x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Syrian families torn apart have little cause to celebrate Eid

Eid holiday goes almost unnoticed amid the horrors of civil war. Hugh Naylor reports from Syria.

Syrian refugees and local residents shout slogans against Syria's President Bashar Al Assad after performing Eid Al Fitr prayers outside their embassy in Amman, Jordan.
Syrian refugees and local residents shout slogans against Syria's President Bashar Al Assad after performing Eid Al Fitr prayers outside their embassy in Amman, Jordan.

MARIi' and ANNADAN, SYRIA // The Hajji family's journey to rebellion began last year, not long after Eid Al Fitr.

Abdulrahim Hajji, a father of 11, said the state security forces raided their home in this northern Syrian village in October.

They dragged him out of his house by his feet and then detained him without charge for 25 days in a prison in Aleppo.

He said the security forces returned three more times over the next few months, detaining and pistol-whipping two of his sons.

The final raid about nine months ago was the last straw, he said as he sat on a majlis of cushions in his family's century-old home in Mari', a town north of Aleppo.

Four of his five sons went on to join rebel units from these rural communities. "I began scrounging up as much money as I could to buy them guns," said Mr Hajji, 59.

Few of Syria's 23 million residents have been untouched by the violence triggered by the pro-reform protests that erupted in March last year.

The fighting has killed more than 20,000 people - including Mr Hajji's 18-year-old son, Ahmed, who fought with the Tawhid brigade of rebels.

News of his death arrived three weeks ago, when Mr Hajji received a phone call at 3am from a rebel who had been fighting with Ahmed in the Aleppan neighbourhood of Salaheddin.

"He said: 'Ahmed's dead. He was shot by sniper. God is great'," Mr Hajji recalled, adding: "My heart is black with pain today."

Yesterday, Mr Hajji's Eid began on anything but a joyous note. Few of his neighbours were paying each other the customary visits offering gifts, food and good will.

He instead spent the first day of Eid contemplating the 18-month revolt against the Syrian president, Bashar Al Assad.

"None of us have anything anymore, so there is nothing to celebrate with," he said.

Members of Ahmed's brigade have pressed on with their assault on Aleppo, threatening to take it from Mr Al Assad's control.

"Our Eid will be celebrated when the regime falls," said Abu Mohammed, a 36-year-old father of three, yesterday. He was patrolling a checkpoint in Mari' with half a dozen rebels.

He said he decided to take up arms against the government when his 25-year-old brother, Abdullah, was detained shortly after Eid last year by men in plainclothes at his shoe factory in Aleppo.

Abdullah has not been seen since.

Despite their strength on the ground, rebel fighters are still powerless against the regime's air power, with a bombing raid last week killing more than 40 people in a rebel-held border town.

Attacks of this nature have turned Annadan, about 10 kilometres north-west of Aleppo, into a ghost town.

"There's no one here any more," said Mazen Afash, 23, a rebel fighter whose family - like the vast majority of the 20,000 people in this village - have fled to the countryside or Turkey.

He lamented not being able to celebrate Eid.

"I miss my family," he said, a pistol holstered at his side.

But back in the Hajji family home, there was some small glimmer of hope for a more prosperous and peaceful Eid next year. Mr Hajji predicted that Mr Al Assad would fall before then.

"It's a matter of time," he said. "There will be more hardship but, inshallah, there will be a new Syria for us to celebrate after the next Ramadan."

hnaylor@thenational.ae

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