The city of Al-Salamiyah is not only one of the largest cities in the Hama Governorate; it is also home to the largest Ismaeli population in the world.
The Ismaelis have been targeted for many centuries because of their religious beliefs (similar to the Druze); and as a result, they have transformed into a tough, but peaceful minority group that keeps to themselves, while assimilating into Syrian civil society.
When the war came to the doorsteps of Al-Salamiyah, the Ismaelis remained neutral – they have dealt with persecution before and they fully understood the adverse effects of their participation.
Nevertheless, the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the Syrian Al-Qaeda group “Jabhat Al-Nusra” did not respect their neutrality; instead, they attempted to make a push towards the strategic city of Al-Salamiyah, only to be routed by the Syrian Arab Army defending the civilian population.
Fast forward a year later, the city of Al-Salamiyah was threatened once again; however, this time, it was from the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS) terrorists, who had just captured the Tabaqa Military Airport in the Al-Raqqa Governorate.
Unable to reach some of the villages near the Raqqa-Hama border, the newly formed “National Defense Forces” (NDF) of Al-Salamiyah watched as their people were massacred by the ISIS terrorists because of their religious beliefs.
From that moment on, the Ismaelis that formed the National Defense Forces contingent in Al-Salamiyah refused to shy away from any fight that included ISIS; this bravery proved vital in the Summer of 2015, when they finally routed the terrorist group from the east Hama front.
Following ISIS’ large-scale offensive to cutoff the Khanasser-Ithriyah Road, the Ismaelis answered the call from the Syrian Arab Army’s Central Command – they needed men to help liberate the soldiers trapped at the Kuweires Military Airport in east Aleppo.
Not only were the Ismaeli NDF fighters one of the largest groups participating in this offensive, they were also some of the best fighters against the ISIS terrorists that refused to retreat.
Alongside the Cheetah Forces, the NDF of Al-Salamiyah (also known as “Liwaa Suqour Al-Sahra”) were ferocious on the battlefield, pushing deep into the village Sheikh Ahmad while also killing several ISIS militants.
Their aggressiveness paid off in the end, as they were among the first fighters to reach the besieged airport.
Sadly, their gallantry came at a heavy cost of life, as several NDF fighters were reportedly killed during the liberation of the Kuweires Military Airport, including one of Al-Salamiyah’s most decorated sons on the battlefield, 1st. Lt. ‘Ali ‘Ali ‘Eid (commander of Liwaa Suqour Al-Sahra).
While Syrians were jubilant over the victory at the Kuweires Military Airport, the people of Al-Salamiyah had to quietly bury their sons who dedicated their lives to freeing the 314 soldiers.
The Ismaeli fighters did not ask for anything in return; if you ask them why they decided to risk their lives in east Aleppo, they will tell you it is their duty as Syrians.
Majd F. of Syria Report contributed to this article. You can follow him on Twitter @Syria_Protector