Source: The Damascus Bureau

By: Razan Zeitouneh

Published: 30th August 2012

On the afternoon of August 25th, I was chatting to my friend Kareem, an activist in his early twenties, who resides in the Basateen Daraya area in a traditional Arabic house (single floor) with no basement or shelter.

I could almost hear his screams as he wrote: “A missile… has just hit our neighbors’’ house! Ya Allah… Ya Allah”. Kareem went offline and I waited for three days to be able to speak to him again, to get h is testimony, amongst many testimonies, about the massacre which broke our hearts in the city of peace, Daraya.

Daraya was a bright star before and during the revolution. What the young men and women of the city had built took an immense effort and resulted in an exemplary model for the future of Syria, the one we dream of. The activism in the city never seized to amaze us for a minute. It was in Daraya where the peaceful protestors first carried roses and water to the soldiers of the Syrian army, who in return were devoted to killing them. Only in Daraya, were Eid presents dispensed to the children of martyrs and the shabiha alike. In Daraya, the signs and slogans calling for citizenship and coexistence continued to be held high even when the entire country fell into despair after every new massacre.

Kareem said: “As the shelling continued to intensify around us, I fled with others to a basement that belonged to our relatives. The Free Syrian Army (FSA) was deployed heavily in the area we took shelter in, while the regime’s army, with its tanks, was about 200 meters away from us. The day ended with intense fighting and violent shelling.”

“By then, I came to know that the regime’s army had raided the area, including our house, and that they were on their way to us. During that night, regime snipers had been targeting anything that moved. Fleeing was impossible, even if we had wanted to. Daraya was the recipient of a frenzy of shells, and I felt them explode in my heart, one shell after the other.”

Only in Dayara, did women activists maintain a powerful, unique, and scintillating presence. In Dayara, signs were held up demanding justice not vengeance, demanding fair trials not revenge. There, the nicest of Syrians were laying the ground for matters beyond toppling the regime, matters beyond the revolution.

Kareem continued: “the next morning, a number of families fled the area, as the sounds of violent shelling returned heavily. The situation continued like that until noon. Whoever was able, of the area’s residents, carried whatever they could and fled, some were hit, while fleeing, in front of the building we were in, until I was left completely alone amid the shelling and snipers.”

“At that moment I decided to leave; I was dead either way, or so I thought. Amid the smoke and rubble, I got into my car and headed to Daraya’s city center where the area was relatively safe.”

“During my short trip, I saw three members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in one of the neighborhoods trying to hide, and six others standing in a spot closer to the city center. Shortly after, a shell hit the spot where all six were standing.

A friend told me that he had rushed to their aid, but the shell had killed all of them.”

“The shelling was getting closer and closer to where I was, until it was about two buildings away. Pieces of shrapnel were flying and glowing like embers for their heat. I was entertaining myself by waiting for them to cool and collect them.”

Dayara that is known for its peaceful civic activism, years before the Revolution, had resisted militarization long before it became a reality. Once this happened, the city was one of the few areas where militarization could not attain the city’s activism and peaceful civic approach. Dayara’s cactus fields were carved out by the regime weeks ago, and in the process, they have carved out the memories and hearts of the people in the area.

Kareem continued: “At midday, a friend of mine, who is a member of the FSA, came to me. He was crying, and had let go of his weapon. He told me, that he couldn’t endure it anymore; the shelling was unimaginable. Most of his comrades were martyred by the shelling, it was impossible to resist any longer.”

“I spent the night at a friend’s apartment in the same area. During the night, the Free Syrian Army (FSA) withdrew from the city and issued a statement declaring such. The regime’s forces were surrounding the entire city, and very few had entered parts of it.”

“The next morning, the regime’s army had stationed in one street in Daraya and spread its snipers there. It was then that I have decided to flee the city with a friend’s family, as the final assault seemed very eminent.”

“At 7:15am, a family we had agreed to flee with arrived. Their faces were grim and pale. I asked one of them: is everything alright, what happened? He told me he had seen someone killed at the cemetery (Terbeh), another in his car, and another on the ground. He said, that anyone who passes through that area, would be heavily bombarded by a hail of regime’s sniper shots. He even showed me the two bullets that had hit his car, one in the back door, and the other near the fuel tank.”

“At that point, we decided that fleeing is even more difficult than staying.

The regime’s snipers were preventing anyone from leaving the city, targeting anything that moved.”

When we were receiving the information at our media office, about the victims of the shelling and the bodies that were scattered on the streets, we were stunned, in disbelief. Daraya is our pampered daughter, and if Ghiath Matar, who has presented roses to the regime’s army had been murdered in cold blood, perhaps the city that had stood as an icon and an example of the revolution was also about to be slaughtered.”

“We went back to where we came from,” said Kareem. “And Shortly after, a friend came by and told me that four people were publicly executed in the cemetery (Terbeh) area. Another came and said that the regime’s army was snatching men out of shelters and executing them against walls. He said that we must warn everyone to get out of the shelters.”

“Then, another friend arrived to inform us that Abu-Suleiman Mosque had just witnessed a massacre. I could not believe it, and I didn’t believe any of the news coming in. Another hour had passed and the regime’s forces arrived at the adjacent neighborhood, took five people out of the building’s shelter and executed them, then they headed toward the nearby square and put on a pro-regime demonstration. The Syrian state television arrived and shot its footage.

Then the demonstration’s sounds were gone, and the intense sounds of gunshot returned.”

“A friend came and told us that the Namourah family, the brothers, the wife, and the children, were executed. We spent the rest of the day, receiving news of executions spreading from one neighborhood to the other, not knowing when our turn would come.”

“At 7:00am of the following day, my friend came to me, and told me that we were to go to Abu-Suleiman Mosque. En-route, the situation was tragic; entire houses leveled to the ground, cars with passengers inside, were run over by tanks and their remains are still in them. 300 meters away from the mosque, the stench of death was everywhere. When I arrived, the mosque was filled with people, with bodies. We counted 123 dead bodies. There was a 12 year old girl, a 3 year old child, and three infants. They were all killed, shot in the head.

Infants do not have skulls, just a bullet-riddled thin peel of skin, leaving their faces unrecognizable.”

“in the evening, the regime’s forces returned to our neighborhood, and began destroying stores and stealing and looting their contents. Up to that point, we were still receiving news about 20 dead bodies here, 30 there…..”

Twenty four hours after the massacre, still stunned and broken, I was speaking with a girl from Daraya,. She blind-sighted me by saying: “All that we had built over a year and seven months, they destroyed in a few short hours.”

More than 500 martyrs, and unimaginable devastating destruction. There is no time to weep, as massacres move like evil spirits, from one city to the other.

The girl speaks again and says: “we will not give-in to death, we will rise again.

Hello,… this is Syria!”

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