Survivors of Syrian fighting describe harrowing flight from Qusair
BEKAA VALLEY, Lebanon -- He fled and buried the injured along the way, crossing the border and arriving at a hospital here after weeks of fierce fighting in his Syrian town of Qusair.
Ibrahim, a dark-haired man with bandages across his abdomen, said he was injured in a rocket attack amid raging battles between rebel fighters and Syrian government troops backed by Lebanon’s militant group, Hezbollah.
A nurse in a Qusair field hospital, Ibrahim, 27, arrived here two days ago after government soldiers drove out the rebels that had held the strategic town for over a year.
It took him three days to trek nine dangerous miles through rocky mountains to Lebanon, dodging soldiers he said were targeting the group of wounded he fled with.
“I was walking at night with the injury,” said Ibrahim, who asked that his last name not be used for security reasons. “The others carried me for a bit, then I’d walk a bit again.”
Once over the border, the Lebanese Red Cross helped shuttle him and his uncle, Mohammed, to a Bekaa Valley hospital. With tears in his eyes, Mohammed described how they buried those who died of their wounds along the way.
“We buried them with our own hands,” he said. “The injured were walking for three days without food or drink.”
Mohammed described a young Syrian man, injured in a rocket attack, who was fleeing with them.
“His whole body was burned,” he said, adding that they had no water to sooth his wounds. “There was lot of sun, and it was warm. He dried to death. We buried him. It was very tragic.”
There has been no official word on casualties in the battle for Qusair, but residents and others interviewed have indicated that the toll was high on both sides. Mohammed, who said he helped with relief efforts in Qusair, estimated that there were at least 1,300 injured.
The field hospital where Ibrahim worked was shelled, and the wounded were scattered in houses and whatever havens there were. Ibrahim said he was hurt when a rocket hit his home. He was treated by local medics but needed surgery.
As regime troops and Hezbollah militants advanced, the wounded and last remaining residents fled. Mohammed and Ibrahim left together amid raging street battles and “planes and shelling,” they said.
Their group, which would dwindle to only a few, split up as Syrian troops chased them.
“They hit us, and people were horrified,” Ibrahim said. “Everyone spread out and began moving in one direction.”
Ibrahim said they brought with them a couple of injured Syrian army recruits who had been treated at the field hospital. They later disappeared along the way, he said.
“For 20 days we had been treating them in the field hospital -- there were no revenge politics,” Ebrahim said. “They made a stretcher for one of the soldiers whose leg had been hit.”
Ibrahim and Mohammed said they were not surprised by the behavior of the Syrian army. What did surprise and disappoint them, however, was seeing large numbers of Hezbollah militants fighting in Qusair for Syrian President Bashar Assad.
At one point, Hezbollah fighters were holed up in a seized apartment near Mohammed’s home.
“We didn’t expect it. We thought they were brothers,” said Mohammed. “They were there with their Hezbollah flag and outfits and everything. Their treatment [of residents] was anything but human. They would see a civilian injured by a rocket, but they wouldn’t help. They would just finish him off.”
Ibrahim said he once supported Hezbollah for its anti-Israel stance. In 2006, he said, Qusair residents housed and fed Lebanese refugees from Hezbollah’s summer war with Israel.
“They ate what we ate and drank what we drank,” Ibrahim said.
Ibrahim said he despises Assad, whom he describes as “sectarian, racist and a dictator.” He also said he hates the extremist Islamist groups, such as Al Nusra Front, that are among the rebel factions in Syria. Both will be fought, he said.
But despite the conflict raging in his home country, Ibrahim said he has not lost hope.
“A human never loses hope, he lives for it,” he said. “We only want peace and security and freedom in Syria.”
Sandels is a special correspondent. Times staff writer Jeffrey Fleishman in Cairo contributed to this report.
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