Syrian girl struggles for life amid lingering ISIS nightmares

SWEIDA, Syria, Aug. 18 (Xinhua) — Hanin Jibai, 17, woke up one night to the sound of gunfire outside her house. Not knowing what was happening, she saw her mother holding a stick and fighting to prevent gunmen from breaking into the house.

It was not a bad dream, but anyone’s worst nightmare, as the gunmen who were militants with the Islamic State (IS) outside her house after storming her village of Shibki in the eastern countryside of Sweida province in southern Syria.

This teenage girl went to bed without a clue in mind that her peaceful village would be overrun by IS before daybreak and her loss was huge.

“I woke up to the sound of bullets whizzing through our door, the militants entered the house and killed my mother. They wanted to take me with them and I told my other two sisters to jump into a water tank inside our house,” she told Xinhua.

Jibai said there was no other way for her but to jump to encourage her two other sisters, both under 12, to follow her in the hope that they could survive.

“I threw myself in front of them but they were scared as IS fighters saw us and one of them grabbed my hand as I was trying to hide inside the half-filled tank. I managed to jerk my hand out of his grip, but he grabbed my two sisters and didn’t let them jump behind me,” she recounted.

Hiding inside the water tank has saved her life as the IS assailant thought she drowned, but he hustled the two sisters out of the home and killed them.

The girl remained in her hiding place until she heard no more gunshots. She climbed out the tank and looked around, the first thing she saw was the body of her mother near the door.

“When I left the water tank, I rushed to the place where my mother’s medicine was, and swallowed many pills as I wanted to die, fearing the militants would come back inside,” she said.

Thankfully, the girl did not die but fainted under the impact of the pills before waking up on a hospital bed.

Remembering her mother and two sisters, the girl, who lives now with her uncle, said she had never imagined her life without them, but “life must go on.”

“I accepted the fact that they are gone not kidnapped because at least I have a closure,” she said, wearing a black sweater and pants as a symbol of grief.

“Now I want to continue my education to fulfill the dream of my family of becoming a doctor,” she said.

The girl did not visit her house in the village after the attack, saying she cannot live there anymore alone after losing her family.

But she said that she will only visit to take a look at her belongings in the simple village house, which is only a one-floor house with little furniture as her family was poor. No beds are inside the house, but a few mattresses on the ground.

The blood of her mother is still near the front door along with the wooden stick she was holding desperately to defend herself and her daughters.

Even empty bullet cases are still scattered on the front yard. The holes in the walls and the metal door are the evidence of the ferocious attack.

Shibki village is one of the five villages the IS militants attacked on July 25 in Sweida countryside near the desert region.

The attack was the largest in Sweida since the beginning of the Syrian war more than seven years ago, and 260 people were killed in village attacks and suicide bombings.

The IS militants stormed houses in Shibki and other towns, kidnapping people while shooting dead others.

The attack was a surprise by the IS, as no one thought a handful of IS militants in the desert would dare to launch such an attack before daybreak when all people were asleep.

At the time of the attack, Jibai’s cousin was at home with his father just a few meters away from Hanin’s house.

The IS militants also stormed his home and immediately shot dead his father who woke up to the sound of gunfire outside and fumbled to hold his rifle.

The attackers spotted his cousin, a 34-year-old law graduate, and they yelled at him to surrender when a bullet fired from another near house distracted the IS fighters for a few second enough for him to escape the house.

He found a rifle and joined other neighbors in defending their homes.

The man was curious and worried about Jibai’s house, whose father died long time ago. He inched closer but could not enter the house from its door.

He and other villagers knocked down a rear window in Jibai’s house and entered to save what could be saved.

“After a period of clashes, I managed to reach the house and I was among the first to be there but snippers were near the house so I got engaged with them in a gunfire,” her cousin said.

The first thing he saw was the body of Jibai’s mother on the ground.

“We found Jibai inside the wooden body of the couch trembling unconsciously that’s when we rushed her to the hospital,” he narrated.

The man said that IS militants retreated after the reinforcement of the Syrian army, he entered the house where several bodies were burned including Hanin’s sisters, fired by the IS fighters.

After the attack, he and other men in the village remained on alert, making patrols around the clock in case of IS attack, even though the Syrian army pushed back IS and besieged its fighters in an area called Tulol al-Safa in the remote eastern countryside of Sweida.

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