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Syria 1st-Hand: Coffee with the Mayor of A Christian Village (Leigh)

Karen Leigh writes for Syria Deeply:

During the past few weeks, the predominantly-Christian village of Al Ghassanieh, near Jabal al-Akrad in Latakia Province, has been caught in the crossfire between the FSA and regime forces.

After a round of coffee on chairs positioned in the middle of the street (cars aren’t driven here anymore), Al Ghassanieh's Mayor, Abu Skandar, brings me to see a TNT canister resting in a field. We walk the town’s deserted streets, as he points out the fresh bullet holes and rocket craters that dot many of its houses. He tells me, nervously, that the village is just one kilometer from the ever-shifting line that marks regime-controlled territory.

We are also joined by his friend, Abu Ahmad, the leader of the Free Syrian Army’s local El Wad El Haq Battalion. Both discuss the spike in violence and sectarian tension along the hard-hit border between Latakia and Idlib provinces.

“I’m a Christian. There’s a big difference here between Christians and Alawites. Alawites are special cases, they are always number one,” Abu Skandar says.

“Before the war, we had a good relationship with them. We also had a good relationship with the Sunnis. There’s an old Arabic saying: ‘We sleep in the same house'. There were a few Alawite families here before, but when we started the revolution, we threw them out of this village.”

Why, I ask.

“The Alawites are all out for our houses, they’re all out for money.”

There has been a rapid escalation in violence, leaving Abu Skandar hoping for a swift resolution to the conflict.

“One house was bombed here a month ago, and in the last two days, rockets have started falling here and in a [nearby] village. I hear that the man in charge of that village was killed. But no one is scared, we want just to finish this regime.”

“[The FSA] is trying to push civilians to make a civilian protection council,” adds Abu Ahmad. “We want to protect our villages. Our problem is the sky. Here, and throughout Syria. There is nothing we can do. The situation here is a lot worse than Jebel Turkman because here, we are mostly just 2.5 kilometers from the regime.”

Abu Skandar casts an eye upward on the cloudless blue day. It’s perfect weather for an aerial assault — when it rains, war planes don’t tend to fly overhead.

“Maybe the helicopters will come today. Then I’ll want all of the public to know my story.” He says a member of the village was killed in the last month by regime forces, who are “beginning to shoot rockets into the church".

On the street where we drink coffee, the occasional man goes by, the occasional boy pedals fast on a bike. For now, that’s all that’s left of his village.

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