NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Media in Cyprus are hailing it as a miracle.
A 2-year-old Syrian boy who was believed dead after his family inadvertently left him behind as they fled shelling in Damascus last summer has been reunited with his parents in Cyprus, a lawyer said Friday.
"You can imagine how they felt when they were told their son was alive after bearing all this guilt thinking that he was dead," lawyer Stella Constantinou told The Associated Press.
The story of little Bushr Al Tawashi's survival evokes every parent's nightmare.
No one knows exactly how long Bushr wandered about alone in the rubble of his family home before rebel fighters sweeping through the Al Kaboun suburb found him and handed him over to another family to look after, Constantinou said.
In their chaotic haste to escape fighting between government troops and Syrian rebels, Bushr's father Machhour Al Tawashi and his mother Arin Al Dakkar had assumed the boy was picked up by other members of their extended family who had been staying with them, the lawyer said.
Heavy fighting prevented the parents from going back to search for Bushr once they found temporary shelter at a refugee camp and realized that he was missing, she said.
Believing he did not survive the shelling, his parents and their other two sons aged 4 and 6 arrived in Cyprus on Aug. 6 in search of asylum, some two weeks after they had lost track of Bushr.
But word that the boy was safe eventually reached the parents, who now live in the coastal town of Limassol.
Macchour told the AP through an interpreter that someone had recognized Bushr, since everyone knows each other in their tight-knit community, and called the family in Cyprus to deliver the good news.
The family then sought Constantinou's help to bring him to this Mediterranean island, which lies 64 miles (103 kilometers) east of Syria.
Macchour's sister, who had joined the family in Cyprus, volunteered to return to Damascus on Sept. 9 to take care of Bushr until arrangements for his return could be made. She is now being prevented from leaving the Syrian capital, the lawyer said, without elaborating.
The Cypriot Foreign Ministry expedited the process once Bushr's parents provided proof that he was their child. Bushr's father then travelled to the Lebanese capital of Beirut where he was reunited with the boy at the Cypriot Embassy. He brought Bushr back to the island on Thursday.
"I can't describe how I felt when I saw him, just overjoyed at seeing him again," Macchour said Friday. "At first he didn't recognize me, but then they embraced and he started calling out 'Father, Father.'"
Macchour said although he still has relatives in Syria, his home was flattened like half of the buildings in Al-Kaboun and there's no way he'll ever go back.
"Absolutely not," the father said.
Activists say some 35,000 people have been killed in Syria since an uprising against President Bashar Assad's government began in March 2011.
Constantinou said the toddler was just happy to be in his mother's arms again and calling out to his older brothers.
She said what drove her to make sure that the family was reunited was that she became emotionally involved.
"As a grandmother of a 2-year-old myself, there's nothing I wouldn't do to get that boy back to his parents," she said.