The U.S. says more than fourteen hundred people were killed by chemical weapons in Syria on August 21. Other sources have cited lower figures.
Not all victims were Syrian. A Palestinian family in Jenin, in the northern West Bank, is mourning the loss of eleven people.
‘Everyone Inside Had Died’
Ahmed al-Hurani keeps one hand on his cane as he sits in the shade on his home’s large balcony. His son Bassam is next to him, chain smoking French cigarettes. Bassam says they first heard on television about the chemical weapon attack in the Damascus suburb where one of Ahmed’s brothers had lived for decades.
“We heard that the Zamalka area in Syria had been hit,” Bassam al-Hurani says. “Immediately we called our cousins and our cousins told us that the family house was hit, and everyone inside had died.”
Everyone inside had indeed died: Ahmed al-Hurani’s brother, his wife and a total of nine sons, daughters, in-laws and grandchildren.
More family members had decided just the day before to leave Syria and seek safety in Jordan.
“One of my cousins tried for a long time to persuade his father to go to Jordan,” says Bassam al-Hurani. “The father said, ‘Sorry, I’m not leaving my house. I’m going to die here.’ Some of my cousins and their families left. A few hours later the people who stayed behind were killed.”
Bassam says members of the extended al-Hurani family have been killed in conflicts before. Two cousins died fighting Jewish militias in the 1940s. A niece was killed during a confrontation between Palestinians and Israeli soldiers in Jenin.
Several other relatives, all children, died in a conventional attack in Syria earlier this year. Ahmed al-Hurani says it hardly matters that these latest deaths were from poison gas.
“I don’t see a difference,” he says. “To me, all weapons kill.”
His son says he doesn’t believe Bashar al-Assad carried out the attack. Ahmed al-Hurani isn’t sure.
“Is it Assad, or his opposition? We don’t know. Only God knows who did it.”
‘It Will Be A World War’
In this family, Bassam al-Hurani in particular follows news from Syria closely, flipping through channels for a couple hours a night after he gets home late from his taxi driving job. Despite this, he had not heard of earlier alleged uses of chemical weapons. He has seen extensive coverage of deliberations over a possible U.S. attack, something he does not support.
“I think other countries should have worked on solving the crisis in Syria much earlier,” Bassam al-Hurani says. “In my opinion, America’s intention to hit Syria is illegal. It’s not right. America should stand in the middle and stop the fighting, rather than escalating it.”
His father agrees.
“I only see a lot of harm coming out of such an attack,” says Ahmed al-Hurani. “It will be a world war. Israel, Jordan, Turkey — everybody will be affected.”
Ahmed al-Hurani himself lived in Syria for nearly a decade, as a young man. While there, he earned enough doing construction work to come home to Jenin and find a bride. They built a big house and raised a family.
He last saw the brother who died in the chemical attack three years ago, on a visit to Syria before the civil war began.
“We really had a great time,” he says. “There was no danger. Those were very good days.”
Once the war started, staying in touch became sporadic. The last Ahmed al-Hurani heard of his brother’s fate was, again, on TV.
“We heard on TV that they put them all in one big grave. Mother, father, sons, wives and grandchildren.”