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Posts Tagged ‘Syria city of Edleb

Is TAFTANAZ still a town in Syria?

Taftanaz is a jumble of simple concrete homes surrounded by golden wheat fields some 15 kilometers (9 miles) from the northern city of Idlib (see link in note), by the border with Turkey, and it had 15,000 villagers. It is located near a military base

Ben Hubbard spent two weeks inside Syria with a team of AP journalists. Taftanaz was among the hardest-hit areas the team visited.

“TAFTANAZ, Syria (AP) — The main street of this once-bustling Syrian farm town now stands eerily quiet, its shops charred black from arson, its shoppers replaced by cats roaming the rubble of homes destroyed by tank fire.

At dawn on April 3, Syrian forces shelled the town in the first volley of what residents say was a massive assault after a string of large protests calling for the end of the regime of President Bashar Assad. Soldiers then stormed in, torching homes and businesses and gunning down residents in the streets. By the time they left on the third day, at least 62 people were dead.

Two months later, the destruction remains, but most residents are gone. Locals estimate that about two-thirds of the town’s 15,000 people have left. Most don’t expect them to return.

Resident Bassam Ghazzal, who lost more than 20 members of his extended family in the attack, said:” There is nothing for people to come back to, and they worry that if they rebuild, the army will destroy it again. People don’t want to become refugees twice. Residents had long complained of State neglect and corruption that left many living in poverty. So when protesters inspired by the successful uprisings against autocrats in Tunisia and Egypt took to the streets in Syria, they followed along, first demonstrating for change in April 2011″

Local security officers quickly ended the protest, but the town organized more, sparking further crackdowns and arrest campaigns by regime authorities.

The Syrian army raided the village three times in the next four months. During a June raid, Ghazzal’s cousin was shot dead at a regime checkpoint while trying to flee, making him the first of the town’s “martyrs.”

Others followed. Some in the town took up arms, and an October clash between the army and local rebels killed 5 residents. Other residents buried them and held another protest the same day, Ghazzal said.

Then all was quiet until April 3, when tanks shelled the town from four sides before armored cars brought in dozens of soldiers who dragged civilians from their homes and gunned them down in the streets, witnesses said. The soldiers also looted, destroyed and torched hundreds of homes, bringing some down on their owners’ heads.

Videos shot at the time show tanks posted near the town’s entrance and huge columns of smoke rising throughout the area. Photos of the dead show bodies torn apart by shrapnel, charred by fire, crushed under rubble or with bullet holes in their chests, foreheads and temples.

Local activist Abdullah Ghazzal, a university student in English, says 62 people were killed during the attack, four of them burned beyond recognition. Two others have never been found.

The town had only a small rebel presence, though fighters from the area had killed soldiers at nearby checkpoints or destroyed regime tanks, said local fighter Sahir Schaib. Rebels also blew up 9 tanks as they left the town, mostly with homemade bombs planted along the roads.

Schaib said the onslaught was to send a strong message to neighboring villages: “There were lots of villages around that had just started protesting and they wanted to say, ‘This is what we can do to you. They committed the massacre to teach the entire region a lesson.”

Since the start of the anti-Assad uprising in March 2011, the regime has responded to unrest with brute force, dispatching snipers, troops and tanks to quash dissent. Activists say more than 14,000 people have been killed since, many of them civilians.

In general, the violence has not stopped the uprising, emboldening protesters, galvanizing international condemnation and leading many in the opposition to take up arms.

Taftanaz is a place where overwhelming force appears to have not only crushed a burgeoning protest movement but struck a blow against a community that may never recover.

The Syrian government rarely comments on its military actions and blames the uprising on armed terrorists acting out a foreign conspiracy. It bars most reporters from working in the country, and the AP was able to visit Taftanaz only after entering from a neighboring country.

The price of Taftanaz’s defiance is obvious around town. Homes have been reduced to rubble. Most shops along the town’s main street are shuttered, their thick metal doors scarred by shrapnel and gunfire. Black soot lines the windows of others. Yet others lie collapsed in piles of bricks and mortar.

“They took what they took and burned what they burned,” said Abu Eissa Ghazzal, 75, another member of the extended Ghazzal family. Standing near his torched grocery store on the ground floor of a three-story building, he despaired for the future.

“They didn’t leave me a single nail,” he said.

His younger brother had built the building after working for two decades in Saudi Arabia and lived with his family in the top two floors, Ghazzal said. Now all had been torched, and his brother and family had fled to a refugee camp in Turkey.

His older brother lived across the alley and refused to leave his home when the army came. When the attack was over, rescue teams found the 81-year-old man’s body still in his home, burned to a crisp.

“Now there is nobody left,” he said. “Who is going to rebuild all of this, now that all of those with children have left?”

The army has not returned since the April raid. Local activists still organize protests, though many fewer people attend, and rumors of impending military incursions often terrify residents.

Most of the dead rest in a long mass grave on the village’s east side, their names scrawled in marker on cinder block headstones.

Preceding most names is the honorific “hero martyr.” One inscription for the unidentified bodies reads simply “four people.”

“Most of them were my friends,” said Abdullah Ghazzal, the English student, walking among the graves. He pointed out the grave of his 44-year-old brother, shot dead that day.

“They also burned down his house,” he said.


Syria city of Edleb by Turkish border: 10 checkpoints on a 70-mile stretch…

Two weeks ago, I was walking in the neighborhood and was stopped by Syrian workers riding in a car.  They wanted to know whether I have any idea of the availability of rooms to rent. They were thinking of living 6 of them in a room, just to have a roof over their head since they are working in construction…The wages of Syrian workers in Lebanon decreased because there is more offer than demand, and because daily wages in Syria is reaching less than $3…

There are more than 30,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon since the Syrian uprising started, mainly located in north Lebanon (Akkar district) and in the Bekaa Valley.  There are over 100,000 Syrian refugees on the Jordanian borders, and about 40,000 on the Turkish borders…

I asked one of the Syrians: “From where are you?” He was from the city of Edleb in the north, one mile away from the Turkish border…and they were returning to Lebanon after a visit to their hometown. I said: “What! You went to Edleb as it is bombarded by the Syrian army?”

Two of the workers were from Edleb and they told me that there are 10 checkpoints on a 70-mile stretch, starting from the border of the district of Edleb to their main city of Edleb… The Syrian army is maintaining strong strategic positions outside Edleb city-limit.

You have to first reach the port city of Latakieh, passing by Tartus and Banias and drive north-east toward Aleppo before you get to the Edleb province.  Ironically, there are no checkpoints until you reach the Edleb district border. I guess many checkpoints are set up toward the hot resistance cities of Homs, Hama, and Daraa…

By the way, the province of Edleb is the size of the State of Israel and more twice the size of Lebanon (10,250 sq.kilometer)

I recall that, even three years after the Syrian troops vacated Lebanon in 2005, the Lebanese army kept strategic strong points with tanks and canon…in many key districts in Lebanon…

I guess that the Syrian people are in for many years of seeing many army positions and checkpoints, even after Syria political situation stabilizes…

I visited Syria in 1973 and vast modern highways were crisscrossing the country. The highway between Latakieh and Aleppo is straight like an arrow, and you may set the cruise control and get a 40-minutes nap.

The problem in Syria is not lack of food, but variety. You go to a restaurant and hotels and your choices are chicken, chicken and rice, non tasty humus, bread, and a few varieties of vegetables…and this in the land of bounty! Things must be even harder with all the financial and economical embargo, meant to drive the Syrian people miserable.  Sort of pushing misery to win the revolution, and then the armed revolution to drive the people back to misery…

And you thought that misery is misery and cannot sustain sophisticated taxonomy of differentiating among them…But you discover there is a misery “with dignity” (Tunisia, Egypt, Iran), misery under absolute obscurantist monarchies (Saudi Arabia) with no freedom of expression whatsoever, misery under absolute monarchies with nominal constitutions (Morocco, Jordan) with successive demoting of Prime Ministers, misery under oil rich oligarchies (the Arab Gulf States) where you don’t have the right to vote since you pay no taxes, misery in pseudo muti-theocratic State with unlimited freedom of opinion (Lebanon), misery under tribal political structures (Libya, Yemen)…

You have this peninsula named Qatar with barely 300,000 “citizens” and four fold that number in foreign immigrants put to work as slaves in order to “maintain” the life-style of the Emirs…You hardly stumble on any Qatari “citizen” to ask his opinion: They are nowhere to be seen…And yet, the Emir of Qatar thinks that he has the rights to disseminate his brand of “democracy and freedom of speech”, which do not exist in this Gulf State, and want to impose his views on people who have thousands of years of urban culture and civilization…

All kinds of miseries that the people in the Middle-East got accustomed to: The first and basic responsibility of questioning authority figures are not even in the list of people entitlements.




October 2021

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