No jeans, no cigarettes on the bus from Beirut to Raqqa - iReporterNG.Com | No #1 News Media in Nigeria

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No jeans, no cigarettes on the bus from Beirut to Raqqa

No jeans, no cigarettes on the bus from Beirut to Raqqa

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The bus station offers a number of destinations, from Lebanon to various Syrian cities [Samya Kullab/Al Jazeera]
Syrian refugees talk about their ordeal as they travel back home to see their families in ISIL-held territory.

BEIRUT -  In Umm Mohamed's suitcase there is a neatly folded black abaya and niqab, while to the side of her seat she has piled a pair of shoes and socks. "All black," she smiled, holding up her handbag, also black. "I got it to make the trip, just to be on the safe side."

The 70-year-old woman firmly holds the bus fare that will take her from Beirut's Charles Helou bus station to Raqqa, the de facto capital in Syria of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

Before arriving to the first checkpoint manned by ISIL fighters, somewhere between Damascus and Palmyra, the bus driver will allow Umm Mohamed, the only female passenger on the bus, time to change out of her leopard-print hijab and into the black garb, then he will ask her to move to the back of the bus.

"I'm going to see my son and his family," said the elderly woman. "I want to go back to my own house; Syria might be finished but it's still my home."

She is not alone; there are at least 10 other passengers on the 50-seater bus making the same trip.

Moneychangers walk around carrying wads of Syrian currency, as passengers smoke argileh, drink coffee and wait for departure time. Bus drivers shout "Damascus! Aleppo! Raqqa!" to entice passers-by. A poster advertising the bus station reads: "Feel safe with us."

At around 7:30am, the engine roars; driver Abu Hamad calls on passengers still ambling outside to take their seats. A few minutes later the bus is gone, beginning a journey that spans anything from 20 hours to three days, passing by government-held territories and opposition armed groups-manned fronts, til it reaches the heart of ISIL-held territory.

In some ways, those who make the trip are the first to witness Syria's changing borders.

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