The Situation in al-Fu’a and Kafariya

By Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi

The two Twelver Shi’i villages of al-Fu’a and Kafariya have come to the forefront of media attention in light of the stipulation of evacuations of rebels and civilians from the recently reconquered east Aleppo towards Idlib in return for evacuations from these two villages. Since the rebel conquests led by Jaysh al-Fatah in spring 2015 that saw the regime lose its remaining control of all major towns in Idlib province including Idlib city itself, al-Fu’a and Kafariya have remained as isolated regime outposts under siege.

Naturally, given the religious affiliation of the people of these villages, their siege is a matter of strong concern to Iran and the native and foreign Shi’i militias operating in Syria. For example, in September 2016, Akram al-Ka’abi of Harakat al-Nujaba’- aligned with Iran and one of the most important Iraqi Shi’i factions intervening in Syria – claimed the start of a new operation to break the sieges of al-Fu’a and Kafariya, though it should be noted that al-Ka’abi frequently engages in outlandish rhetoric and did not make clear how exactly such an operation was to be carried out. Even so, that Iran in particular has felt pressured on account of al-Fu’a and Kafariya’s status became most evident in a deal reached with rebel factions including Ahrar al-Sham to impose a ceasefire status on the two villages in return for a ceasefire status for the towns of al-Zabadani and Madaya in the Damascus countryside that were besieged by the regime and allied militias including Hezbollah. As part of this deal, all four localities were to receive humanitarian aid.

In the broadest terms, this deal has held, whatever might be said of manipulation/restrictions on the aid arriving and clashes from time to time. For instance, reports of the arrival of aid for al-Fu’a and Kafariya can be found in late November and early December. That aid has been allowed in has sometimes been a talking point invoked as a stick to beat the rebel factions. A case-in-point is Abu Ahmad al-Shari’i- a cleric affiliated with the Islamic State-linked Jaysh Khalid bin al-Waleed- who wrote on Twitter regarding the arrival of aid to the villages in late November: “After Assad seized the Hanano residences [part of east Aleppo], Ahrar and Fatah al-Sham respond by allowing 40 trucks to enter Kafariya and al-Fu’a: all this in order to please the people of the Cross.” Yet this kind of polemics should not distract us from the hardships of life faced by the inhabitants of these villages, and that civilians including children have been killed and injured in shelling by rebel factions. It is sometimes pointed out that the problem is that the regime side more generally is more reluctant to talk to outside media than the rebels, and thus the plight of these villages has understandably been given less attention. There is some truth to this point, though there is also quite a lot of open source material on Facebook in particular for those who wish to look.

As for the military situation in the two villages, the forces fighting to defend al-Fu’a and Kafariya are frequently referred to as lujan sha’abiya (“Popular Committees”), a common term for local pro-regime militias. However, the villages’ isolation has not prevented foreign militia involvement in the military efforts to defend the villages. Indeed, one source from al-Fu’a told me in October that most of the fighting force is affiliated with Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. In July 2015, the Hezbollah military commander Jamil Hussein Faqih (al-Hajj Abu Yasir) was announced to have been killed: he was described as the Hezbollah official responsible for the portfolio of al-Fu’a and Kafariya, and his grave is said to be in al-Fu’a. Undoubtedly in reference to him, a Saryat al-Shaheed Abu Yasir (“Martyr Abu Yasir Squadron”) turns up in at least one photo of a festival and parade from the area, as seen below.

saryatshaheedabuyasir

Another brand name that turns up for al-Fu’a and Kafariya is Saryat al-‘Ishq (“Squadron of Love”)- as in, loving/longing for martyrdom (‘Ishq al-Shahada). For example, the name turns up in the ‘martyr’ graphic for a fighter from al-Fu’a called Kadhim Muhammad al-Muhammad, declared to have been killed defending the two villages on 11 September 2016. The graphic can be viewed below.

kadhimmuhammadalmuhammadfoua
Note the Sayyida Zainab shrine of Damascus in the top-left corner, and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s portrait in the top-right corner. The Saryat al-‘Ishq name appears in the bottom left. The banner next to the slain fighter’s portrait reads: “Ya latharat” (“Oh avengers”), referring to those who avenge Imam Hussein.

The Saryat al-‘Ishq brand also turns up in other ‘martyrdom’ announcements from the two villages. For example, observe the post below for three ‘martyrs’ from July this year.

saryatashqkafariyafoua
“Martyrs of the fine age: Saryat al-‘Ishq_al-Fu’a_Kafariya. The martyr Saleh Muhammad al-Hussein, the martyr Majdi Ahmad Mando, the martyr Yusuf Ibrahim Aslan.”

Other graphics for ‘martyrs’ from al-Fu’a and Kafariya do not give a specific name but do feature the Hezbollah flag. For example, see one below for a certain Hussein Hassan al-Shabab.

husseinhassanalshabab
Top left: “Living they are nurtured” (a reference to a Qur’an quotation that one should not reckon that those who have been killed fighting in God’s cause are dead, but rather nurtured and living with their Lord). Top right: Sayyida Zainab shrine.

By itself, the inclusion of the Hezbollah flag in a person’s ‘martyrdom’ graphic does not automatically make that person a member of Hezbollah. However, the pervasiveness of the name and brand in al-Fu’a and Kafariya and more generally among the Syrian Shi’i communities- something that can also be observed for comparison in the Aleppo Shi’i villages of Nubl and Zahara’, which has at least two identifiable formations affiliated with Hezbollah (Junud al-Mahdi and Fawj al-Imam al-Hujja)- only illustrates the way the Syrian Shi’i demographic has come to identify thoroughly with the group and by extension its Iranian patron and ideology.

Besides the involvement of al-Hajj Abu Yasir in al-Fu’a and Kafariya, a concrete line of evidence for Hezbollah involvement in the villages can be found in the form of Kashafat al-Wilaya (“al-Wilaya Scouts”). This scout association, like the Imam Mahdi Scouts (Kashafat al-Imam al-Mahdi), is affiliated with Hezbollah. The main difference is that Kashafat al-Wilaya appears to be specific to Syria. Even so, the Imam Mahdi Scouts has a branch in Nubl and Zahara’ that was formally established in Ashura’ of the year 2012 and goes by the name of the Imam Mahdi Scouts. So it is not immediately clear why both names and brands should be used, unless perhaps it is analogous to Hezbollah’s creation of multiple militia fronts and brands to recruit more and more Syrians and build a native Syrian ‘Islamic Resistance’ (e.g. Quwat al-Ridha and Liwa al-Imam al-Mahdi).

kashafatwilaya
Emblem of Kashafat al-Wilaya. The emblem is given a distinct Syrian flavour through including the Syrian flag and a version of the emblem of the Syrian Arab Republic. On bottom: “And obey.” This slogan is also used by the Imam Mahdi Scouts on its emblems.

Kashafat al-Wilaya has multiple local branches. For example, the branch for girls in the al-Abbasiya area of Homs- where many Syrian Shi’a are located- is called Fawj al-Sayyida al-Zahara’ (“Sayyida al-Zahara’ Regiment”). The branch for the al-Fu’a area (and presumably by extension, Kafariya as well) is called Fawj Fatima al-Zahara’ (“Fatima al-Zahara’ Regiment”), named for the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad. Multiple photos on the ground attest to the existence and activities of Fawj Fatima al-Zahara’.

14937178_161579354305815_365976414337817466_n
Photo including placards of Fawj Fatima al-Zahara’. The top one includes portraits of Ayatollah Khomeini, Ayatollah Khamane’i, Bashar al-Assad and Hassan Nasrallah. Also note the Hezbollah flag in the photo. This was part of Ashura’ 2016 commemorations. “Patience and Victory” (central placard) was the main slogan for Ashura’ commemorations in the area this year.

yafatimazaharaheadbands
Young girls with Fatima al-Zahara’ headbands.

fatimabirthcommemorations
Commemorating the birth of Fatima al-Zahara’. The banner reads: “Honesty, Purity, Sincerity.”

Overall, it is entirely unsurprising that this kind of polarisation has happened. Regardless of the initial rights and wrongs surrounding the entire rebellion, considering the siege status and being surrounded by rebels led principally by Jaysh al-Fatah, which includes Jabhat Fatah al-Sham that forced the Druze of Idlib to convert to Sunni Islam and would probably have done the same to the Shi’a if al-Fu’a and Kafariya had been taken over, it is clear many if not most in the villages see Hezbollah and Iran as their main protectors intervening from outside. The notion of being the protectors of Shi’a has allowed Iran and Hezbollah to expand their influence strongly among Syrian Shi’a. Rather than Syria becoming the next Islamic Republic, it is apparent the Syrian Shi’a, who constitute only 1-2% of Syria’s population, are most amenable to ideological influence from Iran and Hezbollah. This fits a wider pattern in the region where Iran in particular most successfully builds patron-client relations with fellow Twelver Shi’a in particular. In any case, none of this should be used to minimize the humanitarian impact of the sieges on al-Fu’a and Kafariya. At the same time, one should not forget that the regime sieges of rebel-controlled communities are more numerous and have often been more severe in impact. None of these cases merits being exploited for the purpose of partisan political debate on the Internet.

Comments (14)


1. ALAN said:

There was no civil war – it was a foreign invasion arranged by delusional puppets, paid mercenaries and other evil doers.
https://youtu.be/WXUmIOAj7_o

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December 18th, 2016, 3:59 pm

 

2. Tara said:

The situation from Aleppo. You people have no shame;

https://www.facebook.com/Channel4News/videos/10154354235831939/

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December 18th, 2016, 6:49 pm

 

3. ALAN said:

NEW DATA. More Than 100 US-UK-Israeli-French-Turkish Advisers Were Allowed to Leave Aleppo.
No. of American officers is 22
British 16
French 21
Israeli 7
Turkish 62
https://southfront.org/new-data-more-than-100-us-uk-israeli-french-turkish-advisers-were-allowed-to-leave-aleppo/?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter

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December 19th, 2016, 12:47 am

 

4. Syrialover said:

Bullseye ALAN #1! Your words are a perfect description of Iran and Russia in Syria.

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December 19th, 2016, 2:05 am

 

5. ALAN said:

American global policy, post-2016, was characterized as either grim and chaotic or even grimmer, if more focused. everybody will fare equally badly under either of those outcomes.
Domestic needs like health, education, infrastructure, and the environment will suffer either way, while prospects for peace and climate stability will recede.
A country without a coherent plan for advancing its national interests is a sorry thing. Worse yet, however, as we may find out in the years to come, would be a country forever on the brink of crisis and conflict with a nuclear-armed rival.

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December 19th, 2016, 2:57 am

 

6. ALI ALWAHSH said:

Green Bus:

The second I see those glorious green buses I just can’t help it and start singing “the wheels on the bus” on my mind again and again. Well I change the lyrics a bit to be “the rats on the bus”.

I must admit that he who chose the idea of Green Buses is just a brilliant mind. The “green” and “bus” are not random at all, actually they have very deep derogatory and demeaning connotation associated with them especially and, maybe only, to the Syrian mind. Back in the days, due to the necessity of the period and embargo on Syria by imperialist and Zionist nations, most Syrian suffered a daily ordeal called the Green Bus.

From mid 1970s till mid 1990s These Green Buses were the primary and dominant form of public transportation in Syria. Especially the German version of them called “MAN”, they used to serve and connect most districts and suburbs of Syrian cities. The service was not for free but almost to nothing, the citizens of the Syrian Arab republic had two options to pay the bus fare:

1- Buying monthly/annual multi rides card where the photo of its user will be affixed on the top right corner of it.
2- Buying a stack of one-use tickets where they get verified and clipped by machines at the front/back of the bus

Random inspections by bus conductors always tend to create a scene of horror and send a wave of fear across passengers. After boarding the bus, conductors lay low waiting for the right moment/victim/opportunity, they used to share a secret eye-language with bus drivers and suddenly they are on action and the bus drivers shut the front and back doors where nobody allowed in or out till further notice even if this means you’re missing your bus stop.

Then conductors start knocking on the side of the bus while shouting “Tzaker, Tzaker’ (tickets tickets). Everything goes quiet crying babies are forcibly silenced by their caregivers, noisy teenagers shut up, even that young man harassing women (most of the time pushes his body against them) stops his indecent activities.The process goes smoothly as long you have a valid ticket or active card. In case you were trying to sneak a free-ride then you’re screwed and most likely the conductors will single you out (that’s by holding to your collar in front of everybody) and escort you out the bus where either you will be issued a fine, walked to the closest police station, bribe your way out, or if you’re fit enough you can flee the scene.

Army and security personals don’t pay for their rides (Till now not sure if that was the law or just ..) and when they get asked for their tickets they simply put one finger on the conductor’s notebook and say “Wasel (already paid)”, this is another coded-word meaning just keep going. At that time it’s up to the conductor to assess the situation, if the person looks and feels like what he claims then it’s ok but in rare occasions conductors challenge them back and ask for an identification. Here lies some great risk especially if the person was actually the one who he claims. It’s a common scene to see these conductors being beaten up at bus stops every now and then.

The Green Bus ride brings all sorts of humiliation where the journey starts from chasing the bus (for some reason bus drivers never like to fully stop at bus stops and tend to drag at least 20-50m ahead, it’s more like “catch me if you can” game). If you’re lucky and managed to put a foot on the bus then you better be prepared to all sorts of assaults from sexual, physical to all the way down of verbal. There’s no need to mention the smell and body odor gigantic problem from armpit stink to free style noisy and muffled farts. nobody understood why drivers were sealing the windows not allowing even a tiny stream of fresh air to come in (buses are not equipped with air conditioning) in my opinion it was a premeditated psychopathic action to suffocate all passengers.

With time green bus passengers almost adapted fully and started developing some sort of disorder which I like to call Green-Bus-Disorder (GBD). Those infected ones tend to lose their sense of being humans, completely surrender their defence mechanism, and lose awareness to surrounding risks. It was quite normal to see a respectable person turing to a vulgar with profanity language, being assaulted or committing assault or even hanging from the door of the bus. It was quite normal.

I’m sure bringing these green buses to transport terrorists is not by chance, it offers embarrassment and indignity with all the humiliation it brings with it including those old memories.

I hope those rats enjoy every bit of this ride to their definite armageddon in Idlib.

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December 19th, 2016, 6:21 am

 

7. Ghufran said:

your enemy does not matter if your friend is a terrorist. It was clear from day one that the challenge for any movement to change the regime in Syria was to bring a better alternative to the Assad regime and his corrupt government, sadly enough what thawrajiyyeh did with full support from the GCC and Turkey was to replace Assad forces with islamist militias and Nusra as if Syria was another Afghanistan or Pakistan. Take your revolution and put it in the museum of shame, you betrayed fellow Syrians as much as Assad did !!

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December 20th, 2016, 9:18 am

 

8. Mina said:

For once, I hope this is “fakenews”
https://twitter.com/Ibra_Joudeh/status/811401319634403328

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December 21st, 2016, 10:38 am

 

9. ALAN said:

Congratulations ALEPPO The LIBERATION at the threshold of the New Year 2017 from the dreadful occupation by terrorist forces, that were funded, trained and armed by those in the US administration which followed the Hillary Clinton’s doctrine.
Ringing Bells, Ringing Bells , Ringing Ringing Bells!

https://youtu.be/bBvtXKALYJ4

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December 21st, 2016, 11:20 am

 

10. ALAN said:

Mina
egypt police arrest people use child stage fake aleppo footage
https://youtu.be/3rTrAI_ghc8

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December 21st, 2016, 3:21 pm

 

11. Ghufran said:

Wahhabi Islam is now the perfect vehicle for drug addicts, criminals and unemployed thugs.
Oppression in the muslim world, western intervention and lax European immigration and criminal laws are making a bad situation worse but the disease is in the ideology, this is why Tunisia even after a relatively successful regime change is as bad as saudi arabia when it comes to the number of terrorists exported to the world.
يا امة ضحكت من جهلها الامم

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December 21st, 2016, 8:12 pm

 

12. Mina said:

US covert actions and diplo against the PKK
https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/06ANKARA1821_a.html

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December 22nd, 2016, 11:10 am

 

13. Ghufran said:

Before rebels were evicted from aleppo they made sure to kill dozens of POWs and as soon as they were out they shelled Al-hamdaniyyeh district killing a woman at a local market !! Parts of Aleppo’s country side are still under rebels control, for now. Rebels force today is mostly Alqaeda type and similar breeds, the FSA only exists on Facebook and opposition media.
When your friend is a terrorist it does not matter who your enemy is.

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December 23rd, 2016, 10:10 am

 

14. Mir Mohammad Ali Khan said:

Nice to read it !

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February 9th, 2017, 8:00 am

 

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