Saturday, 22 April 2017

Syrians take to the streets in anti-Assad protests

 'Syrians in Damascus’ Douma took on Friday (April 21) to the streets to protest against the Assad regime and its allies’ brutal airstrikes, barrel bombs attacks, chemical attacks and forced displacement policies conducted on a sectarian basis.'

Friday, 21 April 2017

Absurdity is questioning a dictator's motives

A child receiving treatment at a field hospital after an alleged chemical attack in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun in north Idlib province. [EPA]

 Malak Chabkoun:

 'News flash: Bashar al-Assad is bad. He has been murdering his own people for more than six years now. Before that, his father did the same. And not once in the decades the Assad family has held power in Syria did it need "justification" for its crimes against humanity.

 Thus, a confirmed nerve agent attack on Khan Sheikhoun, one of many chemical weapons attackscommitted by the regime, is not out of the ordinary! Pro-Syrian revolution individuals or organisations who say that Assad committed chemical attacks on Khan Sheikhoun are not calling for World War III - they are simply naming the aggressor, as they have been doing for more than six years.

 Assad knows, six years in, that the entire international community isn't willing to take concrete steps resulting in his removal. And that is why it is completely ridiculous to even entertain questions like: "Why would the regime do this?"; "Why would the regime use chemical weapons?"; "Why would the regime use chemical weapons on Khan Sheikhoun?"

 Dictators kill because they can. They use chemical weapons because they are simply another tool at their disposal. It is not surprising that a regime which has dropped countless barrel bombs on its own people and invited occupiers into its country would use chemical weapons, and it is quite absurd that Syrians who have had to physically and ideologically fight Assad, Russia, Iran, ISIL and al-Qaeda all at once are constantly called upon to combat the narratives of these "woke naysayers" when their bigger concern is surviving whatever the regime and its allies throw at them next.

 Located about 90km from the Turkish border, the town of Khan Sheikhoun falls on the Damascus-Aleppo International Highway. Its civilian local council is led by Osama al-Sayadi. No armed factions maintain a presence in the town after Jund al-Aqsa tried but failed to capture it earlier this year.

 Since its liberation from regime forces in June 2014, the town has been and continues to be subjected to air strikes by the regime and its allies, including a strike hours after Trump ordered the attacks on Shayrat airbase. The city is also home to thousands of internally displaced families from surrounding areas such as rural Hama.

 Initially, the regime and Russia claimed they had carried out an air strike on "terrorist chemical weapons stores." But journalists from the area, as well as a journalist from the Guardian, provided video and photographic evidence that in fact, what regime and Russian media sources were calling a chemical weapons storage facility were actually abandoned silos the regime had destroyed in air strikes months earlier.

 Late 2013, the UN Security Council charged the US and Russia with removing the Assad regime's chemical weapons stockpile. After several delays and missed deadlines, the country was declared to be rid of its chemical weapons by mid-2014. Mere months later, the UN raised concerns the Assad regime had not fully disclosed all its chemical weapons facilities.

 Furthermore, the regime and Russia have continued to use chlorine to bomb Syrian civilians and Internally displaced people, as well as napalm, white phosphorus (or incendiary) bombs, cluster bombs, anti-aircraft missiles and vacuum bombs, among others. Russia has even bragged about the weapons it has tested on Syrian civilians.

 Given this, the US' declaration that its attack on Shayrat airbase was a direct response to the use of chemical weapons was quite puzzling. It became even more puzzling when the US admitted it had notified Russia, an ally of the regime, that the air strikes were coming.

 But perhaps most puzzling of all is that even given these facts about Russia's role as an enabler of the regime, self-proclaimed analysts still insisted on circulating the regime's official line: Syrians had orchestrated the Khan Sheikhoun attack, with the help of al-Qaeda, in order to incite a response from the US.

 When the Israeli army bombs Gaza, it is rightfully taken to account by both Arab and western pro-Palestine activists. After Israel's major assault on Gaza in 2014 (Operation Protective Edge), the very same people now questioning whether Assad's regime was responsible for the Khan Sheikhoun sarin attack were organising protests at that time and pushing for Israel to be punished.

 Assad, with the assistance of Russia and Iran, has been doing the same and worse to his own people. So why is it that these activists aren't expressing any outrage against the Assad regime, instead choosing to defend it? They do not question the fact Israel is using internationally prohibited weapons on civilians when "it clearly has the upper hand".

 Russia and Iran have been in Syria for years now, both as occupiers, and both committing crimes against humanity. Yet, it is only when the US or Israel strikes an Arab nation that anti-war groups wake up to protest, publishing statements on the sovereignty of Syria and protesting while holding photos of the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. And when Syrians against Assad, living in the West as refugees, counter their narratives, they are silenced or accused of supporting terrorism.

 This type of selective solidarity wastes the time and energy of Syrian journalists and civil society activists who are continually being put on the defensive. This dehumanisation of the Syrian people by the very activists who say they stand for human rights is incomprehensible. They send a clear message: they will never be convinced of the regime's brutality, even if they witness it themselves.'
Image result for Absurdity is questioning a dictator's motives

After Trump's air strikes, a Syrian asylum seeker remembers revolution and imprisonment in Damascus

Abu Shadi

 'Just after Trump's missile strike, I shared a meme on Facebook. It was of Trump wearing a tarboosh [the traditional Syrian red tasseled cap], with "We love you!" written below—a slogan that any Syrian knows from photos of Assad inscribed with the same message. Propaganda slogans were forced down our throats in posters, books, and photos. "We love you" is a phrase that you couldn't escape in Syria. It's about the cult of dictatorship. People who aren't Syrians might assume we now love Trump, and I can't deny I'm happy about his missile strike on the Syrian government. But the irony is that he is someone who made us the enemy just a few months ago.

 [On this image] I commented, "I believe in you," in a reference to a Fairuz song because I love her music, as all Syrians do. It's a dark joke, I guess, because Syrians have very little to believe in these days.

 On one hand, I'm happy that, finally, a world power acted in Syria to stop the use of chemical weapon attacks against our people. On the other, we all know that Trump warned Putin—our new Syrian president—before the strike. Somehow, even if the strike is just a political game, it still it gave me a sense of hope that I haven't felt in a long time. Usually the world only presses "like" or "dislike" for Syria, but this time it felt different.

 I've developed a complicated relationship with social media because, honestly, I can't see dead Syrian civilians anymore. For us, the images of dead bodies are not just news; they are our family members, friends, and people. I see my family in the photos of the dead, but most of all, it's a reminder that the world watches us and does nothing.

 It's hard to believe that it has been six years since the revolution. I was just a 20-year-old computer engineering student in the beginning. I remember sitting with friends in 2011, and one asked me, "Do you think what happened in Libya or Tunisia will happen here?" We all agreed that the Arab Spring would never spread to Syria. The regime was too strong and the people were too afraid to stand up for themselves. But it did, and everything changed.

 When I went to my first protest, I was so afraid. Just after Friday prayer, everyone poured out into the streets from the mosque. Even at that time, protests could mean death. We had all heard about protesters getting shot by the mukhabarat [the Syrian military intelligence]. At first I felt fear, but then in the streets this fear disappeared, and I just felt free among thousands chanting, singing, wanting to be heard.

 After a few months my friends and I were protesting every day, sometimes even twice a day. I chose to document this revolution, and I felt it was my duty to share it with the world as a photographer and videographer. I couldn't use a real camera because it would make me a visible target, so I learned to shoot good video on a Samsung Galaxy S1, then upload the footage to YouTube for the world to see. I would find an elevated area slightly above the protesters and shoot the scene from behind so as not to identify anyone's face, as I knew the government would watch these videos on YouTube. I filmed around 400 protests before I was caught.

 My friends and I heard that the government knew my group of friends had been attending and filming protests. To be safe, we hid out in a friend's apartment who was out of the country, but they found us.

 It was like any other night: I fell asleep, while one of my friends talked to his girlfriend on the phone, another was up studying for his classes. Around 2 AM I woke up to the cock of a gun over my head. Four officers were standing above me while I lay on my back looking up. "Don't move," they said, while pointing their guns at me.

 They searched the home for weapons, guns—anything to prove that we were terrorists—but they found only books. Unfortunately, they found our laptops and discovered footage of protests as well as photos and songs about the revolution, sealing our fate. My friends and I were then blindfolded with our own shirts pulled over our heads. My last memory before detention was being led by soldiers down the stairs of the building and glimpsing through the stretched brown fabric of my T-shirt to see a soldier stationed every second step. Why were they so afraid of us? We were just students. Someone called the police on us and turned us in, but I will never know who made us disappear.

 At first I was taken to a station in Mezze, and for six hours we were beaten with hands, feet, guns—any object they could find. I had never been beaten before. A lot of people die during this first interview. While you are being beaten you wonder, will I live? Afterwards, I was taken to a basement where I was tortured by four men.

 Two held me down while the others twisted my foot, grabbing it with a tool. As they pressed my foot, they demanded to know what I had done. "Why did you bomb Mezze neighborhood yesterday? Where are your guns?" they screamed. After 30 minutes of torture, you get smart and you will confess yes to everything. You just want to make the torture stop. With everything he asked, I said "yes." Anything he demanded to know, "yes."

 It was just one day of my life, but it felt like two. There were no lights, no clocks. After that I was taken to a mukhabarat jail where I was held for one and a half months. Just know that you go to these types of places in Syria to die. I remember for over two weeks, every day I thought, "Is today the day I will die?" Sometimes during torture I left covered in blood; sometimes I left with marks returning to the small room with around 100 men.

 There was [usually] no space to sit down on the floor, so we could only stand together, and if I could sit on the floor it was for just for a couple of hours. There were no windows, no air. It was a room so small that the I could feel the moisture of our sweat on my skin and in my breath. There was a constant liquid on the ground that made us feel so warm that none of us wore clothes, just our underwear. I remember there were people of all ages in that room. Some talked. Some prayed. Some were silent.

 My friends and I thought that once we made it to court that this would all be over. I remember on the day of our trial, we lifted our shirts to show what the soldiers and mukhabarat had done to our bodies, and we explained how during torture we said yes only to make it stop. Somehow we believed that the truth would set us free, but instead we were sent to prison for crimes we never committed.

 This time, it was better than before, with edible food and a chance to talk to your families. I was there for just 24 hours, before my family bribed the government for my release. I was told to leave Syria or face rearrest. So I left to Egypt, then eventually I acquired a student visa to come to America.

 After five months, I claimed asylum in Chicago. My case has been pending for four years now, but in the beginning, I would check the mailbox every day for updates on my asylum case. After a few months, it was every week. Now, I don't check the mailbox. It's not that I don't care. I care a lot, actually, but what can I do?

 Despite everything, within my first week in Chicago, I went to a protest held downtown for Syria. I wasn't nervous about going back to protest because I love this freedom, but most of all, I still go to protests here because I want Americans to know what is happening. I want them to see a face representing those who have disappeared.'

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Why so many Syrians living abroad support U.S. intervention

 'On April 4, the Syrian regime dropped a toxic chemical on the town of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province, killing at least 69 people, including many children. This incident was the most widely publicized chemical weapons attack since the 2013 attack in the Damascus suburbs that killed more than 1,400 civilians. In both cases, victims suffered excruciating deaths from sarin, a nerve agent that is banned under international law.

 After the onset of the revolution in 2011, Syrian activists and humanitarians in the United States called upon President Barack Obama to take decisive actions against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The U.S.-based lobbying organization Syrian Emergency Task Force brought regime defector “Caesar” to testify in Congress and has worked to publicize his documentation of torture and starvation in Syrian prisons. The Syrian American Council has worked to lobby for no-fly zones and increased assistance to factions within the Free Syria Army. Syrian American doctors have made powerful appeals in support of calls for intervention.

 The election of Donald Trump initially left many of these advocates frustrated. Activists were aghast at Trump’s executive orders banning refugees from Syria. Syrian organizations expressed alarm at recent comments by the administration that the United States would have to accept the “political reality” of Assad’s authority. Now, however, many Syrians across the diaspora are praising President Trump’s retaliatory strike against Assad, and, in some cases, are asking him to do more. Mr. Trump has taken note, posting a grateful response by Syrian activist Kassem Eid on his Facebook page.

 Scholarly accounts of diasporas have long been concerned with the effects of diasporas on foreign policy. Critics such as Benedict Anderson and Samuel Huntington have decried these long-distance nationalists as incalculably damaging, framing exiled elites as pro-war and dangerous meddlers in home-country politics. The role of Ahmed Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress in the 2003 invasion of Iraq exemplifies the dangers of expatriate hawkishness.

 But are Syrian advocates of intervention more of the same? I find that Syrian activists are far from the hawkish interventionists depicted in prior accounts. On the contrary, each of those interviewed had opposed the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Many had participated in antiwar protests and have worked to support nonviolent civil disobedience in Syria. These respondents also supported the revolution because of its initially peaceful character.

 Nor did I find that these activists were professional or elite lobbyists. In fact, the Syrian American community did not have any organizations or associations actively lobbying against Assad before the Arab Spring. Instead, a range of émigrés, exiles, students and second-generation youths came together gradually only after the onset of the 2011 revolution to publicly condemn the regime.

 I also find that their pro-intervention views were not the product of shared identities or political support for Republican politicians. Rather, these activists varied in their ages, emigration histories, regional and ethnic origins, religious affiliations and voting preferences.

 Given the controversies and complexities of U.S. intervention in Syria, why then have so many of these diverse activists come together to support Trump’s punitive action against Assad?

 My research shows that Syrians in the United States and Britain came to advocate for a no-fly zone and targeted strikes because they see no other way to stop the violence. They have watched as diplomatic efforts have failed time and time again in Geneva and the United Nations. Meanwhile, civilians at home have been slaughtered and subjected en masse to bombings, starvation, rape, torture and execution in Assad’s prisons. After years of disappointment and almost half a million casualties, many Syrians have come to think — along with many Republicans and former Obama administration members — that military intervention is the only viable means to stop state-sponsored mass killings and the outpouring of refugees.

 The diaspora’s responses have been shaped by transnational ties to kinand compatriots under siege. In my experience, it is rare to meet a Syrian who has not lost family members to the war or does not have relatives who remain at risk. Activists abroad also view their role as amplifying the demands of Syrians on the ground, such as activist-artist Raed Fares and dissident Eid — also known as Qusai Zakarya, who testified at the United Nations about being gassed in the Aug. 21, 2013, attack.

 Furthermore, many of these activists have witnessed the carnage firsthand while volunteering to treat victims of war in Syria. As such, calls for intervention in the diaspora have evolved in conjunction with demands by those inside Syria for a no-fly zone.

 Somewhat paradoxically, Syrians’ calls for military intervention cannot be understood apart from recent changes in humanitarian norms against mass murder. Echoing the arguments of former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, activists think that Syria’s problem from hell warrants decisive action. This does not mean that Syrians think state leaders act out of altruism — if anything, the past six years have taught them the opposite. Rather, they argue that upholding the “responsibility to protect” doctrine is the legal and moral responsibility of democratic states and that failing to do so enables autocrats to wield state sovereignty as a shield against international law and civilian protections.

 Of course, not all anti-regime Syrians are pro-intervention, and many who are readily admit that it is highly problematic. After all, it is these same activists who are leading the charge to monitor and condemn civilian casualties caused by U.S. strikes targeting the Islamic State militant group. As one respondent lamented, “Whatever they’re going to shoot, they’re not smart, and Iraq is the proof.”

 Yet dismissing Syrians’ pro-intervention views as pro-war or pro-Trump would be a mistake. As Fares puts it: “We are antiwar. We are against Assad killing our children.” Syrian Americans are continuing to critically evaluate the Trump administration’s conflicting policies on their home country and refugees. At the same time, under extraordinary circumstances, these activists are left with few options but to lobby states and international institutions to uphold purported commitments to human rights. For this reason, activists in the diaspora are likely to continue imploring Western powers to heed the call of “never again” and eliminate Assad’s capacity for mass killings.'

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Tuesday, 18 April 2017

The Daraa city battle has returned popular support for the revolution

 'Syrian rebels are close to capturing the southern half of Daraa city on Tuesday, two months after the combined force of hardline Islamist and moderate opposition fighters launched a preemptive battle to prevent the Assad regime from regaining a nearby border crossing with Jordan.

 If the alliance succeeds in its campaign, it will create a buffer zone that blocks the Syrian government from bifurcating rebel-held Daraa province, a swathe of territory that sweeps down and forms a “U” shape all the way to the border with Jordan.

 Daraa province, the birthplace of the Syrian uprising, has been a base of opposition strength. Over time, the Assad regime carved a sphere of influence both throughout the northern countryside and within the eponymous provincial capital. Most notably, the regime maintains control over the M5 highway, the main artery that connects Daraa city and the outlying towns to the capital and the rest of the country.

 A rebel victory in the al-Manshiya district, the regime’s primary base in south Daraa city for bombing nearby opposition territory, would also provide the rebels with a high-ground position capable of seriously threatening the provincial capital’s government-controlled northern half.

 Syrian regime forces currently hold the northern and western neighborhoods of Daraa city while on the other side of the Yarmouk River, which runs through the provincial capital, Islamist and Free Syrian Army (FSA) factions control the south and east. Daraa city lies just four kilometers from Syria’s southern border with Jordan, and one of the province’s two inactive border crossings.

 In February, rebel forces launched their campaign—dubbed “Death Rather Than Humiliation”—two and a half months after Jordan indicated its willingness to reopen its border points with Daraa province only if regime forces held them.

 In what is the largest battle in Daraa city since 2015, opposition forces say their preemptive strike focuses on capturing two regime-held districts—al-Manshiyah and Sajnah—the government’s heavily fortified and last remaining holdings in the southern half of the city.

 On Tuesday, opposition sources said that they now control more than “85 percent” of al-Manshiyah, an elevated district from which the regime bombardment has menaced rebel-held positions across the provincial capital and the wider province for years.

 Rebel forces made rapid advances in the initial days of the surprise campaign in February, capturing as much as 50 percent of the contested district. But fighting quickly reached a stalemate in subsequent weeks, as the opposition faced dug-in regime fortifications, supported by “hundreds of Russian airstrikes.”

 Despite near-daily airstrikes, opposition forces resumed their advances this past week with rebel sources pointing to heavy and sustained firepower, regime attrition and simultaneous battles elsewhere in the country as reasons for their success.

 Rebel forces are leaning heavily on suicide car bombs and other conventional weapon strikes. Meanwhile, the regime’s Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and its allied militias appear to have redirected resources in recent weeks to their other campaigns, including the fighting in northern Hama.

 “Any operation in Syria will of course lighten the pressure on another ongoing battle by spreading out the regime,” Abu Shaimaa, the spokesman for the al-Banyan al-Marsous operations room carrying out the battle, said on Tuesday. “That being said, there’s been no let-up from the regime’s warplanes or their helicopters.”

 Since the rebels targeted regime positions in al-Manshiyah with two suicide car-bombers and a massive tunnel bomb on February 12, regime and Russian aircraft have reportedly launched more than 550 airstrikes and dropped nearly 500 barrel bombs on rebel frontlines and surrounding areas, multiple opposition sources said. Meanwhile, the block-by-block urban warfare has killed scores of combatants on both sides.

 With rebels fighting on Tuesday to recapture the final blocks of al-Manshiyah, once considered to be “an impenetrable fortress,” says Al-Buraq al-Mafalani, a local media activist, the prospect of an opposition victory “will turn the entire calculus in Daraa city on its head.”

 Together, al-Manshiyah and the northern adjacent Sajnah districts overlook all regime territory north of the provincial capital’s dividing Yarmouk River. From this position, opposition forces could theoretically shell regime military holdings in the city’s northern half, also known as Daraa al-Mahatta, with greater ease.

 The rebel groups currently battling SAA forces in Daraa city include Hay’at Tahrir a-Sham—a hardline Islamist coalition including former Syrian Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat Fatah a-Sham—as well as Ahrar a-Sham and the FSA factions working in Daraa city.

 While rebel spokesmen remain tight-lipped regarding any potential next steps, Abu Shaimaa of al-Banyan al-Marsous seemed to indicate that fighting will be “advancing towards the liberation of all of Daraa city.”

 Both regime and Russian state media are providing limited coverage of the Daraa city fighting beyond the occasional reference to “terrorists” killed. One pro-regime outlet reported on Sunday that the “Russian Air Force saves the day in Daraa,” preventing the “jihadist rebels” from capturing more than what they estimate to be “70 percent” of the al-Manshiyah district.

 Inside the rebel-held southern side of Daraa city, also known as Daraa al-Balad, sources on the ground describe a scene of devastation in the wake of the regime’s two-month bombing campaign.

 More than “80 percent of all infrastructure in the districts of Daraa al-Balad” is destroyed, Abu Mahmoud al-Hourani, a spokesman with the pro-opposition Daraa media outlet Horan Free League, told Syria Direct on Tuesday. Few civilians remain inside the city’s southern half as thousands of families fled for surrounding villages and camps across the province in the early days of fighting back in February.

 Despite the destruction and displacement, local sources uniformly relayed a sense of excitement about the rebel military campaign.

 “The battles have given us hope again,” Abu Ahmad al-Qateifan, a resident displaced from Daraa city to the countryside said on Tuesday. “These battles are real, they are sincere and they are led by true revolutionaries.”

 The Daraa city battle has “returned popular support for the revolution and the hope of salvation from the criminal regime,” he added.

 Abu Mahmoud al-Hourani of the Horan Free League said the “Death Rather Than Humiliation” campaign has “reinvigorated the spirit of those who had so much despair in their hearts with the worsening situation in Daraa.” '

Image result for A rebel fighter stands amid the rubble of destroyed buildings in rebel-held Daraa, March 2017. Photo courtesy of Mohamad Abazeed/AFP/Getty Images.

Revolutionary factions thwart an attack west of Aleppo

 'The revolutionary factions confronted a fierce and large scale attack launched by the forces of the Syrian regime and allied foreign militias in many areas west of the city of Aleppo, causing great losses among the attacking forces.

 According to Al-Faruq Abu Bakr, the commander of the western Aleppo countryside sector of Ahrar al-Sham, in exclusive statement to the network of ElDorar the that the Assad forces and their allies from the Afghan militias and the al-Quds Brigade attacked after midnight on Monday until dawn on Tuesday, The attack is mainly focused on the areas of Jmiat al-Zahra, Al-Rashidin, Mansoura and Jabal Shuwehana. The campaign is considered the most violent attack since the beginning of attempts to break into the area several weeks ago.

 He stressed that the factions stationed in the western countryside of Aleppo represented in Ahrar al-Sham ,HTS ,Faylaq al-Sham and the Islamic Brigade of al-Huria thwarted the attack, and killed more than 25 militants, in addition to capturing others as the rest of the attacking groups withdrew left behind some of the bodies of soldiers of the Assad forces.

 "The regime seeks to divide the western countryside of Aleppo into two parts, and focuses its attacks on Tamoura and Jabal Shwehana, to isolate the areas and block them, in preparation for a gradual control " Abu Baker said.

 The warplanes of the Syrian regime and Russia intensified raids on Idlib and the western Aleppo countryside with the first hours of dawn, leaving 16 civilian casualties, including 10 in Maarat Herma and 6 in the town of Urum al-Kubra in rural Aleppo.'
 'West Aleppo: huge defeat for Assad's forces more than 30 fighters killed & their leader of operations is now POW.'

Aki reveals the death toll of "Alawite" in the “Defend Assad" war

 'The Italian agency Aki revealed the death toll of the Alawite community over six years during the battles of the defense of "Bashar al-Assad" noting the elimination of the entire generation of this community, numbered in Syria 2.6 million.

 The agency quoted a Russian source as saying that "150 thousand" Alawi belonging to irregular militias, and the national defense and security branches were killed in six years, that is, a generation of the entire community was eliminated.

 The same source said that the number of Hezbollah fighters killed since the beginning of its intervention in Syria, amounted to 7000 militants, considering that the high proportion of large losses in the militias supporting the Syrian regime pushed the later to raise the military service age, especially in the Alawite areas in order to introduce a wider age range among those wanted to join the army and Security forces.

 There are no official statistics on the number of dead militants of the Syrian regime forces and its military institutions and militias supporting them, but the media man close to the regime admitted in 2013 that the death toll of those forces exceeded 100 thousand.'