Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Hwaida Saad

No reactions to badly injured children: Baby animals are cuter

Note: Re-edited article of 2016 “One Photo of a Syrian Child Caught the World’s Attention. These 7 Went Unnoticed”.

Thousands of children in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Somalia… ,and many of them refugees, have suffered drone attacks, suicide bombing, famine, curable diseases… and Not many States cared that much for them.

This article is a propaganda for the terrorist groups in Syria (Al Nusra and ISIS). It would be great if a second article showed the suffering of the children in Yemen, attacks executed by Saudi Kingdom and the colonial power for 7 years by now.

By ANNE BARNARD and HWAIDA SAAD

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Omran Daqneesh, a small Syrian boy from the embattled rebel-held section of Aleppo, somehow snapped to attention millions of people around the world, who watched and shared the arresting video of him as he wiped dried blood and thick soot from his face.

(Turned out it was a faked picture by the media terrorists White Helmet in Syria, funded by USA and England

The widespread interest in 5-year-old Omran surprised the doctors who treated him, the photographer who shot the video and many Syrians who wondered whether the world had only just discovered how children have suffered every day in a war that has raged for more than five years.

Omran was injured on Wednesday by either a Syrian or a Russian airstrike — Russia has denied involvement — that destroyed the building where his family lived in eastern Aleppo.

On Thursday, a pro-government website published a photograph of a young girl that it said was hurt — around the same time as Omran — by rebel mortar attacks on the government-held western side of the city.

One monitoring group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, (the UN has discredited these organizations that never existed on the field) said that 100 children had died on the city’s eastern side this month alone, and 49 on the western side. (And the US was angry when safe passages were opened to fleeing Syrians)

For each family, the loss is immeasurable. And there are children constantly caught up in battles in other places, on all sides, across war-torn Syria.

Here are images of 7 of the many other children treated in the past week at hospitals in the same region (and in other regions? Selective propaganda images?).

They are taken from among several that were posted by doctors and other residents of Aleppo on a WhatsApp group for journalists.

Ahmad Tadifi, 2

Doctors did not know who this child was when he arrived at the same hospital that treated Omran. On Wednesday, Ahmad had been separated from his family — as happens to many children in the chaotic aftermath of an attack — in the Mashhad neighborhood of Aleppo.

(Most of these children were kidnapped by the terrorist groups in order to film faked news in Syria, and many of them were left to die)

He underwent surgery for serious injuries to his head, groin and right arm and leg. Later identified, Ahmad was kept in the intensive care unit of the hospital along with his father. Late on Friday, he died from his injuries.

Rouwaida, 5, and Rana Hanoun, 7 months

The Hanoun sisters were wounded on Wednesday in the same airstrike that injured Omran.

They were among 12 children under 15 who were treated at the same hospital in Aleppo. Both of the girls had suffered shrapnel wounds, but were treated and then released on Thursday morning.

Doctors shared their picture with the WhatsApp group around the same time they shared the photograph of Omran.

Aisel Hajar, 2

Aisel suffered wounds to her head and to one of her legs on Tuesday, and was treated at Al Quds hospital.

The severity of her injuries could not be confirmed because doctors were busy treating new cases. But activists have nicknamed her “Syria’s Cinderella” because of a picture that one took of her shoes — Mary Janes, worn with white socks.

Amal, 4, and Hikmat Hayouk, 6

The Hayouk siblings suffered cuts and bruises when an aircraft opened fire on Wednesday over the Sakhour neighborhood, and they were treated around the same time and at the same hospital as Omran.

The children’s wounds were relatively minor, but an adult relative suffered a critical neck wound.

An unidentified boy

Efforts to identify this boy, below, were unsuccessful. He was treated on Tuesday night at the Omar Hospital and released, said Baraa al-Halabi, a citizen journalist who photographed him.

None of the medical workers who could be reached remembered the boy, which is not unusual in the overwhelmed hospitals.

Four children, no picture

At 3 a.m. Saturday, a barrel bomb landed on a house in the Jalloum quarter of Aleppo’s old city, destroying the house and killing seven members of one family — including all four children — said Abdelkafi al-Hamdo, a friend of the father’s.

The children were Aisha, 12; Mohammad, 11; Obaida, 7; and Afraa, 6. There is no picture of their injuries to show because they were pulled dead from the rubble.

Their father, Ali Abu Joud, recorded this video of three of his children’s bodies wrapped in shrouds. His voice can be heard breaking as he tells them goodbye, calling them “habibati” — my darlings — “birds of heaven, gone to the one who is better, gone to God.”

Notes:

Pictures and videos can make a slight difference. If the world media conglomerates were Not owned by US and Saudi Kingdom, this ugly and savage civil war in Syria would have ended long time ago. So many brutal casualties were committed throughout Syria but the media turned a blind eye.

The same case for the Yemeni children dying from malnutrition and lack of basic medicines.

Same case for South Sudan

And Ethiopia where the government has been killing demonstrators

And No coverage of the suffering in Eritrea (controlled by the US and Israel)

Worst Chemical Attack in Years in Syria;

U.S. Blames Assad, How convenient

Note: In 2013, I posted this article representing the two sides of the story on using chemical weapons https://adonis49.wordpress.com/2013/08/23/chemical-attacks-in-syria-is-it-a-matter-of-point-of-view-or-point-of-attack/

If you want the truth in reporting, search it in Turkey where journalists and reporters are locked up in prisons. Erdogan is much bloodier and cruel when it comes to exterminating Syrians

Note 1: Many countries are producing modified tear gas agents, far more potent to disperse mass demonstrators and deadly in many cases.  The tear gas have killed many in Egypt, Turkey, Palestine and Tunisia, Pakistan, Thailand…

Note 2: A plausible alternative was that a bomb hit nerve gas reserves stored by the rebels in tunnels… Apparently, antidote nerve gas too were discovered in the tunnels…

WHY NBC had to Alters Account of Correspondent’s Kidnapping in Syria?

NBC News on Wednesday revised its account of the 2012 kidnapping of its chief foreign correspondent, Richard Engel, saying it was likely that Mr. Engel and his reporting team had been abducted by a Sunni militant group, not forces affiliated with the government of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.

In a statement posted on the NBC News website Wednesday evening, Mr. Engel said that a review of the episode — prompted by reporting from The New York Times — had led him to conclude that “the group that kidnapped us was Sunni, not Shia.” He also wrote that the abductors had “put on an elaborate ruse to convince us they were Shiite shabiha militiamen.”

Mr. Engel and his team were kidnapped in December 2012 while reporting in Syria. They were held for five days. Just hours after emerging, they appeared on the “Today” show.

“This was a group known as the shabiha, this was the government militia, these are people who are loyal to President Bashar al-Assad,” Mr. Engel said on “Today,” citing information he had gathered from the group.

In that and other appearances on NBC, and in a Vanity Fair magazine article, he said that he had been rescued by Sunni rebels. At least two people died during the course of the captivity, he said in some versions of the account.

Interviews by The Times with several dozen people — including many of those involved in the search for NBC’s team, rebel fighters and activists in Syria and current and former NBC News employees — suggested that Mr. Engel’s team was almost certainly taken by a Sunni criminal element affiliated with the Free Syrian Army, the loose alliance of rebels opposed to Mr. Assad.

The group, known as the North Idlib Falcons Brigade, was led by two men, Azzo Qassab and Shukri Ajouj, who had a history of smuggling and other crimes.

The kidnapping ended, the people involved in the search said, when the team was freed by another rebel group, Ahrar al-Sham, which had a relationship with Mr. Qassab and Mr. Ajouj.

Mr. Engel and his team underwent a harrowing ordeal, and it is a common tactic for kidnappers in war zones to intentionally mislead hostages as to their identity.

NBC executives were informed of Mr. Ajouj and Mr. Qassab’s possible involvement during and after Mr. Engels’s captivity, according to current and former NBC employees and others who helped search for Mr. Engel, including political activists and security professionals. Still, the network moved quickly to put Mr. Engel on the air with an account blaming Shiite captors and did not present the other possible version of events.

An NBC News spokesman said the network would have no comment beyond the statement posted on its site. Vanity Fair said it had no immediate comment.

Just two months ago, NBC News suspended Brian Williams, its nightly news anchor, after he exaggerated an account of a helicopter episode in Iraq in 2003. The furor that surrounded Mr. Williams’s suspension led to a management shake-up in the news division, and the installation of Andrew Lack, a former NBC News president, as head of the operation.

NBC’s own assessment during the kidnapping had focused on Mr. Qassab and Mr. Ajouj, according to a half-dozen people involved in the recovery effort. NBC had received GPS data from the team’s emergency beacon that showed it had been held early in the abduction at a chicken farm widely known by local residents and other rebels to be controlled by the Sunni criminal group.

NBC had sent an Arab envoy into Syria to drive past the farm, according to three people involved in the efforts to locate Mr. Engel, and engaged in outreach to local commanders for help in obtaining the team’s release. These three people declined to be identified, citing safety considerations.

Ali Bakran, a rebel commander who assisted in the search, said in an interview that when he confronted Mr. Qassab and Mr. Ajouj with the GPS map, “Azzo and Shukri both acknowledged having the NBC reporters.”

Several rebels and others with detailed knowledge of the episode said that the safe release of NBC’s team was staged after consultation with rebel leaders when it became clear that holding them might imperil the rebel efforts to court Western support.

Abu Hassan, a local medic who is close to the rebel movement, and who was involved in seeking the team’s release, said that when the kidnappers realized that all the other rebels in the area were working to get the captives out, they decided to create a ruse to free them and blame the kidnapping on the Assad regime. “It was there that the play was completed,” he said, speaking of the section of road Mr. Engel and the team were freed on.

Thaer al-Sheib, another local man connected with the rebel movement who sought the NBC team, said that on the day of the release “we heard some random shots for less than a minute coming from the direction of the farm.” He said that Abu Ayman, the rebel commander credited with freeing the team, is related by marriage to Mr. Ajouj, and that he staged the rescue.

Mr. Engel, in his statement, said he did not have a “definitive account of what happened that night.” He acknowledged the group that freed him had ties to his captors, but said he had received conflicting information.

“We managed to reach a man, who, according to both Syrian and U.S. intelligence sources, was one of Abu Ayman’s main fund-raisers,” he wrote. “He insists that Abu Ayman’s men shot and killed two of our kidnappers.”

Mr. Engel said the kidnapping “became a sensitive issue” for Mr. Ayman. “Abu Ayman and his superiors were hoping to persuade the U.S. to provide arms to them,” he wrote. “Having American journalists taken on what was known to be his turf could block that possibility.”

In his Vanity Fair article, Mr. Engel described one of his captors lying dead. In his statement Wednesday, he acknowledged that he did not see bodies during the rescue.

He said that one of his producers, Aziz Akyavas, climbed out of the van through the driver-side door, stepping over a body. “I climbed out of the passenger-side door,” he wrote.

“A bearded gunman approached and said that we were safe now. That was our introduction to Abu Ayman. He said that he and his men had killed the two kidnappers. Under the circumstances, and especially since Aziz said that he had seen and stepped over a body, I didn’t doubt it and later reported it as fact.”

One Photo of a Syrian Child Caught the World’s Attention. These 7 Went Unnoticed.

By ANNE BARNARD and HWAIDA SAAD

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Omran Daqneesh, a small Syrian boy from the embattled rebel-held section of Aleppo, somehow snapped to attention millions of people around the world, who watched and shared the arresting video of him as he wiped dried blood and thick soot from his face.

The widespread interest in 5-year-old Omran surprised the doctors who treated him, the photographer who shot the video and many Syrians who wondered whether the world had only just discovered how children have suffered every day in a war that has raged for more than five years.

On Saturday, Omran’s 10-year-old brother, Ali, died of wounds he suffered during the same attack, medical workers said.

Ali’s death, which did not draw the same instant social media outpouring as Omran’s suffering, only underscored how many Syrian children are dying under the radar of the wider world.

Omran was injured on Wednesday by either a Syrian or a Russian airstrike — Russia has denied involvement — that destroyed the building where his family lived in eastern Aleppo.

On Thursday, a pro-government website published a photograph of a young girl that it said was hurt — around the same time as Omran — by rebel mortar attacks on the government-held western side of the city.

The rebels have no air power, (but chemical weapons and missiles and tanks and canons?) and the devastation in Aleppo has been greater on the rebel-held side

Adding to the many photos “unnoticed”

mobile.nytimes.com|By Anne Barnard and Hwaida Saad
Syria’s Cinderella?

One monitoring group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said that 100 children had died on the city’s eastern side this month alone, and 49 on the western side. (And the US was angry when safe passages were opened to fleeing Syrians)

For each family, the loss is immeasurable. And there are children constantly caught up in battles in other places, on all sides, across war-torn Syria.

Omran’s picture has resonated for reasons obvious and unknowable. Here are images of seven of the many other children treated in the past week at hospitals in the same region (and in other regions? Selective propaganda images?).

They are taken from among several that were posted by doctors and other residents of Aleppo on a WhatsApp group for journalists.

Ahmad Tadifi, 2

Doctors did not know who this child was when he arrived at the same hospital that treated Omran. On Wednesday, Ahmad had been separated from his family — as happens to many children in the chaotic aftermath of an attack — in the Mashhad neighborhood of Aleppo.

He underwent surgery for serious injuries to his head, groin and right arm and leg. Later identified, Ahmad was kept in the intensive care unit of the hospital along with his father.

Late on Friday, he died from his injuries.

Rouwaida, 5, and Rana Hanoun, 7 months

The Hanoun sisters were wounded on Wednesday in the same airstrike that injured Omran.

They were among 12 children under 15 who were treated at the same hospital in Aleppo. Both of the girls had suffered shrapnel wounds, but were treated and then released on Thursday morning.

Doctors shared their picture with the WhatsApp group around the same time they shared the photograph of Omran.

Aisel Hajar, 2

Aisel suffered wounds to her head and to one of her legs on Tuesday, and was treated at Al Quds hospital.

The severity of her injuries could not be confirmed because doctors were busy treating new cases. But activists have nicknamed her “Syria’s Cinderella” because of a picture that one took of her shoes — Mary Janes, worn with white socks.

Amal, 4, and Hikmat Hayouk, 6

The Hayouk siblings suffered cuts and bruises when an aircraft opened fire on Wednesday over the Sakhour neighborhood, and they were treated around the same time and at the same hospital as Omran.

The children’s wounds were relatively minor, but an adult relative suffered a critical neck wound.

An unidentified boy

Efforts to identify this boy, below, were unsuccessful. He was treated on Tuesday night at the Omar Hospital and released, said Baraa al-Halabi, a citizen journalist who photographed him.

None of the medical workers who could be reached remembered the boy, which is not unusual in the overwhelmed hospitals.

Four children, no picture

At 3 a.m. Saturday, a barrel bomb landed on a house in the Jalloum quarter of Aleppo’s old city, destroying the house and killing seven members of one family — including all four children — said Abdelkafi al-Hamdo, a friend of the father’s.

The children were Aisha, 12; Mohammad, 11; Obaida, 7; and Afraa, 6. There is no picture of their injuries to show because they were pulled dead from the rubble.

Their father, Ali Abu Joud, recorded this video of three of his children’s bodies wrapped in shrouds. His voice can be heard breaking as he tells them goodbye, calling them “habibati” — my darlings — “birds of heaven, gone to the one who is better, gone to God.”

Notes:

Pictures and videos can make a slight difference. If the world media conglomerates were Not owned by US and Saudi Kingdom, this ugly and savage civil war in Syria would have ended long time ago. So many brutal casualties were committed throughout Syria but the media turned a blind eye.

The same case for the Yemeni children dying from malnutrition and lack of basic medicines.

Same case for South Sudan

And Ethiopia where the government has been killing demonstrators

And No coverage of the suffering in Eritrea (controlled by the US and Israel)

Syrian Officer Gave a View of War. ISIS Came, and Silence Followed.

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Ours was an unusual, sometimes operatic, correspondence that unfolded over more than a year.

Abu al-Majd, a Syrian police officer who was being deployed more and more often like a soldier, texted at all hours, sending news from the front lines and grumbling about boring, sunbaked patrols, his complaints sometimes punctuated by expressions of terror, pride or doubt.

For us, it was a critical window into the raging war in Syria that we were too often forced to follow from afar.

For him, it seemed about having a connection to people who lived outside the claustrophobia of war, yet cared about what he was going through.

On May 19, 2015, Abu al-Majd sent a pair of snapshots. One showed him in fatigues, smoking a water pipe and starting to smile, as if a friend had just walked in; two cups of Turkish coffee, still foamy, stood on a table

He was about to board a bus to Palmyra, the Syrian desert city that was in the process of falling to the Islamic State.

Many government troops had fled, but Abu al-Majd and a few dozen others had been ordered to fight what he believed to be a doomed battle.

He had taken the photos specially. “These,” he texted, “might be the last pictures.”

We did not hear from him again. Six weeks later, his parents received a call from a man who identified himself as a soldier and warned, “Don’t be hopeful.” Then he hung up.

They went to a security office, where a bureaucrat handed them a piece of paper that said: “Missing.” That stark label, it turned out, masked a terrifying tale of a fighter’s desperate bid for survival, and his struggle between duty and fear.

We had met Abu al-Majd more than a year before, on a reporting trip to Palmyra in April 2014. We were among the last international journalists to visit the city and its imposing ancient ruins, some since blown up by the Islamic State. He was then 24, part of a comically large entourage assigned to guard us — and monitor us.

Palmyra, also known as Tadmur, had lost its main livelihood, tourism, and on its grid of concrete-block streets, men sat around with little to do. Islamic State militants were just a few miles east, while Syrian Army tanks occupied the medieval citadel above the ruins.

Women whispered to us of relatives who had been kidnapped, or had disappeared into government custody after a local rebellion was quashed.

Some of our escorts were jumpy, and a few shopkeepers stared at them with icy eyes. For junior officers like Abu al-Majd, our visit was rare entertainment. At the ruins, they clambered over huge slabs of limestone, striking playful poses.

A month later, Abu al-Majd texted just to say hello. Later he opened up, talking about things he missed, like pomegranates and grapes from the volcanic soil of his family’s ancestral village in the Golan Heights.

As the conversations grew deeper, he seesawed between pride in his national duty and fear, boredom, even anger at the injustices and incompetence he saw in the government’s prosecution of the war.

Checking in regularly, he joined several hundred contacts we maintain inside Syria by telephone, Skype, WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter and other media: army defectors, Islamist insurgents, activists, government officials, business owners, doctors, commanders on all sides.

There are people who support the government, people who loathe it, and people from what they call “the gray middle,” who just want the war to end.

Abu al-Majd — we are using his nickname, and not publishing his photograph, to protect his family — provided insight into the lives of rank-and-file government fighters.

He came from an important subgroup, Sunni loyalists. Syria’s large Sunni majority dominates the insurgency, and also the army conscript pool.

Many quiescent civilians and state employees are also Sunni; if all Sunnis had rebelled, it is less likely that President Bashar al-Assad would still be ruling.

A Quiet Loyalist

Abu al-Majd grew up in Yarmouk, the bustling Palestinian refugee camp in southern Damascus where many Syrians also live. Not long after the uprising began with political protests and security crackdowns in 2011, his family lost its home to clashes, and moved to another neighborhood, then another.

He was a loyalist — the son of a retired, low-ranking army officer — but not someone who plastered his Facebook page with Syrian flags or pictures of dead insurgents or pledges of allegiance to President Assad. Mostly, he shared photos of his friends and nephews.

He had joined a regular police unit at least a year before the uprising, chasing drug dealers and prostitutes. But as war put pressure on the army, many police units were sent into the fray. Abu al-Majd was deployed to front-line checkpoints and patrolled for insurgent activity east of the central city of Homs, around Palmyra.

With supplies scarce and the Syrian pound plummeting in value, he joked that his salary, around $100 a month, was barely enough to keep him stocked with his favorite apple-flavored tobacco.

He was secretly in love with one of his cousins, but now worried that he could never afford to marry her. The isolation ate at him.

“Please, tell me the latest news,” he wrote in September 2014. “We don’t have TV here, no electricity, I’m living in exile. I’m dead, dead.”

When he got leave, Abu al-Majd went home to cosmopolitan Damascus. He was jealous of troops serving in the capital who could drink and go out with women and enjoy relatively regular electricity, he once said, “as if they are in Europe.”

He confided that he consoled himself with the music of the Lebanese pop artist Wael Kfoury; one of his favorite lyrics was, “I wish I could bring you a gift the size of my love.”

Once, he told us, he dreamed that the Islamic State had arrested him. Soon after, the group attacked security posts in the nearby Shaer gas field, killing several of his friends. In November, he wrote that he was at a cold, rainy post surrounded by militants, waiting five days for reinforcements.

“If I die,” he asked, “would you say, ‘God bless his soul?’”

He shared a memory from 2012 that haunted him. He had been on the phone with a friend whose fighting position was being stormed by insurgents.

“I could feel the knocking on his door,” Abu al-Majd recalled. “Do you know that feeling when someone you know, and you like a lot, will be killed in a few minutes, and you don’t know what to do?”

He complained that Lebanese Hezbollah militiamen backing the government earned more than Syrian fighters, and that troops at busy checkpoints farther west raked in bribes while on the desert front, he said, “we are eating air.”

Something Called Patriotism’

In spite of his frustrations, Abu al-Majd felt that “one shouldn’t turn against his government whatever they do.”

“There’s nothing called ‘with’ or ‘against’ Bashar,” he explained, referring to the president. “There’s something called patriotism, nationalism, loyalty — something called ‘we are Syrians and we should defend our nation.’ You are either with the state or with the terrorist groups.”

He said he wished he would wake up in his old house to find the war had been a dream.

“If I had known how deep was the sea, I would never have swum,” he said, quoting the Damascene poet Nizar Qabbani. “If I had known my end, I would never have begun.”

Last March, his frustration boiled over. He picked a fistfight with aid workers in Damascus, who he said were hoarding or misdirecting food aid with the help of local officials.

“They’re giving two families one portion,” he told us later. “Not only that, they are saying dirty words to people, as if the civilians are beggars.”

The next month, he was outraged after his cousin, a new conscript, was sent to Idlib Province, where the army was losing ground.

One day, Abu al-Majd said, the cousin called to report that he and nine others were surrounded, without vehicles, and digging a hole to hide in. Over the sound of gunfire, he asked Abu al-Majd, “What should we do?”

Abu al-Majd was beside himself.

“We need 10,000 soldiers, not just 10,” he said. “Imagine, they put them in that place to meet their fate.”

On May 14, Islamic State fighters swept into Sukhna, an outpost not far from Palmyra. Troops there, running out of bullets, sent hair-raising farewells.

‘I’m Committing Suicide’

Abu al-Majd was on leave in Damascus as the extremists reached the edge of Palmyra. His mother tried to keep him there by hiding his ID card. He debated asking for a transfer, testing the sincerity of a presidential declaration a few months before that gave men the option to serve close to home.

“I’m not a coward, but I’m a human being who sometimes gets scared,” he said, adding, as if looking for approval, “Am I right?”

But the next day he decided to go back out. He soon learned his unit would be sent to Palmyra; the commanders said they would report anyone who did not join

 “I’m walking on my feet toward death, but I can’t do anything. Don’t ask me what time I’m leaving; I hate this question. I wish I wouldn’t wake up tomorrow

May 16: He shared a Facebook post from a friend: “O God, homeland, your heroes are living in graves, and your thieves are in castles.”

May 17: He reached Homs, and went to a fortune teller. She saw him moving to a pleasant place, “green, with trees all around.” Paradise?

May 18: A reprieve. Land mines on the road to Palmyra had forced his bus to turn back.

May 19: The last snapshots.

Then: nothing.

We had followed many battles, but Palmyra was different.

It was resonant as the home of Syria’s most magnificent antiquities, and we had been there recently. We knew archaeologists, antigovernment activists, tribal leaders, tea shop owners and security men. We even knew a fighter with the invading Islamic State force. Together they gave us an up-close, real-time view of a city falling

The Islamic State beheaded government employees in the street, shot soldiers in an ancient amphitheater and gave bread to residents.

Government warplanes dropped bombs, as officials incorrectly declared that all civilians had been evacuated. Activists opposed to both Mr. Assad and the Islamic State went into hiding.

A young intelligence officer we had met in Palmyra — he had shown us pictures of himself in a helicopter loaded with the barrel bombs often dropped on rebellious neighborhoods — told of escaping with nothing but his gun.

Another police officer, with a reputation for torturing suspects, described walking for a day and a half across the desert to reach safety. Before fleeing, he said, he had seen Abu al-Majd at the military airport, wounded in the leg and shoulder.

Abu al-Majd’s social-media status was frozen at “I am in Tadmur,” or Palmyra, followed by a frowny face. “Precious, don’t be sad for me. We are from God and to God we return.”

It was July 23 when we heard from Abu al-Majd’s family that he was officially missing. They gave up on learning more from security officials — “dogs,” one relative called them — and, presuming he was dead, hosted mourners and received condolences.

We needed to know more.

How It Ended

In the ensuing months, we reached two police officers who had stayed in touch with Abu al-Majd to the end and three Palmyra residents who had witnessed his fate, and we compared notes with relatives. This is what we learned.

On May 19, about 60 officers and soldiers had boarded unarmored buses bound for Palmyra, with flak jackets but no weapons. Abu al-Majd was terrified to go, but unsure of what punishment he might face in a country where people could go to prison and simply disappear, was also terrified not to.

“He kept calling all the way from the bus, ‘We’re going to die,’ repeating those words,” one of his fellow officers recalled. “I told him to give the driver any excuse, like he wants to buy cigarettes, and then run away, but he never listened to me.”

The bus dropped the men at the military airport on the outskirts of Palmyra, which was attacked that night. Many were killed; the others fled. Abu al-Majd hid in the house of a family he knew.

He called Damascus daily from the land line, speaking softly, begging friends to send a car. His father told him not to surrender; his uncle advised him to read the Quran.

But the Islamic State was threatening to kill anyone who harbored a government fighter.

After eight days, Abu al-Majd felt he could no longer endanger his hosts, and fled down the street in a borrowed robe and loose pants, trying to pass for a resident.

He must have walked down the same cinder-block streets where he had accompanied us a year earlier, lined with cellphone shops and bakeries. He went unnoticed until the call to prayer.

The Islamic State requires men to attend prayers, so he entered a mosque. Inside, a fighter approached and asked Abu al-Majd if he was with the police.

“He said, ‘Yes, I’m here and I’m praying and I didn’t do anything,’” recalled a Palmyra resident who was there.

The fighter responded, “Now, you remembered to repent?”

On the street outside, the militants announced his arrest, using his full name.

“I saw 10 Daesh fighters with their horrible faces, one holding the sword,” a local woman told us later, using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State. “They beheaded him in front of my eyes.”

The body lay in the street for several days, according to three witnesses. Last month, family members said security officials had told them they had a video of the killing, but did not share it.

“I blame the government,” one relative said. “What can 200 soldiers do against 2,000 Daesh? I don’t have a problem with death, but with the way he died.”

As we were investigating Abu al-Majd’s death, the Islamic State started destroying antiquities in Palmyra. In August, they blew up the site’s grandest structure, the Temple of Baal.

It is where we remember Abu al-Majd. In our pictures, the stone is glowing golden, and he is grinning and playing on the rocks.

Anne Barnard has been the Beirut bureau chief of The New York Times since 2013, leading coverage of the Syrian civil war.

Hwaida Saad, a Lebanese journalist who lived through her country’s civil war and has been chronicling Syria’s since it began in 2011, has worked for The Times as an interpreter, news assistant and reporter since 2008.

 

Syrian Family’s Tragedy Goes Beyond Iconic Image of Boy on Beach

Photo

Hivrun Kurdi, an aunt of Alan’s, with her children in a refugee shelter in Bramsche, Germany, this month. 
Weeks after Alan drowned, Hivrun and her children made the same perilous sea journey from Turkey to Greece.
Credit Mauricio Lima for The New York Times

ISTANBUL — When Alan Kurdi’s tiny body washed up on a beach in Turkey, forcing the world to grasp the pain of Syria’s refugees, the 2-year-old boy was just one member of a family on the run, scattered by nearly five years of upheaval.

As a Turkish officer lifted the boy from the shallow waves at the edge of the Mediterranean Sea, one of Alan’s teenage cousins was alone on a bus in Hungary, fleeing the fighting back home in Damascus.

An aunt was stuck in Istanbul, nursing a baby, as her son and daughter worked 18-hour shifts in a sweatshop so the family could eat. Dozens of other relatives — aunts, uncles and cousins — had fled the war in Syria or were making plans to flee.

And just weeks after Alan’s image shocked the world in September, another aunt prepared to do what she had promised herself to avoid: set sail with four of her children on the same perilous journey.

“We die together, or we live together and make a future,” her 15-year-old daughter said, concluding, as have hundreds of thousands of other Syrians, that there was no going back, and that the way to security led through great risk.

Alan, whose mother and brother drowned with him, belonged to a sprawling clan from Syria’s long-oppressed Kurdish minority. But for most of his closest relatives, that identity was secondary to the cosmopolitan ethos of the Syrian capital, Damascus, where they grew up. They barely spoke Kurdish, identified mainly as Syrian and joined no faction.

So when war broke out, and political ties, sect and ethnicity became life-or-death matters, they were on their own

Interviews with 20 relatives, in Iraqi Kurdistan, in Istanbul, in five German towns and by phone in Syria, tell a story of a family chewed up by one party to the Syrian conflict after another: the Syrian government, the Islamic State, neighboring countries, the West.

Since Alan’s death, at least 100 more children have drowned in the Mediterranean.

A million refugees and migrants entered Europe this year, half of them Syrians, part of the biblical dispersion of a country where half the population has fled.

Alan’s father, Abdullah, who is 39, sometimes blames himself, wishing he could turn back time and not get on the boat. He was trying to steer it in the chaos when it foundered in the waves.

But even for Abdullah’s sister Hivrun, grieving her nephew, the calculus remained in favor of risking her children to save them. Weeks after Alan died, she tried again to start for Germany. Once again, she and her children clambered onto a rubber raft.

Kurdish Roots

Alan’s grandfather was born in Kobani, a mostly Kurdish enclave near the Turkish border in the north. After compulsory army service, he moved to Damascus looking for work and settled in the mostly Kurdish neighborhood of Rukineddine, on the slopes of Mount Qasioun. He opened a barbershop and married a Kurdish woman who considered herself above all Damascene.

Rukineddine grew fast, with jumbled, unplanned housing and steep, narrow alleys cramming in poor rural workers, the kind of place where rebellion would later flare.

They had six children. They remember living modest lives not much affected by tensions between the government and Kurds. They spent the summers harvesting olives in Kobani, but saw themselves as city kids. Most left school after ninth grade to learn the family’s barbering trade.

Fatima, the oldest daughter, was the first to emigrate. In 1992, she moved to Canada to marry an Iraqi Kurd. They soon divorced, and she raised their son. Working nights in a printing plant, she caught the attention of a kindly boss.

“She said, ‘Every night I’ll teach you 10 English words,’” Fatima, known as Tima, recalled recently. “The rest I got from watching ‘Barney’ with my son.”

English led to a hairstyling license, jobs at high-end salons and citizenship — successes that made the family’s later journeys possible.

A commanding presence, Fatima became her siblings’ source of advice, information and emergency cash.

When war broke out, she became their fiercest advocate, supplying the plans and means to seek asylum in the West and, later, the political savvy to make Alan’s death a force for change.

But before the war, the rest of the Kurdis were not thinking of leaving Syria. They were putting down roots in the patchwork of communities that gave Syria its richness.

They acquired in-laws and property in the Damascus suburbs, in Kobani and in the bustling Palestinian district of the Yarmouk refugee camp — all places soon to be shattered by violence.

Driven From Damascus

The ripples of conflict reached the capital in the spring of 2011, just as Abdullah Kurdi was starting a family with his wife, Rihanna, a cousin from Kobani.

As the protests, inspired by other Arab uprisings, began to spread against the government of President Bashar al-Assad, Rihanna headed back to Kobani to give birth to Ghalib, Alan’s older brother. Abdullah went back and forth, working in the family’s Damascus barbershop.

Some of the Kurdis sympathized with the initially peaceful demonstrations, but most avoided involvement. They feared going into details, since some relatives are still in Damascus. Abdullah said only, “I participated.”

The government cracked down across Syria, and the neighborhood quickly came under pressure. Security forces, always able to detain people at will, became jumpier, quicker to scapegoat Kurds or anyone without political connections.

“After the revolution started, I saw the differences between me and others, the racism,” Abdullah recalled. “Any simple policeman can accuse you. If someone writes a fake report against me, saying this Kurd did this or that, I will never come back.” (Only a victory in a civil war can change behaviour)

One day, officers burst into the family home of some of the Kurdis’ in-laws and dragged away two brothers, who had no known political involvement. They have not been heard from since.

Next, Alan’s cousin Shergo, 13, saw a friend die, shot through the neck by the police while protesting outside school.

Government artillery began shelling the restive suburbs of Damascus — where an armed insurgency was taking shape — from bases atop Mount Qasioun, up the slope from Rukineddine. The army guns were so close that the pressure of outgoing blasts cracked the wall of a family house.

The flight to Kobani came after Shergo and another teenage cousin witnessed a suicide bombing in the street. Flesh stuck to a wall, and shrapnel lodged in one boy’s leg.

At the hospital, security officials questioned the boys, who were afraid to say what they had seen. The secret police started asking to talk to the Kurdi men.

“So I said: ‘Let’s go. Let’s leave,’” Shergo’s mother, Ghousoun recalled. “It’s better than if they take us.”

Kobani seemed like a refuge then, as Kurds there tried to establish a safe semiautonomous zone. But, Abdullah lamented, “It didn’t work out that way.”

Life on the Run

At first, the problems were strictly economic. Kobani offered few jobs.

Abdullah went to Istanbul to work, while his wife raised Ghalib, and later gave birth to Alan, sometimes spelled the Turkish way, Aylan. (Previous reports put his age at 3.) Ghousoun and her family lived for a time in a sheep stable; she made money by bringing clothes from Damascus to sell.

“I suffered a lot, because I’m a very neat person,” Ghousoun recalled later, in her small and spotless Istanbul apartment.

Then a new threat arose. The extremist Islamic State group split from others fighting Mr. Assad, declared a state, and preyed on Kurds and other minorities.

Ghousoun’s travels grew perilous. Her accentless Arabic and conservative dress hid her Kurdishness at Islamic State checkpoints, but made her suspect at Kurdish roadblocks.

By September 2014, the Islamic State was shelling Kobani. Word came that the militants would invade. Families fled toward Turkey, and some were caught between Islamic State fighters and the border fence.

There, fighters grabbed Ghousoun’s husband, Mohammad, Abdullah’s brother. They spoke Arabic, but their accent was not Syrian.

“They beat and beat and beat him with a gun, my husband,” Ghousoun said later, sobbing. “In front of me.” Next, she said, they handed her son Shergo, by then 15, a gun.

“Shoot your father,” they told him.

“They kept saying we were infidels,” Ghousoun said. “But we are not.”

She collapsed on the ground, calling on God, begging the fighters, and somehow, she said, “they took mercy.”

The family spent days looking for a crossing, with hundreds of other Kurds. Finally, the group tried to breach the border. The Turkish police beat most of them back, but a Kurdish woman on the Turkish side hid Ghousoun’s family in her cowshed.

Back in Kobani, the Kurdi clan’s olive groves were burned, houses destroyed, and 18 relatives slaughtered.

Many of the survivors made it to Istanbul, and a new round of ordeals.

A Way Station in Turkey

Abdullah had managed to send money from Istanbul by working, and sleeping, in a clothing workshop. But when his wife and children finally joined him, he said, the burden overwhelmed him, “like a chain on my hands.”

The only apartments he could afford were so far from his work that he had to quit his job, instead lifting 200-pound bags of cement, making $9 per 12-hour day.

Ghalib and Alan jumped into his bed each morning to snuggle before he slathered them with ointment for their eczema, a ritual that he relished, even as he fretted over the cost of the balm.

“They sat in the house all day,” he said, choking with tears. “The only thing they were waiting for was me.”

Other Kurdis fared no better in Turkey.

Syrians there were often invited to bring their children to factory job interviews, but found, instead of day care, children packing goods in boxes.

Jobs disappeared when new Syrians arrived, willing to work for less, and employers sometimes withheld pay. Abdullah’s sister Hivrun cleaned hotel rooms, dozens a day. Ghousoun washed dishes in a restaurant; her son Shergo worked in a clothing sweatshop.

The promise of emigrating to the West seemed distant.

In Canada, Alan’s aunt Fatima raised $20,000 to sponsor Mohammad for asylum, with his wife, Ghousoun, and their five children. But Canada required proof of refugee status. Turkey granted Syrians only guest status, which Canada did not accept.

Hivrun applied for resettlement in Germany. Last summer, she received a date for her first interview: Sept. 27, 2016.

Options dwindling, Abdullah, Mohammad and Shergo traveled west and crossed a river to Greece. The police beat them with sticks, then sent them back in a rubber raft.

In June, Mohammad took a smugglers’ boat to Greece and made it to Germany.

Alan’s cousin Yasser, 16, fled Damascus to avoid the draft. He, too, boarded a smuggler’s boat out of Turkey.

Disasters at Sea

Hivrun and her husband were the first to take children to sea. They took four children and an adult nephew south to Izmir, the epicenter of the smuggling trade in Turkey.

Smugglers packed them in windowless vans, left them alone in a wooded area to dodge the police, then put them on a raft aimed at a Greek island a few miles off, but the raft had a broken engine. Only when Hivrun objected was the trip aborted.

On the next try, they were out to sea when water started rushing in. Hivrun saw a Turkish coast guard boat and shouted for help, not stopping even when other passengers, who preferred to risk it, angrily shushed her.

Hivrun’s husband and the older children wanted to try again. Hivrun refused. She took the children back to Istanbul, and her husband and nephew sailed off to Greece.

Soon afterward, Abdullah tried the voyage with his family. “We had decided to go to paradise,” Abdullah explained, a better life, whether in Europe — or the hereafter.

Hours after Alan’s drowning, Abdullah told the story in anguish: The small boat foundered and flipped a few minutes into the journey. He tried to hold on to Ghalib and Alan, calling to his wife, “Just keep his head above water!” But all three drowned, one by one.

Other survivors added new details: Alan cried as water sprayed his eyes; an older woman took him on her lap; the smuggler leapt out, and Abdullah took the tiller. Nervous and inexperienced, he swerved over the waves, telling his children, “I’m with you; don’t worry,” just before the boat capsized. One woman remembered Abdullah, in the water, kissing one of his boys.

In the news media blitz that followed, some reports, quoting an Iraqi couple who lost two children in the disaster, said Abdullah was a smuggler. But it is a standard smugglers’ practice to have an ordinary refugee steer, often in exchange for a discount, and in a later interview, the Iraqis said they believed Abdullah was merely the designated refugee pilot.

Abdullah says that he got no discount, and that he and others tried to take control of the boat because “someone had to.”

Regardless, one thing is clear: Abdullah lost his family.

Little Solace

Within hours, Alan’s aunt in Canada, Fatima, leapt into action.

From her home near Vancouver, she took calls from the news media, blaming Canada’s red tape and the world’s indifference. Soon she was touring Europe to advocate on behalf of refugees.

“Those kids were born when the war was on,” she recalled telling António Guterres, the United Nations’ high commissioner for refugees. “And they die with the war still on.”

Her raw message helped spur Western countries — briefly, at least — to open their doors to Syrians.

But none of that changed the calculus for the Kurdis.

In the remote German town of Villingen, on the edge of the Black Forest, Ghousoun’s husband, Mohammad, worried for his family in Istanbul. He emerged one night from a barracks-like refugee shelter ringed with concertina wire and confided his dilemma: It could take a year or more to bring his family legally, so his decision to keep them off the dangerous boats meant indefinite separation.

“The most important thing,” he said, “is to be together.”

For the same reason, Hivrun broke her vow never to set sail again, determined to rendezvous with her husband. This time, she and her children made it.

In Meppen, Germany, a few weeks later, her children recounted the wet, terrifying moments on the boat — “a horror film!” one said — but now they were eating ice cream with a view of yellow autumn leaves.

Their father was stuck in a separate camp, three hours away. But after several weeks of haranguing the authorities, they got their wish: They could move, all together, to an apartment.

To the south, near Heidelberg, Yasser, the teenager who fled alone, was even more bullish on Germany, pinning the colors of its flag over a bed with a heart-shaped plush pillow. As an unaccompanied minor, he receives benefits like carpentry classes and excursions.

He misses his mother, but he already speaks passable German, knows the city and even has a German girlfriend. Wearing his hair in an Elvis-like pompadour, he plans to open a barbershop and study acting.

“I don’t want to lie to you and tell you that I am not happy,” he said. “I am!”

Ghousoun and Mohammad expect to be reunited in Canada on Monday, among 10,000 Syrians admitted by a new Liberal government. Fatima has a job for Mohammad in her new salon, where the sign over the door reads “Kurdi.”

“People always need a haircut,” she said.

A Father’s Heartache

A few weeks after the tragedy, Abdullah sat, angular and stiff and out of place, on a leather sofa in the piano bar of a gilt-trimmed hotel in Erbil, in Iraq’s Kurdistan region. The sea had sheared him of all trappings of identity: his documents, his sisters’ phone numbers, even his dentures

I have become a shadow,” Abdullah said.

After he buried his family in Kobani, in three graves on a treeless plain, he was whisked to Erbil by the powerful Barzani clan. He had resolved to use the spotlight on his grief to aid other Syrians, and the Barzanis were promising help.

Barely understanding Kurdish, he went gamely to meetings with the rich and powerful, and delivered aid to refugee camps, happiest when playing with children.

But he often seemed dazed. He wore a single plain, khaki-colored outfit every day, refusing to let his benefactors buy more. He had never been in a place like this, with a $99 Sunday brunch, and could not stop thinking: “Where was all this when my children were alive?”

He called his Canadian sister, Fatima, who was collecting his family’s things in Istanbul. She was coming to see him, and the thought of it brightened him. He asked her for his sons’ favorite stuffed dog, the one with the tongue sticking out, or maybe the Teletubby doll with the missing eye that he had promised to fix.

“I want something,” he said, “with their smell.”

Continue

 

 

 Saudis’ Checkbook Diplomacy: known this from ages and just Revealed by  WikiLeaks

Before becoming the president of Egypt, Mohamed Morsi wanted visas to take his family on a religious pilgrimage.

A Lebanese politician begged for cash to pay his bodyguards. Even the state news agency of Guinea, in West Africa, asked for $2,000 “to solve many of the problems the agency is facing.”

They all had good reason to ask, as the kingdom has long wielded its oil wealth and religious influence to try to shape regional events and support figures sympathetic to its worldview.

These and other revelations appear in a trove of documents said to have come from inside the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs and released on Friday by the group WikiLeaks.

Photo

Saudi leaders, whose portraits are displayed at the stock exchange in Riyadh, have not confirmed the leak’s authenticity. Credit Hasan Jamali/Associated Press

BEIRUT, Lebanon — It seems that everyone wants something from Saudi Arabia..

While the documents appear to contain no shocking revelations about Saudi Arabia, say, eavesdropping on the United States or shipping bags of cash to militant groups, they contain enough detail to shed light on the diplomacy of a deeply private country and to embarrass Saudi officials and those who lobby them for financial aid.

And they allow the curious to get a glimpse of the often complex interactions between a kingdom seen by many as the rich uncle of Middle East and its clients, from Africa to Australia.

In a statement carried by the Saudi state news agency on Saturday, a foreign ministry spokesman, Osama Nugali, acknowledged that the documents were related to a recent electronic attack on the ministry.

He warned Saudis not to “help the enemies of the homeland” by sharing the documents, adding that many were “clearly fabricated.” Those who distribute the documents will be punished under the country’s cybercrimes law, he said.

Mr. Nugali also struck a defiant tone, saying the documents were essentially in line with the “state’s transparent policies” and its public statements on “numerous regional and international issues.”

More than 60,000 documents have been released so far, with WikiLeaks promising more to come.

They include identification cards, visa requests and summaries of news media coverage of the kingdom.

The most informative are diplomatic cables from Saudi embassies around the world to the foreign ministry, many of which are then passed along to the office of the king for final decisions

Many of the cables are incomplete, making it hard to determine their date and context, and very few indicate which requests were approved by the king and ultimately carried out. Most documents focus on a turbulent period in the Middle East, beginning after the popular uprisings that toppled Arab leaders in 2011 and continuing through early this year.

Clear in many of the documents are efforts by Saudi Arabia, a Sunni power, to combat the influence of Shiite Iran, its regional rival, as well as Iranian proxies like Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militant group and political party.

Cables about Iraq suggest efforts to support politicians who opposed Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, then the Shiite prime minister of Iraq, who was close to Iran. One said the kingdom had given 2,000 pilgrimage visas to Mr. Maliki’s chief rival, Ayad Allawi, to distribute as he saw fit.

Another cable from the Saudi Embassy in Beirut relayed a request by a Christian militia warlord politician, Samir Geagea, for cash to relieve his party’s financial problems. The cable noted that Mr. Geagea had stood up for the kingdom in news media interviews, opposed the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad and had shown “his preparedness to do whatever the kingdom asks of him.”

A spokesman for Mr. Geagea did not respond to requests for comment on Saturday.

“Are there just more Lebanese begging Saudis for money or does my timeline skew toward Lebanon?” wrote one Twitter user, Laleh Khalili, noting the frequency of such requests from Beirut.

Other cables show Saudi Arabia working to maintain its regional influence.

One accused Qatar, another Persian Gulf state known for oil wealth and cash-based diplomacy, of stirring up trouble in Yemen, Saudi Arabia’s southern neighbor, by backing a rich politician to the tune of $250 million.

And a few cables implied that Saudi leaders had negotiated with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt after the revolution that ousted President Hosni Mubarak, a longtime Saudi ally. One document said a leader in the Brotherhood had said the group could ensure that Mr. Mubarak would not go to prison in exchange for $10 billion.

But a handwritten note on the document said paying “ransom” for Mr. Mubarak was “not a good idea” because the Brotherhood could not prevent his incarceration.

The documents also indicate concerted Saudi efforts to shape news media coverage, both inside and outside the kingdom.

One cable suggested that the government pressure an Arab satellite provider to take an Iranian television station off the air. In another cable, the foreign minister suggests that the provider use “technical means to lessen the Iranian broadcast strength.”

Other documents suggest intervention at the highest levels to shape domestic media coverage in a way that suits the rulers.

In an early 2012 cable marked “top secret and urgent,” King Abdullah told top ministers about new talks between the kingdom and Russia over the crisis in Syria and asked them to “direct the media not to expose Russian personalities and to avoid offending them so as not to harm the kingdom’s interests.”

Missing from the documents is any evidence of direct Saudi support for militant groups in Syria or elsewhere.

Bruce Riedel, a former Central Intelligence Agency officer now at the Brookings Institution, said that while considerable evidence of such programs exists, they are handled by the kingdom’s intelligence services, and the foreign ministry is often “not in the loop.”

“That allows the Saudis to have plausible deniability and to liaison with other intelligence services aiding the rebels,” he said.

Some found the documents underwhelming, noting that similar activities are carried out by many countries, including the United States.

“There is not really something shocking that compromises Saudi security,” said Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a political science professor in the United Arab Emirates, who had read about 100 cables.

Everyone knows that Saudi Arabia practices checkbook diplomacy, he said, adding that it now had to compete for clients with other rich states, like Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.

One surprise in the documents, he said, is that the former Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, had to seek the permission of the king before proceeding with even minor matters.

“It seems that the king is the king in Saudi Arabia, no matter how princely you are,” Dr. Abdulla said.

Other surprising finds showed up in the WikiLeaks’ net.

The Lebanese singer Nancy Ajram, known for shocking conservative Muslims with her sexy music videos, received a visa and visited a Saudi prince inside the kingdom despite instructions that all visas for artists and singers be preapproved by the Interior Ministry, according to the documents.

The foreign ministry branch in Mecca responded that Ms. Ajram had received the visa to travel with her husband and had come on a personal visit, not in her capacity as an artist.

Also in the cache was an email to a foreign ministry official from a technology company called StarLink, whose website says it is a “trusted security adviser.”

Reached by phone, the company’s business development manager, Mahmoud Odeh, confirmed that StarLink had provided computer security services to the Saudi government.

When asked what he thought of the leaks, Mr. Odeh hung up.


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