Syria: Family of 11 clung together in death

Bel Trew, The Times Bel Trew

The entire Bakrieh family in Douma were found in a heap on the bathroom floor. After a gas bomb tore through their building, the parents had tried to scrub the chemicals off their children’s skin. But the toxic cloud overwhelmed the family of 11 before they could protect them.

Abdullah Abu Homam, a local volunteer, said that all of them had damp clothes and foam on their mouths. Three of the children were toddlers in nappies. One of the women was still cradling her child by the sink.

“When I entered the flat they were all in the bathroom, their clothes were still wet so we believe they tried to rinse themselves in vain. Eventually they must have realised it was over so they drew closer together and died,” Abu Homam said.

At 7pm on Saturday a metre-long gas bomb had punched through the roof of their four-storey block of flats in the last rebel-controlled enclave near Damascus. Video footage showed that it had landed on a bed in a top-floor room.

As many as 70 people died, the majority women and children, and 500 were injured, according to the Syrian American Medical Society. The worst hit were families who had hidden in basement shelters to escape airstrikes.

If confirmed, Saturday’s gas attack would be the deadliest in Syria since warplanes dropped nerve gas on the rebel town of Khan Sheikhoun, killing 89 people a year ago.

Just hours after Saturday’s killings, the Syrian government confirmed that rebels had agreed to withdraw from Douma and allow full regime control of the area. Yesterday, 20 buses carrying fighters, their relatives and civilians left the area for rebel-held districts in the north. There was speculation that Saturday’s attack was a ploy to speed up the withdrawal deal. As many as 50,000 residents are expected to leave.

Everyone in the Bakriehs’ building and a nearby block of flats was killed, according to Abu Homam. He described following a trail of foam up the stairwell to the bodies of a woman hugging her two daughters.

“It seemed that they tried to reach the top of the building after running from the basement because I saw the foam trail all over the stairs to the fourth floor,” he said.

The gas was so strong that one man whose sister died in the building said he passed out hours after the attack when he found her body. “I tried to hug her but the smell of the gas was so intense I couldn’t. I fell to the ground, could not move and blacked out,” he said.

More than 1,745 people, including 400 children, have been killed since the onslaught against the rebel stronghold started in February, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

For full story click: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/syria-family-of-11-clung-together-in-death-9gqmzmdjv

Photo

HALIL EL-ABDULLAH/GETTY IMAGES

 

Syrian Democratic Forces retake Raqqa from Isis

The TimesBel Trew, Cairo
US-backed forces in Syria have recaptured Raqqa from the Islamic State, dealing a massive blow to the militants who had anchored their caliphate in the city.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance led by Kurdish forces, told The Times that “military activities were now complete” in the jihadists’ de facto capital and a “clear-up” operation had begun.

A hardcore group of a few dozen mostly foreign fighters were now holed up in the city’s municipal stadium making a final stand.

An SDF spokesman told The Times that at least 22 foreign fighters had been killed in today’s advance. “The military activities are now complete in Raqqa. We have started an operation to comb the area of any sleeper cells,” said Talal Selo, an SDF spokesman. “The situation is under control, an official statement will follow.”

Earlier this morning, Kurdish forces captured the city’s hospital, one of the last Isis holdouts. The remaining fighters are in the stadium, which gained notoriety as one of Isis’s largest jails, and also as a weapons depot.

The loss of Raqqa is a huge symbolic blow to the group that has suffered a string of defeats across Syria, Iraq and Libya. Isis was driven from its largest Iraqi stronghold, Mosul, in July. Raqqa had been its “ capital” since it proclaimed its caliphate in 2014. The city was also used by the group to plan its international attacks.

SDF forces launched their operation in November and broke into the city centre in June.

The SDF said the next target would be Deir Ezzor, a neighbouring province where Syrian regime forces, backed by Russian airpower, were slowly advancing. Over the weekend Syrian government troops said they had successfully penetrated Mayadeen, which lies southeast of Deir Ezzor city.

Read full story: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/world/syrian-democratic-forces-retake-raqqa-from-isis-j0qwrr5d7

Photo: BULENT KILIC/AFP/GETTY