In Syria’s Yarmouk, a pigeon keeper and his dog held out through years of war

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Scores of residents have escaped or died, and only 16 people were left in the neighborhood. (AP)
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Palestinian Abu Nimr hopes to bring back life to the dilapidated district of Yarmouk in Damascus. (AP)
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Violence has turned the District into a ghost town. (AP)
Updated 14 October 2018
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In Syria’s Yarmouk, a pigeon keeper and his dog held out through years of war

  • The violence has turned the neighborhood into a ghost, with twisted metal and collapsed walls still blocking some streets town
  • Palestinian Abu Nimr wants to bring life back to Yarmouk and hopes people will be able to return soon

YARMOUK, Syria: The Yarmouk district in Damascus has switched hands many times in Syria’s war: from rebels, to Daesh militants, and back to government forces. But Abu Nimr did not budge.
He has remained in his family home with his dog through bombs, siege, and fierce battles for more than seven years, raising pigeons on his roof even as people fled in droves.
Since the army clawed back the enclave around five months ago, he has helped clear heaps of rubble from the streets and repair abandoned houses.
“My siblings and I lived in this building. They’re all married. They left so their kids could go to school,” Abu Nimr told Reuters in the Yarmouk Palestinian camp in the Syrian capital.
“I thought I’d stay here alone, keep an eye on the family property, and hoped things would be resolved within days. But seven years passed, God kept me patient.”
Abu Nimr, who is originally Palestinian, owned a shop selling sweets like baklawa before the conflict.
At the onset, he stored food from the empty houses of his relatives. As supplies dwindled, he often slept hungry.
“I took a decision seven years ago that weapons are not my thing. Bloodshed is not easy,” he said.
Abu Nimr, 36, did odd jobs over the years and spent time with his dog Balo. “He was my friend through the siege, and I relied on him to guard the house when I went out.”
When the fighting got too close, he would hide in the furthest room with a hammer in case he had to dig himself out.
The violence has turned his neighborhood into a ghost town, with twisted metal and collapsed walls still blocking some streets. Others are closed off with signs warning of land mines.
By the time the last battle came this year, after scores of residents had escaped or died, only 16 people were left in his neighborhood.
But he refused to leave. “The people fled? The warplanes dropped bombs? The militants entered? It doesn’t matter.”
Now, Abu Nimr wants to bring life back to Yarmouk and hopes people will be able to return soon.
Former neighbors and residents call him from other parts of Syria or abroad, asking him to check on their homes. They send him some money to clean up and repair damages.
State employees and volunteers have opened all of the main roads, he said. “We help with what we can.”
“Praise God, now things are much better.” If not for the war, Abu Nimr believes he would be married with kids now. “If people come back and it gets better, I will re-open a sweets shop right away.”


Syria Kurds urge world to take back foreign militants

Updated 24 March 2019
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Syria Kurds urge world to take back foreign militants

  • The Kurdish administration’s top foreign affairs official Abdel Karim Omar warned that its foreign captives still pose a threat
  • Many of the suspected militants’ countries of origin are reluctant to take them back due to potential security risks

OMAR OIL FIELD, Syria: Syria’s Kurds warned Sunday that the thousands of foreign militants they have detained in their fight against the Daesh group are a time-bomb the international community urgently needs to defuse.
Speaking a day after Kurdish-led forces announced the final demise of the militants’ physical “caliphate,” the Kurdish administration’s top foreign affairs official Abdel Karim Omar warned that its foreign captives still pose a threat.
“There are thousands of fighters, children and women and from 54 countries, not including Iraqis and Syrians, who are a serious burden and danger for us and for the international community,” Omar said.
“Numbers increased massively during the last 20 days of the Baghouz operation,” he said, referring to the village by the Euphrates where diehard militants made a bloody last stand.
The fate of foreign Daesh fighters has become a major issue as the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces closed in on the once-sprawling proto-state the militants declared in 2014.
After a months-long assault by the US-backed SDF to flush out the last Daesh strongholds in the Euphrates Valley, militants and their families gradually gathered in Baghouz as the last rump of the “caliphate” shrank around them.
While some managed to escape, many of the foreigners stayed behind, either surrendering to the SDF or fighting to the death.
According to the SDF, 66,000 people left the last Daesh pocket since January, including 5,000 militants and 24,000 of their relatives.
The assault was paused multiple times as the SDF opened humanitarian corridors for people evacuating the besieged enclave.
The droves of people scrambling out of Baghouz in recent weeks were screened by the SDF and dispatched to camps further north, where most are still held.
The de facto autonomous Kurdish administration is northeastern Syria has warned it does not have capacity to detain so many people, let alone put them on trial.
But many of the suspected militants’ countries of origin are reluctant to take them back due to potential security risks and a likely public backlash.
Some have even withdrawn citizenship from their nationals detained in Syria.
“There has to be coordination between us and the international community to address this danger,” Abdel Karim Omar said.
“There are thousands of children who have been raised according to IS ideology,” he added.
“If these children are not reeducated and reintegrated in their societies of origin, they are potential future terrorists.”