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'The wound is one': Northwest Syria rallies to aid Gaza

'The wound is one': Northwest Syria rallies to aid Gaza despite Assad’s bombs
10 min read
28 November, 2023
Syrians in isolated rebel-held northwest Syria have rallied to support Gaza, fundraising in mosques and holding protests and vigils, even in the midst of an escalating regime bombing campaign, as they say, "From Idlib to Gaza, the wound is one".

It has been nearly two months since Israel launched its war on Gaza, and there is no end in sight. Less than 48 hours after they had launched the most ferocious onslaught ever on the trapped Gazan population, the Israeli army had also banned the entry of fuel, food and water into the besieged enclave.

In response, civilians in northwest Syria have swiftly mobilised, setting aside their own hardships and harsh circumstances to gather donations for Gaza.

Rich and poor of all ages have responded to the call for donations, many of which have been issued through local mosques and have raised thousands of dollars.

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This is despite a savage bombing campaign which has been carried out on Idlib since October and is ongoing – waged by the Syrian regime and Russia – which has left dozens dead and wounded and caused 200,000 to flee their homes for safety.

'Our hearts are with Gaza'

"Our prayers and our hearts are with the people of Gaza. No one can understand what they are going through, the terror of the bombing, better than us – who suffered and are still suffering from the bombing of Assad's regime and his allies," says 41-year-old Bakr al-Murshid, an IDP (internally displaced person) who lives in the Kah Camp in northern Idlib.

He adds that his home in Hass village was bombed by Assad's warplanes — one of his sons was killed, before the family fled to the camps in the north almost five years ago.

"The enemy is one and the wound is one. Assad's gangs and those of the Israeli occupier are on one side. They are killers and criminals who don't differentiate when killing innocents — between man, woman, child or elderly," Bakr added. 

Despite his poverty, lack of work, and the daily struggles he and his family face in the camp, Bakr donated some of the food they receive monthly from aid organisations in northern Syria — consisting of a few kilos of rice, bulgar wheat, macaroni and various tinned foods — to the camp mosque for the Gazan people.

And Bakr isn't the only one. Syrians in camps across the region — women, children, men and elderly — flooded to the mosques to offer donations. This was after a call was issued by the Palestine Relief and Development Agency, a voluntary organisation operating in Syria that aims to serve the Palestinian community in Syria by increasing its resources and developing its capacity.

Eight-year-old Maha al-Bakour is rushing to get to the mosque in Murak camp in Deir Hassan village, Idlib province. She says she wants to donate her weekly allowance, five Turkish lira, to Gaza, because of the tragedies she is seeing children suffering on social media.

There have been protests and vigils all over northwest Syria in support of Gaza [Hadia Al Mansour]

Criminal regimes without a shred of humanity

Similarly, Salwa al-Abd (65) is donating a portion of the money her son sends every month from Cyprus where he lives, for her to support herself and her husband.

"What we are witnessing, the crimes of Zionism and the Israelis against our vulnerable people in Gaza, are unspeakable tragedies. Israel's criminal behaviour reminds me of Assad, who killed our children and threw us our of our towns and villages. Therefore, it's a duty for us to extend our assistance, because we know exactly the feelings they have experienced and are experiencing of panic, terror and death surrounding them from all sides," Salwa says sadly.

After a deep sigh she continues: "If I could give my life for them I would. Both of us are victims of criminal regimes without a shred of humanity."

She adds that the fundraising campaign for Gaza, which was called Returning the Debt, was “nothing but a return of the debt and an expression of solidarity, as they were the first among our Arab donors during the war, bombardment, and destruction we faced and still are facing in north Syria."

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Overwhelming response

Ali al-Saber, an imam at Quba Mosque which serves a number of IDP camps in Afrin district in Aleppo province, was astounded at the huge amount of donations that has flooded in. The largest group of donors has been children, he says, who have donated their small allowances, often no more than one Turkish lira.

 This shows the "importance of the Palestinian issue in the souls of the young and old and that it is considered as a fundamental issue for them despite the carnage Syria has been through".

Political activist Omar Barakat lives in Azaz, a town northwest of Aleppo city. Regarding the regional and geopolitical environment which is fostering the war on Gaza, he says the most important factors are the "open-ended" support of the US, followed by the limitless Arab "indifference".

This gives the Israelis a level of support, both local and international, which Israel has not enjoyed to this extent since the establishment of its state in 1948. Israel has thereby been given a free pass for even more criminality against the Palestinians, which will mean the war will drag on, and the people of Gaza will continue to suffer especially the women and children, he adds.

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He thinks the mass slaughter Israel is enacting in Gaza shows their plan goes beyond rendering the Strip temporarily unable to function. Rather, Israel's goal is Gaza's annihilation — decimating the infrastructure and service sectors goes beyond revenge and has been done to make continued life impossible anywhere in the Strip.

He pointed out that Israel's war has pushed other issues off the international radar, including the Syrian issue and the war the Syrian regime and Russian forces are currently waging on Idlib in the northwest region. He likened the situation for the rebel-held region to being part of a chess game where the dynamics shift after any new event or agreement.

Gaza and Idlib: Points of comparison

Barakat sees links between the Gaza war and its counterpart in Idlib. In both Gaza and Idlib, the land represents a goal in and of itself, which those waging war are striving to seize and empty of its inhabitants, he explains.

Regarding the response of people in northwest Syria despite their dire living conditions, which are well known, he says it is not possible for someone with a human conscience and feeling not to feel complete solidarity with the Palestinians in Gaza, especially in light of the similarities with Idlib.

Acts of solidarity with Gaza by people in northwest Syria haven't been limited to donations. There have also been well-attended demonstrations across towns and cities in support of Gaza, with the message "Gaza and Idlib are a bleeding wound", where every segment of society has turned out to show solidarity.

This is despite the warplanes humming overhead and the sounds of rocket launchers which have been targeting the countryside in the south of the region, since October 5 when the Military Academy in government-held Homs was targeted by drones in an attack that killed over 100 people. The perpetrator of the attack is unknown, but the regime has been escalating its attacks on the Idlib region since.

In the first half of October, the Syrian Civil Defence in northwest Syria documented 194 attacks by the Assad regime and Russia on 60 towns and villages in the region, which killed 49 civilians. Among them were 13 children and 10 women. 230 were injured, including 67 children and 63 women.

University student Lara Al Karmo (23) has attended the protests in her area, and said to The New Arab that Syrians demonstrating "share the pain and the tragedies of the Palestinians […] especially the displaced and expelled, because we have lived persecution, and similar moments of terror and shelling and being cast out of our homes."

After a pause, she continues: "Yes... we have lived these bloody events for 12 years, and we have tasted the bitterness of fear, terror, loss, death and homelessness. May God come to the aid of our brothers in bleeding Gaza."

Lara also sees multiple points of comparison between the situation in Gaza and Idlib, and points out that there are indications that simultaneous Russian, Iranian and Israeli military actions are being carried out — each in its area of influence, each involving the use of force, and in each case the victims are the civilians.

Omar Al Khouli (32), an IDP, took part in the demonstration and vigil in solidarity with the people of Gaza on October 18 in Atme, where the largest group of IDP camps in northwest Syria is situated. He expressed his anger alongside the other protesters at Israel's bombing, repeating the chants "Blood Blood, Destruction, Destruction, Ya Ghazzawi don't worry!" and "By soul, by blood, we will defend you oh Gaza!" and "From Idlib to Gaza, oh free one, don't waver!"

Al Khouli says Idlib has lived through exactly what Gaza is suffering right now, in the past and today, when the Assad regime and its Russian ally bombed hospitals, schools, public facilities, markets and densely populated areas, in order to kill the largest possible number of civilians.

Between the hammer and the anvil

He says the Syrians of Idlib and the Palestinians of Gaza are pinned between the hammer of regional forces and their expansionist ambitions, and the anvil of local forces wrestling with each other for power.

"So the affliction suffered by the people of Gaza is our affliction, and their wound is our wound, and we will never relinquish our support for them."

After the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza was targeted on October 17, which led to over 500 deaths, a number of Idlib-based humanitarian organisations organised solidarity vigils in support of Gazans. Their message was "Humanitarian workers are not a target", according to Farid Al Naasan (28), a member of the Future Team, a volunteer organization in the region.

Naasan focused on the necessity of backing the people of Gaza, even if "with our voices, and trying to reach the world via demonstrations and solidarity vigils — maybe these demonstrations will build pressure for the opening of humanitarian corridors and the delivery of aid to those who need it in the besieged Strip."

At a protest in Azaz city, northwest of Aleppo, a man holds a painting up where a woman labelled "Syria" asks an old woman labelled "Palestine", "Where are the Arabs aunty?" and the old woman responds, "Sit down with me - I've been waiting for them for 75 years"

Hamas disillusionment

Many Syrians feel a deep disappointment towards Hamas, because it resumed relations with the Syrian regime in 2022 after 10 years of severance, in addition to its strong bonds with Iran - the main ally of the regime in its oppression of the Syrians who marched against Assad in the Spring of 2011 demanding freedom.

However, this has never affected their strong sympathy for the Palestinian cause or their support for the people of Gaza: "We stand with all the vulnerable and oppressed peoples in the world," affirms Naasan.

Recently, other independent initiatives have been mounted by Syrians in the region as they seek ways to offer their support. A group of Syrian artists and painters announced that they would send a portion of their revenue after an exhibition held in Afrin city for the Gazan people.

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The same happened after an exhibition in Idlib for handicrafts and craftsmen, aiming to support the inhabitants of Gaza to remain steadfast in the face of the Israeli occupation, and to affirm the unity of blood between the Syrians and the Palestinians.  

Katia Al Qantar, who is on the board of the Children's Club, which took part in the handicrafts exhibition, spoke to The New Arab about what it would be donating to the people of Gaza: "We have models the children made, one is of the Al-Ahli Hospital which the Zionist enemy bombed, and we have a map of Syria made from jasmine flowers, as well as the Dome of the Rock mosque with the martyrs next to it.

"We feel pain at what the people of Gaza are suffering, of bombing and expulsion, and all they are enduring has prompted us to donate all our profits to them."

Hadia Al Mansour is a freelance journalist from Syria who has written for Asharq Al-Awsat, Al-Monitor, SyriaUntold and Rising for Freedom Magazine

Article translated from Arabic by Rose Chacko