3 Nisan 5774
Apocalyptic prophecies drive both sides to Syrian battle for end of time
Conflict in Syria kills hundreds of thousands of people and spreads unrest across the Middle East. Iranian forces battle anti-Shi'ite fighters in Damascus, and the region braces for an ultimate showdown.
If the scenario sounds familiar to an anxious world watching Syria's devastating civil war, it resonates even more with Sunni and Shi'ite fighters on the frontlines - who believe it was all foretold in 7th Century prophecies.
..."If you think all these mujahideen came from across the world to fight Assad, you're mistaken," said a Sunni Muslim jihadi who uses the name Abu Omar and fights in one of the many anti-Assad Islamist brigades in Aleppo.
"They are all here as promised by the Prophet. This is the war he promised - it is the Grand Battle," he told Reuters, using a word which can also be translated as slaughter.
On the other side, many Shi'ites from Lebanon, Iraq and Iran are drawn to the war because they believe it paves the way for the return of Imam Mahdi - a descendant of the Prophet who vanished 1,000 years ago and who will re-emerge at a time of war to establish global Islamic rule before the end of the world.
According to Shi'ite tradition, an early sign of his return came with the 1979 Iranian revolution, which set up an Islamic state to provide fighters for an army led by the Mahdi to wage war in Syria after sweeping through the Middle East.
...Abu Hsaasan, a 65 year old pensioner from south Lebanon, said he once thought the prophecies of the end of days would take centuries to come about.
"Things are moving fast. I never thought that I would be living the days of the Imam. Now, with every passing day I am more and more convinced that it is only a matter of few years before he appears."