Mohammad Sabbah, seen here with his father Imam Suh Hisabel, commanded a unit in the Free Syrian Army before a tank wounded him with a blow to his forehead.

PHOTO | MICHAEL SWAN, CATHOLIC REGISTER

Mohammad Sabbah, seen here with his father Imam Suh Hisabel, commanded a unit in the Free Syrian Army before a tank wounded him with a blow to his forehead.

September 30, 2013
MICHAEL SWAN
THE CATHOLIC REGISTER

While diplomats shuffle between Geneva, Moscow and Washington, their plans to place Syria's chemical weapons under international control are having no impact on the war of attrition Syrians are fighting with rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, tanks and bombing raids.

As the violence that's killed more than 100,000 Syrians wears on, Turkey is seeing more and more of the human toll in the form of refugees and wounded fighters.

At the border, a young man who has lost both legs shies away from a camera as he waits for someone to pick him up. In a makeshift charity hospital, wounded fighters are mixed in with civilians - some anxious for their chance to get back to the fighting, others who will pay the cost of this war day by day the rest of their lives.

At a small hospital for refugees, Imam Suh Hisabel shows he is proud of his son, proud of the army his son fought for and proud of its dedication to the cause of a free and united Syria. He says the fighters have no interest in a religiously or ethnically divided state.

"The Free Syrian Army took a Christian village and didn't kill anybody. They were happy we came. We didn't do those things," the Imam said through an interpreter.

"We don't have a problem with Christians. In the Free Syrian Army we have Christians. In the Free Syrian Army we have Alawites."

Here in Kilis, on the Turkish side of the Syrian-Turkey border, it's impossible to verify such claims.

HORRIFIC BRAIN DAMAGE

The feelings of Hisabel's son are even harder to discern. He lies in the next room grinning and clutching a miniature soccer ball, with a wound to his head that's hard to look at. The former commander of a Free Syrian Army unit, Mohammad Sabbah had some sort of run-in with a tank. Something hit him between the eyes. The brain damage is obvious.

Sabbah lies in a room with eight other young men watching a Turkish soap opera. He is one of two Free Syrian Army fighters in the room. The seven others, one just 13 years old, all claim to be civilian victims of the fighting.

A young man who lies on his back with a pillow between his legs says he was running away from bombs and was hit by a car. The cervical injury has left him paralyzed from the waist down. He asks me if I can help him obtain an electric wheelchair.

FIGHT FOR FREEDOM

In the next room a couple of injured fighters say they are heading back to Syria as soon as they can. I asked them whether they believe fighting will resolve the problems in Syria.

"We have no other choice," says one. "We have to fight for our freedom."

They reject the notion Syria might become a divided state, with a separate Alawite republic as there was under the French mandate at the end of the First World War, and a Kurdish zone connected to the emerging state of Kurdistan in northern Iraq.

ASSAD CREATED PROBLEM

"We want a normal country," says the spokesman for the group. "Our goal is killing Assad because he is killing us. We are fighting for a united Syria for all Syrians. He (Assad) is taking Syria for his own property."

Ethnic and religious division is part of the political schemes of the Assad regime and has nothing to do with the Free Syrian Army, according to the soldiers.

"Assad has made that problem between the Kurds and Alawite and Sunnis," said the soldier.

The men are receiving treatment at a little clinic behind a gas station in this town of 88,000 in the heart of some of Turkey's best agricultural land.

Kimse Yok Mu, a humanitarian relief organization of the Hizmet movement, helped open the clinic recently.

The clinic deals with post-traumatic stress disorders and serious injuries from government bombing raids carried out over Free Syrian Army territory in the northern reaches of Syria.