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Helpless Syrians Put Faith in Islam

Published: 29/04/2013 12:18:43 AM GMT
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CAIRO - Let down by the world to end the two-year conflict, Syrians are putting their faith in Islam to save them from a deadly civil war in their country that has claimed thousands of lives.“What can one feel, to see so m (more)

CAIRO - Let down by the world to end the two-year conflict, Syrians are putting their faith in Islam to save them from a deadly civil war in their country that has claimed thousands of lives.

“What can one feel, to see so many bodies?" Ahmad, a 20-year-old opposition fighter, told Olly Lambert, filmmaker of a documentary on the Syrian conflict for the PSB series FRONTLINE and the UK's Channel 4."We can do nothing about it -- no one is supporting us, and no one will.

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"There is no power, except that which comes from God."

Ahmad, a Sunni Muslim from the Orontes river valley, has defected from the regime's police force to join the opposition against Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.

“I grew up in this valley,” Ahmad says in the documentary “Syria: Across the Lines”, which will be aired on Wednesday, April 17.

“I used to mix with the Alawites a lot, we were like brothers,” he says, clutching the AK-47 that is his prized possession and now never leaves his side.

Alawites, a branch of Shiite Islam, are staunch supporters of Assad and his regime.

"If the Alawites don't want to fight us, then we will solve this problem peacefully. But if they want to confront us, then we will respond -- with deadly force,” Ahmad says.

For decades, talking openly about sectarian division in Syria was a taboo.

But after more than two years of bloodshed, ordinary Syrians are increasingly defining themselves and others in terms of their ethnic or religious identity.

In opposition-held villages along the Sunni side of the valley, the mosques are full with people talking openly of what "we Sunnis" feel.

On the other side of the valley, a line of government checkpoints is set up, all manned by regime soldiers drafted in to hold the frontline against what they call "armed gangs" and "terrorists".

"They're planning to wipe us out," says Alawite villager Mohammed Mahmoud.

Mahmoud is one of a group of Alawite fighters that make up a "Popular Committee," a new term for pro-Assad militia which Syrians calls as “Shabiha”.

Mahmoud openly boasts of shooting dead a Sunni fighter during recent clashes.

"His blood was all over the door," he says with a broad, satisfied smile.

More than 70,000 people have been killed in more than two years of fighting between Assad's security forces and opposition forces.

The fighting has forced more than one million Syrians to flee their home to neighboring countries in addition to the displacement of two millions others inside the country.


The massive destruction, ongoing bloodshed and political deadlock are leaving Syrians in a state of desperation.

"It breaks my heart," says Lieutenant Ali Ghazi, a softly spoken Alawite soldier who has been stationed at a checkpoint as he looks out across the untended fields of rotting crops.

"I'll feel very sad if the country stays like this," says Ali from a gun position that looks directly towards Ahmad's village.

"I wish we could go back to the way it was, to the way it used to be."

Since the beginning of the protests against his regime, Assad has justified all his brutal crackdowns with the repeated line that the uprising is driven by armed gangs and terrorists, not disaffected Syrians.

As a result of massive government propaganda, Lt Ali and his soldiers and Alawites seem convinced that the Sunni villages nearby have been infiltrated by extremists.

"They're planning to wipe us out," says Mahmoud, the Alawite villager.

“They don't even think of us as human.

“There can be no negotiating with this extremist ideology -- you either win, or you die."

There is no end in sight to the conflict in Syria, which has divided world powers.

Russia and Shiite Iran support Assad, while the United States, along with some European and Sunni Muslim Gulf Arab nations back a fractured opposition.Damascus and some of its opponents have said they will consider peace talks, but no meetings have been arranged.

Reproduced with permission from