The Darayya Massacre... survivors recall 7 days of Assad regime bombing, slaughter and field executions

Aug 25, 2022

Article from Syria TV

Ten years ago today, on Monday, August 20, 2012, as Muslims in Syria and worldwide were celebrating the second day of Eid al-Fitr, bulldozers moved to close all entrances and exits to the city of Darayya in Western Ghouta, so that Assad regime forces and militias could begin a 7-day mass cleansing campaign, in which more than 700 people were killed, including 524 women and children. Documented by name, the regime's militias arrested hundreds and wounded more than 1,500 people in the bombing.

On that day, the regime forces besieged about a quarter of a million people in the city and prevented anyone from leaving it, so that the punishment would be absolute and collective against the city whose people had dared to rise up for freedom from the regime of Bashar al-Assad. After encircling the city, the killing began, with unimaginable scenes of carnage, persecution, field executions and the most unimaginably wretched human condition, with the sound of the bombing louder than the clanging of machetes and knives carried and used by the shabiha who beat the implements together while advancing on people’s homes to further terrorize the unarmed victims, with the pallor, terror and grief clearly visible on the faces of the people, each waiting to discover what fate would befall them and their families. Desperate parents even pushed their children out of their homes in a frantic effort to send them to safety in fear of what would befall them if they

The first victims of the massacre were killed in the heavy bombardment of the quiet neighborhoods in the western part of the city, specifically in the Fashoukh area, which separates Daraya from the city of Moadamiya al-Sham. Due to the lack of medical equipment and the shortage of nurses, and with the arrival of large numbers of wounded, overwhelmed paramedics and doctors had to choose which tenth of the wounded to treat, in the hope that the condition of the less critically wounded would mean they might be saved by emergency intervention.

The regime forces bombed the field hospital that was located in the commercial school, with medics risking their own lives to transfer it to an empty, unfinished basement in a local building site, which had no sort of medical equipment or anything else. The medical team spread the earth on the bare floor as construction of the building was still underway.

A timeline of the massacre over the course of a week

The Syrian Network for Human Rights documented the details and developments of the reality on the ground in the Great Daraya massacre; on the morning of Tuesday, August 21, 2012, 30 regime tanks arrived and were deployed on the international road to the city of Daraa near the Sahnaya bridge, preventing people from entering or leaving the city.

The regime forces began advancing to invade the city of Darayya from the side of the new Corniche Road, and forces from the Free Syrian Army tried to confront them, with widespread clashes taking place between them, in which a number on both sides were killed or wounded.

At seven in the morning that Wednesday, the day which saw the most terrible and heaviest bombardment, the regime forces intensified their artillery bombardment with all kinds of weapons, with this bombardment causing widespread destruction, and killing or injuring dozens of civilians inside their homes.

The people of Darayya did not sleep on Wednesday-Thursday night as a result of the bombing and widespread panic. In the morning, the people found more bodies of the dead civilians in the houses and streets.

On Friday morning, at ten o’clock in the morning, Air Force Intelligence forces, reinforced by regime forces, backed by a large number of tanks and under air cover provided by helicopters, stormed the city from the direction of the Mezzeh Military Airport, and violent bombardment began on the western side of the city and the city center.

With the continued progress of the regime forces and their continued abductions, the Free Syrian Army groups attempted to repel the intrusion, and violent clashes erupted between the two sides, during which dead and wounded were reported on both sides.

This confrontation prompted the regime forces to adopt a scorched-earth policy, which included intense artillery bombardment throughout the city's neighborhoods, which caused the death and injury of huge numbers of civilians.

At this point, the Free Syrian Army withdrew completely from the city at three in the afternoon on Friday in an effort to end the regime’s assault on the city and draw the regime’s fire away from civilians. After their withdrawal, however, huge numbers of regime army and intelligence forces invaded the city, and began a massive arson campaign, burning homes, shops and a number of cars, burning chemists’ shops in the city and spreading snipers on the roofs of high buildings.

The Syrian Network for Human Rights documented mass executions of entire families, including the Alon, Al-Saqa, and Qafa’a families. Unsatisfied even with this carnage, the regime militias then burned the bodies so that the remaining family members would be unable to identify their dead relatives.

Among the heinous massacres on that day were the events in and around the Abu Suleiman Al-Darani Mosque, where 156 civilians had fled for shelter to a nearby house.

On Monday, the regime forces began to retreat and concentrated on the outskirts of the city of Darayya. After the army and armored forces left the city, the people found 35 more bodies of unarmed civilian city residents, whom the intelligence forces had arrested then summarily executed, including 4 women and 3 children.

Every survivor of the massacre and every person who was in the city in those terrible days has a story to tell, and every family who lived through it has bitter moments which their minds refuse to forget. Ten years since that terrible massacre, the horrific testimonies of those who lived through it still show the extent of the crime and hatred of the regime, and here we will present some.

On August 25, 2012, the regime forces entered the house of Hajja Umm Asaad, where she was at home with her husband, three of their young children, and their older son, then aged 11. At that time, Umm Asaad saw that those who entered her house intended to kill those in the house, and Hajja says, "I saw fire rising from the eyes of the shabiha and the person leading them."

She was so afraid for her husband and children that she begged the shabiha members not to kill her children, at which point the officer said to her, "We are peaceful. Who told you that we are killing anyone?" and asked her to prepare coffee for them. She went with her older child to the kitchen to prepare coffee, and after serving them coffee, the officers did not allow her to sit with them, so she went with her child to the second room.

After a few minutes, Umm Asaad heard the sound of gunfire and ran to the living room to see one of the officers asking her to bring a towel and stipulating that it be white. Here, Umm Asaad realized that they had killed her husband and young children, and she recalled bringing the sheet and speaking to the soldier in a broken voice and with tears in her eyes.

Umm Asaad collapsed from the horror of what she saw, as she was not aware that the criminality of these killers had reached the point where they would tell her to bring them the shroud of her children and her husband with her own hand. Her one surviving child has been suffering from severe psychological trauma since that time, after what he saw that day.

In another case, the regime forces entered Umm Ahmed’s house in the eastern part of the city of Daraya, while she was at home with her three young children; the troops began by searching the house, after which they began torturing and murdering her children in cold blood in front of her; she was too shocked and traumatized to speak. After the regime troops left the house, due to the siege imposed on the city and the difficulty of movement at that time, Umm Ahmed quickly dug a grave in the garden of her house to bury her children.

Umm Ahmed rushed to bury her three sons, fearing that the regime forces would return and kidnap their bodies, being fully aware of their near-infinite hatred and criminality, which extends to routinely disinterring and defiling victims' bodies as a means of further torturing their loved ones..

Several days later, after the regime forces withdrew, neighbors entered Umm Ahmed’s home and began asking her about her children, having heard the terrible sounds of torture and gunfire emanating from her house, but Umm Ahmed responded to them every time that her children had left the city some time ago; she had entered into a state of deep denial and trauma, too terrified even to tell friends and neighbours what had occurred for fear that regime troops would discover that she had buried her children in the garden and would return and steal their bodies, breaking her heart again.

Umm Ahmad remained in this state of denial until a well-trusted and respected local figure, Abu Sayah, the official in charge of burials in the city, visited the house with some of her neighbors and spoke to her for a long time, asking if she knew anything about her children, when she eventually broke down and told them the heartbreaking truth.

Another horrific case involves a farmer named Abdullah, who was living with his wife in their farm adjacent to Darayya; when the regime forces raided them, the wife offered fruit to the regime troops in an effort to to assuage them, but Abdullah was aware of the seriousness of the situation, and fearing for his wife’s life, he asked her to leave thefarm and go to her family’s home.

She did as he requested and when she arrived at her family's home, she called her house to find out what was happening. The phone was picked up by an unknown man who didn’t answer her questions and put the phone down. She kept trying several times without being able to hear her husband's voice.

The wife returned in the evening after the regime forces left the neighborhood to her house to find it empty without any trace of her husband and thought that they had arrested him. After several days, the wife, with the help of her husband’s brothers, opened the surveillance cameras in the house to see a chilling scene: first, regime troops ordered her husband to come outside the entrance to their home, then when he did so and stepped outside, one of the regime officers hit him with a wood-chopping axe from behind, while another officer shot him in the head.

The distraught woman and her brothers-in-law then began the process of searching for her husband’s body, eventually finding it thrown into in a dumpster behind their house.

Even a decade later, Abdullah’s wife is still in a traumatized psychological state and cannot recount the events of that terrible time, and even when she does tell anyone, she whispers it in their ear out of enduring dread and shock at the horror of those events.

A local Darani activist, Kamal Shehadeh, recalls his terrible memories of the time. He had been injured in the days before the massacre during clashes with regime forces on the outskirts of the city and his health was still poor on the day of the regime invasion when he was in a house being used as a temporary convalescent unit to treat some of the injured.

Shehadeh remembered: "There was hammering on the door of the house. A young boy told us that the shabiha were approaching the place where we were. We were four wounded - a young man from Homs who’d lost his eyesight, another young man from Jadida Artouz, whose hand was injured and subject to amputation, and another, a Palestinian who had shrapnel spread throughout his body from regime gunfire, who couldn’t move, and we were accompanied by two young men from the medical staff.”

He continued, "We weren’t able to decide whether to stay in the care home or go out, and we received news that the shabiha were entering all the houses and searching all the alleys in order to kill or arrest people.”

Shehadeh continues: "In front of the house, there was the Sharia school with large grounds around it and a huge building.. The doors were open and the people were waiting for death… The screams of children were mixed with the sounds of heavy gunfire throughout the city... The men and women looked at us with sadness and fear - ‘What will happen to us if we’re caught by the regime troops?’ - and suspicious questions from people among each other, if the soldiers enter while we’re in front of the school, they will kill us all along with the civilians.”

Kamal recounts how, even then, the civilians were trying to smuggle the young opposition fighters out so that the shabiha would not reach them and how these local people expressed solidarity with the young men, telling them, “You are our children and your souls are more precious than ours.” Shehadeh said: “We, the wounded, did not know where this strength came from for the strength of our bodies, how it soothed pain without warning or the interference of analgesics in the body, tranquillity soothed the wounds.”

Shehadeh continues: "Everyone, men and women, cooperated to hide our features, our heavy wounds, and blood-stained clothes. They secured and collected women's clothing for us, including niqab, cloaks, and gloves, and they also gave us gold jewellery, including bracelets and rings, and here I will not forget the woman who presented her young, infant son to me to carry him and put him in my lap to really show the appearance of a mother, and the people distributed us on the four walls, and I will also not forget that sixty-year-old woman from Daraya when she said to me, ‘Take my identity card, a mother, keep it with you if the shabiha ask for an identity from you, you handle your situation, I’ll deal with it by telling them that I forgot my identity at home, but you, my mother, are my family, and God is afraid for you.”

At that stage, he recalled, the sounds of heavy gunfire and insults from the regime soldiers in the neighborhood were audible and covered the terrified wails of the children who were crying more and more, and as soon as the regime forces entered the school door after executing two old people, the woman who had given her ID card to Shehadeh stood up to them, and began to talk to the officer, telling him, “You are the protectors of the homeland and you are the hope of the country… The children were very afraid of the terrorists [the regime’s term for opposition fighters]… Please - the children are crying, and among the women there is a pregnant woman who’s often miscarried as a result of fear.”

After this clever ruse by the women feigning sympathy with the regime soldiers, the officer said that they would not enter among the women and children, but asked for the IDs of all the males and young men present.

Here, all the young men and women accompanied the officer and the shabiha, and in front of them was the woman in her sixties who insisted that the officer should not arrest anyone.

Shehadeh continues to narrate what happened: “More than an hour passed while we were inside the shelter, praying to God that they would not come in among us and find out about us, and in fact they left the school, and the people calmed down and we breathed a sigh of relief. My eyes… my mother, these are shabbiha dogs who do not fear God, and by God, what she did with her soul, then say that I am the boss of a pig... but you, God forbid, if they found out about you and took you and left, and by God, your mothers will die from crying over you... Oh, my mother subjected to injustice, thank God, and we have complained to God.”

After the regime forces left the neighborhood, a woman and her young daughter who had a small medical bag examined the wounds of the injured young men and bandaged them.

The tales of the massacre do not end when the victims are buried and the people of the city are displaced. With each anniversary, more new stories and testimonies emerge of how the regime forces invaded Darya, executed, arrested and burned a town in retaliation for standing for freedom.

- An edited translation of the original Arabic article first published by Syria TV on Thursday, August 25, 2021, republished on the same date in 2022. Original article:

Photo showing some of the Daraya Massacre victims' graves from Shaam News Network (SNN)