CAIRO, Egypt - Abu Yasser, his wife and two children left behind their home and a thriving family leather-goods business after Syrian security forces seized his sister, brother-in-law and cousin.
The refugee has now found relative safety in Egypt, but the family yearns for their homeland.
“I have one aim and one hope – to return to my country,” said Abu Yasser, who asked to be identified as Abu, or “father of,” a traditional sign of respect and way to maintain anonymity.
Abu Yasser and his family fled fighting raging between forces loyal to President Bashar Assad and the country’s rebels.
But with the war showing no sign of winding down, many like Abu Yasser and his family look set to be stuck in exile throughout the region indefinitely. Already, more than 6 million people out of a population of around 20 million have been displaced both inside and outside of the country, according to the United Nations.
Meanwhile, American officials warn the fighting could go for years.
“Currently the tide seems to have shifted in (Assad’s) favor,” Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Martin Dempsey said at his confirmation hearing last week.
On Sunday, the regime killed at least 49 people in a strategic suburb near the Damascus, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a pro-opposition monitoring group.
The opposition fighters were killed near Adra, a town that rebels have been fighting to recapture from Assad's forces. It lies on a route that the rebels had been using to smuggle weapons into Damascus until the army captured it a few months ago.
As the rebels suffer setbacks, Islamist groups such as the al-Nusra Front and al Qaeda in the Levant, which originated in Iraq but has spread to neighboring Syria, are making gains among the opposition.
On Sunday, the local commander of a radical Islamist group allied with al Qaeda was freed after being held by Kurdish forces during a power struggle between rival organizations trying to topple Assad.
Meanwhile, the suffering of the Syrian people is reaching catastrophic levels. Four million cannot meet their basic food needs, and nearly 5,000 people have been killed every month since last July, aid agencies and opposition activists say.
An average of 6,000 people are leaving the country every day – a rate the United Nations says the world hasn’t seen since the Rwandan genocide in 1994.
It is impossible to know when the millions of displaced will be able to return to their homes and families, but for his part, Abu Yasser says he won’t return until Assad falls.
Reuters contributed to this report.
First published July 22 2013, 3:42 AM