Violence is on the increase in Syria. Now the war has reached the commercial metropolis of Aleppo. Urban warfare is raging all over its main roads and backstreets. Hundreds of thousands have fled their homes. In the villages and small towns of the north people are preparing for the end of the Assad regime.

Nothing can be heard except the uncanny drone of a helicopter which is circling over the town. Apart from that all is quiet. Twelve activists are monitoring the sky from behind barred windows, ready to take cover. Like many of the buildings in the neighbourhood the school has taken numerous hits from shells and rockets. No classes have been held in it for a long time. The last of the teachers fled two weeks ago, along with the schoolchildren and their parents, and indeed almost all the inhabitants of Azaz. Only a very few remain: those who are too poor to travel, plus a handful of activists. Azaz has been a ghost town ever since the rebels of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the regular troops of President Bashar al Assad joined battle. Nobody here knows where the next shells will land, when the helicopters will next come hovering over the town ready to blitz rebel positions, when tanks will roll into the streets in an effort to drive out the insurgents. The question the remaining inhabitants of Azaz are asking themselves is not whether but when the next round of shelling and slaughter will begin.