Syria: Golan Village Under Nusra’s Thumb

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Israeli soldiers are silhouetted next to their tanks during a during a military exercise near the northern border with Syria in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights on 02 October 2013. (Photo: AFP - Jack Guez)

By: Firas Choufi

Published Monday, October 7, 2013

The small Druze town of Hadar in southern Syria has lived peacefully with its neighbors for decades without incident. Today, the locals have taken up arms to defend themselves from al-Nusra Front, which controls the surrounding territory.

It’s hard to distinguish between those towns and villages that lie on either side of the Lebanese-Syrian border near Mount Hermon. On the Syrian side, you have to cross a dangerous road 75 km to the southwest of Damascus in order to reach the besieged town of Hadar, the largest in the area with a population of around 10,000.

Virtually every male here has taken up arms, with one resident boasting “we have a thousand guns and a thousand men.” Hadar lies right along the UN buffer zone, just outside the occupied areas of the Golan Heights. Most of the families in the town hail from Druze areas in Lebanon, from which they emigrated starting 250 years ago. Once known for its prized apples and cherries, it is now a war zone with dozens killed, injured and kidnapped at the hands of al-Nusra Front.

Hadar’s problem is its location. Nusra fighters have managed to control many of the towns and villages to the south, with Hadar and Erneh standing between them and the eastern slopes of Mount Hermon, where the Syrian army’s 90th Brigade is located. The opposition Islamist fighters hope to take over the army base and open up a passage to Damascus from the west, along the Lebanese border.

Residents say that after some attacks by opposition fighters here and there, the first direct confrontation took place on March 20, when the opposition attacked in large numbers from nearby Beit Jinn. “The people of the town confronted them with whatever was available,” says one local. “We lost 14 and they lost even more.” Since that time, Hadar’s nightmare began, as the fighters resorted to kidnapping and, in some cases, executions.

Most residents, who have come to spend their days and nights guarding their town, are simple farmers. Nizar, who left university to join the local armed committees that protect Hadar, says, “Today our situation is much better. We have mounted guns and medium-size machine guns...and the army helps us with artillery. Tomorrow, when the war is over, I will go back to my university.”

One of Hadar’s sheikhs refuses to blame the neighboring villages for Nusra’s actions, explaining that the notables who once helped to preserve peace no longer hold sway. “If the man that has been distributing bread from the provincial bakery to our town and all the neighboring villages for 30 years had his throat cut, what do you think they will do to us?” the sheikh asks.

“Who would kill someone who has been giving them bread since the day they were born?” he asks. “It’s impossible that the sons of these villages would do such a thing – they let strangers into their homes and ours.”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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