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BuzzFeed News

New York


Inside Government-Controlled Syria

Joshua Hersh

While in Syria, I published a handful of stories for HuffPost.

Damascus, Syria. February 2014.

Damascus, Syria. February 2014.

'He Knew That Death Was Coming': Survivors Mourn After A Massacre By Syrian Rebels

March 10, 2014

OBEEN, Syria -- The rebel fighters arrived in the early hours of the night, moving swiftly and aggressively from village to village across the mountainous terrain 15 miles from the border with Turkey.

Issam Darwish, a 33-year-old farmer, was asleep in his small, ramshackle home when he heard the cries of warning from neighbors. Jumping out of bed, he roused his family, including his 90-year-old grandfather, and hastily shepherded them out onto the road, where some jumped into available pickup trucks and others ran away through the wooded valleys below.

But Darwish’s grandfather refused to leave.

“We tried so hard to make him get into the truck,” Darwish recalled recently, as he sat on a thin carpet on the floor of his drafty living room. “He said he liked his land, and if he was going to die, he wanted to die here. He knew that death was coming.”

Two weeks later, after the Syrian Army retook the villages in this remote corner of Latakia province -- a district whose residents largely belong to the same Alawite Shia sect as Syria’s president, Bashar Assad -- Darwish returned to look for his grandfather. He found his body buried in a shallow grave near the house, with a bullet-riddled photograph of Assad draped over it.

The rebel onslaught that left Darwish’s grandfather dead took place Aug. 4, 2013, and resulted in the killings of some 200 others, all of them Alawite civilians. Hundreds more are said to have been kidnapped. Last fall, Human Rights Watch investigated the claims of a massacre, visiting the charred homes and mass graves in Latakia province, and described the attacks as “war crimes.”

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