There are attempts to keep some semblance of an economy going. Women and children have harvested olives in recent weeks despite the risks. In one grove, a rebel tank was parked under the trees, tucked away until the next battle.
In an odd twist, the regime continued for months to pay salaries of civil servants in rebel-held areas, including in Maaret Misreen, where local officials estimate at least one-third of working adults hold government jobs.
One of Maaret Misreen’s 22 garbage collectors said that while some of his colleagues have quit, he and others are still getting paid.
However, the regime is starting to clamp down, said Amer Bitar, a 50-year-old former judge.
Civil servants are now required to pick up their salaries in person in Idlib, and many from Maarat Misreen won’t make the trip, fearing arrest as rebel sympathizers at regime checkpoints, Bitar said. Bitar himself quit his job as a criminal court judge in Idlib several months ago for fear of arrest.
Another resident said he still commutes daily to work in a state-run company in Idlib, passing through government checkpoints.
‘‘If someone is not wanted, they leave him alone and don’t say anything,’’ he said of the regime.
He said about a third of the company’s employees have left because of the turmoil. The 50-year-old spoke on condition he and his work place not be identified for fear of retribution.
Two months ago, Bitar and others set up the local council to run the town. Strong social ties help hold things together. Bitar is a cousin of one of the town’s main rebel commanders. Attoun, the mosque preacher, has been recruited as a judge, ruling on anything from traffic accidents to marital spats.
Local rebels double as policemen when not on the front lines.
One recent day, rebels caught a suspected motorcycle thief and took him to one of their bases, a two-story home in an olive grove on the outskirts of town. They handcuffed and blindfolded the frightened 16-year-old. He refused to give up his accomplices, and was told he'd be handed to a much tougher battalion for further questioning.
Ahmado, the town’s young financial manager, said resident’s donations have brought in the equivalent of between $490 to $700 a week, a tiny fraction of what is needed to buy enough diesel for water pumps and generators.
Bitar said foreign aid is the only way out for rebel-run communities if the regime hangs on.
In the past, foreign donors were reluctant to channel large sums to Syria’s fractured opposition for fear the money could fall into the wrong hands.
The international community pledged tens of millions of dollars in aid after recognizing last week a reorganized opposition coalition as the sole representative of the Syrian people. But money is unlikely to start flowing soon.
Bitar said that despite the difficulties, Maaret Misreen needs to learn now how to run itself so it has a head start in a post-Assad era. ‘‘After the regime falls, we will be ready,’’ he said.