Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

A Day of Terror and Loss

When the regime attacks, tragedy is never far away.
By Eman Mohammed
  • A woman searches for her child among dead bodies in Aleppo. (Photo: Salah al-Ashqar)
    A woman searches for her child among dead bodies in Aleppo. (Photo: Salah al-Ashqar)

Night was almost over, and I was counting the minutes until daybreak. I hadn’t slept due to unbearable stomach pain and wanted to see my doctor as soon as possible.

I got out of bed shortly after eight o’clock and called for an appointment. I got one for two hours later. To pass the time, I kept myself busy with some light chores and prepared breakfast for my family.

My husband and I left home half an hour before my appointment. Just as I was about to get into our car, a thick cloud of dust enveloped the neighbourhood. People around us began screaming.

My husband asked a man running towards us what had happened.

“The government army has reached the city centre. Leave quickly!” the man said.

We ran back into our house, gathered our children and went down to the building’s basement. Some neighbours joined us, as well as a few strangers who had been passing through the area and couldn’t make it home due to the heavy gunfire.

The basement was our sanctuary. We had prepared it for this kind of emergency, as our city of Saraqib had been the target of numerous government attacks. It had a telephone line, was stocked with supplies as well as water and electricity.

Around two hours later, another man joined us. He told us the army had executed nine people and arrested a large number of men aged between 19 and 40. He also said that soldiers were setting fire to vacant houses.

A few of my neighbours rushed back to their homes, but my family and I decided to take our chances and stay in the basement until nightfall.

When we finally crept back upstairs, the street outside was deserted, with many buildings in ruins. Some had been ransacked and looted, others had been burned down. The local marketplace had also been destroyed.

The whole neighbourhood was shrouded in darkness as government tanks had knocked down the electricity pylons.

We settled down for the evening.

A short while later, the deathly silence was pierced by the ringing of our phone. Trembling, I reached out to answer it.

It was my sister. She had called to tell me that my only brother had not come home.

He had been at his shop in the local marketplace earlier that evening, and spoke to my father over the phone telling him he would be home in less than an hour. Five hours had passed and he had still not returned.

I hung up the phone and frantically called his friends. One of them told me he had heard that a young man whose description matched my brother had suffered minor injuries and had been transported to a field hospital.

I called my father and siblings to tell them what I had found out. I had calmed down a little, but I still felt that something was wrong. Why hadn’t he contacted us if he had only suffered minor injuries?

Two days passed by, during which we were unable to locate my brother.

On the third day of his absence, we received a phone call asking us to go to a local hospital to identify the body of a martyr that could possibly be him.

We rushed to the hospital. It was just ten minutes away, but the drive took us two hours as most of the roads were either under fire or blocked by rubble.

When I arrived at the hospital, I was told that my father had already been there.

He had identified the martyr. It was my brother.

My father had taken him home, so we headed there immediately.

“Is it really him?” I cried out as soon as I set foot in my parents house.

My cousin who had opened the door looked away, his head drooping.

I was distraught.

I walked into my brother’s room. He was lying on his bed.

I sat next to him and held his hand. Despite the hot weather, it was freezing cold.

I put my head on his chest hoping to hear a heartbeat, but I heard nothing.

His body was sticky with the blood that had poured from his wounds. He had not been bathed, as martyrs are buried the way they are found.

We later found out that my only brother was one of 23 young men who had been executed in public.

He had been shot five times.

Eman Mohammed is the pseudonym of a Damascus Bureau contributor living in Idlib’s countryside. The mother-of-three runs a vocational and educational project for women, and has also worked as a volunteer in a polio vaccination campaign.

This story was produced by Syria Stories (previously Damascus Bureau), IWPR’s news platform for Syrian journalists. 

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