Foua and Kafarya: Two Northwestern Syrian Villages Under Siege by NATO’s Terrorists

Untold Suffering in Foua and Kafarya: Two Northwestern Syrian Villages Under Siege and Assault by NATO’s Terrorists

By Eva Bartlett

Infant Rimas Al-Nayef was one of at least 5 children killed by NATO-backed terrorists’ shelling on August 10, 2015 in the northwestern Syrian village of Foua. Another 25 residents were killed by the up to 1,500 rockets and mortars which Jebhat al-Nusra (al-Qaeda in Syria) and other terrorist factions rained down on Foua and neighbouring Kafarya village, just north of Idlib. Scores more were injured on that day alone. Yet, scarcely a peep in the corporate media, as massacres committed by western-backed “moderates” do not merit media coverage, do not suit the war agenda.

The attack was waged by a number of different factions, primarily al-Nusra, Jaysh al-Fattah (the so-called “Army of Conquest”), and Ahrar al-Sham (Liberation of the Levant Movement) along with other “moderates” of the umbrella organization Jabhat al-Islamiyah (the Islamic Front).

Crescent International reported: “The barrage of rockets has intensified; Western, Saudi and Turkish-supplied 500 kg rockets are fired at the villages accompanied by incursions with the clear aim to capture them.”

The villages, less than 10 km northeast of Idlib, had already been suffering an over 4 year long siege by al-Nusra and affiliates.

Until late March, residents—although surrounded by militant factions—still had an access road, thus supplies for their survival. With the militants’ occupation of Idlib at the end of March, the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) had to withdraw forces from bases in the province. Foua and Kafarya became utterly isolated.

Beirut-based justice activist Mariam Mohammad maintains contacts with people in the villages and follows the few Arab media channels and news sites (al-Mayadeen, al-Manar, as-Saffir) reporting on the desperate situation. On August 11 she wrote of the situation in the villages, where roughly 40,000 people are under siege:

“138 days of siege, with no water, electricity, communications, or medical & food supplies. And while the terrorists carry out almost daily rocket attacks against the residents, leaving tens of martyrs and wounded, the injured are many times left with no treatment.

During the last week of July 2015, The terrorists launched a unified attack on the two villages under what they entitled “The Battle of liberating Kafarya & Foua”, and ever since, the rocket attacks have become more frequent and aggressive.”

Indeed, Syrian journalist Alaa Ebrahim noted on July 21 [translated from Arabic] “Kafarya and Foua towns were shelled today with 450 rockets and projectiles, and the total number has reached 1,000 since the beginning of the assault. In spite of this, the defending local popular militias are preserving their positions and sometimes were advancing and making traps for the attackers. There are no Iranians or others among the defenders of Foua, but their attackers are from all sides of the planet.”

Mariam Mohammed wrote on August 11:

“Yesterday, in the most brutal attack yet launched by the terrorists against Kafarya & Foua since the beginning of the Syrian Crisis, the residents announced 22 civilian martyrs (mostly children) and dozens of wounded, with more than 1,500 shells hitting their neighbourhoods. A tunnel had been dug under the villagers and this was packed with 15T of explosives and detonated.

Finally, one of their suicide bombers strapped [explosives] to their body and blew themselves up injuring more innocent civilians.”

Saer Asleam, a Syrian journalist from Idlib, clarified who is defending the villages and the nature of Hezbollah support:

“The fighters in the towns of Kefraya and Foua are residents. There are an unknown number of Hezbollah members providing military advice on the ground.”

A personal friend—a resident of Kafarya studying in Beirut—has been sending updates from family under siege and attack. As I do not want to make his family targets for the terrorists, I will simply call him “K” after the village he is from.

“The SAA are unable to reach the area, it’s very remote, about 80 km from the edge of Hama Governorate. The only defense we have are the villagers. From the beginning, when the “FSA” and other militant groups attacked us, the people defended themselves by whatever means, with rifles. By 2012, people had acquired machine guns on their own, to defend themselves.

The villagers set up checkpoints. Every week the militants attacked, to see if the people were vulnerable. They fired rockets at the villages. At the beginning, it was only mortars, then they started using a larger size of mortar. Then, the militants started using cooking gas canisters as bombs, “hell cannons.”

They fire from Binnish, a few km south of al-Foua; from Ma’rat Mesreen, about 2 km to the north; and recently from the centre of Idlib they fired rockets to the village, about 8 km away.

But the people are still defending themselves however they can. You can see from the latest martyrs: one is a teacher, another is a university student, another an engineer, another is sheikh…they were all defending their town when killed.”

STRATEGIC IMPORTANCE?

According to Saer Asleam: “Ahrar Al-Sham is trying to lessen the pressure on its fighters in al-Zabadani by strangling the inhabitants of Kafarya and Foua. This is being done by targeting them with hundreds of missiles, and by direct attacks using tanks and armored vehicles. Al-Nusra is also participating through suicide attacks and bombed cars. But all these attacks haven’t worked out to achieve any breakthrough to get in the two villages thanks to the resistance by the locals of the two villages who have formed popular committees.”

In his report “A Safe Zone in Syria… for terrorists!” Iyad Khuder noted that Jaysh al-Fattah has the direct support of both Turkey and Saudi Arabia, and that one of its leaders is a Saudi: Abdallah Al-Mhesni, who vows to exterminate Alawis in his “liberating” of Syrian areas. Further, these “moderates”, Khuder noted, dedicated their success in Idlib to “Muslims worldwide and our brothers in the Islamic State.”

Khuder remarked “In their speech, they refer to the Kafarya residents as ‘occupiers’ of the village, with statements like, ‘These two villages are settlements.’ They make a comparison to Zionist colonists in occupied Palestine! This is part of the greater ploy to divide Muslims and to distract them from the Palestinian cause.”

BREAKING THE CEASE-FIRE, ZIONIST-STYLE

As Israel has repeatedly done in the past, NATO-backed militants broke an August 12 truce (just two hours after its announcement) meant to last for 48 hours, shelling Kafarya and Foua, killing 3 civilians and wounding more.

In one of the only reports in corporate media deigning to mention the isolated villages, Reuters noted on August 12 (Kefarya and Foua mentioned almost as though an afterthought):

“A ceasefire began at 6 a.m. today for 48 hours to halt military operations in Zabadani,’ Hezbollah’s al-Manar reported. ‘It also includes the two villages of al-Foua and Kefraya in the Idlib countryside.’”

On August 14, Al Masdar News updated on the fight in al-Zabadani, a district roughly 45 km northwest of Damascus and close to the Lebanese border.

“For the last 38 days, Al-Zabadani has been under siege by the Syrian Arab Army’s 63rd Brigade of the prestigious 4th Mechanized Division and Hezbollah; this has left the Islamist rebels from Harakat Ahrar Al-Sham and the Syrian Al-Qaeda group “Jabhat Al-Nusra” in a difficult predicament, with very few choices.

During the first days of this offensive at Al-Zabadani, Hezbollah and the Syrian Armed Forces gave the Islamist rebels two options:either put down their weapons and surrender or prepare to fight until the last man. …Yesterday, 40 Islamist rebel fighters surrendered themselves to the Syrian Armed Forces and Hezbollah inside Al-Zabadani; however, more than 300 militants remain entrenched inside the Mahata District.”

Mariam Mohammad noted on August 13 that sources from inside Kafarya and Foua reported:

“Throughout yesterday the neighborhoods witnessed sporadic shelling by the terrorists after three civilians were killed in the morning attack. They said: ‘Two shells hit the neighbourhood in the afternoon, and streams of gunfire were heard from the side of “Ma’rat Mesreen”, and later at night when we were having dinner, we had to seek refuge in one of the bathrooms again due to the attacks.’ There are no shelters inside the two villages.”

On the attempts at negotiating a cease-fire deal, K observed:

“Turkey is able to unify the groups. Before the big attack on Idlib last March, they unified many groups to form Jaysh al-Fattah. So if you want a real truce, you should contact their master.”

Syrian journalist Iyad Khuder likewise noted: “The Turkish and Saudi role in enforcing this truce proves, once again, their command over the terrorist groups that the MSM has been calling ‘Syrian rebels’!”

On August 15, Mariam Mohammad updated on the situation in the two northwestern villages:

“Ahrar Al- Sham has officially announced the collapse of negotiations with the Iranians regarding the Kafarya & Foua/ Zabadani Deal, and thus the terrorist factions besieging the two villages in Idlib have resumed shelling the neighborhoods. Sources from Kafarya reported about collisions between the armed militias and the men assigned to protect the villages, and emphasized that the shelling is fierce and and continuous.”

K further noted that there are two new martyrs, “Fadi Assad and his daughter Rimas.”

Mariam Mohammad’s August 16 report read:

“Official news reported fierce collisions in a massive attack carried out by the terrorist factions against Kafarya and Foua using heavy artillery this morning. A previous attack was launched Saturday night (15 August) and was resumed Sunday early morning, and sources reported that the shelling lasted throughout the entire night.” [Note in this video of August 15 attacks, the very inaccurate gas canister “hell cannons”can be seen being fired.]

According to Mohammad, four more from the villages were killed in the terror attacks today.

As of Monday August 17, Mariam Mohammad’s latest update noted: “According to a Foua resident on Sunday night, the number of shells fired at the two villages in the past 48 hours since the truce collapsed is 2,500, killing 10 more residents, including two children, and wounding 40 more.” This brings the number of martyred to at least 41 since the last week of July, and at least 130 since the end of March.

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.