Good news–and more horrific testimonies–in Latakia, where 15 civilians (11 children, 4 women) of the reportedly 95 civilians (mostly, if not completely, women and children) kidnapped last August were released yesterday.
Below are a report on the released children and women, prior reports of the massacres which occurred last August, at the time when they were kidnapped, and some reflections from Lilly Martin who lives in Latakia.
Latakia captives speak out about their ordeal, others still missing
May 8, 2014, al Akhbar
“That’s my daughter. She looks like a boy with her strange haircut. They punished her by cutting her hair, even though she is not even four yet. I don’t know what sin she committed,” one father said after seeing his freed daughter. She was one of the hostages abducted in the eastern Latakia countryside. She is now back in Latakia, after nine months of captivity by Syrian opposition fighters.
Incredulously, according to another freed child, the fighters gouged out the eyes of one of the abducted children who was not part of the deal. The child said, “After that, we knew nothing about him.”
On May 6, the ceasefire deal in the Old City of Homs came into effect but not all the terms of the agreement were observed, including the release of 40 out of 95 civilians the opposition fighters had kidnapped in August 2013 from the eastern Latakia countryside.
Eleven children and four women were released through the checkpoint at the Kefraya village on the outskirts of Latakia. They were then taken to the National Hospital in the city for medical checkups. There was a lot of crying and screaming at the obstetrics and gynecology department, where parents stood waiting for their children after being apart for many long months.
Doctors and soldiers stood between the 15 civilians, listening to stories about their plight and offering them assistance. The faces of those returning to their families had expressions of disbelief. There have been a lot of accusations made against officials, whom many families believe did not do enough for the Latakia captives.
Tears of joy were countered by sorrow and anguish, as in the case of Oum Ali, the woman who was scouring the hospital asking about the fate of her six-year-old boy. Oum Ali asked the freed hostages one by one about her son. She persisted until one woman, a freed captive herself, gave her the shocking answer: “Your son was shot and killed by the fighters months ago.”
Oum Ali was not the only parent to undergo such an ordeal. Many parents had the same experience during that fateful hour when opposition fighters raided the eastern Latakia countryside in August 2013.
Three children from the village of Ballouta, near the town of Salanfa, aged between 5 and 11, returned safely to their father. Speaking to Al-Akhbar, he said, “I can’t believe they came back alive after a painful experience that cost us their mother’s life. She was killed in cold blood as she tried to resist the terrorist kidnapper.” The man was afraid to disclose the names of his children as though he feared the fighters were searching for him outside the hospital.
The freed captives are visibly afraid, including Batoul, a 15-year-old girl. She does not dare criticize the fighters. She took turns explaining to reporters how the hostages were treated well by the kidnappers. She told Al-Akhbar, “We were not harmed. We were held in a large home, after we were divided into several groups, and placed in different rooms of the house.” “We were guarded by 50 fighters. Some of them would remain inside the house. The food was good in general, and they allowed us to shower every five days,” she adds. Batoul could not confirm the location of the house, but she said that she had heard some of the fighters speaking foreign languages.
Other women who were freed came back wearing the full veil. One of them mentioned hesitantly that no one had forced them to wear it, but that they had been told it was “preferable.” She said, “We all wore the hijab. It was natural for us to do as they asked.”
The ceasefire deal in the Old City of Homs includes the release of 40 civilians from the villages of Salanfa in the Latakia countryside, out of more than 95 kidnapped civilians, but not much has been revealed about the fate of the other hostages. Today, 25 civilians are expected to be released and moved out of the opposition-controlled eastern countryside of Latakia.
Syria: massacre reports emerge from Assad’s Alawite heartland, Oct 2, 2013, the Guardian
For more than two years, as fighting has escalated throughout Syria, a group of villages peopled by government supporters in the mountains above this coastal city has been spared any attacks.
In spite of their proximity to the Turkish border, across which rebel fighters are armed and financed, farmers continued their lives as normal, even though as Alawites allied to the Shia sect to which President Bashar al-Assad belongs they could have been obvious targets.
At dawn on 4 August their peace was shattered. Armed rebels, led by local jihadis as well as members of Jabhat al-Nusra and the al-Qaida linked group, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, left their headquarters in the largely Sunni town of Salma. They sneaked into the al-Akrad mountains, taking control of five Alawite villages. The rebels called it Operation Liberation of the Coast and the aim was to send the government a message that even the Alawite heartland was no longer safe.
Rumours of massacres spread as some 25,000 Alawite villagers fled to Latakia. The next day the rebels captured more Alawite villages and reached Aramo, about 12 miles north of Qardaha, the Assads’ home town where Hafez al-Assad, the former president, is buried in a mausoleum. Over the next few days government forces regrouped and gradually recovered the lost ground with help from air strikes as well as local paramilitaries.
…“The attacks started with treachery,” said Hassan, an officer in Syria’s special forces. “There was a unit of 40 troops. A Sunni defected from it and took 30 other Sunnis with him. A few days later they were part of the attack that started with the village of Hambushiya. The 10 Alawite troops left behind in the area were killed.” Hassan said he could listen to the rebel’s radio communications. “I heard a rebel telling another rebel: ‘Kill this one, but not that one’ . One rebel asked: ‘What do I do about the girls?’ The answer came: ‘I’m sending a truck to pick them up’. Several were taken and raped, and have not been seen again,” he said.
Nobody has gone home to the villages because so much has been destroyed and many houses have been burnt. The whole area is unusable. Salafists from abroad were behind the attack.”The officers’ accounts cannot be independently verified but the Guardian has obtained lists, compiled by local activists, with the names of victims from Hambushiya, Balouta, and five other villages. They include 62 people listed as killed, 60 kidnapped and 139 people who are missing. The dead range in age from a toddler of two to a man of 90. The vast majority are women, children and the elderly since most men in the villages were away on duty as part of the volunteer defence forces elsewhere in the region. They did not expect their own villages to come under attack.
Massacre in Lattakia, August 2013, Australians for Reconciliation in Syria
This page presents two reports on the August 2013 massacres in Lattakia. Although everyone who reads the reports will naturally be deeply disturbed by them, some people may wish to conclude that they are just an element of an ‘ongoing horrendous civil war in Syria’. But this would suggest that people in general from the different religious groups represented in Syria are able to commit such atrocities. This is not true. It is a lie. The people of Syria are like people everywhere; they are not psychopathic killers. Indeed, the people of Syria express love for their country and other Syrians in a way which would embarrass Australians. For people to kill civilians as they have in this instance, they must be motivated by a hatred and an ideology as powerful as Nazism, an ideology which condones the killing of people who are not like them. Takfiri militants have such an ideology. And there are people claiming to be clerics who incite them to commit the most bestial acts of violence.
CONTINUE READING… MUCH INFORMATION AND LIST OF NAMES OF MURDERED AND KIDNAPPED
Lilly Martin, Timeline of events:
August 13, 2013:
Terrorists entered Ballouta, near Slounfa, and near Selma and killed 220 unarmed civilians in their homes sleeping. About 100 survivors were kidnapped, we had presumed they were taken to Turkey.
One little girl was mysteriously found and returned, which a huge stomach surgery would which had been professionally sutured, but she could not talk and tell why her stomach had been operated on.
We feared that the kidnapped ladies and children might be taken to have organ-harvesting in Turkish hospitals to benefit terrorists and Turkish citizens.
A deal is made between the Syrian gov’t and the armed opposition, to release fighters from the Old City in Homs, in exchnage for safe passage, etc.
What was surprising to the public, is part of the deal was to release those kidnapped in Ballouta in August 2013.
May 7, 2014:
14 persons (4 ladies and 11 children) arrived at the National Hospital in Latakia. But, the actual deal had been to deliver 40 person, of a total of 95 person kidnapped.
This deal was never for a full release of the kidnapped (apparently). That leaves us wondering, where are the 26 said to by released in Thursday (yesterday, May 8th)?
May 8, 2014:
From my own balcony window I saw a large bus, but not fully filled, drive by my house, with a Syrian Army escort with flags and horn honking. I assume this was the second load of kidnap victims entering Latakia on their way to the hospital.
According to a relative yesterday, the kids had been held in Selma. Selma is a tiny village within walking distance of the Turkish border. It takes about 40-60 minutes to drive from Latakia to Selma direct. It is a hilly area, not really mountains, but deep valleys and hills. The typical drive is Latakia going East, up the mountain to Slounfa (a village summer resort), then turning left (North) into Selma. On the road to Selma is Ballouta.