Thursday, 21 January 2016

Secret Syria Network Saves Lives with Air Raid Warnings


 'In Syria's coastal Latakia province, Abu Mohammad sends a warning from his phone to a secret network of colleagues: "Caution: A Russian plane just took off in your direction." Moments later, activists in a rebel-held area in northwestern Syria sound warning sirens that prompt civilians to take cover before incoming air raids. The message, sent via the mobile application WhatsApp, is part of an effort by a network of civilian and rebel coordinators across Syria who call themselves "the monitors".

 From positions near government-held military airports, they use messaging services or walkie-talkies -- depending on Internet coverage -- to warn activists, medics, and rebels about incoming aerial attacks. "I know when the plane takes off, and as soon as it does, I tell people that a plane is coming towards them. As soon as the news reaches people, they either hide in their bomb shelters, or some people hide in underground tunnels."

 Even before the Russian campaign began, activists had begun trying to find ways to minimize casualties in air strikes. "When the regime began using warplanes and helicopters on cities, people started thinking of ways to warn civilians," activist Hassaan Abu Nuh told AFP via the Internet. "After a lot of attempts at other things, they decided in the end to hook walkie-talkies up to the loudspeakers in the minarets of mosques."

 Russia's role in the Syrian conflict has added a new challenge for the monitors, who say they have been able to decode intercepted messages in Russian. "After a while, the guys on the ground were able to break the Russians' communication code -- as well as monitor the planes by sound and sight," Abu Nuh says. "These warnings have saved the souls of many civilians... this is life or death for people in these areas." '

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