Outside of Madaya, Syria: It was this past July that ten year old Ghina and six year old Nagham, old sisters of four year old Manal and three year old Mohammad-Kamal, left their apartment near the main street in Madaya, Syria to collect some medicine from the nearby town’s clinic for their mother Sahar. As they left the clinic and headed back home a sniper, one of the Lebanese or Iraqi militiamen who have enforced the siege of Madaya since overrunning it 18 months ago, fired two shots at the girls hitting Ghina in the upper thigh and Nagham in her hand and arm. Ghina’s life threatening badly infected wound became known via social media (two OEN links to articles about Ghina and Nagham:A Children’s Story: Panic from Outbreak of Meningitis in “Death camp” Of MadayaSeptember 9, 2016 andA Children’s Story in Syria, September 2, 2016) and the Beirut, Nice, and Washington DC based NGO, Meals for Syrian Refugee Children Lebanon (MSRCL) (http://mealsforsyrianrefugeechildrenlebanon.com),has been advocating to reunite the mother,Sahar, with her still trapped in Madaya little ones.
Four year old Manal and three year old Mohamand-Kamal shown above in better days. Like literally hundreds among the thousands of children still trapped in Madaya, the children are fading fast from malnutrition and related illnesses without much to eat, and no fruit or vegetables. And badly needing their mother and sisters Ghina and Nagham. Photo: Their mother Sahar given to this observer on 12/7/2016
Because there are only three medical attendants to treat approximately 40,000 Madaya residents, one being a veterinarian and the other two dental students, and without medicines or equipment, the tentative decision was made to amputate Ghina’s badly shattered leg. According to former dental student Mohammad Darwish, he and his two colleagues have been forced to do amputations on many patients because of lack of equipment and medical knowledge, and they were simply unable to effectively treat Ghina’s leg and thigh splintering wound caused by an exploding bullet, A media campaign about her case and urging medical evacuations from Madaya was successful in getting Ghina out of Madaya and into a Damascus hospital. She is now much better and is learning to walk again with help from younger sister Nagham and Syrian Red Crescent Society (SARCS) supplied crutches.
Those remaining is mountainous Madaya, 5000 feet above sea level, which last week got its first snowstorm of the December-February snow season, and where there continue to be more reported cases of death threatening starvation, sniping by militia manning the towns 65 checkpoints, and dozens of attempted suicides, some resulting in death, continue.
Two recent sniping victims were 30 year old Mohammad al-Mowwil who, this past month on Saturday November 12th was walking to his home in Madaya on Saturday November 12, when a sniper’s bullet pierced his abdomen and he died due to lack of emergency medical care. Three days later a 13 year old boy, by coincidence from a Madaya family known to Sahar, was killed by another sniper bullet. And the killing of innocent civilians continues as sectarian hatred spreads and intensifies in Syria and the region.
Noted below are a few current cases here, involving Shia-Sunni sectarian politics and hatred raging across the Middle East that may seal the fate of Manal and Mohammad-Kamal trapped inside Sunni Madaya as well as countless others in East Aleppo as well as Shia in other areas.
For example, Iran’s IRGC (al-Quds Force) leader QasemSolemani has reportedly arrived in Aleppo to oversee a population transfer that would move Sunnis from Madaya and nearby Zababani on the outskirts of Damascus near the border with Lebanon approximately 220 miles north to the Shia villages of Foah and Kefraya. The Shia residents of these villages would be uprooted and transferred south to Sunni Madaya and Zabadani. Over the past 18 months all four villages have been under siege either by militia supporting the government or the opposition.
Why is Solemani insisting on the population swap before East Aleppines can be evacuated? Because Iran expects that when the carnage in Syria finally ends, the geopolitics in Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon will have been deeply altered and the nascent Shia crescent will become fortified from this population transfer. This will help assure Iranian free access from the suburbs of Damascus 30 miles West to Lebanon’s Bekaa valley, and on down to South Lebanon and the border with Palestine.
The on-off again evacuation of those trapped in East Aleppo has hit several new political and sectarian snags over the past 48 hours as many of the thousands waiting for the Green buses to take them to safety are sleeping rough, without food, in bitterly cold temperatures. Hopefully the UN Security Council Resolution of 12/19/2016 on UN monitoring of all evacuations might help keep the evacuations on track.If it is adopted and implemented.
Some additional examples of new sectarian political complications include the following. Iran is now demanding the bodies of slain Shia militia fighters including members of Hezbollah and various Iraqi Shia militias as well as information on the whereabouts of Shia fighters taken prisoner by opposition militia over the past five years before they allow certain evacuations. Meanwhile the family of rebels and others not involved in the civil war as well as the UN insist on knowing the fate of approximately 600 men between the ages of 20-50 years whose families said were detained inside East Aleppo, or arrested at checkpoints as they tried to leave over the past two weeks. This observer met with some of recently released families at the Jibreen Center and Cotton Factory SE of Aleppo last week. Needless to say they are very worried about the fate of their loved ones.
In addition, a SARCS source advised this observer on 12/18/2016 that Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (Nusra Front) was blocking their buses from entering the besieged Shia villages of Foah and Kefraya. Plus pro-government forces backed by Iran now reportedly are demanding that a group of people needing medical treatment also be allowed to leave the two Shia areas before anyone will be allowed to leave East Aleppo. As is widely known, the past few days thousands trying to leave East Aleppo were stranded in freezing weather, without food or shelter sleeping wherever they could find a spot. Children are being massively traumatized as their parents, if they have any, despair. Hundreds need to be taken immediately to the nearby hospitals of Atmeh, Darkoush, Bab al-Hawa and Bab al-Salamah where this observer met some of the medical staff last week.
Plus there is the wording of the tit for tat evacuations of the four villages’ proposal itself which is problematical in this observers view.
As noted above, one key Iranian condition for the Aleppo evacuation to continue is for Shia resident of Foah and Kefaya to be allowed to leave first. Some rebels claim that the village evacuations of Madaya and Zabadani must be done simultaneously, but others claim that there no connection.
This issue can be worked out I believe but there is a more serious problem that must be fixed in my opinion and it bears directly on the chance of saving Manal and Mohammad-Kamal.
According to a new Iranian draft relating to the East Aleppo evacuations, which I was shown a copy of, it contains this key language: “The evacuation of humanitarian cases from the (ed: mainly Shia) Villages of Foah and Kefraya, in Idlib Governarate are to be achieved simultaneously with the evacuation of wounded from (ed: two government-besieged Sunni towns 25 km Northwest of Damascus near Lebanese border) Madaya and Zabadani.”
Dear reader will note that two different standards for civilian evacuations are included by Iran, i.e. “humanitarian cases” for the Shia villages of Foah and Kefraya and “wounded” from the Sunni villages of Madaya and Zabadani. If literally applied, these evacuation standards would mean that potentially many Shia would be evacuated but few Sunni.
SARCS and the ICRC know of the Power of Attorney (PAO) that Sahar, the mother of Ghina, Nagham, Manal and Mohammed-Kamal signed in July 2016 appointing this observer as her family’s legal representative with respect trying to secure the four children’s safety. Frankly, being an American, the POA it helped a fair bit with the Damascus hospital and some UN affiliates when Ghina was being treated for two months this summer. Although for sure all ask me what I think of President elect Trump. I am usually speechless and just shake my head.
As the children’s lawyer and “American Uncle” my concern with the latest Iranian draft is with the “humanitarian cases” language which applies to the Shia towns of Foah and Kefraya and with the substitution of “wounded” language which applies to the Sunni towns of Madaya (where Manal and Mohammad-Kamal remain in a weakening condition under brutal siege) and nearby Zabadani.
The reason for my concern is that there are critical legal distinctions between the meanings and applications of “humanitarian cases” and “wounded.” I have insisted to SARCS, the ICRC, UNICEF, Syrian government officials and even some Hezbollah guys besieging Madaya that the language and standard must be the same for both the Shia villages of Foah and Kefraya and the Sunni villages of Madaya and Zabadani. The three and four year old Manal and Mohammad-Kamal are sick, weak from malnutrition, terrorized and without their mother and sisters Ghina and Nagham for the past nearly half year. All they have known is war and fear and death of many around them. Like nearly all children in Syria.
Under Iran’s draft evacuation agreement I cannot prove to SARCS, the ICRC or the UN that Manal and Mohammad-Kamal have been shot by a sniper as their sisters and more than 40 others were over the past 18 months, and are consequently wounded. They were not wounded. But their lives are still in danger and they required immediate humanitarian evacuation.
But I do think that the NGO, MSRCL noted above, can meet our required burden of proof that Manal and Mohammad-Kamal’s is a “humanitarian case.” Those with the final say for who gets on the evacuation lists, Syria, Russia and Iran must be strongly and constructively encouraged to apply the same standard to all Four Villages when the evacuations continues, today in all likelihood. And that standard must be the broader more inclusive “humanitarian cases.” applicable to all.
Meanwhile on Sunday, 12/18/2016, Russia, another major political player here, after once more insisting that there are only ‘terrorists’ left in East Aleppo threatened its 7th UN Security Council veto on the crisis in Syria.
This time to scuttle the French draft resolution which calls for immediately deploying U.N. observers to Aleppo to monitor the evacuations amid many reports of summary arrests, executions, and disappearances of young men between the ages of 20-50 trying to flee.
Russia’s substituted draft language significantly waters down the French draft language making effective UN action unlikely. It merely suggests that “arrangements be made to monitor the conditions of civilians remaining in Aleppo” while maintaining Moscow’s insistence that the civilians have all left East Aleppo and only ‘terrorists’ remain. We wait the UNSC Resolution hoping it’s not, like much we have all witnessed coming out of the UN these days with respect to Syria. Many nice and presumably sincere words, but nothing substantive to help the people of Syria. History is apt to judge the parties to this conflict harshly- including the UN -for their political posturing and failure to provide live saving humanitarian help.
Hopefully most of the recent political posturing and legal niceties can be put aside and the evacuation of East Aleppo and the Four Villages will proceed without more interruptions and that Manal and Mohammad-Kamal, like countless other children, innocent victims all of this carnage, will be allowed to reunite with their families in a safe location.
Franklin Lamb is doing research in Syria. He is also legal adviser, The Sabra-Shatila Scholarship Program, Shatila Camp (SSSP-lb.org)