Aleppo: Omar Kosha and his team of six have for years used the streets, gyms and public gardens of the western sector of the Syrian city of Aleppo to practise parkour … now they have a whole new terrain for their extreme sport.
Kosha and his young crew are bringing their discipline to war-battered east Aleppo, which the Syrian army and its allies recaptured from rebel fighters in December 2016.
The thrill-seeking youths spin in the air, flipping across the roofs of semi-destroyed buildings with flimsy and crumbling structures.
With quick and agile movements, they bound up walls and through windows, before leaping across terrifying gaps or several floors down onto piles of debris.
“I took up parkour to escape the negative energy and psychological tensions in the city,” which is Syria’s second largest and was a major battleground in its war, said Kosha.
He’s not alone. Parkour’s popularity has grown quickly in Aleppo, with nearly 200 people now practising the sport, despite the risks.
Enthusiasts often chance falls from heights onto unforgiving surfaces.
Destroyed neighbourhoods in the city’s east, where fierce battles raged for years between government troops and rebels, offer all sorts of challenging new obstacles.
On a sand-covered road lined with rubble, Kosha, a former gymnast, ran lightly with his friends before jumping high into the air, flipping and landing several metres (yards) away before climbing back onto a pile of rubble with the others.
In a devastated school nearby, others used protruding poles to mimic the moves of Olympic gymnasts.
“It’s a sport that moves from place to place as quickly and effortlessly as possible,” said Kosha.
“The aim of doing it in Aleppo is to conquer fear, as we’re doing it in a dangerous area, not made for this type of sport.”
But in the absence of special facilities and equipment for the sport, such as padding to protect against falls, athletes often risk serious injury.
And parkour in east Aleppo comes with an additional challenge: remnants of war.
In front of stunned children, one member of Kosha’s team climbed up to a window and flipped backwards as he fell down to a patch of ground covered with rubble, broken furniture and dead trees.
Wrecked neighbourhoods are carpeted with shrapnel and scraps of rusty metal.