The children were still playing in the streets on Friday night. Then the rebels bombed the village.
On Saturday, they should have celebrated a wedding in Mhardeh, a Christian village in northwest Syria. Instead they had to carry ten of their own to the grave; two more later died in hospital.
The streets were full of people in mourning; they carried the dead to the Greek Orthodox Church of St. George on Saturday morning. The coffins were carried on people’s shoulders in the traditional way.
The attack occurred at 18.30 on Friday night, as traffic in the village was at its busiest before the weekend.
Family loses mother, grandmother and 3 children
Five of the dead were children under 15, three from the same family, whose mother and grandmother were also killed. The children’s father is in hospital. In total, over 20 people were injured.
“Do you feel that you are safe now?” asked a reporter for Norwegian newspaper Dagen, which has links to Mhardeh. “All we can do now is to pray,” a local source told its reporter. “The only thing we feel is grief. Please pray for us.”
Mhardeh, reported to be one of the most densely populated Christian villages in Syria, has received thousands of internally displaced people from other parts of the country.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) confirmed the attack, putting it in the context of the government forces’ current offensive in Idlib.
Mhardeh is surrounded by several rebel-controlled villages. Last year, the village was subjected to a violent attack under what has become known as the Hama offensive (Hama, about 45km north of Homs, is the nearest city) when the rebels tried to take control of the village from Syrian government forces.
Earlier, the village had also been attacked several times by the rebel group Jaysh al-Izza, which has been supported by the US with anti-tank missiles
According to Al Masdar News, which is broadly pro-Syrian government, Al-Qaeda-linked opposition group Jund Al-Aqsa and the Free Syrian Army launched an offensive against the strategically important Mhardeh last Monday.
Dagen wrote about a group of youngsters from Mhardeh in March, when its reporter visited the St. Elias monastery near Tartus.
Fifteen young students had come to the monastery to have a break from the war. “We come to pray, help and share life with the monks,” said one of the students at the time.
Dagen confirmed that the students they met then were unharmed in the village attacks. But one of the women told them that her sister’s wedding last Saturday had to be cancelled; the bride hopes to be able to hold the ceremony later. But then it will be without a wedding party, said the woman, who was busy cleaning her sister’s new house when several bombs fell right next to it, but did not explode, she said.
The area around Mhardeh is now being searched for unexploded bombs, they told Dagen.