damaged the Church of St. Simeon, shattering the remains of the pillars on top of which its hermit namesake is said to have lived for nearly 40 years before his death in 459.

Pressure on the sites increased further last year, when a government offensive pushed nearly a million people into the rebel-controlled northwest. About 2.7 million of the 4.2 million people now living in the region have been displaced from elsewhere in Syria.

The rebel-held area is small and crowded, and people are confined, with a wall along the Turkish border to the north to keep them from fleeing and hostile government forces to the south. As the new arrivals scrambled to find shelter in destroyed buildings, olive groves and sprawling tent camps, some settled in the ancient sites.

Families with livestock liked the sites because they had more space than the crowded refugee camps. Many used the sturdy, precut stones to build animal pens or reinforce their tents.

Some sites have underground caves, where families store belongings and hide from airstrikes when they hear fighter jets overhead.

Ayman Nabo, an antiquities official with the local administration in Idlib Province, said shelling and airstrikes had damaged many historical sites while poverty and the chaos of war had encouraged illegal excavations by treasure hunters.

But the greatest threat to the sites’ survival, he said, was people making off with stones or breaking them apart to build new structures.

“If this continues, a whole archaeological site could disappear,” he said.

The local administration lacked the resources to protect the sites, but Mr. Nabo said he hoped they survived, both for future generations and for the people now trapped in what he called “a big prison,” with government forces controlling roads to the Mediterranean coast and the rest of Syria.

“We no longer have a sea,” he said. “We no longer have a river. We no longer have a forest for children to visit.” So people need the sites as “places to breathe.”

For now, they are homes of last resort for battered families.

“Whenever it rains, we get wet,” said Sihan Jassem, 26, whose family had moved three times since fleeing their home and ending up in an improvised tent of blankets and tarps amid the ruins of Deir Amman, a Byzantine village.

“The children play on the ruins and we worry that the rocks will fall on them,” she said.

Her sister, widowed by the war, lived in a nearby tent with five children.

The sun reflected off wet wildflowers, and sheep wandered among the scattered stones, grazing near an ancient wall where a modern romantic had written in spray paint, “Your love is like a medicine.”

But Ms. Jassem found no romance in her surroundings.

“We wish we had stayed in our homes,” she said, “and never seen these ruins.”

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