Saturday, 21 January 2017

Not only because we are very bitter and angry at the world

 Yassin al-Haj Saleh:

 'In March of this year, when six years would have passed since the Syrian Revolution started, its crushing would have perhaps been completed, shattering the lives of a countless number of people and their social and livelihood environments. Besides, it is only expected after a crushed revolution to see a very brutal counter-revolution, which will be a continuation of the crushing of the revolution and its communities, with unimaginable forms of overlapping between foreign control, Russian and Iranian, and domestic fascist “tashbih”[2]. This is not a subjective anticipation of atrocities that may or may not happen in the future; it is based on what we have already witnessed in Syria after the Assadi state was able to crush a social rebellion it faced in the early eighties of the twentieth century, and on a steady historical observation indicating that the dominant elites retaliate brutally against those who dared to revolt against them after they defeat them.

 The Syrians have fallen under prolonged and profoundly cruel tyranny, which went to war against its subjects twice, the first between the late seventies and early eighties, and again for the past almost six years. The violence of the Assadi state against its subjects is not punitive, but was always based on humiliation. This violence caused the death of tens of thousands in the first war, and the arrest, torture and destruction of the lives of tens of thousands. In the second war, hundreds of thousands were killed, and similar numbers detained or tortured while the displaced and refugees were in the millions. All this happened before the eyes of international organizations and actors over months and years.

 How can this be explained? I think it is closely related to, first, Syria being a microcosm, in a region that is the most internationalized in the world, the Middle East, and the world being a macro-Syria. In Syria, the world recognizes itself, the self that it does not want to change or re-consider, neither does it have the will to face and repair. The world, through its international institutions and major players, is in a constant state of denial of its responsibility for the extremist constitution of the contemporary Middle East, which was based on minoritarian rule, extremism and exception (Israel and Saudi Arabia being the most prominent examples). The Assadi regime in Syria is also based on this very trinity of extremism, exception and minoritarian rule, and does not allow the people to have a say in the political structures that govern them. This has paved the way for the ongoing massacre against them for the past years.

 In 2013, after the regime committed a chemical massacre in Ghouta[3], the Americans and the Russians came to a sordid deal, which ensured the survival of a regime that had violated the international law and crossed Mr. Obama’s “redline”, murdering 1466 of its subjects within an hour. The offender was stripped of a weapon whose ownership was considered the right of the international elite only, but was effectually given a license to continue to kill by other means. This is what the Assadi state has actually done with everyone’s knowledge and under their watch. Before that license and more after it the shabbiha regime invited additional partners to participate in the murder feast, which continues to this day. The international parties that signed the deal did not lack information neither the awareness of what was happening in the country. Everything was clear and known to all. It seems, according to the information available, that the inspiration for the criminal deal came from the Israeli neighbor, which itself, always enjoyed extreme exception from the rules of international justice. It is also an elitist state that has been given a full license to continue with its own killing against Palestinians.

 What we have witnessed for years in Syria, and before that in Iraq, Lebanon, and Palestine, is an extremist form of exposure of defenseless people, the condition of “homo sacre,” whose killing has no meaning or sacrificial value according to Giorgio Agamben. Syrians were not only killed in abundance; they were killed and blamed, killed and slandered, killed and dehumanized, and exterminated all the time like pests. The killing of the dehumanized people was considered deserved due to their fanaticism or terrorism. Their deaths were not considered acts of sacrifice that has any emancipatory meaning. No one in the whole world, except a few people here and there, acknowledge that this is a genocide of the Holocaust type. Why? Simply put, because no one is willing to see the Nazi while he looks in the mirror. Culturalist and/or geopolitical discourses that share Middle Eastern studies, both depopulated, have been in circulation for a whole generation, and both of them are dehumanizing, pushing us into invisibility. These two are genocidal discourses.

 This extreme case of injustice is contagious, regionally and globally.

 It affected Syria before any other. The rabies of extremism spread in Syria strongly after the criminal chemical deal, which was a heavenly gift to the nihilistic Islamic organizations. There was a global state of denial about these formations: there were considered a special product of our societies, of the past and of religion. But in reality these formations have arisen from the modern world, where they were born, with the extremism of oligarchic regimes providing them opportunities to live and grow. For its part, these poisonous nihilist formations poisoned the lives of so many Syrians, Iraqis and middle easterners. In this way, they were complementary to the impact of the forces of international control and the local extremist regimes.

 The plague of extremism and discrimination also spread in the region as a whole, in Iran and Iraq, the Gulf, Egypt and Libya. With extremism, hatred and hate crimes appear. Formations such as Daesh, Qaida, and Shiite militias such as the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces, are forces of active hatred.

 The world order was another environment for this contagion, where the forces that invest in fear and prefers it as a natural political environment, and looks at the stranger, the immigrant and refugee as a danger and a source of pollution. “Never again”, it seems, does not apply to the Syrians. These are utterly exposed, and their extermination is not a big problem.

 The world that has left Syria to shatter, has become more Syrian itself, and is walking on the path of self-destruction. More than at any time since World War II at least, the world’s reserves of hope, altruism and confidence appear at their lowest levels, and despair, selfishness, fear of the future and distrust of the neighbor are progressing in the world.

 In our view as Syrians, the world is a Syrian issue. Since the chemical deal at least, the main issue is no longer Syria, it is the world. What we need is to change the world, which prevented change in Syria. This is simple logic. Since it does not appear that there are opportunities for liberatory change in the world today, it is likely that we are going to face globally spread fear, despair and hatred, more violence and humiliation, more hardened souls and insensitivity. Trump’s been elected in America, and maybe soon Fillon in France, the rise of the populist right in Europe, and also Putin and Bashar Assad, Netanyahu and Abdul Fattah Sisi, these are all dreadful signs of a progressively shattered world.

 The world is a Syrian issue, definitely. But before that Syria is a global issue: four permanent members of the UN Security Council are in a state of war in Syria, and the fifth, China, offers training support to the murderer in addition to political cover. Israel has bombed in Syria whenever it sees fit. Iran and its followers in Iraq and Lebanon are participating in the murder feast. Turkey today is on Syrian territory. Nihilinist Sunni Jihadists from dozens of countries are fighting in Syria, and there are Kurdish fighters from four or five countries … Despite all this, there are no serious indications that Syria is regarded as a global issue that need to be resolved on the basis of justice and equity, or at least something close. The contemporary world contributed to aggravating the Syrian malady, which in turn has made the world sicker. The problem today is not that the world is not helping us; the problem is that the world is not helping itself. The world, our one world, is left abandoned, with no one to care about it, and no one to represent it while the major powers are acting according to a selfish and narrow-minded logic, leading to the deterioration of the situation in these countries themselves, not only in the world as a whole. The international institutions are empty and helpless, and their global nature weaker than any other time since the emergence of the United Nations nearly 70 years ago.

 This global resignation does not promise anyone anything good.

 As Syrians we have found ourselves thinking globally, not only because we are very bitter and angry at the world that left us to be killed for more than 2000 days, not because we know the world more than others, not because almost the whole world is literally in Syria, but first of all because we have become in the world. We have been thrown outside our country; our trajectories are those of dispersion all over the world, exposed without legal and institutional protections, without having recognized status, and without many of us being in any one country. One can be here now, but he does not know where he will be shortly after. We are here and there, and we are not here nor there (according to the great Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish). We, with the Syrian Palestinians, have become more global than anyone else in the globe today. This does not mean that we tell the truth to or about the world, nor that we are closer to the essence of the world than others, but it does mean that the world is for us, more than for anyone else in the world, our project. The world is a trajectory, not a reality, and we have been thrown in divergent and convergent trajectories around this trajectorial world.

 We are the world.

 You want to know something about the world? Just have a closer look at Syria and at the trajectories of Syrians or Palestinian Syrians, and their destinies.'

[1] This text was is a modified version of a talk delivered at the first meeting of the Lancet Commission on Syria, held at the American University of Beirut, Lebanon, 1-2 December, 2016.



I Went to Aleppo to Study. I Left in a Convoy of Refugees.

  Lina Shamy:

 'I grew up here in Idlib, a northern Syrian town and moved to Aleppo, about 40 miles away, in 2008 to study architecture at the university. I had loved Aleppo since I was a child, when we used to visit my maternal grandfather. I would stare at the wooden houses with latticed balconies in the alleys that my mother had known as a girl.

 As a student, I spent long afternoons at the eighth-century Umayyad Mosque with its slender 11th-century minaret, a masterpiece. I also admired the 12th-century Citadel, its gateways decorated with winged dragons and serpents. On the outskirts, St. Simeon Church, from the Byzantine era, reminded me of even older histories.

 The joys of exploring such glorious history and architecture sat uneasily with my growing awareness of the limits of possibility in a Syria under President Bashar al-Assad. If you did not belong to the networks patronized by Mr. Assad and his cronies, you didn’t have much of a future in the country anyway.

 In January 2011, during my third year at Aleppo University, the news of the Arab Spring uprisings arrived from Tunisia and Egypt. Many of my friends felt pessimistic that such a thing could happen in Syria because we knew how brutal the regime could be, because we had been raised to believe that the walls in our country had ears.

 But by April, protests against Mr. Assad had spread throughout Syria. One summer day I joined a group of young women in an upscale neighborhood of western Aleppo. We walked through a market carrying banners critical of the regime. A few minutes later, pro-Assad militiamen arrived in several cars and began circling us. We ran. A girl and I who sought refuge in a house in an alley were arrested.

 We were handcuffed, taken to a police station and then the intelligence headquarters. I remember walking through a corridor filled with men who had been stripped to their underpants with their hands cuffed behind them. Their backs were bloody. I told my friend to deny that we were at the protest and to say that we were in the neighborhood for lunch and had run for safety from the commotion. At night, we were blindfolded and taken into a room full of male voices. Our blindfolds were taken off and we were asked about the protest. We repeated our lunch story. A little while later, we were released.

 As the uprising intensified through the summer of 2012, the regime responded with increasing brutality. I moved briefly with my mother to a Turkish town by the Syrian border, but after a month I decided to return to Aleppo, despite my mother’s anxieties, to complete my degree.

 In July and August, the Free Syrian Army took control of most of eastern Aleppo. Moving between the rebel-held and regime-held parts of the city became extremely difficult.

 The university is in western Aleppo, and I would constantly hear President Assad’s planes and helicopters dropping bombs to the east. People in western Aleppo seemed to be simply going about their lives. I couldn’t bear the laughter on the streets, the diners at restaurants in pretty clothes as bombs pulverized the eastern neighborhoods, just a few miles away.

 My university became a hub of protest. Campus life alternated between classes and protests and raids by security forces. I narrowly escaped prison but a lot of my fellow students didn’t. On Jan. 15, 2013, I was working in a design studio at school when a classmate saw something falling by the window. A few seconds later, I felt a gust of air and, in a blink, my desk was covered with dust, glass and wreckage. I got a few scratches on my face and hands; two of my classmates had head injuries.

 More than 80 people, including students, passers-by and hawkers selling coffee, were killed by the bombing that day. We felt that it was a warning from Mr. Assad. Protests at the university and elsewhere in regime-held Aleppo ended after that.

 I did not want to stay in western Aleppo for even a day after my graduation. I went to Turkey to live with my mother. While I was there I met Syrian architects who were working to deal with the housing problem for refugees by replacing scattered tents in informal settlements with cheaply built houses. We built several houses. And I met Yusuf, an architect from Aleppo. Two years later, in the summer of 2015, I married Yusuf and moved to rebel-held eastern Aleppo to live and volunteer with him.

 While we were there, I was constantly afraid of bombs dropping anywhere, anytime. The sound of helicopters and planes above kept me on edge. The Umayyad Mosque and the Citadel that I loved to visit as a student had been significantly damaged (St. Simeon was soon to suffer the same fate). Yet around 250,000 people were living in eastern Aleppo, some working in grocery stores, pharmacies or vegetable markets, others working with local and international aid groups.

 Yusuf, though trained as an architect, volunteered in all possible ways. He worked as a paramedic, helped move schools into basements and acted in plays. I walked past bombed-out homes to work at a school, catching painful glimpses of family photographs and clothes still hanging on hooks on shattered walls.

 Last July, the Assad forces established siege lines around eastern Aleppo. We could rarely cook at home because there was no fuel. A few days after the siege began, Bait al-Falafel, a small neighborhood eatery where we would get dinner, was bombed. Two workers were killed. Shops started to close, one after the other. A month into the siege, there was hardly anything left to buy in the markets. People bartered. Relief organizations had stocked rice, cereals and beans in anticipation of the siege, which helped. Several districts fell to the regime forces. Tens of thousands of people fled.

 By November, rebel-held Aleppo had shrunk to about 50,000 people. The front line was moving closer to our home. Everything stopped. Yusuf went to fight with the Free Syrian Army. I would say goodbye to him every morning when he left as if it were the last time. I felt I would lose my mind when I couldn’t reach him on the phone after yet another wave of bombings.

 One morning during the siege, I’d just had coffee with Yusuf when a sudden blast of air threw open the doors and windows of our apartment. My table and my computer were covered with dust. I was shaking on my sofa, my heart galloping.

 Two days later, another barrel bomb fell, on a building close to our house. A hospital had moved next door. Regime and Russian jets were intentionally bombing hospitals and clinics. We grabbed a bag of clothes and moved to another house. President Assad’s forces were inching closer, and our new house was in the firing range. We moved again, to a friend’s home.

 We were desperate for the world to hear and help us. I had been frantically tweeting images and videos of destruction from eastern Aleppo. We relied on local providers who used Turkish wireless networks and satellite routers to keep Aleppo online. On Dec. 12, as Aleppo was close to falling, many of us tweeted our last calls for help. I recorded my video inside a friend’s house, my voice trembling. I feared a massacre.

 A few days later, a cease-fire was announced. Aleppo had fallen. We were granted passage out. On Dec. 21, Yusuf and I were in one of the last convoys to leave the city. We heard that militias aligned with President Assad had attacked one of the convoys and killed four men. There was no space left on the buses, and the authorities asked us to go in our cars. Heavy, swirling flakes of snow began to fall.

 We waited in our car at the checkpoint, for 36 hours, cold and without food. It was still snowing in the morning when we were waved out of Aleppo. After crossing checkpoints operated by Russians, Mr. Assad’s soldiers and Iranian militiamen, we were finally out of regime-held territory. Twenty long minutes later, I saw a post with the Free Syrian Army flag. Tears filled my eyes.'

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Syrians elect first civilian council to run Idlib city

Syrian men queue to cast their vote at a polling station in the city of Idlib as they elect the city's first civilian council, two years after it was overrun...

 'Syrians in northwestern Idlib cast their ballots on Tuesday for members of the first civilian council to run their city, two years after it was overrun by rebels and jihadists. Regime forces were expelled from Idlib city in March 2015 by the Army of Conquest, led by the Fateh al-Sham Front, which changed its name from Al-Nusra Front when it broke ties with Al-Qaeda. Since then, a committee appointed by the Army of Conquest had run the city's affairs, electoral commission head Mohammad Salim Khodr told AFP.

 But "after efforts from the city's residents, the Army of Conquest was persuaded to hand over the city's affairs to its residents, who would vote for a local council to manage it", Khodr said.

 "I came here to vote in these free elections, which make us hold our heads up high," voter Mustafa al-Mohammad told AFP.

 According to Khodr, the council's 25 members will later elect a 10-member executive committee led by the equivalent of a mayor. They will be responsible for "overseeing services and development projects... as well as aid and support to refugees and displaced people from other cities," Khodr said.

 "We wanted to take part in this huge joy, in the unbridled desire by Idlib's residents to create a local council that represents them as civilians and manages the institutions," said candidate Hussam al-Din Dbis, who works as a surgeon.

 Since Syria's conflict broke out, the population of Idlib city has swelled to an estimated 200,000 people. There are around 160 civilian-run councils across Idlib province, according to Mohammad al-Aref, a member of Idlib province's executive office. These bodies manage "health and educational affairs, as well as public services" of towns and villages.'


 'While President-Elect Donald Trump and Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian leader, have both publicly flirted with the idea of partnering in the future, any normalization of U.S. relations with Syria should occur only if major reforms and a transition of power are carried out, according to many experts on the region. Any other outcome would not end the country’s instability, only postpone it.

 “The attitude of the United States towards the upcoming talks is very important,” says Gilbert Achcar, Professor of Development Studies and International Relations at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. “Donald Trump has said he prefers Bashar al-Assad over any alternatives, but the reality is that any outcome that doesn’t result in guaranteed political transition and reform in Syria will not end the conflict there.”

 At the heart of the problem is the Assad regime itself. While the Assad family has managed to hold onto power in the country for over four decades, it has done so in a brutal manner that repeatedly generated major crises between itself and its own population. The most recent conflict has only been the largest, and has taken on regional and even global dimensions. Among these are a massive refugee crisis and the emergence of transnational terrorist groups that have launched attacks across the world.

 “The Syrian regime knows that it is no longer strong enough to maintain control over the entire country on its own, and it is dependent on foreign ground forces to do so, including Iranian, Lebanese, Afghan and Iraqi groups,” says Leila Shami, co-author of Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War. “But ultimately peace can’t be enforced through foreign occupation. Although people may be subdued for some time through terror and exhaustion, in the end there will always be resistance. We can’t go back to a time before 2011, because the regime, as it was, has collapsed.”

 The unsustainable nature of the Assad regime’s rule, and the folly of continuing to prop it up into the future, can only be understood in the context of modern Syrian history. The current cataclysm of violence is only the most recent, bloodiest chapter in a long battle by the ruling family and its allies to maintain absolute political power. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, a previous attempt by a diverse group of opposition factions to challenge the Assad regime was met with brutal violence and repression, culminating in a major military assault by the regime on Muslim Brotherhood factions based in the city of Hama in 1982.

 The attack on Hama is estimated to have killed between 10,000 and 40,000 people. It also leveled much of the city itself, making it the first of many ancient Syrian cities that would be destroyed by the Assad regime. But the brutality of that “victory” by the regime against segments of its own population planted the seeds for the even bloodier confrontations in the future. Raphael Lefevre, in his 2013 book about the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, Ashes of Hama, points out that much of today’s conflict has been animated by a desire to avenge abuses committed by the regime in those years.

 In the Aleppo countryside, a flashpoint in the current violence, Lefevre notes that, “men in every village [can] recite the the names of men who were killed or disappeared” during the conflicts of the late 1970s and early 1980s. When protests broke out around the country in 2011, demonstrators took to the streets chanting that they will “not let the massacres of 1982 be repeated” and “forgive us Hama, we apologize.”

 Experts on the region say it is unrealistic to expect that most Syrians will resign themselves to being passively ruled by the government after this latest episode of bloodletting.

 “When you have had years of such terrible, unprecedented, and mostly one-sided massacres perpetrated by the regime, it’s not possible to imagine that there could be any lasting end to the war in Syria, as long as that same regime remains in power,” says Achcar. “Even if the regime and its allies succeed in forcing the opposition to agree to some kind of settlement where Assad stays, the situation will remain completely unstable, because his regime is at its core very weak and survives only due to Iranian and Russian support.”

 Achcar says that the upcoming talks in the capital of Kazakhstan offer an opportunity to bring an end to the conflict, but only if Russia and the United States can pressure the Syrian regime to agree to power-sharing and a genuine transition of power in the country. That will also require continued pressure to ensure that the regime plays by the rules.

 “Unless there are guarantees of political freedoms at the end of a transitional process within Syria, no part of the opposition will agree, and the fighting will inevitably continue,” Achcar says. “The key point is to what extent Russia, the United States and other parties are willing to impose such outcomes. If there is no plausible political settlement and there is just a big bluff to keep the regime as it is, it will not stop the war.”

 Given Syria’s history, any conclusion to the most recent conflict that doesn’t guarantee democratic change will almost certainly give rise to another round of violence in the future.

 “People from the outside are only looking at the geopolitical dimensions of this conflict, but for Syrians this is very personal,” says Leila Shami. “Many of them have had their sons and fathers killed by the regime, or witnessed their daughters and wives raped by the Syrian Army. Millions more have been forced out of their homes and land and have lost everything. The idea that these people will just give up and decide that being ruled by Assad is the best option is never going to happen.” '

Post-surrender regret in Damascus suburb: ‘Everyone who lost sons and daughters to this revolution will never view Assad as anything but a criminal’

 'On December 2, Syrian rebels and their families left the north Damascus suburb of a-Tal for good as part of a November ceasefire agreement. The encircled city is now under regime control.

 Nicknamed the “City of a Million Displaced,” a-Tal, which lies 11km north of Damascus, had a population of 100,000 before the war. In 2012, when the Free Syrian Army rebels seized control of the city, thousands of residents fled there from neighboring towns to escape regime bombardment. Today, it counts a population of 900,000.

 Since August 2016, the government had coerced five other encircled Damascus-area towns—Darayya, Qudsayah, Moadamiyeh, Hamah and Khan a-Sheh—into ceasefires. A-Tal was next.

 The town was given an ultimatum: “the rebels could either agree to the ceasefire, or the regime would burn the city,” says Omar a-Dimashqi, 25, is a citizen journalist.

 Seven weeks after rebels left the city, some residents, once supportive of the agreement, say that they “regret” agreeing to a truce with the government.

 Ahmed al-Bayanuni, director of a-Tal Local Coordination Council, an opposition media organization that is still operating despite the regime’s control of the city:

"There are no guarantees with the regime, which plays by the rule “either you’re with me or against me.” As soon as the fighters left, [regime officials] began asking for men who reconciled with the regime to join the reserves. More than 30,000 residents are now wanted for reserve service.

 Two days after fighters left for Idlib and the regime officially entered the city on December 10, security forces stormed opposition headquarters and residential buildings. They established checkpoints. They ordered the closure of all small roadside stands, which many residents rely on to make a living. They also ordered the removal of revolutionary slogans from the walls and demanded that electricity bills from the past five years to the present be paid.

Part of the reason the regime isn’t holding up its side of the truce is that the reconciliation  committee didn’t make the necessary arrangements to ensure that all terms of the agreement would be met. Whether or not it was intentional, the committee aided the regime by encouraging residents to expel fighters from the city. If residents did this, according to the committee, the regime would bring security to the city. So residents agreed, even though they’re aware of the regime’s dishonesty. They agreed to this truce because they were afraid of shelling and death.

 Since it took control, the regime has held up SARC’s delivery to the city more than once. The government doesn’t care about the agreement or its stipulations. The way I see it, this most recent delivery on January 12 is an anesthetic, it’s a way to keep people silent about the regime’s violations.

 People thought that once rebels left, they would be able to live a pleasant life. They were patient once regime officials returned to the city, but they haven’t benefited at all from the agreement."

Faraj Abu Ahmed, 52, is an a-Tal resident. His two sons, who fought with the FSA, were killed fighting the regime. He has two university-aged daughters:

 "I stayed in a-Tal so my daughters could continue their studies. Also, I don’t believe that leaving a-Tal will aid the revolution. Leaving my city and my home would signal the end of the revolution. I carefully considered the consequences of my decision and the possible harassment and trouble I could face from the regime. Even so, I decided to stay.

 The disgrace that we’re experiencing now existed in all of Syria before the revolution. But no one spoke about it because the government’s security apparatus controlled us.

 I don’t think that peace is possible in Syria if Assad stays in power. There is no peace with Assad as president. Everyone who lost sons and daughters to this revolution will never view Assad as anything but a criminal.

 The words “freedom” and “revolution” have vanished from our vocabulary. We live in secrecy once again, since the walls have ears.

 The revolution is an idea, one that won’t die. But we need more time to achieve it.

 We’re upholding the revolution by staying here in a-Tal and remaining steadfast. Eventually, injustice will be defeated.

 I never expected something in return for surrendering. I knew what would happen once the state entered the city. We’ve seen it happen in other cities, so we’re familiar with the regime’s false promises.

 The fighters who left a-Tal didn’t surrender. We, residents of a-Tal, ordered them to leave. Those of us who stayed will do whatever we can to tell people what is really happening inside the city. We want our experience to be a lesson for residents in other rebel towns on how the regime is dishonest and deceitful. Even if you forget, this regime will always remember how you defied it.

 We still discuss the revolution, but behind closed doors, like we did at the start of the revolution. If we spoke about these issues openly, we’d be arrested because there are a handful of regime agents inside of the city.

 People in my neighborhood feel intense regret. The regime has not been loyal to its word. This reconciliation is fake and void. But our regret can’t help us now. We already surrendered to the regime."

Umm Ashraf, 30, is an opposition activist from a-Tal who studied computer engineering:

 "The regime’s word can’t be trusted. I don’t think its possible to achieve peace in Syria through ceasefire agreements. Peace will only be obtained through a military solution that completely disposes of Assad, or by pressuring Russia to stop supporting him.

 I surrendered so I could keep living in my city, on this land. And this is what I received, but it came with a price—constant fear and intense surveillance. I could be arrested at any moment. I feel hopeless, because I don’t have the freedom to do what I want.

 Since the regime entered the city, I can no longer talk about the revolution, except with my families and trusted friends. Other than that, it’s dangerous to talk. But I can still express my opinion through social media by using a pseudonym.

 I regret the truce. The regime hasn’t left our young men alone since the city returned to its control. More than 90 percent of the young men who stayed involuntarily joined the regime’s forces. This is without counting those who were arbitrarily arrested.

 Right now, I’m looking for a way to leave the city, even thought it’s a risky move.

 But life here is no longer bearable, and leaving is better than staying here and joining the regime’s forces. Right now they’re recruiting men, but maybe one day they’ll have women join them and fight. Or they’ll arrest us in order to further humiliate us.

 The regime wants the world to view it as a gentle lamb that embraces its citizens once they go back to living under its control. It’s keen on protecting its image, especially after the publication of several reports about the regime’s bad treatment of a-Tal residents after the agreement." '

Monday, 16 January 2017

Obama doesn't regret 'red line' over Syria conflict

Obama doesn't regret 'red line' over Syria conflict

 ' "I think it was important for me as president of the United States to send a message that in fact there is something different about chemical weapons," he added. "And regardless of how it ended up playing, I think in the Beltway, what is true is Assad got rid of his chemical weapons." '

 He simply ignored all his critics, including Syrians, outside the Beltway. Assad continues to attack with chemical weapons to this day, and as he only handed over those weapons he chose to declare, probably still has a stock of sarin. What is true is that in order to dismantle non-existent Iranian nuclear weapons without firing a shot, President Obama let Assad, Iran and Russia fire as many bullets into the the Syrian people as they wished.

Desperate Assad conscripting 50-year-olds as beleaguered Syrian regime forces halved by deaths, defections and draft-dodging

Image result for Syrian army burn revolutionary flag in Aleppo

  'Karim Habib never imagined he would join the millions of refugees fleeing his country, but on Monday he got a call he had long been dreading. 

 A friend in the Syrian army informed him that he would soon be called up for military service, which the 48-year-old oil worker believed was long behind him. He decided to pack his bags and head for the border.

 “I did not think they would come for me,” he says from a relative’s house in Beirut, the capital of neighbouring Lebanon. “But they are recruiting more men now than at any other time during the war. The regime is so desperate they are coming for anyone that can carry a weapon. The age limit is supposed to be 42, but now even those in their 50s and those with health problems are having to fight.

 "They are being stationed around the country - manning checkpoints in Aleppo and even on the frontlines around Damascus,” he said.

 Reservists in Bashar al-Assad’s coastal heartland of Latakia also received orders late last month to immediately report for duty with the newly formed 5th Corps.

 President Assad’s regime may appear stronger than ever, propped up by its Russian and Iranian allies and fresh from victory in Aleppo, but its beleaguered army is struggling.

 The 300,000-strong pre-war force has been halved by deaths, defections and draft-dodging.

 “There are no longer any men between 18-50 on the streets any more,” Mr Habib - using a pseudonym to protect his family still in Syria - said. “Those who try to avoid the call are imprisoned and tortured, so I felt I had no option but to leave.”

 Mr Habib had a good job working as a manager at an oil company in the capital - making him one of the middle class Syria will desperately need when the conflict is over and the country tries to get back on its feet.

 For now he waits in Beirut for his wife and three young children to be granted visas for Germany, where he holds citizenship and hopes to start a new life.

 But many others in Mr Habib’s position did not have the option of fleeing.The United Nations has raised concerns that as many as 6,000 men of military age are missing after heading from east Aleppo into government-controlled areas.

 “The regime has a serious manpower problem, which has so far been compensated by tens of thousands of foreign fighters and loyalist militias along with the Russian air force and Iranian advisers,” Faysal Itani, a resident senior fellow with the Atlantic Council's Rafik Hariri Centre for the Middle East, told the Telegraph. “How it will control the territory it captures if the foreigners get bored and leave is an important question.”

 With the Russians announcing a military scale-back and its most battle-hardy ally Hizbollah suffering huge casualties, the regime is having to dig deep.

 Despite the ceasefire, brokered by Moscow and Ankara, government forces have continued offensives on strategic areas and are in need of troops to help reclaim them.

 The regime is keen to regain control of the outskirts of Damascus, the capital and seat of power in Syria. The town of Wadi Barada is of greatest importance as the valley is the primary source of water for five million people.

 Government forces have in recent days been pummelling the besieged town with air strkes and artillery fire on the ground.

 “Damascus and the surrounding suburbs are at the top of Assad’s bucket list,” said Mr Itani. “Once that’s in hand, he will turn his attention to holdout pockets in Homs and Hama, and then Idlib.”

 Idlib, which is controlled by a messy alliance of rebel groups dominated by the Islamist Jaish Fateh al-Sham, is now the largest opposition stronghold.

 The government has been using it as a holding pen, sending rebel fighters from east Aleppo and other areas which have surrendered under so-called reconciliation deals. Mr Assad has promised to retake the whole country, but it is likely a promise he cannot keep. It may be some time before Mr Habib is able to return.'

“All I know is that I cannot serve for this brutal regime which has destroyed the country,” he says. “There can be no peace under Assad. Most who have fled will not return until he is gone.”

Trump's secretary of state pick has a plan for fighting ISIS that has the same fatal flaw as Obama's strategy

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 'During his confirmation hearing earlier this week, President-elect Donald Trump's pick for secretary of state articulated his strategy for defeating ISIS in Syria — and it sounded very similar to what the Obama administration has been doing since the terror group established itself in the country.

 "We've had two competing priorities in Syria under this administration: 'Bashar al-Assad must go' and the defeat of ISIS," Tillerson said. "And the truth of the matter is, carrying both of those out simultaneously is extremely difficult because at times they conflict with one another."

 He continued: "The clear priority is to defeat ISIS. We defeat ISIS, we at least create some level of stability in Syria which then lets us deal with the next priority of what is going to be the exit of Bashar al-Assad."

 But while the Obama administration has indeed called for Assad to step down, the US has not made his ouster a priority. And when President Barack Obama had the chance to act on a red line he set forth in 2012, he ended up deciding not to take military action against Assad.

 "I don't see any big daylight between what Tillerson said and what Obama's administration has been doing," Robert Ford, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute and Yale University who was the US ambassador to Syria from 2011 to 2014, told Business Insider.

 Ford noted that for the last two and a half years of US involvement in Syria, "it's been abundantly clear that the Islamic State is the heavy priority and not the Assad government."

 Many Syria experts say this is misguided because ISIS' presence in Syria is fostered by Assad's continued hold on power.

 "The key problems we face center on the effects of Assad regime mass homicide: a recruiting bonanza for Islamist extremists, spillover effects that embolden Russia and hurt allies, and the signature humanitarian abomination (to date) of the 21st century," Fred Hof, a former special adviser for transition in Syria under Hillary Clinton, then the secretary of state, told Business Insider in an email.

 "This is why a strategy that separates Assad and ISIS would be doomed to failure," he added. "Assad and ISIS are joined at the hip."

 The Assad regime theoretically fights ISIS, and vice versa, but the real targets for destruction in Syria are the moderate rebel groups whose primary goal is to oust Assad.

 Assad knows that ISIS and Al Qaeda-backed groups in Syria will never be able to rule the country legitimately because the West will never work with them. Therefore, the real threat to Assad come from the rebels whom the West could in theory support.

 But extremist groups are still fighting the Assad regime, and because they are often better equipped than other rebel groups, Syrians who are desperate to oust Assad join up out of practicality. Assad's regime also allowed ISIS to grow and prosper in the first place.

 "The connection between Assad's atrocities against mainly Sunni Arab civilians and the ability of ISIS and other Islamist extremists to recruit and prosper is well-established," said Hof, who is now the director of the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East at the Atlantic Council.

 Hof continued: "What's been lacking is a strategy that recognizes and acts upon the linkage — the symbiotic relationship — between a murderous Assad regime and the extremist groups it has helped spawn."

 One victor in the Syrian civil war has been Russia, a country that has been increasingly hostile to the US. Russia entered the fray in Syria in 2015 to support the Assad regime. Since then, the Russian military has helped the regime win a series of victories against anti-Assad rebels.

 While Russia initially said it was intervening in Syria to fight ISIS, it has become clear that bolstering the Assad regime is its real priority.

 Tillerson himself noted that the Syrian civil war "has provided a convenient open door for Russia to now establish a presence in the Middle East, a region that it has long been absent from."

 Tillerson also insisted that the US must have a plan for who would replace Assad if he were to be forced from power.

 "We need to answer the question, what comes next? What is going to be the government structure in Syria, and can we have any influence over that or not?" Tillerson asked.

 Hof disagreed with this sentiment.

 "Although it is troubling to assign stabilizing qualities to a mass murderer, the issue of who ultimately replaces Assad is a bit of a red herring: he has all-but-destroyed a state and there has been no American effort to overthrow him," he said. "Besides, did the world agonize in 1945 over who would replace Hitler?" '