Syria lovebirds exchange vows before opposition commander

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Yusef and Ghada met through Facebook, and with all of the courts in Syria’s war-ravaged second city of Aleppo closed, they had no choice but to exchange vows before an opposition commander.

“It was a very quick ceremony. We signed a paper, exchanged rings, and we were married. The commander (also a Muslim sheikh) was too busy to waste time on us reading verses from the Koran,” Yusef, 26, said with a laugh.

The marriage between the rebel fighter, who also works as a fixer for foreign journalists, and his 33-year-old lover brought some respite to Aleppo’s battered, opposition-held southwestern district of Sukkari.

Celebrating the occasion, AK-47 assault rifles were fired into the air by the rebels who are fighting to oust the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

“Congratulations! May God bring you lots of children,” one of them cheers as the groom’s friends dances in circles around the newlyweds.

“We can’ let war dictate our lives. We don’t know when this war will finish. It could be a few months, or it might be five or 10 years. Do I have to wait till then to continue living?” said Yusef.

Separated from her family by enemy lines, none of Ghada’s relatives were able to make it to the wedding, and it took her months to secure their blessing.

“My father has always supported Assad, and when we first got together, I tried to hide the fact that Yusef was fighting for the (rebel) Free Syrian Army,” said Ghada, an English literature graduate.

Ghada’s father eventually found a photograph showing Yusef wearing military clothing, and prohibited her from seeing or even speaking to him again.

But Yusef, who studied marketing at university, invited Ghada’s family to the rebel-held area he was living in.

“I invited Ghada’s parents to show them that the rebels aren’t terrorists, as the regime wants them to think,” says Yusef.

“They realized that life here is much better than in regime-held territory, despite the bombing of course.”

Ghada and Yusef’s story is rife with all the twists and turns of the conflict, which broke out in March 2011 when the regime launched a bloody crackdown on peaceful democracy protests.

They met online via one of hundreds of Facebook pages set up by Syrian activists opposed to the Assad regime.

“Yusef and I started chatting because my Facebook profile picture was an image of a little cat. He likes cats,” said Ghada.

Their love blossomed despite the division of Aleppo into pro- and anti-regime areas, said the rebel fighter.

“We have only seen each other four times. She lives in a regime-held area of the city, and if I go there, I’ll be killed because I joined the rebels,” he said.

“Most of the time, it’s too dangerous for her to come here, so we’ve spent the past seven months chatting online and on the phone.”

Now, the young couple look forward to having at least two children together, though each has a different feeling about what the future may hold, depending on the outcome of the conflict.

“I want my children to help fight in the war, or to rebuild the country” should the conflict end, Yusef says with pride.

But Ghada only dreams of peace.

“I want the war to end as quickly as possible, so that we can start a real life together, side by side with my husband and our children.”

With battles raging not too far away, the bride expressed fears the family might have to flee and join hundreds of thousands of others who have sought refuge abroad.

“I don’t want to leave Syria. But I might eventually change my mind because I want to do what’s best for the family,” says Ghada.

“But we’re still a long way away from all that. Deep down, what I want is to build a new country where our children can live happily.”

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