Amid the rubble and ruined buildings in Homs, Syria, stands a tall metallic-green tree: a shining beacon of hope for people who have suffered greatly since being caught in the crossfire of rebel groups.
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"In 2014, when we had just returned to this destroyed neighborhood, our Christmas tree was made of rubble," said Roula Barjur, director of local NGO Bayti, which translates as "My House."
"The Christmas tree used to be a joy just for children, but now it's for everyone, young and old," said Abdo al-Yussefi, a local resident. "The tree gathers us all around it."
Conflicts between gangs had forced hundreds of thousands of the town's residents from their homes, but since 2014 the city has slowly begun the return to its former glory as state officials regain control and people begin to trickle back.
"After too many funerals, we're having weddings again," said restaurant owner Malek Trabulsi. "After fleeing during the war years, customers are filling the restaurant."
Just 200 miles away, in Raqqa, bomb squads are still searching for explosives left behind by Islamic State Iraqi rebel forces after the US-backed initiative ousted the group in October.
The six-man team, explosive experts from NGO the Roj Mine Organization, have declared two of the city's historic churches safe to enter, but church officials say it will be at least another year before services can be held there.
According to the Armenian Catholic Church of Martyrs, the place of worship is hardly recognizable after suffering numerous attacks and the destruction of its clock tower by rebel militia.
"There's absolutely nothing planned in Raqqa... the church is in ruins," said Boutros Mariati, the church director from the Armenian Catholic diocese in Aleppo. "Christians are going to visit, but there is no one living there."
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During the armed conflict, which began after the town was seized in 2014, the churches were used as prisons; books and Bibles burned, the statues defaced with graffiti.
"They used to put the Christmas tree on this corner here and all the kids would enter the church with their parents," said 65-year-old Nayef al-Madfaa. "When I look out and see nothing but ruins and destruction, I get sad." Although his family is Muslim, the church would give his grandchildren gifts on Christmas.
According to one of its technical experts, Abdulhamid Ayo, the bomb squad has removed 1,300 mines so far, clearing half of the city. The squad hopes that by making neighborhoods safer, families still living in the city will revive their religious traditions.