On the Ground in Zabadani, a Syrian Town in Revolt

The first of my dispatches from Syria has been published online at The Nation:

ZABADANI, SYRIA — Mustafa al-Dahab, 58, drives past shuttered shops on a deserted street in Hara, a neighborhood in this picturesque resort town located 20 miles northwest of Damascus. His nephew, five year-old Adee Adalati, is next to him in the passenger seat. It’s just after 11:00 on a Wednesday morning.

More than two miles away, hidden from view, a soldier overlooking the town from a tank on an eastern mountaintop opens fire, launching a shell into the sky that arcs towards them.

The car takes a direct hit, ripping apart from the force of the blast and bursting into flames. Mustafa’s lifeless body lands aside the wreckage, his face smashed in beyond recognition. Adee’s legs are crushed inside the car, his head is blown off entirely.

Moments later, two more shells follow. One crashes into the front porch of a neighboring house, sending shrapnel and debris into the living room, from which a pair of children emerge miraculously unharmed. The other strikes the first floor of an abandoned apartment building.

Local residents rush outside, carrying buckets of water and fire extinguishers to try and retrieve Mustafa and Adee’s charring bodies. But the faint boom of a tank firing in the distance signals another coming shell, sending them scrambling for shelter before an ear-splitting explosion rips through the neighborhood seconds later. Indoors, young children huddle beside their mothers. Wide-eyed and afraid, their hands cover their ears as they wait for another strike.

Eight shells are fired within 45 minutes before the assault ends and the sound of chaos finally subsides, replaced by the rising wails of those mourning the dead.

This is life in Zabadani.

Seventeen months after the Syrian revolution began, the people living in this town have grown grimly accustomed to a daily routine of indiscriminate violence, of shelling from afar.

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