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'Not an honourable thing': on the ground in Syria

A man who made three trips to Syria has spoken of the horrors he experienced and has urged others not to go, reports Neil Mercer.

Yehya El Kholed made his first trip to Syria in 2011. The conflict was in its early days but he wanted to help. He sold his cars to help finance his humanitarian work. He had family in Homs and he knew they were suffering.

He left his wife and children behind in Australia. “I gave my goodbyes to my wife. I thought I was going to die.”

In an interview with The Point Magazine, Yehya says he was “passionate” about going not just because his aunts and uncles were in danger, but he was also motivated by the “inaction of the international community.”

Fortunately, Yehya not only survived that journey but two subsequent visits to Syria. He returned to Australia in January this year and says there is no way he could, or would, go back.

“(They) do not know their religion. So they’re easily manipulated. They’d watch a movie on YouTube and they’d get brainwashed into thinking what they’re doing is an honourable thing.”

– Yehya El Kholed

“It is chaotic,” he said.

He said he was not against people fighting for a proper cause, “But if you go to Syria now all you will be doing is fighting, killing innocent civilians. It is not Jihad to go to a Muslim country and kill Muslims.

“When I was first there, people needed food. I thought I could buy food in Syria which was my ignorance. So we had to go to Turkey, and get food from Turkey.

“It was just a big, big headache. Didn’t work as well as I wanted ‘cause you had to go sneak in through government areas and it was really difficult.”

Yehya says nothing had prepared him for what he saw on the ground - the dead, the dying and wounded. Children maimed and killed. To this day, he has nightmares.

Despite the horrors of war, he went a second time, in December 2012, and stayed for about two months.

“Food was no longer an issue,” he recalls.

“It was about medicine. It was about clothing. It was about electricity. It was about having a fridge.”

He says he and others organized crutches and wheelchairs. In addition, he spent “a lot of time cleaning up rubble from destroyed houses and whatever. At least the rubbish was removed from the street.”

In November last year, Yehya returned to Syria for the third and final time.

“This is the worst time around. We had 15 days worth of barrel bombs on our city. It got horrific. Every day it was Booom! …Booom!”

He says the house he was staying in was blown up.

“And then my neighbour\'s house got bombed. I can’t help myself but cry, you can’t help yourself when everyone else is crying.

“And then the Ambulance are going off. And there’s a guy burnt, on fire, there. Someone trying to save a shop there.

“And there was this girl, she was sleeping there naked. I didn’t think to myself that I should cover her, you know. So I just grabbed her, chucked her over my shoulder and I took her out. What can you do? The girl’s dead, right?

“I had one of my closest friends killed. You could hear people screaming.”

He says when IS fighters turned up he initially thought help was at hand.

“I was happy, I was excited.”

But instead of helping, he says they did nothing to assist. They “were all just standing there with their guns … we’re all looking at each other.

“I mean, literally, people were dying.”

Yehya is critical of “white Westerners” who are going to fight with groups like IS.

“(They) do not know their religion. So they’re easily manipulated. They’d watch a movie on YouTube and they’d get brainwashed into thinking what they’re doing is an honourable thing.”

“Fighting the Assad regime is an honourable thing. That’s what I believe. Killing innocent people is not an honourable thing.

“What I am seeing from these type of groups is that all they are doing is killing innocent people.

“Sometimes I question even if they’re Muslims. Seriously.”

He says IS turned on him because he refused to fight.

“They want to kill me.”

As for his relatives, his uncles and aunts, Yehya says a lot of them have died in the conflict. Others have fled.

“You’ll never know what happened anymore. You’ll never know. ‘Cause there no phone lines. There’s no internet for them. All you can take is the rumour that they’re dead.

“I hope for best. But I’m expecting the worst.”

The Point

A man who has experienced the Syrian conflict has urged others not to go

Author Note

Image thanks to Blueprint Studios.

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