The 126 innocent lives lost were mere collateral damage to them, nothing less and nothing more

Published: April 22, 2017

A damaged bus is seen after an explosion yesterday at insurgent-held al-Rashideen, Aleppo province, Syria April 16, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

Beads of perspiration glistened on his forehead. Wiping it clean with the back of his hand, he stared around. “It is overloaded,” he thought to himself as he pulled his five-year-old up on his lap. His wife had fallen into a slumber. After days of abject disappointment, the call for rescue had finally come. They were being sent outside Aleppo to safer refugee camps.

He felt sad to be leaving his village but the gory streets made it easier to do so. It didn’t look like his home anymore. It was like a page out of a war-torn story with red blood anguish and dismay leering about in the streets. He had loaded up a handful of his possessions, his wife and kids into the bus that had been arranged for several such families. The general feeling of relief was palpable. The bus was filled with people anxiously waiting to drive away from the scorched agony of destroyed houses and littered limbs. They were told they will be reaching Rashidin very soon when the buses were halted for food supply. He looked out towards the van carrying food supplies.

“May Allah (swt) grant this man a special rank and exalt him for all the volunteer work he is doing to help us through this morbid time…”

He said a silent prayer for the man driving the supply vehicle towards their bus. Little did they know that it was not the food supplies but their ultimate demise that headed in their direction. He screamed with the rest as they met a horrific undeserved end right when they thought they were almost out of the woods.

The evacuation convoy from the Shia villages of Foua and Kefraya was hit by an explosive-laden vehicle that was supposed to be carrying food supplies for the refugees. This evacuation was the result of a deal negotiated between the Syrian government and the rebels to ensure the two Shia villages were not hit by opposing forces from adjoining villages.

All this in such utter vain! Hundred and twenty-six lives were lost including nearly 70 children who burned to death in unimaginable agony. Video footages from the scene showed children grabbing sweets and snacks minutes before the deadly explosion.

The breach of the evacuee swap agreement between the two warring groups seems to be the most insignificant oversight in this abject scenario.

In the backdrop of the chemical weapons attack, this incident comes as a clear indicator of the cracks in the negotiations that had been brokered between the Syrian state and the rebel groups. The casualties incurred are also fundamentally Shia which yet again highlights the sectarian aspect of this war, portrayed in a political light by the external factors involved. Twenty-six members of a Qatari royal family had been abducted and held in Iraq since last year and were used as leverage to conduct a population swap between two Shia and two Sunni towns. This incident is also being feared to cause retaliation as it has angered the Syrian government and its allies, especially Iran which is home to majority of the Shia population in the world.

The towns in question are Fuoa and Kefraya (Shia) and Zabadani and Madaya (Sunni). Hezbollah and Ahrarul Sham’s involvement also casts a bigger shadow on this deal because it nuances the oft-hidden aspect of this war; proxies of significant regional countries fighting an indirect war for their beneficiaries. This blast complicates the situation even further.

Details of the settlement plans for Shia residents of Foua and Kefraya had also been finalised but there were major apprehensions among rebel groups and enemies of the Syrian state. The chances that these residents could eventually swell the ranks of Hezbollah were extremely high which could be yet another motive behind this egregious attack. Whether it were the rebels who decided to avoid supplementing enemy ranks or a third force that stands to benefit from prolonged fissures between both parties, it is hard to say. But the attack brought to light some glaring problems in the peace-brokering mission of the United Nations (UN) and all stakeholders in this war.

The ugly truth about proxies is that the ineffectiveness of dialogue and the extent of threat involved in this conflict have come to the forefront. The evacuation has resumed for now but there is no guarantee for its effective completion as well. Russia and the US, while already not seeing eye to eye in Syria, have both condemned the loss of life in this attack, but due to the involvement of local groups, both players will maintain a safer distance.

On the humanitarian front, I am at a loss for words to describe, explain, analyse or even condemn this heinous act. The conflict in the backdrop of this explosion has proven to be a monstrous reflection of moral descent that the human race has ever witnessed. It was an evacuee swap involving actual living, breathing human beings. They were massacred in mass numbers while only attempting to move to a better and safer neighbourhood.

What was their crime?

Hope. Hope was their only crime. While they burned and screamed, what interests of the party responsible have been fulfilled? How has the death of 70 children helped their ‘cause’ in the battlefield or in the international arena? They did it because they have become so used to violence that quenches their wild thirst for blood that they cannot function in any other way. What were these 126 lives to them? Collateral damage… nothing less, nothing more!

These souls amass in numbers huge,

Their hearts and minds, seeking refuge,

They sit and stand… they hope… they yearn…

But they are fools… when will they learn…

That pastures green have long been burnt…

Their cosy beds and tables have turned…

Now all that remains is crimson red…

All meadows are dry… and all the flowers are dead.

Fatima Raza

Fatima Raza

The author is a Biosciences graduate and a student of MPhil International Relations. She aspires to be an accomplished writer someday.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.