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'The Family House Was Hit': Syrian Attack Kills Palestinians

Ahmed al-Hurani, left, and his son, Bassam, live in the West Bank. Eleven members of their family living in Syria died in the chemical attack on Aug. 21.
Emily Harris
Ahmed al-Hurani, left, and his son, Bassam, live in the West Bank. Eleven members of their family living in Syria died in the chemical attack on Aug. 21.

The U.S. says more than 1,400 people were killed by chemical weapons in Syria on Aug. 21. Other sources have cited lower figures.

Not all victims were Syrian. A Palestinian family in Jenin, in the northern West Bank, is mourning the loss of 11 members.

'Everyone Inside Had Died'

Ahmed al-Hurani keeps one hand on his cane as he sits in the shade on his home's large balcony. His son, Bassam, is next to him, chain smoking French cigarettes. Bassam al-Hurani says they first heard on television about the chemical weapons attack in the Damascus suburb where one of Ahmed al-Hurani's brothers had lived for decades.

"We heard that the Zamalka area in Syria had been hit," Bassam al-Hurani says. "Immediately we called our cousins and our cousins told us that the family house was hit, and everyone inside had died."

Everyone inside included Ahmed al-Hurani's brother, his wife and a total of nine sons, daughters, in-laws and grandchildren.

More family members had decided just the day before to leave Syria and seek safety in Jordan.

"One of my cousins tried for a long time to persuade his father to go to Jordan," Bassam al-Hurani says. "The father said, 'Sorry, I'm not leaving my house. I'm going to die here.' Some of my cousins and their families left. A few hours later the people who stayed behind were killed."

Bassam al-Hurani says members of the extended al-Hurani family have been killed in conflicts before. Two cousins died fighting Jewish militias in the 1940s. A niece was killed during a confrontation between Palestinians and Israeli soldiers in Jenin.

Several other relatives, all children, died in a conventional attack in Syria earlier this year. Ahmed al-Hurani says it hardly matters that these latest deaths were from poison gas.

"I don't see a difference," he says. "To me, all weapons kill."

His son says he doesn't believe Syrian President Bashar al-Assad carried out the attack. Ahmed al-Hurani isn't sure.

"Is it Assad, or his opposition? We don't know. Only God knows who did it."

'It Will Be A World War'

Bassam al-Hurani follows news from Syria closely, flipping through channels for a couple hours a night after he gets home late from his job driving a taxi. Despite this, he had not heard of earlier alleged uses of chemical weapons. He has seen extensive coverage of deliberations over a possible U.S. attack, something he does not support.

"I think other countries should have worked on solving the crisis in Syria much earlier," Bassam al-Hurani says. "In my opinion, America's intention to hit Syria is illegal. It's not right. America should stand in the middle and stop the fighting, rather than escalating it."

His father agrees.

"I only see a lot of harm coming out of such an attack," Ahmed al-Hurani says. "It will be a world war. Israel, Jordan, Turkey — everybody will be affected."

Ahmed al-Hurani himself lived in Syria for nearly a decade when he was a young man. While there, he earned enough doing construction work to come home to Jenin and find a bride. They built a big house and raised a family.

He last saw the brother who died in the chemical attack three years ago, on a visit to Syria before the civil war began.

"We really had a great time," he says. "There was no danger. Those were very good days."

Once the war started, staying in touch became sporadic. The last Ahmed al-Hurani heard of his brother's fate was, again, on TV.

"We heard on TV that they put them all in one big grave. Mother, father, sons, wives and grandchildren."

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International Correspondent Emily Harris is based in Jerusalem as part of NPR's Mideast team. Her post covers news related to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. She began this role in March of 2013.