Fri, Dec 28, 2012 - Page 6 News List

‘Father of martyrs’ holds head high amid Syrian war

Reuters, AZAZ, Syria

After losing three sons and two grandsons, 70-year-old Abdelhalim Haj Omar has no doubt about the fate he wants for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“I hope Bashar, God willing, doesn’t die until they slaughter his whole family in front of him and they bring him here so that all of Syria can get their revenge from him,” he said in the Syrian town of Azaz, on the border with Turkey.

Omar is not alone in his rage. About 40,000 Syrians have died in the conflict which began in March last year as a mostly peaceful uprising and has since turned into brutal civil war, pitting mostly Sunni Muslim fighters against al-Assad’s Alawite forces.

Nearly every family has lost at least one relative, creating a deep well of anger which will make it all the harder to reconcile Syria’s warring communities when the conflict eventually comes to an end.

Omar’s family has been hit particularly badly, earning him the title of “father of martyrs.”

Omar’s first son, Ahmed, 45, was killed by a sniper bullet during a protest earlier this year. Two months later his next son, Omar, 25, was shot by security forces.

“They broke his jaw, his eye was dislodged, they killed him and left him at the gate of the cemetery,” Omar said.

The next son, Mahmoud, was a fighter in the Free Syria Army and was killed during an operation. His grandson, Mohamed, was killed by a Kurdish soldier and the last grandson, Abdelhamid, another fighter, died a coupled of days ago during fighting in the Aleppo countryside.

Abdelhamid, in his early 20s, had been married for just six weeks before he died.

His 17-year-old wife, still wearing her gold ring and diamond eternity ring, sat in a secluded room, mourning her husband.

Omar’s wife, Um Ahmed, was shot three times in the leg by government security forces who accused her of sheltering fighters from the Free Syria Army.

“He would say ‘we won’t leave until victory is ours,’” she said.

At a cemetery at the edge of Azaz, Omar stooped among graves dug in an empty field and paused next to each family member killed to say a few prayers.

Every few graves, marked with bricks and pink and yellow plastic flowers and vines, Omar stopped and pointed to indicate which family member had been buried there.

Despite his grief, Omar remained defiant.

“If I had a hundred sons, I’d present them to the revolution. My head is held high,” he said.

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