Shi’ite fighters from three countries rally to defend Damascus shrine
Shi’ite fighters from Iraq and Lebanon have joined fellow Shi’ite Syrian gunmen to defend a shrine south of Damascus which they fear is threatened by Sunni rebels battling President Bashar al-Assad.
The presence of Shi’ite combatants from neighboring states – confirmed by sources in Iraq and Syria and highlighted in videos glorifying their mission – underlines how Syria’s conflict is inflaming sectarian feelings in the region.
Abu al-Fadl al-Abbas brigade, named after a seventh century martyr son of Imam Ali who is considered the father of Shi’ite Islam, was formed several months ago and fights mainly around the shrine of Sayyida Zeinab on the southern outskirts of the Syrian capital, a source close to the brigade said.
Abbas’s sister Zeinab is buried in the gold-domed mausoleum, intricately decorated with blue ceramic tiles and surrounded by a white marble courtyard which used to fill with pilgrims before the uprising against Assad erupted and grew into a civil war.
The source said the brigade was set up in response to the perceived danger to the shrine and mosque from Sunni fighters who desecrated other places of worship for Shi’ites, who are a minority in Syria.
“They are there for one purpose and that is to defend the shrine,” he said, adding they were operating independently of Assad’s forces around the capital.