Updates from on the Ground in Syria: June to August 11, 2016

Since June 13, 2016, I have been visiting different regions of Syria but have not had sufficient time to post regularly.  However, until I am able to, I will share some brief updates I had shared on social media, and otherwise refer to my writings/photos/videos from my prior 4 visits.

Down the Terrorist-Sniped Road to Aleppo, the Only Entrance to a City of over 1.5 Million (July visit)

Down the Terrorist-Sniped Road to Aleppo, the Only Entrance to a City of over 1.5 Million (July visit)

Going through my files, I found two short clips. In the first clip, the driver says terrorists are 200 metres from the cement factory we will pass. The second video is driving along the road in Ramouseh neighbourhood, a road which is heavily sniped by terrorists occupying the region beyond the cement factory in Sheikh Saeed. This is the only means for Aleppo’s residents to exit/enter, as well as the trucks which supply the city with produce, meat, medicines, fuel… When terrorists cut the road, Aleppo citizens suffer.

When I visited Aleppo the first week of July, I wrote the following in a notebook:

Entering the outskirts of the city, driver points to a cement factory roughly 400 m away. Beyond that factory, in Sheikh Saeed, terrorists, he says. We pass barrels stacked to screen cars from terrorist snipers’ bullets, then embankments of sand and earth, for the same purpose. Dipping into a small valley, a block of apartments in al-Ramouseh is in view.

The driver opens the car windows, explaining that, “here many mortars fall” (in which case, better to have window open, in case a mortar landed, so windows won’t shatter from the pressure). He says for the next 500 metres the risk of snipers’ bullets is high, that five of his friends were killed along this stretch. The car speeds along the road until a safe point is reached.

SANA reports that on July 27:

One woman was killed and five others were injured by a terrorist sniper attack in al-Ramouseh neighborhood in Aleppo city. …terrorists targeted citizens’ homes in al-Ramouseh neighborhood on Wednesday morning with sniper gunfire in an indiscriminate manner, claiming the life of one woman and inflicting injuries of varying severity on five others.

Sincere condolences to the family of the martyred woman and families of the injured, and all respect to the Syrian Arab Army for their continued gains against terrorists, particularly yesterday’s liberation of Lairamoun industrial zone and Bani Zeid. Looking forward to the liberation of all of Aleppo and cessation to terrorist sniper and bomb attacks.

Praying for the safety of SAA and allied Resistance fighting to secure these areas from western-backed terrorists.

*earlier text I shared on this leg of the trip:

Entering the outskirts of the city, driver points to a cement factory roughly 400 m away. Beyond that factory, in Sheikh Saeed, terrorists, he says. We pass barrels stacked to screen cars from terrorist snipers’ bullets, then embankments of sand and earth, for the same purpose. Dipping into a small valley, a block of apartments in al-Ramouseh is in view.

The driver opens the car windows, explaining that, “here many mortars fall” (in which case, better to have window open, in case a mortar landed, so windows won’t shatter from the pressure). He says for the next 500 metres the risk of snipers’ bullets is high, that five of his friends were killed along this stretch. The car speeds along the road until a safe point is reached.

See the following videos here and here.

August 6th: Ta’aouna, 300 metres from terrorists and their snipers in Aqrab village

13876250_1260502510626407_6910295527254114381_nYesterday, via a winding road through the Masyaf region hills, descending to the village of Ta’aouna, I met with residents of neighbouring Aqrab, which in December 2012 was attacked by the so-called “Free Syrian Army” who massacred between 120-150 Aqrab residents (more on their testimonies soon).

Standing on the roof of the home to which three Aqrab survivors had come to give their testimonies, the village of Aqrab, roughly 500 metres away, was distinctly visible—as are any people in Ta’aouna who go rooftop (for laundry, water or other reasons) to terrorist snipers in the hills near Aqrab. The home owner pointed out holes from such snipers’ bullets prior.

Two hundred metres down a lane, some fifteen houses remain inhabited by local Ta’aouna families (including children), in homes 300 metres from where terrorists and their snipers lie.

When terrorists massacred villagers in Aqrab in December 2012, they were then known as “Free Syrian Army” terrorists.

Now, occupied villages in the region comprise terrorists from Jabhat al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham, Jaysh al-Islam, and Da’esh (ISIS). As most Syrians I’ve met say, they are the same, with different names and financial backers, but commit the same heinous beheadings, assassinations, kidnappings and other western-sanctioned crimes in Syria.

Rooftop of the home closest to the dirt embankment beyond (this particular house uninhabited, although only 5 metres from the next inhabited one), Abu Abdo, a local defense volunteer explains how he and others in the village take night shifts to watch for attempted terrorist infiltrations. The Syrian Arab Army has hilltop posts around Ta’aouna, but nonetheless the village defenders (including many who are family men and formerly served in the SAA) watch to see if/where terrorists are shooting from/at. “We organized ourselves, since 2011. We communicate with the army and give them targets, and they do the same with us,” he says of the watch for terrorist attacks.

13882670_1260518877291437_2271447346159727917_nWe sit behind a wall of tires, some concrete blocks to one side serving as a defensive wall from behind which to watch for and shoot at terrorists. A second local defender appears, greets me with a friendly handshake, explains that in late 2013 terrorists managed to advance to the low hills to our right. But not since.

I ask Abu Abdo what he did prior to the war on Syria. A school principal, and he still is, he does the defense volunteering after hours. I ask about his family. He has 5 kids, including the pretty 9th grade girl with long curly hair who had served us coffee and cold water in the home where Aqrab residents gave their testimonies.

“I’m a principal. I used to teach in Raqqa years ago. We all got along, were peaceful. I’d walk for many kilometres in areas I wasn’t familiar with but I never had problems. I also taught in Aqrab for two years.”

They point to the land between Ta’aouna and the low hills flanking the village, and the start of Aqrab beyond.

“That small cement building on the land, right near there, about one month ago, a university student was shot in his head and killed, by a terrorist sniper. He was an engineering student.”

Earlier they’d told me about this, and about another university student who roughly 2 weeks ago was torn apart by shelling from terrorists in Aqrab. “He had just finished his exams,” they had said.

Descending from the roof, we walk past a nearby house, the children on the porch stoop. The second defense soldier tells me, with a proud smile, they are his kids. He takes me to the side of the house to show three creatively covered holes, “Dushkie” shots from the terrorists about 10 days ago.


Someone commented on a post of mine from a few days ago, something to the effect of not being able to imagine living peacefully in a village and another village nearby was suddenly being massacred. Too sadly, this has become the reality in Syria flooded with foreign, western-backed mercenaries who, in the words of many Syrians I have spoken with, “know no religion, have no humanity”.

The villagers of Ta’aouna took in displaced people from Aqrab when the FSA attack occurred in 2012, as have residents of villages and cities around Syria over the years sheltered internally displaced Syrians fleeing terrorists.

The other day, on a hilltop above the village I’m in, we stopped at a small shrine. My hosts told me that three years ago, three refugee families from Keeseen village (near Houla) fled to this village when terrorists attacked their own village. They stayed for one year in two rooms in the shrine, with locals from the village bringing them food. Since then, they have been able to build homes in a nearby village.

This generosity and compassion–is Syria, not the sadism of the terrorists, sanctioned by western governments.

The defenders I’ve met, whether local groups or the Syrian Arab Army and allies, are defending Syria from the most vile of mercenaries whose interest lies not in protecting the Syrian people–much less “freedom or human rights”–but in destroying the country.

These defenders and their families have suffered immensely, for Syria and its people. If there are any heroes in this unjust world, it is those who fight for a just cause, like those who defend Syria.

All respect to the Syrian Arab Army and allies.

August 4: En Route to Masyaf, we pass the massacred village of Zara and, at times, terrorists a few hundred metres away

13891807_1259011480775510_7317559432399360809_nThe last leg of the trip from Damascus to Masyaf followed a road which at times was 500 metres away from terrorist factions (including Ahrar al-Sham, Jaysh al-Islam, Jabhat al-Nusra and Da’esh [ISIS]) occupying Houla villages (including: Kafrlaha, Tel Dow, Tel Dahab, Aqrab, Taiba, Houla and Zara).

Three large chimneys of the power plant in the distance are a landmark with Zara village just beyond. Zara civilians were savagely massacred in May 2016, by Ahrar al-Sham, a terrorist faction the west refuses to dub as terrorist, in spite of the horrific massacre of at least 115, Syrian civilians (as well as Ahrar al-Sham’s [among other western-backed terrorists] continued firing of rockets and gas canister bombs on the 1.5 million people of Aleppo).

At one point as the van drove along, we passed a hospital 300 metres away, secured by the Syrian Arab Army. Some few hundred metres beyond, however, are terrorist factions.

Along the road, we stopped at a spring to fill water bottles with pure cold water, and wash dust and sweat off our faces and arms.

After climbing a winding road through olive-tree dotted hills, passing through small villages in Masyaf, and dipping back down again, the van passed an intersection. “That’s the road we should have taken,” I was told, “but there are terrorist snipers along that road.”

Yesterday, along one of the roads we traversed, the Syrian Arab Army defused 8 landmines set by terrorists in the region.



13939472_1259029327440392_3771304273542136940_nLater on the family’s balcony in town, looking down on the greater Houla region, the village hubs of Aqrab and Houla can be seen. Houla was the site of a horrific terrorist massacre of over 100 Syrian civilians in May 2012, and nearby Aqrab the site of a horrific terrorist massacre of between 120-150 Syrian civilians in December 2012, both by the so-called “Free Syrian Army”.

(See Prof. Tim Anderson’s “The Houla Massacre Revisited: “Official Truth” in the Dirty War on Syria )


July 31: Palmyra visit – Respect to the brave Syrian soldiers who liberated Palmyra, and to those who died protecting it

Some photos and a brief overview of a very moving trip to Palmyra yesterday. Palmyra, ancient site of so many customs and traditions, recent site of Da’esh (ISIS) 10 month occupation and savage slaughter of Syrian Arab Army (SAA) soldiers and Palmyra citizens.

Like so many other places in Syria, when the SAA and allies liberated Palmyra, western media downplayed or misreported on the momentous liberation. In the case of Palmyra, the liberation by the Syrian Arab Army was also in great part due to Russian air support. Following liberation, western media relaunched anti-Russian baseless smear campaigns.

When on May 5, 2016 a concert featuring prominent Russian musicians was held, honouring the liberating of Palmyra and the sacrifices of the fallen, and when the following day on Martyr’s Day in Syria a second concert was held comprising Syrian musicians, corporate media again misrepresented or mocked the events, ignoring the significance to Syrians themselves. [see: Concerts at Palmyra represent liberation, resilience, revival]

13895510_1255914781085180_6213068356498676246_nStanding in the amphitheatre, looking towards the stage, one is overcome with the knowledge of the murders of not only the elderly Syrian archaeologist and patriot, Khaled al-Asaad, who was savagely beheaded by Da’esh, but also at least 25 Syrian Arab Army soldiers, assassinated on the stage of the amphitheatre by Da’esh-indoctrinated child executioners, as well as over 600 civilians throughout the Da’esh occupation, over 300 SAA soldiers during the fights to liberate Palmyra, according to Palmyra hero, Major Malak. The rusty metal frame which once held the Da’esh flag leans against rocks beyond the stage, and a rope that was used to hang the bodies of murdered Syrian soldiers is still visible.

13900093_1255914407751884_7708428381026356904_nThe crimes of Da’esh and other western-backed terrorists will not be forgotten, not in Palmyra, Aleppo, Homs, nor anywhere throughout Syria. The liberation of Palmyra and plans for its restoration, like that of Ma’loula before it, and government-secured-Homs in between, were momentous moments for Syrians in this savage war on the Syrian people, history, culture and land.

Processing the notes from yesterday’s trip and writing a more thorough account will take a bit of time. For the moment, I will link below to excellent writings of colleagues and friends who visited Palmyra in earlier months.

Sincere thanks to the SAA accompaniment on site, kind and professional soldiers, and to the wonderful Colonel who accompanied the car along for the last length of about 140 km on the road to Palmyra. One length of around 100 km stretch of road is even now quite risky. At an SAA checkpoint near the start of this stretch of road, a car which had been the evening prior attacked by Da’esh (in an ambush possibly to abduct the passengers within) sat riddled with machine-gun fire.

As we drove, the Colonel narrated the proximity of Da’esh in the hills beyond, at times less than 10 kilometers. I was reminded of the drive to Aleppo, where at times Da’esh was just two kilometers to one side of the road, and al-Qaeda affiliated terrorists the same to the other side of the road, particularly when approaching the start of the Khanaser road to Aleppo.

Attached are a smattering of photos from the trip to/from Palmyra and the sites themselves. The sacrifices of the Syrian Arab Army in securing Syria, protecting Syria and the Syrian people, cannot be highlighted enough.

Palmyra: The bride of the desert, Ken Stone, April 2016

How the US Backed the ISIS Takeover and Destruction of Palmyra, Prof. Tim Anderson, April 16, 2016

Liberated Palmyra, a Photo Essay, Prof. Tim Anderson


July 26: Terror attack kills Damascus teenagers, mother and son, employees. World silent

Yesterday, I visited the Qamar al-Sham restaurant which on July 24 was hit by terrorist shelling, killing and injuring many of the civilians inside, including at least 2 children, one of whom was an infant.

13626434_1252375214772470_6268426999440141301_nWhen I visited the restaurant yesterday, it had been mostly cleaned up of debris, but still stank of blood. While the media reports I’ve seen have varied (some saying 5 have been murdered and others saying 8 victims) the employees said 11 were killed, including the 7 year old son of one of the restaurant managers, and an infant and his mother. They said the infant’s body was found an hour after the attack, inside a small room off the main room.

At a nearby hospital, I met three young women (a 23 year old and two teens) who were being treated for shrapnel injuries, including to the stomach, chest, shoulder, face, arms, and in one case (Hiya, 17) shrapnel into the bone of the teen’s shin, splitting the bone. The mother is hopeful that her daughter will be able to walk again. The mother is the head of a secondary school, and said she had gone to the restaurant with her daughter and husband. “We’d only just received our meals and the shelling occurred.”

13775748_1252391851437473_8331653306423087502_nThe 23 year old, Nancy, was there with friends she hadn’t seen for a while, drinking coffee and smoking argila. Her mother explained that normally at that time of day the young woman would have been working in a shop in that district, but because of meeting with her friends, she was in the restaurant.

13626595_1252391844770807_3609954229354413635_nThe 16 year old, Mary, was likewise with friends. Her 15 year old sister (with her at the restaurant) seems to have been more severely injured as she is being treated at a different hospital.

There are many more wounded being treated in other hospitals, including severely-injured. Based on visiting the University Hospital last year and seeing numerous critically-injured victims of terrorist mortars and rockets, I can imagine that those injured in the attack on the restaurant will have such severe injuries as amputations and more. (photos of injured in University Hospital, Feb 2015,)

Also in Old Damascus, not far from the Qamar al-Sham restaurant, yesterday around 1 pm, according to residents, homes were hit by further terrorist shelling. Thankfully, according to those I spoke with at the site of the attacks, no one was killed this time, but many were injured, including children.

In the hospital, parents of the injured teens implored me to tell the truth. Syrians know that the corporate media is lying about terrorist attacks on civilians, and on the situation in Syria in general. Imploring passionately that their truths be told, one mother lambasted the terrorists–“They are monsters, they have no humanity and no respect for children.” She reiterated calls I’ve heard in Damascus, Aleppo, and re Foua/Kafraya under terrorists’ siege and bombardment, among elsewhere, to “eliminate the terrorists.” This can’t come soon enough.

Syrians are a peaceful people, and have been subjected to terrorism since the war on Syria began in early 2011. These tragic deaths are utterly preventable, if the west and NATO-GCC-Turkish-Zionist alliance stopped funding/arming/supporting terrorists and terrorism in Syria, if the world complied to UN Resolutions against this arming of terrorists, if Turkey sealed its border instead of flooding Syria with more terrorists whenever mercenaries inside of Syria are losing, and if the world listened to Syrian voices and their calls for an end of this bloody war on Syria and for Syria to return to how it was prior to 2011.

Sincere condolences to the families of martyrs and injured.

My prior articles on terrorist rockets and mortars on civilians, terrorist car bombings:

US-Backed Terrorism in Syria: A First-Hand Account of the Use of Mortars Against Civilians, September 2014

Where is the West’s compassion and condemnation following terror attacks in Middle East?, January 2016


July 24: “The Syrian Arab Army is the Syrian people’s army.”

While listening to a clip of a casual chat with two great Damascus residents, I came to the part where one says “We don’t have Assad’s army, whoever gets to 18 years old, if you are not in college or university, you have to go to the army. From every house, he has to go to the army. So, it’s not ‘Assad’s Army’ it’s the Syrian Army, it’s all the Syrian people’s army.” (note: the exception is that if one is an only son, no army service)

13775352_1250935294916462_1124263390677932538_nEarlier, I went out to get some water and Ayran (the salty yogurt drink I love) from a nearby sandwich place. I was asking the young man behind the counter about the mortar I heard earlier today (in Damascus in recent months terrorist mortars are not common, not like prior to 2016 when they rained down all over the city), and while he said he’d been sleeping at the time, I learned off-hand while chatting that he is a soldier in the army, working in a sandwich shop when not on duty.

A young man driving me a few weeks ago was a soldier who on days off drives a taxi, as is another friend in Damascus who does the same. All over Syria, the streets and walls are lined with photos of martyred soldiers, killed by or while fighting terrorists, often in battles far from their home areas. They are the children, siblings or parents of the people I met on Tartous streets, same in Latakia, Homs, Jableh, Nubl, Aleppo, Maloula, Sweida, Damascus — everywhere been in Syria.

The media tries to vilify Syria and its leaders in any way possible, and by calling the Syrian Arab Army “Assad’s forces” or variations on that, and not by its name, the Syrian Arab Army, the media attempts to paint the Syrian Arab Army (and its allies) as some monolithic evil slaughtering its people.

The Syrian Arab Army ARE the people. They are Syrians from all backgrounds, defending Syria against a terrorism the world (specifically the NATO-GCC-Turkish-Zionist alliance) has brewed and inflicted on this proud nation.


July 19: Meeting friend and colleague, Professor Tim Anderson, in Damascus

Tim is someone I’ve known for some years solely via internet communication, whose work I’ve followed and shared. He is a principled critical thinker and writer, and has exposed many of the most damning lies on Syria, as well as written about the truths emanating from this beautiful country. He is tireless not only in his advocacy for sovereign Syria (and an end to this bloody, dirty, war on Syria), but also across the board for just causes.

It was honour to finally meet with Tim in person in Damascus of all places.

13775892_1247643298578995_7500292751299751562_nProf. Tim Anderson‘s book, The Dirty War On Syria, is now in English, Arabic, German.


July 18: In Memory of Syrian civilians murdered in Tartous Terror-bombings

13669239_1246930278650297_4703212689804879405_n1Memorial (and candlelight vigil) at site of the first of four terror-bombings on the morning of May 23 in Tartous. The first explosion, a car bomb, was sadistically-followed by three suicide bombings at strategic points to kill and maim more innocent civilians fleeing the initial terror-bombing.

The State hospital put the number of murdered at 43, and those wounded (including severe injuries and life-altering maimings) at at least 132. More on this soon. R.I.P. the martyrs and bless the living.

Same day, time and savagery as the terrorist attacks on Jableh.

Syria will not kneel.


July 15: Jableh Doctor: “While saving people who were alive, we were stepping on bodies”

Yesterday I visited Jableh, outside of Latakia, which was hit by a series of savage terrorist bombings on May 23. By accounts from witnesses at the various sites, the coordinated terror attacks on the public transport station (where 100s of minivans [servis], also city buses and taxis are stationed or pass through), then outside the electricity building down the main street, at a corner across from a private hospital, and at Jableh’s state hospital occurred within the span of about 30 minutes, one after another, from around 9:30 am on.

The main street (off of which is the transport terminal) was jammed with panicked people fleeing the first explosions at the transport terminal when the terrorist mercenary outside the electricity building just down the street exploded his bomb, grabbing a random young woman nearby while doing so to ensure she was murdered among many others.

Just down the street, another terrorist exploded his bomb across from a private hospital.

The sadism of these attacks is incomprehensible. The wounded from the transport terminal were brought to Jableh’s main hospital, and as they streamed through the gates into the hospital, so did another suicide bomber, who calmly walked into the ER level of the hospital and detonated his explosive amidst those already injured in the first attacks, and the nurses and doctors trying to save their lives.

The numbers of dead are yet unclear, but in the hundreds. These were civilians, this was a savage attack that the west ignored as they trumpet “moderate” terrorists in Syria.

As the doctor walked me through the now largely-rehabilitated ER area, he and a nurse who was on site recounted the minutes before and after the hospital bombing, showing me photos of walls splattered with blood, flesh, and worse.

The floors were covered with injured and dead, as well as piles of body parts.

“While saving people who were alive, we were stepping on bodies,” the nurse and doctor showing me the ER level said.

I will write more in depth on this, but want to note that this is an area where people were living in safety, including displaced people from areas like Aleppo, who had sought safe-haven in Jableh.


July 14: Rendered displaced by terrorists, Aleppo Syrians start anew in Latakia

13729144_1244051935604798_4663127274741553950_nThe owner is displaced from Aleppo, from one of the first areas to be infested by terrorists. He lost he three apparently very-well known and loved croissant/bakery shops, all the equipment, his home and all furnishings when he and family fled the terrorists to Latakia. His personal loss also, of course, affected the 10 employees he had in Aleppo. Here, he worked for about 4 months in Jableh before opening his first croissant shop in Latakia, which has since blossomed into two apparently very popular croissant shops.

13710063_1244135478929777_4024445952287636973_nOf note: one of millions of internally displaced in Syria who have fled the terrorists to government-secured safe areas to re-start life, losing all his investment, but also again dispelling the MSM myth of Syrians fleeing the government and SAA.

Another shop owner fled a different area of Aleppo for the same reason, losing his garment factory (where 76 people worked), all of the equipment inside (including 40 machines), and his shop in the Old City of Aleppo, which like the factory was looted by western-backed “freedom-loving” “moderate-rebel” terrorists.

He too has re-opened in Latakia, starting slowly, first getting a small space in one of the markets here and selling others’ clothes, then acquiring a small workshop to manufacture his own again.

His story is filled with sadness and loss, including a 20 day old son…of kidnappings by the thugs the west calls “rebels”, and also of the steadfastness exhibited by Syrians over and over during this dirty war on the sovereign nation.

I often ask simple questions to allow Syrians to speak their opinions. My question about the role of the SAA was met with this reply:

“If you have a chicken, and a snake is attacking it, aren’t you going to attack the snake to save the chicken?”



July 12: Ma’loula by day and night


Last night and this morning in Ma’loula, with a welcomed monastery bed for the night. More on the visit soon.
Prior visit (June 2014)

Devastation and Inspiration: recalling liberated Ma’loula

July 11: “Does freedom come by killing children?”- Aleppo Reverend Ibrahim Nseir

13626600_1242141792462479_4373620939366693705_nWith the wonderful Rev. Ibrahim Nseir in Aleppo last week. Excerpts from his moving words, particularly apt after the bloodshed from terrorists’ dirty bombs heavily increased on Friday and Saturday, include:

Does freedom come by killing children? Does liberty come by targeting worship places? Does freedom come by killing babies in the wombs of their mothers?

Every day, we say goodbye to tens of victims of the terrorists’ actions that are supported by the most dictatorship countries in the world—Gulf countries.

People of Syria, children of Syria, women of Syria are looking for peace.

Everybody dreams about the future, but in Syria we are dreaming of our past.

Rev. Nseir spoke at length about the terrorist-related miseries plaguing Aleppo’s communities, and also about the goodwill and charitable actions of his own church and other Aleppo residents, of love and that Syria will prevail.

I love that Rev. Nseir stressed Syrian “legal” army (and Syrian Arab Army) continually through our meeting, an important negation of corporate media’s terms (which I won’t repeat here? ) for the Syrian Arab Army heroes defending Syria.

I will be sharing his interview, and his video message soon.


July 5: Aleppo to Damascus

Back in Damascus from 5 days in Aleppo. I had the opportunity to meet with some amazing Aleppo doctors, the Aleppo Medical Association, the very articulate Rev. Ibrahim Nseir, and more, as well as to travel to liberated ?#?Nubl?/#?Zahraa?. I will share more of this soon.


June 20: Meeting with Grand Mufti Hassoun: primary message is Love

13442127_1228585727151419_8298698827268870751_nWonderful meeting today with Syria’s Grand Mufti, Dr. Ahmad Badr Al-Din Hassoun, who generously gave me over an hour of his time. This is a man whose immense wisdom and compassion needs to be heard throughout the world, and whose committed ideology of love and peace reflects the fabric of Syria and Syrians themselves.

**Something I wrote after a Feb 2015 delegation meeting with the honourable Mufti Hassoun:

“Mufti Hassoun calls his Greek Orthodox counterpart, Bishop Luca al-Khoury, his cousin and brother. “Our grandfathers, 1,400 years ago, were one family. My grandfather embraced Islam and he’s remained Christian.” He maintains that he, as Grand Mufti, serves the Syrian people, period. “In Syria, there are 23 million Christians, and 23 million Muslims. My title is Grand Mufti of the Syrian Arab Republic, not the Mufti of a particular denomination.”

In the media war on Syria, which insists sectarianism—which the Syrian people reject—this declaration is significant: in Syria, the ancient cultural fabric is rich and secular.

Unlike the Saudi Mufti – who has reportedly said “all churches in the Arabian Peninsula must be destroyed” – Mufti Hassoun is open-minded and committed to unity of people (not only the Syrian people) – to the point of making light of some religious institutions’ use of power: “God, is not a Christian or Muslim or a Jew. God is for all of us. Jesus was not a Catholic, nor an Orthodox, nor a Protestant. And Mohammed was not a Wahhabi, not a Sufi. We as religious clerics have divided you into sects, so that we become leaders of each sect. We whisper in the ears of politicians: if you support us, we will repay the favor.”

While Dr. Hassoun does not wield his influence in such a way, it is rare that a religious authority figure so candidly speaks of this potential abuse of power over their people. So what does he whisper in people’s ears? He’s not shy about it, he doesn’t whisper:

Forgiveness. Understanding. Unity. Love. And like Shaaban (and most Syrians), solidarity with Palestinians in their struggle for liberation, and resistance to Israeli occupation, to extremism, and to the foreign invasion of secular Syria. At an Islamic Unity Conference in Tehran in January 2015, Hassoun urged Muslim leaders and scholars to unify, and highlighted “the most dangerous thing we witness today is the use of religious jargon by people who do not know Islam, and the most dangerous is the name ‘Islamic Caliphate’.”

Mufti Hassoun stresses the love and humanity aspects above all. “Syrian Sufism is a type of ideology that is based on loving others. Loving… no others. We believe there are no ‘others’, we are all human…..”


August 10: Generosity, dignified pride, selflessness… this is Syria

Stopped into the nearby sandwich shop to get some Ayran (salty yogurt drink) and one of the young guys there grabbed from the fridge something he’d been waiting to give me.

A couple of days prior, another person working there who I always stop to talk with had brought out some bamia (okra) he’d set aside for me, so the younger guy of today got the idea to bring me fasolia (green beans).

I thanked him again when leaving. His reply: “Kul yom taali.”

Update: Today I saw the young man, coming to work after a night shift on his duties as a soldier in the Syrian Arab Army. He assured me he had slept enough, and was more interested to know what I thought of his cooking (delicious) and to make sure that I understood that he had cooked it himself.

Here are people with their own families and lives to think about, going out of their way to do something kind for a visitor. This consideration, generosity, dignified pride… this selflessness and good humour. This is Syria.

Eva Karene Bartlett is a Canadian journalist who has spent years on the ground covering conflict zones in the Middle East, especially in Syria and Palestine (where she lived for nearly four years). She was a recipient of the 2017 International Journalism Award for International Reporting, granted by the Mexican Journalists’ Press Club (founded in 1951), and was the first recipient of the Serena Shim Award for Uncompromised Integrity in Journalism. See her extended bio on her blog In Gaza. She tweets from @EvaKBartlett and has the Telegram Channel, Reality Theories. Eva can also be reached at evakbartlett2017@gmail.com. Read other articles by Eva, or visit Eva's website.