No rest for Syrian rebels burying their dead

QUSAYR, Syria — The plaintive sounds of a funeral chant rise from a public garden that has become a makeshift cemetery, when they are drowned out by nearby explosions.

By (AFP)

Published: Tue 28 Feb 2012, 10:16 PM

Last updated: Fri 3 Apr 2015, 2:27 PM

Burying their dead is a tough challenge for Syrian rebels, as blasts and machinegun fire rock Qusayr, a town some 30 kilometres (18 miles) southwest of the besieged city of Homs.

The rebels have a tentative hold on parts of the town, but are constantly being shelled by forces loyal to embattled President Bashar al-Assad.

On Tuesday, dozens of people flocked to an unfinished villa in a dusty street of the town of about 40,000 residents — mainly Sunni Muslims but with around 20 percent Christians — to attend a funeral.

Civilians and fighters of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) had come to pay tribute to Abu Ayhem, 35, who was hit in the head last week by shrapnel and later died.

Abu Ahyem “was taken to Lebanon for medical treatment since his injuries were too severe. But he died there yesterday and his body was brought back today,” said his brother, Mohammed, giving a false name for security reasons.

“We will take revenge on Bashar al-Assad,” shouted the dead man’s mother as she cried beside the body covered with flowers.

“I am proud of this martyr. I am ready to sacrifice my son for freedom, but I want revenge,” she said before calling for “jihad against the regime.”

Abu Ayhem’s baby of only a few months cried in the arms of the mother, while his grandmother gently caressed the the cheek of her dead grandson.

A shopkeeper before the anti-government unrest that broke out nearly a year ago, Abu Ayhem became an amateur reporter and covered the FSA.

He was hit when taking pictures to post on the Internet.

Fighters of the rebel army cried and sang a funeral prayer with the family before the body was loaded onto a rough wooden stretcher and carried to the former park for burial under a leaden sky.

As the procession of about 500 people passed, women waiting along the way threw candy and rice, and the crowds soon grew in the rather quiet day in a town bombed almost daily by government forces.

Like the town hall and hospital, Qusayr’s municipal cemetery is under the control of Syrian regime forces making it inaccessible to the rebels.

Abu Ayhem will be buried in the public garden where some 60 others also lie, but one fighter said getting there is dangerous because “there are snipers not far from here.”

Qusay, a 34-year-old Christian, said “we are bombarded all the time in Qusayr this month and most often it is civilians who are killed.”

“We are still protesting peacefully, but Bashar is killing us.”

The rebel soldiers fired their Kalashnikovs into the sky as they shouted “Allahu Akbar!” (God is greatest).

Ten men then raised the flower-laden body in their arms and walked in a circle in the middle of the crowd.

“To the grieving mother of a martyr, we say we are all your sons now!,” said a man using a loudspeaker as the crowd shouted “Assad’s army kills its own people. This even our enemy, the Israelis, have not done. Bashar, son of Hafez, the son of a murderer!”

The revolutionary slogans were interrupted by distant explosions and burst of automatic weapons. Several heads turned but the funeral continued.

Suddenly the sound of explosions, one after another, came closer.

Dozens of people ran, while others walked with their sense of danger blunted by the weeks of bombing.

Finally some men were able to bury Abu Ayhem, with shells exploding almost every minute for nearly three hours in Qusayr.

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