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The Feeding of The One Thousand: Syrian Sanctuary Offers Cats a Refuge From War

A worker plays with cats at Ernesto's sanctuary for cats in Idlib, Syria.

REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi

A worker plays with cats at Ernesto's sanctuary for cats in Idlib, Syria. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi

The expanded and fenced-off sanctuary in Idlib covers 2,000 square metres (21,500 sq ft) of the city, located close to the Turkish border and still held by opposition forces.

When Syria’s war forced Alaa al-Jaleel to close his cat sanctuary in Aleppo in 2015 and head north to the rebel stronghold of Idlib, he took around 100 animals with him and reopened it there.

Now his successors at Ernesto’s Sanctuary care for more than 1,000 – and feeding time tends to be loud and chaotic.

“Most of the animals are injured because of the war and because their owners had to leave them when they left their homes. We gave (the cats) shelter, medical care and food,” its current manager, Mohamad Wattar, said.

Named after a favourite cat of the Italian women who helped to set it up before it relocated, the expanded and fenced-off sanctuary covers 2,000 square metres (21,500 sq ft) of the city, located close to the Turkish border and still held by opposition forces.

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In the fifth annual conference to keep Syrians from starvation, the event hosted by the European Union is seeking $4.2 billion for people inside Syria and $5.8 billion for refugees and their hosts in the Middle East.

Some 24 million people need basic aid, a rise of 4 million over the past year and the highest number yet since a crackdown on pro-democracy protesters by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in 2011 led to civil war.

first published:April 01, 2021, 10:46 IST