“They all gathered around the car, and afterwards they blew it up. My children, my babies. I left my house, my land and my family. Everything i ever had, i left them all and came here by force. America, Russia, they all came here to bomb us, why, what did we ever do.why kill us, why slaughter us, have they no hearts? Small children, babies, they fed them crips and blew up the car, have they no heart? Have they no heart, have they no heart? Why? Turkey and America are sending weapons to kill us, why? These are small children they are killing.yesterday, more than 100 people got martyred, my cousin, babies, they gathered them around the car and fed them potatoes and then blew up the car!”
“The guys that went with them never came back, the guys that went with the wounded never came back, where are they? They did the explosion, they brought potatoes and distributed them to people, they lured people and they are the one who blew it up, the potato car owner, he’s the one who blew himself up after he gathered the children and the people. They kidnapped 15 boys, there are 15 children that are still there at the moment through the excuse: go this way, hide there. in 3 days one piece of bread is all they brought for a person. 3 days ! This is the humiliation (crying) our hearts are devastated, i dont know anything anymore, the pieces, the body parts, are they martyrs, we dont know anything about them. Everyday, there will be no truce. everyday theres a bombing, homes are destroyed, bombs, gas bombs, tanks, everyday there’s a martyr, 2000 martyrs, our children. They deprived us of everything, gas, water, electricity, they talk about people and humanitarian organizations, we don’t have any fucking thing tp eat, we are eating grass, even the ones that go out to eat grass they shoot him, we call and nobody answers us, no humanitarian organizations, not the government, no human being is answering. We lived 2 years of injustice that no human being ever lived. They brought us from there and executed the massacre here, and every checkpoint will search you, they will search every single thing you have, why us? they took our homes and kicked us out, they took our land, just because we stood up and fought for our honors wives. This was our only fault, we are all muslims, they punished us just because we said whats right, this is our punishment. Just like you see now, they took our homes and when we asked where do i go, they said: manage your own self. Even if they gave me 2-3 months notice, that doesnt bring back the child i lost, my brother that got martyred, my father that died, nothing can compensate me. no treasure in the world, a child that died for the word of justice. Thank you a lot and may god help us all.”
“At least ten of my passengers are missing,” says bus driver Firaz al-Hillal (right).
On Saturday April 16th, a bus convoy in Rashidin, a town outside Aleppo, was bombed. Reports estimate that at least 126 people were killed. The buses were transporting people from the mainly Shia cities of al-Fu’ah and Kafriya, both of which have been under siege for the past two years by salafist militias. The evacuation was part of a deal that would also make it possible to evacuate salafi-controlled Madaya and Zabadani, two cities occupied by militants that are currently under siege by government forces. The deal was brokered by foreign governments on opposite sides of the conflict; Iran, which supports Syrian President Bashar al-Asaad, and Qatar which supports militant extremists groups in Syria.
“They sieged us, starved us, mocked us and then tempted our children with potato chips before blowing them up. Have they no heart?”
The bombing targeted a bus convoy of evacuated Syrians and is said to have killed 126. More than half of the victims were children.
“Yesterday more than a hundred people became martyrs. My relatives. Children. They got them gathered around the car, gave them chips and blew up the car,” Alou told a reporter from Klassekampen who met him the day after the incident.
Independent parliamentarian from Aleppo, Fares Shehabi, put the death toll at 200, a figure that includes at least 116 children. No one has taken responsibility for the attack, but survivors are blaming masked “rebels” controlling the area.
Gathered in the Jebrin military base outside Aleppo, tearful survivors spoke about an attack so brutal that it is hard to describe. To date, unknown number of survivors of the attack remain missing, and some of the children are said to have been picked up by Turkish ambulances. Witnesses also said they were surprised at how quickly Turkish vehicles arrived.
Mother of two, Zeinap Sheikh, says her husband was disarmed and that they were then driven around for a day and a half around Idlib, the last remaining governorate in Syria outside the control of the Syrian government.
According to witnesses, sectarian crowds mocked the evacuees, and even threw shoes at the bus. The nearly 5000 people who were designated to be moved to government-controlled areas in Aleppo and Damascus were also starved during the journey and after their arrival at the Rahidin exchange point. Sheikh says that the rations were so small that her 7 year old son also had to eat the food rationed for her and her sister.
Early Saturday morning, members of the Jihadi groups Ahrar al-Sham and al-Nusra Front, some wearing black masks, stopped the convoy at the exchange point in Rashidin outside Aleppo. These groups control the area.
At the checkpoint, the children received chips and cookies. After a few hours the Syrian Red Crescent was asked to leave, a representative of the organization confirmed to this writer.
Soon afterwards another car appeared. Fathers and their children were then told to get out for food, and were then given chips from a food vehicle which had pulled up alongside the buses. Then it exploded. Zeinap was together with her two children when the bomb detonated. She recounts:
“Body parts were everywhere. We were asked to leave the bus. Then we realised they were taking pictures and filming us, acting as if they were helping us. Back in the bus, we were told that 240 people had been killed, but I don’t know. I suspected that they were up to something, and I didn’t let my children go out to eat.”
She is missing 20 family members and thinks that 10 of them are dead.
Sheikh says 4 Turkish ambulances suddenly arrived on the scene and picked up some of the injured, but also a few uninjured. The presence of the Turkish ambulances was confirmed by another survivor, Hassan Tahan from the city al-Fu’ah. He recounts, “Between 40 and 50 children were killed. Many are missing, we don’t know how many. We know 15 children at the place of the explosion were alive, but we don’t know when they’re coming back. They’re with the terrorists.”
Predominantly Shia towns of Kafriya and al-Fu’ah are located in Idlib, the last governorate in Syria completely controlled by Islamist militias. The cities have withstood a siege by salafi terrorist groups for two years, and several of the survivors tell of a situation so desperate that children have starved to death. The famine conditions in Kafriya and al-Fu’ah have been well documented over by a number of independent journalists over the past two years, including reports by Vanessa Beeley and Eva Bartlett.
As part of the evacuation agreement, the inhabitants of the two cities were permitted to go to Damascus and Latakia, a governorate along the Mediterranean coast. In exchange, extremist fighters and their families were going to be allowed to travel from ‘rebel-controlled’ cities Madaya and Zabadani to Idlib. This deal, called the “Four Cities agreement,” was brokered by Qatar and Iran.
A few kilometers from where the survivors are staying at the Jirbrin Refugee Centre, four 50 seat coaches stand with their windows completely blown out. Bags of potato chips are littered in the aisles. Outside is the driver of one of them, Firaz al-Hillal from Aleppo:
“We were stopped by jihadis at a check point. They asked the men with children to come and get them chips.”
The bus driver remembers that several became suspicious and warned against accepting the offer. Having lived through siege and starvation for more than two years, some of the children ran along anyway – to what ended up being the death of many of them.
“From my bus at least 10 are missing,” he says.
Answering a question about who arrived first at the scene, he says that at least four Turkish ambulances appeared immediately after the attack.
“They picked up dead, injured and uninjured. We don’t know where they are. There were many children. They were filming. There was a small drone there.”
In several media outlets, the terrorist-rebel of the group Ahrar al-Sham are referred to as “moderates”. Ahrar al-Sham consists of different Islasmist groups with ideological and financial ties to both Saudi Arabia and Qatar, as well as the US. Their stated goal is to overthrow president Bashar al-Assad and replace the current secular government with a Muslim theocracy.
Turkey is suspected of providing logistical aid to Ahrar al-Sham and their allies in Nusra Front (al-Qaida in Syria).
Wahhabism, an extremist variant of Islam first founded in Saudi Arabia, is the ideological foundation of these groups, as well as ISIS.
The survivors use either the word “terrorist” or “takfiri” when describing the men who escorted them from al-Fu’ah and Kafriya. “Takfir” is Arabic term that refers to the declaration of other Muslims as unbelievers and infidels, a practice most distinctively connected to wahhabi and salafi Islamists.
Jan Egeland, secretary-general of Norwegian Refugee Help, stated this weekend that rebel soldiers at the location of the bombing had the responsibility of safeguarding the evacuees from al-Fu’ah and Kafriya. According to the people present, they were starved and humiliated by “rebels” before having their children killed and kidnapped in what seemed to be a planned terrorist attack.
-United Nations is not part of this agreement, and neither were we part of the evacuation. Questions are also raised at how voluntarily such an evacuation is after years of siege. The security and protection measures that were imposed are also questionable, so this will obviously come up at the meeting in Genève on Thursday, Jan Egeland Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council told the daily Dagbladet.
The buses from Madaya and Zabadani, cities besieged by the Syrian Army, arrived safely at their destination.
As of Thursday morning, an unknown number of children and adults picked up by the Turkish ambulances remained missing. The evacuation of Islamists from government-controlled areas, including Homs, to Idlib, continued this week.