Sami* is suddenly caught up by the reality as the news breaks on July 25: ISIS has attacked Sweida. While a series of bombings have been conducted in the city centre, ISIS militants, in a carefully coordinated operation, have entered several villages on the east of the city and murdered entire families. I spoke to Sami while he was trying to gather news of his family and his close friends in the midst of the horror and chaos. While he is relieved to hear that his wife and son are safe, he learns that 27 members of his family are among the victims.
Sami, along other civil society activists from Sweida, works tirelessly in the following days and nights to gather detailed information and document the crimes that have been committed.
250 members of the Druze community, among which 187 civilians, have been killed in the attacks, by bullets and by knives. 34 women and girls have as well been kidnapped by the extremist group.
They are organizing to ensure that updates reach the international community and that victims receive immediate emergency relief and health support.
Tensions in Sweida are mounting
Anger grows towards the Syrian Regime, which, a few weeks ago, disarmed many villages in the eastern part of Sweida as part of ‘reconciliation agreements’ leaving civilians unable to protect themselves in face of the extremist group. As a result, thousands of Druze have flocked in the city to ensure protection of their community in fear of another attack. It is also feared that acts of reprisals will be committed towards the local Bedouin community which is perceived as supporting ISIS. Already a few houses have been put on fire by unknown militants.
Is peaceful protest still possible?
Sami is increasingly concerned about the rapid spread of arms among the Druze community as even children as young as 13 are seen carrying weapons in the streets of Sweida. In the coming days, he will be organizing a peaceful demonstration calling for peace and the release of the kidnapped women and girls. On the longer term, he is also planning to tackle hate speech used by diverse political and religious figures that contribute to fuelling violence in the community.
Sami* is a young Syrian activist from the city of Sweida. He spent the last four weeks in Beirut, benefiting from a scholarship offered by PAX to study at the University of Non Violence and Human Rights. Beside developing his personal skills to engage himself further in the field of non-violence and conflict resolution, Sami enjoys a well-deserved break far from the conflict in Syria.
* the name has been changed for security reasons
Sweida is located in the South West of Syria and hosts a majority of the Druze minority community. ISIS perceives religious minorities as disbelievers and justifies the commitment of diverse crimes and attacks to eliminate those who do not abide to its extremist ideology.
Benoite Martin is Syria Senior Programme Officer – Social Cohesion
Also read an interview with Sami in PAX Magazine (in Dutch).