Our friend, the outstanding independent journalist Vanessa Beeley sends this compelling and moving report from Syria:
I have just returned to #Damascus after spending almost 4 days in the Syrian Christian towns of Al Skeilbiyyeh and Mhardeh. During my time in Al Skeilbiyyeh the town came under attack by Hayat Tahrir As Sham or Nusra Front/Al Qaeda. On the 24th April 16 Grad missiles launched by the terrorists, targeted civilian homes in the town, leaving a trail of material damage but thankfully no martyrs or injuries.
The National Defence Forces responded valiantly and my photos show the successful targeting of terrorist enclaves in Madiq Citadel – the tallest white building (a former wheat factory and storage center) is occupied by a combination of the #WhiteHelmets and Nusra Front, according to the soldiers in the NDF.
Later the same night the attacks intensified considerably, Nusra Front terrorist forces had moved to within 200 meters of the town and we were told to return to where we were staying. The launching of missiles by the NDF was a welcome sound, knowing the proximity of Nusra Front to the civilians of this steadfast and resilient town. One Nusra Front rocket landed less than 10m from where I was staying, according to the soldiers (and the sound of the explosion). As the NDF escalated their defensive targeting of terrorist positions, a dear friend, Wissam Sliman, sent me the following messages he had managed to pick up between the terrorist fighters:
1st terrorist; ” I swear to God, you feel as if the land is cracking with every shell that lands”
2nd terrorist: “Bastards! They (NDF) are firing 4 or 5 shells simultaneously”.
The strategy determined by NDF commander, Nabel Alabdalla, was to target the approaches to the city of Al Skeilbiyyeh, to repel the advancing terrorists and to force them back into their holes in Madiq Citadel. The NDF were successful – after a few hours of exchange of fire, it became clear the terrorist cowards had retreated back, overwhelmed by the superior bravery and intelligence of the NDF forces that have defended their town and their people for the last eight years. Terrorists have never been able to enter Skeilbiyyeh during all this time.
The following morning, Sukhoi Russian jets could be heard overhead and a number of terrorist occupied areas in Hama and Idlib are still being targeted now.
The following day was Good Friday and civilians poured onto the streets of Al Skeilbiyyeh for the parade of the coffin of Jesus Christ.
The church was packed, people standing in the aisles for the ceremony, defying the danger they had just been faced with. The faith in Nabel Alabdalla and his soldiers is something that is voiced by all citizens of this city, people feel safe because they know that they will be protected against any kind of evil that may threaten them, by these brave and fearless young men and women.
From the oldest citizen, 99 year old Abdullah Elias Farouh (photographed with Nabel Alabdalla and myself & Anas) to the youngest, everyone came together in the church, in the streets and in the restaurants on this day of mourning for the death of Christ.
We spent precious time in the countryside of Al Skeilbiyyeh, the drifting fields of wheat, the olive groves, the pistachio trees all stretching into the distance where the mountains loom above the verdant fields and sun drenched scenery. Horses grazing freely by the side of the road in the strengthening spring sun. A moment of sublime nature in amongst the chaos and disorder created by the West that has broken the peace and simplicity of this ancient land and its people.
Nabel Alabdalla stopped by the side of the road to greet Umm Firdaus, dressed traditionally in the photos. Umm Firdaus expressed a deep love and admiration for Nabel as they conversed, her face wreathed in smiles and joy.
The multi coloured tapestry that makes up Syria is reflected in the cities of Skeilbiyyeh and Mhardeh – the diversity, the unity, the solidarity are expressed through word and action without hesitation. When I posted about the rocket that had targeted the home of Maha Asaad and her disabled 25 year old daughter, Amal, the response was immediate as people began to call officials in the city and to ask what they could do to help. The rocket had entered the roof of the building into a room where Maha and her daughter and two other civilians had been relaxing, miraculously nobody was injured. In a city where community is so important, nobody will be left without help or support. This is Syria.
In Mhardeh I interviewed the families of the most recent martyrs during terrorist missile attacks, 42 year old father of two, Yousef Habib Najjar and 22 year old Majed Monif Qiddeeseh. I will be publishing these interviews in full shortly. It was heartbreaking to share in the family grief and loss but the light of resistance still burned so brightly in their words, in their eyes and in their determination to stay in their land and their refusal to allow their loss to drive them from their homes. I am profoundly humbled by the steadfastness that these gentle, generous people show through their tears and memories of a son or a father/brother/husband that should never have been taken from them.
Majed’s grandmother told me that he was always laughing and joking, that he would hug her every day and reassure her that he would keep her safe through the terrorist attacks.
Yousef’s brother, Dr Noni, is a neurosurgeon. When Yousef was injured by shrapnel from the missile that also took Majed’s life, it was Dr Noni that had to operate on his own brother. The shrapnel had entered Youssef’s brain from the back of his head and despite all Dr Noni’s efforts to save his brother’s life, he was unable to do so.
Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the pain and suffering that these heroic people are having to endure but it is their strength and dignity that should encourage us all to fight harder for them, to deny our governments the victory they are seeking – to break the spirits of these noble people through all means at their disposal – military, economic, psychological… these people do not deserve this darkness, they deserve to be left in peace.
I just wanted to write these words tonight because they are fresh in my mind and my heart. I will add to them very soon, but for now I leave you with these images of this beautiful region and its beautiful people. God bless them all, protect them and bring them victory against the terrorist plague that has been brought to them by the monsters in the West and the tyrants who are allied with them in Turkey, the Gulf States and Israel.