Hope, who purportedly lives in Daraya, writes under a pseudonym about the fear that the shelling of her city by government forces causes for her family, and especially the impact shells and rockets have had on her little niece and nephew. The names of some people in this report have been altered to protect their real identity. Read Hope’s account further below.
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By Hope, Daraya, July 2, 2012
When Syria’s security forces returned recently to Daraya, they were supported by three tanks, four armored vehicles, anti-aircraft weapons and eight or 10 buses full of armed militia, the shabiha. Within a few minutes we began to hear the sound of the firing of shells from tanks and mortars, followed by rifle fire. In the midst of this horrifying scene, the sounds began reverberating in our neighborhood.
It has become part of each day: The shooting comes closer to my home, the bombardment continues, threatening us with the danger that is approaching. It frightens us all but it is the children who are the most fragile.
Running to the kitchen where there are no windows
My two-year-old niece, Nour, immediately drops whatever she is doing. Crying in fear, she runs panicked to her mother or grandmother. Her brother, Walid, who is four, runs directly to any member of the family who is near.
Nour has blue eyes and golden locks. Walid has sparkling green eyes and fair hair. They are the children of my oldest brother, Rami, and his wife, Lama.
“I was shocked. Why should a four-year old boy have to think of protecting his dad? I thought of how children are affected by the situation and how childhood is stolen from them by this selfish regime” – Hope
At first, the children cried whenever they heard such sounds. We tried to assure them that nothing bad will happen.
My mother taught them to run directly to the kitchen. It’s the safest room in our apartment because it has no walls facing or windows overlooking the street. Our apartment consists of five rooms, a kitchen, a bathroom and a toilet. There are nine of us in the family: My mother, my father – who is retired – two brothers and their wives, the two children and me. Only my older brother and I continue to go to work every day.
Incursions intensify between Tuesday and Saturday
Since the world accelerated its reaction to the repression of the Syrian protests, the regime of Bashar al-Assad has increased the frequency of entering towns and cities. The incursions can come at any time, but usually they happen between Tuesday and Saturday.
When the shabiha enter, their primary goal seems to be to cause as much destruction as possible. The bombardments, shelling and explosions are deafening. Security forces fire their rifles, targeting anything that moves.
In the past week, helicopters joined in and began shelling some parts of Daraya.
When Nour, who can hardly speak a full sentence, hears those sounds, she shouts, “To the kitchen, to the kitchen!” Walid then stands and holds his sister’s hand and together they run into the kitchen and immediately sit on the floor with their backs toward the cabinets. They cross their legs and sit still. They do not utter a single word.
Walid protects his father as Nour grows more silent
When the sound of the shooting grows louder, Walid starts warning us, “Do not leave the kitchen, the shabiha will shoot you!”
“Do not get near the window because the sniper will see you and shoot you,” he shouts. He is imitating the same phrases uttered by his mom, dad and grandparents, and he says it in his childish language with a lisp.
One day, Walid was awakened by the sound of gunfire. He panicked and started crying. We tried to soothe him by telling him that the shooting was far away, that we will be safe, that things will calm down and that we will pray for God to keep us safe.
Walid raised his tiny hands upwards and prayed for God to protect his dad, mom, grandmother, grandfather, aunt and uncles, and of course, his little sister.
Later on, when the shooting stopped, he refused to go to sleep.
“At first, the children cried whenever they heard such a sound. We tried to assure them that nothing bad will happen” – Hope
When I asked Walid why he was refusing to go to sleep, he answered that he is afraid that the shabiha may break into our house and kidnap his dad as they did with other children’s dads. He says he will stay awake to protect his dad.
I was shocked. Why should a four-year old boy have to think of protecting his dad? I thought of how children are affected by the situation and how childhood is stolen from them by this selfish regime.
During these military occupations, the children are locked at home most of the time. Nour has started to become introverted. It is worrisome that these children might face difficulties later on because they live in this extraordinary situation. We try to make them feel safe, keep their morale high and take them outside whenever the situation allows.
The children in Daraya are relatively safe and have not witnessed death. In Homs, Idlib, Daraa, Deir Ezzor and Douma, families have been forced to leave their homes to escape daily shelling for the past six months. Some children in those towns were forced to watch shabiha kill their parents and siblings. A year ago, just before the situation got worse, we regularly took the children to parks and to visit family and friends and go shopping. Nowadays, we never know when the shelling will start again. At home, we do our best not to keep them occupied. They have their toys, their favorite cartoons and when they play with each other they forget the tension of our war. Now, we only go out for emergencies.
Nour, being very young, does not see other people often, even close relatives. So, the other day, when some neighbors came to visit her grandmother, Nour refused to greet the guests, or give them a kiss or let them pick her up and hold her in their arms.
Nour’s mother has started to worry about that. We do not know what to do. We try to take them to the nearest park or to visit close relatives as much as possible. Unfortunately, we can’t do it often.
This report was edited by Christina Howerton of the Middle East Voices staff.
More news and comment about Daraya protests and siege
David Arnold coordinates the Syria Witness project at Middle East Voices and reports on Middle East and North Africa affairs for both Voice of America and MEV. The Syria Witness project publishes on-the-ground citizen reporting, giving Syrians the opportunity to offer to a global audience their first-person narratives of life on the streets of their war-torn country.