The Road of the Cross: From Deir-Attieh to Saddad
It has been six weeks since armed groups associated with the Islamic Brigades of the opposition occupied Saddad, Syria. This past week Saddad’s southern neighbor, Deir-Attieh, became another focal point of the battle for the Kalamoun. A small peaceful town in the middle of the road between Damascus and Homs, Deir- Attieh has a population of around 50,000 persons. The combination of its location and the generosity and hospitality of its permanent residents, mostly pious Sunni-Muslims, caused it to be a safe haven and place of refuge for thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs). Almost 22,000 internally displaced persons from Homs, mainly from Baba Amr, have come to call Dair-Atteih their temporary home as they sought refuge from the intense fighting in their home neighborhoods.
In cooperation with the Islamic Society of Deir-Attieh, the Forum for Development, Culture and Dialogue (FDCD) has made Deir-Attieh one of three major bases for humanitarian relief work in the area. FDCD currently serves around 3,500 families there.
As the much anticipated and dreaded battle for the Kalamoun continues to rage on, the villages lying in the Kalamoun region continue to be subjected to fierce fighting. On the eve of November 21st the battle moved to Deir-Attieh. For Deir-Atteih, the events unfolded much as they did in Saddad just weeks before. During the night around 4,000 militants entered the village and with little resistance occupied the town. Initially, the mayor and ten soldiers in charge of the town were killed, as well as a number of civilians. Among those killed was a 23 year-old FDCD volunteer by the name of Mohammad Togar. As in Saddad, the militants entered the homes of those living in Deir Atteih, thus utilizing the civilians as human shields from the inevitable response from the State military forces. The similarity to the situation in Saddad and the recent escalation of conflict in the Kalamoun cause us to fear the high cost of this most recent escalation (economically, but more importantly the cost of innocent human life).
Many of those who live in Dier-Attieh work in the Gulf. Over the past few years, the people of Deir-Attieh have made great efforts to develop their town with the construction of beautiful homes, a museum, a modern hospital, and a university (aptly named Kalamoun University).
As a result of the current fighting, the hospital was badly hit and burned. Most of the town and places previously mentioned have suffered damage as a result of the exchange of mortars and gunfire.
Those who were able to flee the town did so. Both the IDPs who came to call Deir-Attieh their home and the permanent residents have made efforts to flee to the surrounding villages.
FDCD’s team helped to arrange for the transportation of those attempting to flee. As of right now, FDCD and Initiatives are the major relief bodies giving immediate help to the people running away. Our FDCD coordinator in the area appealed for assistance and said, “On the Bereike road from Deir-Attieh until Saddad, a 20km road, you see a continuous stream of people running away with nothing but their clothes. Women and children are crying, elderly slowly move towards safety hardly able to walk, people are screaming, and everyone is in tears. Misery is all you can see! You think it is a big demonstration, but it is people walking the road of the Cross, our broken community of the Kalamoun.
As of yesterday the new IDP’s and the people of Deir-Attieh were accommodated as follows:
- 300 families in Saddad
- 34 families in Haffar
- 1,400 families in Humayra and Breike.
FDCD and Initiatives are doing a great job in providing shelter and food (mostly canned food) to the IDP’s. This is in cooperation with the churches of the area and the Syrian Red Crescent.
At this time we continue to pray for the safety of our partners (Yehia and his family, Abu Manoun and his family, and around twenty other volunteers) who are trapped in the besieged town of Dier Attieh. We pray for their safety and all those trapped in the town.
Help us to help the suffering people of Deir-Attieh.
* Rev. Jarjour is the President of the FDCD, a Global Ministries partner.
Please consider supporting the work of Global Ministries’ partners’ relief efforts in and around Syria. You can do that through One Great Hour of Sharing (UCC), the Week of Compassion (Disciples), or through Global Ministries directly.