Thursday, 8 December 2016

Doctor reveals horrific torture in prison as Amnesty International estimates 17,723 detainees killed

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 'Bashar Farahat, a 32-year-old doctor, was working in a hospital in Latakia province when he was arrested by officers from Syria’s notorious Military Intelligence Directorate in July 2012.

 “The minute you get in the car you disappear. You don’t know anything about the world outside and the world outside doesn’t know anything about you. Once you are detained you become the property of the guards and the interrogators can do anything to you to get a confession.”

  Mr Farahat believes he was reported to the authorities for supporting anti-government protests and treating those injured in the ensuing regime crackdown.

 The trainee paediatrician was taken to the headquarters of the Military Intelligence branch in Latakia and subjected to a so-called “welcome party”, where new arrivals are beaten publicly by groups of officers armed with metal bars and electric cables.

 “They hit you with whatever they want, whatever they have – I arrived alone, so I had a full party,” he said, with a bitter laugh.

 Mr Farahat would go through a fortnight of torture at the hands of government interrogators, who were searching for the names of other suspected revolutionaries to hunt down. Unsatisfied, officials transferred him to the much larger headquarters of Military Intelligence Branch 291 in Damascus.

 “I was blindfolded and they handed me over to an officer who started insulting me,” Mr Farahat recalled. “He said: ‘I will make sure you will never, never see the sunlight again.’ I thought it could be true.”

 He was put in a cell measuring just five by six metres that contained more than 100 men, mostly suspected of conspiring against the Assad regime.

 “I just don’t remember how I survived,” Mr Farahat said, describing horrific conditions during his four-month imprisonment including extreme heat, a lack of water and food, and dire sanitation.

 He shared a 30cm by 150cm patch of concrete with a cellmate, taking turns to stand and sleep to gather their strength for endless rounds of questioning and beatings. The prisoner witnessed seven people die during his detention, hearing tales of many more.

 “Some people were beaten to death during interrogation,” Mr Farahat said. “The torture is to make people confess but it’s also a method of punishment so they will never, ever think of joining the revolution. This has been going on for 40 years in Syria. Others died from illness or weakness – a small injury can become life-threatening because of the conditions in the cells and lack of medical supplies. I would try to help the injured people and knocked on the door asking the guards for medical supplies, or to be allowed to take them outside for fresh air,” Mr Farahat said. The guards would come to the bars and tell me: ‘Knock on the door when they die.’ It became a famous saying.”

 His account has been echoed by numerous other prisoners, including a man jailed at the Syrian capital’s Military Intelligence Branch 235. Ziad said dozens of people suffocated to death when a ventilation system stopped working in their cell. He added: “The guards began to kick us to see who was alive and who wasn’t. They told me and the other survivor to stand up - that is when I realised that I had slept next to seven bodies. Then I saw the rest of the bodies in the corridor, around 25 other bodies.“

 Mr Farahat was eventually moved to another prison in Damascus and tried by a “terrorism court”, which freed him after finding no evidence to support his continued detention. But he returned to his hospital to be refused work, having been blacklisted by the authorities, and had his dream of qualifying as a paediatrician within months dashed. While continuing to seek medical work, he was re-arrested with a group of friends in April 2013 as they ate at a restaurant.

 When he was freed for a second time six months later, he received a conscription note for mandatory military service and fled to neighbouring Lebanon illegally to avoid border checks.

 “I only told my parents when I had arrived in Lebanon but I wasn’t completely safe because there were spies for the Syrian regime,” he said.

 Using the testimony of dozens of torture survivors, Amnesty International has chronicled massacres at facilities including the notorious Saydnaya Military Prison, on the outskirts of Damascus.

 One man told researchers a prisoner was forced to rape another man by guards or be killed, while a jailed lawyer said 19 detainees were beaten to death after they were found to be learning martial arts.

 “They beat the Kung Fu trainer and five others to death straight away, and then continued on the other 14,” said Salam, a lawyer from Aleppo. “They all died within a week. We saw the blood coming out of the cell.” '

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Aleppo under Siege: Interview with Suqour al-Sham- an Islamist Rebel Perspective

 'Western media rarely gets an insight into how Islamist battalions work and think especially within the rebel operation room, Jaysh al-Fath, the Army of Conquest. This is a coalition of seven Islamist rebel groups including Jabhat al-Fateh al-Sham (JFS), Ahrar al-Sham and Suqour al-Sham. They remain the most effective and cohesive rebel force currently fighting in Aleppo. Whilst much is known about JFS and Ahrar al-Sham little is known about Suqour al-Sham or the Sham Falcons.

 Suqour al-Sham was formed in 2011 after peaceful demonstrations failed and became a fully fledged armed rebellion. Its founder Ahmed Issa al-Sheikh or Abu Issa formed the battalion after the death of his two brothers by the regime. He belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood as were many opponents of the regime in the eighties, and had been imprisoned several times by the regime but not as is often assumed, in Seydnaya prison where Islamist prisoners were kept. Through the merger of local groups in the Idlib province Suqour al-Sham became a powerful opposition group. In its heyday it expanded as far as Damascus and Aleppo province. It was instrumental in forming the Syrian Islamic Liberation Front but left in 2013 to join the Islamic Front which was more in line with its vision. In fact, Ahmed Issa al-Sheikh became the leader of the Islamic Front which was able to field an estimated 40 000 to 70 000 fighting men.

 Whilst Suqour works with AQ affiliated groups it has always felt uneasy about them. The group does not adhere to suicide operations or use terror tactics associated with AQ affiliates.

 In a rare and frank interview with Suqour al-Sham’s official spokesman Mamoun Mousa Hajj, Suqour gives its view on the current crisis. Mr. Hajj considers himself a revolutionary, he is a former student of agricultural engineering and Islamic law, and a graduate of communication studies. Although born in Jebel Zawiya, Idlib, he grew up in Aleppo and claims to have joined the revolution from its very inception. His political activities led to his arrest several times by the Assad regime. Instead of fighting however, Hajj used his specialism in the media to establish the Aleppo Media Centre and then moved on to being Suqour’s official spokesman.

 Q: Is the lack of rebel success in Syria because the Syrian opposition’s leaders are afflicted with a love for leadership and so the opposition cannot unify under one leader?

 Hajj: Our military leaders in all the revolutionary groups, have led from the front and are martyred every day. The reason is due to the lack of effective support from the Friends of Syria which is in contrast to the friends of the regime who have unlimited support and direct military intervention. The Russian role in Syria is immense- with the missiles that arrived recently and of course the air craft carrier that arrived carrying tens of air craft. It is unfortunate that the likes of Reuters report for instance that Grad rockets are reaching the revolutionaries but what is that in comparison? The missile was present since the second year of the Syrian revolution.

 Q: Despite support from the international community not forthcoming, don’t you think that after five years the opposition should be more united?

 Hajj: Of course to have one leader and every one fighting as one makes a difference, but with the character of the Syrian revolution, the regional situation and the international political climate, it is difficult. There is support for sectarian militias and the support for the regime is immense. With regards to the sectarian militias to say that they are united, in our experience is far from the truth as we have seen in Minyan, most of the criminal militias of the regime don’t stay long, only twenty percent remain. The battle is directed by Iranians and Russian forces and the sectarian Iraqi militias. We often hear of the problems they face when we intercept their communication systems, what happens to us they suffer twice over. The media has to be more accurate in this regard. Generally, more should be expected from the revolutionary groups and as I mentioned before, Suqour has been at the forefront of the unification process between the groups; the beginning was the formation of the Syrian Islamic Liberation Front and then our merger with Ahrar al-Sham. Currently, I can inform you that there are organisational procedures on the way outside of the Army of Conquest operation room, which will bear its fruit in the near future, it will lead to further unification of arms and military effectiveness.

 Q: How long will the Syrian conflict last? Are you optimistic? Do you regret this conflict?

 Hajj: As long as there is international support for Assad and no clear support for the Syrian revolutionaries it means that the revolution will continue. We as people and revolutionaries don’t look at the result but at the price we have paid to defend ourselves, we have a right to defend ourselves. We don’t regret it because we were compelled to take up arms as I mentioned before… not because taking up arms was one of the choices… The Syrian revolution was an example to others and I believe that considering all the attempts to hamstring the revolution, the car bombs and so on, in spite of it, we remain such. If we compare our revolution to others the situation is still good to a certain extent. So we don’t regret it, now there is no solution left especially with the occupation of the Russians and the Iranians. We must resist them and hope to be successful like any other people that have been oppressed in the past.

 Q: What has been the impact of US forces in Northern Aleppo province? Is their presence a good development?

 Hajj: With regards to the help from Turkish air and land support this has had a positive impact. After the Turks became serious about entering the country, they cleared up DAESH in Northern Aleppo in record time. In contrast to the Coalition despite it consisting of more than fifty countries and were there before them, they have not realised anything on the ground unfortunately. And this makes us doubt the seriousness of the Americans over Syria and DAESH.

 Q: If you could advise Western policy what would it be?

 Hajj: Western politicians have not dealt with Syria in a humanitarian way. Sadly, they have thought about their own interest. Syrian revolutionaries and we are of them, welcome any attempt to relieve the suffering of the Syrian people whether that is logistical or humanitarian aid. We hope that they deal with Syria within the framework of human rights which is required of them. We hope that they will participate in the humanitarian aims effectively, for the friends of Bashar al-Assad help them in men, materiel, economically and politically…Despite the fact that the international community has agreed on international human rights, so far there has been no attempt to bring charges against Bashar al-Assad, at the same time we have seen tens of rulers being charged with war crimes even ten years later…

 Q: Syrians don’t seem optimistic about Western involvement- is it possible for the West to change their course after five years?

 Hajj: Of course this matter would probably involve a change in president or leader, it is not possible to change the general policies- but at the same time we hope from God to change the opinion of Western and other non-Western societies with regards to the Syrian revolution. We don’t hope for a change in President or Prime Minister but we hope that God opens up ways that can change the opinions of international leaders and community with regards to the Syrian people.

 Q: What is your message to the people in the West?

 Hajj: Our message to Westerners is this: just like the majority in your countries enjoy privileges, express their identities, beliefs and ideas and all the world’s governments respect this. As the majority our identity is Islamic and we won’t hide it. It is up to the world to respect our identities. Our revolution was not for one day a civil war but from the day it started in 2011 it was a popular revolt started by school children. The criminal regime smashed this freedom. We hope the people in the West pressurise their government to help the Syrian revolution and push the Security Council, United Nations and influential organisations to establish safe zones and support the revolutionaries through arms in order to stop the very epitome of terrorist- Bashar al-Assad. We hope that people in the West listen to us, not just about us.

 Q: After five years of fighting isn’t the solution now a political one, rather than a military one?

 Hajj: With open help both militarily and politically by the great powers spearheaded by Russia to Bashar al-Assad and his militia, and the weak aid rendered from the so called Friends of Syria to the Syrian revolutionaries, of course the solution is not going to be a military one. But the continuation of the war, I mean the crushing of civilians, and after the regime and its criminal militias used banned chemical weapons and breaching human rights a thousand times…the Syrian revolutionaries have taken the decision not to be subjugated to anything other than the five points outlined by the Syrian Islamic Council.

 Q: Surely you have to be realistic? There are two parties, one party is stronger and they have interests and so do you, granted they commit war crimes but is it not time to do negotiate, if only to end the bloodshed?

 Hajj: For us it is not a problem to sit down, we will sit down with any group that will meet the Syrian people’s demands and needs whether that be Russian or Iranian, but if we have to negotiate with Bashar al-Assad, the terrorist, this has to be done through a competent intermediate, even with the Iranians it needs to be indirect because we consider them an enemy of the Syrian people. We have demonstrated how in Zabadani, the Iranians mediated with Ahrar al-Sham who represented the Army of Conquest. So we don’t have a problem sitting down with any party that leads to the end of this criminal regime. But we haven’t seen any seriousness from any party. The Russians say that they are going to turn Aleppo into Grozny at the same time they are negotiating to get the injured out of Aleppo with out any guarantees.

 Q: The warming of Russo-Turkish relations will it impact Suqour al-Sham?

 Hajj: Turkey like any nation has a political leadership, it has priorities and national interests that satisfies its internal and external ambitions without loosing its principles. We as a part of the Syrian revolution have found our Turkish brothers to be helpful and supportive in our aims and issues after we left our families and relations. Up to now, we have not experienced a negative impact with regards to Russian and Turkish differences being resolved.

 Q: So far, what has been Suqour’s view of the UN’s role in Syria?

 Hajj: Unfortunately, in Syria we associate the United Nations and its slogans with demographic change and the impotence to stop the criminal Bashar al-Assad… even by international law, they can’t even protect their own people as the recent targeting of the aid convoy by a Russian air strike in Western Aleppo shows. Then their warehouse, their boss and thirteen employees were killed. They asked for help to create a humanitarian corridor with out permission from the Assad regime to get them out. But only a few days earlier their convoys were waiting in Bab al-Hawa [under rebel control] for several days to obtain permission to enter besieged Aleppo from the regime! And then they said they can’t enter proffering a number of excuses because the roads were not secure and they had all the means to get it done.

 The latest declaration by De Mistura supports Russian aims that wants to see the removal of the injured revolutionaries and civilians without any guarantees from arrest or death, this is what the Russians want from the siege in terms of demographic change and putting pressure on the revolutionaries. The revolutionaries showed the contradiction in that behaviour, they [UN] never honoured anyone like they honoured Bashar Jaafari [ the current Syrian Permanent Representative to UN who was honoured for ten years of service] very recently.

 With regards to the UN being ‘appalled’ by the bombing of civilians [in Western Aleppo] in our recent military campaign. The operation was in military areas only, there weren’t any civilians inside them, just because they are called Ma’mal Karton or Kindi Hospital does not mean that they are civilian, when we say it is a Suburb of Assad [Dahiyatul Assad] it doesn’t mean that it is a suburb full of civilians. We have seen a lot of buildings that serve as military quarters. Any one who lives nearby will tell you that.

 With regards to civilian areas we teach our fighters how to deal with them in urban warfare and the rules of war, the Syrian revolution remains innocent and doesn’t target civilians, rather they protect civilians, a few days ago we protected civilians using our transport vehicles because we know that the regime targets civilians deliberately.

 Q: Should there still be a no-fly zone in Syria?

 Hajj: To have a safe zone is a solution but it is not the comprehensive solution. The revolutionaries have asked the international community for no-fly zones, this is a logical step to protect civilians who have suffered immensely.

 Q: Is there still a Syria? Some analysts in the West have suggested that it be partitioned?

 Hajj: The Syrian revolution will not end in surrender or by being split up. The Syrian people will not accept Assad and Iran’s attempt at demographic change. Even those they got out from Darayya and Moadhamiyeh which was was unfortunately supported by the UN and benefited the regime.

 Q: How will the battle of Mosul affect Syria?

 Hajj: Half of the criminal DAESH is in Iraq and the other is in Syria, certainly to fight DAESH in Mosul is a serious battle, to destroy their power is a good thing but as long as it is not a game, if it is to weaken them so we can push them out. But if Mosul is about bringing them to Syria the matter will be far more complicated.

 Q: Western media has depicted Suqour al-Sham as a Jihadi-Islamist group which is not as extreme as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham [formerly known as Nusra Front], is this an apt description?

 Hajj: We are Syrian revolutionaries, all our leaders are Syrian revolutionaries and were part of the first peaceful demonstrations. We were compelled to carry arms. Western media has painted us as terrorists when in fact the biggest terrorist in the region is Bashar al-Assad, and so young Syrians joined the various groups and this contributed to the various problems that has hampered the areas where the revolution entered.

 Q: Many Muslims and non-Muslims are deeply troubled by the ideas of al-Zawahiri and his handiwork because they believe that it is extreme. Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (JFS) despite renouncing Nusra Front still believes in some of his ideas. What is the position of Suqour in this regard?

 Hajj: After what the regime has thrown at the Syrian moderate revolutionary groups in reality the only choices was to become al-Qaeda, but they didn’t turn to them. It is proof that the groups are convinced that the way of al-Qaeda is not possible. Our aims are within our national borders and our aims are five which have been outlined by the Syrian Islamic Council and has been signed by all groups and activists. We are at the forefront of that.

 Q: Western fear of Jabhat Fateh al-Sham is that a realistic fear?

 Hajj: We are interested in ensuring that our ranks are united against the enemy that are attacking us with all the means available to him. There isn’t a militia in the world that hasn’t sent its people to fight us and hide amongst the ranks of Assad. This is what concerns us above any other matter.

 Q: What is Suqour’s vision for Post-Assad Syria, will it be a secular or an Islamic one? If it is an Islamic one, how will it work and how is it different from that of ISIS’ vision?

 Hajj: In the beginning like in many countries, we wanted to express our identity which is Muslim, this is the right of all nations. DAESH came and showed it to be one of terrorism and blood thirstiness. Unfortunately, much of the Western media got to know Islam through the DAESHI definition of Islam. But Islam respects democracy, freedom of expression and the freedom of the individual. So what we are working towards is a Syria built on law, justice and a state that respects individual freedoms and rights; that this state is not drawn from our perspective but comes with the full consent of the Syrian people after the fall of the criminal terrorist Assad regime.

 Q: Why do you use derogatory terms for sects which prevent groups like the Druze and others from joining you?

 Hajj: We have dealt with the various groups without sectarianism. To prove it, today there was an encirclement of the revolutionaries in Deraa, after the filming of our martyrs we filmed one of the officers that represented the enemy and he was Sunni, not Alawi or Druze. Our issue is not Druze, Alawi and is irrespective of what goes on in every day life. We don’t take issue with the Alawis, the Assad regime doesn’t allow his own sect to retreat and they have Alawi opposition members to this day. With regards to the Druze, there was a problem with them and Nusra Front in Maharim, Lousa. Ahrar al-Sham negotiated a settlement. Our position was clear, there were negotiations and we overcame the challenges. We have no problems with any group as long as they don’t fight us. We don’t care what flag they carry, if they have a beard, no beard, clothes, colour or whatever. If they fight us they are our enemies.

 Q: There are many reports that there will be an intra-rebel civil war- for instance Ahrar al-Sham HQ was blown up recently and there are suggestions that the culprit is from the Syrian opposition? Could you comment?

 Hajj: What happened to Ahrar [the death of its leaders] was painful to the group. It was a heavy blow for the moderate opposition especially given their impressive record. Nevertheless, the opposition groups have been able to face the challenges and remain united. The Ahrar al-Sham investigation has not been able to come to a decisive conclusion as to responsibility. But it is likely that Syrian and foreign intelligence agencies were involved.

 Q: Why did Suqour leave Ahrar al-Sham and then join the Army of Conquest [Jaysh al-Fath]?

 Hajj: This is incorrect, we never left the Army of Conquest. We were one of the founders of this operation room from the very beginning before the battle and liberation of Idlib. The media, especially Western media, often view the Army of Conquest as a unified whole, but this is not correct. Usually you see the operations of Jaysh al-Fath being presented alongside JFS as if they are one and the same and this is incorrect because Suqour has also had a lot of military successes. The operations room consists of seven groups which, once the plan is set, each group has his independent axis where he operates in conjunction with the other partners. Suqour merged with Ahrar after the liberation of Idlib and its actions went under the name of Ahrar al-Sham, after the siege of Aleppo we returned back to the operation room. The merger didn’t succeed because of administrative and organisational issues.

 Q: How does the Suqour view the struggle between Jund al-Aqsa and Ahrar al-Sham?

 Hajj: Before the military operation against Jund al-Aqsa the revolutionaries used to belittle them by calling them Jund al-‘Afa [the Army of the Rotten] and Jund al-Daesh [the Army of ISIS]. If we return to Jund al-Aqsa’s formation who are they? How did they take over areas like Sarmin and Musaybin? All the areas that they took over belonged to the Dawood Battalion [a Salafi-Jihadi battalion based in Idlib] and other groups like Jaish al-Sham, not to be confused with the one in Aleppo of the same name. This group consisted of members who didn’t join ISIS directly but they wanted to be a type of mustering point for joining ISIS in Raqqa. So if anyone wanted to join DAESH they would go to the mustering point in Sarmin village in order to travel to Raqqa. Those who didn’t want to join ISIS remained with the Dawood Battalion and became Jund al-Aqsa which was lead by Saudis, Emiratis and Kuwaitis whose beliefs were different. Even Nusra Front didn’t accept them at first. They thought they were better than Nusra Front and in some aspects more correct than them. So what does that mean? It means that they have affinities to DAESH. There have been many investigations that have established this such as in Ariha where clashes occurred between them and Ahrar al-Sham.

 One young man from Ahrar was injured and went to Idlib hospital for treatment Jund al-Aqsa arrested him and treated him the way DAESH did with Abu Rayan. There were many incidents and car bombs on the road between Aleppo and Saraqeb where only the cars of Ahrar al-Sham, Faylaq al-Sham or ours would get hit but theirs wouldn’t be affected. In the recent incident one of their men kidnapped an Ahrar security officer at a check point because a few days before, it had been established that their men had been in contact with DAESH and there was conclusive proof that they were DAESH. This frightened the Jund al-Aqsa leadership and they used the battle in North Hama the same way the Shias defend themselves [against the charge of treachery] and they got away with it. But when they kidnapped him, beat his family and shot at some of them and gave them [Ahrar] the ultimatum: either you give us back these crypto-DAESH fighters in exchange of the man or he will die. So Ahrar took the decision to fight and Suqour and others joined them.

 For us however, any behaviour which is DAESHI we will deal with it as it is. It doesn’t matter what name you have. This is why we stood alongside Ahrar. The struggle between Jund and Ahrar al-Sham was not between revolutionaries but actually a fight against DAESH as has been shown by the assassination of its leaders. With regards to JFS taking them under their wing depends on how they deal with the issue and those who accept it- it will be in the interest of the revolution. As for those who work against it they will bear the responsibility, of course.

 Q: So the matter has not ended?

 Hajj: Absolutely, there are condition that they have to adhere to, the solution has been agreed to by all parties. And all the parties will side against the wrong doer whatever the flag or party.'

Ahmed Issa al-Sheikh or Abu Issa leader of Suqour al-Sham

Syrian revolution: Into a struggle against occupation

 'At the beginning of the Syrian revolution, in March 2011, the two sides of the conflict were clear-cut. The first party was the people of Syria who have suffered Assad regime’s persecution and oppression with a deep passion for change. The second party was composed of a group of people bound together by mutual interests, those who were leading the country according to a military, security and economic ad hoc system god-fathered by the Assad family. Through time, changes have taken place. A large part of the Assad "army" defected, leaving that gang and choosing to defend innocent people, thus creating a large vacuum, in human terms, in the Assad gang, prompting him to seek help from the militias he has already planted and patronized in the Middle East, such as Hezbollah and ISIS-like organizations.

Soon, Iran intervened to protect these militias, a necessary move for its expansionist plans in the region, by thousands of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and members of the allied countries, such as Iraq.

I am surprised when I read the formula used to transfer news from Syria. CNN and BBC used the definition "Syrian government forces", so that listeners and readers who cannot have information on the details of the events in the Syrian arena will understand that the winners in battles are purely Syrian soldiers. Yet, their comprehension is far from reality. The percentage of Syrians fighting by the side of the regime in the battle that is taking place now in Halab (Aleppo), does not exceed 10% of the total forces. The rest is a mixture of various militias.

Iraqi militias

The Iraqi militias that first entered Syrian territory were Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, Nujaba and Abu al-Fadl al-Abbas, at the beginning of 2013. They were coordinated by the Iraqi and the Iranian government. Ī¤hese militias number 15,000 fighters, spread mainly in Damascus and Halab. Their operational center is located at Al Sayeda Zainab district of southern Damascus. The ideology and therefore the motivation of these militias is mainly religious. They have committed many massacres against the Syrian people in the rebellious areas of Damascus and Halab which cost the lives of hundreds of unarmed civilians. Their monthly salary is around $ 500.

Afghan militias

Liwa Fatemiyoun is the strongest among the Afghan militias in Syria. This militia was formed in southeast Iran, backed and trained by the IRGC. The Iranian government took advantage of Afghan refugees fleeing the war in Afghanistan and exploited their bad economic situation. In addition, it pumped extremism in the hearts of the Afghan youth. Afghan militias began entering Syria at the beginning of 2014. They are around 5,000 fighters located in Halab, Daraa and Damascus, fighting for around $ 400 per month. The town of Al-Zahra in the northern countryside north of Halab is their operational and recruiting center.

Pakistani militias

Three thousand fighters under the name of Zainabiyoun, mainly present in Halab and Daraa. This militia was formed by the lobby of the Iran-backed Shiites in Pakistan, by supercharging young Pakistani Shiites with sectarianism and taking advantage of their deteriorating financial situation, under the supervision of the IRGC and their financial support. These young people were trained in an IRGC camp in eastern Iran, and then they were transferred to Damascus to support Assad’s forces. Their monthly salary is around $ 600.

Hezbollah militia

A world-known militia, ranked within the international and European terrorist list. It was formed during the Lebanese civil war in 1982 with the support of the Iranian government, and started cooperating with the Assad regime which has increased its support in the war on Christian militias in Lebanon, when Assad the father was in power. The so-called “Party of God” carried out several terrorist operations in Europe, South America and Africa, not to mention its role in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005. Hezbollah came to Syria at the beginning 2012 to support Assad’s forces in the repression of peaceful demonstrations, then moved to carry out military operations against Syrians opposing the regime. Its operations’ room is located in southern Homs. The number of Hezbollah members who entered the Syrian territories is 10,000. During the previous four years, more than 2,000 have been killed. Its members are spread in Damascus, Daraa, Halab and Homs.


The relations between Assad regime and Iran go back to the late seventies of the previous century, after the return of Khomeini to Tehran, culminating in military and intelligence relations between the two regimes. At the beginning of the Syrian revolution in 2011, the Iranian government showed open support for the Assad regime, at first by military experts. Then, it moved to the stage of sending the aforementioned militias. At the beginning of 2015, Iran’s Ali Khamenei gave orders to the IRGC to intervene directly and send more than 4,000 members who were stationed in Damascus and Halab. Damascus airport is the center for the operational command for those members. According to Iranian newspapers’ reports, in the past two years more than 1,000 were killed.

Last but not least, Russia

The first Russian military base in Syria was created in 1971 by the ex-Soviet Union under an agreement with the Assad regime. After the beginning of the Syrian revolution, Russia stood as a shield for the Assad regime in international arena such as the United Nations. Russia also significantly contributed to stopping European and American military strikes against Assad regime after the chemical massacre in August 2013. Russia then moved to the next level: the direct military intervention on September 30, 2015. It sent nearly 100 military aircraft and established a new military base in the coastal city of Latakia. Russian air force supported the Assad regime in its war against the Syrian people and the Syrian military opposition. Furthermore, Russian leadership secretly commanded the Russian intelligence to send Russian fighters through cooperation with Russian private security companies. More than 2,000 Russian fighters have already been distributed in the countryside of Latakia, Halab and Hama. 

After this detailed description of the militias supporting the Assad regime, the picture is completely clear. Those who are really fighting against the free Syrian people who made the revolution are groups of expendables: mercenaries, criminals and sectarian groups under the name of Assad regime troops. Having in mind that the Ministry of Defense of the Assad regime does not have the authority to order these militias, they move under orders either from Iran or Russia. Thus, what began in Syria as a civil revolt against a brutal regime has become a "revolt against occupation." '

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

After Aleppo falls, Syria's bloodshed may continue

Haid Haid:

 'The recent activity in Aleppo, which has seen Syrian government forces retake control of large parts of the city, confirms that there is no military solution to the conflict in Syria. Only a widely accepted political settlement can end the fighting and stitch the country back together.

 The internal divisions among rebel groups, their poor military performance and the lack of support channeled to them has led to speculation about the possibility of a military solution to the conflict in favor of the Syrian regime. These assumptions are likely jumping the gun: the regime controls less than a third of the country's territories. Restoring its grip on the rest of Syria faces huge challenges, both internally and externally.

 A small number of rebel fighters -- fewer than 1,000 -- were able to stop pro-regime forces from capturing the city of Daraya in rural Damascus for three years, despite all of the weapons used, including chemical attacks, airstrikes and starvation. The number of fighters in Aleppo is estimated to be around 8,000, which makes the chances of a swift victory less likely. Additionally, the majority of rebel groups in besieged Aleppo haverecently merged together, which improves their ability to defend the city.

 "The merger overcomes the divisions that allowed Assad to advance. Losing territories, which is bad in general, allows us to better defend the rest of our areas -- especially now that we have limited ammunition. Pro-regime forces will have to depend more on street fighting, which is in our favor because we know the area," said a fighter with the Aleppo's Army coalition on condition of anonymity.

 Despite the significance of Aleppo, the fate of the city alone is not a decisive factor in the Syrian conflict. Even if the rest of Aleppo falls, it is likely that rebel fighters and civilians who wish to leave will be allowed to move to Idlib's province -- as has happened in similar cases -- where they will continue to resist the Syrian regime. The number of Syrian rebels estimated to still be fighting in the country is around 150,000. In addition, the regional powers, namely Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, are still invested in opposing Assad and remain actively against any solution that allows him to restore his power over the country. With the Syrian regime in control of so little of the country's territories, there is a long and a bloody road before it can claim any kind of victory. As a result, the armed conflict will last for a long time, even if it takes different formats.

 Even if Assad is able to control Syria militarily, after a long struggle, the regime will still not be able to efficiently run the country. The Syrian regime has been depending for a long time on the manpower and support from its allies, namely Russia and Iran, in order not to collapse. Restoring and maintaining the rest of the country would also heavily depend on the support the regime receives from these allies. Keeping in check the local and foreign militias -- sponsored by Iran -- that helped in recapturing the country will be a security challenge and will likely create a weak government. The inability of the weak Iraqi and Lebanese governments to control the armed groups in their countries, the Popular Mobilization Units and Hezbollah armed wing, give a glimpse as to what could happen in Syria.

 The state institutions are weak and do not provide quality services for the majority of the country. There has been a catastrophic decline in the quantity and quality of services in the small percentage of regime-held areas due to a growing deterioration in the infrastructure and manpower resources on all services sectors such as health, education, industry.
Many regional and international countries will also oppose donating money to the Syrian regime to reconstruct the country and provide better services, which will lead to the marginalization of a big percentage of the country and negatively impact the regime's ability to rule them.

 The fragile security situation and lack of services and opportunities will likely discourage Syrian refugees from going back home. The fear of detention and pursuit by the security services and militias loyal to Assad for leaving the country or for opposing Assad, will continue to prevent many refugees from returning, which will not help in solving the Syrian refugee crisis. The Syrian regime, similar to what happened in the 1980s after the armed confrontation with the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood party, will likely imprison or exploit thousands of those who actively opposed Assad and will continue to push more Syrians out of the country in search for protection and a better future.'

Civilians fleeing rebel-held east Aleppo 'detained and conscripted' by Syrian forces

Some 275,000 people were living in rebel-held eastern Aleppo before the government's advance 

 'Dozens of military-aged teachers, medics and aid workers are reported to have been rounded up and spirited away, as regime troops push further into the city. The brother of one told how government officials were detaining men under the age of 40 whom they accused of supporting the rebellion.

 “I was with him (Mohammed, his brother) when he was taken by the secret service,” said Yussef, who did not wish to give his full name for fear of reprisal. “We just wanted to leave Aleppo to find safety. He was not political, he never took part in any anti-government protests,” said Yussef, speaking from the northern Syrian city of Azaz, a few miles south of the Turkish border, where he and his family are now seeking refuge.

 He said father-of-three Mohammed, 30, had worked as a nurse at a hospital until a few months ago, when he joined a local medical NGO. When Syrian troops entered the family’s al-Firdous neighbourhood a week ago, they tried to escape the fighting.

 “They did not allow us to leave - we were all taken to an old cotton factory in the Jibreen area of southeast Aleppo. Men were separated from women and everyone was questioned, and after a few days were allowed to go,” he said.

 But as the family tried to pass through a checkpoint in the Ramousseh district last Friday, secret service officials checked Mohammed’s ID against a list and arrested him on the spot.

 “They took his phone and all his belongings. The names on the list were of NGO workers, medics and anyone thought to be aiding the rebel cause. They told my brother ‘We have a situation and you need to help us fix it’. I did not speak out, I could not. I knew there was nothing I could not say to stop them,” said Yussef, a 36-year-old factory worker who was not on the government’s blacklist. “I could only think of my own children and wife and did not want to be detained or killed myself.”

 One father, whose son was arrested 10 days ago, had heard he was already fighting with the Syrian military in the eastern city of Deir Ezzor. The army has been looking to bolster its dwindling numbers, having suffered a huge loss of manpower during the bloody five-year-conflict.

 “We haven’t heard anything from him since December 1st,” Yussef said. “I think that we will never hear from him again.”

 Fares Shehabi, an MP for Aleppo, denied civilians were being held, saying they had been offered shelter in the regime-held western side of the city.

 “All civilians leaving the east are being taken care of by the government and various civil society groups,” he told the paper. “None have been detained to my knowledge.”

 Bashar al-Assad’s forces, supported on the ground by Russian, Iranian and Lebanese Hizbollah fighters, have regained nearly two-thirds of the east in a blitzkrieg assault. The parts still held by the rebel have been bombed relentlessly by the regime, which is hoping to empty out the east and reclaim full control of Syria’s second city. The opposition remains defiant however. Abu Abdel Rahman Al-Hamawi of the Army of Islam group said rebels "would fight until the last drop of blood".'

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Attacks on schools aim to 'destroy Syria's identity'

 'Wafa Mohammed Ali Zeidan, 35, was in the third-grade classroom when she heard the aeroplane's first, terrifying rumble. Without a second thought, Zeidan, an English teacher, rushed to the door, panicking some of the girls in her class.

 Other pupils laughed, shouting: "Miss, are you scared of the aeroplane!"

 She went back to her desk, ashamed of frightening the children, and disrupting her own lesson. And then they heard the first explosion.

 "A girl grabbed hold of my clothes, trembling and crying," said Zeidan. "Then we heard the awful sound of the second aeroplane. We lost control of the students as they started to panic and run."

 Zeidan lost four of her colleagues in a brutal aerial bombardment on the main Kamal school complex in the northern Syrian town of Haas in late October. A teacher for 13 years, Zeidan had witnessed previous aerial bombardments in the course of Syria's five-year-long war. But never had she seen anything like the destruction wrought that October morning.

 "It was a calculated assault to strike fear in the hearts of the children and the parents."

 Teachers and aid organisations believe the attacks on schools are deliberate. Abdul Hammami, director of the US-based Swasia Charity Foundation, which runs 14 schools in Syria's Ghouta region, believes that the Syrian government and its allies target schools to impair education and create images of chaos.

 "They want to give the impression they are fighting extremists, when of course they are the ones that are creating this."

 Zeidan believes the motive lies in destroying Syrian identity: "The small dreams of our future teachers and doctors have been killed by criminals who do not know the meaning of compassion. They [Russia and the regime] know that no one will be punished for those crimes. They are war criminals, because they killed children in the holy place - school."

 Russian officials were sceptical about the Haas attack. A spokesperson claimed that photos of the aftermath were "computer graphics". On the same day as the Haas attack, Syrian state media reported killing "terrorists" in Idlib province but did not report any dead or wounded children. That was a far cry from Zeidan's experience.

 "The street [outside the school] was filled with corpses. I felt like I could not move - especially when I looked to my left and saw my husband's nephew. He was dead."

 The story of one of the parents, Khaled Da'ef, also differed from the Russian and Syrian official media version of events. His 13-year-old daughter Renad, a top-of-the-class student, was killed in the Haas attack.

 "On the morning of the massacre, I took her to school and gave her her daily allowance. I did not expect that it would be the last goodbye."

 With schools coming under attack, it is often difficult to persuade parents to send their children to those that remain in use. Even the children now associate school with negative connotations.

 "Our children hate to hear the word 'school'," Zeidan said. "Even I have become afraid of going to school. I hate the sight of books or bags - they have become frightening memories."

 The problem is exacerbated by extreme poverty: Swasia has resorted to providing food packages for the worst-affected families in Ghouta, so that children are not forced into work to buy basic supplies.

 Zeidan and her two children escaped the school unharmed. She and her colleagues are now clubbing together to give lessons to their pupils wherever and whenever possible.

 "We will not leave them in ignorance. They have the right to education, like all the world's children."

 In eastern Aleppo, where up to 100,000 children remain under siege, teachers have replaced conventional classrooms with basements, for fear of strikes on schools and open spaces such as playgrounds. Other safety measures include replacing glass classroom windows with plastic. In opposition-controlled Idlib province, schools have gone underground to protect children from aerial bombardments while they take lessons, and as schools have been destroyed. For now, teachers like Zeidan on the ground in Syria bear the weight of the violence, and witness the mental strain on her country's youngest generation.

 "I loved my work at the school; it was a good school. I loved the pupils,"said Zeidan. "A chasm full of great sorrow and fear has been left in the hearts of the students, parents and rest of the townspeople. What remains will not be erased from their hearts easily." '