Saturday, 3 March 2018

What is happening in Syria is a revolution for humanity

 'A rescue worker portrayed in a Syrian film nominated for an Academy Award is waiting in his war-torn country for a visa to the U.S. to attend what could possibly be the most joyous event of his young life. Mahmoud, 29, who wants to only use his first name to protect his family, is one of the White Helmets rescue workers portrayed in the documentary “Last Men in Aleppo.” He survived a devastating offensive in eastern Aleppo that the government recaptured in 2016.

 Since then, Syria became one of the countries under a U.S travel ban, making Mahmoud’s trip to the U.S. to attend the ceremony a major hurdle. He has no passport and the Syrian government considers the White Helmets to be a terrorist organization because it operates in rebel areas.

 The film’s director and writer, Firas Fayyad and its producer, Kareem Abeed, made it to the U.S. after a lengthy process. Abeed thanked the U.S. State Department on his Facebook page for helping him get a visa.

 Mahmoud lives in an area under opposition control. With the conflict’s years reflected in his eyes, Mahmoud said he wants to go the U.S. to speak about his experience.

 “It is different when you have a message and you deliver it yourself,” he told the Associated Press in opposition-held rural Aleppo.

 Fayyad said he has been attempting to get Mahmoud a passport but has been met with government rejection. The Syrian government refuses issuing documents for residents living in opposition areas.

 “Mahmoud will not be able to attend and he will not get a visa,” Fayyad said in an exchange on Facebook. “It is unfortunate and very sad. He is the one who should be there.”

 The film – the first Syrian movie to be nominated for an Oscar – follows a group of men in the then rebel-held part of Aleppo, volunteering to save lives and respond to the incessant government bombings around their hometown.

 “The world has the wrong impression about Syria and what’s going on there, that it is only a civil war,” Mahmoud said.

 “What is happening in Syria is a revolution, one of pride – a revolution for humanity.”

 He said his experience with the Civil Defense team, known as White Helmets, began in 2013.

 The image of a child burning in a car following a strike with no one able to rescue him was imprinted in his mind.

 “From that day until today, his picture never leaves my mind. I thought we have to do something. This child should not die that way,” he said.

 Mahmoud moved to rebel-held rural Aleppo after the government entered eastern Aleppo. He still rescues bombing survivors and trains new volunteers.

 “This is the message I would love the whole world to know and to reach everyone: This war must stop,” he said.

 “We look around and there is death, death, death. How long can this go on? This bombing. People must have their simplest rights, peace, love, quiet, safety. You can’t imagine – people are unable to fall asleep because they are afraid of the strikes,” Mahmoud added.'

Friday, 2 March 2018

Assad's grave-robbing echoes Nazi-era abuses

 CJ Werleman:

 'The Assad regime has once again reminded the world just how savage, uncompromising and merciless it truly is.

 In the past week, it has unleashed an unrelenting aerial assault on Eastern Ghouta, accompanied by Russian warplanes that killed more than 600 civilians and injured thousands of others.

 This is a regime that knows no moral bounds, and at the risk of invoking Godwin's Law, is every bit as detestable as Germany's Nazi Party of the 1930s.

 Like the warmongering, secular-fascist governments of the previous century, it too spares no one who stands in its way, deploying chemical weapons on children, barrel bombs on hospitals and artillery fire on residential neighbourhoods.

 Last week, the UN chief described the situation as "hell on earth" for civilians besieged by the Assad regime in the rebel-held suburb.

 But photos from Qusay Noor, a journalist in Eastern Ghouta, appear to shed new light on the barbarism inflicted upon Syrians who remain cornered in Assad regime-held territory.

 The town of Harasta, located at the northeastern edge of Damascus, has switched hands between the Assad regime and opposition forces since the conflict began in 2011, but had been held by the regime for five consecutive years, until the rebels liberated the town in January.

 This week the head of the town's council, Husam al-Beiruni, explained how Assad's security forces dug up more than 300 Christian graves in search of valuables, such as jewellery and precious stones, while at the same time defacing, defiling and damaging the tombs and the remains of those buried inside.

 Al-Beiruni, who has lived under both the occupation of Assad's forces and a constellation of various rebel groups, acknowledged that while he had seen "terrible damage" inflicted upon his country by a number of groups, he described this act as the kind of "particular barbarity" associated exclusively with the Assad regime.

 "However, this regime does not limit itself to the violation of graves," said Al-Beiruni. "They bombard us with rockets on a daily basis, not only in Harasta but in all liberated areas of Syria. We must report to the world, on behalf of the Syrian people, the kinds of deeds the regime perpetrates against us daily."

 Prior to the outset of the war, approximately 35,000 Christians lived in Harasta, representing roughly 15 percent of the total population, but many fled when Assad turned his military on the pro-democracy, pro-revolution protesters in 2011.

 Significantly, Harasta is not the first time Assad's forces have been accused of robbing graves. Last year, they robbed graves in Hama of their Turkish and Italian marble headstones.

 While Assad's crimes against humanity are well-documented; disinformation campaigns, which are typically generated by respective Russian and Iran state media for the purposes of deflecting attention and criticism away from Assad-Russia-Iranian war crimes, have successfully divided the conflict's western onlookers.

 The Christian right in the United States, led and cajoled by US President Trump, for instance, has put its support behind Assad, buying into the dictator's phony "war on terrorism" narrative at best, and at worst, expressing solidarity with a secular dictator who barrel bombs Muslims.

 One might expect the American Christian right to change its views towards Assad, given allegations his forces removed gold from the teeth of dead Christians, but we wait and see.

 The point here is that Americans pride themselves on having helped defeat the Nazis in the Second World War. But everything about the Assad regime demonstrates its total disregard for human life, and mirrors the very worst of Hitler's jackboot thugs, from wanton mass murder to gassing innocent children, to pulling gold from the teeth of the dead.

 It's no wonder then, that Assad's Syria has become a "safe haven" for Nazi activity, hosting European Nazi organisations in 2017, while also remembering it once provided sanctuary to the Austrian Nazi war criminal Alois Brunner.

 While comparing anything to the Nazis is of course an "inherently tricky business", and while the scale of the tragedy of the Holocaust should never be minimised, the nature of the fallout from the Assad regime's brutal war is not too dissimilar to that of Hitler's Germany.

 For instance, and as Nicholas Kristof once noted, "the Anne Frank of today is a Syrian girl", meaning Syrians continue to die because the West fears Syrian Muslim refugees the same way it feared European Jewish refugees in the 1930s and 1940s.

 "The reasons for the opposition [to Jewish immigration in the 1930s] then were the same as they are for rejecting Syrians or Hondurans today: We can't afford it, we should look after Americans first, we can't accept everybody, they'll take American jobs, they're dangerous and different," notes Kristof.

 At the risk of stretching the all-too-often overused Nazi metaphor further, the Assad regime also has built crematoriums to dispose of those it murders in its prisons. Presumably, of course, after its thugs have first stripped their Syrian victims of their personal belongings, including the gold fillings in their teeth.'

Thursday, 1 March 2018

As long as we ignore Syria, or appease the main aggressors, it will continue to escalate

AFP photo

 Robin Yassin-Kassab:

 'This area is basically the eastern suburbs of the capital city, Damascus. It is predominantly working class, and it is one of the areas where the flame of the democratic protest movement burned most fiercely in 2011. When that was met by extreme repression by the Assad régime - gunfire, mass arrests, torture, rape - the people formed self-defence militias, and since then it's been total war. First the régime, then its allies Iran and Russia, have been bombarding the area continuously. From the air, from the land. In 2013 they killed over a thousand people in the area with sarin gas in five hours, and the place has been under a watertight siege since 2013, so tight that children and the elderly are dying of malnutrition.

 So even before the latest escalation, the situation in the Ghouta for the 400,000 remaining civilians is absolutely desperate. There is no ceasefire. It's just political theatre. It's true that the United Nations passed a resolution, and the Russians agreed with that, calling for a ceasefire in the whole of Syria for 30 days. It never happened. The main reason for that is that the Russians, as they've done before, as everybody knew they would do, they included a proviso that the war on what they call terrorist groups can continue. So there is a ceasefire, but not against terrorists.

 Now the problem here, is that Russia for years now, has described as terrorists anything that it hits. And what it hits repeatedly, almost on a daily basis, are schools, hospitals, market places, and residential blocks. There is no ceasefire on the ground.

 The Russians have introduced a five hour daily pause in aerial bombardment. This is part of the psychological war, because if you read about the psychological strategy of bombing, apparently civilian populations break faster when bombing is paused and resumed, and paused and resumed, than if it is just continuous. So this is a joke, really. No aid has got through. No civilians have got out.

 And, of course, most civilians don't want to get out. It is very sad, that Emmanuel Macron for example, the French President, is calling for the civilians to be removed from the area. That's what happened in Aleppo in the end. It is better than them all being killed, but it would still be an internationally sanctioned war crime. Forced population displacement is a war crime. And now our great European statesmen are calling for war crimes, just that they be done a little more gently.

 I don't think the Assad régime would still be there, if it weren't for the huge amount of help it has received from Iran and Russia. Iran has been providing a financial lifeline. It provides transnational Shia jihadist militias organised by Iran, from Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan, and even further afield. This is the majority of Assad's ground troops now. They're not Syrians any more. And even with those Iranian forces, without Russian bombing, he wouldn't have been able to get back a lot of the country as he has. So I don't think he would still be there without international support.

 But Russia and Iran are in there because the United States kind of allowed them. When Obama was, I think rightly, doing his nuclear deal with Iran, he ignored something that's much more destabilising, which is Iran keeping this bloodthirsty dictator in power, by sending international Shia jihadists to police Sunni Arab areas. Which obviously creates a backlash. The Shia jihadists organised by Iran don't threaten us in the west directly, but indirectly they do, because when you have Shia jihadists policing Sunni Arabs, this is a huge recruiting sergeant for groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda. They say to the people, "You thought it was about fighting for democracy. Now you see Shia are coming from all over the world to kill you. Therefore it's not about democracy, it's about your identity as Sunni Muslims."

 The international involvement is escalating, and it is out of control. Obama had a red line over the chemical attack which disappeared, and handed Syria to Russia, and I think he thought: let them deal with it. In the last weeks, we've seen again, that the Russians can't deal with it. This is escalating. We've had Iran and Israel fighting each other in Syria in recent weeks. We've had Turkey and Kurdish groups fighting in Syria. We've had the Americans bombing a group of Russian mercenaries and killing dozens. This is still escalating, and so long as we ignore it, or appease the main aggressors, it will continue to escalate, and it will have effects everywhere.

 In 2012 and 2013, Western powers stopped countries providing advanced military equipment to the Free Army militias. They said we don't want more weapons going in. They didn't stop the Russians and Iranians pouring weapons in, and they didn't do anything about the international jihadist groups were beginning to build a base there. They sat back and watched the Syrians being slaughtered, until inevitably, as you would expect, al-Qaeda and ISIS and transnational jihadist groups arrived into the chaos, and made a base.

 And then they got involved. Let's not imagine the West is staying out of Syria. The Americans are bombing every day. They're supposedly bombing ISIS, and that's a good thing, Syrians are happy that ISIS is no longer in charge of cities like Raqqa. But unfortunately, to liberate Raqqa from ISIS, they had to destroy the city completely. The vast majority of Raqqa's population are no longer there, because their houses have been totally destroyed.

 So, the Americans are involved, they are bombing, killing civilians, and dong a lot of damage. But they're not doing it in any concerted way, to address the issues that led to this in the first place. They're just taking this myopically as a War on Terror. They are bombing the symptoms not looking at the causes, not empowering the Syrian people themselves.'
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Life Under Assad’s Bombs in a Damascus Suburb


 Wendy Pearlman & Loubna Mrie:

'The people of Ghouta have lived through a lot.

 As the Damascus suburb joined protests against the regime of Bashar Assad during the Arab Spring, the government cracked down, and rebels took up arms. Regime forces were pushed out of the area in late 2012 and replied with a siege that prevented food, medicine and people from entering or leaving. In August 2013, a chemical-weapons attack on the enclave killed more than 1,400 civilians. In the years that followed, the siege tightened and aerial bombardment continued.

 But on Feb. 18, the Assad regime and its Russian allies abruptly ramped up attacks, launching one of the most intense bombing campaigns yet seen in a war that has become a complex patchwork of overlapping global interests. Turkey is fighting Kurdish forces in the north, Iran is building military bases in the south, while Russian mercenaries have clashed with U.S. forces in the east. Meanwhile, Assad hammers what he calls extremists on the ground in eastern Ghouta, one of the last rebel redoubts left standing.

 The campaign has left at least 500 civilians dead and thousands injured. Attempts by the U.N. to forge a lasting cease-fire have failed; Secretary-General António Guterres has called the situation “hell on earth.” Relief workers say regime forces are using chemical weapons in their daily bombardments.

 The people of eastern Ghouta are also speaking for themselves. Here are some of their voices.

 Eyad, 27, father:

 "We were underground for six days, sharing a basement shelter with 70 other people. You feel the dampness in your bones. The smell of so many people is horrible. You don’t even know which smell belongs to you.

 Every time we hear fighter jets, we think that this moment will be our last. The sound of jets terrifies me because I was wounded in an airstrike before. But what scares me most is that I’ll die, and my wife and our 3-year-old will be alone. Or they’ll be killed, and I won’t know how to live without them.

 We heard that there was a cease-fire and got back home to find it all dust and broken glass. I only wanted two things: to drink coffee and shower. We started a fire to heat the water, and I’d just gotten in the shower when they started bombing again. I didn’t even have a chance to rinse the shampoo before we ran back to the shelter.

 I saw one of my neighbors holding bread and cheese, staring at a building that had turned to rubble. He said, “My children are under there. They hadn’t eaten for three days, and I had just left to get food. I don’t know if they’re alive or dead.” Luckily, his children were later rescued.

 All I want is for the bombing to stop, and to stay in Ghouta with my neighbors and the streets where I grew up. This is our home. We can deal with destruction and rebuild. We just want to stay."

 Nivin, 38, teacher

 "I left all the news groups that circulate updated lists of those who have been killed. My heart couldn’t take it anymore. But in spite of myself, I read the names of Najah and Lina. I refused to believe that those were my students. The sweet brunette who asked me, “Miss, what will you tell Mom about my grades?” That was before massive shelling forced us to suspend the schools …

 In my extended families not a single person is armed. From the youngest to the oldest, we are civilians trying to serve our community. If you’re pro-regime, rest assured that the regime doesn’t care about you any more than it cares about us. Your turn just hasn’t come yet."

 Taaqi, 30, relief worker

 "I volunteer for a group called Molham Team. One day a woman came to me, but she was so shy that she wouldn’t make eye contact. She told me that her husband was injured and they hadn’t eaten for two days. Her son was so hungry that she caught him eating his own feces.

 I delivered some food to their house and was shocked to find it nearly empty. They’d used most of their furniture as firewood.

 I returned last night to see if they had kept safe in this bombing. The whole neighborhood had been destroyed. I have no idea if they’re alive or dead."

 Hamzi, 24, paramedic

 "When you’re rescuing someone, you have two minutes max. The regime usually bombs the same area twice in a row, aiming to hit rescue workers with the second strike.

 Most of our medical facilities are no longer operating. We’re running out of crucial things, like anesthetics. We aren’t able to do much for deep wounds, so we end up amputating entire limbs.

 Last September, a tiny 3-year-old came into the emergency room with an acute outbreak of herpes. He needed a certain medication that we didn’t have. We sent his name to the Red Cross, which asked the government to permit his immediate evacuation from Ghouta. There was no response.

 I’ll never forget the day that he passed away."

 Loubna, 38, activist

 "The first time the road out of Ghouta was blocked, five years ago, I didn’t understand. What did it mean that we were trapped? Then stores’ shelves gradually went empty. Food, fuel, the most basic essentials … everything began to vanish. Even so, people were generous. My neighbor would send me two tablespoons of food in a teacup. She could barely feed her children but still thought of me.

 It’s embarrassing to complain about such a small detail, but the hardest days for me were when I had my period. There was one store that sold pads for $3 apiece. Later people started making pads and baby diapers out of plastic. They weren’t clean, but that’s all we could do.

 In those days, my biggest fear was of being kidnapped or killed. Civil-society activists got death threats from Jaysh al-Islam, especially those who dared to criticize it. That pushed us out.

 Our center, Women Now for Development, offered classes in English, literacy, sewing. Anything to empower women. Nearly 100 women came every day, some walking hours. Their dedication to learn despite all the horror surrounding them was truly inspiring. Women have been the heroes of the siege."

 Muhammad, 35, activist

 "Imagine what it’s like to be trapped. No electricity, no water, no soap. You wear your same dirty clothes, day in and day out.

 We got to the point where we’d pay $8 for rotting bread. I’d tear off the green spots and dip the bread in oil. When I ran out of oil, I’d dip it in water.

 Another guy and I planted potatoes. He couldn’t stop talking about how excited he was to make french fries! When I finally boiled those potatoes, I was so happy I practically cried. At the same time, I was heartbroken. The guy who’d planted with me had died, and I felt guilty for eating without him.

 It cost me $4,000 to get out of Ghouta and cross to Lebanon. For the people who control the borders, you’re not a human being fleeing for your life. You’re money, and they’ll take ­everything you’ve got.

 Today, I feel how all Syrians in exile feel: guilty and depressed. You just can’t comprehend this nightmare unless it happens to you. I hope it never will." '


Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Solidarity for Ghouta in régime areas of Damascus

 'Syrians living in the capital Damascus show discreet solidarity with their compatriots in Ghouta. Of course, if they get caught, they'll end up like the ones in the Caesar photos.'

‘Assad regime released over 13,000 prisoners, planted them in terror groups’

Anwar Majni

 'The Assad regime supported certain radical groups and released them from prison when the Syrian civil war broke out in 2011, planting them in terror groups, according to former prosecutor of Aleppo Anwar Majni, who worked in different regions of Syria after graduating from the Faculty of Law at the University of Aleppo in 1996.

 “More than 13,000 terrorists were set free, mainly from the prisons in Tadmur, Sidnaya, Adra and Hama. Those who were released in 2011 and 2012 were then planted in terrorist organizations by the al-Mukhabarat (Syrian intelligence organization), and it was the U.S.’s Abu Ghraib prison model in Iraq which served as an example for the regime’s actions on this matter,” said Majni.

 He also stated that all terror elements in Syria, particularly the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and Daesh, were somehow trained in the abovementioned Syrian penitentiaries and that 70 of these former prisoners are now top figures in the PKK terror organization.

 “We, as the people of Syria, protested against the despotic Assad regime, regardless of our differences in terms of social class, ideology or ethnicity. Hafez al-Assad and his son Bashar al-Assad ran the country for 40 years, ignoring the will of the people. We protested against it as the people of Syria. However, Daesh and the PKK elements dragged our revolution to an ethnic and ideological dimension. Assad’s strategy of breaking the resistance by supporting terror was more effective than his bombardments, and it succeeded.”

 “While the Damascus government released thousands of terrorists from prisons, it imprisoned 250,000 innocent civilians who supported the revolution across the country, 30,000 of whom were brutally slaughtered. The Assad regime which pardoned registered terrorists brutally tortured hundreds of thousands of men and women to death,” he added.

 “Eleven thousand civilians died from torture at the military hospital known as Branch 215 Damascus. Additionally, ‘the Field Court,’ a court which was granted extraordinary powers, executed 13,000 Syrians. There are dozens of prisons in the Assad-controlled regions. They carry out all sorts of torture on the tens of thousands of innocent civilians who they arrested, deeming them as criminals. There are mass graves all around the country, mainly in Damascus, Homs, Daraa, Deir ez-Zor and Aleppo. The Baath regime is no different than the PKK or Daesh in that sense. Our people are the captives of Assad and his supporters,” Majni concluded.'

Civilians of Eastern Ghouta vow they will not leave

 'Civilians in Syria’s besieged Eastern Ghouta enclave said Wednesday they would not leave their home despite a UN cease-fire meant to provide a respite from a barrage of Assad regime attacks.

 The target of a five-year siege by Assad regime forces -- cutting it off completely from humanitarian aid, food, and medicine -- Eastern Ghouta has faced intensified attacks in recent days.

 Since Feb. 19, escalating hostilities have resulted in 500 deaths and some 1,500 injuries in Eastern Ghouta, with 24 health facilities impacted by shelling and airstrikes, according to UN officials.

 The attacks come despite a UN Security Council resolution passed last Saturday for a 30-day cease-fire in Syria.

 While the Assad regime airdrops messages telling the 400,000 people of Ghouta to leave, Russia announced a five-hour daily “humanitarian pause” to allow civilian evacuation.

 Muhammad Awwad, who lives in Eastern Ghouta’s Kafr Batna district, said that he lost his two children in recent regime attacks.

 “While we were trying to rescue people under the debris, warplanes hit us… They hit our children,” he explained.

 Saying that they will resist no matter what, he added:

 “Whatever happens, our home and lands are here. No one can take us away from here. We will stay here until we die.”

 Muhammad Yaarub, another resident of the besieged enclave, said that there are no military installations in Eastern Ghouta, only civilians.

 He called the regime claim that it is targeting terrorists a lie, as there are no fighters in the area.

 “We will endure till the end no matter how long it lasts. We won’t leave here.”

 Maha Ukasha, a teacher, said that many of her students lost their lives even when seeking protection in underground shelters.

 “We won’t give up. We will continue their education,” she said defiantly.

 According to the Syrian White Helmets civil defense group in Eastern Ghouta, in the last two weeks the regime has targeted 22 health centers, a mosque, and an orphanage.

 Eastern Ghouta falls within a network of de-escalation zones -- endorsed by Turkey, Russia and Iran -- in which acts of aggression are expressly prohibited.

 The UN resolution also calls for the medical evacuation of 700 people, particularly in Eastern Ghouta.'

Syria’s Assad is targeting ‘everything that moves’ in Ghouta, says American teacher

image: Deana Lynn sits with family

 'An American woman living in a besieged suburb of Damascus, Syria, described eight days of “constant bombardment” in an interview at her home on Tuesday.

 Bombing and artillery fire has not stopped in eastern Ghouta, she said, despite Russia’s promise to implement a daily five-hour cease-fire starting Tuesday to allow aid deliveries.

 “We’re supposed to be in a cease-fire, and there’s still bombing and artillery,” she said, as explosions rang out in the background.

 “They’ve targeted medical facilities. They’ve targeted shelters. They’ve targeted everything that moves here,” she said, referring to the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

 The woman, Deana Lynn, who asked to be identified by her first and middle names only, was born in Michigan and has lived in Syria with her husband and eight children since 2000.

 She taught English for nine years until schools closed because of the war. Her husband, who worked in the food industry before fighting erupted, is now affiliated with the local faction of the Free Syrian Army, a group of moderate rebels.

 “The missiles, when they come, they come one after another,” Deana Lynn said. “If I’m in the house, I have to gather the kids. We have to lay on the floor.”

 Deana Lynn, 44, said she and other families have sought shelter in basements — in some instances, 60 people together share one toilet. She described shortages of food, drinking water and electricity.

 “Right now no food is being let in. We have very high prices. The children here are not eating well, if they’re eating at all,” she said.

 She described living at the mercy of the Assad regime. “If he wants to let food in, he lets food in. If he doesn’t want to, like now, he’s closed completely the food and medicine routes.”

 “They’re giving us two choices: we’ll either bomb you or you can leave with a so-called safe passageway, which isn’t safe if we’re going to see Assad’s regime at the other side,” she said.

 Deana Lynn explained that she has remained in eastern Ghouta because it’s where her family is. She wants to be able to stay and live without fear of bombardment.

 “It’s been very, very terrifying,” she said.'

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

From a besieged Syrian suburb, tales of love, death and survival

Waiting out airstrikes in Syria's eastern Ghouta region.

 'A low thud reverberated in the background as Bayan Rehan spoke over a shaky WiFi connection from the rebel-held Syrian city of Douma.

 “Can you hear the bombs?” asked the former schoolteacher, who heads a women’s affairs office there.

 It was early Sunday, and the United Nations Security Council had just passed a resolution calling on the country’s warring sides to cease hostilities for a period of 30 days to allow delivery of desperately needed aid to war-torn communities and evacuation of the sick and wounded.

 But warplanes were still flying over the region known as eastern Ghouta and releasing their payloads into terrified communities.

 The region — which abuts Damascus and is home to nearly 400,000 people, according to the U.N. — has long been surrounded by pro-government forces. But last week saw some of the most intense bombardments in seven years of civil war.

 More than 500 people were killed, many of them women and children, according to opposition activists.

 From inside the besieged suburb, residents shared tales of love, death and survival.

 Samir Salim, 45, has been pulling friends and neighbors from bombed-out buildings in eastern Ghouta for four years. He and three brothers joined the opposition’s Syria Civil Defense rescue service, also known as the White Helmets, in 2013.

 This month, Salim’s unit was racing to the scene of an airstrike in his hometown of Medeira when the streets started looking more and more familiar.

 “That’s when I realized the strike had hit my own house,” he said.

 All that was left was a pile of cinder blocks and broken concrete. Salim started heaving away rubble in a frantic search for his relatives.

 He found his brother’s wife, his 23-day-old nephew and his father. All of them were alive. But his mother, who had been in another room, was pinned under a collapsed wall, bloodied and motionless, he said.

 In a video he filmed on his cellphone, he can be heard weeping inconsolably over her body.

 “I save people, Mom, but I can’t save you,” he says. “What do I do, Mom? May your soul rest in peace.”

 Last week’s brutal aerial assault drove much of the population of eastern Ghouta underground. Rehan, 31, and her family had just two minutes to reach a makeshift shelter Friday before shells slammed into their street.

 The shelter was already teeming with women and children, she wrote in a post on Facebook. Exhausted, she fell asleep against a wall but was soon jolted awake by the sound of “barrel bombs” — a crude weapon typically fashioned out of oil canisters that government forces push out of helicopters.

 She started pacing the basement but couldn’t shake the feeling that she would suffocate there. So she said goodbye to her mother and told her that she would go up in search of food and news from the outside world.

 She ran back home, where she could get an internet connection, and switched on her cellphone.

 “Damn it, the Security Council session failed to agree on a decision to stop the massacres in Eastern #Ghouta,” she wrote on Facebook.

 Messages started coming in from friends and relatives wanting to know if she was safe. She scrolled through them, looking for a message from her fiance that could “restore my faith in the importance of my life.”

 “I found it,” she wrote. “Oh, how blissful that moment was.”

 The couple met online just over a year ago, she tsai. He too is an activist, but in the northwestern province of Idlib, another rebel enclave where residents are caught between pro-government forces and extremist groups, including a former Al Qaeda affiliate.

 Although they have never met in person, the pair discovered they had much in common, not least a shared love of coffee. They exchange messages every day.

 By the time Rehan made it back to the shelter, the children had started screaming, and their mothers were unable to calm them.

 “I gathered all the girls together and started telling them stories from ‘Gone With the Wind,’” she wrote. Soon their mothers had also gathered round, “their eyes sparkling with curiosity,” Rehan said, as she told them about Scarlett O'Hara, “who was able to defeat the Northerners and return Tara’s glory.”

 She asked the children about their hopes and dreams: “They told me they wanted to return to school, so I promised that we’d continue studying in the basement tomorrow if they slept quietly tonight.”

 Rehan, too, has dreams.

 “I think of the moment I will see him and touch his hand and kiss him,” she said of her fiance. “I have been a prisoner for seven years. I want to have a life.”

 For the doctors and nurses who staff the region’s overwhelmed hospitals, each patient served is part of a calculus of who will live and who most likely will die.

 “Some we help. Others we can’t,” said Dr. Hamza Hassan, a 35-year-old ear, nose and throat specialist in Arbin, a town about five miles northeast of Damascus’ Old Quarter.

 The shelling was so intense last week that Hassan became convinced a plane was going to hit him as he tried to reach a number of medical points where patients were waiting.

 “Any sound I hear near me makes me run for any kind of cover; this is your obsession now in the streets of Ghouta,” he said.

 Every day, he wakes up to a deluge of calls and messages from patients. He scrambled to find something to eat Saturday, but even that was difficult.

 “We have no gas, no electricity except for batteries,” he said. “So we have to use firewood.”

 Prices for food have skyrocketed. A kilogram of rice costs nearly $8 — 10 times the price in the capital’s markets.

 While preparing the food, he fielded more calls. One was from an operating theater: Does Hassan’s clinic have fuel to spare for generators? Another call was for medications.

 He then tended to the wounded. One of them was the mother of an ambulance driver.

 “She was swallowing blood and her lungs had taken in blood as well.… We had to give her three hours with the Ambu,” he said, referring to a manual resuscitator.

 “In a real hospital we would have pure oxygen, controlled temperatures, medicines that you just don’t have” in eastern Ghouta, Hassan said.

 With supplies so low, not everyone can be helped.

 “You need to find a patient with a high chance of survival to give them medication,” he said.

 To illustrate his point, he mentioned an elderly patient whose corpse was recently found under a destroyed house.

 “He had leukemia, so it was perhaps a good thing he was killed,” Hassan said. “At least he didn’t suffer with no treatment here.”

 Firas Abdullah, 24, is part of a cadre of opposition media activists who have been documenting the Syrian government’s assault on eastern Ghouta.

 As shells rained down on his city, Douma, he raced from one bomb site to the next, capturing images to share on social media.

 This month, he filmed the aftermath of a strike on his childhood home. As he picked through piles of debris, memories came flooding back — of family meals with his grandparents and soccer games in the yard.

 “They destroyed our house, but they didn’t destroy our memories,” he said.

 Abdullah’s family had already moved out into an apartment in what they hoped would be a safer neighborhood. But they kept their chickens in the yard of their former home.

 Three of them died in the strike, Abdullah said. But he found his favorite bird clucking beneath the rubble, unscathed.

 Of all the bloodshed he has witnessed, he said the last week was the worst. The bombing was so intense that he couldn’t get home from work for two days.

 “The bombs and strikes connect the night with the day and the day with the night,” he said.

  When he can catch a few hours of rest, he said, “I sleep like the dead.” '
From a besieged Syrian suburb, tales of love, death and survival