Tuesday, 13 September 2016

At hajj, Syrian pilgrims talk of exile and war

 'Fatima, 38, managed to leave Syria after government troops assaulted her home neighbourhood of Baba Amr in the central city of Homs, one of the cradles of the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad. Of that time, she doesn't want to say much, out of fear of being recognised. She simply says she left "because of the killings and the terror." Fatima only agreed to talk on condition that she not give her family name and not show her face.

 "We are here at the hajj as free Syrians, to say that the regime of the tyrant lies when it says Syrians were deprived of the hajj by Saudi Arabia," said former business student Abdullah Abu Zeid. He comes from Anadan, a rebel-held town just north of Syria's battleground second city Aleppo. He said he would return to his hometown straight after the hajj despite the long bombardment by government forces that has reduced much of it to rubble.

 Mohammed Limam, 26, was a first-year student of Arab literature in Aleppo until the war forced him, too, to drop out. He said that now he is a fighter for the rebels who "resisted in the face of bombardments and destruction". He said he had never left Syria before and the first two days away were hard. "I left for the hajj but right after I will go back and if God wills it, we will liberate all of our country," he said. In Aleppo now, "no one lives normally in a house. You take shelter, you hide, you only go out after properly checking the surroundings, to protect ourselves and our loved ones" especially from air strikes.

 Abdel Rahman al-Nahlawi of the Syrian Hajj Committee, has lived in Turkey for several years, but has lost none of the protective reflexes of those in the war zone. When Saudi helicopters fly overhead monitoring the hajj crowds, he unconsciously frowns and looks around, as do the other pilgrims. "Only a Syrian could have such a reaction each time he hears a helicopter," he quips.'

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