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

 

Refugees face death camped out in bitter Lebanon winter

The Times

Bel Trew, Bekaa Valley

For the first time since they fled Syria five years ago, many refugees fear they will not make it through another bitter Lebanese winter.

Raya, 97, begs for scraps in the Bekaa Valley to survive. “We are barely eating at the moment,” her daughter, Khaldia, 63, said as she tended her sick mother on the ground. “We have to beg neighbours for a bit of stew or vegetables.”

Their tent, made from wood and scraps of plastic fabric, is leaking: they cannot afford the materials to patch it up before the predicted snowstorms.

“These last few months have been the worst,” Khaldia said. “We sleep without eating sometimes. My mother needs medicine, we need money for heat and monthly rent for the tent. We are in massive debt.”

The UN offers refugees a £20 monthly food allowance but Raya, who has a lung condition, and Khaldia have received nothing since October. Raya’s infirm son Mohamed, 67, and his wife, who live in the same tent, have not had UN assistance in a year. For the first time since they fled the Homs countryside, the family fear they will not make it through the winter.

Officials at the UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, told The Times that 2017 had been the hardest year yet for the million Syrians who fled the civil war to Lebanon. Nearly 60 per cent of Syrian refugee households are living in extreme poverty, according to a UNHCR report last week. They exist on £2 a day; not enough to ensure their survival. The same report said that 87 per cent of refugees were also in debt. Most, like the Khalil family, rely on aid, which is drying up after seven years of war.

 

Read full article: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/refugees-face-death-camped-out-in-bitter-lebanon-winter-3j8htx5d8

Syrian rebels starving in Eastern Ghouta, the last Damascus enclave

The TimesBel Trew, Cairo
Conditions in the last rebel-held suburb of Damascus have reached a critical point with food in desperately short supply amid plunging temperatures, aid agencies and locals have warned.

Youths in Damascus show solidarity with Kerim
Youths in Damascus show solidarity with KerimAMER ALSHAMI/ANDALOU AGENCY/GETTY IMAGES

Eastern Ghouta, a suburb northeast of the Syrian capital, has been pummelled by hundreds of airstrikes and artillery shells since mid-November, when the Assad regime stepped up its air campaign to finally crush the opposition’s longest-surviving enclave.

The Red Cross expressed alarm at the humanitarian crisis faced by the 400,000 civilians estimated to be in the area. There is a “frightening food shortage” and temperatures have fallen close to freezing at night.

“The humanitarian situation in Eastern Ghouta has reached a critical point . . . Some families can afford to eat only one meal a day,” Robert Mardini, the middle east director, said.

Doctors in the area told The Times that the medical situation was catastrophic because life-saving medicines and supplies were no longer available.

“We have a list of 572 patients who need to be urgently evacuated because their treatment is not possible in Ghouta,” said one doctor. “So far the authorities have allowed only 12 cases to be evacuated to the capital’s hospitals via the Red Cross. We have 138 children who need to be urgently evacuated . . . 16 have already died.

Read full article: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/syrian-rebels-starving-in-eastern-ghouta-the-last-damascus-enclave-jwt6qprd2

 

Photo: AMER ALSHAMI/ANDALOU AGENCY/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

New pictures show the destruction of Palmyra

The TimesBel Trew, Cairo
It will take at least five years and millions of dollars to rebuild the ancient city of Palmyra if there is peace, Syrian officials have said as new pictures revealed the extent of the damage wreaked by Islamic State.

Aerial photographs taken by the Russian air force show for the first time the rubble remains of several monuments within the 2,000-year-old Roman city, located 140 miles north east of Damascus.

The ancient city of Palmyra in 2009
The ancient city of Palmyra in 2009CHRISTOPHE CHARON/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Mohamed Asaad, whose family has managed the site for decades, and Maamoun Abdulkarim, Syria’s director-general of antiquities, said that investigations were still under way to ascertain the full extent of the destruction. Preliminary evaluations, however, show that it would take five years to reconstruct.

Read full article: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/five-years-needed-to-rebuild-palmyra-2hnzfbqcs

PHOTO: CHRISTOPHE CHARON/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Antiquities experts call for war on Isis looting in Syria and Iraq

The TimesBel Trew, Tripoli
British antiquities experts are calling for an international body to investigate and repatriate stolen artefacts to counter the looting and sale of antiquities from the Middle East.

The pillaging of archaeological sites and museums as well as illicit digging has surged in the security breakdown that followed the 2011 Arab Spring, becoming a multibillion-pound trade.

Satellite imagery of areas in countries such as Egypt and Syria now shows pock-marked landscapes, where opportunist thieves, including jihadist groups such as Islamic State, have dug for treasures to be sold on international markets.

Neal Spencer, keeper of Ancient Egypt and Sudan at the British Museum, said that the only way to try to stop antiquities trafficking, and with it the destruction of ancient sites and thefts from museums, was for better international co-operation and the creation of a full database of objects.

“Archaeologists, museums, law enforcement bodies and reputable art dealers and auction houses must collaborate to create an open, transparent and freely accessible online platform to trace objects moving around,” he told The Times.

Read full article here: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/antiquities-experts-call-for-war-on-isis-looting-3xz5d59lt

PHOTO: DOMINIQUE DERDA/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Sarin killed my unborn baby. When will it end?

The TimesBel Trew, Cairo
Struggling to breathe in the aftermath of the sarin gas attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun last month, Aya Fadl was one of many people rushed to the nearest hospital.

As the paramedics attached an oxygen mask to her face, she prayed she would survive — and that her unborn baby would too.

Ms Fadl was ten weeks pregnant when on April 4 a regime warplane dropped a chemical bomb on the town in northwest Syria, killing 25 of her relatives and 92 people in all.

She lived. Her baby did not.

“Days later the doctor told me that my baby had died because of the gas. I was devastated, there are no words,” she said. “It felt terrible. I was 70 days pregnant at the time.”

Ayaa Fadl’s account of the Sarin gas attack

Ms Fadl, 25, collapsed from the poisonous fumes after stumbling upon a lorry packed with the corpses of her dead relatives. She awoke in hospital, along with her son Nadjat, two, and her husband, Alaa, 27. Three of the 25 relatives she lost died only recently, after being taken to a hospital in Turkey in a vain attempt to save their lives. One of them was aged 11, she said.

Read full article: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/sarin-killed-my-unborn-baby-when-will-it-end-q8pgxp2tg

PHOTO: AYA FADL