July 18, 2012, Athens
It was a quiet summer day and, as usual in Greece, the first thing we think about is drinking cold coffee under the sound of the sea waves just tens of meters from my terrace, mixed with the discussions of young Greeks who are still confused by the economic crisis that overshadows job opportunities. It was more than a normal day when some young women gathered in the city centre demanding reduction of austerity plans and refusal to comply with the financial conditions of the European Union. The demonstration continued in front of the Parliament for several hours and ended with the voices of the same girls who gathered in a nearby cafe to discuss their next step. The city centre is full of tourists and children whose summer vacation has just begun. It is a day like any day where the human being has values and rights and the government has duties and limits that it does not exceed.
July 18, 2012, Damascus
It is a hot summer day with intermittent sounds of the Assad regime’s artillery, which began a few days ago, demolishing Al-Tadamun neighbourhood; streets were full of tension even in its quietest spots; faces were worried and hearts cracked with anxiety and some vague fears that something important would happen. This reality was not confined to Damascus alone. Many Syrian cities had begun to feel this danger. And without warning, breaking news began pouring in on the Assad regime’s television channels confirming an explosion in the National Security building at the time of the convening of the body known as the Crisis Cell, consisting of senior security and army officers, and in the presence of the Minister of Defence.
It is 6:30 pm. The screams are getting louder and louder in the neighbourhood as if the end of the world had come. I went out with my father to understand what was going on. The neighbours’ faces were yellow and bloodless. The attack on our neighbourhood had begun. I asked them, “Who?” They said that Shiite sectarian militias linked to Iran launched an armed attack in retaliation to what happened in the National Security building, starting from the Sayeda Zainab area (the majority of residents are Shiites) to the neighbourhoods of our town Hujaira (which has a Sunni majority).
A madness started beating my brain cells between fear and panic. I knew that my logic should control what is left of me to push me to a rest of calm that was broken by the ringing of my phone. “Doctor, we need you. There are two victims. Can you come quickly?”
“Yes, I’m on my way.” The phone call was from a friend of mine who, along with other young men from the Golan Heights, had formed a small group of rebels with their own light weapons that had recently reached a hundred fighters. They were the ones who clashed with the intrusive militias from the Sayeda Zainab area to stop them. Two young men were injured during the clash, one of whom had a serious chest injury and had died when I arrived at the house where they were in, and the other was slightly hit in the arm. I began to sterilise the wound and close it while the other’s father and grandfather arrived to see their dead 21-year-old son. His father fell down crying and screaming, while his grandfather was eerily calm talking to the rebel officer about the funeral. Yes, the grandfather did not want his grandson’s death to be hidden as we have been accustomed to lately; he wanted it to be a wedding to freedom.
As they were talking about the funeral, a feeling of anxiety grew inside me. This helicopter that did not stop flying around the areas of southern Damascus, worried me. I spoke with the officer, but the grandfather had begun his contacts to gather the men and women of the tribe and the notables of the neighbourhood. Then the crowd grew more and more until the funeral turned into a demonstration of thousands, shouting “Paradise, my homeland.” I was walking among them when something made me change my mind and return to my house to prepare medical supplies in case something happened. I turned my back on that wedding and as soon as I had taken a few steps, the helicopter was buzzing and without any warning three rockets were fired.
It is 8:30 pm. I never thought time would get slower until that moment. I even lost my sense of hearing. The cries of the injured and their families made the scene more painful. Hundreds were either injured or dead causing a lot of blood. I was one of the first to reach the point. Although I am accustomed to blood as a doctor, what I had in front of me was not even in my darkest nightmares. I had heard the sound of three missiles fired from the helicopter, then I heard the sound of their explosion shaking the ground under my feet. I knew it was the funeral that was hit. Running back quickly I prepared myself that the scene would be bloody and that the experience, patience and need of these people for me should dominate my human feelings. I have to turn my heart into a rock and my mind into a machine. This is the solution and the necessity right now. Despite this preamble, everything disappeared with this scary scene in front of me. Pieces, arms, legs, severed heads and stray dogs that began to come to take their share and leave. The target was at the centre of the funeral, which was attended by thousands of mourning civilians. They were heavy seconds and my friend’s screaming voice woke me up: “What do we do doctor?” I held on. I took a breath. I screamed: “Keep the dogs away from the bodies!”
An Assad regime helicopter attacked the funeral of young Abd al-Rahim Samour, killing at least 140 people, most of them displaced from the Golan Heights. This massacre was not covered by the media because it happened a few hours after the explosion in the building of the National Security, so everyone was focusing on it. That day some doctors in the area were forced to turn some mosques into field hospitals and with very limited medical equipment tried to save what could be saved, as all hospitals in the surrounding areas were closed due to threats from the security of the Assad regime.
This difficult medical reality contributed greatly to the increase in the number of victims who later reached about four hundred, while there are still several missing persons whose remains have not been identified and some families chose to keep hope that their sons would have survived this raid and they would return one day.
A few years after this massacre, I met by chance one of the doctors who was a witness to what happened that day and described it to me in detail, hoping that it would not be forgotten or falsified in a history written today by tyrants.