We visited two rooms at the rehab center.
The first had three sweet boys – all of whom had been shot, two in the back. One was fully paralyzed and the second was paralyzed from the waist down. A third boy was shot twice, once in the chest and once in the stomach. He had drainage tubes coming out of his abdomen to drain fluid collecting in one lung and his stomach.
The second room had seven beds with seven young men. My guess is that most were in there twenties . Of the seven men, six had been shot in the back by snipers aiming for their spinal column. Their intent is to maim and cause suffering, not to kill. The seventh man was shot in his right forearm and all the bones were shattered.
The gentleman who had been bringing us through the rehab center and explaining the injuries was not too long before been a patient in that very center. His story is horrifying. His spirit is unbroken.
Abu Tamer was the only survivor of a massacre at Karoom Zaitoon, a district of Homs. The Syrian army broke into their area, asked everyone for their IDs, brought them into one large room, made them lie on floor, covered them with blankets and started shooting. After the army was done shooting they attempted to set the blankets on fire but they wouldn’t catch. They eventually left. Abu Tamer amazingly survived. He had been shot in the back with an explosive round so he had many wounds. He managed to crawl out from the pile of dead bodies. He was treated in a field hospital and the Red Cross video documented his story (which they then posted on YouTube) for future war crime trials. In April he escaped Syria to a hospital in Jordan for further treatment.
Abu Tamer went on to explain what happened in Karoom Zaitoon after the men were shot. He said they arrested the women and children and killed them by slicing their throats. He explained that the goal of the Syrian regime is to instill intense fear so that other cities would take notice and not protest. That was in vain as the protests spread like wildfire because of that very brutality.
He added that he’s lucky he wasn’t killed as they do their best not to leave witnesses.
Abu Tamer said that when he fled he had no money. Usually if you don’t have money you don’t receive medical treatment. But the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) made certain he had the treatment he needed. He said he is healed and is now giving back by taking care of the injured – and particularly the paralyzed - at the rehab center that treated him.
Another man named Bassam also lived in the same town. He described it as a mixed neighborhood – about half Alawite (as is Bashar al-Assad) and half mixed including Sunni, Christian, etc. Once Assad started attacking, the military divided the town in two, armed the Alawites and set up a checkpoint between the two stationed with tanks and soldiers. When the Free Syrian Army (FSA) would attack the checkpoint, the army would attack family members of the FSA fighters.
Usually when the Syrian army came close to their town they were warned by the FSA and could leave or hide. At one point a large regiment showed up without warning. Bassam called one of his cousins to warn him. An unknown voice answered and simply stated ‘your cousin is dead. I killed him.’
Another time Bassam’s father paid the Syrian army soldier at the checkpoint so he could go to check on two older men, both of whom had serious diseases (one had Parkinson’s and I’m not sure what the other had). His father entered their homes and both had been shot dead - and left in their homes to rot.
Abu Tamer and Bassam said there are mass graves in Karoom Zaitoon. In some places all you need do is move the dirt with your shoe and you are sure to see bones. Human bones.
Both told another story of a maternity hospital. There were preemies in incubators. The regime forces shut off the electricity to the hospital. All the babies died.
Additionally, Bassam explained that he was injured when his house was the target of RPGs. He was injured but is fully healed and, like Abu Tamer, is helping in the rehab center.
I asked them how they emotionally bare the trauma of all they experienced and lost. Abu Tamer, in particular, smiled a lot hence the question. He replied ‘the trauma are facts we are dealing with. I feel hope when I think of a future with an Assad-free Syria.’ That is how he copes.