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Untold Suffering in Foua and Kafarya

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Part One highlighted the siege and shelling of two villages in northwestern Syria which have been under siege by al-Nusra and allies since the end of March, 2015. As of August 17, at least 130 residents. “K” is introduced as a resident of Kafarya studying in Beirut. His name is withheld, for the safety of his family still in Kafarya and Foua.

SHIA PROBLEM? A CLOSER LOOK

The very few reports which have mentioned the names Kafarya and Foua have promoted a sectarian angle to the continued shelling by NATO-backed militants, portrying this as a Sunni-Shia issue. And while to be sure many of these largely foreign terrorists do adhere to the Saudi Wahhabism or Qatari/Turkey Salafism, the predominantly Shia population originally in Foua and Kafarya have long existed with their non-Shia neighbours in harmony.

K tells me more about the two villages and the surrounding region.

“In that area of Syria there are minorities living together, from about 1,000 years ago. In Kafarya and Foua there are Shia. Before this war, the people of Foua and neighbouring Binnish were very close, they intermarried, celebrated festivals together.

At the time that this all started in Syria, I was home, still a student. We studied at a school in Ma’rat Mesreen, which was a mostly Sunni city—many of them pro-government, by the way—and some Shia. Like with Binnish, our people were friends with those in Ma’rat Mesreen, intermarried with them.

My uncle was working in al-Raqqa, but when the militants took over, he and others went back to Kafarya. The original population of Kafarya was around 10,000. Now, it’s much much more, with IDPs from various areas, like Ma’rat Mesreen, and including many Sunni pro-government Syrians from other villages, but also Shia from surrounding areas.”

Iyad Khuder spoke of the tradition unity of the villages and surrounding area.

“People from these two villages have always had good relations with their neighbors—they used to share the Islamic feasts together. No one used to ask about religion, or even to mention the words ‘Sunni, Shia’. But the extremist minority who controlled northern Syria are indoctrinated by Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi ideology. So, they asked Kafarya and Foua (as a test) to join the ‘revolution’ against the ‘regime’. The people replied, ‘You are free to revolt, it’s your choice. But we also have our choice and we believe it’s a plot targeting the whole country.’ So, the ‘rebels’ consider them targets, have tried to conquer their villages, and have kidnapped many of them.”

LIFE UNDER SIEGE

K has fours sisters and a brother; his mother passed away in February. “I couldn’t got to her funeral, there were fierce battles.”

One of his sisters lives on the side of Foua closest to Binnish (one of the terrorists’ launching areas). “Most of the houses are destroyed in her area…it’s on the front line. She recently gave birth, so my family brought her to our house in Kafarya. She told me about how she feared for her son, and for her husband who is still in Foua, where his family lives.” His sister has stopped producing milk, not well nourished herself, and cannot find milk for her infant son.

The parallels between Kafarya and Foua and the Gaza Strip, under siege since 2007, are many. Food prices have risen dramatically, and at the same time, residents largely have no income, no means of receiving their salaries if they even have work. For want of cooking fuel, people attempt to cook over wood fires…if wood can be found. There is virtually no electricity; generators can only be run if and when there is fuel, which there largely is not. Without electricity, bakeries have shut down and water is not pumped.

K explains the efforts of the Syrian government to alleviate the suffering. “Now and then helicopters can reach the area and air-drop supplies, by parachute, including fuel. The helicopters can’t come close, so they drop supplies from a great height. but because it’s from so high up, many times the supplies misses the villages. When there are battles, the helicopters cannot reach the area. Until recently, once a week villagers were able to access water for one hour. Last week they told me they didn’t have enough fuel to run it for one hour. The fuel is finished.”

According to Saer Asleam, militants have targeted the water pumping station, further complicating the water crisis. He also notes a lack of flour, even if the bakeries were running, and more critically, an acute shortage of medicines.

“There are more than 60 critically ill people, and others who have been seriously injured by the shelling. Heart and kidney patients, and those with cancer and other severe diseases, are at risk of dying due to the lack of the necessary medicines and drugs for treatments.”

Already one elderly Foua man, Mustafa Shahhoud Tahhan, has died from kidney failure, Asleam reports. As of August 16, Asleam stated that since the start of the complete siege of Foua and Kafarya on March 28, 2015, more than 125 residents have been martyred, with many more wounded.

Mariam Mohammad notes: “The people are very worried about the coming winter season, because most houses are either partially or fully destroyed, or are without windows and doors due to the immense shelling by the terrorists. And no repairs could be done within the absence of building supplies and glass.”

I asked K how he communicates with his family, and how he is holding out.

“Communication is very difficult. Sometimes, if I am lucky I speak to my sisters on their phone. Usually, we message on Whatsapp, if they can get a mobile signal. They go to the roof to catch the signal. Some people are saying they will leave if they get the opportunity, others say ‘We will stay, it’s our land.’ My sister said, ‘No, we cannot go, it’s our home, we cannot be refugees. The graves of our father and mother are here. We will die defending our land.’

I can only pray, because really no ones knows what will happen.”

SELECTIVE REPORTING, SECTARIAN SLANT

It will come as no surprise to any who have followed the Imperialist/Gulf/Zionist war on Syria that the terrorist attacks on Kafarya and Foua are largely not being reported, and when the villages are mentioned it is almost in passing and with a great deal of loaded rhetoric.

Mariam Mohammad, daily scouring Arabic and English media, noted: “Until this moment, the Arabic media is not paying the least attention. Western media has given zero coverage. Only Reuters mentioned them on August 12, in passing, when discussing the truce negotiation in Zabadani. Most news is on this truce; if Kafarya and Foua are mentioned, it is as an addition.”

Iyad Khuder noted, “The media is ignoring Foua and Kafarya, concentrating on al-Zabadani, Yarmouk. But who are those people in Zabadani, in Yarmouk? They are people from al-Nusra, ISIS, Ahrar al-Sham…They are militants, but the media claims they are innocent people being killed by the ‘regime’.”

Indeed, the Reuters account mentioned by Mohammad took the words of UK-based, Rami Abdulrahman—the one-man organization known as the “Syrian Observatory for Human Rights”—that, “no fighting had been reported in Zabadani, Kefraya or al-Foua after the ceasefire’s agreed start time. ‘So far there is calm.’”

Far from the UK, residents of Foua and Kafarya experienced a different reality, of terrorist shelling within hours of the ceasefire, three killed and many wounded, as outline by Mariam Mohammad earlier.

An article on Syria Direct attempts to portray the two villages as void of civilians and filled with fighters, which more accurately describes the situation in Zabadani and Yarmouk. The article cites a June interview with an Ahrar al-Sham militant who falsely states: “Both villages…resemble a military barracks, nearly empty of women and children. There are only men and weapons.”

Tell that to the 26 martyrs, including 5 children, of the August 10 missile and rocket barrage alone.

An al-Mayadeen documentary from June, 2015, clearly shows a displaced Idlib woman cooking in a Foua school housing IDPs.

With regards to the Reuters article, there are other problems in its reporting. The first mention of Foua and Kafarya is sectarian and almost an afterthought:

“Meanwhile, a 48-hour ceasefire was declared on Wednesday to halt fighting between Syrian insurgents and the army and its Lebanese militant Hezbollah ally in the rebel-held town of Zabadani and two Shi’ite Muslim villages in Idlib province.”

Apparently Foua and Kafarya don’t merit having names; only later in the article are they granted names. As for highlighting their Shia make-up rather than simply naming the villages, recall that Kafarya now hosts IDPs from surrounding regions, including many of the over half of predominantly Sunni Ma’rat Mesreen 35,000 residents. All but roughly 12,000 have fled the city, according to K, “and those remaining would be families of the fighters.”

The Reuters (and corporate media in general) description of them as “Shi’ite Muslim villages” (instead of simply naming the villages and their location) falls in line with the general NATO narrative of “sectarian conflict” in Syria… Syria which was known for its secular nature until the Gulf states Wahabis and Salafis flooded the country.

Further in the article, the author is deliberately confusing about the situations in both Zabadani and Kafarya and Foua:

“The United Nations envoy for Syria said last month that government air strikes had caused widespread death and destruction in Zabadani, and expressed concern that civilians were trapped both there and in al-Foua and Kefraya villages.”

This whitewashes the presence of terrorist factions in Zabadani.

Iyad Khuder points out, “the mortars and rockets raining over Damascus are directly linked with the battle of Zabadani. These missiles are originating mostly from Douma, Eastern Ghouta (Zamalka – Irbin – Qaboun – Harasta – Jobar), as well as from Qudsaya and Al-Hameh in the northern countryside of Damascus.”

An August 12 Al Jazeera report followed the same script and put forth the same sectarian rhetoric.

In Al Jazeera’s latest (August 15) report from outside Kafarya and Foua, the reporter is very much acting as a spokesperson for Ahrar al-Sham militants. In a clearly-coordinated effort between Al Jazeera and the militants, the reporter calmly waits for militants to fire begin shelling before beginning his report, saying, “This is the first rocket fired by the armed revolution forces , the Islamic Ahrar al-Sham movement, within the second phase of the military operation against Kafarya and Foua after the collapse of the negotiations this morning.”

Interestingly, in addition to the staged nature of the report, K points out that the reporter is lying. “My sister told me at 9:00 am that at least 20 minutes before she was able to get through to me, the shelling had begun. If you notice the shadow of the trees in the video, you can see it is noon, the time of ‘Duhr prayer’ for Muslims begins when the shadow is directly beneath an object.”

So take these Al Jazeera reports with a small mound of salt.

Why are these details important? Because, as with the war on Syria in general, the more that readers are confused about what is actually taking place, the more NATO’s criminals can continue their heinous terrorism.

While the media and Human Rights front groups spin lies about “barrel bombs” on Aleppo, and talking heads go on about fighting terrorism in the region, a very real ongoing massacre is being committed in two small villages in northern Syria. They are al-Foua and Kafarya.

Eva Bartlett is a Canadian freelance journalist and activist who has lived in and written from the Gaza Strip, Syria, and Lebanon. Follow her work on her blog ingaza.wordpress.com.

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