If you go to Shuyukh Fawqani, in the north of Aleppo province, you will not find H.M. there anymore. The 80-year-old woman fled the village she had lived her entire life in following its occupation by the self-declared Islamic State (IS) in March 2014. H.M. fled to live with her brother in the town of Manbij, also under IS control since 2014, because of the multiple massacres the organization's militants perpetrated in Shuyukh Fawqani while looking for members of the Free Syrian Army. The village had been home to 40.000 people, but upon the IS arrival, thousands fled to nearby villages and towns.
In June 2015, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish-led alliance of Arab, Kurdish and Syriac-Assyrian factions, launched an offensive to reclaim Shuyukh Fawqani from IS. After a long battle, with the SDF supported by US-led Coalition airstrikes, the village was finally conquered.
However, the SDF prevented any of the village’s displaced citizens from returning. The Kurdish factions that make up most of the SDF were once again accused of forcibly evicting Arab residents. So even after the expulsion of the jihadist organization, H.M. was forced to stay with her brother in Manbij, until it was besieged by the SDF in June 2016.
H.M. was at her brother’s home with his three daughters when the clashes between IS and SDF began in al-Hazawnah. Al-Hazawnah is a neighborhood in Manbij that has suffered the most from shelling and gunfire, at the hands of all sides, due to its geographical location at the southern entrance of the city.
On July 8, 2016, the day before the SDF took entire control of the neighborhood, H.M. decided along with the rest of the women that they should escape from there. Their house had been caught in the crossfire of a clash.
After the fighting got to several neighborhoods, H.M. and her family were unable to leave their house due to the random gunfire. They decided to take refuge in any house that they could. Unfortunately for them, it was a house rigged with explosives by the Islamic State. H.M. and her companions were struck in the blast.
The four victims’ bodies were transferred to the makeshift Al-Amal Hospital, north of the neighborhood. Due to the lack of medical equipment and training, the doctors and nurses were unable to do anything for H.M., who was declared dead upon arrival, along with two of her brother’s daughters.
The clashes continued for several days after this incident, so it was not possible to carry the bodies to the Manbij cemetery, and the hospital had no mortuary refrigerators either; in the end, they were buried in the hospital's backyard.
This story was shared to SyriaUntold by an activist living in Manbij, who requested anonymity for himself and the victim.
[1st Photo: US-led Coalition's shelling on al-Tokhar village - Manbij - Aleppo north-eastern countryside - 19-7-2016 (Activist Ibrahim Manalla's Facebook page)].