At graveyard of unknown quake victims, Syrians seek news of the missing

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[March 20, 2023]  By Khalil Ashawi

JANDARIS, Syria (Reuters) - The simple gravestone of a girl killed in last month's earthquake in Syria bears no name, but notes she was wearing a green sweater at the time of her burial, a description left in the hope it may help someone identify her.

The bodies of up to 70 unidentified people have been buried in the cemetery in the northern Syrian town of Jandaris since the devastating Feb. 6 earthquake

The cemetery's caretaker Maysara al-Hussein said people burying unknown victims would sometimes take pictures of their faces.

"Other times - for this child for example - they couldn't take a picture. Why? Because of disfigurement or because there's no one who can identify her," he added.

"So we wrote down that she was wearing a green sweater, things like that."

Hussein shows the images to people who visit looking for missing loved ones. Occasionally, he has managed to identify a person and guided relatives to their tombstone. But more often, he is unable to help and points them to other graveyards to continue their search.

Local authorities have no figures for the number of people still missing since the earthquake, which killed thousands of people in Syria and tens of thousands in Turkey.

In Jandaris, Intisar Sheikho is still waiting for news of her 12-year-old nephew, Mustafa.

He was not found in the rubble of the building where his mother and two of his siblings died. One of his brothers survived as did his father, though he sustained a brain injury and is now being cared for at Sheikho's home.

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A view shows a gravestone reading "unidentified, little girl wearing green sweater" in Arabic inside a cemetery in the rebel-held town of Jandaris, Syria March 4, 2023. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi

She visited the cemetery but did not find Mustafa among the photos.

"I am still making contacts but I'm not finding any news about him," she said, weeping as she stood near a pile of rubble and twisted metal bars where the building once stood.

Fadel El Jaber, 65, is searching for three grandchildren missing since their apartment block collapsed in the town of Salqin. The bodies of their father, mother and two siblings were recovered.

"More than 50 people died here. Two or three survived, and those three remain missing," Jaber said, standing on rubble.

There had been rumours the three - Mohamed, 13, Cham, 11, and Sahar, 6 - had survived, he added, appealing for information as he looked at family photos on his phone. He said they had been reported missing to local police.

"We heard from the beginning that they were out, but until now this hasn't been confirmed. We just want some news to prove whether they made it out or not."

(Writing by Tala Ramadan and Tom Perry, editing by Ed Osmond)

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