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Bashar al-Assad

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Rania Abouzeid

They are a familiar sight to anyone who has been on the frontlines in the embattled Syrian city of Aleppo: striped sheets—formerly store awnings, curtains and drapes—that once blocked the harsh sunlight or a neighbor’s prying eyes, now acting as shields against more lethal threats.

The sheets are strung between buildings (what’s left of them, at least) and across streets. They are meant to obscure a sharpshooter’s line of sight, providing a small measure of protection from an assassin lurking in the shadows of these often abandoned and devastated neighborhoods. For residents, even the simplest task, like going to a bakery or visiting a neighbor, can be a harrowing dash across a street with nothing but a piece of fabric for cover.

The billowing fabric provides unexpected bursts of color in urban landscapes that have otherwise been reduced to a near-ubiquitous gray: the gray of crushed cinder blocks from pulverized buildings, the gray dust that covers household belongings strewn about the rubble, the gray of a once-vibrant city that has been reduced to a stalemated battleground where it can sometimes seem as if the only other color on view is blood crimson.

The sheets also highlight the asymmetrical nature of Syria’s battlefield. The conflict, now in its third year, pits the army of President Bashar al-Assad against a hodgepodge of disorganized defectors, armed civilians and makeshift militias. One side has tanks, helicopter gunships and body armor; on the other side there are anti-aircraft guns and other weapons, often sourced from the black market, and handmade weapons fabricated in local workshops. The sheets are one more tangible testament to the rebels’ ability to improvise.

Photographer Franco Pagetti, who has covered conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and other hotspots, captures the beauty of these sheets, and the terror they represent, in this series of haunting images. There are no people in these photos. The curtains serve as a witness to and a barrier between the two sides of this unending civil war. Like so many aspects of the conflict, the curtains are quotidian realities that have been stripped of their mundane origins. Today, they fulfill a purpose very different from their original roles.

Pagetti says the curtains reminded him of the miles upon miles of concrete barriers that crisscrossed Baghdad during the worst of the sectarian violence there, in 2006 and 2007.

“Aleppo’s sheets serve the same purpose: they protect lives,” he says. “But you’re always aware how fragile they are.” As he moves through the neighborhoods, Pagetti says he has to be acutely conscious of the direction of the sun and wind. “If your shadow falls on the sheet, the sniper can see you… Boom, you’re dead. If there’s a gust that blows the sheet up for a moment, you are completely exposed… Boom.”

Franco Pagetti is an Italian conflict photographer represented by VII.

Rania Abouzeid is a Middle East correspondent for TIME. Follow her on Twitter @Raniaab.

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The second collection of images from 2012 once again brought us nature at its full force and beauty along with news and daily life coming from countries like Russia, Syria, Egypt, England, India and Italy. The following is a compilation - not meant to be comprehensive in any way - of images from the second 4 months of 2012. Please see part 1 from Monday and here's part 3. -- Lloyd Young ( 47 photos total)
Tightrope walker Nik Wallenda walks the high wire from the United States side to the Canadian side over the Horseshoe Falls in Niagara Falls, Ontario, on June 15. (Mark Blinch/Reuters)

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Another year has come and gone and with it hundreds of thousands of images have recorded the world's evolving history; moments in individual lives; the weather and it's affects on the planet; acts of humanity and tragedies brought by man and by nature. The following is a compilation - not meant to be comprehensive in any way - of images from the first 4 months of 2012. Parts II and III to follow this week. -- Paula Nelson ( 64 photos total)
Fireworks light up the skyline and Big Ben just after midnight, January 1, 2012 in London, England. Thousands of people lined the banks of the River Thames in central London to ring in the New Year with a spectacular fireworks display. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

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Today marks World Refugee Day, which the United Nations uses to raise awareness of the plight of the estimated 42 million displaced people worldwide. A UN report released this week showed that 800,000 people were forced to flee across borders last year -- more than any time since 2000. In a message to mark the day, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said, "Refugees leave because they have no choice. We must choose to help." -- Lloyd Young (30 photos total)
A Myanmar ethnic Rohingya child preparing for a midday prayer on April 23 inside a community school in Klang, a port town 30 kilometres west of Kuala Lumpur. Malaysia is observing World Refugee Day along with other countries of the world, there are over 98,000 refugees and asylum-seekers registered with UNHCR in Malaysia. (Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty Images)

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Fifteen months after the start of the uprising in Syria, several experts and at least one top U.N. official are now characterizing the escalating conflict as a Civil War. A wide range of anti-government insurgencies continue to battle official and unofficial Syrian government troops across the country. President Bashar al-Assad's forces have reportedly carried out a series of horrific civilian massacres, involving attack helicopters, shelling, and brutal incursions into rebel neighborhoods. The Syrian government continues to block foreign journalists, but a number of photographs and reports have made their way out of the country. [39 photos]

Birds fly over a destroyed minaret of a mosque at the northern town of Ariha, on the outskirts of Idlib, Syria, on June 10, 2012. An estimated 14,000 people have been killed since the uprising began in March last year. (AP Photo)

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