Saturday, 13 August 2016

"Nobody in this country is advocating an American military intervention"

 Nicholas Burns:

 "Back in 2012, we know now that she [Hillary Clinton] was part of a group, including Leon Panetta and David Petraeus, advocating not that the US intervene militarily in Syria, but that we arm those Sunni rebels that could oppose the Assad régime; and the Assad régime has killed most of the civilians in Syria. In 2013, if you do draw a line in the sand as President Obama did, and then if Assad crossed it and you do nothing, that is a symbol of weakness. So I think actually she's in the mainstream of what most Democrats, and most Republicans, here in our country, and I think in many European capitals, think would have been the right way to go on Syria.

 I think it made sense in 2012, and still makes sense in 2016, that if there are Syrians in the Sunni majority Arab community in Syria, who want to defend themselves, who are not part of the Islamic State or Jabhat al-Nusra...In this civil war, that has produced twelve million homeless, the destruction of the entire country, the greatest humanitarian crisis of our time, we shouldn't stand by.

 Nobody in this country, my country, is advocating an American military intervention. But what we are advocating is two things. Help those moderate Sunni rebels who want to defend their homes, and their villages, and their towns, against this rapacious government in Damascus, and its Russian, Iranian, and Hezbollah allies. Number two, you've got to help the refugees, and that means we've got to get humanitarian aid corridors by the United Nations and NGOs into Aleppo, which is being besieged right now, pressure the Russians and the Chinese to stop vetoing those aid columns at the United Nations. This is not an intervention of the type, and it was wrong I think in retrospect, of the type of Iraq in 2003, it is simply trying to deal responsibly with the greatest crisis in the Middle East and Syria and Iraq. It also means we have to fight the Islamic State, and that's what Europe and the Arab world and the US are trying to do."
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Friday, 12 August 2016

Chasing bananas, dodging bombs: Life and death in besieged Aleppo

 Zaina Erhaim:

Within couple of days, they will take the last road connecting Aleppo city to its suburb, Castello,” he said. “I must leave now to make it in.”

 In 2012, Mahmoud Rashwani, a 30-year-old activist, had left his home and family in Aleppo after he was arrested and tortured for participating in peaceful demonstrations. On 12 July, he left another family – me and our six-month-old baby – to go back to what is left of Eastern Aleppo. Vegetables and fruits were already running out in the city, so he carried some tomatoes to share with friends, and walked through the middle of the night with two doctors, who infiltrated through the government siege along with him. I couldn’t help feeling abandoned. I was left with the great burden of taking care of a baby on my own. Still at least, I am not being left for another woman, but rather for a siege and a cause.

 “I saw a banana today! But I couldn’t catch it. It was running fast in the first-aid car that entered the city,” Mahmoud wrote on 10 August. Among the estimated 300,000 to 400,000 people living on Aleppo’s eastside, Mahmoud hadn’t had any vegetables or fruit for the past month. Aside from lack of fresh food, civilians in Aleppo were suffering shortages of fuel, canned food, eggs, sugar, flour and baby milk. Bakeries have stopped selling bread. Instead, local councils are distributing it to achieve a balance so people will not hoard the precious commodity.
 “The shelves of shops were all empty by the fourth week of the siege,” Salah, a media activist living in Aleppo, told me. “The big generators providing electricity to our houses stopped working because they couldn’t find fuel.”
 The reasons Salah was drawn back into Aleppo were no different from those that took Mahmoud from us. “Being here will help the besieged civilians - either by documenting what’s happening to them with my camera or providing moral support to them,” he told me.
 Although the encircling of Aleppo could be seen coming for months, it still shocked people.
 “We were surprised when it happened, in spite of speaking about it for so long,” said Samar, director of counselling and social support in the Space Of Hope organisation, a local development group working inside the city. When the siege began, they ramped up a household farming project run by activists who volunteered to find and distribute seeds of basic vegetables to families so they could work towards food self-sufficiency. 
 Like other organisations in Aleppo, Space of Hope didn’t stop providing services and running child educational centres during the siege. “To give the people a sense that life hasn’t stopped, we are carrying on, and so are our projects,” Samar told me.
The main challenge the organisation has faced is the lack of fuel and the sudden halt of transportation. Even amid blazing heat and skies bristling with prowling jets, walking is the only available option. Public coordination has shown its worst face over the past month. Some traders hid food to sell it later at even higher prices. But others kept prices the same, telling buyers, “We live and die together”. Some activists turned their cars into free public taxis to help those struggling to move around the city.
 Samar hasn’t seen her 19- and 12-year-old daughters for four months, and when she finally managed to get permission to cross the Turkish border to see them, the road to Aleppo was cut.
 “I was so desperate and sad that I couldn’t hold my tears and stopped speaking to them, fearing that I might collapse,” she said.
 Her shaky voice faded as we talked, then she continued: “When the rebels opened the road, I felt the ultimate happiness, more than when I held Momena (one of her daughters) in my arms for the first time. I really can't describe it to you.”
 Amid the siege and before the rebel counter-offensive, public spirits hit a low. People resigned themselves to a destiny like that of Madaya, a city that has suffered for years from siege and hunger.
 As the siege was broken, Salah said, “the public mood lifted dramatically, people went down to the streets offering any kind of help, they all started burning tyres creating a black cloud to block the [Russian and Syrian] air force, applying a homemade no-fly-zone."
 It didn’t offer much protection though. Bombing during the siege and even now is extensive, mostly targeting the road through which people can flee the besieged city.
 “This is how humanitarian the corridors suggested by the regime are,” Berbers Meshaal, a group leader of the While Helmets (civil defence force), told me.
 Berbers lives with his wife in the city, and is awaiting the arrival of more supplies, while Salah, Samar and Mahmoud eye the road, a couple of metres of asphalt that separates them from their families, some for years in a recurrent scenario for Syrians as the UN stands by worrying, only worrying.' 

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Saraqib Being Annihilated By Russian Airforce

 Press Release   
 Syrian Coalition
 August 8, 2016

 "Russian air force continues to bomb the town of Saraqib in rural Idlib relentlessly, targeting mainly residential neighborhoods, civilian homes, and vital civilian facilities. The brutal Russian airstrikes did not even spare the blood bank building, ambulances, mills and the only water station in the town. The main public market was reduced to rubble by intense, deliberate airstrikes. At least 80 airstrikes targeted the town in the past week, with cluster and thermobaric bombs used in many of those raids.

 Nearly 35,000 civilians fled Saraqib after their homes have been destroyed in the continued Russian bombardment.

 As Russia’s war crimes and blatant violations in Syria continue unabated, the Syrian Coalition calls upon the international community to take urgent action in order to deter Russia’s aggression on Syria and stop its barbaric crimes against Syrian civilians.

 Recovering the bodies of the Russian crewmembers whose helicopter crashed on the outskirts of Saraqib can only be achieved through negotiations. The Russian invaders must realize that taking revenge on civilians and threatening to annihilate the town of Saraqib will only serve to further complicate the situation.

 Crimes carried out by Russia and the Assad regime against the Syrian people provide further proof that their strategy to bring the Syrian people to their knees by military force will not work. Military escalation will not break the will of the Syrian people who will eventually emerge victorious and decide their own future. Invaders and tyrants will not have a role in or place in Syria’s future.

 May our wounded recover, our detainees be free, and our fallen heroes rest in peace.
Long live Syria and its people, free and with honor."

Monday, 8 August 2016

Syria's opposition is on the verge of one of the most 'surprising' victories of the revolution


 'A nearly month long government siege of Syria's largest city is on the verge of collapse after a week of heavy fighting in northern and eastern Aleppo led to the defeat of pro-regime forces by a coalition of Syrian opposition groups.

 The Free Syrian Army — aided by a military alliance of several rebel brigades known as Jaysh al Fateh, or the Army of Conquest — successfully regained control over a significant portion of Aleppo, including a government supply line leading into the city from the south and a major regime artillery academy.

 "There was initially significant resistance from the pro-regime forces, but after parts of the frontline were re-captured by the rebels, the regime-allied forces deteriorated very quickly," said Syrian journalist Hadi Alabdallah.

 "It was very surprising, and much faster than anyone had expected. Officers from those [pro-regime] militias fled that their soldiers out on the field, so they started to flee as well. That's why the artillery academy was so easy to overrun — it was captured within two hours."

 Alabdallah's account lines up with what one alleged Hezbollah fighter said in a tape recorded during last week's heavy fighting, which was later leaked on social media.

 "They [fellow pro-regime fighters] all left us, the Iranian, Afghans and Syrians … all of them left us. We are like dummies, we don't know anything, we are fighting alone. I went to the academy in the afternoon … and only the Lebanese were still there."

 He cautioned against characterizing the battle as an offensive launched and won by Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, an Islamist rebel brigade formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra, Al Qaeda's affiliate in Syria, until late last month.

 "There have been many different players, all playing a critical role," Alabdallah said of the opposition. "The forces fighting the regime from inside Aleppo have been almost exclusively FSA [Free Syrian Army]. When it comes to operations in southwest Aleppo, Ahrar al-Sham probably played a bigger role than Jabhat Fatah al-Sham."

 Still, Alabdallah said, it remains difficult to say whether any of the rebel groups played an outsize role in the fight to break the siege.

 "Jaysh al Fateh used to fight in a way where each group would take a different front, so that they were essentially divided on battlefield," Alabdallah said. "They would attack together but their resources would be divided. The policy now — in this battle at least — is that all the groups are intermixed in battle. It's a much more cohesive operation."

 Alabdallah stressed that the cohesiveness of the operation does not necessarily indicate that the former Al Qaeda affiliate is winning over hearts and minds. The group still "differs too much ideologically" with the more mainstream groups, he said. Rather, Jabhat Fatah al-Sham is just one component of a much broader military alliance of groups that each bring their own strengths to table.

 "Some smaller groups might explore merging in with Jabhat Fatah al-Sham," Alabdallah said. "But I don't expect the dynamics to change that much — the ideological differences are still there."

 Photos of an aid convoy carrying food into the rebel-held east from Idlib prompted civilians to take to the streets in celebration — e ven as the threat of intensified airstrikes loomed over them.

 "The civilians are so happy," Alabdallah said. "They will continue to be bombed, and they will continue taking whatever precautions they need to to avoid being killed in the airstrikes. But at least now they won’t be starving." '

Syrian refugees settling in US at a faster clip

Syrian refugees settling in US at a faster clip

 'When Ajwad Al Zoubi, a tall, stocky man who for years drove trucks across the Middle East, saw the emailed photo of his beloved home with the bountiful orange trees burned to the ground, he turned into a pool of tears. They come suddenly, even now, when he talks about it.

 Before the war he couldn't have fathomed leaving his hometown in Syria. It was here where he built up two stores and designed his dream house for his mother, wife and nine children. Then government forces came searching for him in a wider strategy to detain all adult men. Dara'a, the forefront of Syria's protest against President Bashar al-Assad, was becoming a graveyard.

 For Al Zoubi, the nation's opposition to Syrian refugees doesn't fit with people like him who have lost everything.
 "We came here from Syria to escape (such extremism,)" he said of safety concerns regarding refugees. "That's not us. We ran away from what they are describing."
 The 42-year-old still remembers the March 2011 protests that sparked the war clearly, catapulting Dara'a into the "cradle of the revolution." Following the success of protests in Tunisia, 15 teenage boys in Dara'a spray painted anti-government graffiti on a school wall. They were arrested and tortured, suffering beatings, electric shocks and having their fingernails ripped off.
 The city of about 150,000 people roughly 8 miles north of the Jordanian border erupted in widespread protest. Al Zoubi attended some of them. Security forces cracked down, killing hundreds of people over the next month, including the nephew of Al Zoubi's wife.
 Life in Dara'a turned increasingly complicated. To punish the city's residents, the government cut electricity and blocked telephone and Internet service. Water and bread became luxury items.
 "The government started destroying the city," Al Zoubi said.
 For a time, the family tried to stick out the violence, huddling together at home. But with roads into the city blocked, Al Zoubi could no longer buy the items he sold in his stores and he resumed driving trucks.
 During one such trip away, security forces raided his house, threatening his 63-year-old mother and violently pushing the diabetic to the floor with the butt of a rifle. They were searching for Al Zoubi. According to Human Rights Watch, which investigated the attacks in the city, security forces detained hundreds of adults and children in such random sweeps.
 Fearing that he would be taken into custody too, Al Zoubi went to Jordan, where he thought he could work while the conflict tided over. But it only worsened. His children saw bombs erupt as they played outside and he said security forces drove through their neighborhood, shooting at random.
 On May 28, 2012, his family piled into a taxi with just enough clothes to convince border guards that they were only visiting Al Zoubi in Jordan for the weekend. They never came back. After a friend later emailed him a picture of the charred remains of his house, it sunk in- finally - that he could never go home again.

 His wife, Taghred Ahmad, has scouted all of Houston's Arabic markets, discovering to her delight that she can find most of the traditional delicacies they were accustomed to at home. One of the kids, 17-year-old Mohammad, used to wake up terrified in the middle of the night, shaking from nightmares of the shelling of bombs. Now he is slowly learning to sleep through peacefully.'

Sunday, 7 August 2016