Saturday, 11 July 2015

The deadly consequences of mislabeling Syria’s revolutionaries

 'In December, Secretary of State John F. Kerry stated that “Syrians should not have to choose between a tyrant and the terrorists.” There was, Kerry declared, a third option: “the moderate Syrian opposition who are fighting both extremists and [Syrian President Bashar al-]Assad every day.” Unfortunately, this commendable view has broken down because the United States has defined the term “moderate” in such a narrow and arbitrary fashion that it excludes the bulk of the mainstream opposition. 
 The group to which I belong, Ahrar al-Sham, is one example. Our name means “Free Men of Syria.” We consider ourselves a mainstream Sunni Islamic group that is led by Syrians and fights for Syrians. We are fighting for justice for the Syrian people. Yet we have been falsely accused of having organizational links to al-Qaeda and of espousing al-Qaeda’s ideology. 
 Nothing could be further from the truth. We believe that Syria needs a national unifying project that cannot be controlled or delivered by a single party or group and should not be bound to a single ideology. We believe in striking a balance that respects the legitimate aspirations of the majority as well as protects minority communities and enables them to play a real and positive role in Syria’s future. We believe in a moderate future for Syria that preserves the state and institutes reforms that benefit all Syrians.
  Stuck inside their own bubble, White House policymakers have allocated millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars to support failed CIA efforts to support so-called “moderate” forces in Syria. But these “moderate” groups have proved to be a disappointment on nearly every count, not least of all in confronting the Islamic State. Further, the self-defeating policy of regarding the war against the Islamic State as being fundamentally different from, and in some cases diametrically opposed to, efforts to remove Assad from power has brought no end to either battle.
 Despite a disappointing lack of genuine engagement from the international community, we remain committed to dialogue. The issues that need to be discussed are how to end Assad’s reign, how to defeat the Islamic State and how to ensure that a stable and representative government in Damascus puts Syria on the path to peace, reconciliation and economic recovery while avoiding the disintegration of the state. It is not too late for the United States to change course. Kerry’s “third option” exists — but only if Washington is willing to open its eyes and see it.'

Friday, 10 July 2015

When Israel gave Bashar Assad a lifeline

Image for the news result

 'Recently, an interesting news item relating to Syria seemed to remain under the public radar. In his book “Ally: My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide,” the Israeli former ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, wrote of how the Russian plan in 2013 to remove Syria’s chemical arsenal, and in that way avoid an impending American attack against the country, originated with an Israeli minister, Yuval Steinitz.
 The reason Steinitz did so is not difficult to understand. The Israelis saw a golden opportunity to get rid of what worried them most in Syria, namely the regime’s chemical weapons. They were far less concerned with seeing Assad and his acolytes punished for having deployed such weapons against civilians. Once the deal was agreed, Oren writes, “the phrase ‘Assad must go’ vanished from [Barack] Obama’s vocabulary.”
 Nothing has really changed since the CIA director, John Brennan, told the Council on Foreign Relations last March that the “last thing we want to do is to allow [ISIS and other jihadist groups] to march into Damascus.” Brennan had added then, “That’s why it’s important to bolster those forces within the Syrian opposition that are not extremists.” However, at the catatonic rate the U.S. is training such forces, the chances that “moderates” will soon change the tide in Syria is negligible.
 Whether we are talking about the United States or Israel, Assad has imposed on both a very successful “either-or” equation – “It’s either Assad or chaos.” That has given the Syrian president and Iran tremendous leverage over Washington and Tel Aviv. This will only increase when, as is likely, the Americans and Iranians reach a nuclear deal. Once that happens, Iranian funds to assist Assad will be freed up and the Obama administration may more firmly recognize an Iranian “sphere of influence” in Syria. That will not sit well with Israel, but the complexities of the situation will most probably expand Assad’s margin of political survival.
 Obama should bear in mind what he said about Assad. Syria’s war will not end while he remains in power. But the U.S. president has seemed unwilling to pursue his own logic in Syria. Bashar Assad has lasted thanks to such incoherence.'

Divided country, divided narratives

 'Ms Yazbek’s book makes a valuable contribution to the attempt to explain the turmoil still unfolding in Syria. Mr Glass’s work, by contrast, serves to muddy the waters further. Foreign powers are undoubtedly playing an unhelpful role, but Mr Glass attributes too much to them. He criticises Turkey and other Arab countries, who have chaotically backed Syria’s rebels, while more or less letting off Iran and Russia, who have funded and armed Mr Assad to a far greater degree. Though he is no diehard fan of the regime, he also downplays its crimes relative to those of the rebels (which are not in dispute).
 Sometimes this borders on the outright disingenuous. He writes that chemical weapons are “alleged to have been used not only by the government but by the rebels as well”. Yet there is overwhelming evidence against the regime, including of a sarin attack on Damascus suburbs in 2013 that left hundreds dead. By contrast, there is little sign of rebels using chemicals, and certainly not on that scale.
 Although Ms Yazbek’s book is written exclusively from the rebel-held area of the country, and she considers herself part of the opposition to Mr Assad, her account of weeks spent in the northern province of Idlib is more balanced. She lets people of all stripes speak for themselves: the rebel leader who threatens Alawites (the minority sect to which Ms Yazbek and the Assads belong; see article), Raed Fares, a well-known secular activist, as well as ordinary Syrians, male and female.
 She is not blind to the changing nature of the war, as it has turned from a peaceful uprising to an armed, and increasingly religious, conflict. She fears the danger not just of jihadists but of the growing devoutness of ordinary civilians left with nothing to turn to but their faith. Yet in her book, bursting with Syrian voices, the revolution to overthrow the Assad regime continues. One woman, who pleads with Ms Yazbek to tell the world what is really happening, tells her she will never “kneel” to Mr Assad. “I’m going to get pregnant every nine months and keep having children so that we don’t become extinct,” she says.
 Her trips show why: the brutality of the regime is evident on every page. In rebel-held Syria the unimaginable is now the norm: children without limbs; whole families wiped out in barrel bombs; playgrounds turned into burial grounds as cemeteries fill up. Through snippets of these people’s lives Ms Yazbek does the important job of putting faces to the numbing numbers of Syria’s crisis: over 200,000 dead and 10m displaced. Amid the rubble, many Syrians have an incredible sense of social solidarity and they find ingenious ways to survive. It is impossible not to share her anger at “the great injustice that had fallen on us as a people and a cause”.
 Ms Yazbek does much to make Syria better understood; her book is gripping. Mr Glass’s feels more hastily written and polemical. One can only hope that more Syrians, with better access to and understanding of the country, write their stories. Their take on the war needs to be heard.'

In Yarmouk, hope is the only currency with value

A child fills a container with water in Yarmouk last month.

 'Yarmouk, Khateeb’s home, a once-bustling neighbourhood in southern Damascus and a symbol of Bashar al-Assad’s regime’s supposed dedication to the Palestinian cause, is in ruins after being starved of food, water and electricity by the government in a brutal three-year siege.
 Khateeb and his friends participated in demonstrations, but never organised anything inside the camp, which housed many refugees fleeing other parts of Syria, to keep it neutral. But, he said, the regime was determined to drag the Palestinians into the conflict, allowing local factions to distribute weapons at random for self-defence and demanding they act as local enforcers.
 In response, rebels entered the camp, the Palestinian factions that were supposed to defend it withdrew and the regime responded with air strikes, many of which killed refugees. It slowly ramped up the siege, first limiting food, medical supplies and fuel, then finally imposing a total blockade that has lasted to this day.
 The brutality of the siege has left Khateeb with a desire for “personal revenge” against a regime whose violence has meant that he had to personally bury about 10 of his friends. It was that brutality, he said, that had led to the rise of extremism in Syria, where Isis now controls roughly half the country’s landmass and Jabhat al-Nusra, the al-Qaeda affiliate, reigns as one of the most powerful rebel groups.
 “Extremism is a result of extremism,” he said. “The revolution was peaceful, the regime acted with monstrosity, people carried weapons. The regime launched air strikes, more gunmen emerged. The regime used chemical weapons, people became Islamist. The regime killed women, people became Nusra. It became more extreme, people became Daesh (Isis).”
 Khateeb was not surprised when Isis entered the camp in collusion with the local branch of Jabhat al-Nusra, many of whom had secretly pledged allegiance to Islamic State.
Still, he resents how the Syrian uprising is portrayed outside the country as a battle between the regime and Isis, which he described as a “cancerous organisation”.
“When Daesh entered, 10 people were killed in the fighting but, before that, 170 people died of hunger,” he said. “Those who see the events in Syria with the lens of Isis and extremism are partners in the massacre against the Syrian people.”
“Yarmouk has been dying for three years,” he added.'

The exodus from Syria has reached 'almost biblical proportions'

<p>A Syrian refugee child who has been living in a tent in Jordan since fleeing her hometown of Idlib.</p>

 'A few weeks ago, Mo's life took a dramatic turn. He was picked up by Syrian authorities and held for ransom. Basatneh says government officials have asked for approximately $50,000 for his release.  "The regime has been battling the Syrian revolution for five years now. They are losing resources, they are losing money," she says. "They hardly have anything so now they are up to the point where they're detaining activists and asking for money." '

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Assad did that

Mohyeddin Kassar: 'Assad did that with Russian Air bombers and Obama has been preventing Syrians from defending themselves for four years... 
Do you think that one day you will not wake up and ask "why they hate us?".'

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Challenging Stereotypes with Syrian Refugee Children in Turkey

Dick Simon responds to the question he was asked by Syrian refugee children in Turkey – “Why does everyone hate Syrians?”
 "They listened politely. And then they started asking questions. Tough questions. Although Karam Foundation’s programs have a strict no-religion/no-politics policy, my topic stirred something in the students.
Why is the regime’s use of chemical weapons not considered terrorism?
Are ISIS beheadings worse than dropping chemical weapons and barrel bombs slaughtering thousands of your own people?
Why does the kidnapping of three nuns in Maloula receive international media focus while no one cares about the slaughter of more than 200,000 people, including tens of thousands of women and children?
One handsome boy in the front row, Ali, dressed in a pressed white shirt and jeans, looked at me directly while asking, “How can you tell me there is no THEM? I watched THEM hang my uncle from a tree, cutting him with a knife until he bled to death. If America wanted to do something, they would have done it already. Why does everyone hate us?” He looked down at his desk, hiding his tears."

Sunday, 5 July 2015

ISIS stronghold capital surrounded by Kurdish forces and Free Syrian Army

Image result for ISIS stronghold capital surrounded by Kurdish forces and Free Syrian Army

' “While having control of Ain Issa, south of the strategic city of Gire Spi, Kurdish forces and the Free Syrian Army are reportedly being deployed in areas 35km northern the city of Raqa,” Rudaw correspondent Omar Kalo said on Saturday.
 “YPG and the Free Syrian Army have liberated Ain Issa from al-Baghdadi’s militants, and now we are in the heart of the town, “Hussein Jassim, an FSA soldier told Rudaw.'