DAMASCUS (Reuters) – Amira Gharmoush’s family has been a victim of both sides of the war for the eastern Ghouta region near Damascus. The 67-year-old Syrian mother of nine is now hoping to piece back together what’s left of it.
She fled eastern Ghouta four years ago when, she said, one of her three daughters was killed by insurgents in the area, the last major rebel stronghold near Damascus until the Syrian government launched a ferocious campaign to recapture it.
Two her six sons accompanied her on her journey out of eastern Ghouta at the time. They were detained by the Syrian government and she has not heard from them since.
The other four sons stayed inside eastern Ghouta, separated from their mother by the frontlines of a war that has broken up countless families and killed hundreds of thousands of people over the last seven years.
As the frontlines shifted in recent weeks, Gharmoush was reunited with two more of her sons. They fled eastern Ghouta two weeks ago as the government offensive pushed closer to their homes, uprooting them and many thousands more.
Backed by Russia, the assault has underlined President Bashar al-Assad’s unassailable position in the war.
Gharmoush spoke at a Syrian government supervised shelter for displaced people, where she was visiting the sons who left Ghouta recently. She expressed hope that she would soon see the two sons who remain in the area.
Both are in Douma, the last town under rebel control. “It’s been four years since I’ve seen them,” she said, her eyes full of tears.
“My hope is that my sons who are in Ghouta get out, and that the ones who are detainees get out, and to bring my children together so we all live together,” said Gharmoush.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says more than 1,600 civilians have been killed in the government bombardment of the area, which has been besieged for years.
More than 140,000 people have been displaced from eastern Ghouta since the offensive got underway in February, according to figures cited by the Russian military and the Observatory.
The Russian defense ministry said on Friday around 32,000 rebel fighters and members of their families had so far been transported to opposition-held areas in the Idlib region of northwestern Syria, Interfax reported.
Many of those who have not gone to Idlib are in shelters for the displaced near Damascus. The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Aid has said the displaced are not permitted to leave the shelters until they have undergone a screening process.
Gharmoush sat next to her seven-year-old granddaughter – the child of the daughter who was killed four years ago, who she has cared for ever since.
Gharmoush says her daughter was killed for delivering bread to government troops stationed at a checkpoint near their village, Otaya.
She did not say which rebel group the killers belonged to. Reuters could not verify the account.
Gharmoush, who has been working as a household servant in the capital since fleeing her farm, says she dreams of going back to her home in Otaya, where they kept sheep and cows.
“I would be the first one to return. If my home is destroyed I will put up a tent like the one I am in now and stay there. I will gather my children and we will stay together.”
Reporting by Kinda Makieh in Damascus; Writing by Tom Perry: Editing by Andrew Bolton