Syria war draws in Christian musician and seven brothers

Tue Feb 24, 2015 9:02am EST
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By Tom Perry and Laila Bassam

DAMASCUS (Reuters) - In the Old City of Damascus, the Syrian war drove eight Christian brothers to take up arms to defend their community from insurgents they saw as an existential threat.

Two of the Dawoud brothers, born and raised in the ancient Christian quarter of Bab Touma, were killed last September battling jihadists who have come to dominate the insurgency against President Bashar al-Assad.

Pictures of them, dressed in military fatigues, mark the way to the 17th century house hidden in a warren of alleyways where the six surviving brothers still live with their families, each in their own quarters arranged around a central courtyard.

"This is a battle of life or death,” said Ibrahim Dawoud, 53, a picture of his two late brothers, killed fighting an al-Qaeda linked group, swinging in a hefty pendant from his neck.

"I teach oriental music, but at the same time we love our people and we can’t allow them get anywhere near our people."

The Dawouds are a sample of the support base that has helped the government through the war about to enter its fifth year.

At the start of the Syrian conflict, which grew from protests against Assad's rule, the army became stretched and suffered defections to the rebellion. The government raised dependable militias to help in the fight.

Known as the National Defence Forces and believed to number in the tens of thousands, they, along with other loyalist militia, help to ensure the state remains by far the strongest party to a conflict estimated to have killed 200,000 people.   Continued...

Former music teacher Ibrahim Dawoud, now a fighter with forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar Al-Assad, holds a shell fragment after he was wounded by what he said was shelling on his home in the ancient Christian quarter of Bab-Touma in Damascus January 27, 2015. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki