Residents in the rebel-held town of Douma, Syria, gathered on a war-torn street over the weekend to break their fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Hundreds of people sat down to eat at long banquet tables draped in red cloth and covered in an array of food – a rare moment of joy amid rubble.
The scene offered a staggering contrast: people served rice as bombed-out buildings loomed just feet away, drone footage shows.
The iftar meal, eaten after sunset, was organized by the Adaleh Foundation, a Syrian humanitarian organization established in 2012 to provide aid to people living in Eastern Ghouta, a rebel-held stronghold outside the capital, Damascus.
It had been years since Douma residents could break fast without fearing for their lives, Alaa Aboujaffar, the project director at the Adaleh Foundation, told CNN.
“This project of iftar Ramadan is the first of its kind in Syria,” Aboujaffar said. “We prepare these iftar meals amid the debris of destroyed houses to get the people out of the psychological stress and fatigue of war.”
A few months ago, the organization would have been wary of holding events in the open air due to strikes and shelling. But a de-escalation deal has ushered in relative calm.
The Russian-brokered agreement divided Syria’s battlefields into “de-escalation zones” in Eastern Ghouta, as well as in Idlib province, to the north of the city Homs, and in the south of Syria.
Before this, local people had broken their fast in the safety of mosques or basements.
Still, it has been incredibly difficult to secure items for iftar because of the ongoing siege, Aboujaffar said.
In early May, a 51-truck convoy delivered food and medical supplies to some 35,000 people in the besieged town, the largest in the Eastern Ghouta area, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross. But for these iftar meals, the Adaleh Foundation relies mostly on locally-sourced vegetables and fruits.
The meals are a welcome reprieve from the daily realities of war: food and fuel shortages, high unemployment and crumbling infrastructure.
“We really saw happy smiles on the faces of kids, women and everybody who took part in such meals,” Aboujaffar said.