DAMASCUS, Syria — Jamal, a 25-year-old student at the University of Damascus, is accustomed to spending most of his holidays at his brother Hossam’s house in Adra al-Omalia, 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) northeast of Damascus, where he would play with his three nephews and savor the cooking of his sister-in-law. However, when Jaish al-Islam fighters stormed the town of Adra al-Omalia on Dec. 14, 2013, his brother’s entire family was abducted by the fighters.
Jamal lives with his mother and sister in Mezze 86, a popular and mostly Alawite district that is very difficult to enter, given the prevalence of the Popular Committees that prevent anyone who does not reside there from entering. Al-Monitor arrived at the outskirts of the district with Jamal in a taxi. He gestured to a member of the Popular Committee, “Habibi! How are you? These are our guests.” And with that, we entered the Mezze 86 district.