Sunday, 31 December 2017

One Year Later, Residents Mourn the Fall of Aleppo

 ' “The moments we are living now in Aleppo could be the last moments of our lives,” Ameer al-Halabi wrote in a Messenger conversation last December. “Regime forces are a few meters from here: We could be killed or imprisoned once they enter, especially us … because we are journalists.”

 Halabi, whose real name is Walid Mashhadi but still uses his pseudonym professionally, is still alive. He was only 25 when he left his city to survive the Syrian regime. He lives in Turkey now, while his family, his wife and son, remained in Aleppo. But they will soon reunite in France. Halabi will travel there in January 2018, and his wife and son will join him the same day from Aleppo via Beirut.

 "I was studying engineering when the revolution started. I began going to the demonstrations against the [Bashar] al-Assad regime. Then, we the protesters soon understood it was important to work in the media. For example, I dropped out of university and worked for a local radio station, Radio Hara, and for the Aleppo Media Center in 2012 and 2013."

 Halabi also worked for international media and humanitarian organizations such as the Qatar Red Crescent. “My wife is still in eastern Aleppo and many checkpoints surround the area. They know she is my wife and so she doesn’t go out too much.”

 While Halabi made it out, many friends from Aleppo — everyday citizens, journalists or activists working for the Aleppo City Council — are now in Assad’s prisons and it is difficult to know exactly where they are. “When people were evacuated to the western part of the city, they let them go and stay safe for a while. After a few weeks, the intelligence services went to arrest them. They knew all the people they wanted,” Halabi added.

 Another journalist, Salah al-Ashkar, sent a goodbye message from Aleppo last year, too, but he is now safe in France thanks to the French organization Reporters Without Borders. Ashkar confirmed to Al-Monitor the same account of Aleppo’s citizens, saying, “An activist of the Aleppo City Council, Mohammed Hayyo, was arrested after the regime retook the city a year ago, and nobody knows his fate.”

 Ashkar, 29, first worked for Agence France-Presse and then Al Jazeera during the battle for Aleppo as a freelance photojournalist.

 "Many of my childhood friends unfollowed or unfriended me from Twitter or Facebook, and I can imagine why: They are afraid that at any checkpoint a soldier could find my name on their social media accounts and arrest them. I know they are living in fear like before 2011 — and even worse, because Russian police are also there."

 Ashkar is now learning French and would like to study journalism in France. He graduated in 2011 from the University of Aleppo in banking and finance.

 Today, 75% of the city’s eastern neighborhoods are destroyed, including houses and public service facilities. But Halabi — the 2016 second-prize Spot News World Press winner with his series “Rescued from the Rubble” — says in the video “Eyes of Aleppo”, “The city is less destroyed than its people are.”

 The short video briefly explains the story of Halabi and two other photographers, Fouad Hallak and Zakaria Abdelkafi, who documented the war in Aleppo: Abdelkafi lost his right eye in an explosion, but he continued to work as a photographer and is now living in France.

 “Before the revolution I was a normal student; I was going to school like everyone else, I used to have my favorite song, I used to dream,” Halabi told Al-Monitor. “I photographed Aleppo for 3½ years, concentrating my attention on children, especially those rescued after bombs. My work has been influenced by the picture of the naked child running and crying during the war in Vietnam.” Halabi’s father volunteered with the White Helmets and died in one of the explosions.

 During the offensive when the Syrian army retook the city, many Aleppans were evacuated to the western part and others to the rebel-held Idlib countryside, where some still live, while others fled to Turkey, crossing the border illegally. Many citizens went back home, but their exact number is unknown.

 A year after the last fight and wave of displacement, the Assad government tried to restore the city’s image with sport or cultural initiatives. But among those Aleppans who came back, many could not bear the destruction and poor conditions and left again for Turkey, where many Syrians rebuilt their businesses or created new ones.

Aleppo’s last year of death and starvation is East Ghouta’s current reality, with people struggling to survive and evacuation plans for medical emergency cases still being formed. The regime and its allies have been talking in the past few months about reconstruction, which the opposition considers the latest of Assad’s war crimes since its clear purpose will also be to erase proof of the regime’s crimes.

Syria is still far from living in justice and peace. Many of the Aleppans who survived last December’s brutal offensive are still trying to find their way in their countries of refuge. Ashkar said:

"If the regime one day falls, I will go back to Syria. We tried to build some democratic institutions, but with the extremist rebels and the dire conditions of fighting and siege, we couldn’t. My homeland is Aleppo. I miss every single tiny detail. My country is my city, Aleppo. But I would like to live in a country where every four years a different president is elected." '

Thursday, 28 December 2017

Really bad situation for the people in Southern Idlib

Green/Blue - Rebels
Red - Assad
Black - ISIS
Yellow - YPG

 'Really bad situation for the people in Southern Idlib. Pro-Assad forces are advancing fast northwards. 100s of airstrikes on civilians and rebels today so far.'

River Orontes: "The battle for Hama and Idlib isn't about a tiny village taken or two, it is about breaking the regimes will, inflicting on them heavy losses so that their offensive halts. Difficult to stop the regime advances because they are using the scorched earth policy, but if the price for one small village is dozens of dead the régime doesn't have the manpower to recapture all of Idlib. Today the regime took Musharifah, and in the process lost over 60+ killed and dozens of wounded. The 60+ death are confirmed via official outlets. The régime groupings ran into several IED locations that HTS set up when retreating from Musharifah. They also fell into several ambushes trying to capture Abu Dali. To fully break the regimes offensive another front needs to be open but the opposition groups in ES areas and Southern Front are totally useless."

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Syrian armed opposition protects Christians for holiday

Syrian armed opposition protects Christians for holiday

 'Southern Syria’s Christian community is celebrating the Christmas holiday amid tight security provided by armed opposition fighters.

 In opposition-held parts of the southern Al-Suwayda province, scores of Christians took part in church services in the majority-Christian town of Harb.

 Holidaymakers also visited their relatives and decked their homes, gardens and streets with colorful Christmas lights.

 Armed opposition fighters, meanwhile, have imposed strict security measures, stationing guards around the church with a view to preempting possible attacks.

 Residents expressed satisfaction with security provided by opposition groups.

 According to town resident George Bishara, Harb serves as an example of peaceful coexistence between the country’s Muslims and Christians.

 "There are no problems between us,” Bishara told Anadolu Agency. “Both communities respect each other's holidays.”

 Abu Saddam, a commander of the opposition Free Syrian Army (FSA), confirmed that FSA fighters were protecting the region’s Christian communities.

 "We are responsible for protecting Christian lives,” he said, “Contrary to the Assad regime’s claims, the FSA isn’t the enemy of the Christians.”

 Syria has only just begun to emerge from a destructive civil war that began in 2011, when the Assad regime cracked down on pro-democracy protests with unexpected ferocity.

 Since then, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed in the fighting and more than 10 million displaced, according to claims by UN officials.'

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Syrian torture survivors speak out

 ' “My wrists were bound together with iron chains,” said the man who calls himself Abu Firas. “They put me onto an iron bar under the ceiling so that my feet were two centimetres above the floor.”

 “They hung me on my hands from the ceiling,” Abdul Karim Rihawi told Euronews.“They beat me with an iron stick.”

 “My finger felt like it was the size of a football,” said Yazan Awad. “I felt my arms were very long because my shoulders became dislocated (by this torture). I looked and saw my arms far away. “

 Sometimes, when emotions run high, Nahla Osman takes her clients for a walk alongside the river Main. Osman was born in Germany to parents from the Syrian city of Aleppo. She helps victims of torture. She and her brother run a law firm in the German city of Rüsselsheim.

 She has compiled hundreds of witness reports detailing torture on a massive scale inside Syrian prisons and will file criminal complaints using the principle of universal jurisdiction which Germany enforces.

 “Many are still waiting for family reunification,” Osman told Euronews. “If family members are still in Syria, those in Germany are afraid of taking legal action. If they trigger a case here, the Syrian regime would imprison or kill their relatives.”

 Euronews reporter Hans Von Der Brelie met two people who say they survived Syrian prison torture: co-founder of the Syrian Human Rights League Abdul Karim Rihawi, and a civil rights activist from Damascus, who didn’t want to be named. He calls himself “Abu Firas” and is speaking out for the first time.

 “They had an electric instrument and they put electric cables under my toes, under my arms and on my thumbs,” Abu Firas described. “You still can see traces from that procedure on my thumbs. Then they turned the current on and off, on and off, again and again.”

 Abu Firas wants to submit his case to the German public prosecutor and wants arrest warrants to be issued for high-ranking Syrian officials.

 “They tortured me with the car-tyre method, squeezing my body with bent arms into the tyre up to the knees so I could not move,” he alleges. “They hit me with a piece from a tank engine, a kind of a V-belt… After the first two blows, my body felt paralysed. I just hoped to see the son my wife was pregnant with.”

 “Reconciliation with all the sectarian groups in Syria is possible, yes, but not with this criminal regime,” Firas said.

 Abu’s friend Abdul Karim Rihawi invited Euronews to the hotel room he’s called home for more than two years. This is where he has been gathering evidence with his civil human rights network, which is still working undercover in Syria. Euronews asked if the photos shown during our visit included people who had tortured, he replied: “A lot of them, many of them: torturing… a lot of crime… they committed a lot of crime… For that reason, we are asking the German authorities to take action again.

 “We make a list of these murderers. Until now we have six lists, we presented this lists to the German government… There are at least 7,000 war criminals (from Syria) in Europe but the highest number of them (are residing) in Germany, especially they arrived after the massive arrival of refugees in 2015.

 “That’s also what makes me very angry: they are enjoying their life here in Germany and they have all the benefit from the law and they are war criminal.”

 The war crime unit at the German Federal Office of Criminal Investigation told Euronews that they have 4,300 reports from Syrian and Iraqi survivors, resulting in 43 person-related investigations. But it’s difficult to collect hard evidence.

 “Torture in Syria is very normal, very systemic,” said Abdul Karim Rihawi, co-founder of the Syrian Human Rights League. “It is an abnormal thing if you go to the prison and nobody tortures you… They beat me with cables, with their hands, with their legs… When they get us to the toilet we had to pass through the dead bodies on the ground. Oh my God, that was really terrible…All the night you still hear the voices of the people begging or yelling or shouting from torture… I was hearing the voice of a child: maybe he was 14 or 16 years old, he was seeking for his father: ‘please – I need my Bab (daddy), my Bab’.”

 Syrian artist Hamid Sulaiman invited Euronews to his Berlin studio. He too is familiar with Syrian prisons from the inside. After his release, he was granted asylum in Paris. Today he lives between Germany and France. Sulaiman is the author of “Freedom Hospital”, a graphic novel about the start of the civil protests in Syria, in 2011. His book is dedicated to a former friend, Hussam, who was allegedly tortured to death.

 “We were with each other at the start of the Arab Spring,” Sulaiman said. “We shared the dream of freedom in a better country. Me, I left Syria, and Hussam was getting ready to leave Syria when he was arrested … and he was killed in prison. Five days later, they called his mother to come and get his body.

 “I am a survivor, the others are dead. I have a duty to tell their story.

 “I gave a lot of thought about how to present the violence in this book, because there are quite a few people who will say: you did not have to talk about the blood and violence to talk about Syria .. but at the same time I said to myself: that’s the reality.”

 Next, we headed to an organisation tracking war criminals around the globe: the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights where we met prominent Syrian human rights lawyer Anwar al-Bunni, and Syrian civil rights activist Yazan Awad, both torture survivors.

 Hamid Sulaiman’s artwork is displayed at the centre. Anwar and Yazan have filed criminal complaints with the German Federal Prosecutor through their legal advisor Alexandra Lily. They want to hunt down those who gave the orders.

 Lily spoke to us about the next step in the case:

 “Following these person-specific investigations we hope for arrest warrants issued by the Federal Supreme Court in Germany and following those German arrest warrants we hope for a European wide and international arrest warrants against those individuals.”

 “Personally, I met the head of (the Syrian) National Security Office and told him about the torture”, said Anwar. “He knows that… because I was in detention, in his detention,” said Anwar.

 The next person we met during our investigation, Yazan, is listed by the German federal prosecutor as ‘key witness number 24’. Yazan had organised youth protests during the ‘Arab Spring’. In November 2011 he was arrested and says he was tortured so badly, that he confessed to crimes he never committed – such as having killed the prime minister of Lebanon.

 “I told the torturer: I will confess to everything, I will even testify against my own mother,” said Yazan. “He replied: we will bring her and we will see. He went and after 15 or 30 minutes he told me: we brought your mother, but I knew he was lying. I started to cry: I said, what, my mother, where is my mother? And he punched me in the face. The torturer said: okay you will see what we will do with your mother – but I was blindfolded. The psychological pressure on me was huge – I collapsed because they abused an innocent women. I did not know her, maybe she was just one of the prisoners in Jaweyeh. They brought her, she was inside the room and it was obvious that two people were torturing or raping her because I recognised several voices. I collapsed… I told the torturer: I admit to whatever you want but stop torturing her, stop raping her. He told me: The guys have not finished with her yet.

 “They had been torturing the other prisoners before, but all five or six of them came to me and tortured me together. They tortured me, tortured me… From my point of view, I thought I was already dead. From their point of view, they pretended that I am a man attacking them. But how can a man forced to strip attack his torturers? They said to me: You think you are a man? We will show you that you are a woman. They continued beating me and the torturer who was using the butt of the gun for hitting me, suddenly turned the gun around and put the barrel into my body from behind and then he ripped it out again. When he took it out, the iron sights on the gun barrel destroyed the anus.”

 The International Criminal Court in the Hague could not take action against Syrian officials because Russia and China used their veto. But Germany and about a dozen other countries have implemented the principle of universal jurisdiction and started investigations on a national level.

 “First message we want to send it to the murderers and criminals in Syria and in whole the world in fact: impunity time is finished,” said Anwar. “Impunity is not allowed anytime, anywhere. Be careful! And: Justice is waiting for you! Without justice, there is no Syria. No country in the whole world can (be) built without justice.”

 Al-Bunni has some top-level appointments in Brussels, with the European Commission and the Belgian government. He wants to convince more EU member states to use the tool of “universal jurisdiction” too: No safe harbour for torturers, anywhere.'

Image result for Syrian torture survivors speak out

Syrian rebel groups reject Russian-sponsored Sochi conference

Image result for Syrian rebel groups reject Russian-sponsored Sochi conference 

 'Syrian rebel groups on Monday rejected Russia’s planned Sochi conference on Syria, saying Moscow was seeking to bypass a U.N.-based Geneva peace process and blaming Russia for committing war crimes in the war-torn country.

 In a statement by around 40 rebel groups who include some of the military factions who participated in earlier rounds of Geneva peace talks, they said Moscow had not put pressure on the Syrian government to reach a political settlement.

 “Russia has not contributed one step to easing the suffering of Syrians and has not pressured the regime that it claims it is a guarantor by move in any real path towards a solution,” the rebel statement said.

 Russia, which has emerged as the dominant player in Syria after a major military intervention over two years ago, received backing from Turkey and Iran for holding a Syrian national dialogue congress in the Russian city of Sochi on Jan. 29-30.

 “Russia is an aggressor country that has committed war crimes against Syrians... It stood with the regime militarily and defended its politically and over seven years preventing U.N. condemnation of (Syrian President Bashar) Assad’s regime,” the statement said.

 Moscow says it targets militants but rebels and residents say the Russian air strikes conducted since a major aerial campaign over two years ago has caused hundreds of civilian casualties in indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas away from the frontline.'

 River Orontes: "If you reject the Russian conferences, reject them not through statements, but aid the frontlines, lessen the pressure on Beit Jinn and besieged areas, do so both militarily and politically. As for these meaningless statements, they are exactly that, meaningless."

Sunday, 24 December 2017

U.S.-Backed MOM Operations Room Ends Support for FSA Groups

U.S.-Backed MOM Operations Room Ends Support for FSA Groups

 'America and the "Friends of Syria" countries will end their military and financial support for Free Syrian Army groups at the end of the month, Syrian rebel sources have confirmed.

 The sources said that all the groups who benefit from this support had been informed of the decision that December would be the last month that fighters of these groups would receive their salaries.

 The military operations and support coordination room, known by the acronym MOM, has overseen support and supplying of “moderate groups” with money, ammunition, training and some weapons since 2014.

 A commander in the First Coastal Division, who asked not to be named, said: “The groups were informed around three months ago that the support would end without a reason being given.”

 He added that there were a number of factors that contributed to this, including “a change in American policy and its concession to Russia on the Syrian issue, the changing of the situation on the ground, and the decline of most groups in favor of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham.”

 Responding to the possibility of there being a link between this decision and the developments in the international negotiations, the military commander said it was too early to talk about a real solution on the ground as long as President Bashar al-Assad did not comply with international resolutions.

 “The United States has not been honest for one day in giving sufficient support to the opposition groups as they did with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, because Assad was not one of their priorities,” he added.

 For his part, the military commander of the Jaish al-Azza rebel group, Mustafa Marati, told Sada al-Sham that “MOM stopped support for Al-Azza four months ago because of accusations it was fighting against the Assad regime.”

 Marati added that one of the most important factors for stopping the support was “the desire of the backers to stop fighting against regime forces and not to respond to its violations.”

 A defected officer from the regime forces, Mohamad Khalil, said that the groups had achieved important victories before the start of the MOM operations, and at the time the fighters had “secured their salaries from the spoils of fighting.” He added that despite the negative impact of the decision today, it “liberates the groups from all the pressures they had endured and frees them from all burdens.”

 Khalil said that the United States, through this support, had “played a negative role toward the revolution, given its many interventions in affairs on the ground and forbidding the groups from obtaining effective weapons, especially anti-aircraft weapons.”

 Khalil did not rule out that this decision could be temporary to pressure the groups to accept new concessions on the ground, including allying with Assad’s forces to fight Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, which is something all the groups reject.'

Friday, 22 December 2017

Freedom for Syria

 “The withdrawal of Assad has ceased to be a priority” – is repeated in the European as well as International Summits.Some like Emmanuel Macron even dare to specify that they do not deny Assad’s crimes against humanity and that maybe one day they’ll demand accountability for those crimes. In this terrible moment when democracies define that a bloodthirsty dictator is unavoidable, we are not only walking on the graves of those who have been killed by the tormentor – but the words and actions of those politicians burry alive the revolutionaries. 
 Because the revolution is not dead. It rather is the prisoner of dictatorship. One year after the massacres in Aleppo, the revolutionaries are not only in the areas occupied and bombed by the regime but also in Assad’s torture centers. They are tens of thousands, as dozens of reports, irrefutable evidences and witness reports, testify. What started as a fight in the streets finds its continuation in those horror factories where they make the attempt to break humanity. Those torture centers are not only places of physical and mental destruction of the revolutionaries being held as prisoners but also a weapon of the regime to prevent new possible acts of resistance.

 You do not necessarily enter those centers through an official arrest: Numerous journalists, writers, activists, demonstrators just “vanish” and the regime won’t give the slightest information on their subject. Often also relatives disappear when they try to get some news. Assad’s order of the day: the one who dares to remember there’s a revolution needs to suffer.

 None of our leaders dares to say: “Keeping Assad in power is a necessity as is keeping his torture centers”. However, not demanding the dictator to stand down is supporting his crimes in this exact moment. The matter is not peace by negotiation, because the imprisoned revolutionaries are not given the possibility for negotiation. By watching Assad kill, we are not defending peace. We rather let him win the war by extinguishing his political opponents. By being silent about that systematic extinction we approve this enterprise of horror as well as its dehumanization which we name “disappearance”. Of course, we cannot forget the revolutionaries held prisoners by the other enemies of the Syrian revolution as ISIS or Jaish al-Islam and we also claim their freedom.

 The revolution has not disappeared. Our companions haven’t disappeared. They fight against their total extermination in Assad’s torture centers. Even if we do not know exactly where they are. But Assad does. As does Putin. As does Macron. As does the European Union.

 As it seems that Realpolitik and human rights get quite along with each other - that the democratic values are never better defended then by tolerating despots – we came to ask one very simple and realistic thing of our leaders: We want to deliver our solidarity messages to our companions and we do not except to spend another year without them. The freedom of the dictator is not a problem for democracy? So why the freedom of ours should be?"

Friday, 15 December 2017

Comrade Corbyn supports Russian imperialism in Syria

Comrade Corbyn supports Russian imperialism in Syria

 Sam Charles Hamad:

 "Under the heavy blizzard of issues surrounding the Brexit negotiations engulfing the UK over the past few weeks, Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party has endorsed what is surely its most brazen policy of outright support for 'President Assad'.

 'President Assad' - this is precisely how Labour Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry refers to the unelected tyrant of a rump state, responsible for murder, torture, rape and ethnic cleansing on a genocidal scale.

 Thornberry was addressing and, to some extent, lambasting British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson for the UK's refusal to throw its weight behind the Astana 'peace process', which is largely seen as a fig leaf for Russian and Iranian hegemony over Syria.

 The UK government supports the UN-mediated, Syrian opposition-supported Geneva process, which, however imperfect, keeps up the demand that Assad must leave power.

 What ought to concern those who understand the pro-Assad political context of Astana isn't that the Labour Party, which has a very good chance of forming the next government, is blindly endorsing Astana as a means of mere party-political contrarianism, but that it too fully understands the political context.

 In her statement to Johnson, Thornberry asked very clearly - is the UK willing to accept a deal that would see Iranian militias leave the country and allow 'President Assad' to remain in power?

 Moreover, is the UK willing to accept the full withdrawal of 'all coalition forces', and international aid for Assad to 'reconstruct' the country?

 Only a week or so before Thornberry's public questions, the BBC's Panorama put out a documentary with the sensationalist, Islamophobic dog-whistling, gutter tabloid title 'The Jihadis You Pay For'.

 The programme made the dubious case that UK funding for the Free Syrian Police (FSP) - a voluntary organisation that provides unarmed security for civilians in Syria who live in liberated areas of the country - was somehow falling into the hands of the eponymous jihadists, including the al-Qaeda affiliate, the Nusra Front.

 Simultaneous with their campaigns of genocidal terror against any aspect of Free Syria, it has long been the tactic of the Assad regime, Iran and Russia - often through formal and informal propagandists on their behalf - to perpetuate narratives that de-legitimise the pillars and institutions of the revolution.

 We saw the same with the attacks against the White Helmets, including almost identical claims that they were aiding or were themselves 'jihadists'.

 These groups are targeted precisely because they are not what their detractors claim, but rather because they show the world that Syrians exist beyond the Islamophobic stereotypes of menacing, destructive 'jihadists' and Assad's absurd but effective propaganda paradigm of 'jihadi chaos' vs 'secular tyrannical order'.

 While the propaganda campaign to delegitimise the White Helmets was unsuccessful, it was not the case for the FSP.

 Despite extensive denials from the British charity that runs the aid project, as well as from the groups that run the Free Syrian Police, in addition to a catalogue of evidence that contradicts Panorama's claims, the British government caved to the sensationalism and resulting political pressure and suspended aid to the FSP.

 Corbyn's Labour led the charge, with the leader himself reproducing all the usual pro-Assad tropes, saying that UK aid destined for an Al Qaeda affiliate was "yet another blow to Britain's reputation" on the world stage.

 He also went on to connect the humanitarian crisis in Syria and the millions of Syrian refugees and internally displaced with the British government's alleged will to "support sectarian division rather than humanitarian need".

 This is how Corbyn describes an unarmed force of volunteers set up to provide security to Syrians who live free of Assad - as 'sectarians'. Combined with his Shadow Foreign Secretary's comments pressuring the British government to monetarily support 'President Assad', one need not be an expert on Syria to understand what exactly Corbyn's policy is here.

 Somehow, by some gross, obscure distortion, supporting groups like the FSP is 'sectarian' and has led to the humanitarian and refugee crisis in Syria (not once has Corbyn condemned what's happening in Ghouta or any Assad-Iran-Russia besieged area of Syria), but apparently aiding 'President Assad' is not.

 And only the most deluded or vicious propagandists for Assad's war can claim to be ignorant when knowing exactly what it the logistics are behind Labour's will to see 'President Assad to remain in power'.

 For those who are genuinely unsure, it means what we witnessed when pro-Assad forces destroyed, captured and ethnically cleansed Free Aleppo last year. Or when they did the exact same in Homs, or what they're trying to do so viciously right now in East Ghouta.

 It means precisely what Assad and Iran's war effort has been since 2012, not to return Syria to the status quo ante bellum, but to ethnically cleanse areas of Syria that had been previously liberated by the rebels or that had non-compliant, pro-revolutionary civilian populations. Corbyn will never mention it, but this is the real reason for the vast refugee crisis.

 Indeed, Corbyn cares about none of these realities; instead, he opts for endorsing the crude propaganda shared by Iran, Russia and the Syrian regime.

 Labour says that 'President Assad' can remain in power in exchange for 'Iranian militias' leaving the country, but the fundamental duplicity that lurks behind this superficially reasonable demand is that Assad can only remain in power with the backing of these Iranian militias.

 In other words, despite dangling the carrot of peace by referencing the Russian-dominated Astana process and talking about bringing the war to an end, Labour are simply outlining a position that better enables Assad to smash the Syrian revolution with the stick of genocidal, imperialist war and tyrannical revanchism.

 As Assad's vicious apparatuses of tyranny were already moving in and doing what they do best - raping, murdering, torturing and cleansing civilians, something that has continued with brutal consistency - Corbyn was defending The Morning Star, for whom he occaionally writes, for describing this as a 'liberation'.

 As Russia and Assad's air forces bombed the city into oblivion, his Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry was on TV advertising the ethnic cleansing of Homs as a solution to the crisis of Aleppo and blaming the brutal bombardment on the alleged presence of '900 Jihadis'.

 This is the 'peace' Labour speak of when they attach it to the triumph of 'President Assad'.

 When Labour speak so recklessly of 'reconstruction' through international aid, again attached to the triumph of Assad, they conceal the fact, to quote the academic and Syria expert Jean-Pierre Filiu in an interview with Al-Jumhuriya, that "for Assad, 'reconstruction' is the continuation of its merciless war against its own people… using other means."

 Filiu makes the further point that 'reconstruction' for Assad is completely determined by Russian and Iranian imperialism, with firms from both countries exploiting the destruction they caused.

 This is a crucial point. Labour, by completely ignoring Geneva and supporting Russia's Astana process, are simply endorsing Russian imperial hegemony over Syria. As with the elements of the US' goals in Iraq, the Russian endgame in Syria has been to aid in the destruction of the country and then serve as the imperialist arbiter for its 'reconstruction'.

 As with the US and Iraqi oil contracts, Russia will be the main force handing out contracts for all areas of reconstruction, to its allies in China, Europe and possibly even South America. It will have a major geopolitical and economic foothold in the Middle East, far beyond some neglected naval bases. In this sense, it is classic imperialism.

 And this is precisely what Corbyn's Labour support and it's no surprise, given Corbyn's own ideological trajectory on this question.

 This is after all a man who was chair of the at-times openly pro-Assad Stop the War Coalition, as well as someone who used his position as a backbench MP to oppose all and any kind of aid to Syrian revolutionary forces.

 This is a man who only mentioned Assad's gassing to death of Syrians at Khan Sheikhoun to oppose the US airstrike on the base from which the gas was launched. And even then, he maliciously cast doubt on whether Assad was the perpetrator.

 Corbyn and his key allies have served as informal lobbyists for both Iran and Russia. In every area where Russian imperialism exists, it has found an ally in Corbyn and members of his leadership team.

 In this respect, Labour's policy makes depressing sense.

 Corbyn's politics are determined by an amalgamation of Labourism and Stalinism - he views Russian imperialism, and all forces deemed to be opposed to US imperialism, as worthy of support.

 It's no surprise that the party he leads supports defunding and delegitimising those groups that resist Assad's tyranny, and seeks to aid the forces that are smashing Free Syria and ruthlessly exploiting the ocean of misery and blood they have created."

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Regime and ISIS aren't fighting each other

'Hama : Regime and ISIS aren't fighting each other but are attacking the Opposition instead. Red arrows are Regime black ones are ISIS.'

'I married my husband in a Syrian prison - then he disappeared'

 'It is March 2012 in Damascus. Noura Ghazi Safadi is waiting for her fiancé, Bassel, 34, to come home. They are about to book party arrangements for their wedding, in two weeks’ time. But he does not arrive.

 “It was a sign that he had been arrested. This is normal in Syria. I cannot describe how much I suffered. It was painful,” says the Syrian human rights lawyer, now 36.

 Bassel Khartabil Safadi had been arrested by the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, whose prisons are notorious for torture and execution, but have been largely forgotten throughout the seven-year long conflict.

 Noura's husband was taken in what she describes as a "kidnap" style arrest. "There are no reasons for detentions in Syria. There are... no arrest warrants, nothing to tell families or to that person that they were [going] to arrest him, why they arrest him and where, [or] who they are," she says.

 "I cannot describe how much I suffered. It was painful. I was just thinking about the wedding. It was one of the most painful and difficult periods in my life."

 Noura eventually learnt that Bassel had been detained in Adra prison, a notorious institution, north of the Syrian capital. In the first week of 2013, they eventually married on one of her brief visits to see him.

 "It was perfect. I wore a blue dress because Bassel asked me to," Noura remembers.

 The wedding took place over two prison visits: the first time, Noura and Bassel exchanged vows, between the metal bars that separated them, in whispers, so the prison guards would not notice. "My parents and his parents were with me, and he was behind bars. So we just exchanged the marriage speech," she explains.

 On the second visit, Noura was accompanied by her uncle, a lawyer, and the marriage was officially approved.

 “It was amazing. I did it in prison. Can you imagine? I challenged all the circumstances, all the bars, all the guards and everything and I married Bassel,” Noura says.

 But, little more than two years later, her husband disappeared. Noura’s face falls, as she recalls the last time she set eyes on him.

 “I saw him for my birthday in September 2015. Three days after this visit he called me to tell me ‘they came to take me’. But I don’t know who.”

 Bassel, a software programmer for international companies such as Creative Commons and Firefox, was taken to a military field court and charged with being a threat to state security, a common accusation thrown at anyone who opposes Assad’s dictatorship.

 He was executed shortly after, although Noura had not been able to confirm his death until this August.

 She “collapsed” for a month, as she describes it, matter-of-factly. She still does not know what has happened to her husband’s remains.

 The UN has described “inhuman living conditions” in Syria's detention facilities, where the international body believes the crimes against humanity of “extermination, murder, rape or other forms of sexual violence, torture, imprisonment, enforced disappearance and other inhuman acts” have taken place.

 Last year, Amnesty International said that Syrian authorities were committing torture on a "massive scale" in government prisons including beatings, electric shocks, rape and psychological abuse that amount to crimes against humanity.

 Noura refuses to let Bassel’s death crush her. If anything, it propels her forward. “My aim now is to try to prevent any detainee in Syria having Bassel’s fate”, she explains. “I don’t just sit and wish. I do.”

 She is part of Families for Freedom, established this year as the first female-led advocacy group for Syrian detainees and their relatives. With most of the 85,000 people currently disappeared in the country male, it is women who bear the burden of their absence.

 They have campaigned in European cities, including Geneva - a base for Syria peace negotiations - and last month visited London. The trip saw them take a red London bus to Parliament Square, covered in photographs of those people missing in Syrian prisons. In place of display adverts, it read: “Freedom for the detainees”.

 But the agony of losing their loved ones is not the only challenge facing these women - ordinary teachers, mothers and university graduates - some of whom had previously been detained themselves.

 Making their voices heard in a male-dominated society is a daily struggle. The fight to make women’s voices heard is, says Families for Freedom member Amina Kholani, “a revolution against tyranny and against tradition.” A history graduate and mother of three, Kholani herself spent six months detained in a Syrian government jail with her husband before becoming an activist.

 “Women who make their voices heard are very few. We live in an eastern society - it looks like the society in the Middle Ages in Europe, where [women don’t] have that much encouragement or ability to speak”, she told a meeting at the Houses of Parliament, hosted by Baroness Hodgson of Abinger, co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Women, Peace and Security. “We have to break the tradition and talk about it.”

 A few weeks later, Amina discovered that her brother Mohammed, arrested in 2013, had died in detention.

 With news of deaths announced all too frequently, Families for Freedom wants the British government to work with other European countries to pressure the Syrian regime and its ally Russia to allow international human rights monitors unfettered access to detention facilities, and to allow aid organisations in to provide medicine and food.

 There are powerful, immediate reasons why the UK should care about the issues of disappearance and detention. “We know that this migrant surge has affected the UK and Europe more broadly”, says James Sadri, director at The Syria Campaign, a human rights group that supported Families for Freedom during the UK visit.

 “The vast majority of these refugees want to go home, but we know that they will not return to Syria until they know they can do that safely. This requires an end to the conflict and an end to the programme of mass detention carried out primarily by the Assad regime.”

 “We want to talk with all the governments who are involved,” says Noura. “Especially in Syrian human rights.” '

The couple at their engagement party in October 2011

Monday, 11 December 2017

Stories Of Syria's Uprising, And Its Backyard Funerals, In 'Gardens Speak'

 'Tania El Khoury splits her time between London and Beirut, where she helped found an artists' collective. Three years ago, moved by stories she was hearing about the Syrian uprising, she created an interactive work called "Gardens Speak." It grew out of an image she saw of a mother digging a grave for her son in her home garden because public funerals had become too dangerous.

 "I didn't know that this was happening," El Khoury says. "And I started to collect these stories and interviews. And this is when I had the idea that gardens can now speak all of these stories that [have] been buried in them."

 One grave tells the story of a man identified as Abdel Wahid. He tells visitors — lying down with their heads close to his tombstone — that after taking part in protests against President Bashar Assad's regime, he was detained and tortured. When he was released, he joined the resistance.

 "I don't know how," his testimony reads. "But I don't care about anything other than taking part in the revolution.

 "The army had intensified its attack. I ran quickly. I was in such a hurry that I wore my T-shirt backwards. I carried my rifle. And then before I could use it, I was shot 10 times from afar."

 "Gardens Speak" was first mounted in Lebanon in 2014 — in Arabic. Since then, it's been translated to English, French and Italian, and traveled widely. It opened in Miami Beach two days after the Supreme Court allowed the Trump administration's ban on travel from six predominantly Muslim countries to go forward.

 That gives new perspective to stories like those of Abdel Wahid, whose family buried him quietly, out of sight in their home garden.

 "They put me under the pomegranate tree my mother planted for me," his testimony reads. "There were no other noises than the sound of shelling and soil falling on me, bit by bit." '

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Demonstrators of Syrian Liberated areas rejecting Trump's decision and solidarity with Jerusalem

Demonstrators of Syrian Liberated areas rejecting Trump's decision and solidarity with Jerusalem (Photos - Video)

 'Mass demonstrations broke out in several liberated areas of north and south Syria on Thursday, rejecting the decision of US President "Donald Trump" on the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the transfer of the US Embassy to the Arabic city.

 The demonstrations took place in the town of Azaz and Mare' in the northern countryside of Aleppo, in addition to organizing a solidarity stand with Jerusalem in the town of Ma'rat al-Nu'man in the governorate of Idlib.

 Hundreds of children with the teaching staff at the Hamuriya school in the besieged eastern Ghouta carried out a protest against the Trump decision and solidarity with the Palestinians.

"The Syrian activists and the Palestinian Authority of Syria called for demonstrations and attended by the people of the area in addition to the Palestinian refugees," one of the organizers of the demonstration in the city of Azaz said.

It is noteworthy that hundreds of demonstrations rejecting Trump's decision came out in many Arab and Islamic countries while the Assad regime-held areas have seen nothing to protest such great incident.'

Demonstrators of Syrian Liberated areas rejecting Trump's decision and solidarity with Jerusalem (Photos - Video)

Syria: the revolution is alive, but buried under rubble

 'The Syrian revolution is “still there, but it is buried under all this rubble”, the writer Yassin al-Haj Saleh told a London audience on Tuesday.

 The situation facing Syrian civil society was formed in layers, Saleh said.

 The first layer was the first two years of the revolution (2011-13), when there was an explosion of collective community action against Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

 The second layer was the struggle of regional powers including Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey who feared the spread of popular rebellion.

 The third layer was the intervention in Syria of American and Russian forces in 2014.

 The world had stood by when the Assad regime launched a chemical attack on civilians at Ghouta in 2013: after that, Syrians had felt “isolated and betrayed”, Saleh said.

 Those who had participated in the revolution were “exhausted”, he continued. A quarter of the population had been displaced, many of whom were now living outside the country.

 The regime was being restored, with the support of the international powers, but none of the economic and social problems that caused the 2011 uprising had been solved. Even Syrians who were not opposed to the regime wanted their lives to change for the better, and no such change is likely.

 Outside Syria, Saleh said, groups of activists are working in the field of culture, and on human rights issues.

 “We are still in struggle. We are not pessimists”, he said.

 Saleh was speaking over skype to a meeting on Tuesday organised by the Syrian Society of students at the School of Oriental and African Studies. He is a long-standing radical political activist, a political prisoner under the Assad regime (1980-1996) and the author of The Impossible Revolution, published this year in English.

 Saleh argued that the Syrian revolution faced three “monsters”: the Assad regime (“fascists in neckties”), the Salafist militia (“fascists with beards”) and the “world order” headed by the USA and Russia.

 Saleh responded passionately to a question about whether any of the sides could be regarded as a “lesser evil”.

 “It’s disgusting and unethical to talk about a ‘lesser evil’. It’s despicable that the great powers now base their Syrian policy on Bashar al-Assad, who has been responsible for 90% of the destruction and responsible for gassing his own people.”

 These evil actors on all sides had to be confronted. The Syrian people had resisted both the regime and the Islamists, “and we were betrayed”, he said.

 The meeting on Tuesday, addressed by Saleh and researcher Husam Al-Katlaby, was held to highlight the case of four Syrian community activists, victims of forced disappearance: Razan Zaitouneh, Wael Hammadeh, Samira Al-Khalil and Nazem Hammadi.

 The four were kidnapped in December 2013 from their workplace, the Violations Documentation Centre (VDC), in the city of Douma. There has been no news of their whereabouts since.

 The VDC monitors human rights violations committed by all actors in Syria. The four were all active participants in the revolution, and, before that, in struggles against the Assad regime.

 Razan Zaitouneh, a human rights lawyer, defended political prisoners in Syria since 2001. She helped establish the VDC and co-founded the Local Coordination Committees (LCCs), among other organisations.

 Samira Al-Khalil is a long-time political activist, and had been detained by the Syrian authorities as a result. She worked to help women in Douma support themselves by starting small income-generating projects.

 Wa’el Hamada was an active member of the VDC and a co-founder of the LCC network.

 Nazem Hammadi is a Syrian human rights lawyer and poet, who played a crucial role in providing humanitarian assistance to besieged civilians.

 In his opening talk to Tuesday’s meeting, Yassin al-Haj Saleh – who is the husband of Samira Al-Khalil and a good friend of the other Douma 4 activists – spoke from a personal standpoint about the effect of forced disappearances on the victims’ families.

 “Death dies – forced disappearance kills”, he said. While the effect of the loss of a loved one who has died gradually reduces over time, the suffering of the families of people who have been forcibly disappeared grows over time, he said.

 Researcher Husam Al-Katlaby, the chief executive of the VDC, also addressed Tuesday’s meeting. He said that, in total, the number of victims of forced disappearance in Syria is estimated at between 75,000 and 85,000.'

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Siege versus prison in Assad’s Syria: a comparison

 Osama Nassar:

 'Many are the cities and neighborhoods that have been besieged in the past, in Syria and around the world. A number of them remain so to this day. It’s not news to anyone that the Assad regime has used besiegement as one of its most effective weapons against areas outside its control, where ‘outside its control’ here refers only to the regime’s inability to physically detain the areas’ residents. The regime’s fire, of course, can still reach any area it likes, as can its fighter jets, and certainly its chemical weapons. It goes without saying, too, that the regime uses detention and torture till death against its opponents as yet more tools of subjugation brought back from bygone eras.

 The situation in Ghouta, however, is different. The siege here is not like the siege of Gaza, or Leningrad, or Vienna, or Qatar. And without wishing to belittle any suffering, past or present, inflicted on any of the world’s persecuted peoples, the word ‘siege’ seems insufficient to describe what is happening in East Ghouta.

 It is not merely a besieged neighborhood, but resembles instead a concentration camp; a giant lockup containing half a million humans. A concentration camp readied for genocide by gas or incineration. Ghouta, like other areas, has been struck with banned chemical gas multiple times, of which the worst—so far—was that of the summer of 2013. Near Ghouta, the regime created a crematorium inside Saydnaya prison, in which to burn those killed by torture, or starvation, or cold, or lack of medical treatment, or other, unconventional causes of death invented by minds whose creativity is confined to the production of death and ugliness.

 The siege is often compared to prison, and ex-prisoners often find benefits in the practical and psychological skills they learned in jail, dealing with the hardships of siege as people of experience. The reverse can also happen: that the prison experience increases their ordeal under siege, particularly when the jailor of yesterday is the same as the besieger of today.

 In prison, you are inside a (communal) cell. If the jailor brings you food—any food—you eat, and if he doesn’t, the hunger will contort you, perhaps to death. It might be that food comes, but medicine doesn’t, or medicine comes that’s of no use to your condition, or is expired. You don’t know when you’ll be released, or when your circumstances might improve, and you don’t know what you can do, or stop doing, to change your situation.

 You find yourself using gadgets it had never before occurred to you existed, let alone that you’d use them. You enter a world wondrous in its inventions and alternatives: alternative electricity and water networks; an alternative hospital; alternative medicine; alternative transport; alternative fuel; alternative power; alternative food; alternative agricultural soil; alternative residence; an alternative family; an alternative loaf of bread…

 The besieged dream of the opening of the road, in the way that the imprisoned dream of the emptying of the prisons or the issuance of an amnesty.

 The besieged live in terror of bombardment, while the perennial terror of the imprisoned is to be called for interrogation.

 Under siege, as in prison, the vocabulary narrows and is abridged, so that a group of mostly locally-hewn words and terms suffices, or a vocabulary that previously existed acquires new local meanings. Thus:

 Injured = Returned from interrogation

 Abducted = Was in our cell, and we don’t know what happened to him

 Sound of airstrike = The knocking of the iron bolt of the cell door

 Ceasefire = Outdoor time

 The siege vocabulary: firewood – piston – generators – 12 volts – shrapnel – al-manfush (a notoriously extortionate seller of dairy products in besieged Douma) – tunnel – airstrike – martyr – wannana (the buzzing sound of drones) – security official – humanitarian aid – under the rubble.

 The prison vocabulary: sufra (literally ‘dining table;’ but in this case a piece of cloth placed on the ground underneath food) – solitary – lice comb – kreeza (fit of craziness) – insubordination – Abu Haydar (stock name for prison guard) – bowl – jailor – shawish (an inmate who communicates with the guards on behalf of the others) – tasyeef (being unable, for space reasons, to sleep on one’s back, thus having to sleep on one’s side) – air vent – dulab (car tire, inside which prisoners are forced as a means of torture) – the interpretation of dreams.

 In prison, and in East Ghouta, you are not permitted to receive visits. Your family and loved ones are meters away from you, but many years may pass without you seeing them or them seeing you.

 If you’re a student, your classmates graduate from university, and might take up further studies, while you stay ruminating on your woes, and the memories of the months you spent with them on campus, or on the seats of the amphitheaters, or in the library and the college cafeteria. If you’re an employee, you lose your employment, and your salary, and your career, and your colleagues. If you have a father or a mother, you don’t attend their funerals, or anyone else’s. If you are a father, your children grow up far away from you, as you do as well. You don’t make the acquaintance of your nephews and nieces, nor do they make yours. Your fiancée grows old and withers, as do you. You’re deprived of cities, and countries, and places—and they’re deprived, too.

 The mother residing in Damascus sees her émigré son in the diaspora more often than she does her other son besieged/imprisoned a stone’s throw away in East Ghouta.

 When you’re imprisoned, for one of your acquaintances to ask about your location or your fate is deemed a risk that could cost them an exorbitant price. And, likewise, when you’re besieged, if a friend contacts you from a non-besieged area, they are gambling with their life.

 In both cases, every detail of your life is governed by what those other than you decide.

 You withdraw within yourself, and rot. Your greatest skills are counting, dreaming, and being tortured.

 However good or bad your situation is in prison, you don’t leave it; indeed it’s forbidden that you change your cell for another one. Transferring inmates from one prison to another is a complicated matter, mostly done as a punitive measure, as with the transferral of an inmate from Adra prison to Saydnaya, or to the desert prison, or from Hama Central prison to Homs’ al-Baluna, or returning a prisoner to one of the torture branches from which he was previously sent. And, by analogy: transferring the besieged in Qudsaya, Daraya, East Aleppo, or al-Wa’er to Idlib, or returning them to the ‘embrace of the nation’ (i.e., regime-controlled areas).

 None of the usual givens is a given in prison or under siege: food, drink, coffee, going to the bathroom, showering, sleeping, light, colors, air, the mother’s touch. Diseases and epidemics thought by medicine to have been extinct make a return. Ailments not normally fatal—indeed easily treatable—can take the lives of the besieged or imprisoned. Whether myiasis, gangrene, or polio in East Ghouta; scabies in Saydnaya; diarrhea in the Air Force Intelligence prison; or a simple cut inflicted in one of the State Security Branch cells; it will aggravate and suppurate in the contaminated air crammed with mounds of humans and their waste, until it becomes fatal.

 In the summer of 2003, in the ‘Palestine Branch’ detention facility of the military intelligence in Damascus, a man in his fifties suffering a heart attack needed to be rushed to hospital. The shawish knocked on the cell door, and when the guard arrived, everyone inside the cell—including the vicious ones—implored him to summon a doctor, or at least fetch a pill, for their dying cellmate. “When he dies, knock on the door so we remove the corpse,” came the reply. And that, indeed, is what they did.

 In the fall of 2017, in East Ghouta, after much effort, delegations from the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the World Health Organization, the Red Crescent, and others inspected the emergency evacuation list prepared by the doctors of Ghouta. The list comprised 500 cases of grave illness requiring immediate treatment unavailable in Ghouta. They saw the patients with their own eyes, and expressed sympathy and concern, and promised all would be well. Then they got back in their Land Cruisers and left the emergency evacuation list to await death. And death, indeed, came to them.

 Death alone broke the siege for the young man Nabil, afflicted with cancer, making him the tenth person so far to be liberated from the list. The child, Osama, preceding Nabil on the list, was in need of a box of medicine that can be bought from any pharmacy outside the East Ghouta concentration camp. Before Osama and Nabil, the girl Aisha spat on the list, and on this wretched world, as she departed from it. And before them, and after them, the only thing that succeeds in lifting the siege of Ghouta, and raising them above the subjugation and shabbiness of the world, is death.

 In 2000, in the Air Force Intelligence prison in Mazze airbase, the guard shouted to the shawish: “How many do you have?” The shawish replied, “28,” so he threw him, in the food bowl, a single spoon smeared with halawa (a sweet substance).

 In 2017, after a long wait, a supposedly ‘large’ UN aid convoy arrived to East Ghouta containing food insufficient for a single meal for each of the half a million besieged. We don’t know if the convoy came with the phrase “Hopefully it’s poisoned,” as the prison guard in the Mazze airbase yelled while slapping the stunned expression on the face of the shawish, who carried the spoon of halawa to the 28 starving inmates.

 Prisoners grow suspicious of any improvement in the guards’ dealings with them, such as a reduction in torture, or an improvement in the food, or a promise of release. They’ve learned that such things are bad omens; liable to be followed by ‘execution parties,’ or exacerbations of one kind or another.

 The besieged, likewise, have grown accustomed to ‘breakthroughs,’ such as the opening of the road, or the entrance of aid, being accompanied by escalations in massacres and punishments. The arrival of a UN aid convoy comes with virtually unending bombardment beforehand, and afterward, and sometimes even during.

 These are not isolated, one-off cases, which makes them something to think about, perhaps, for those searching for the causes of extremism and the flourishing of nihilist thought in this subjugating, and subjugated, world.

 Both in prison and under siege, both the highest and lowest of what lies in the soul are brought out, for yourself and those around you. You see manifestations of love and sagacity and altruism, as well as hatred and depravity and selfishness and treachery. You get lost in existential questions about rebuking the starving or the naked or the imprisoned if they seek to meet the natural needs of mankind.

 In prison, you’re a loser at all times: the whips hurt you if it’s your turn for the torture festivities, and you’re also pained as you count the whips shredding your cellmate. And under siege, the hunger bites you, and you writhe in pain, and you’re no happier if you eat, as long as the whip of starvation lashes the poor fellow next to you.

 Your productivity is linked to the extent of your conviction about the immutability of the situation; that is, what the inmates call your istihbas, which is your dealing with imprisonment as a permanent, unchangeable reality. Your thoughts of the imminent opening of the road, and other ‘breakthroughs,’ increase your suffering, and impede your acclimatization.

 You’re astonished by your ability, or the ability of your imprisoned/besieged colleagues, to persist; to persist in anything, even moving and breathing and the rest of the vital functions.

 Your aspirations and dreams diminish in size. The utmost that the prisoner in one of the torture branches desires is to sleep on his back, or to stretch his body out fully. In one of the lockups, a young man confided in his cellmate his wish: to ride the Mazzat Jabal-Karajat service from start to finish. And in one of the towns of East Ghouta, a young girl longed for a cup of coffee in the Sarouja market.

 Should it happen that you exit from this prison/siege, you’ll remain encumbered with many scars, on body and soul. You’re supposed to have acquired the blessings of comfort and plenitude, and, most importantly, the blessing of freedom. Yet the bad news is you won’t live them once you attain them. It’s true you’ll carry your scars as medals, which may provide a source of power if you survive, but at the same time the survivors’ guilt will prevent you from carrying on your life as others do.

 Finally, there are people sharing the imprisonment/siege with you whose fundamental mission is to increase your suffering, and that of the rest of your unfortunate counterparts. It might be that the jailor commissions them to execute this task, or they may do it of their own volition. And the jailor is certainly pleased whenever they relieve him of the work of torturing you, and imprison you a second time inside your imprisonment.' logo

Saturday, 2 December 2017

No stability without liberty

 Jean-Pierre Filiu:

 'Syria has been undergoing a revolutionary process since 2011, while the Assad regime unleashed a ruthless counter-revolution under the pretence of a “civil war.” I never thought such “war” could be won or lost by any party, but I do believe that introducing war dynamics was a deadly trap laid by the Assad regime to divert most of the revolutionary energies into a desperate fight for survival. I spent part of the summer of 2013 in the “liberated” part of Aleppo, which had been under the control, for a year at the time, of the revolutionary forces. The military dimension of the confrontation between “liberated” East Aleppo and “loyalist” West already appeared to me as being secondary when compared with the crucial development of an alternative self-government in the “liberated” areas. This is what the Assad dictatorship and its unconditional backers in Russia and Iran wanted to suppress at any cost: the very possibility of an alternative. I was appalled when the “liberated” East thought it could “conquer” West Aleppo during the summer of 2016. This military delusion led to the collapse of the following autumn. So it is now obvious that the Assad regime cannot be defeated militarily. But I never thought it could be. Likewise, I never thought the dictatorship could “win” since it can only conquer ruins rather than cities.

 It has to be crystal-clear that, for the Assad regime, the so-called “reconstruction” is the continuation of its merciless war against its own people, now using other means. There is absolutely no possibility for a credible, sustainable, and inclusive reconstruction if operated under the sponsorship of such a dictatorship. First, because this regime will treat as hostile the populations in the areas formerly held by the opposition, prevent their return home, and coerce the remaining inhabitants. Second, because the so-called “reconstruction” is the only way for the Assad regime to pay part of the colossal debt it has accumulated towards its Russian and Iranian patrons. Criminal networks connected with the centers of power in Moscow (or Grozny, for the Chechens) and Tehran (or Beirut, for Hezbollah) are already active in this very profitable business. Donors have to understand once and for all that the Assad regime is not a state interested in the welfare of its citizens but a regime obsessed by its own logic of predation and suppression. Such a regime would never hesitate to refuse any international aid that would come with even a minimal string attached. There should be no hope of using the “carrot” of reconstruction money to extract any concession from the Assad regime. Contributing to the so-called “reconstruction” of Syria in those circumstances means collaborating with a dictatorship accused of the worst crimes against its own people.

 My main thesis in From Deep State to Islamic State is that dictatorships unleashed—voluntarily in Syria, involuntarily in Egypt—unbridled jihadi violence in order to catch the revolutionary forces in a crossfire, forcing them to fight on both sides. Obviously, [Abd al-Fattah] Sisi’s coup in Egypt, in July 2013, despite the unprecedented repression that has followed ever since, has not managed to counter the steady escalation of jihadi violence, first in the Sinai peninsula, now on the Egyptian mainland. As such, pure military repression cannot defeat the jihadi threat it contributes to nurture, even when the balance of power between the Egyptian army and the jihadi insurgency is at least one hundred to one in favor of the security forces.

 The situation was very different in Syria, when the first major defeat of ISIS unfolded through the “second revolution” launched by anti-Assad forces in January 2014 in the northern and eastern parts of the country. But the Assad regime, and of course Russia and Iran, were more interested in crushing those very forces that had defeated ISIS than in fighting jihadists. Remember that ISIS could regain control over Palmyra, already under its domination from May 2015 to March 2016, while the pro-Assad forces were too busy fighting the opposition in Aleppo in December 2016. It is only last March that ISIS was finally ousted from Palmyra. If you compare ISIS today with the first “Islamic State in Iraq,” proclaimed in 2006 and largely defeated in 2007, ISIS is now much stronger, with a vast range of branches over the Middle East and beyond. And the same factors that allowed ISIS to strike back after 2007 are still there, just much worse, with at their forefront the exclusion of the local populations from decision making processes.

 The fall of the “wall of fear” in the Arab world in 2011 was as important for the fate of Europe as the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989. But only a minority of Europeans felt their collective future was bound to what was happening on the southern shore of the Mediterranean. Instead of organizing an effective solidarity movement with the progressive forces of the democratic uprisings, most European decision-makers remained aloof. Their tacit choice for “stability” versus “liberty” facilitated the disastrous outcome of the refugees’ waves and terror attacks.

 There is no authentic “stability” without the guarantee of the basic collective and individual freedoms. Contrary to the usual clichés, dictatorships are basically unstable; first because they function on a “civil war” logic internally; second because those nefarious dynamics nurture the “exportation” of terrorism outside of their borders. I was a diplomat for nearly two decades before joining academia in 2006, so I know from experience that morally-flawed options can lead only to more crises and troubles. Look at the result of nearly seven years of supposedly “realist” policies in the Middle East: millions of refugees, historical cities turned to ruins, entire communities displaced and exiled, unprecedented levels of sectarian hatred, economies in shambles, education and health systems devastated, and all this at the cost of hundreds of billions of dollars that could have been better spent on development projects and institution building. Such blind and heartless “realism” has completely lost touch with the reality of the lives and aspirations of the women and men living in the region. An ethical approach is the only way to reconnect with this human reality that will shape, for better or for worse, the future of the Middle East, which matters so much for the rest of the world.'

Image result for jean pierre filiu

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

As Syrian Government Trumpets Military Wins, Fear Continues to Grip Locals in Damascus

 'Salma was scrolling through her Facebook newsfeed when an unverified piece of news struck her as bizarrely funny: Halloween celebrations have been banned in public places in Syria.

 ”Apparently they have taken pity on us. Our lives here are already a never-ending Halloween.”

 In a country gripped by a devastating conflict like the Syrian war, Halloween's flippant, playful quips contrast with serious, gruesome horrors that have become part of the Syrians’ macabre reality. Although the capital city Damascus has been spared the worst of fighting, different shades of fear diffuse the lives of the Damascenes.

 Salma, 29, lives in a squalid neighborhood with a heavy military presence in southern Damascus. Armed, bearded men dressed in military outfit affiliated to the so-called National Defense Forces, a pro-government militia, man checkpoints.

 ”I have to run this gauntlet every day on my way to work and back home,” she says.

 One might assume that after more than six years of military checkpoints, set up to tighten the Assad regime's grip on the capital since protests first flared up in 2011, locals would have reconciled themselves to their presence. The case is far from it, according to many, including Salma.

 ”They have made our lives difficult, causing delays and congestion. They are choking our city. I hate it when I have to return home after sunset. My pulse races under their fixed gaze. I feel ill at ease to say the least. Sometimes they are tipsy, laughing out loud and carousing. They can do anything and get away with it. Who is there to protect us after all? There is a state of chaos and lawlessness everywhere. The state is busy coping with the consequences of war.

 Salma fumbles for the right words to describe how she feels. ”You feel naked, unarmed and powerless in the presence of this heavy-handed arrogant military prowess.”

 Doaa, a university student at the Faculty of Dentistry, echoes her thoughts:

I have long stopped wearing makeup or revealing clothes, although I have always been a free girl, just to avoid getting myself into trouble. Soft catcalling or flirtation in the street used to be a stroke to a woman's ego. But during war, you can only find men dressed in military outfit, usually armed, in the streets. It makes me jittery. They are arrogant about the power they have over the locals.
 If my name is found, I will be dispatched to one of the front lines.

 For military-aged men, checkpoints continue to be a constant source of horror. The government has been using these checkpoints to conscript new soldiers to the Syrian forces, which are depleted from a protracted conflict. Fear of arrest and conscription has prompted many between the ages of 18-42 to flee the country in waves of undocumented immigration to countries next door and in the European Union. Those who have stayed behind grapple with daily difficulties, pushing many to shut themselves in.

 ”My permit to postpone military service is about to expire. I am not going out unless on urgent errands,” says Hisham, who has a law degree from Damascus University. 
They would search databases saved on their computers. If my name is found, I will be dispatched to one of the front lines. Every time I passed one of these checkpoints was an outright nightmare. I would wait with bated breath for the military man to beckon to the driver to move on. You can be arrested for evading military service, for having a similar name with a wanted man. Everything is possible.

 Hisham relates the story of what happened to his friend: He was on his way to his own wedding party when he was stopped by a checkpoint and summoned to military service. The friend had to pay a hefty amount of money to postpone it for a few days.

 This has made men thin on the ground. Women often joke that in the near future, they will not need to don a hijab, for there will be no men on the streets.

 ”Damascus is a testosterone-free city,” a pithy Facebook post reads.
 Everything smacks of war. Look at the people's weary faces.

 Ruba, an English literature student, tells Global Voices that she ironically recalled an article she read lately listing the most romantic cities in the world when she passed by a military vehicle in her densely populated neighborhood.

 ”Damascus used to be called city of Jasmine, which symbolizes purity, romance and love. Now look at the situation on the ground. Everything smacks of war. Look at the people's weary faces.”

 Fear extends to the use of social media. A pro-opposition activist based in Damascus who asked to be identified as Osama already goes by a fake name on Facebook to engage in solidarity campaigns with areas under government siege. He says fears of arrest are now more pronounced than ever.
 ”It was unthinkable when the revolution started seven years ago that today we will be fearful to express our thoughts on social media. Unfortunately it is happening.

 Osama anticipated a wave of arrests and score-settling by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad against opponents, emboldened by a military superiority on the ground.

 These accounts belie regime attempts to project an impression that life is back to normal following recent military wins, the latest of which was the recapture of al-Bukamal city in Deir Ezzor that sealed the fall of Isis in Syria. These attempts have included the holding the Damascus International Fair after a six-year hiatus, celebrating much-vaunted achievements of the Syrian football team which came close to qualifying for the World Cup, and the restoration of basic services, mainly electricity.

 However, these so-called pessimistic perspectives receive pushback from those who see a clear improvement in the situation, as the regime has managed to claw back significant swathes of territory from opponents.

 ”There is a predominant sense of relief in Damascus compared to previous years,” says Salem, a government employee. ”Some checkpoints have been removed. Electricity is back 24 hours a day, the prices of some basic commodities have gone down. I believe that this is very promising.”

 Others will find these wins too little and hollow.

 ”It is ridiculous to assume that war is over and the locals’ woes have come to an end just because some services are back and prices have slightly dropped. Rocket and mortar attacks continue on near daily basis. Just yesterday, there have been eight deaths,” Hisham says.
 Rocket and mortar shells continue to hit the city, with a recent spike in the death toll after a brief lull that followed the establishment of de-escalation zones in the Damascus countryside, shattering a temporary sense of relief that prevailed in the Syrian capital. This came on the heels of a government offensive in eastern Ghouta, a rebel enclave under government siege near Damascus.

 ”The thunder of artillery and rockets hitting Ghouta echoes all across the city. Buildings here are literally shaking,” says Samar, who lives in Bab Sharqi neighborhood. ”We have not heard these sounds in a while.”

 ”Incoming or outgoing?” People ask in jest when they hear a sudden boom, wondering whether it is a rebel rocket hitting Damascus or the sound from the army's artillery pounding opposition-held areas.

 Clearing this kind of ambiguity is part of what a Facebook page called Diaries of a Mortar Round in Damascus does.

 The page, originally set up to track rebel rocket attacks on Damascus city, occasionally tells people in Damascus not to worry because the source of the noise is the Syrian military's shelling of opposition areas. Many in the comments express relief and urge the Syrian army to do more to eradicate ”terrorism” and restore security to Damascus.

 But others criticize what they consider a chilling lack of sympathy for the tragedy unfolding in their close vicinity.

 ”Few mortar shells can disrupt life here. The sounds of artillery cause panic, especially among children. I find it impossible to imagine the horror visited on those on whose heads these rockets are falling,” says Manar, a teacher at an elementary school in old Damascus.

 Asked if the Damascenes feel more safe after seven years of war as the regime touts new military wins, she says ”fear in Damascus ebbs and flows, but is always there. Many years will pass before the Syrians can feel safe and secure again.” '

Monday, 27 November 2017

Dirty Deal

 'Map that shows the dirty deal between Assad regime and ISIS to transport ISIS fighters towards Idlib to fight the rebels and ultimately destabilize the free North region in Syria so the régime can recapture the North later.'

 "Rebels mobilized en masse to repel ISIS advance in Hama. The first phase has been very succesful, and the Baghdadis have been all repelled back to the Hama province borders."


"Report from NE. Hama fronts showing how ISIS shifted its focus westwards after Regime kicked off own assault in "de-escalation zone", backed by Russian Su-25s & advanced jets."

Sochi Assad: Syrians show their anger at Russian summit

Sochi Assad: Syrians show their anger at Russian summit

 'Syrian opposition activists have launched a social media campaign in opposition to talks about Syria’s future held in Sochi, Russia.

 The discussions so far have involved Russia and Iran, who support the regime of Bashar al-Assad, and Turkey, which has supported rebel groups but is increasingly close to Russia and fearful of the influence gained by Kurdish militias, including those backed by the US.

 The latest talks ended on Wednesday, but opened the way for a further, theoretically broader, conference, also in Sochi, which is expected to take place next week.

 Turkey, Russia and Iran released a joint statement after the talks, which called on the Syrian regime and mainstream opposition to join the planned conference “constructively”.

 The Hashtag Revolution campaign has urged people around the world to join its social media activism using the hashtag #SochiAssad, and is in solidarity with street protests against Sochi in Syria itself.

 “We, the Syrian people who joined the revolution against the Bashar al-Assad regime, believe that the Sochi conference is a distraction,” Ghossoun Abou Dahab, one of the campaign organisers, told the Lens Post.

 “We reject any negotiations outside the UN and will continue to insist that Assad must step down and face charges in the International Criminal Court because he is a war criminal.”

 Many activists feel that the voices of ordinary Syrians have been drowned out by talks between world leaders, especially those who they see as leading the violence against them. The campaign calls on all foreign entities to leave Syria, and insists on keeping the country united as one.

 “Surrounding countries are looking out for their own interests in Syria, and that is the reason Assad has remained in power until now,” said Ghossoun.

 “Russia is Assad’s partner in crime in Syria, so we do not trust it and it is not acceptable that it would be part of any negotiations to defend the Syrian people.”

 Ghossoun also had little faith in a rival conference held by opposition groups in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday.

 “In all honesty, we no longer have any trust in negotiations,” said Ghossoun. “We wish that the results of such negotiations will be better than its predecessors.

 “The best way for peace would be for a transitional government without Assad.”

 A string of protests has also taken place in Syria against the Sochi talks.

 Obeda Abo Omar, an activist in eastern Ghoutta, an area being devastated by regime attacks and siege, told the Lens Post, “All the towns of Ghoutta stood up against Sochi. Here in Ghoutta, these events have been taking place since the proposal of the Sochi conference.”

 Omar added that a large event was being planned for the near future, but that so far up to 50 people had attended each of the Syrian protests and vigils. He said they would have been bigger were it not for the constant “fear of targeting and shelling”.

 The six-year war in Syria, which started when the Assad regime brutally tried to crush the Arab Spring movement against him in 2011, has seen hundreds of thousands of people killed and has forced millions of people to flee the country, creating the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War.

 The Syrian regime saw signs of being defeated at the hands of the Free Syrian Army and other rebel groups, but recovered after support from Russia, Iran and Hezbollah. This military onslaught, which has included the dropping of barrel bombs and chemical gas on opposition areas, turned the tide in the conflict, with Russian airpower reducing cities to rubble.

 The coalition of Syrian revolutionaries behind the #SochiAssad campaign released a statement online that also rejected the Sochi conference.

 “Russia has spilled the blood of our people due to the use of its veto power as well as its aircraft strikes that caused the destruction of infrastructure, especially hospitals, which is contrary to international norms,” said the statement. “We therefore categorically reject any political solution sponsored by an occupier.”

 It continued, “We also demand that the opposition forces, represented by the coalition and the High Commission, all who speak on our behalf, stick to our revolution and the aspirations of our people with freedom and dignity, and any negotiations should be under the umbrella of the United Nations and the Security Council in accordance with the decisions of Geneva and the rejection of any outside interference in the drafting of the Syrian constitution.”

 Journalist Salwa Amor used the #SochiAssad tag to post on Facebook, “Russia has senselessly bombed civilians in Syria for the sixth year straight, it seems surreal that it is now entrusted with deciding what is best for Syria and Syrians.”

 Twitter user Robert Robert also used the hashtag, tweeting, “Self-determination means that Syrians, not the Russian/Iran government, determines the fate of the people.”

 The activists, both in and out of Syria, are planning to build on their campaign.'