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

Dust, Blood and Death in a Syrian Playground

"One second the children were laughing and playing, the next they were lifeless corpses."
By Qamar al-Said

I felt the tremor before I heard the blast. A government plane had just fired a missile at my street. By the time the sound of the explosion reached my ears, I had been momentarily blinded by dust, smoke, and ashes. 

Moments earlier, I had been looking out of the window, watching my ten year-old son Dia playing with my neighbour’s children. War had not yet robbed them of their innocence and naiveté.

My late brother’s wife, who had moved in with us after he was martyred, distracted my attention from the children with her chatter.

She was telling me how she wanted to leave Ghouta but her son Mohammad was refusing to leave. She asked me to talk to him and try to change his mind, but I knew that would be futile. Ever since her son-in-law was arrested in Damascus, Mohammad lived in fear of the same thing happening to him.

A little after midday on December 27, 2014, the sound of the explosion and shattering glass drowned out my sister-in-law’s voice.

I ran to the window and looked out, but I could not see Dia, his friends, or my nephew Mohammad, who, I had just sent out to the local store to buy groceries. All I could see was dust.

I called out Dia’s name. My sister-in-law called her son Mohammad. My bedridden husband shouted out their names, too, but there was no reply. All I could hear was screaming.

I put my headscarf on as I ran outside, and found my neighbour Safaa there calling out the names of her children. Some men from the neighbourhood were already searching through the rubble. We frantically joined them. All I could smell was blood.

All of a sudden I heard the voices of Dia and Mohammad. The explosion had thrown them backwards into a shop, saving them from certain death. But the other children they had been playing with had not been spared.

Safaa’s daughter Maryam and two of her sons lay dead in the rubble, their young bodies torn apart by shrapnel. When Safaa’s eyes took in the horrific scene, she fell into a faint.

I stood there staring at this catastrophe in horror. Around me, paramedics and neighbourhood volunteers joined efforts to save the injured and remove the dead.

An ambulance took Dia, Mohammad and his mother to a medical centre. I went back home to tell my disabled husband what had happened, then rushed after them.

At the medical centre, life seemed to be in a state of suspension. All around me, there were people in hysterics, crying and screaming. Even the doctors were upset. One of them was so angry that he started shouting at people. It had been a major attack.

I approached a young nurse and asked her about my son and nephew. She told me Dia had suffered bruising and needed an X-ray, but first they would have to attend to those with severe injuries. Mohammad had sustained a bad leg injury and was undergoing an operation at that moment.

I walked around the centre looking for my neighbour Safaa, but she wasn’t there. I asked a security guard about martyrs, and he told me five children had been killed – three of them Safaa’s children.

No longer strong enough to suppress my emotions, I broke down in tears and left the medical centre to go to Safaa’s side and offer her some support.

When I walked into her house, I felt as if my heart was being wrenched out of my chest at what I saw. 

Safaa was sitting next to three bags. They had been knotted at the bottom but were open at the top, revealing the faces of her martyred children.

I could not begin to imagine what she was going through. She had single-handedly raised them after their father died, only to have them cruelly taken from her two years later.

The bereaved mother, barely 30 years old, sat helpless and confused in front of the three torn bodies. 

I felt immense anger at the injustice of what had happened, but I sat down next to Safaa and tried to console her for the loss of her three children.

The other two children who had been martyred turned out to be my friend’s son Amjad, and a friend of Dia’s. My son had been playing with them, but God had protected and saved him.

I left Safaa’s house and went back home to check on my husband, then gathered some clothes for my son and nephew and headed back towards the medical centre.

My house had been damaged by the explosion, but I barely noticed. All I could think about was the women who had lost their children that day.

As I walked towards the medical centre, I wept for them. One second their children had been laughing and playing, the next they had become lifeless corpses.

 Qamar al-Said is the pseudonym of a woman from Douma who had begun writing for IWPR’s Damascus Bureau before her death on November 19. She and a cousin were killed when a rocket landed near the farmhouse she was living in. Qamar was in her forties, married with three daughters and three sons, one of whom was killed while working as a photographer with the Free Syrian Army.

We are publishing articles written by her as a tribute to her memory. Qamar is a pseudonym which we are continuing to use in the interests of her family’s security.

This story was produced by the Damascus Bureau, IWPR’s news platform for Syrian journalists.