Editor's note: CNN's Ivan Watson and crew are some of the few international reporters in Syria, whose government has been restricting access on foreign journalists and refusing many of them entry. Check out more from CNN inside Syria.
Atareb, Syria (CNN) - After months of fighting, the regime's men finally abandoned this strategic crossroads.
President Bashar al Assad's troops left behind a bullet-riddled ghost town patrolled by rebels and a handful of shell-shocked residents.
Fighters had renamed the stretch of the Bab el Hawa highway, which ran through the center of town, the "Street of Death." Until recently, they said anyone who dared set foot on it became a target.
A mini-graveyard of burned-out armored personnel carriers sat next to the main municipal building, which served as a base for government soldiers. Several weeks after rebels captured the town, the building's walls were still decorated with pro-regime graffiti proclaiming frightening ultimatums: "Either Bashar or we'll burn this city" and "Bashar or nothing."
"This used to be a very classy area. ... The Turks would come here to see our village," said a fighter named Abdullah Behri, who was treated in a hospital in nearby Turkey after losing his left eye to shrapnel during a battle here last May.
"Now it has all turned to hell," he said, pointing at the town's deserted streets.FULL STORY