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A MUSALAHA INITIATIVE

EVACUATING CIVILIANS FROM MOADAMIYA, A BESIEGED REBEL CITY IN DAMASCUS, WESTERN GHOUTA

Following is the story, with photos and video links, of the rescue of thousands of citizens in Moadamiya, which ended less than 24 hours before Mother Agnes-Mariam boarded her flight to the US.  The Mussalaha(“Reconciliation”) Movement and Mother Agnes-Mariam played a key role, and it is worth noting the cooperation on all sides in building trust.  This was especially the case with respect to the opposition fighters and leadership that prevented the arrest of two of the companions of Mother Agnes-Mariam in the Mussalaha team.  Note that all sides also are responsible for the breakdown of trust and the failure to extend the successes of the Moadamiya evacuation to other localities.  The main lesson appears to be that if outside interference is absent and all sides are willing to take risks for peace, it is possible.

Late October, 2013

The official Syrian news agency (SANA) reported that five thousand four hundred women and children were evacuated over three days from the town of Moadamiya al-Sham.  The town is largely in rebel control but has been besieged for months, and suffers daily violent clashes between the Syrian opposition and government forces.  The agency said that the Ministry of Social Affairs, in collaboration with the province of Damascus and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent transferred the women and children to a temporary accommodation center in the province of Damascus.

The Minister of Social Affairs Kinda Chammat promised in a press release that the government would provide decent living conditions for women and children, who have suffered greatly.  Mother Fadia Laham (AKA Agnès-Mariam of the Cross), general coordinator of the initiative, said that the evacuation of children, women and the elderly from other areas will continue, with special attention to those who need emergency care.  She said that the contacts and communication channels established during the Moadamiya evacuation could be used and expanded for cooperation of this type.  Mother Agnes Mariam said that the success of this initiative demonstrates the possibility of a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis when all parties are Syrian, and without foreign intervention.

Standing before the military barricade of the chemical plant in Moadamiya blocked by a mound of earth for eight months.

The bulldozer opens a breach in the fence for the first time in eight months.

No man’s land between the fence and the entrance arch, West Moadamiya.

The coordinating team waits an hour, to no avail.

The rebels refuse, by force of arms, for civilians to leave the city.

Despite the entreaties of her team, Agnès-Mariam produces a white flag and ventures beyond the entrance arch, in rebel territory, a no man’s land known for hiding twelve of the deadliest snipers. Her team follows her.

Joined by Sister Carmel and two members of her team, Mother Agnès-Mariam is welcomed by the men of the revolution that came without weapons.

Outside the factory they find themselves with women from Moadamiya waiting for their evacuation.

Mother Agnes weeps at seeing the condition of a starving woman.

After a brief walk through the destroyed and damaged town, the rebels take the team to the headquarters of the Military Council: an apartment on the first floor of a building.

Arriving there every fighter will ask to listen personally to the explanations of the sisters. Mistrust gives way to confidence, even cordiality.

With a young militiaman wearing the flag of the revolution on his forehead.

The militiamen represent various rebel factions: The Free Syrian Army but also Jabhat Al-Nusra, recognizable by the Islamic banner on his forehead. A wounded man shows his bandaged arm.

Suddenly, turmoil and shooting in the air. The “independent revolutionaries” arrive: they want to arrest two members of Mother Agnes-Mariam’s team because they were accused of having links with the government. The other factions object. A fight breaks out with rifles and bare hands.

Finally a prominent leader arrives. He asks his men to secure a safe exit for Mother Agnes- Mariam and Sister Carmel.

Eating olives together (the only vegetable available in the besieged city) as a sign of peace [watch video here]