Residents from pro-government towns turn to social media in search for missing relatives after suicide bombing

AMMAN: Ten days after an unclaimed car bombing outside Aleppo city killed at least 120 evacuees from two rebel-blockaded towns in Idlib province, displaced residents from al-Fuaa and Kufraya are still searching for information on family members who went missing during the explosion.

After a suicide bomb detonated on April 15 in rebel-held Rashideen—an exchange point where residents from the two towns waited to enter Aleppo city—Civil Defense first responders transported injured evacuees to hospitals across opposition-held Idlib province and placed the dead in body bags.

But Civil Defense officials weren't able to identify all the victims, and instead handed the unidentified remains over to the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC), Ali Abeed, spokesman for the Syrian Civil Defense in the Idlib town of Atareb, told Syria Direct.

SARC representatives in Damascus told Syria Direct on Tuesday they would not immediately comment on the matter.

The Local Defense Forces, a pro-government militia in Aleppo, announced via Twitter the day after the explosion that they “recorded 88 deaths and 100 missing residents from the two towns.”

Two residents in al-Fuaa and Kufraya told Syria Direct they have not been informed whether their family members were killed in the explosion or if they were hospitalized.

“We transported all the injured to hospitals in opposition-controlled territory, but the hospitals then transferred those injured, according to the severity of their conditions,” Ibrahim Abu Leith, spokesman for the Aleppo Civil Defense, told Syria Direct. “Not all of the transfers were recorded by the hospitals.”

SARC ambulances reportedly transported 12 injured Kufraya and al-Fuaa residents from opposition-held hospitals, as well as 12 bodies, to the university hospital in government-held Aleppo last Wednesday as part of the second round of evacuations, Syrian state news agency SANA reported that day.

Syrians injured in car bomb on April 15 are transported from Idlib hospitals to Aleppo. Photo courtesy of George Ourfalian/AFP/Getty Images.

“Until now, there are people from the towns of Kufraya and al-Fuaa missing from the terrorist explosion…among them women, children and young people,” N.Z.F.K. News, an online, pro-regime media page for the two Shiite-majority towns, posted on Tuesday.

The evacuation from the two towns was part of a deal brokered last month by Iran and Qatar. The terms of the agreement stipulate that all residents from Kufraya and al-Fuaa—two pro-regime towns blockaded by rebels in northern Idlib—would leave. In return, rebel fighters, their families and all residents wishing to leave would depart from Madaya and Zabadani—two regime-blockaded towns in Outer Damascus.

More than a dozen residents from the evacuated towns have posted photos and personal details of their missing children and family members on social media in the hope of getting more information.

Abdulrahman, who is from al-Fuaa and is now living in the Jibreen district of Aleppo, is one of those searching.

Abdulrahman told Syria Direct on Monday that the last time he saw his 11-year-old son Ali, was on April 14, while they were boarding the buses for Aleppo. “He didn’t want to be on the same bus as me, because he wanted to stay close to my brother and his family—he was good friends with his cousin.”

The first convoy carrying an estimated 5,000 residents from the pro-regime towns departed on Friday, April 14. The journey continued into Saturday as Kufraya and al-Fuaa residents waited on the outskirts of Aleppo city for 2,000 residents from the two besieged towns in Outer Damascus to arrive.

As men, women and children waited inside the buses or sat in the grass on the side of the road, a blue pickup truck supposedly carrying food but in fact loaded with explosives drove up to the convoy and detonated.

In the chaotic aftermath, Civil Defense and SARC members, journalists on hand and evacuees rushed to pull bodies and injured residents from the wreckage.

Civil Defense members retrieve bodies from the blast site in Rashideen on April 15. Photo courtesy of the Syrian Civil Defense in Aleppo.

Eyewitnesses who spoke to Syria Direct described a scene of carnage.

“There were so many severed limbs,” Civil Defense member Ali Abeed told Syria Direct.

“We took the injured to hospitals in opposition-held areas—Atareb, Saraqeb, Maarat a-Misrin and Bab al-Hawa [on the Turkish border].”

Ibrahim Sami Abbas, a Damascus resident, told Syria Direct on Tuesday that he is calling everyone he knows in Idlib province for information on his brother, Hassan, and his sister-in-law who went missing in the April 15 explosion.

“A few people told me that they’d seen them after the explosion as they searched for their daughter,” said Abbas, “but I haven’t learned anything new.”

Abdulrahman says that he is constantly calling hospitals where those injured in the blast were taken, but has not been able to find any information on his son’s whereabouts.

“He might have died in the explosions, but we haven’t found his body,” Abdulrahman tells Syria Direct. “Even so, we’ll keep searching.”

Two Civil Defense officials told Syria Direct last week that the search-and-rescue teams could not identify “a large number” of bodies recovered from blast site.

Ibrahim Abu al-Leith, spokesman for the Syrian Civil Defense in Aleppo, told Syria Direct that he cannot even give an estimate about the number of bodies recovered.

“It’s incredibly difficult because there were many severed body parts we recovered, some of them belonging to injured people transported to the hospitals,” he said.

Damascus resident Ibrahim Abbas told Syria Direct on Tuesday that he called Syrian government officials in Jibreen, the district of Aleppo city that is the site of a shelter for evacuees from the two towns, for information about his brother. “They didn’t give us any answers.”

Both Ibrahim and Abdulrahman are scouring Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp for any shred of information on their relatives, telling Syria Direct that social media is their only recourse now.

Ibrahim, from Damascus, says the last time he spoke with his brother Hassan “that he was very happy that the torture and the hunger they were living through would end. He now would be able to provide everything for his son.”

Meanwhile, Abdulrahman sits in a shelter in Jibreen, circulating posts on social media with pictures of his son and his phone number.

“Even though we sleep without worrying about the bombs, sadness remains because of what happened in Rashideen,” he tells Syria Direct.

“But I still have hope that I’ll find him soon.”

 

 

Noura Hourani

Noura Hourani studied English Literature at Tishreen University and previously worked as a private English tutor. She left Syria at the beginning of the conflict.

Mohammed Al-Haj Ali

Mohammed Al-Haj Ali, originally from Daraa, had completed his first year studying Broadcast Journalism at Damascus University before leaving Syria in August 2012.

Tariq Adely

Tariq Adely graduated from Brown University in 2014 with a bachelor's degree in comparative literature and translation. He continued his studies at the Qasid Institute and the Institute for Critical Thought in Amman, Jordan.