Women of War: Syria photos win top Paris prize

Images of an exclusively female battalion win the Medaille d’Or from the Prix de la Photographie Paris

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In March last year when photographer Sebastiano Tomada braved his chances and traveled to Aleppo, the heart of the uprising against the Assad regime, the world was astounded at what he had discovered.

At the core of this bloody civil war in the center of the conservative Islamic Middle East, an exclusively female Kittiba - Arabic for battalion- had taken up arms against the regime, The Daily Mail reported on Monday.

The photographs he captured were front-cover news throughout the West. And now, almost 18 months later, his efforts have been acknowledged with the Medaille d’Or from the Prix de la Photographie Paris.

Sebastiano Tomada
Sebastiano Tomada

Tomada held a rendezvous with the women fighters, some of them clutching their children, in an undisclosed command post inside Aleppo.

Many of them felt compelled to fight in vengeance of husbands killed in action, many chose to fight to regain their humility following the injustices dealt out by the regime and loyalist troops.

Sebastiano Tomada
Sebastiano Tomada

According to the Daily Mail report, one of them, Om Ahmad, a 72-year-old mother-of-three, told him how she had fled with her children to Aleppo after her home in Dara'a was destroyed by bombers.

'I chose to pick up a weapon and fight the regime,' she said.

For another woman among the fighters, Benifet Ikhla, a 27-year-old widowed by the fighting, her motivation was equality for women. 'I fight for life and freedom, I fight to prove that woman and man are equal,' she said.

Sebastiano Tomada
Sebastiano Tomada

A third, Fadwa, a widowed mother-of-three aged just 20, was more fatalistic. She said: 'My husband died on the front lines, I will die on the front lines, may God help us.'

In March around 150 women had enlisted with the katiba, according to a monitoring group they were playing a key role in the fierce fighting around the city, The Daily Mail reported.

During spring 2013, the rebels looked like they may have a decisive victory over regime forces in Aleppo. But the absence of unity among various rebel battalions, who extended from the generally secular Free Syrian Army - with whom the women were affiliated - to the outwardly Islamist al-Nusra front, made cooperation and unified resistance difficult.

When the regime, augmented by fighters from the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah, threw its counter-attack in late March, divisions amongst the rebels became hard to gloss over, while atrocities committed by more extremist-leaning groups erased their public backing.

Last month the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that as many as 7,000 people have been killed in rebel infighting since January alone, including some 650 civilians caught in the crossfire.

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