The city came under fierce shelling. The smell of blood emanated from every corner, house, street, garden, school, mosque, makeshift hospital as well as basements. Daraya was witnessing mass killings and mass graves which would go down in history.
“I was staying in an apartment with my family. There was no power or communications. Our neighbor who was exploring the area outside came back to describe the lack of life and the smell of dead bodies filling the air,” Ahmad said. “We learned later that the Syrian army and security broke into the city. We opened our doors. We were waiting for our turn and it felt like a lifetime before voices started to draw closer in our building. Everybody in that street was driven out of their homes. They were beaten and sworn at. No distinction was made between men, women, the elderly or children. It went on like this for hours until they grew bored. We were made to stand in one line along a wall and they opened fire on everybody. In a matter of seconds, fifty people were killed. I received wounds in my shoulder and thigh. My father’s lifeless body which fell upon me protected me as I lost consciousness. I don’t know how long I laid there before I regained consciousness and tried to crawl away. But I blacked out again and only woke up to find myself in a house in the city with bandages on my wounds having been rescued by a passerby.”
On the other side of the city lives Asma’. She says, “We sought refuge in the basement because the shelling was too violent. Hours later, a woman known for being an ‘informer’ came and stayed with us for around an hour. Then she went out allegedly to make ablution and never came back. Security forces reached the basement in less than an hour. They took all the young men allegedly to check their IDs. We begged them to leave them alone. I remember Nader Taha, Ahmad Ibrahim, Bilal Namoura, Ziyad Haidar and 25 others. Their screams started to get louder. We would hear them and stand helplessly unable to reach them. After about two hours, the shelling nearly stopped but the sniper outside was shooting hysterically preventing us from going outside. My brother went out risking his life, he found Zeyad Haidar’s body but wasn’t able to reach it and retrieve it. Young men waited the fall of the night to retrieve the bodies, they found that they were all killed and mutilated. They buried them nearby as it was impossible to reach the graveyard. The bodies were later transferred.”
Security forces broke into Taha’s family farm and detonated an explosive device there. They started filming footage of the ‘terrorists’ who were intimidating other safe civilians. We found the bodies of Amer and Ammar lying next to their wounded brother whom security forces thought was dead. The father begged them to kill him out of bitterness over the death of his sons. They almost did, but then they beat him and told him they won’t kill him so that his heart grieves the death of his sons for the rest of his life.
One paramedic said the situation in the makeshift hospital was absolutely tragic. A man hurried into the place trying to save his two children, one of whom died in his lap. His eyes were full of pain and confusion: should he grieve his dead son or comfort his wounded one? “Oh sons... I told you to come in, you wouldn’t listen.. see what has happened?” he said bitterly.
Mohammad, the wounded son, was crying out of grief for his brother and pain of his own wound which we thought was nothing major. As soon as we cut his trousers, however, pieces of his flesh fell off. It was only a matter of time before Mohammad was staring at his amputated leg lying next to his brother’s body.
She recalled Dia’a, a young man from Kafr Souseh who had come to assist the people of Darayya. She cried when she saw his amputated legs. He tried to comfort her saying “Thank God my legs have gone to heaven before me”. He asked her not to use anesthesia so as to use it for other wounded people. Dia’a needed a further post-amputation surgery but had to wait a whole day before the operations theatre was set up. His condition was deteriorating and security forces were drawing closer.
“When they arrive, you would be able to run. You would go and leave me behind” he would say and they would tell him that they would never leave him alone. The following day, as security forces drew ever so close, they had to evacuate despite the shelling and snipers. FSA fighters evacuated the women first and then they returned to evacuate the injured including Dia’a and 5 others but it was too late. The regime’s thugs had arrived. Thinking of their destiny caused us wrenching pain. Footage leaked some time later showed thugs as they broke into the hospital, stamped Dia’a’s beard with their feet mocking his religiosity. In another corner, was a patient whose eye was gone and had a wound in his chest too. Security forces shot the wound again and mocked his eye injury saying “Has the cat eaten your eye?”
A mother hurried to the hospital trying to save her two daughters, but fate was inescapable. Both her daughters died between her arms and she wouldn’t let go of them. When the undertaker came to take her daughters she kissed them so dearly and said “Please sir, take good care of my daughters. Please hold them tight. Please put them to their grave softly. Don’t let sand get into their eyes. Please recite verses from the Quran as you lay them down in the grave.”
Khaled told us that during one of the confrontations with Assad’s gangs, two FSA groups were trapped and they had to think of a way to retreat. Riyad al-Abbar said he would go out and distract security forces for FSA fighters to withdraw. He did, he was killed but his fellow fighters were able to withdraw.
Samer, another FSA fighter recalled: “Security forces raided the neighborhood we were in and we had to seek refuge in civilian houses. Um Khalil welcomed us in her house. When she felt security forces approaching, she went out quickly to greet them offering them roses and Arabic coffee. She would pray for them and ask them about the ‘terrorists’. She would say she was an old lady and wanted them to protect her from the terrorists. Security forces were laughing as they listened to her; our hearts were beating too fast at the other side of the wall.
The Killing Continues
Security forces arrested Rushdi Khulani as his kids were calling him. The officer took the phone and told them he would kill their father. The kids heard the bullets as they penetrated his body. The same happened with Mustafa Sadiya. Security forces raided the basement in which he stayed with his family, they took them to an apartment in the opposite building, killed them and left their bodies lying on the ground.
Abo Omar Khashfeh was another victim who was in his orchard when a sniper’s shot hit him in the eye and killed him. Moreover, Adel Habeeb also went out to buy bread for his kids, as soon as he arrived in the Shamiyat area, security forces made him stand along the wall with many people from the area and shot them all.
Bashar, who lived in Qudsayya with his pregnant wife, came to Darayya to get his mother out. At the checkpoint, troops wouldn’t believe that was what brought the couple to Darayya, so they executed them both. When his in-laws learned of their bodies in the hospital they went there to find Bashar’s body bearing signs of torture and his wife’s body with a bullet in the heart and three bullets in her belly.
Murhaf Shihab was another young man who was arrested with 7 others. Security forces kept torturing them all night, their screams filled the area. They were then killed in the bathroom of the house which was a scene of the crime.
Massacres continue to date in Darayya and elsewhere, so does the steadfastness and struggle of Darayya’s faithful young men. The kinship of grapes and blood continues too.