DOUMA, Syria — It is hard to keep a business open when your town is being besieged, but Yassin Koubbieh managed to do it.

A ‘battle like no other’ may loom in Idlib, Syria

While some Syrians want rebels to be “held accountable,” aid workers warn that babies are among the civilians potentially in the firing line
People walk in a street during a media tour in Douma near Damascus

Residents walk through the Syrian city of Douma during a government-organized media tour earlier this year.

DOUMA, Syria — It is hard to keep a business open when your town is being besieged, but Yassin Koubbieh managed to do it.

Image: Douma has been devastated by years of war
Douma has been devastated by years of war.Andrey BORODULIN / Getty Images

The five-year government blockade of Douma meant there was hardly anything to sell in his corner store.

When fighting broke out among the different rebel factions, or government jets dropped bombs, his whole family fled to the basement.

“We suffered — no food, no security, no safety,” Koubbieh told NBC News during a visit to recaptured Douma accompanied by a Syrian army press officer. Comments interpreted by an employee of the Information Ministry were reviewed by NBC News translators.

The battle for Douma ended in the spring after an intense government bombing campaign that the U.N. says killed 1,700 people.

The U.N. has accused the Syrian military of indiscriminate attacks on civilians to break the rebels hold on the city. Douma was also the site of a suspected government chemical attack in April, which triggered punitive strikes by U.S., British and French forces.

While Assad has publicly called for reconciliation and vowed to target only “terrorists” in Idlib, some aid groups fear a massacre is looming.

Nearly 3 million civilians live in the rebel stronghold. Many are refugees from other war-torn parts of Syria.

Rebels — including thousands believed to belong to powerful extremist groups — live among the population, prompting fears that civilians will be caught up in the violence.

Those awaiting the assault told NBC News they are afraid that they have nowhere left to flee.

On Friday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned “the world is watching and said Syrians “who have already been forced out of their homes…will suffer from this aggression.”

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