Syrians dig, cook, fill sandbags in war with Bashar Assad

A volunteer uses a shovel to dig a trench in the town of Salqin, Syria. (Reuters)
Updated 30 June 2019

Syrians dig, cook, fill sandbags in war with Bashar Assad

  • Volunteers at work in Atarib are preparing 2,000 meals a day for fighters as part of the campaign

ATARIB, SYRIA: Away from the frontlines, volunteers are helping in the war against Syria’s Bashar Assad by cooking, filling sandbags, collecting old tires and digging trenches, aiming to help ward off his assault on northwestern Syria.

It is part of the civilian effort to help defend the last major opposition stronghold from Assad and his Russian allies who have been pounding it for weeks.

Abu Abdo, 51, says he is playing his part by collecting old tires to be burned by fighters to create a smoke screen from hostile warplanes.

“We go to places where tires are repaired, collect them and take them to the fighters,” said Abu Abdo, 51, as he piled tires into the back of a truck with the help of his sons in the town of Salqin.

“These tires have no value but protect (the fighters) and keep the enemy busy,” said Abu Abdo, as two of sons sat atop the pile of tires in the back of the truck.

In recent years, Assad’s opponents have poured into northwestern Syria from other parts of Syria that have been taken from opposition. The region, which includes Idlib province and parts of neighboring provinces, has an estimated 3 million inhabitants, about half of whom had already fled fighting elsewhere according to the UN.

With nowhere else for these people to flee, many have a stake in fending off the attack on the northwest. To this end, activists and religious leaders launched a campaign in May called “fire an arrow with them.”

Volunteers at work in a kitchen in the town of Atarib are preparing 2,000 meals a day for fighters as part of the campaign. Yellow rice is spooned from large vats into polystyrene trays and lentil soup is poured into bags ready for delivery to fighters.

“The car leaves from here to the frontlines under airstrikes and surveillance sometimes,” said a 40-year-old man at work in the kitchen who gave his name as Abu Wael. “God willing we continue so these meals reach the fighters.”

At a nearby quarry, sacks that once contained rice were being filled with grit for use as sandbag defenses.

“We are filling according to the demand of the frontline. The command center, for example, requests 200 bags or 1,000 bags for one position,” said Khaled Al-Jamal, 26, at work with a group of other volunteers.

He finished his high school education but was unable to register at university once the war began in 2011. He hopes his effort will help fighters so “all their effort is directed at repelling the regime.”

In Salqin, men use shovels, pick axes and pneumatic drills to dig a trench in an olive grove as part of another civilian campaign, this one called “the Popular Resistance Battalions.”

A long way from the frontline, Yehya Al-Sheikh, 38, says the trench he is digging with others will provide protection from airstrikes for a family living nearby.

“We came to dig trenches to defend ourselves and our people and to support our Mujahideen brothers against Bashar Assad.”

Some 300,000 people in the northwest have been uprooted since late April and local sources have reported that hundreds of civilians including women and children have been killed, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says.

The territory is largely controlled by Tahrir Al-Sham, a militant group representing the latest incarnation of the Nusra Front, formerly Al-Qaeda’s Syrian wing, though groups fighting under the banner of the Free Syrian Army also have a presence.

The Syrian regime, which has vowed to recover “every inch” of Syria, says it is responding to attacks by Al-Qaeda-linked rebels.


Emotions stir in Jerusalem as HBO’s ‘Our Boys’ hits local airwaves

Updated 6 min 27 sec ago

Emotions stir in Jerusalem as HBO’s ‘Our Boys’ hits local airwaves

  • The deaths of the four youths spiraled into a seven-week war between Israel and Hamas, which rules Gaza

JERUSALEM: A new HBO series on the killing of a Palestinian youth after three Israeli teens were murdered in a deadly summer five years ago is stirring up painful memories for bereaved families on both sides of the conflict.

“Our Boys,” which premiered in Israel and the US last week, centers on Mohammed Abu Khdeir, a 16-year-old Palestinian who was abducted near his East Jerusalem home and burned to death by three Israelis, two of them also teenagers, in July 2014.

“I wish I could reach into the screen and grab hold of my son,” Abu Khdeir’s mother, Suha, told Reuters, her voice breaking, soon after watching the first two episodes of the series, a co-production of HBO and Israel’s Keshet International and produced by Movie Plus.

“The show brought me right back to the pain, to the day he was kidnapped,” she said.

Prosecutors said Abu Khdeir’s convicted killers were avenging the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens — Naftali Frankel, Gilad Sha’er and Eyal Yifrach — in the occupied West Bank two weeks earlier by members of Hamas.

The deaths of the four youths spiraled into a seven-week war between Israel and Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip.

HBO’s 10-episode dramatization dissects Israel’s internal investigation into the three ultra-Orthodox Jews eventually convicted of Abu Khdeir’s murder and the frantic initial days after his parents learned of his disappearance and death.

The Hebrew- and Arabic-language series was written, directed and produced by two Jewish Israelis and an Arab Israeli, who mix documentary footage with live production to delve into the micro details they say drive the conflict.

“We live in an extremely nuanced world where wars erupt because of tiny things,” co-director Joseph Cedar, 50, said in an interview alongside collaborators Hagai Levi and Tawfik Abu Wael. “We tried to peel back the layers of this hate crime,” he said.

But some bereaved Israeli families have said the show largely glosses over the murder of the three Israeli teens, who are referenced throughout the series but not included as characters.

Two Hamas suspects in the murders were killed in a 2014 shootout and in 2015 an Israeli court sentenced a third Hamas member to three life terms for the teens’ abduction and murder.

Levi said the creators felt they had portrayed the context of Abu Khdeir’s killing. “But the crime is the story,” he said.