ALEPPO, Syria – In the heart of Aleppo, besieged by Syrian troops for more than five weeks, a young couple who found love in a time of war exchange vows.
Bombs dropped in the distance, but for a moment, those attending the modest wedding ceremony in the Saif al-Dawla neighbourhood of Syria’s second city were able to forget about the bloody conflict.
The marriage was between rebel sniper Abu Khaled and Hanan, the nurse who treated his leg wound.
The 20-year-old remembers falling in love with Hanan “at first sight.”
“I saw her at the Coneta school first aid point. From first sight, I loved her. Then I got shot in my leg and she was cleaning my wounds everyday and, day by day, I know her better and love her more,” says Abu Khaled, his beard closely trimmed.
His account of the beginning of their love evokes a smile from his bride, who blushes under her make-up.
“When we met there was something in the air,” recalls the 23-year-old woman whose wedding attire amounted to a white scarf and her nursing blouse.
And when Hanan lost her brother in the bloody violence that has roiled Syria since March 2011, Abu Khaled began to support her.
“(Our love) became stronger when my brother was killed,” says the nurse sitting beside Abu Khaled, who wears a military jacket with many pockets.
“And he is a revolutionary sniper!” she adds, smiling again.
The bride and groom sat on big chairs, according to custom. Behind them, a large revolutionary flag hung on the wall.
They sliced a chocolate cake as activists waved signs that declared: “We love life, and are still here.”
A commander of the Free Syrian Army, patchwork of deserters and civilians who took up arms to fight the forces of President Bashar al-Assad, delivered a speech and the exchange of rings came under a rain of confetti.
The ceremony then moved outside, where tables covered with towering bowls of fruit were prepared.
Guests congratulated Hanan and Abu Khaled as activists encircled the newly weds and chanted slogans of the revolution against the Assad regime.
“Freedom, we want freedom!” they sang.
“No one can stop life. No one can stop people. No one can stop who goes with God,” joked one guest, a member of Abu Khaled’s brigade who held a Kalashnikov assault rifle in his hands.
A few blocks away, columns of smoke rise from collapsed buildings as other parts of the city held by the outgunned rebels are struck by shelling from government forces.