Saturday, 5 December 2015
' "Farah" was born in Britain but grew up in Syria. Last year, she was arrested by the Syrian government security forces, who accused her of being an opposition activist. She blames Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for the torture that followed, and sees him as a bigger menace than Islamic State.
On one occasion she was tortured with electrodes. "I fainted - so I didn't feel the pain like when they used to hit me," she says. But she remembers clearly "the fear" before the event. One of the other girls in the same cell as her said she was raped. Farah didn't see this, but was threatened with rape herself. "Not just rape, but gang rape," she says.
Farah believes that she was spared even worse treatment because she was a dual UK-Syrian national - the guards nicknamed her "British" even when they were insulting her. But they tortured her psychologically as well as physically.
One incident, when a guard tortured an elderly man in her presence, sticks out in her mind. "He was just in front of me and they put him under electrocution. I had to see. I'm sure the man died. He just fell on the floor, and they carried him and threw him out of the room," Farah says.
"One time they hanged a man from his legs and hands. I tried not to see, but sometimes they hold your face to see. They were pulling the ropes… They split him. Until now I remember his voice shouting, and then suddenly I couldn't hear anything."
Her views echo those of many Syrians caught between Assad and IS. "When we say we want to get rid of Assad it doesn't mean we want ISIS - or we are happy with ISIS. In a way they are both the same, just with different ways of killing," Farah says. "Assad is the one who brought ISIS to Syria with all his death and destruction. We have to get rid of Assad and then we can get rid of ISIS." '
Friday, 4 December 2015
'From the very first day of fighting in these areas, pro-regime forces have used a rolling barrage of strikes, along with weapons that are prohibited internationally. In parts of Khan Tuman, pro-Assad forces waged rocket and missile attacks every twenty seconds. We have not seen this intensity previously.
Additionally, these attacks have high precision, which we have not experienced from the regime and Iranian forces before the Russian intervention.
Thank God, FSA forces, amongst them Fastaqim Kama Umirt, which is a key group in the area of weapons stores in Khan Tuman and in the area of Jabal al-Ais, along with other rebel groups, has been able to adapt to the regime’s new tactics.
Accordingly, we have transformed the conflict from one of direct confrontation into a series of smaller attack and retreat skirmishes that have weighed down advancing forces and taken away the advantages provided by air-cover and heavy weaponry.
The firepower density is awesome and has high precision because of the reconnaissance planes that broadcast directly to Russia’s control room. The true miracle is that Assad’s forces, with the support of more than 20 Iraqi, Lebanese and Iranian sectarian militias, Iranian field commanders and Russian air coverage, have failed to do more than take al-Ais.
In the meantime, it has failed to take control of Tel Khilsa and to advance even an inch at Khan Tuman, praise be to God. Now, the rebels are working on recovering al-Ais. It’s our turn now, since the enemy forces have gone from the offensive to the defensive.
Adding credence to Saqar’s assertions, a local opposition television channel confirmed the death of Iranian General Masoud Akbari, commander of Assad’s military operations in the southern Aleppo countryside, in a rebel attack on his personal vehicle using an American-made TOW missile.
Abu Rahal, another opposition commander operating in the area, diminished the importance of the regime’s recent progress in and around Aleppo, pointing to the dozens of pro-Assad forces—most of whom, he alleges, hail from Shia militias in Lebanon and Iraq—that rebel groups have killed.
Abu Rahal added that “we must acknowledge that we’re fighting Russia, Iran and Lebanese Hezbollah while entirely dependent upon friendly entities for support, who mainly just give us some basic arms. [Our] current means, in comparison to the enemy, is nearly non-existent. In other words, we should not compare us as Syrian revolutionaries to our enemies in Assad’s camp.” '
Thursday, 3 December 2015
Wednesday, 2 December 2015
'Once, Taofik Alhallak made his living interviewing Syrian artists, thinkers and doers, and scripting children’s shows for his television production company. Now, the 65-year-old huddles at his laptop in northern Virginia, an asylum-seeker chronicling the devastation of his homeland while trying to help save it. "Hundreds of thousands of Syrian children [are] out of school today," with civil war disrupting classes and leaving youngsters poorly educated and vulnerable, he blogged a few days ago for his website. He urged parents there to guard against overtures from the Islamic State group, saying, "Daesh … turns them [youths] into thugs."
The website – SalebMujeb.com, Arabic for "Positive Negative" – gives Alhallak a voice in Syria, one that he says the Assad government has repeatedly tried to silence. "Every article is about the revolution," explains his son, Urwa Alhallak. Most of the posts "are spreading awareness of how society could move into democracy."
"I feel this little wall every time I meet with friends," says Urwa Alhallak, 35, who arrived in the United States in 2007 to study filmmaking. "I say I’m from Syria, there’s this silence.... I feel like inside they will think: 'Syrian? Maybe terrorist?' It’s not going to change easily." He and his parents describe themselves as secular Syrians. They remember Damascus as a diverse and tolerant capital city. "We have Muslims, Christians Jews, we always lived together. It’s a mix,” says the younger Alhallak. "My parents didn’t really care about money or the house. They want a free, strong Syria, and they didn't care if they lose everything for this cause." '
Tuesday, 1 December 2015
"For Youssef Seddik, director of the press center of Aleppo, the Western media talk too much about Daesh. And not enough about the revolutionaries fighting to get out of hell.
Aleppo is separated into two parts as was Berlin. The western part is under the control of the forces of Bashar Assad. The centre is under the control of the revolutionary forces. Daech recently entered the region from the east. The artillery and aerial bombing are daily. Many people have left. But a significant portion of the population resists. In the eastern part of the city, there are five hundred thousand inhabitants of the three million there were before. Those who remain are trying to build a civil society, with neighborhood committees to deal with empty houses, manage daily life and the care of basic needs. But for a month and a half, Russian aircraft have bombed us, and each day the bombing is worse. We've seen devices that had never been seen before, faster, more powerful, with a special explosive charge. Sometimes we saw four to six planes at once. They never leave the Aleppo sky. It is estimated that Russian forces hit 5% Daesh and 95% the revolutionary forces. These attacks cause a new exodus. One hundred thousand people have fled.
It's eerie. Daesh takes all the space. Western media show everything that comes from them while other moderate Islamist groups have a much solid popular base in Syria. Revolutionaries and other Islamist groups are composed of normal people who are fighting for noble causes, that of their people, to get out of this hell. Daesh does not represent Islam, it deceives youth, it uses them as one would throw wood into the fire, it is a holocaust. They are monsters, criminals, traitors, Islam has nothing to do with that. And we talk too much Daesh. Really, it's been two years now talking about them constantly. We talked about it to begin with excessively while Daesh had not the strength it has today. It is reinforced with Mosul in Iraq and the battle after it took the army barracks and ammunition depots in north-eastern Syria. In our fictional battles. There is a secret agreement between the Assad clan and Daesh. Assad leads imaginary battles against Daesh, he leaves arms dumps to them without a fight, as we have seen in rural areas near Homs, and Palmyra. In return, Daesh do not attack Assad's forces and even blew up Palmyra prison, a symbol of the tyranny of Assad: it had no interest in documenting this and thus erased all trace and record of the torture practiced here for years by the regime.
France and the West cannot beat Daesh. They must first dry up its funding, oil that pays them two million dollars a day. But there will be no results until Daesh faces ground forces supported by airpower ... And the revolutionaries, there will be no total war against Daesh if Bashar Assad is not eliminated first. This is the target number 1. It was he who helped create Daesh by releasing hundreds of Islamists in May 2011. It may seem strange to Westerners, but for us, the worst terrorist, is not Daesh, but Assad. A terrorist in modern dress and civilian clothes.
The revolutionaries in Syria have never sought war; on the contrary, have always sought to demonstrate peacefully to change the dictatorial regime. It is this regime that has imposed war on us. We have lost many friends there and sacrificed a lot in order to free our people. Our defeat would mean the victory of dictators, and the loss for humanity in the sense of struggle for freedom. We will not allow this to happen.
We received number of journalists in recent years and we are ready to welcome who wants to enter Syria. Nothing threatens journalists in areas controlled by the revolutionaries. Neither Daesh nor the Assad regime have any power in the liberated areas. If there is a danger is that resulting from aerial bombardments or the risks inherent in journalistic work in combat zones."
' “The sad reality,” Rafael Foley said, “is that chemical weapons use is becoming routine in the Syrian civil war.”
The first incident occurred near the Syrian town of Marea. The awful details of the attack have already been reported in the New York Times by C. J. Chivers, who has done so much to report on chemical weapons issues in Iraq and Syria. A chemical mortar hit a home. The agent — sulfur mustard — burned three family members and killed an infant. Unlike the attack against Ghouta, it seems the shell was fired by Islamic State militants.
Where did the insurgents get the mustard? There are any number of possibilities. The simplest explanation is that it may have been captured from the Syrian government. After all, no one thinks Assad gave up everything in his stockpile even though that was what he was required to do.
The second incident mentioned by the OPCW’s report is actually a series of attacks by the Syrian government that occurred over a period of months. Having lost their stockpiles of Sarin and mustard, the Syrian regime has resorted to filling barrels with chlorine, creating an improvised chemical weapon that can be dropped from a helicopter. The fact-finding mission documented series of so-called “barrel bomb” attacks in Idlib governorate carried out between March and May 2015; the OPCW has also documented many other uses of these barrel bombs since early 2014.
The real solution to the problem of sides using chemical weapons in the civil war is to stop the civil war. But, as I have written before, this seems unlikely. Assad won’t shuffle off into exile. He can’t win, but Russia seems unwilling to let him fall. And Obama seems unwilling or unable to do anything to change that calculus. And so the war grinds on, with the opposition groups pinned between Assad and the Islamic State, both of whom are glad to use every tool at their disposal, including chemical weapons, to destroy anyone in between. It’s no wonder that millions of Syrians have fled their homes.
I often hear people wondering what the use is of banning chemical weapons when so many other awful things are happening in Syria. And maybe it is an arbitrary line to pick — chemical weapons use compared to all the other travesties committed by the Assad regime and now the Islamic State. But at some point you have to say enough. For me, it’s chemical weapons. And who knows, maybe good things will happen if we show a little spine. But doing nothing seems unconscionable, particularly now that the Obama administration admits that chemical weapons use has become routine.
That’s a remarkable statement when you think about it. After Syria agreed to give up its chemical weapons, the president warned of “consequences” if Assad did not follow through. Now, two year later, a U.S. official can characterize the use of chemical weapons in Syria as routine, without so much as delaying a turkey pardon.'
Monday, 30 November 2015
“Cooperating with the moderate forces fighting on the ground is essential, otherwise the airstrikes are not going to be useful at all,” said Mohammad al-Hassoun, commander of a small group called Fursan al-Huria, or Knights of Freedom, north-east of Aleppo.
Bombing Isis oil infrastructure is already hitting its financial base, Hassoun said, but its opponents need to take the whole Turkish border with the help of ground troops so they can stop the supply of another key resource for the Islamist group, foreign recruits.
“Isis has two key resources, one is financial and one is human. Finally the coalition understands that those people are making money from the oil, and have started to bomb the oil, which is useful to cut their financial revenue,” he said. “If the FSA controlled the area [along the border] we could cut their human resources off too.”
Commanders’ hopes for new supplies range from stinger missiles to target Russian and Assad regime aircraft, which all groups want but know they will not get off western powers, to much more realistic demands for assault and sniper rifles. Several said they would also ask for tactical support in areas like mine detection.
“The British role was negative because they were just talking and doing nothing in Syria,” said Abu Qutaiba, a former fighter who is now a media and political activist for several groups. “Of course I support the airstrikes, but it depends how they do it. Even though its too late, I think any people could be involved against Isis are welcomed.”
“Is it going to be useful for the British and others to bomb? The problem is the big powers have a disagreement on who is going to fight who,” said Ahmad Shhab, also political adviser to a smaller group. “Some say their priority is Isis, while for the others the priority is to finish the opposition and the FSA and the Syrian revolution in the end.”
'Dear Member of Parliament, MPs are being asked the wrong question on Syria: Whether or not to bomb ISIS. Assad is the cause of ISIS. As long as the Assad regime remains, the terror threat will remain.
The resolution we need MPs to vote on: “That this house recognises the legal justification for humanitarian intervention in Syria on the basis of evidence of overwhelming humanitarian necessity and the lack of any other feasible or workable solutions; and calls upon the Government to take exceptional measures in order to avert a humanitarian catastrophe by imposing a no-bombing zone in Syria to enforce an end to aerial bombardment attacks against civilians.” '
Mark Mardell: "Muzna Al-Naib is an activist with Syria Solidarity UK. She says President Assad needs to be defeated before Islamic State can be tackled."
Muzna Al-Naib: "I think Mr. Cameron should start talking about the real problem in Syria, which is Assad. He needs to talk about it more effectively, and make the protection of civilians from Assad the priority, in order to defeat ISIS, and protect civilians here in the UK."
Mark Mardell: "But you're not against military action. You didn't join Stop the War at the weekend."
Muzna Al-Naib: "We didn't join Stop the War at the weekend, because we refused to participate in a narrative that didn't have the input of Syrians. Stop the War Coalition is not listening to Syrians. They need to start listening to Syrians, when we say the protection of civilians needs to be a priority."
Mark Mardell: "You're saying that President Assad is more of a problem than IS, Islamic State?"
Muzna Al-Naib: "Of course! Assad killed far more civilians than ISIS ever did. ISIS wouldn't be here if Assad wasn't in power. Assad killed so many civilians, that the Syrian people now doesn't have the power to fight back against ISIS or anyone else. People there are just surviving. ISIS came to the country, from outside the country, and took ground there, because people didn't have the power to fight back; because they are being bombed every single day by Assad, the youth of the country are being jailed in detention centres and tortured to death, and the whole country is fleeing. There are areas where they cannot flee, because they are under bombardment every single day.
Mark Mardell: "So if it does come to a vote in the House of Commons, how would you like MPs to vote?"
Muzna Al-Naib: "My concern is only for the Syrian people, and what I want MPs to do is start talking, and discussing, the protection of civilians, rather than sending more bombs to Syria. We don't need more bombs in Syria. We are not asking for an intervention, we are not asking for imperial powers to come and occupy our country, we're just asking for the Syrian people to be given a chance to fight their fight. We're not asking you to do our fight for us."
Mark Mardell: "How strong are the forces against President Assad. I mean, David Cameron has suggested there are 70,000 troops of the Free Syrian Army. Do you think that's correct?"
Muzna Al-Naib: "I think that's correct, but I also invite you, not just to look at the Free Syrian Army, I also invite you to see other elements of the picture. For example, civil society institutions, grassroots and aid organisations. They are a great example of how Syrians can be organised, how they can fight their own fight, how they are able to pursue their dreams of freedom, and for freedom create a Syria that has a place for all."
Sunday, 29 November 2015
'Assad has always claimed that Syria’s minorities – including Alawites and Christians, which make up about 10 percent of the population – would be defenseless in face of an uprising heavily hijacked by Islamists. But Hamira said that this narrative was false, and had long been propagated by Assad’s father Hafez, who ruled Syria for three decades until his death in 2000.
“Through lying and rumors…. [Hafez al-Assad] had implanted the idea that Alawites and Sunnis are not partners but enemies,” said the activist, adding that the Assad dynasty had always strived to present itself as a protector of minorities. “The truth showed that these minorities are the ones who are protecting the regime,” Hamira explained, claiming thousands of Alawites were killed to protect Assad’s “throne” and stay in power.
“The number of Alawites killed in comparison to their number [in proportion to Syria’s population] is very big. The regime is using them as fuel, they started thinking why my son is being killed but not those close to Assad’s family? No one is killed in Assad’s family,” he said. Kouch described protest slogans such as “you are in palaces and our sons in graves” as becoming more conspicuous. “Even in funerals, the [Alawite] families do not accept Assad’s relatives or those close to the regime, making it a form of protest,” said Kouch.
Both Hamira and Kouch agree that Assad’s “real supporters” come from different backgrounds - including Sunnis, who make the majority of the Syrian population. “Yes, of course, there are Sunnis who are still with Bashar Al-Assad…especially bourgeoisie of the Sunnis such as merchants from Damascus, Aleppo, even Homs cities,” Kouch said, showcasing how pledging political support to an embattled leader and personal interests interest and overlap.'
' “If I went to the UK parliament to make a speech, the first thing I would say is ask them to remove the cause [of our problems], which is Assad, not the symptom which is Isis,” said Abu Ahmad. “Hundreds of thousands of people died in the last few years, and no one came to bomb Damascus.”
“Why is this just in response to Isis? Why was no one moved when the regime was bombing us in Syria? Is it just because [terror] came to western countries? For us, it doesn’t matter which bombs are killing us,” said Mona, a teacher and activist who fled from Isis James Bond-style over the rooftops of her neighbourhood.
“People don’t like Isis at all, but if Kurdish forces come with the coalition to displace them they are both bad, and maybe some will think the least bad is Isis, so you are pushing them to join Isis,” said a nurse who reluctantly left Raqqa this autumn after the group tried to arrest him, although he still doesn’t really know why he came under suspicion. “If they want to help, they have to choose the right partner, not Kurdish forces. Picking the wrong partner might make people react against them. Tal Abyad is a perfect example. They used Kurdish forces as their partner and they displaced a lot of people.”
“It will not benefit us [for the coalition] to fight Isis [alone] because Assad has a good relationship with them,” said Feras, an activist and medical student who was one exam short of his medical degree when government forces jailed him. He later fled Isis, but says that fighting the group in isolation will not end the war: “The Assad regime is the main problem for us.”
“In this situation people won’t even support the Free Syrian Army as they are not credible,” the nurse said. Abu Mohammad agreed: “I like the FSA, but we need a real one; they are not organised and don’t have supplies.” '