Bahrain Mirror (Exclusive): Khawla Mattar of Bahrain, the Under Secretary-General of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), spent about two hours speaking of the humanitarian experience she went through in the conflict zones in Syria. When she went there as a UN representative in 2016, there areas were witnessing ongoing bombardment launched by the conflicting parties. At that time, Khawla met with civilians, women and children, as well as the armed factions who had control over them, and won the United Nations award for "courage."
The Bahrain Women's Union held an open meeting on Thursday, June 29, 2017, under the title, "The Courageous Bahraini in conflict zones" at the Bahrain Girl Renaissance Society hall. The meeting was attended by many.
Khawla, who was traveling there with the United Nations delegation in armored vehicles, refused to put a helmet on her head and wear the protective clothing that they were told that they had to wear to protect themselves. "I'm not better than the Syrians here, and whatever is to happen to them should happen to me as well," she said. The rest of the delegation members followed suit.
Khawla spoke of the many armed factions she met in Syria, which she says are different organizations, all of which consider themselves Islamic defending Islam, but the conflicts between them are severe. Khawla said that after entering Homs and Aleppo, and having many meetings with them, she discovered that "the differences have nothing to do with religion or freedoms and human rights." "However, because these factions are getting money one way or another, they can do a lot," she added.
On the other hand, Khawla noted that "the Syrian government still pays the salaries of teachers, municipal, electricity and communications company workers, and still repair all the damages even in the besieged areas." She further explained that "sometimes, at some checkpoints, we were told that it was delivery day. There was a government employee that would be holding a suitcase with the salaries of employees living in the besieged areas, and would hand them to them."
She praised the exceptional role played by teachers in these areas. "Teachers play a very interesting role. They are committed to education as well as the students, despite the security conditions and the difficult situation in general. The cold weather in Syria is harsh, electricity is not available and the water is very cold, yet everyone is determined to study and attend. There only wish is that the bombardment stops so they could continue," said Mattar.
Then she talked about the biggest victims of the war, the children, who are look even younger than they really are due to their poor growth as a result of hunger. They also suffer from poor vision due to darkness and studying in the dark, as well as hearing problems due to the sounds of explosions. She also stressed that vision and hearing problems are common in these areas. She spoke of a child who kept on holding her hand during one of her tours, and told her that he wanted to whisper something to her, so he asked her to bring a battery for his sister's (hearing aid) earpiece next time because she could not hear without it.
Mattar also talked about the members of the delegation who tried to provide hearing aid earpieces for the children in the next visit, and about how she (smuggled) some simple food items requested by the children such as sweets and chocolate, and coffee requested by a doctor there.
The orchestrated role played by the Arab and foreign media was one of the things Khawla experienced first hand during her experience there. "I am a media person and I was troubled by how the war in Syria is being covered by the media. All the foreign and Arab media, everyone in Syria has taken a stand. The Guardian newspaper took a stance and attacked the United Nations attacked for even offering aid. The Independent newspaper had a different position. The BBC have a team with and a team that is against. They are all divided," she said.
She further said with regret that "the Syrian Red Crescent, which no one talks about, is located in the besieged areas and areas controlled by the regime. The Red Crescent is present in government-controlled areas, transferring ambulances received from Japan, China and other aid to the Red Crescent teams located in the besieged areas. There is a wide network. All our work was with Red Crescent volunteers who were young men and women, and every time we lost a number of these volunteers, no one talks about them, because of the severe divisions, as if those who wanted to stay in their homeland have committed a crime."
"The refugees in neighboring countries have been exploited in one way or another to get support and assistance, and the Syrians inside the besieged areas have been forgotten," Mattar stressed.
She says ISIS are not one. They consist of different groups. Each one has a special organization, and every organization is in a different area. There are armed groups that raised the ISIS flag only because they did not find anyone to fund them. In Yarmouk, for example, the one who leads the ISIS group is known for being a former minor thief and was arrested more than once. At one point he joined Nusra, and then he had a dispute with them after they killed some of his companions, according to him, and then he found himself raising the ISIS flag, and receiving money and funding directly.
Mattar highlighted that when the people in Madaya were starving to death, ISIS had all kinds of meat and all kinds of fruit. They slaughtered a sheep for the UN team. They controlled an area in Madaya and had money, food, medicine and everything, and their children were overweight. We saw this scene everywhere. Those close to the factions had everything, and those who are not close to them are unable to provide anything.
Many of the ISIS militants and armed men are young men who suffered from great frustration in their countries, said Mattar. They are not only from Syria. There are some from Turkmenistan, Chechnya and there other nationalities as well. We talked to an Egyptian with ISIS in Raqqa who is now called an prince (Emir). He told us that he was no one in his village in Egypt. "I am now a prince," he said. In an area in Homs, ISIS appointed a Tunisian Emir after taking over it.
Khawla denies the accusation that the United Nations has changed the demographic identity of some areas in Syria. "When we made an exchange in December 2015. We transported families from Al-Fu'a and Kafriya (two villages in northern Idlib) across the Turkish border by airplane to Beirut and from there to Damascus. In the same airplanes, we transported women and patients from Madaya and Zabadani across the border from Damascus to Idlib, and because I was responsible for this operation, I was surprised that we were accused of having changed the demographics. Al-Fu'a and Kafriya are Shiite villages and Madaya and Zabadani area Sunni. We were accused of transporting the Shiites to Sunni areas so that they would be on the border with Lebanon. This did not happen. The media lied. The Sunnis of Madaya and Zabadani went to Idlib willingly, and the people of Al-Fu'a and Kafriya were besieged. They became victims of a greater conflict."
Khawla describes the scene in Syria as very complex, saying: "We are accused by all parties, whether we work or not, so I always say that we have to turn our backs on everything, and only see the Syrian people. This is our role." She described life in all the refugee camps in neighboring countries as very difficult, to the extent that she urges Syrians to return if security and protection are provided. There are families who fear to return because some of their members belong to armed groups.
Khawla stressed that many of those she met in the camps confirm that they would like to return to Syria if there is some "security and peace." She further stated that the Syrians can rebuild their country with just a little security and peace, but most importantly, "everyone must take their hands off Syria."