ALEPPO, Syria — A Twitter account created by Hala, a six-year-old Syrian girl who lives with her mother in the opposition-controlled northwestern city of Idlib, has made waves online. Hala tweets in both Arabic and English in an attempt to reach followers all over the world and shed light on the suffering of the children in Idlib and all around Syria.
Since the account was created Aug. 1, Hala has garnered over 1,650 followers after thousands watched her videos online. Her account went viral specifically after an Aug. 29 press conference where Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova accused Western and American media of being behind the Twitter account.
“We cannot rule out the possibility of this account posting footage in an attempt to prove that the regime forces used chemical weapons against civilians. We have seen such attempts in the past,” Zakharova said.
On Aug. 25, Russia accused Syrian opposition factions of preparing to launch a chemical attack in Idlib, and then blame it on the regime. Western forces would have a pretext to strike government positions in Syria, the Russian Defense Ministry spokesman, Yevgenyevich Konashenkov, said, adding that the plan is being carried out with British intelligence.
Zakharova claimed that Hala’s account is an example of the carefully conceived and traditional approach the West adopts in creating propaganda when it comes to Syria. She said that Hala is following in the footsteps of Bana Alabed, whose Twitter account had received broad acclaim for tweeting in English about the military operation the regime and Russia launched against Aleppo in late 2016.
The US State Department's e-communication team denied Zakharova's allegations and said on its official Twitter account, “The Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman claimed propaganda was taking place on Twitter. She said that Western media outlets were among the account’s followers, but none of the outlets she mentioned can be seen following it,” adding that her claim is a mere Russian propaganda.
Maha Mohammad, Hala’s mother, told Al-Monitor that her daughter’s account has nothing to do with any media or political body, be it locally or internationally. She explained that she is the one running her daughter’s account, without any help.
“The purpose of my child’s account is to shed light on the deplorable situation of children living in Idlib and their fear of an unknown future. I tell Hala what to say in her videos and I film everything on my phone. We sometimes walk around Idlib, visit destroyed neighborhoods and monuments and take pictures with wounded children,” Mohammad said.
“I hope Hala’s account can draw attention to the massacres and repeated violations committed against children, women and the elderly in opposition-controlled areas. I hope the international community can prevent a possible massacre against civilians, should the regime and Russia act on their threat to wage a war against us,” she noted.
Between Sept. 6 and Sept. 13, Russian and Syrian warplanes bombed opposition-controlled areas of Idlib’s southern countryside and Hama’s northern countryside. The strikes killed and wounded dozens of civilians, while thousands have fled their homes heading to areas in northern Aleppo.
Mohammad noted, “I have faith in Hala and her ability to draw the attention of humanitarian and international organizations through her Arabic and English videos so everyone realizes how children are the victims of this long war. I want children to smile again, go to school, play and walk around freely and safely. We want warplanes to stop killing children. This needs to stop immediately.”
She added, “Despite Hala’s young age, she is well-aware of everything she says. She asks me to let her go out and talk about children, how they are deprived of attending school and how they lack safety. I think Hala’s voice is able to reach people from around the world and urge the international community to save the children. Hala will continue tweeting every single day to convey the humanitarian situation in Idlib and call on protecting children and restoring their rights. She will not stop until a solution is reached to protect people and prevent massacres, one way or another.”
Mohammad, 27, is studying counseling psychology at the University of Idlib and lives with her daughter in a small apartment in the city. They have not heard from Hala’s father for almost three years now. No one knows of his whereabouts or which party in the conflict could have taken him.
“We have no idea where her father is exactly. We lost contact years ago. Hala needs her father, like many children in Syria who have lost their fathers. We do not want any more children losing their parents,” she said.
Capt. Abdul Salam Abdul Razzaq from the National Liberation Front affiliated with the Free Syrian Army, told Al-Monitor, “The Russian allegations over who is running Hala’s account are a pre-emptive step aimed at questioning the credibility of the footage that would come out of Syria, in the event of an invasion of Idlib. The regime and Russia want to continue killing Syrians without anyone talking to the world about it to convey the people’s suffering. Russia wants to lie and wants people to believe it.”
Abdul Razzaq added, “Russia and the Syrian regime fear that Hala could attract international media attention, as did Alabed a couple of years ago when she was tweeting about the military campaign launched by the regime and Russian forces against Aleppo in 2016. This worries Russia; it does not want anyone to document its crimes. It would be even worse if a child is documenting, since the world will sympathize with her more.”
Alabed’s Twitter account documented the suffering of civilians trapped in the eastern districts of Aleppo. She had over 340,000 followers and major international media outlets quoted her tweets. In late 2016, when she arrived in Turkey with her family after escaping the eastern neighborhoods of Aleppo before the regime took over, Alabed met Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who ended up granting her and her family Turkish citizenship.
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