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Grandfather, grandson in Aleppo family rebel unit

  • Syrian members of the "Al-Saiqa" (Lightening) rebel brigade clean weapons before going to the frontline in the Saif al-Dawla district of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on October 6, 2012. AFP PHOTO/Tauseef MUSTAFA

ALEPPO: From 70-year-old Mohammed Tayeb Ismail, a white-haired grandfather, to his teenage grandson Adnan, 30 men from the same family make up the "Saiqa" (Lightning) unit of rebel fighters in Syria's Aleppo.

The patriarch, wearing a white keffiyeh headdress and military fatigues, holds his Kalashnikov assault rifle and carries a knife.

He tells his attentive sons and grandsons he wants to "fight until the fall of Bashar al-Assad," Syria's embattled president, who responded to an initially peaceful uprising with violent repression.

Once a merchant in the town of Al-Bab, about 30 kilometres (20 miles) northeast of Aleppo, the grandfather says he joined the rebellion when "Assad began bombing the houses of civilians."

He then united his sons, who were in two different brigades, into one.

The Saiqa brigade has been living in a house a few hundred metres (yards) from the front line of the southwest district of Saif al-Dawla in Aleppo, Syria's second largest city and its commercial hub.

The family combat unit is organised into two groups which take it in turns to fight. When one returns from the front, the other goes back out.

At midday the fighters take their meals together and pray in unison, led by Ismail. Mattresses are piled up in a corner of the room. The men also rotate sleeping times.

Ismail says he is not afraid of death, nor does he fear for the lives of his sons and grandsons, who have so far survived the bloody conflict that monitors say has now left more than 31,000 people dead.

"We have had three minor injuries, and another one is in serious condition," he says.

When asked whether his wife agreed that he go to the front at the venerable age of 70, he smiles but looks slightly annoyed, saying that on the contrary she "encouraged me to go and fight Assad."

The youngest, Adnan, who never takes his eyes off his grandfather, looks unconvinced.

It has only been seven days since the teenager joined the family brigade, after a week of training with an AK-47. "Before I was working as a carpenter with my father in Al-Bab," he says.

He says he joined the rebellion after being arrested during demonstrations against the regime, and that his father and his mother encouraged him to go to war.

"Tomorrow is my first day on the front," he adds.

Roles in the family are divided: two of the men prepare pieces of flat bread while the others clean their rifles, seated on a carpet.

Another shows the bomb he has just made, a device the size of a small bottle with a long protruding fuse.

When they do not receive a supply of bullets from the Liwa al-Tawhid Brigade -- the largest in Aleppo, which most small groups depend on -- they go up to the front line armed with improvised bombs.

In the living room are long plastic tubes with mirrors attached to the ends, making it possible for the fighters to see snipers around corners without having to expose themselves to danger.

"It's very good to be with the same family," says one of the sons, Ahmad. I feel reassured knowing that when I advance, someone will always watch my back."

After lunch, a team leaves for the front, and the grandfather lies on a mattress to rest.

 
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