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Syrian family hides from attacks in underground 'prison'

From Arwa Damon, CNN
December 5, 2012 -- Updated 1819 GMT (0219 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • "We go home every two weeks to shower, fearful and terrorized," a mother says
  • The Kurdiye family's home is on the front lines of fighting in Aleppo
  • It has been hit by artillery fire since the family fled
  • Though they hide underground, the Kurdiyes say they choke on dust from bombings

Read a version of this story in Arabic.

Northern Syria (CNN) -- Down a steep stone stairway and into the darkness lies a cold chamber that looks more like a dungeon than a home.

But this is where the Kurdiye family has been hiding from bombardment for four months.

"The strikes were all around us. We just ran out, with nothing," 20-year-old Fatme said. "We just ran and ran down here, and the shrapnel was falling all over."

Read more: Obama warns al-Assad against chemical weapons

Since then, the Kurdiyes have occasionally darted back home to collect belongings.

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As Fatme tells her story, another explosion booms from above.

"There would be bombing like that, and we'd come running back here," she said.

The family's home is just five doors away. But it's right in one of Aleppo's front lines in Syria's relentless civil war.

It has been hit by artillery fire since the family fled.

Read more: As fighting subsides, Aleppo residents find little left

"We go home every two weeks to shower, fearful and terrorized," Fatme's mother said. "We have a weak home. It could crumble any moment."

But the last time the family ventured out was three weeks ago.

Fatme and her young sister want to leave to anywhere they can feel the sun and smell fresh air. The chamber is more like a grave sometimes, Fatme's sister says.

But their father refuses.

"Poor but proud," Fatme's father said. He doesn't want to be at the mercy of others.

Here, he can send his son to scrape some money and buy a little food.

Fatme's mother has nightmares her children are dead. She said she feels her heart is going to burst with each explosion.

"I just tell her it's far away and not to be scared," Fatme said.

But sometimes the bombings are so close, family members say they choke on the dust.

"What can we say, we're living in a prison," Fatme said.

But no one knows when the prison sentence will end.

NATO OKs Patriots and delivers warning

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