Friday, 29 April 2016

Patients and doctors killed in Syria hospital airstrike

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 Rageh Omaar: 'Whatever remained of Syria's tenuous ceasefire, that came crashing down in the city of Aleppo today, buried along with at least fourteen people under rubble, ash and smoke. Even in streets already used to five years of unrelenting bombardment, there was desperation and anguish after the attack by Syrian government planes.

 As though the city's anguish wasn't enough, Aleppo's traumatised children have now had their last medical lifeline cut. All because of the death of this man, Muhammad Waseem Moaz; born, bred and educated at medical school in Aleppo, was the last paediatric doctor for the whole of Aleppo. All other paediatricians have either fled or been killed.

 Dr. David Nott, a trauma surgeon in a major London hospital, has volunteered in Syria, working in Aleppo in 2014. He knew Dr. Moaz.

 "If you take out the only paediatrician that's going to be able to look after children, the 200,000 children that are left in Aleppo will not get any medical treatment at all. Another year from now, perhaps there won't be any doctors left there, at all."

 This is the remains of the al-Quds hospital where Dr. Moaz worked. The medical supply stores and the treatment rooms left in utter ruin. Human rights groups have already accused the Assad government of directly targetting medical facilities. The UN says this conflict now kills a Syrian civilian every 23 minutes, and wounds one every 13.

 "The last child doctor in Eastern Aleppo was killed," said Jan Egelund, chairman of the UN humanitarian taskforce in Syria, "Hospitals have been bombed. What we basically see is that while people are bleeding, the health workers are unable to do their work."

 The targetting of doctors and hospitals is a grim weapon of war in Syria. The aim - to make civilians flee whole areas, and with over two million Syrians as refugees in the region, it's a weapon that's working.'


Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Syria’s saving will be through its women


 The Syrian mother is resilient and deeply loves her children — but not at the price of losing her dignity and that of her family,” Nadia Alawa, president and executive director of NuDay Syria, a humanitarian relief nongovernmental organization focused on empowerment through stability efforts for women and families, explained. “It has been very humbling to be able to help and provide relief to mothers who stand by their children and their right to live and believe in freedom.”

 One particular case study demonstrates just how resilient Syrian mothers are. NuDay Syria’s Outreach and Empowerment Center in the Turkish city of Antakya providesrefugee mothers, who may have lost everything except their pride, a venue to earn money on their own and learn skills, gain independence and renew their self-esteem. The center is also a school for refugee children, and NuDay Syria is raising funds to expand their educational endeavors at an additional location.

 “What makes our center run so smoothly is the fact that it is run by a mother who herself was an active participant of humanitarian efforts inside Syria. This woman is also a grandmother and is now the guardian of her orphaned grandson,” Alawa shared. (Her name is not being shared out of concern for her security.) The two narrowly escaped getting caught by the Syrian regime as they fled the country, making their way across a river to Turkey in a barrel.

 “Refugees do not leave their home country unless they really have to. In the case of Syrians, often not until their homes have gotten bombed, and the regime is actively targeting them. In the past two years, Syrian mothers are now also escaping ISIS, so they are running from two evils,” Alawa said.

 It’s easy to generalize the Syrian refugee crisis as being one and the same as other crises, but the staggering death toll, widespread displacement and mounting number of women who have been left in charge of their families’ survival have made it another story entirely. Historically, Syrian women were creative and economical when it came to running their households, so for NuDay Syria’s efforts, Alawa found it integral to bypass the humanitarian works typical of other relief organizations. Rather than focusing on short-term emergency initiatives, NuDay Syria has discovered first-hand that there is more that can be done with an expanded focus on self-esteem and sustainability.

 “Ensuring that [Syrian women] became empowered instead of victimized further by both the poverty and aid processes meant consequently that the resources would be used optimally and with a long-term outcome,” Alawa explained.

 The organization works in a besieged area near Damascus, Syria, with a mother-activist on the Syrian regime’s Most Wanted list. (Her name is also not being cited for her security.) Rather than standing back and disempowering herself — and in effect, those around her — she’s taken charge leading humanitarian efforts in an area with “several hundred widowed mothers and their orphans,” Alawa said. “We work together to ensure these families get food. Getting caught would likely mean torture until death. It is for mothers like this activist and those that she helps that inspire and drive me to keep going and to keep working towards being able to help as much as possible.”

 “These mothers want the same things we all want for our children: Freedom, happiness and choices in life. Their wants are so simple, yet we complicate them by hatred, power and greed — so much so that we forget who the victims really are.” '

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Who Knows Where The Time Goes?

 President Obama: "It would be a mistake for the United States, or Great Britain, or a combination of Western countries to send in ground troops and overthrow the Assad regime. But I do believe that we can apply international pressure to all the parties, including Russia, and Iran, who are essentially propping up Assad; as well as those moderate opposition that exist and may be fighting inside of Syria, to sit down at the table and try to broker a transition."

 It's a straw man. Nobody asked President Obama to send in ground troops to overthrow Assad. The only variation he allows for in this schema is that other countries might also invade. There are other options. In his interview with Jeffrey Goldberg¹ he mentions that John Kerry asked for missiles to be fired at specific régime targets. Hillary Clinton in the race for the Democratic nomination to be the next president has come out in favour of a no fly zone, while Bernie Sanders is opposed. He could have called for the Syrian National Coalition to be recognised as the legitimate government. He could have supported the establishment of the FSA as the national army. He could have exerted diplomatic pressure on Iran and Russia to give up support for Assad and his régime, and pressured them to allow an immediate transition to a democratic and accountable government.

 Instead he did none of those things. He recognised the SNC as the "legitimate opposition", allowing the US to pretend to be a friend and keep its leaders beholden to the West. He sent the CIA to Turkey's borders to act as gatekeepers to ensure that weapons that might stop Assad's massacres like anti-aircraft missiles were kept out, and the flow could be shut off if it looked like the rebels were advancing too fast. This isn't an inevitable policy for the US, but it is one that the dead weight of their previous choices has tied this administration to.

 Russia and Iran are propping up Assad. No kidding! That the President is forced to even mention that now is a sign of the reality of their complicity in the genocide forcing its way even into his twisted narrative. Where the US has uttered ritual denunciations of the Assad régime, it has been muted about those who have enabled it. There are sanctions on Russia over its actions in Ukraine. There are none such when it comes to Syria.

 There is no pressure on them, other than to get Assad to show up at Geneva. If you want to know why the peace talks are a joke, ask why the United States expects the Russians to give up Assad, let alone the régime, when there is no downside to doing so.

 And so to the moderate opposition. Who may be fighting inside of Syria. Not who are fighting against Assad, not who are fighting against Assad and ISIS, not who are the only line of defence against his depredations (other than the Islamists who are also fighting Assad and ISIS). Because that would be to give the game away, that there is an alternative to a US invasion as a way to stop the bloodshed. To maintain the illusion that there is no alternative to the status quo the victims of this war have to be rendered as unpersons.

 And what sort of pressure is the US going to exert on them, to force them to talks? To not make precondtions that Assad must leave, so that Iran and Russia can happily keep him in place, perhaps replacing him if he becomes inconvenient, but maintaining the core of the régime so they can retain their influence. All this talk of a transition is a con, designed to make it look like a game of musical chairs will bring peace. In reality the opposition knows that saying Assad doesn't have to go now means there will be no change, no democracy, no justice, no end to the rape and torture. The US administration believes, or purports to believe, that those are only functions of the war situation, Syrians know that the régime will not go back, cannot go back, to operating any other way. The US won't even support for the opposition's minimal basic demands, that prisoners be released, that bombing, starvation and torture stop.

 Just before that passage, from the full interview²:

 "Syria has been a heartbreaking situation of enormous complexity, and I don't think there are any simple solutions to Syria, and those who pretend that there are, probably haven't been paying attention to a lot of the details."

 Hypocrite. The man who can't tell us if the moderate opposition are fighting in Syria for sure, let alone who they are fighting against, lectures unnamed critics with undescribed solutions that they haven't been paying attention. Once again the claim of complexity is a charm to enable the avoidance of the elephant in the room. And then afterwards:

 "We continue to strike ISIL targets in Raqqa. There is going to be a military component to this, even as we try to bring an end to the civil war. In order to solve the long-term problems in Syria, a military solution alone, and certainly us deploying ground troops, is not going to bring that about."

 The incoherence should be clear. There is only a military solution being offered to deal with one symptom of the problem. While he casts this as a civil war, not a revolution against genocide, he can only continue to be seen to enable the Assad narrative that this is all about a struggle against terrorism, and there are no fundamental changes needed to bring about peace.

 Responding to the suggestion that the lack of assertive response or engagement by the US has helped the fuel the migration crisis:

 "You can't have it both ways. You can't say, 'We don't want to do anything in Syria,' our parliaments won't ratify any actions in Syria, but we do want the United States to do something about it."

 This is not a fair or true argument. The British parliament did agree last year to take action in Syria, but only against ISIS, the way President Obama likes it. When he and David Cameron presented proposals for action in 2013, they kept the options deliberately vague, enabling opponents to make it look as if they were starting another war. Even going to the legislatures, when they feel no need for other military operations, were a sign they didn't want the votes to go in favour of action, so that they could subsequently use them as an excuse for their inaction, as President Obama does here. None of the people who were protesting against the proposal for airstrikes are asking the US to sort things out, nobody is asking for what the President claims is the only interventionist course of action open to him.

 Meanwhile, the spokesman for the anti-ISIS coalition, Colonel Steve Warren, has offered implicit support to a Russian assault on Aleppo by saying³ it is mostly held by al-Nusra, the al-Qaida affiliate, which the US also likes to bomb, because its counter-terrorism focus makes them worse villains than the murderers of hundreds of thousands. And the White Helmets said of Friday:

 "Today has been the worst day in Syria for over a year. Attacks are everywhere….Tracking attacks in Aleppo, Idlib, Homs and Damascus. Furious intensity. Teams report streets littered with bodies….We return to work with sadness and heavy hearts."

 As the opposition said⁵ in suspending cooperation with the talks in Geneva:

 "For two years, Mr de Mistura was appointed in his task as a U.N. envoy and during this period the killing was increased or doubled in Syria and also the number of villages and areas that were under siege also increased where is Mr De Mistura and his team.

 We put our participation in the negotiations on hold to respect the Syrian blood that is shed under strike from the regime and its allies and to respect the Syrians who are killed of hunger following the siege and to respect Syrians who are killed under torture."

 President Obama says in the BBC interview:

 "Whether we like it or not, we live in an interconnected world...It would be tempting for a lot of people to believe we can pull up the drawbridge...It requires us to build international institutions, and support regional and international structures...In the absence of such cooperation, we won't solve these problems. That's true in Syria."

 Not all of us have castles, like his friends in the royal family, to pull up the drawbridge to. The only way this is true in Syria is if you think of Iran and Russia as partners whose sphere of influence needs to be respected, and ignore the demand of Syrians for sovereignty over their own country.

 He says of Libya:

 "I continue to believe that had we stood by passively, that Gadaffi would have killed enormous numbers of his own people. Libya would be embroiled in a continuing war, that would have been even more disruptive and damaging."

 That's what he's done in Syria, in spades, and no amount of reframing of the narrative will erase that.



Janine di Giovanni: The Morning They Came For Us

Free Syrian Army protesters marching against President Bashar Al-Assad in November 2012. Picture: Matthew VanDyke / Aletheia Films

 " 'I lay there hiding my face as they kicked and thought: “They are using my body to practise their judo moves.”

 And the entire time they were beating me, they kept saying: “You want freedom? Here’s your freedom!” Every time they said freedom, they kicked or punched harder. Then suddenly the mood changed. It got darker. They started saying if I did not talk, they would rape me.'

 By early 2012, reports began emerging of mass rape in Syria, they seem to be perpetrated predominantly by President Bashar al-Assad’s men, largely paramilitary agents known as Shabiha, or ‘ghosts’.

 Although Assad’s own government troops were not always the perpetrators, the Shabiha did most of the dirty work when it came to sexual violence. Their tactics were largely to incite fear within communities — to enter towns or villages after the government troops had been fighting nearby, and spread the word that they would rape the women — daughters, mothers, cousins and nieces. Frightened, people would run, leaving scorched earth behind. It’s a convenient way to ethnically cleanse an entire region.

 Sexual violence was not reported to be only against women either. There are many accounts of male rape, particularly in detention. Although prisons and detention centres were usually the most susceptible places for the crime to occur, it happened at checkpoints and when houses were being ‘cleansed’ as well.
 The danger of such confessions is they could not be verified as not having been given under great duress, but the testimony given by a captured Shabiha is still chilling documentation.

 Question: How long have you been with the security forces?
 Response: Since the beginning of the revolution.
 Question: What is your aim?
 Response: To quash the revolution.

 Question: Do you go out to carry out raids?

 Response: Indeed. We enter the houses to search. If there are men we push them out of the houses for a few hours. We take all the money and jewels we find. And if there are women, we rape them.
 Question: How many women did you rape?
 Response: Seven cases of rape.
 Question: Seven?
 Response: Indeed.
 Question: Where did these rapes happen?
 Response: Some at the village Al Fawl. First cases at the school, we raped them for six continuous hours. Then we entered another house as security forces on the ground that there are terrorists inside. We entered the house, we have tied the man, stolen jewels and money, and we raped women. One of them is from Knissat Bani Az. And we were four to rape her (me and three shabiha) and she committed suicide following her rape. The other case is a girl, we entered to search her house as security forces and we have stolen money and raped her. And there is another rape in Damascus. We entered her house on the ground we are security forces elements. We entered the house and raped the girl.


 A small, dark cell became Nada’s home for eight months.
 Nada’s cell was not even big enough for her already small frame to stretch out in; she remained curled up. The jeans she wore throughout the entire ordeal are still creased in the areas of her body which she was unable to move.
 Other men and women were kept in the cells next to her own. She did not know who they were, but they too would scream out, crying, pleading for mercy, for an end to the torture. Some cried for their mothers.
 “This was part of my torture,” she says.” To hear other people begging, and to know they were coming for me next. When they would stop in front of my door and turn the key — my heart would stop.”
 When she asked for water, they would bring a male prisoner, make him urinate into a bottle, and try to force her to drink it. When she spat it out, they would throw it back in her face. The male prisoner, equally humiliated, would avoid her eyes.
 “I remember every single one of their faces,” she says bitterly of her tormentors, of that memory. “I will look for them. I AM looking for them.”
 One day, when she was not telling them what they wanted to hear, they brought her to an all-male cell where the prisoners were in their underwear.
 “I am a conservative Muslim woman, I thought I was being given to these men for them to rape me,” she said. “And so I started screaming. I think I screamed for three hours. Until my throat was stripped raw. They wanted to break me. And they did. Finally, I said, ‘Okay, I will tell you the truth’.”
 She said she talked. She told them things. But what she told them was not enough. After several hours, they moved her — the first of many moves — and brought her to a place that she calls “the horror room”. The room was only as wide as “a man’s body”. They tied her hands to an iron bar behind her back.
 Then a man entered with a whip. “Every time I said something he did not like,” she says, beginning to break into sobs, “he whipped me.”
 Her bloodied and bruised body was then handed over to another interrogator, who was told, “Okay, now really take care of her.”
 “Now the real beatings began,” she says sombrely, “and the terrible things.”
 When we first met, she cowered when I touched her hand in greeting. She seemed broken, vulnerable. She would not use the word rape. She told her story in staccato. But after a while of sitting quietly, her face changed into a myriad of emotions — sadness, pain, then the heavy flood of memory, and finally revulsion. She told of the day they brought in a male prisoner and forced her to watch him being sodomised. As she talks, her voice deadened, she opens and closes her hand mechanically, clutching at the straps of her backpack. She starts to cry. It very quickly turns to a raw sobbing.
 “The things I saw ... the things I saw ...” she spits out.
 “It is unbearable to explain what I saw ... I cannot forget … I saw ... another prisoner being raped ... a man being raped. I heard it ... I saw it ... Do you know what it’s like to hear a man cry?”
 “I changed a lot when I was in prison,” she says quietly.
 Then she smiles. “But you know, even there, I was the revolutionary.”
 In between beatings and interrogation sessions, she confronted her jailers. She chastised them for small things, for prisoners’ rights. It gave her a feeling of having some control.
 “I made them get plates for the other prisoners!” she says proudly. “I made them realise we are not just dogs to be kicked and used, but people. I made them put plastic over the broken windows.” She looks faintly triumphant. “Before we had nothing, then we got plates!”
 Small victories for a broken spirit."