“I knew I had to find a way out when my husband died.” The lives of hundreds of thousands of Syrians hang in the balance in East Ghouta, as armed militias battle the Syrian government forces, which are determined to retake the area east of the capital Damascus.
Mary (her name is changed for security reasons) is a Syrian mother who grew up in Damascus, but married a man living in East Ghouta and has been living there for 10 years. She has been living under Takfiris occupation since 2013.
The only safe exit designated for civilians fleeing the battle zone is the check point at Al Wafideen. The ambulances of the Syrian Red Crescent line up each morning awaiting any civilians who may be able to make it out in the humanitarian pause from 9 am to 2 pm local time. Buses are also waiting, in the hope civilians will come pouring out, reminiscent of the thousands of civilians who poured out of East Aleppo in December 2016 before the final bullets were fired, marking the end of the siege. However, East Ghouta is not a repeat of East Aleppo. One of the factors why civilians are not seen on live TV coverage each morning may be the fact terrorists are targeting the exit, not willing to part with their human shields. The other factor might be that in East Aleppo there were many safe corridors to exit, whereas in East Ghouta there is just one exit.
Mary started thinking about leaving East Ghouta after her husband was killed. “When you are a woman alone, surrounded by men with guns, you feel like the hyenas are circling: they smell fear and weakness.” She has been communicating with her relatives in Damascus through social media and phone apps. She has lost her original home and TV, but has her cell phone as her link to the outside world.
“My family told me to work on a plan to escape. I was very cautious because I knew there would be snipers and they would not allow us to just walk out freely. I thought about complaining I needed special medical attention, but I knew the doctors inside would see that my children and I are all healthy and would not allow it. I came up with many plans in my mind about how I could get out, but I knew I had to try because I was no longer safe alone.”
Syrian women live protected by their father and brothers, then their husband, and finally their son. Mary’s father was deceased, her brothers were in Europe as refugees, her husband was deceased, and her son is just a young boy. Mary is all alone. She said there are men who are demanding sexual favors in exchange for food. “My honor and dignity are not for sale.” said Mary. She is also in even greater fear of the safety of her young son. “The Syrian fighters either have a wife, or have girl friends. But, the Saudi fighters only like little boys. Females are safe around them, but my little son is just the right age to attract their attention, and without a father to protect him, it would be a hopeless situation. Boys older than 10 are safe, they only want the little boys.”
Jaysh al-Islam is one of the 2 main militias in East Ghouta. It had been founded and headed by a Syrian named Zahran Alloush, before he was killed. However, it is exclusively supported and funded by Saudi Arabia. Most of the fighters are Syrian; however, there is a very large contingent of Saudi Arabians. There are vast differences between the social customs, traditions and lifestyles of Saudi Arabia and Syria.
The Syrian Army had dropped leaflets encouraging the civilians to flee for their safety. It included specific directions to the exit at Al Wafideen, which is the main entry and exit of East Ghouta from Damascus. Mary asked her family in Damascus, who were living by their TV on pins and needles each morning, if anyone had gotten out. No one had, except one exceptional case of an elderly Pakistani couple who were evacuated by the Syrian Red Crescent on Wednesday. This elderly couple had been living in Syria since 1975, and were evacuated and sent back to Pakistan though their Embassy in Syria.
Mary began to give up hope as her neighbors were talking of large numbers of dead and wounded who had tried the daring escape. “The fighters are using us as protection. They are depending on the western media to label them as the oppressed, when in reality it is the unarmed civilian hostages who are oppressed. Some of my neighbors are so brainwashed with the Jihadist propaganda that they want to die in East Ghouta. They refuse to consider an escape plan. I can’t talk to them: I have to keep all my thoughts and plans to myself.”
Mary’s family saw on the Syrian local TV channel the phone numbers and email address to contact for civilians wanting to plan their escape. The cell numbers are: 0994562878, 0941327121, and email address [email protected]
Mary finds strength in her religion. “I know the Jihadists here: they are Sunni Muslims just like me. We share the same religion, but they have used our religion as a right to maim and kill. That is not Islam. How will I ever be able to explain this to my children when they grow up?”
Mary’s family is still in contact with her and is praying for her safe escape to Damascus. They have begun getting some clothes and supplies for her home coming. Her sister said, “You might not see her escape on TV coverage. She has a plan to use an alternative way out. She has her own plan.”