Andrew Ashdown writes: Three years ago this week, a horrific massacre of children was perpetrated by western-backed ‘moderate rebels’ at al-Rashideen outside Aleppo, and was whitewashed by Western media. This detailed and well-researched article by Vanessa Beeley, including interviews with surviving families is an important record both of the event itself, and of the misrepresentation of facts by mainstream media that is common as regards the Syrian conflict. I share it in honour of the victims, and in the interests of truth.
“They sieged us, starved us, mocked us and then tempted our children with potato chips before blowing them up. Have they no heart?”
That was a question asked by many of the survivors of the tragic Rashideen massacre that took place in the western outskirts of liberated Aleppo on the 15th April 2017. I had arrived in Aleppo on the evening of that fateful day and just as I entered the doors of the hotel I received the news of this horrifying attack by US Coalition ‘rebel’ proxies, two savages gangs, Ahrar al Sham and Nusra Front.
The magnitude of this crime against these already starved, persecuted and ethnically cleansed people who lived in the villages of Kafarya and Foua hit me hard.
Along with independent journalist, Eva Bartlett, I had been following, very closely, the history of the terrorist siege of these two Shia Muslim villages, marooned in Idlib and surrounded by hostile extremist factions, funded and armed by the US Coalition, for over two years. This sectarian identification is not in keeping with the peaceful co-existence between sects that flourished, prior to the NATO-state-driven war in Syria that has caused powerful rifts among these communities. It is, however, central to the narrative, so I apologise in advance, for using this sectarian terminology that is anathema to the majority of Syrian society.
Since March 2015 the siege had tightened to a full lock-down, with daily shelling, sniping and intimidation by the Army of Conquest (Jaish al Fatah, comprising Ahrar al Sham, Nusra Front & additional entities).
Read 21st Century Wire’s Article: No Dusty Boy Outrage for 7 Year Old Haider, Sniped by Terrorists in Idlib Village of Foua
Both Bartlett and I had tried to maintain a focus on the plight of these brave people, abandoned by western corporate media to their fate. Even when the propaganda surrounding Madaya siege in January 2016 reached a dizzying crescendo, the deafening silence on Kafarya and Foua was maintained.
These emaciated fragile bodies of children and elderly, suffering from malnutrition, received no media airtime or coverage in the West. They were the forgotten people in Syria, left to endure sectarian persecution on a daily basis by a world that only cared about those who were persecuting them – those they called “rebels” and “freedom fighters”. What freedom did they bring to the people of Kafarya and Foua when they burned the buses that had been dispatched to bring some of them to safety in December 2016?
(Above) Buses sent to evacuate civilians from Kafarya & Foua in December 2016, burned by US Coalition extremists (Photo: Reuters)
Earlier in 2016, I was told by one of the relatives of residents of Kafarya and Foua:
“The terrorist factions would take their own dead and impale them on stakes before parading them in front of the besieged villagers, striking fear into their hearts. This is not Islamic, this is more like Satanism.” ~ Hussain Al M (family name withheld for security of relatives still inside the besieged villages)
The Rashideen Massacre
On the 16th of April 2017, I went to Jebrin. This former cotton factory was familiar to me as the registration centre where civilians had come to register after leaving East Aleppo following its liberation by the Syrian Arab Army and allies in December 2016, before continuing on to families in West Aleppo or later returning to their homes in East Aleppo.
This time I came to speak with the survivors of the attack on the evacuees of Kafarya and Foua in Rashideen. Back in December, despite the driving rain and biting cold, there had been a sense of elation, liberation and relief. This time I was met with dazed confusion, shock and grief.\
“They all gathered around the car, and afterwards they blew it up. My children, my babies. I left my house, my land and my family. Everything I ever had, I left them all and came here by force. Small children, babies, they fed them crisps and blew up the car, have they no heart? Have they no heart, have they no heart? Why? Turkey and America are sending weapons to kill us, why? These are small children they are killing. Yesterday, more than 100 people got martyred, my cousin, babies, they gathered them around the car and fed them potatoes and then blew up the car!”
“Everyday (in Kafarya & Foua), there will be no truce. Every day theres a bombing, homes are destroyed, bombs, gas bombs, tanks, everyday there’s a martyr, 2,000 martyrs, our children. They deprived us of everything, gas, water, electricity, they talk about people and humanitarian organizations, we don’t have any fucking thing to eat, we are eating grass, even the ones that go out to eat grass they shoot them. We call and nobody answers us. […]
We lived 2 years of injustice that no human being ever lived. They brought us from there and then carried out the massacre here […]They took our homes and kicked us out, they took our land, just because we stood up and fought for our honour. […]Even if they gave me 2-3 months notice, that doesnt bring back the child i lost, my brother that got martyred, my father that died, nothing can compensate me. no treasure in the world, a child that died for the word of justice.” ~ testimony taken by Norwegian journalist, Tommy Soltvedt
Slowly I pieced together the dreadful events of the 15th April, which was Easter weekend in the Christian calendar.
Every civilian testimony interlocked to present a chilling account of the roles played by the NATO state and Gulf state proxies inside Rashideen, including the multi-million-dollar-funded White Helmets.
“On April 15th 2017, the people of Kafarya and Foua were attacked, their children mowed-down deliberately, by a suicide bomb or explosive detonation, that targeted these innocent children who had been lured to their deaths by NATO and Gulf state terrorists, including Ahrar al Sham and Nusra Front (Al Qaeda). Mothers had to watch from behind the windows of the buses they had been imprisoned in for 48 hours, while strangers, terrorists, picked up their children, their wounded, bleeding, mutilated children, and piled them up in the backs of trucks and Turkish ambulances before driving them away from the horrific scene and stealing them from their distraught, powerless mothers.” ~ 21st Century Wire article: Children Lured to their Slaughter by NATO State Terrorists
One mother, Zeinab, who had lost twenty members of her family, ten dead and ten still missing, described the scene before and after the truck had detonated in the midst of the children who had surged towards the huge bags of crisps being distributed by the terrorists and their associates:
“Body parts were everywhere. We were asked to leave the bus. Then we realised they were taking pictures and filming us, acting as if they were helping us. Back in the bus, we were told that 240 people had been killed, but I don’t know. I suspected that they were up to something, and I didn’t let my children go out to eat.”
Zeinab was forced to watch the massacre of 116 children through the windows of a bus. Then after the filming session (by various agencies, including Dubai based Orient News & Qatari Al Jazeera) which lasted approximately ten minutes, she and the other parents were forced back onto the buses, at gunpoint, and locked inside. They had to watch, while the armed militia collected the dead, dying and mutilated bodies of their community’s children and flung them in the back of trucks and Turkish ambulances, before driving them away from their families in Rashideen.
Not one western media outlet questioned why these injured, dying and disoriented children were being piled on top of one another in the back of a truck that obviously belonged to Nusra Front. Why were these children now being further tortured? Imagine the horror of a child who has survived such an attack, emerging from the carnage, suddenly finding themselves lying next to their dead friend, brother or sister in a truck surrounded by men who had previously been terrorizing and taunting them.
Zeinab gave her courageous and emotional testimony to us in Jebrin Registration Centre, where survivors of the 15th April, suicide bomb attack were taken for shelter after this horrific event, described by CNN as a “hiccup“. Her full testimony can be seen here. Watch:
During the almost seven year war that has been waged against Syria by some of the most powerful nations in the world, the state-aligned western media has maintained a narrative that demonizes the Syrian government, the Syrian Arab Army and its allies. The corporate media complex hasclosed ranks to justify & expand upon its own lies in Syria. Instead of opening the channels for objective political dialogue with balanced reporting, the NATO-aligned media has misdirected, misinformed and misreported in order to facilitate war and bloodshed and to defend the rogue state criminality of the regimes they serve.
Both CNN and the UK Telegraph were quick to dismiss the deaths of these persecuted minority communities inside Syria as a “hiccup” or the unfortunate demise of “supporters of Bashar Al Assad” – once more politicizing the death and mutilation of children to serve their “regime change” narrative.
The Telegraph edited its report after it was called out by RT for its cold-blooded dismissal of the murdered children as “government supporters” but a screenshot was taken beforehand:
An estimated 5,000 starved, injured, sick and psychologically traumatized civilians had been evacuated from the besieged towns of Kafarya and Foua two days previously as part of the “Four Towns Agreement” that included Madaya & Zabadani, towns to the west of Damascus, close to the border with Lebanon, occupied by US Coalition-backed extremist factions including Ahrar Al Sham.
According to a report by OCHA, on the 13th April, just before departure from Kafarya and Foua, the buses had already come under mortar attack by the terrorist factions. Some of the 75 buses were damaged. When they eventually left for Rashideen, a journey that should have taken 40 minutes took many hours, as the buses were diverted through villages that had been fully taken over by terrorist factions.
“We were mocked and taunted, called “infidels” by the terrorists. Some even threw shoes at the buses and threatened us with death or burning. We were terrified.”
After finally arriving in Rashideen, these civilians were then kept locked in their buses for 48 hours, under guard by the heavily armed Nusra Front dominated militants that also included members of Ahrar al Sham. OCHA’s report claimed that these long delays were “due to reported disagreements among the parties to the conflict regarding the details of the agreement, as well as the high levels of insecurity in Idleb governorate.” We were told that the Nusra Front (Al Qaeda in Syria) were masked while the Ahrar Al Sham fighters were barefaced.
“The Ahrar Al-Sham fighters didn’t hide their faces, while Jabhat al-Nusra were always wearing masks. One could only see their eyes…”
While the buses were held in Rashideen, food and water were severely rationed, maintaining the starvation already endured by these civilians for more than two years.
Then on the morning of the third day, April 15th, the terrorists appeared with huge, clear plastic bags of crisps and the children were allowed to pour out of the buses to run after the crisps, a luxury food they had been deprived of for much of their young lives.
“[The terrorists] were throwing potato chips on the site of the future blast. One of the terrorists said that it was food for the infidels” said an eyewitness in the crowd around Zeinab.
The bag-of-crisps procedure was repeated later that day, around 3:30 pm with the horrifying consequences we are now well acquainted with. This time when the children swarmed after the food, a blue truck was driven into the crowd and detonated, massacring and injuring over 300, including 116 children.
I spoke to drivers of the evacuation buses, now parked a few kilometres away from the incident, with their windows blown out, tattered curtains fluttering in the breeze. One driver, Firaz Al-Hilal, from Aleppo, told me that just prior to the attack, four Turkish ambulances had arrived in Rashideen and parked up close to what would be the explosion point:
“They (the terrorists) picked up dead, injured and uninjured. We don’t know where they are. There were many children. They were filming. There was a small drone there. From my bus, at least ten are still missing”.
The drivers also confirmed that the terrorists forced people back onto the buses and prevented the drivers from taking the less damaged buses to a safer area.
“When the blast rocked the area, people rushed into the woods but militants surrounded them and forced them back to the buses”
A female evacuee recalled that “the militants told us that terrorists from another group were shelling our buses and that we must flee towards the bushes… but then they said that the bushes were mined and we found ourselves trapped.”
Read more in 21st Century Wire’s article: Rashideen Massacre: Children Lured to their Slaughter by NATO-backed Terrorists
Watch interview with bus driver, Firaz Al-Hilal:
The Victims, the Witnesses, the Terrorists and the Actors
Rashideen was a massacre, it was a crime against humanity, and a sectarian mass murder of children, perpetrated by the extremist factions inside Syria who are consistently given “immunity” by western media’s prejudiced and partisan reporting, while being armed, funded and promoted by the alliance of neocolonialist states determined to destabilize Syria and to depose its democratically elected President.
This senseless loss of life, mostly children, laid bare the most despicable aspects of western corporate media misinformation & manipulation of our perception regarding the conflict in Syria. Western media was already implicated in the atrocities being committed by the terrorists they labelled “moderates”, “rebels” and “freedom fighters” but now they were at a loss. How to extricate their “rebels” from responsibility and how to restore their reputation as kitten loving “revolution” poster boys? How to profit from the situation to whitewash the tarnished image of their darling White Helmets who were, present at the scene, but according to eye-witnesses, “only helped the Nusra Front fighters, not the injured children & adult civilians“.
“Where are the mainstream media? Why don’t they report the barbaric and cowardly terrorist attack on Foua and Kafraya?” was the anguished question from one U News reporter who struggled to comprehend the lack of outrage from western media.
Charles Lister, one of the primary producers of the “moderate rebel” myth from his post at the Qatari-funded Middle East Institute, based in Washington, introduces the sectarian narrative from his first tweets “3,000-4,000 civilians & Shia militiamen from Al-Fuah/Kafraya are in Rashideen.” Lister deliberately plays to the sectarian media crowds by inserting the fact that a handful of armed young men from Kafarya and Foua had been allowed to accompany the children & the elderly from their own families, as protection against the US Coalition extremist proxies who had systematically starved and persecuted these people for more than two years.
Lister of course omits to mention that, under the Four Town Agreement, the extremists occupying Madaya and Zabadani were also allowed to leave with their weapons. Lister also fails to point out that the Madaya & Zabadani evacuees reached their Idlib destination safely, with the facilitation of the Syrian government and its allies. For those promulgating regime change in Syria, that level of objectivity in reporting would undermine efforts to maintain the conflict in Syria.
Lister’s tweets even suggest that the truck carrying the explosives came from the “regime area” and goes on to intimate that “Assad” was among the possible “spoilers” along with ISIS, feeding another egregious myth that President Assad had created the ISIS entity himself, to ensure he stayed in power. Lister fails to appreciate the fact that if the truck had come from a Syrian government held area, it would have passed through a number of SAA checkpoints to do so. From my own experience of passing through numerous SAA checkpoints, a truck laden with enough explosive to kill and maim over 300 would not have bypassed the SAA security measures, which included electronic sensors that detect such materials.
“We saw the truck drive past and the men in it were terrorists, they had long hair” Ahmed Badawi told me.
As Eva Bartlett pointed out in her article on the Rashideen massacre:
“The answer is that the genuine torment these civilians have endured for years will never be fairly reported, it does not serve the agenda of demonizing the leader of Syria and the national army in order to win western public opinion for yet another ‘humanitarian’ intervention which destroys the Syrian nation and installs chaos in the place of the legitimate government.”
Of course Lister then goes on to promote the White Helmets as saviours of the terrorised civilians, “working hand in hand with Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC).
Now this claim raises some very important questions that have never been addressed by corporate media. I have watched a number of videos recording events immediately after the explosion, and in none of them do I see the White Helmets responding to the needs of shocked and hideously wounded children and adults. In fact, every testimony from eyewitnesses informed me that:
“The White Helmets were not there at all before the explosion, only afterwards, they came and put the fire out. They didn’t help us, they helped the injured fighters” ~ all members of the Badawi family told me, their children had been on the first two buses, so at the centre of the blast.
Most of the eyewitnesses also said that the SARC vacated the area BEFORE the explosion and only returned afterwards. Some told me as much as five hours afterwards.
So where did the White Helmets come from? If they were not visible during the two days leading up to the explosion and immediately after the blast, where did they appear from? Did they come from one of their centres in Idlib? If so, that journey would have taken over an hour. Did they come from inside the Rashideen compound? If so, why were they not visibly helping the wounded in the videos taken in the chaotic moments after the attack? Certainly they would not normally miss an opportunity to showcase their talents as first responders on film. If they arrived in Rashideen from outside, how did they arrive so quickly? One might ask the question: did they know in advance that this attack was going to happen?
Everyone, from the distraught, grieving mothers and bus-drivers I spoke to on the day after the attack to survivors whom I met on my last trip to Aleppo in July 2017, told me that they were convinced that the attack had been pre-planned.
I met the Badawi family in July 2017 in East Aleppo where they had been re-housed by the Syrian authorities after their evacuation from Kafarya & Foua and their survival from the dreadful attack on their people in April 2017. Every member of this family was still visibly affected by their ordeal.
16-year-old Ahmed, next to his mother in the photograph, told me that he thought the White Helmets might have entered Rashideen with the Turkish ambulances that were parked up just prior to the explosion,“… as if they were waiting for it to happen.”
“When they did appear, they focused on the Nusra Front fighters, the terrorists. They carried their bodies to the ambulances. They didn’t help us at all,” said Ahmed’s father.
Ahmed’s mother who had been withdrawn and distant while we were talking, pulled her 6 year old daughter, Hadil, onto her lap. The little girl turned her head towards me and it was obvious that she was blind in one eye.
“Immediately after the explosion, I ran to my daughter. The terrorists were trying to take her from me. I screamed at them to let her go. They dropped her.”
Eventually Hadil’s uncle and the SARC accompanied her to a hospital in Bab Al Hawa, on the Syrian/Turkish border. She stayed for four days but the doctors were unable to save her eyesight in the damaged eye.
Ahmed’s mother continued:
“My son Zain was missing for 6 hours. I was beside myself, searching for him. Five hours after the explosion, buses started arriving to take the victims to Aleppo. I refused to get on the buses without my son. I shouted at the terrorists..I told them to tell me if he was dead or alive. I told them to find him. Suddenly, after six hours, they returned him to me but I don’t know where they had taken him for this time.”
At this point 11 year old Zain told us that just before the explosion they had all heard mortar fire close by. According to Zain, the terrorists had told them “be quiet, the SAA want to kill you.” Zain had yelled at them, “No! Its not true, it’s you who want to kill us.” The terrorists had moved on, laughing among themselves. Fifteen minutes later the attack took place.
“After the explosion, the terrorists started shooting at us as we were trying to find our relatives and our friends” said Ahmed.
It is natural, in such a violent extremist attack, for there to be a huge degree of confusion and panic that would naturally affect anyone’s ability to accurately account for all the events and timings. Curiously though, that confusion does not manifest itself in western media copy-paste reporting of the Rashideen massacre. The certainty with which Reuters, Channel 4, The Guardian, CNN, the Independent and the Daily Mail emphasised certain facts – particularly surrounding the White Helmets, remains a mystery, when even today, and with all the witness testimony I have gathered, it is still difficult to piece together a 100% cohesive account of the horrific torment that these people went through.
With absolutely no hesitation, deviation or variation, mainstream media informed us that the White Helmets had recovered at least 100 bodies from the explosion. What they didn’t explain is, what role, if any, did the White Helmets play prior to, and during the attack or where they came from to recover the 100 bodies alongside the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, who apparently, also reappeared after the explosion.
However, had the corporate media done their homework, they would have known that at least one (allegedly former) White Helmet was present in Rashideen before the evacuees arrived:
This image was taken from Muawyia Hassan Agha’s Facebook page with the accompanying comment:
“From inside Rashidin in Haleb (Aleppo). Waiting for our displaced families from Madaya, and replacing them with the shabihas from Foua and Kafarya”
Muawiya is notorious for his participation in the public torture and execution of two SAA prisoners of war in Khan Touman, Aleppo in May 2016. According to tweets from White Helmet leader, Raed Saleh, Muawiya was “sacked” after this “breach” of White Helmet “ethics”. Within weeks Muawiya was seen, still working alongside the White Helmets, this time as their photographer. His association with the White Helmets & extremist elements, particularly Nusra Front, have continued until the present day.
Muawiya was also identified by Rashideen survivors I spoke with during my time in Aleppo in July 2017. When I showed them the above photographs, they said:
“Yes, I recognise him, he would not allow the young men to smoke cigarettes. If he saw anyone smoking among us, he would beat them and take the cigarettes from them,” said Shadi Badawi
“He was taking photographs of the children, in the morning, the first time they brought the crisps. Just before the explosion he was also taking photographs,” Ahmed Badawi told me.
Muawiya may no longer be recognized as an ‘official’ White Helmet, but based on the archived evidence, he is clearly still working alongside them. The language he uses to describe the people from Kafarya and Foua, “Shabiha,” is indicative of a level of sectarian hostility towards them. This is not the first time that the White Helmets have displayed such sectarian aggression towards the besieged communities of Kafarya and Foua:
Of course this sectarian hatred is not a new phenomenon for US Coalition terrorist & extremist factions inside Syria. During the burning of the buses sent to evacuate civilians from Kafarya and Foua in December 2016, the armed militants, many from Nusra Front, were recorded while shouting these taunts:
“These buses meant to evacuate the Shiite heathens. How we burned them for the sake of God…and we will burn every convoy trying to evacuate them. (to the drivers) you want to evacuate the Shiites do you? Pigs! God willing, they’ll only leave as corpses” – Partisan Girl’s report on the Rashideen massacre and the earlier burning of the evacuation buses.
What should be questioned by corporate media is the White Helmet adherence to the same sectarian principles – all while claiming ‘neutrality and impartiality’ as a supposed Humanitarian NGO, funded by the same governments who have been arming, funding and supporting the extremist brigades, including Ahrar al Sham and Nusra Front, who were the dominant militant factions inside Rashideen as events unfolded.
The majority of western media ran their story on Rashideen with images of the White Helmets, depicting them as either putting out the fire in the cars parked close to the buses, or recovering the corpses. Few such western media even remarked on the fact that the White Helmets could also be seen working “hand in hand” with Nusra Front at this point (see image above).
The White Helmets themselves tweeted that they had also attended to 55 injured. This story is not corroborated by one single eye-witness testimony to date. The White Helmets love nothing better than to photograph themselves “helping wounded civilians”, particularly children. Lets not forget they claim to have saved over 100,000 civilians since they were established in 2013. They have an impressive, professional portfolio of photographs and are never short of camermen or videographers when on a rescue mission. Why are there no images further depicting the White Helmet heroism, “attending the injured” at Rashideen?
Why are none of these questions ever asked by corporate media?
Where were the White Helmets when Shadi Badawi staggered to the door of the front bus that had just received the full force of the blast. Badawi was injured in his stomach, his right arm and his left hand was almost separated from his wrist. The terrorists approached him and they laughed at him:
“They asked me who did this to you, the terrorists or Assad? I replied you did it. They offered me money to say it was Assad, I refused. They laughed at me and they said, let your hand fall off, you wont be needing it. They walked away from me, they didn’t help any of us. They left us to die.” ~ Shadi Badawi
In Aleppo, I met with people who had turned inward with physical and emotional pain, people whose grief and shock was still unexplored territory, people who were trying, desperately, with every fibre of their fractured souls, to put their lives back together piece by piece. People living in the most basic of housing with few belongings, who still took pride in preparing tea, coffee and producing cake for their visitors. People who must be asking themselves why, why this incomprehensible suffering, why such bloodshed among neighbours who had always co-existed peacefully before the west brought war to Syria and divided communities, turning them against one another.
“There are still 158 people missing from Rashideen. We have had no news of them, we dont know where they are,” Najib Ajami told me.
His family, including his 18 year-old son, Ismail, had been on the fifth or sixth bus that was relatively undamaged by the explosion. Ajami told me, he had already been forced to leave his home in Quneitra in 1967 when Israel had illegally annexed the Golan Heights. In Kafarya and Foua, he had joined the military despite his childhood injury which meant he could not walk without his crutches. In April 2017 he left another home behind him and headed not only into uncertainty but into tragedy.
“A brave man…with a typical leader personality from Fua, very active and enthusiastic although he has a disability. He carried a gun during evacuation so Nusra would count him as a fighter (they required a certain number of fighters to leave so they would weaken Fua defences) When Nusra told him you are not a fighter, he replied that his disability is caused by fighting Nusra Front..even though it was an old accident” – Hassan Al-M told me when I mentioned I had met with Ajami.
Ajami maintained his composure until I asked him about the welfare of Dr Ali Al-Moustafa the chief surgeon for both villages who had been tirelessly caring for his community with mounting problems of lack of medicines, electricity, clean water and, of course, the daily shelling, sniping and intimidation of the villagers. Dr Al-Moustafa had steadfastly remained behind in Kafarya and Foua to continue caring for his community, telling his family outside Syria that he would leave only when his all his people were safe.
“Dr Ali….he is home…what can I say, he is our centre, our heart…he is home.”
Ajami’s looked away from me and gazed out of the window, I could see he was crying quietly. He turned back to me..
“We had everything, now we have nothing….and for what?”
Ajami’s son, Ismail, started to speak with me. After a few minutes of describing what happened on April 15th, I asked him if he had seen the White Helmets or the “Civil Defence” at any point during or after the attack.
“You know….the White Helmets seemed to appear minutes after the blast. I saw the Syria Civil Defence white cars arrive. They were wearing white suits like bee-keeping outfits”.
Again, this raises the question, if the White Helmets arrived so soon after the blast, where had they come from? Had they been waiting in advance, knowing the attack would take place?
“We were warned by residents of Binnish (a neighbouring village to Kafarya and Foua) that we would be targeted, just before we left for Rashideen,” Ajami told me
Why were the first White Helmets reported to be wearing what looked like “bee-keeping outfits”, white suits and with their faces covered. Were they expecting a chemical attack? Food for thought.
Ten days later, amid scenes of mass mourning and public outpourings of grief the victims of this heinous attack by US Coalition terrorists were laid to rest in the town of Sayyidah Zaynab just outside Damascus.
Syrian mourners united under photographs of the victims and banners that declared “Victory blooms from your blood.”