<<In any case, the boy is no fan of the regime. His uncle was arrested 18 months ago and hasn’t been heard of since; the family suspect he is dead. The people in his village have come to hate the rebels, too, he says. “People are so, so bored with them. They come and blow up checkpoints outside towns and run away, then militias arrive and steal everything we have…”>>

Abu Ali explains that Homs divides into three areas: the rebel enclaves; pro-regime strongholds, often with large communities of Alawites; and areas with pro-opposition sympathies, such as the one where he lives, which are also tentatively controlled by the regime. In both these areas, the government subsidises the price of bread, and fresh food is plentiful, but prices have risen steeply and no one has the money to buy much.

The regime certainly bombs buildings, he says, and it sometimes makes mistakes, but often it’s because those buildings are being used as barracks by armed groups. “We are lost between shabiha and debaha,” he sighs, using the Arabic word for slaughterers to refer to the rise of puritanical, sectarian Islamism among the rebels.