As thousands flee airstrikes on Daraa city, one resident explains why he is staying: ‘We’d rather die with dignity’

Renewed battles between pro-Assad and rebel forces in Syria’s southern Daraa city are sending thousands of residents fleeing into the countryside for a tenth consecutive day on Monday.

In the most deadly fighting to hit the provincial capital since 2015, hundreds of regime and Russian airstrikes—including reported barrel bombs and incendiary munitions—are crushing homes along the frontlines. The escalation threatens to worsen an already dire displacement crisis in Daraa province, where nearly one third of the total population are internally displaced, according to the most recent UN estimates.

But Daraa resident Mansour Mohammad al-Qassim has decided to stay with his wife and two-year-old son in the city’s Daraa Camp neighborhood, a former Palestinian refugee camp located just south of the frontlines.

“We’ve grown accustomed to life under the bombs,” the 35-year-old tells Syria Direct’s Bahira al-Zarier via WhatsApp from his home in Daraa city. “We’d rather stay here, and die with dignity in our own home.”

As the Syrian and Russian air forces flatten al-Qassim’s district, he describes a neighborhood that is “90 percent destroyed.” There are no remaining doctors, and food is “unavailable.” Safe drinking water has not entered the district in 10 days, he says, as airstrikes make roads impassable for water tankers from the opposition controlled countryside.

Only 200 of Daraa Camp’s thousands of residents remain, al-Qassim estimates.

Q: What is the living situation like inside Daraa city today? How many residents are still inside the opposition-controlled half of the city?

There are around 200 people who preferred to stay in Daraa Camp, but they are living in very tragic conditions due to the violent bombings—which include barrel bombs and incendiary napalm.

[Ed.: It is unclear what types of explosives government forces are dropping on Daraa city. In general, many Syrians refer to any type of incendiary weapon as “napalm.”]

These [attacks] have set fire to a large number of homes and injured residents.

Since the beginning of the assault on Daraa Camp 10 days ago, there has been no safe water for drinking, cleaning or bathing. What water we do have is stored in roof-top tanks belonging to families who already fled.

 A reported incendiary bomb hits rebel-held Daraa city on Sunday. Photo courtesy of Nabaa Media Foundation

Also, we’re in the month of Ramadan and food is unavailable. We aren’t receiving any support from human rights organizations. As for the medical situation, there isn’t a single nurse or doctor remaining.

Are we supposed to just go on living life without any of its most basic necessities?

Q: Can you tell me more about how you are obtaining safe drinking water?  

Water has been cut off from Daraa Camp for the past 10 days. Before that, water used to enter the neighborhood via water tanks from wells [located outside the city, in areas of rural Daraa under rebel control].

But because of the intense bombings, the road into the neighborhood is now closed and the water tankers cannot enter.

There is no other way for us to secure safe drinking water, except to halt the bombings and let the water tankers back in.

Q: How are you and your family coping with daily life under increased bombardment?

We’ve grown accustomed to life under the the bombs. Our lives haven’t changed because the bombings are constant and we don’t know when one assault ends and another begins. The regime warplanes take turns bombing us day and night, and all we can do is stay inside our homes and take shelter together in rooms away from windows.

There are many bomb shelters, but they aren’t safe because of the intensity with which Assad and his allies are bombing us.

Q: Can you describe the amount of material destruction you’re seeing in your neighborhood? How are you reacting to this emotionally, as someone witnessing the destruction from the inside?

About 90 percent of the neighborhood is destroyed.

 Al-Qassim’s neighborhood on Monday. Photo courtesy of Mansour Mohammad al-Qassim.

I’m still not considering leaving home, and neither are the other residents who are determined to stay. We made a choice to remain steadfast and resistant, because there is no avoiding death if that’s what God has written for us.

Q: Thousands of Daraa residents are fleeing into the countryside to escape the airstrikes and artillery shells. Why did you and your wife decide to stay behind?

Despite the bombardment, we didn’t want to leave our home. There is nothing for us outside of Daraa Camp, and rent elsewhere is expensive. I have no job right now and no income. I’m not considering fleeing to one of the camps—I don’t want to live in a tent. That would be like a slow death for me and my family.

We’d rather stay here, and die with dignity in our own home. Any place we flee to will have airstrikes.

In Syria, there is no safe place except in death. 

Bahira al-Zarier

Bahira is from Damascus. She studied business and marketing before moving to Jordan in 2013. She did volunteer work in support of many refugee organizations before joining Syria Direct.

Rahaf Abazaid

Originally from Daraa province, Rahaf moved to Jordan in 2013. She was unable to finish her studies in pharmacy due to the war.

Madeline Edwards

Madeline Edwards graduated from the College of Charleston with a bachelor’s degree in International Studies and Political Science in 2016. She was a Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) recipient in Arabic in 2013. Her studies have brought her to Jordan, Palestine and Turkey.