The images circulating of this execution are extremely distressing and we will not be sharing them in this article. During my recent visit to Syria, I visited three of the seven villages that came under attack in the eastern countryside of Sweida City on that fateful day in July 2018. The grief and anger was still very raw but civilians spoke to me of the bloodshed that was a result of the meticulously planned ISIS attack, unhindered by the US Coalition forces camped in Al Tanf, 330km to the East. ISIS entered the villages from the east and traversed vast areas of exposed desert to do so, apparently undetected by those who claim to wage war on ISIS inside Syria.
“The roads of Shrehi ran with blood” H Saab told me as we stood next to his family home in Shrehi where four of his relatives were murdered by the marauding ISIS gangs. He pointed to the still visible stains on the road in front of us and on the walls of the house and courtyard.
Road sign to Sweida. (Photo: Vanessa Beeley)
Our journey began in Damascus. We left early in the morning and headed due south before taking the road that brought us to the east of Sweida city and to the villages that form a chain north to south, only about 1km apart. As we entered the province of Sweida, we began to see the elaborate memorials to martyrs killed in Syria’s war against Western-sponsored terrorism. Our guide told us that these beautiful monuments are in honour of the soldiers who have given their lives in defence of their homeland. Many of these impressive structures are placed at the entrance to villages “so their names are remembered for eternity by all those who live because they died“.
We were told that some of these graves also date back to the 1925 ‘Great Syrian Revolt or ‘Great Druze Revolt’ against France. They are wonderful to behold, rising out of the dry desert plains, backdropped by the hills and trees that pepper the landscape stretching out in front of us.
On the drive down to the villlage of Shrehi, our guide H Saab told us that thirty-five members of his family had been killed in the ISIS attack that took place in the early hours of the 25th July 2018. I asked him what he believed to be behind this attack. He told me that he thought it was to reduce SAA pressure on the ISIS terrorists holding out in Yarmouk Basin at this time. Perhaps to give them an escape route to the US base at Al Tanf.
We entered Shahba City dating from Byzantine times and a city modelled on ancient Rome – “temples, triumphal arches, baths, a theatre, and a great wall surrounding the city were all built based on the plan of a typical Roman city”. We exited the ancient city through the remains of the East Gate and continued on to a number of towns and villages, some built during the Ottoman empire. H Saab told me that many of these village have labyrinths of caves that run underground beneath the houses.
At the entrance to Shrehi, one of the villages attacked by ISIS in July, we stopped the car to visit the poster that had been erected with the names of the martyrs killed during the attack. Young men, women, children, murdered by a terrorist group with a history of collusion with the US Coalition against Syria and the Syrian Arab Army. Acclaimed journalist, Elijah J. Magnier wrote at the time:
“ISIS knew it was possible for its convoy to drive under the eyes of a superpower state (the US) without being disturbed.”
Video footage of entering Shrehi. Watch: https://youtu.be/hDdXEr9Eyqw
We drove up to one of the highest points in the village of Shrehi to meet with the representatives of the village and the survivors of the attack. We entered the traditional “madafa”, the welcoming room in the Saab family home.
Once inside the Madafa the story of the attack was told by Khaled Saleh Saab.
“The terrorists entered the village at 4 am while most of us were still sleeping. We were awoken by the shooting and the cries of ‘Allah Akhbar’. They shot out the lights in the village and there was no moon that night so they worked under the cover of total darkness”
On the way into Shrehi we had passed a house that had been one of the first to be targeted (see video), the mother, father and son were murdered by ISIS, the daughter was injured but survived. According to Khaled, 53 ISIS terrorists entered the village and all of them were eventually killed by the young men defending their families and their land:
“We defended our land and our homes because this land is mixed with the blood of generations of our people. We will not accept that people without morals or humanity can touch this land. We stay, we will stand and defend this land until we die. Our youth killed these terrorists even though they had very old weapons, very simple weapons. The ISIS fighters had modern, expensive equipment but we still defeated them.” said Khaled.
Khaled told us that the clashes continued from 4 am until 1pm. Between 4 and 5 am the ISIS fighters took advantage of the sleeping civilians and murdered many of them in their sleep before they had time to warn their neighbours.
“The attack was a well planned military operation. ISIS coordinated their attacks in order to paralyse all the villages. They positioned snipers around the villages and along the roads that connect the villages to prevent people moving between villages or coming to the help of neighbouring villages. They came from the south and moved north.” Khaled continued.
In one of the bloodiest massacres of the eight year war in Syria, 270 civilians were martyred during this attack, more than 300 injured.
“Many of our young men, women and children bled to death in the street. Nobody was able to get to them or to transport them to hospital. If they tried they would be sniped.” Khaled told us.
Khaled told us that, in his opinion, many of the ISIS fighters were on drugs, very likely to be Captagon. “We fired many bullets into them, but they kept fighting” he told us and this was confirmed by other family members in the madafa. In January 2017, “at least 137kg of Captagon, dubbed a “jihadist drug” and “the drug of the Syrian conflict,” was seized at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport in a first for France, customs officials said, adding that half of the illicit cargo was destined for Saudi Arabia.” Captagon is a psychostimulant that is used as a performance enhancer by the extremist gangs that have invaded Syria since 2011.
“After we killed the ISIS terrorists, we checked their IDs. They were Chechen, Saudi, Iraqi, Palestinian, Egyptian, Somalian. One was wearing a suicide belt, nothing remained of him after he had detonated it.”
In Shrehi alone there were 37 civilians martyred. These included Khaled’s mother, father, brother and cousin who were killed in the home we were talking in.
“These groups, all of them, are supported by the UK, US and Gulf States to target and destroy our peaceful towns. Throughout history Syria has sacrificed martyrs and we are ready to sacrifice our souls for our land despite more than 120 countries attacking us with the terrorist groups as their instrument. They should know we will stand and fight to defend our land and our people”
Just one of the countless heroes from Sweida countryside – Khaled’s brother, Iskandar Saab had served in the 102 “Batch” of the Syrian Arab Army which had been decommissioned just two months before the ISIS attack on his home village of Shrehi on the 25th July 2018.
Iskandar came face to face with the crazed ISIS terrorists as he attempted to scale the hill leading up to his family’s house. He was shot in his right leg, his hand and his back. A local graduate of trade and economy and a math teacher, Mr Mahran Radi Saab saved Iskandar and managed to take him to his brother Khaled Saab. After rescuing Iskandar, Mahran was shot and killed by an ISIS sniper.
Despite his life-threatening wounds, Iskandar managed to get into his car and drive 300m under fire from the ISIS snipers who had lined the roads joining the three villages of Rami, Shrehi and Shebki.
“This land, this property belongs to our blood. It belongs to us. We will never allow any super-power to steal our land or to control our lives, our future” Khaled Saab reinforced this message several times during our talk.
After the meeting we went to the home of Ziad Saab for breakfast, which in Syria translates into “banquet”.
Ziad’s brother in law lived in one of the houses at the entrance of the village, one of the first to be attacked. As soon as the attack happened, Ziad’s brother in law managed to relay a warning to Ziad who lives with his wife and children deeper inside the village. Ziad took his simple hunting rifle and went to help. As he neared his brother in law’s home, he saw many ISIS terrorists firing randomly and fierce clashes between the ISIS fighters and civilians. It was still dark at this point. Ziad made the decision to return home to protect his own wife and children and to take his family to a safer place.
Then Ziad tried to call his brother in law. An ISIS fighter answered the phone and told Ziad his brother in law was dead, he told Ziad to call an ambulance for his own family members – they would be killed also “there will be no escape”. The ISIS terrorists also attacked the brother in law’s two daughters and their mother – 10 year old Hela and 13 year old Hala.
As we were eating breakfast, a 6 month old baby was brought into the room. Her name is Ghala. Her father was murdered just 100 meters from Ziad’s house, by the ISIS terrorists. Watching Ghala playing in the arms of H Saab, it is painful to comprehend the scale of devastation and loss that these villages have experienced. A recent Facebook post by Syrian, Wissam Sliman puts it into perspective:
“Imagine that this were your village, or your neighborhood! Imagine that one of those were your house! Imagine that the same thing happened to you! Imagine that you lost a family member, or maybe two, or maybe more! Imagine that your mother, sister, daughter or son is still kidnapped and now in the hands of the worst terrorist group ever which is ISIS!
And above all imagine that it didn’t mean anything to half of your brothers and sisters in humanity in this world,just because they are still sleeping, daydreaming and refusing to wake up! What hurts you is that if they did wake up 7 years ago, you would have had many of your beloved ones around you now, but they didn’t, cause they are still refusing to wake up!
The truth is as clear as pure water on a virgin Island, there is only one difference in the case of Syria, the truth about Syria is very painful and heartbreaking while that water on that virgin island…”
The media reports in the West were a cursory glance at the impacts of this ISIS attack upon this community, a skating over of detail and no mention of the potential connection to the US coaliton. As always, the true victims of this 8 year war will be brushed under the carpet while the focus remains upon the whitewashing of the perpertrators of the crimes against the Syrian people – the “rebel”-washing of the terrorist gangs who have been enabled to roam freely across Syria by the US Coalition and its Gulf State financiers of the sectarian ideologues described by the Colonial media as “moderates”.
During our conversations, Ziad gave a very simple message to people in the West, particularly in the UK. Watch: https://duckduckgo.com/?q=https%3A%2F%2Fyoutu.be%2FYMeAStG2054&t=ffnt&ia=videos&iax=videos&iai=qwcHnG8EDTw
A car at the entrance to Shbeki village had been targeted by ISIS terrorists as it was attempting to ferry injured civilians to safety.
(Photo: Vanessa Beeley)