Meet Syria’s Abu Ghazi, the grave digger of Qusayr

Conducting the same ritual at least once a day

Abu Ghazi dips his sponge in a bucket of ice water, closes the eyes of the young man lying motionless on a stretcher and recites verses from the Koran before gently cleaning the bloodied face.
Qusayr, a rebel stronghold near the central Syrian city of Homs, has been under constant bombardment for months and has paid a heavy price for backing the revolt against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
At least once a day, retired officer Abu Ghazi conducts the same ritual.
"It depends on the intensity of the bombardment, the ferocity of the fighting and the will of God," he says.
An old freezer room where he once kept fruit and vegetables has been transformed into a makeshift morgue.
"Children, women, men, the elderly and Free Syrian Army soldiers have all passed through here," he says. "But mostly young children who died in shelling on their homes. And most are civilians who have never even held a weapon.
"I fought for my country, I bled for my country, I killed for my country and now my country humiliates and persecutes me. Bashar al-Assad has dishonoured all Syrians," Abu Ghazi lamented.
"I'm too old to fight so I'm the grave digger -- the job that nobody wants to do because we see things nobody would want to see. This is my way of contributing to the defeat of Assad," he says.
Outside the "morgue," the family of 24-year-old Ghaith waits to recover his body and begin their vigil.
"I lost my three sons and husband. What more does the revolution want from me?" his mother Fatima asks as she sits on a plastic chair beside her daughter, now an only child.
"He was an incredible person. He loved football and he never touched a weapon because he believed that violence is not a solution," Rifai, a Qusayr rebel, said as he stooped to kiss the forehead of the man who was his friend.
Fatima does the same. Her tears flood the face of her son before several men take his corpse back to the family home. As many as 200 people gather outside the door to pay a final tribute.
"At the beginning of the revolution there were thousands of people to accompany the final procession of the victims. Now they are fewer and fewer. Many have left the city and others are afraid," says Abdel Hakim, the local imam.
"Soon there will be more to join him in death," he adds.
Women throw rice and rose petals as the funeral procession passes. Abu Ghazi will himself bury the young man, just as he has done 200 times before over the past nine months.
Inside his notebook, the grave digger carefully records the names of each victim and the date of his or her burial.
"The municipal cemetery is no longer enough. We had to open two new cemeteries, just for the martyrs of the revolution," he says.
"One day we buried 16 people, all women and children. A real massacre. Probably the most difficult day of my life."