“Our biggest fear right now is that the agreement [for removals] could be cancelled after this attack”
On Saturday, more than 100 displaced people were killed by an unclaimed suicide car bombing southwest of Aleppo city.
The bomb, carried in a truck distributing potato chips, struck fighters and civilians in a convoy moving from the regime enclaves of al-Fu’ah and Kafraya, north of Idlib city, to Aleppo. The buses were part of a deal in which the enclave’s fighters and residents and those in the besieged opposition towns of Madaya and Zabadani in Damascus Province were being moved.
One-third of the casualties were rebels accompanying the convoy.
On Monday, two residents of al-Fu’ah and Kafraya and a pro-opposition journalist, who pulled victims from the wreckage, spoke to Syria Direct, while a cameraman who was pictured rescuing a dying child talks to Global Voices:
The Nurse’s Story
Hussein, a 31-year-old nurse and married father of two from Kafraya, who is now in a temporary shelter in Aleppo city
You and your family were on one of the buses in the convoy that was bombed in Rashideen on Saturday while waiting to enter regime territory. Where were you when the bombing happened?
The journey was really terrifying. The whole time, we were petrified, afraid that something would happen, that we would be shot or detained. Unfortunately, what happened was worse than what we expected. Most of the dead were women and children. But it was not wholly unexpected.
I was approximately one kilometer away from the bomb site, and was not able to go there. We heard the sound, and saw columns of smoke rising from the area. We immediately knew that our fears had come true.
Hours after the bombing, you and the other surviving evacuees were finally able to enter Ramouseh, in regime territory. How are you feeling, after getting out of a two-year siege? Where will you go now?
I don’t know what to say. Sometimes, I feel happy because I escaped Kafraya and al-Fu’ah after the siege, and also survived this car bombing. Other times, I start crying for those who were killed and injured in the terrorist bombing, and out of fear for those who remain inside the towns.
When I got to Aleppo, I checked on people I know, and started to think about what to do next. I am thinking of going to Damascus now. I have relatives there, in Sayyeda Zainab. But first of all, I have to get my affairs in order, to find housing, work and transportation there.
Q: How has Saturday’s bombing affected you? You escaped the siege, but paid a horrific price.
For the last two years, during the siege, we have paid a large price. It was not only in this bombing, but also in hunger and shortages of medicine. That, in addition to bombings by the [rebel] gunmen surrounding us.
Q: Some opposition sources are accusing the regime of carrying out the bombing in a false-flag attack. How do you respond to that?
Regardless of who carried out the explosion, this was a terrorist act. The goal behind it is to ignite discord among Syrians, so that there will not be another reconciliation agreement elsewhere.
Q: After two years of siege and bombardment, then this attack, do you have hope that you will return to your home in Kufraya one day and live a normal life?
There is still hope, certainly. Kufraya would remain in my heart whether we left or not. All my childhood memories are there. We will return someday. And if not, we will keep telling our stories to our children. Surely they will go back one day.
The Teacher’s Story
Abu Haidar, a 37-year-old math teacher and married father of one, currently in al-Fu’ah
Q: Late last week, before the evacuations began, people in al-Fuaa and Kufraya told us that they were afraid of an attack by rebel groups or supporters during the evacuation. After the unclaimed car bombing on Saturday, what are people who are about to leave saying?
People are really afraid, especially because of the large number of casualties in this explosion. But they are insistent on leaving. If we stay here, we will die from bombing, siege, and hunger. If we leave, there is a chance we could get to safety.
The biggest fear right now is that the agreement could be cancelled after this attack.
Q: Are there any precautions you could take when leaving? Or are you completely dependent on the protection of rebel groups?
I don’t think we can do anything. As civilians, we had no part in the negotiations. We do hope that the Red Crescent and the United Nations take any steps possible to ensure the safety of the next wave of evacuees or find another route that does not go through areas with gunmen.
Q: Who were the 5,000 people who left in the first round and were targeted by the bombing?
Many sick and wounded people left in the first round, in addition to families who wanted to leave as quickly as possible. I don’t believe that there were armed or military people among them. Most were women and children, and I heard that they made up most of those we lost. Unfortunately, terrorism does not distinguish between people.
Q: After two years of siege and bombardment by rebel factions and gunmen in surrounding villages, and then this bombing, do you have hope that one day you will return to your home and live a normal life among your neighbors?
Right now, nobody is thinking about a return. All people inside al-Fu’ah and Kafraya are thinking about is leaving. Will they get out? Will they reach safe ground? These are the things they worry about.
There is a fear that we won’t come back, but that is the last thing on our minds right now. In this situation, with the blockade, bombardment and explosions, people just want to live in safety.
The Journalist’s Story
Ammar Jaber, 34, a correspondent for pro-opposition Orient News and a married father of one
Q: You were at the scene of Saturday’s bombing. Could you describe what happened?
We were there to cover the exchange of evacuees on the agreed-upon point between [opposition-held] Rashideen and [regime-held] Ramouseh in Aleppo. At 3:30pm, there was a massive explosion near the buses carrying residents and gunmen from al-Fu’ah and Kafraya.
It was a car bomb that detonated near the buses and a position where the rebels accompanying them were gathered. Until now, it is not known where the car came from or to whom it belonged.
I was 200 meters away from the buses when a huge explosion sound burst out. My colleagues — journalists and activists — and I rushed towards it, and within a few minutes we were in the center of the massacre.
It was horrifying, an indescribable scene: body parts strewn here and there, blood, smok and fire.
The Cameraman’s Story
Abd Alkader Habak, a 23-year-old cameraman who was pictured rescuing a dying child:
He told Global Voices he had gone to Al Rashideen to document the evacuation. He and his colleagues, other media activists and journalists, had been waiting in Al Rashideen for two days before the convoy arrived.
One of the groups was distributing chips and sweets to the children. I was nearby, taking photos. I went to say hi to a colleague who was on the other side of the road when it happened. I don’t remember what I felt at first but I found myself flying and then falling hard on the ground. I didn’t know what was happening or what to do. Was it the regime? But then I remembered that it was not possible. We were used to the regime’s airstrikes but we heard no planes above us.
I then stood up and picked up my camera. I ran around and find my camera on the ground. I then saw a child, or what looked like a child, and I run towards him to try and remove him from here. I tried to take photos but it was very hard. Civilians from Fua and Kefraya that survived got out of their buses and started running as fast as they could. I saw about 30 Tahrir Al Sham militants as well as from Ahrar Al Sham killed and it was Ahrar Al Sham that was responsible for the security of the convoy. It was a very difficult scene. Children were dying everywhere. I saw members of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent fleeing the scene and didn’t come back until it was too late.
So me and my colleagues told ourselves that we had no other choice but to remove our cameras and to help the people ourselves. We started helping children. Every injured we saw we’d help them get to safety. People that we thought weren’t in immediate danger we would leave them and go to those we thought were about to die. The majority of the injured I saw were children because the explosion happened right next to the group that was distributing chips and sweets.
It was very difficult to watch. We would remove the injured but couldn’t do much before the ambulances arrived. Civil society groups sent ambulances and they took a while to arrive. One harrowing scene I saw was a child on the floor with his face covered, so I ran to him but someone else stopped me and told me that the child is dead. I go anyway and see that the child is breathing but with great difficulty. I take the child and I run to the first ambulance I see, I put him in the car and told the driver to go immediately. The child was dying but held my hand and didn’t let go. It was very difficult. I can’t describe it.
TOP PHOTO: Videographer Abd Alkader Habak carries a young victim of Saturday suicide vehicle bombing near Aleppo