Arabic with their bodies, in the Salaheddine district in Aleppo, Syria, Friday, May 9, 2014. Bulldozers cleared rubble Friday from the streets of battle-scarred districts in the central Syrian city of Homs after government troops entered the last rebel-held neighborhoods as part of an agreement that also granted opposition fighters safe exit from the city. The red placard with Arabic that reads,"no more words after Homs." (AP Photo/Aleppo Media Center AMC)
This photograph made on a military-led media tour shows damage inside the Um al-Zinar church in the old city of Homs, Syria on Friday, May 9, 2014, where bulldozers cleared rubble from the streets of battle-scarred districts in the central Syrian city after government troops entered the last rebel-held neighborhoods as part of an agreement that also granted opposition fighters safe exit from the city. (AP Photo)
This image made from amateur video posted by Shaam News Network (SNN), an anti-Bashar Assad activist group, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, shows an explosion that destroyed the Carlton Hotel in Aleppo, Syria, Thursday, May 8, 2014. The rebel-claimed bombing Thursday in the northern Syrian city leveled the once luxurious hotel near the ancient Citadel that government troops used as a military base, causing multiple casualties, activists and militants said.(AP Photo/Shaam News Network via AP video)
This image made from amateur video posted by Shaam News Network (SNN), an anti-Bashar Assad activist group, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, shows an explosion that destroyed the Carlton Hotel in Aleppo, Syria, Thursday, May 8, 2014. The rebel-claimed bombing Thursday in the northern Syrian city leveled the once luxurious hotel near the ancient Citadel that government troops used as a military base, causing multiple casualties, activists and militants said.(AP Photo/Shaam News Network via AP video)
Syrian government forces look at damages in the old city of Homs, Syria, Thursday, May 8, 2014. Syrian President Bashar Assad's government in the north prepared to regain control of the central city of Homs following last week's cease-fire agreement after a fierce, two-year battle with the rebels trying to oust him. Rebels were completing their withdrawal from Homs on Thursday, a day after hundreds of fighters evacuated from the city under the cease-fire deal. (AP Photo)
A mosque is pictured through shattered glass in the old city of Homs on May 8, 2014, as rebel fighters withdrew from the city centre in line with a negotiated withdrawal deal with the government after having held out under tight siege for nearly two years. At least 80 percent of rebel fighters have already pulled out of the battleground central Syrian city and the rest will leave later in the day, the provincial governor told AFP. AFP PHOTO/YOUSSEF KARWASHAN (Photo credit should read YOUSSEF KARWASHAN/AFP/Getty Images)
A Syrian government solider looks at damaged buildings in Homs, Syria, Thursday, May 8, 2014. Hundreds of exhausted Syrian rebels withdrew Wednesday from their last remaining strongholds in the heart of Homs, surrendering to President Bashar Assad a bloodstained city that was once the center of the revolt against him. (AP Photo)
Syrian government forces walk on a damaged street in Homs, Syria, Thursday, May 8, 2014. Hundreds of exhausted Syrian rebels withdrew Wednesday from their last remaining strongholds in the heart of Homs, surrendering to President Bashar Assad a bloodstained city that was once the center of the revolt against him. (AP Photo)
Syrian government forces look at damages as they walk on a street in the old city of Homs, Syria, Thursday, May 8, 2014. Hundreds of exhausted Syrian rebels withdrew Wednesday from their last remaining strongholds in the heart of Homs, surrendering to President Bashar Assad a bloodstained city that was once the center of the revolt against him. For Assad, it is a powerful victory ahead of presidential elections. For the rebels, the dramatic exit after two years of enduring grueling assaults and siege captures their sense of abandonment amid world reluctance to help shift the balance of power on the ground. (AP Photo)
Syrian government officials walk on a road, back dropped, by damaged buildings from fighting with Free Syrian Army fighters in the old city of Homs, Syria, Thursday, May 8, 2014. Syrian President Bashar Assad's government in the north prepared to regain control of the central city of Homs following last week's cease-fire agreement after a fierce, two-year battle with the rebels trying to oust him. (AP Photo)
Syrian government forces inspect damages in Homs, Syria, Thursday, May 8, 2014. Carrying their rifles and small bags of belongings, hundreds of exhausted Syrian rebels withdrew Wednesday from their last remaining strongholds in the heart of Homs, surrendering to President Bashar Assad a bloodstained city that was once the center of the revolt against him. (AP Photo)
Two Syrian national flags hang on a pole as government officials inspect damages in the old city of Homs, Syria, Thursday, May 8, 2014. Hundreds of exhausted Syrian rebels withdrew Wednesday from their last remaining strongholds in the heart of Homs, surrendering to President Bashar Assad a bloodstained city that was once the center of the revolt against him. For Assad, it is a powerful victory ahead of presidential elections. For the rebels, the dramatic exit after two years of enduring grueling assaults and siege captures their sense of abandonment amid world reluctance to help shift the balance of power on the ground. (AP Photo)
Debris lie on a street near the Faical souk in the old city of Homs on May 8, 2014 after Syrian government forces regained control of rebel-controlled areas. A last group of Syrian rebels is poised to leave the Old City of Homs, completing a negotiated pullout from the heart of the city, provincial governor Talal al-Barazi said. AFP PHOTO / STR (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
Debris lie on a street in the Christian neighborhood of Hamidieh in the old city of Homs on May 8, 2014 after Syrian government forces regained control of rebel-controlled areas. A last group of Syrian rebels is poised to leave the Old City of Homs, completing a negotiated pullout from the heart of the city, provincial governor Talal al-Barazi said. AFP PHOTO / STR (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - MAY 8: At least 50 soldiers of Assad regime forces were killed in an attack staged by Islamic Front forces to the Carlton Hotel, used as a headquarters by the regime forces, near Citadel of Aleppo, Syria on May 8, 2014. (Photo by Mustafa Sultan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - MAY 8: At least 50 soldiers of Assad regime forces were killed in an attack staged by Islamic Front forces to the Carlton Hotel, used as a headquarters by the regime forces, near Citadel of Aleppo, Syria on May 8, 2014. (Photo by Mustafa Sultan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Debris lie on a deserted street in the old city of Homs on May 8, 2014 after Syrian government forces regained control of rebel-controlled areas. A last group of Syrian rebels is poised to leave the Old City of Homs, completing a negotiated pullout from the heart of the city, provincial governor Talal al-Barazi said. AFP PHOTO / STR (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
A general view shows heavily damaged buildings in the old city of Homs on May 8, 2014 after Syrian government forces regained control of rebel-controlled areas. A last group of Syrian rebels is poised to leave the Old City of Homs, completing a negotiated pullout from the heart of the city, provincial governor Talal al-Barazi said. AFP PHOTO / STR (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
A general view shows heavily damaged buildings and debris lying on the ground in the old city of Homs on May 8, 2014 after Syrian government forces regained control of rebel-controlled areas. A last group of Syrian rebels is poised to leave the Old City of Homs, completing a negotiated pullout from the heart of the city, provincial governor Talal al-Barazi said. AFP PHOTO / STR (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
A general view shows a deserted street in the old city of Homs on May 8, 2014 after Syrian government forces regained control of rebel-controlled areas. A last group of Syrian rebels is poised to leave the Old City of Homs, completing a negotiated pullout from the heart of the city, provincial governor Talal al-Barazi said. AFP PHOTO / STR (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
A general view shows a deserted street in the old city of Homs on May 8, 2014 after Syrian government forces regained control of rebel-controlled areas. A last group of Syrian rebels is poised to leave the Old City of Homs, completing a negotiated pullout from the heart of the city, provincial governor Talal al-Barazi said. AFP PHOTO / STR (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
A general view shows a deserted street in the old city of Homs on May 8, 2014 after Syrian government forces regained control of rebel-controlled areas. A last group of Syrian rebels is poised to leave the Old City of Homs, completing a negotiated pullout from the heart of the city, provincial governor Talal al-Barazi said. AFP PHOTO / STR (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
A general view shows a deserted street in the old city of Homs on May 8, 2014 after Syrian government forces regained control of rebel-controlled areas. A last group of Syrian rebels is poised to leave the Old City of Homs, completing a negotiated pullout from the heart of the city, provincial governor Talal al-Barazi said. AFP PHOTO / STR (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
A general view shows a deserted square in the old city of Homs on May 8, 2014 after Syrian government forces regained control of rebel-controlled areas. A last group of Syrian rebels is poised to leave the Old City of Homs, completing a negotiated pullout from the heart of the city, provincial governor Talal al-Barazi said. AFP PHOTO / STR (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
Governor of Homs province Talal al-Barazi stands next to Syrian national flags flying over a square in the old city of Homs on May 8, 2014 after Syrian government forces regained control of rebel-controlled areas. A last group of Syrian rebels is poised to leave the Old City of Homs, completing a negotiated pullout from the heart of the city, Barazi said. AFP PHOTO / STR (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
Debris lie on a deserted street in the old city of Homs on May 8, 2014 after Syrian government forces regained control of rebel-controlled areas. A last group of Syrian rebels is poised to leave the Old City of Homs, completing a negotiated pullout from the heart of the city, the provincial governor said. AFP PHOTO / STR (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
A picture taken on May 8, 2014 shows debris lying on the ground following an explosion at luxury hotel turned army base in the historic heart of Aleppo which rebel fighters reportedly blew up after tunneling under the front line that divides the northern city. State television gave no word on any casualties from the attack that levelled the famed Carlton Citadel Hotel just across the road from the city's UNESCO-listed Citadel. But the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said there were dead and wounded among government troops occupying the building. AFP PHOTO / STR (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
Syrian government forces sift through the rubble on May 8, 2014 following an explosion at luxury hotel turned army base in the historic heart of Aleppo which rebel fighters reportedly blew up after tunneling under the front line that divides the northern city. State television gave no word on any casualties from the attack that levelled the famed Carlton Citadel Hotel just across the road from the city's UNESCO-listed Citadel. But the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said there were dead and wounded among government troops occupying the building. AFP PHOTO / STR (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
Syrian government forces sift through the rubble on May 8, 2014 following an explosion at luxury hotel turned army base in the historic heart of Aleppo which rebel fighters reportedly blew up after tunneling under the front line that divides the northern city. State television gave no word on any casualties from the attack that levelled the famed Carlton Citadel Hotel just across the road from the city's UNESCO-listed Citadel. But the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said there were dead and wounded among government troops occupying the building. AFP PHOTO / STR (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
A general view shows a heavily damaged building in the old city of Homs on May 8, 2014 after Syrian government forces regained control of rebel-controlled areas. The last rebels were poised to leave the centre of the battleground Syrian city of Homs today, handing a symbolic victory to President Bashar al-Assad ahead of a controversial election. AFP PHOTO / RIM HADDAD (Photo credit should read RIM HADDAD/AFP/Getty Images)
Syrian government forces play football on a deserted street in the old city of Homs on May 8, 2014 after they regained control of rebel-controlled areas. The last rebels were poised to leave the centre of the battleground Syrian city of Homs today, handing a symbolic victory to President Bashar al-Assad ahead of a controversial election. AFP PHOTO / RIM HADDAD (Photo credit should read RIM HADDAD/AFP/Getty Images)
Syrian government forces gather on a street in the old city of Homs on May 8, 2014 following a negotiated withdrawal of rebel fighters from the city centre where the opposition had held out under tight siege for nearly two years is the first in more than three years of conflict. The last rebels were poised to leave the centre of the battleground Syrian city of Homs today, handing a symbolic victory to President Bashar al-Assad ahead of a controversial election. AFP PHOTO / RIM HADDAD (Photo credit should read RIM HADDAD/AFP/Getty Images)
A general view shows abandoned buildings on a deserted street in the old city of Homs on May 8, 2014 after Syrian government forces regained control of rebel-controlled areas. The last rebels were poised to leave the centre of the battleground Syrian city of Homs today, handing a symbolic victory to President Bashar al-Assad ahead of a controversial election. AFP PHOTO / RIM HADDAD (Photo credit should read RIM HADDAD/AFP/Getty Images)
A general view shows abandoned buildings on a deserted square in the old city of Homs on May 8, 2014 after Syrian government forces regained control of rebel-controlled areas. The last rebels were poised to leave the centre of the battleground Syrian city of Homs today, handing a symbolic victory to President Bashar al-Assad ahead of a controversial election. AFP PHOTO / RIM HADDAD (Photo credit should read RIM HADDAD/AFP/Getty Images)
A general view shows abandoned buildings on a deserted square in the old city of Homs on May 8, 2014 after Syrian government forces regained control of rebel-controlled areas. The last rebels were poised to leave the centre of the battleground Syrian city of Homs today, handing a symbolic victory to President Bashar al-Assad ahead of a controversial election. AFP PHOTO / RIM HADDAD (Photo credit should read RIM HADDAD/AFP/Getty Images)
A general view shows abandoned buildings on a deserted square in the old city of Homs on May 8, 2014 after Syrian government forces regained control of rebel-controlled areas. The last rebels were poised to leave the centre of the battleground Syrian city of Homs today, handing a symbolic victory to President Bashar al-Assad ahead of a controversial election. AFP PHOTO / RIM HADDAD (Photo credit should read RIM HADDAD/AFP/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - MAY 8: At least 50 Assad forces killed in a bomb attack by members of Islamic Front in target of Carlton Citadel Hotel Aleppo, headquarters Assad forces near the Citadel of Aleppo in Aleppo, second big city of Syria on May 8, 2014. (Photo by Salih Mahmud Leyla/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
In this Feb. 13, 2014 image made from amateur video posted by Shaam News Network (SNN), an anti-Bashar Assad activist group, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, revolutionary goalkeeper Abdelbasit Sarout chants slogans during a demonstration in Homs, Syria. He began as a local hero on the soccer field, playing for the most popular team of his home city Homs and rising toward national stardom across Syria. But when the uprising against President Bashar Assad began, Sarout left all of it to lead peaceful protests, rallying thousands to demand Assad leave power. More than three years later, the former goalkeeper - now an armed fighter - has become a charismatic icon of the Syria’s rebellion. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network via AP video)
In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian residents carry a wounded woman from the site where two car bombs exploded at a commercial street inhabited mostly by members of President Bashar Assad's minority Alawite sect, in Homs province, central Syria, Wednesday April 9, 2014. Two car bombs exploded Wednesday in a government-held district of Syria's battleground city of Homs, killing at least 25 people and wounding more than 100, state media said. (AP Photo/SANA)
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By Diaa Hadid

HOMS, Syria (AP) - Over the course of the 700-day blockade, her world shrunk to her living room and her kitchen. She survived by eating plants and reading books. She refused to look in the mirror, because seeing her withered state might break her spirit.

Zeinat Akhras, a 65-year-old pharmacist, still bears the effects of nearly two years trapped in her home, surrounded by rebel fighters during the government's siege on the ancient quarters of the central Syrian city of Homs. She's still a wispy 38 kilograms (83 pounds), even after gaining four kilograms (eight pounds) since the blockade ended in early May with the fall of the rebels in the city.

"Every day, we said it will end tomorrow," Akhras said in a recent interview with The Associated Press in her home. "If we counted the number of days, we would have given up."

Homs' Old City, a series of crowded neighborhoods, was under siege and bombardment in a campaign by government forces to starve out rebels. Homs had been one of the first to rise up against the rule of President Bashar Assad with protests in March 2011, turning the city into a battleground as government forces cracked down and opponents took up arms.

Government forces clamped the seal over the opposition-held districts in early 2012. Most of the tens of thousands of residents of the areas had already fled. With the siege dragging on, rebels began deserting as hunger spread, and morale collapsed in late 2013. Finally, the last few dozen fighters were evacuated in May to areas further north under a cease-fire, and government forces took full control of the city.

Akhras and her two brothers were among the few civilians who stayed until the end, in their multi-story family home in the al-Maljaa quarter, decorated like many of the area's homes in an Arab medieval style of black-and-white geometric facades.

They stayed because they feared rebels would seize the building - the fate of other abandoned homes - or would loot the family pharmacy or clothing shop.

In the beginning, the siege was tolerable because Akhras' family had hoarded provisions for the sometimes long lockdowns during previous gunbattles. They were well stocked with rice, beans and cracked wheat and fuel.

As the blockade deepened, Akhras rarely left the building - perhaps six times during the 700 days, she estimated.

"I used to come back sad from seeing the destruction. This area used to be full of life," she said.

Life took on a routine.

Her brothers Anas and Ayman went out to check on their businesses and kept an eye on the nearby Mar Elia church. She cooked, kept the building tidy. She rose at dawn and slept at sunset, since there was no electricity. Over the course of the two years, at least 12 shells slammed into their home, causing damage upstairs.

"It was bothersome, because we'd hear explosions day and night. You get used to it."

A priest asked the Akhras siblings, who are Christians, to hide valuable church property. So gradually, icons and boxes of centuries-old church records piled up in their home. Then, their pharmacy and clothes shop were looted in 2013, so the brothers brought home boxes of remaining medicines and clothes to store as well.

As the siege dragged on, rebel fighters showed up repeatedly demanding food and fuel, Akhras said. They usually came in groups, ordering Akhras to sit in the living room as they raided the kitchen and the upstairs apartments where food was kept. One young rebel snatched a jam jar that "barely had a spoonful left in it," she recalled.

Toward the end, the fighters didn't even bother to come with guns - they simply knocked on the door and demanded food. Finally, in mid-2013, armed rebels surrounded the building and came in, carrying away nearly the entire stock of food and fuel. The siblings were left with only cracked wheat, which ran out by January.

Still, she said her family was not harassed by the Sunni rebels for being Christian - it appeared to be because her house was the one with food.

Tragedy came in December. One of her brothers, Anas, who was suffering from cancer, left in a U.N. organized evacuation of hundreds of civilians from the Old City. He died 19 days later.

For the last months, Akhras kept her mind on daily tasks.

Without fuel, her surviving brother Ayman collected firewood. With their supplies down to only tea, oil and spices, Ayman also collected greens - dandelion, chicory and mallow, plants so unnoticed by a city-dweller that Akhras referred to them simply as "grass." Even those became so scarce that Ayman dug for them in a church cemetery.

Akhras' duties now included chopping wood to fuel the subya, a traditional heater-oven. She learnt to soak, boil and spice the salvaged greens.

She lost her appetite on the bitter, monotonous meals. She withered from about 127 pounds (58 kilos) when the blockade began to 75 pounds (34 kilos), shrinking as her space grew smaller.

Akhras said she didn't want to upset herself by looking in the mirror. "I knew I had lost weight. It was like I was on a diet I never wanted."

Only after the siege was over did she finally see her transformation - she saw herself on TV, in footage of the army's entry. "I was smaller than a child!" she exclaimed.

In free hours trapped in her home, Akhras devoured books - the Bible and stories of saints, mostly. Neatly arranged on her coffee table stood a row of large bullet casings.

Her darkest days, she said, came after Anas died and when Ayman went to sleep in another building they own to keep away looters. She was left alone as rebels raided the building again, this time digging upstairs for more medicine and clothing.

"I missed my siblings - we are six girls and six boys. I missed my mother who died at the end of 2011," she said.

Akhras initially didn't know on May 9 that the blockade had been lifted and government troops had entered the neighborhood. She has no radio and did not listen to the news. In a rare outing to the well across her alleyway, she saw a man who told her, "The army is here."

Surprised, Akhras found a soldier and asked him for bread - still unaware of how skeletal she appeared. The soldier bought her two dozen pieces of pita bread.

"I ate a whole piece of bread myself," she said, her eyes shining. "It tasted like sweets."

_____

Associated Press writer Albert Aji contributed to this report in Homs, Syria.

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