Iraqi, Lebanese Shiites unite to ‘protect Damascus shrine from Sunni rebels’

Iraqi, Lebanese Shiites unite to ‘protect Damascus shrine from Sunni rebels’

Published time: March 04, 2013 19:01

A Shiite military unit has emerged in Damascus to fight Sunni rebels, while also pledging independence from Syrian President Bashar Assad. The multi-ethnic brigade reportedly claims their only aim to protect a local shrine.

The presence of Shiite combatants from Iraq and Lebanon in the Syrian capital was confirmed to Reuters by sources in Iraq and Syria.

Their move to set up a military brigade and protect one of the major Shia relics in Damascus – the shrine of Sayidda Zeinab, granddaughter of the Prophet Muhammad and daughter of Imam Ali, believed to be the father of Shia Islam – follows reports that rebels have destroyed or damaged other Shia holy sites across the war-torn country.

A video from Syria's northern Idlib province was posted online in mid-December showing dozens of anti-Assad fighters congratulating and kissing each other in front of what was believed to be a Shia mosque burned down by the rebels. The incident was condemned by Human Rights Watch, which in a January statement confirmed that rebels in Syria had desecrated and looted the religious sites of various minorities.

"While the motivation for the church break-ins may have been theft rather than a religious attack, opposition fighters have a responsibility to protect religious sites in areas under their control from willful damage and theft," Human Rights Watch said.

Sayidda Zeinab’s shrine in Damascus has been damaged before – last June, a suicide bomb attack took place near it.

The majority of the brigade set up to defend the shrine are Iraqis who had fled their country and found refuge in Syria before the war began, Reuters reported.

Shiite Iraqi official interviewed by Reuters said the rebels "wanted to destroy the Sayyida Zeinab shrine and hundreds of Iraqi Shiites who were already living in Syria stood up to them and fought back."


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