(AFP) – The image of a small, limbless girl lying in a hospital in Ghouta is burned into the memory of Mohammad Fadhl Akram, one of the first people to flee a rebel Syrian city under bombardment from government forces.
Years of siege left the enclave a desperate place, where hungry people depended on the kindness of neighbours for food; where disease lurked in the faltering water supply and where death fell from the sky in a hail of rockets.
“We did not know who was killing us and who wasn’t,” says Akram, now in Pakistan. “The one thing we knew was that they were destroying our city.”
Initially the violence that has engulfed their adopted country since 2011 did not worry Akram, a Pakistani who arrived in Syria in 1974 and took two wives – a woman from Ghouta, Rabah Jarrad, and Saghran Bibi, a Pakistani cousin.
Then foreign militants came. Two of his sons enlisted in an armed group, while a third was caught up in street violence in 2013.
Akram remembers darkness thickening as the family waited for their son to return home.
When he did, he lay lifeless in the back of an ambulance.
The boy’s mother “could not stand it, she had a heart attack” and died, he says, clutching Rabah’s blue passport.