PALMYRA, Syria (Xinhua) – Taking the first step in, Khaled al-Rashid, a 42-year-old Syrian man, smiled and gently touched a green tree at his home’s doorstep.
“It’s my mother’s tree with her smell,” al-Rashid said before going into the home in Palmyra city with his wife and two children, holding only a small plastic bag and a bundle of bread.
Four years have passed since the man left his house when the Islamic State (IS) extremists overran Palmyra in central Syria.
When the IS extremists stormed Palmyra, al-Rashid and his family were resting in home before they heard heavy gunshots.
“We were staying at home safely when we suddenly heard gunshots. We were so surprised and got out of the house and we saw strange faces that we had never seen before,” he said.
That moment destroyed the peace that the people of Palmyra had enjoyed for decades in their city, which suffers one of the most significant ruins in the world in the historic part of Palmyra.
Al-Rashid said that the IS extremists had shown no mercy or compassion, saying that they destroyed the lives of the people there and pushed him to take his family away.
“They had no mercy or compassion … What I can tell you is that we left and thought we could come back within days but the situation dragged on for four years,” the man told Xinhua.
The family first went to the town of Sukhneh, just 70km from Palmyra, as it was the town of his wife.
It didn’t take long before IS took over Sukhneh and al-Rashid’s family had to flee to other places in the desert region in the remote eastern countryside of Homs province.
He got as far as the Jordanian border, to the camp of Rukban, where life is described as nothing short of a disaster.
In the camp, he used to sell bread and work anything in his power to make some money to provide for his family.
He later left to Dumair and then to Hasya near Homs before being able to return home after four years of tough displacement.
He and tens of families returned home from Homs via buses to Palmyra.
“Thank God and I could finally see my house and its condition is not as bad as nearby properties,” he said with a sigh of relief.
Being tired of all the things that he has endured, al-Rashid said that he would fix the holes in the walls and the broken windows with blankets to be able to live again.
“I just want to regain my peace of mind and I have returned to my village and home … without the stress of rents in other areas and the complaints of the landlords over there,” he said.
The man added that there is nothing like home.
“We have suffered from foreignness and humiliation when we left our town and city,” he said.
The man wished that all Syrian people could return to their homes in peace and be able to rebuild their lives.
“I wish that all people in Syria can return to their homes with dignity and peace and to rebuild their lives and country again,” he said.