Saturday, 29 April 2017
'Earlier today, Kafr Zeita, in Hama came under intense aerial bombardment. Many civilians killed. Syria Civil Defense center was targeted, team buried under the rubble. Two have died, 5 remain buried. Civilians who raced to rescue buried Syria Civil Defense team also targeted and killed. They too are everyday heroes.'
'Assad helicopters targeted Saturday morning (April 29) the city of Latamneh in Hama northern countryside with poisonous chlorine, only weeks after bombarding Khan Sheikhoun’s civilians with sarin gas.
According to Orient correspondent, Assad helicopter flew close to the civilian-populated Latamneh and dropped 6 barrel bombs containing chlorine, causing a number of civilians to suffer from suffocation and shortness of breath.
This is not the first time that the Assad regime has targeted Latamneh with internationally-prohibited weapons.
In a previous attack, Assad terrorists targeted the city at the end of March with chlorine gas, killing a doctor and suffocating others. A few days after, the city was targeted with organophosphate which is used in chemical warfare as nerve agents.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has been investigating eight suspected poison gas attacks in Syria since the beginning of 2017 in eastern Aleppo, its western countryside, south of Homs, northern Hama, and the towns of Damascus and Idlib.
OPCW has been tasked with investigating similar attacks in Syria after the accession of the Assad regime to the Chemical Weapons Convention in 2013, the latest one being Assad’s chemical attack on the civilians of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib countryside which killed more than 100 civilians, majority of whom were children, and injured more than 400.
Human Rights Watch has recently accused Assad terrorist of launching at least eight chemical attacks in the last weeks of the battle of Aleppo in northern Syria, killing nine people, including children.'
'Hama Battle: pro-Regime forces bringing more tanks for offensive on Lataminah after many armours destroyed by Rebel ATGM strikes.'
'I was in Brussels recently with other Syrian civil society representatives to meet with EU and UN officials to reinforce our key demands on protection, accountability, humanitarian access and especially the need for a meaningful inclusion of civil society in the Syrian political process.
Our discussions were overshowed by the heinous chemical attacks in Khan Sheikhoun, that resulted in the death of many civilians, including innocent women and children. The attack illustrated once again the urgent need for the protection of civilians if we are to see the end of a conflict that has gone on for too long.
That's why when the US launched retaliatory strikes against the Syrian regime for the use of chemical weapons, we Syrians celebrated.
Nobody wants to ask for foreign intervention against its own country. But the US response was a long overdue international first step to protect Syrian lives. To be truly effective, the US action must now turn into a comprehensive mechanism to protect civilians not only from chemical attacks but also from all indiscriminate attacks against civilians that remain the biggest killer of civilians in Syria. Europe has a key role to play in this effort. European member states are well placed to work closely with the US to stem the violence across Syria and create the conditions for a genuine political solution.
Each day without the prospects of a viable political solution, the greater the threat of violence, instability, displacement, and extremism for Syria and the West. This is why solving the Syrian crisis is in the interest of Europe. Syria has triggered an epic refugee crisis that Europe has to manage at great costs. And Syria has spawned a dangerous terror threat that has already affected many European capitals as recently shown in the tremendous terrorist attacks in London and Stockholm.
The US decision to hold the Assad regime to account for the chemical attack has the potential to pave the way to a political transition in Syria. It can change - and has already changed - the calculations of the Assad regime. (Regime airstrikes against civilians dropped soon after the US action. This shows how the regime can respond when faced with credible international action.)
The prospects of protection will also create the necessary space on the ground to allow moderate voices and civilian structures to counter extremists. As I say, Europe has a key role to play in this effort.
First, European states should work with the US to deter all indiscriminate attacks against civilians. If civilians are seriously protected this will compel the regime to engage substantively in the Geneva process and will set the stage for a political transition.
Europe is also positioned to apply pressure on Assad and its allies. As a human rights defender, I urge Europe to use its economic powers to sanction Iranian and Russian individuals who are complicit in the Assad regime's war crimes.
Thirdly, Europe needs to lead the accountability effort. As a former detainee, I can tell you that I - just like millions of Syrians who have fled Syria - will not return home unless credible measures are put in place to hold war criminals to account.
The current lack of justice only helps the extremist narrative. We need to address this head on. This is not about revenge. This is about finding a path forward where all Syrians can heal and have trust in a sustainable political settlement.
Finally, Europe should insist that no reconstruction aid would be given without a guarantee of a political transition. Otherwise, Europe will end up financing the Assad regime itself and will risk aiding and abetting his vicious war crimes.
I understand none of these options are easy. But they are not impossible if Europe shows political will. The real work on Syria's future begins after a political transition, when Syrians are tasked with rebuilding a war-torn society. We know many questions will need to be addressed for stability to hold. What will be done to reintegrate displaced people? How will we address terrorism? How will we rebuild Syria's destroyed infrastructure? What instruments are necessary for democracy to work?
For Syrian civil society, these challenges are not new. We have been working on these questions and doing the hard work for six years. We risk our lives to build a Syria that is free, democratic, and inclusive. Many, like myself, have spent years in prison for these efforts, enduring torture, physical abuse and even starvation. Too many more have brutally been killed in the process. Still, we will not give up.
That is why Syrian civil society members are among the best placed to help create sustainable peace. It is the activists, humanitarians, human rights defenders and educators who will be key to reconstruction, solving the refugee crisis, and combating extremism. We are ready to do whatever it takes to establish a free, democratic and stable Syria.
But to do so the international community must hear and respond to the concerns of the Syrian civil society. We are not a "nice to have", but a fabric of Syria's present and future. Together, Europe and Syria's civil society can still chart a course for Syria's future. But first we need your help to stop the bombs and make justice prevail.'
'Ghina Wadi was six years old when the war began, and 10 when she was shot in the leg by a sniper at a Syrian government checkpoint, outside the besieged town of Madaya last August. At 12, she now lives in one of the most dangerous cities in the world, and is grateful.
“On a normal day I pick fights with my brothers and sisters,” she said during an interview in Idlib City, the rebel-held city to which she was evacuated in April. She doesn’t like to talk about her time in Madaya, where dozens starved to death, and she doesn’t miss the town where she remembers having to burn sheets of paper for warmth.
She said she's happier now that she’s reunited with her grandparents in Idlib, but she didn’t really seem to understand the question: “Do you feel safer?” It’s not a question that makes much sense in Syria. What Ghina knows is shelling and airstrikes; “killing everywhere,” she said, because “Bashar al-Assad wants to take our land from us,” referring to Syria’s hereditary dictator.
There is no real safety in Syria, where over 400,000 people have been killed, according to a senior United Nations official's estimate, and an estimated 11 million have been displaced, either internally or abroad, since a revolution in 2011 morphed into one of the worst conflicts of the 21st century. And things appear to be getting worse.
According to UNICEF, the “killing, maiming, and recruitment of children increased sharply last year in a drastic escalation of violence across the country.” At least 652 children were killed, nearly 40 percent of them while at or near a school.
Ghina’s education is on hold: taking care of her younger siblings — and teasing them — is something of a full-time job. Her three-year-old brother grew up knowing only shortages of food. When he was introduced to ice cream in Idlib, he was surprised by how cold it was, and confused as to how to eat it.
The province of Idlib, held by a coalition of rebels ranging from the nationalist Free Syrian Army to the Islamist Ahrar al-Sham to the jihadist Tahrir al-Sham, would probably seem like a paradise to those who spent years on the brink of starvation. But Eden it is not.
“The situation in Idlib — it’s getting worse and worse,” said Zaidoun al-Zoabi, head of the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations (UOSSM), which supports medical clinics across Syria with supplies and personnel. “There is a shortage of everything. The most important shortage is in human resources. The reason for that is the migration of paramedics and physicians — and, of course, killing. This is a direct result of the systematic targeting of hospitals.”
At least 11 medical facilities have been bombed in Idlib City by Syrian or Russian jets, according to Physicians for Human Rights.
“People live in fear,” Ahmad al-Dbis, a pharmacist who works with UOSSM in Idlib said. The Syrian government and its Russian ally are “systematically targeting hospitals,” he said, disabling seven medical facilities in April. “That means denying thousands of people medical services,” he said.
And that is generally understood to be the point: to make life unlivable in areas controlled by the armed opposition and force people to choose between exile, death, or submission.
“The situation in Idlib City is very bad,” al-Dbis said, “because there is a very big number of refugees and displaced people, but there are only two hospitals for about 400,000 people.”
That’s a problem for Ghina, in particular. After she was shot in Madaya, her family’s neighbors moved away. “They couldn’t bear hearing her screaming any more,” her mother, Sahar said. After nearly two weeks and a campaign led by Amnesty International, she got lucky: the Syrian government — which, along with its allies in the Lebanese militia Hezbollah, was laying siege to the town at the time — agreed to evacuate her so she could receive surgery in the capital, Damascus..
After her trip to Damascus, she was sent back to Madaya — then evacuated again under a deal that saw the government lift its siege on the town in return for rebels lifting their own siege of two government-held towns, al-Fu'ah and Kefriya (dozens of the latter evacuees were killed in a terrorist attack).
But the kind of care available in government-held Syria is not to be found in Idlib, and Ghina needs more work. She’s received two surgeries thus far, but she still can’t bend her left knee and her left leg is now shorter than her right, a problem that will be exacerbated as she grows. “There is no serious medical care here in Idlib,” her mother said. Poverty is pervasive, as is the threat of death, most commonly from the air. To be “fine” in Idlib, according to Sahar, is to “have enough food for a couple of days.”
“Turkey,” she said — meaning leaving, and becoming refugees — “is the only choice.”
But Ghina hopes to go further than Turkey someday. If she could go anywhere in the world, it would be Paris; she wants to be an actress someday. “I like that tall metal tower,” she said.
For now, she’s a world away, in a place where it's a daily struggle to hold on to such dreams. And to simply stay alive.
“Nobody cares,” Ghina’s grandfather Kamal said. “Everybody is on their own in this city.” '
Friday, 28 April 2017
'Jets believed to be Russian or Syrian hit three hospitals in rebel-held Idlib province on Thursday following several other strikes on medical facilities in northwestern Syria in recent weeks, residents, medical workers and activists said.
Rescue workers said one strike early on Thursday hit a hospital in Deir al-Sharqi, killing at least three medics and injuring others. The second strike hit a cave hospital in Maar Zita village in southern Idlib province where medics said at least five were killed.
Save the Children also said that a maternity hospital had been damaged, although all staff and patients had taken shelter underground and there were no reports of casualties.
"The regime and the Russians are trying to systematically target the remaining hospitals in Idlib to make life for people in liberated areas intolerable," said Younis Abdul Rahim, a civil defence worker who visited both sites.
Meanwhile, fierce clashes between militant groups near Damascus left at least 40 dead and 70 wounded on Friday, a monitoring group said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the clashes pitted the Saudi-backed rebel faction Jaish al-Islam (Army of Islam) against Fateh al-Sham, Al-Qaeda's former branch in Syria, and Faylaq al-Rahman, which is backed by Qatar and Turkey.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has repeatedly denied that his forces target hospitals or other emergency facilities. Russia, whose air force joined the war on his side in 2015, also denies targeting civilian infrastructure.
Rescue workers say that, although many field hospitals have been moved underground, that has not been enough to protect them from bombs they say have hit at least eight medical facilities since the start of the month.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said it was appalled by the ongoing damage of medical facilities in northern Syria, adding that the destruction was depriving thousands of people of basic health services.
Among the hospitals put out of service was one specialising in maternity and childcare, the office said on Wednesday.
According to Save the Children's local partner, two air strikes landed near a maternity hospital at about 2am local time, blowing out windows and badly damaging a hospital laboratory.
The hospital performs about 550 deliveries a month and serves about 2,100 women and children and the nearest alternative facility is 70 kilometres away, Save the Children said in a statement.
“Staff were able to evacuate workers and patients to the basement and no casualties were reported in this incident," said Sonia Khush, Save the Children’s Syria Director.
"But there can never be any excuse for bombing women and children in a place of sanctuary.
"This is not an isolated attack Aid workers on the ground reporting nine attacks on hospitals and clinics in just the last 72 hours. While the world turns the other way, the conflict is once again spiraling dangerously out of control.”
An air strike believed to be conducted by either Syrian or Russian jets hit a hospital in Kafr Takharim in Idlib on Tuesday and medical workers said at least 14 were killed, among them patients.
"It is completely unacceptable that facilities and people who are trying to save lives are being bombed," said Kevin Kennedy, the OCHA's regional humanitarian coordinator for the Syria crisis.
Hospital attacks have killed hundreds of medical personnel since the war began, he added.
Syrian civil defence emergency workers who track jet movement and radio traffic to warn civilians of potential air strikes say Syria's air force and Russian jets have recently intensified their bombardment of Idlib province.
Tens of thousands of Syrian civilians have found refuge in the province that borders Turkey after being driven out of their homes. It is a main stronghold of the opposition forces.'
'Leaping over bombed roofs and jumping through damaged window frames, a group of teenagers run and swing their way through buildings left dilapidated by six years of war in the southern Syrian town of Inkhil.
The young men practise Parkour across rebel-held Inkhil, saying they find escape in the physical discipline which involves climbing and running over buildings and grounds and takes its name from the French word for route or course "parcours".
"When I jump from a high place I feel free and I enjoy it," 18-year-old Muhannad al-Kadiri said. "I love competing with my friends to see who can achieve the highest jump."
The group of about 15 have been practicing Parkour for around two years, often in school courtyards and on quiet days when there is no fighting in the area.
Inkhil is located near a front line between rebels and pro-government forces in an area that has been subjected to air strikes and shelling during the conflict.
The Parkour leaps can take their toll and members of the group have suffered broken toes, bruises and even a twisted neck during training.
The teenagers film and photograph each other and upload the footage on Facebook. They even have an audience.
"(Parkour) is exciting and relies on physical fitness and skill," spectator Ayman said during one training session. "But it is dangerous especially because they attempt it in damaged areas. I hope they get better and learn new skills."
Parkour was born in France in the 1980s as Art du Deplacement and has gained popularity over the years. In January, Britain became the first country to officially recognize it as a sport.
Kadiri and his friends somersault in the air, hold themselves up with just their arms and leap over piles of rubble.
"Parkour gets us out of the atmosphere of war and makes us forget some of our pain and sorrow," Kadiri said. "It makes me feel mythical." '
'Ahed Festuk stood outside the Washington, D.C., office of Sen. Dick Durbin, D- Ill., waiting for an aide to come and collect her. With her long blond hair, black jeans and flowered scarf, she looked very much like any other millennial living in her adopted home of Brooklyn, New York.
But Festuk was nervous. Along with four other Syrian women, she was on Capitol Hill Wednesday to share the reality on the ground in the city that is truly her home: Aleppo.
“I feel I have a big responsibility,” Festuk, 30, said. “Even if they only listen to me five percent, it’s a big responsibility.”
Festuk said she was among the first people to protest against Syria’s authoritarian leader, Bashar al-Assad, in Aleppo in 2011. But much has changed in Syria for her since those first moments of the revolution.
The uprising, now a full-blown civil war, has killed more than half a million people and displaced 5 million others over the past six years. Since December 2015, when she was granted political asylum, Festuk has been living in the United States on her own, learning English and trying to advocate for her country.
“I love to tell people I’m from Syria. Some people say, ‘You’re not scared to say that?’ But why should I be scared? I’m brave to be from Syria and be part of the Syrian revolution,” she said.
It’s that pride, and optimism for Syria’s future, that brought Festuk and the four other Syrian women to Washington this week. Since President Trump launched an airstrike against the Syrian military April 7 and his secretary of state declared that “the reign of the Assad family is coming to an end,” the future of Syria is being discussed around the world.
But Festuk and the other women from her delegation said the voices of Syrian women have been noticeably absent from those discussions.
“It’s probably 95 percent Western men, and then the other 5 percent are Syrian men, and then us,” Noha Alkamcha, who works with Syrian local councils and civil society organizations, said.
Alkamcha, 32, said there are “a million women behind the scenes doing the actual work,” but few are quoted in the international press and even fewer have seats at the negotiating table.
The women’s tour is helping to change that. Along with Festuk and Alkamcha, three other women -- Zaina Erhaim, Yasmin Kayali and a woman who asked that her identity not be revealed for safety reasons -- met with congressional staff from the offices of Durbin and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., as well as the Senate Foreign Relations Committeeand international organizations this week.
Erhaim, a journalist and the Syria coordinator at the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, helped organize the delegation.
“We are really here to promote Syrian civil society, to promote Syrians’ rights and to promote the fact that Syrians are people, they are faces and human beings, they are not just numbers you see on the news,” Erhaim, 32, said. “Not all Syrians are Assadis or ISIS.”
But that fact has been lost in much of the media coverage and political discourse around Syria, experts say.
Some of that is because of Assad’s own strategy, said Ibrahim al-Assil, a fellow at the Middle East Institute. Weakening or silencing civil society organizations like the ones these women represent helps Assad stay in power, he said.
“Assad controls only some territories inside Syria but, at the same time, the regime is not allowing any kind of work for civil society or local governments in the territories outside its control,” al-Assil said. “They want to make it clear that it’s either the regime -- or that the other option will be just chaos. They don’t want another alternative to emerge.”
But building alternatives is crucial to eventually rebuilding Syria, the women said, even if how Syria transitions to a democracy is unclear.
And they have been on the forefront of that work for years. Alkamcha said she helped organize more than 300 civil society organizations to define their vision in 2016 before the Geneva peace talks.
Kayali, 35, founded Basmeh and Zeitooneh, a humanitarian organization that works with Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Turkey.
“Today, this conflict has so many different international players and so many different geopolitical levels that it is very difficult to answer how it will end,” Kayali said. “I’m sure the end is going to surprise us all, but regardless of how it ends, we need to prepare for that end and we need to prepare for the day after.”
“The work that we are doing on the ground is to be able to later rebuild Syria,” she added.
Barry Pavel, senior vice president at the Atlantic Council who worked on defense policy for both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations, said Trump’s recent airstrikes gave the United States new leverage in helping end the conflict in Syria. But he stressed that ensuring that there is a “very robust and resilient plan for a political transition” is crucial to the country’s future.
He also said the United States has much to learn from its policies in Iraq.
“It’s not about the days after, it’s about the years after Assad goes,” Pavel said. “We want to make sure the situation isn’t more dangerous than it was than before he went.
“There has to be a structured, deliberate diplomatic plan that moves Syria toward a new future,” he added.
Alkamcha said Syrian women are eager to be part of that plan.
"The U.S. does not have any successful story of intervention in history -- that we are very familiar with," she said. "When Tillerson says this is the end of Assad's era, we 100 percent support that ... But with a clear strategy for political transition and who will be the alternative for Assad.
“Definitely, the civil society and opposition will be an alternative, but we want to be involved in that decision-making by the U.S.”
As Kayali waited for a meeting with staffers from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to begin, she watched a video of her 5-year-old son that had been sent via WhatsApp from her family in Jordan. Although her children missed her, she said, she felt she had an obligation to share what was happening more than 5,700 miles away in their homeland.
“I believe that this is my duty to my people,” Kayali said. “I believe I am fortunate to be able to move around because of the passport I have and because of my ability to speak the English language. I think I owe it to my people to give them a voice.”
For Festuk, it’s also about giving voice to protesters who lost their lives opposing Assad.
She said she remembers attending her first demonstration in the early days of the uprising in 2011. The protest lasted only five minutes but felt “like five hours,” she said, before the protesters were chased off by police and soldiers.
But those five minutes with a few people swelled within months to more than 10,000 people protesting in Aleppo, she said. Despite the fact that it was dangerous, they kept protesting, sure that a better future was within reach.
“It was really an amazing feeling,” she said. “At that time, I felt that soon we would be successful, soon we would take the Assad regime out, and that soon we would overthrow them and their regime.”
She paused, looking out the window of the Hart Office Building toward the manicured lawns of D.C. and the vast marble steps of the U.S. Supreme Court.
“But it doesn’t work like that. Actually, the whole world supported [the regime] and left us behind. No one listened to us,” she said.
“When I remember those days and how we lost amazing people,” she said, stopping in mid-sentence as tears came to her eyes.
Still, Festuk said, she would go back to Syria the “next day” if Assad were removed from power.
“I love my country, I love Syria, and especially Aleppo,” she said. “I will go immediately.” '
Thursday, 27 April 2017
'Corbyn is talking SHITE on Syria again.
Let's pick it apart bit by bit so you can see why he is deliberately pushing bullshit on gullible people:
"We don't need unilateral action, we need to work through the UN"
Russia continuously uses its UNSC veto to block any and all meaningful resolutions on Syria. It has blocked the UNSC condemnation of the Khan Sheikhoun chemical massacre. Corbyn is either being wilfully deceitful or is exposing a shocking naivety that renders him unqualified to be Prime Minister.
Furthermore, Corbyn has frequently opposed the Libyan No Fly Zone. The No Fly Zone in Libya was, you guessed it, UNSC mandated. Corbyn is actually opposed to UNSC mandated military action. His calls for doing things through the UN are completely meaningless, and he knows this, and so do his pro-fascist ideological advisers Milne, Cockburn, Murray, Galloway et al.
"We need to bend ourselves totally to getting a political settlement in Syria"
Everyone wants a political settlement in Syria except for the Assad regime. The SNC's plans, which are backed by the British government, call for free and fair elections with international observers and a transition out of power for Assad. Corbyn has repeatedly ignored this option, Corbyn has repeatedly refused to call for Assad to step down or transition out of power at all. The question isn't whether there should be a political solution in Syria or not, the question is what that political solution looks like, how can it be achieved and how can individual actors be held accountable for their actions. Furthermore, any deal that is passed through the UN needs to be enforced, how can we enforce that deal when Corbyn refuses any and all military action?
"Allow the inspectors space to work, allow them to make sure we know who did the terrible chemical weapons attack"
Firstly we know who committed the atrocity, it was Assad. The munitions were fired by Syrian regime air craft, they contained Sarin with traces of Hexamine, this type of Sarin is only in the hands of the Syrian regime, only the Syrian regime have the logistical capacity to have carried out this attack. This attack hit a Syrian opposition area, the motives are perfectly clear for the Assad regime.
Furthermore, Russia is blocking the investigation and so is the Assad regime. They have spent the last few days attacking the UNOPCW as a partisan organisation. Assad and Russia fear independent investigations, the Syrian political opposition have openly called for it, as has the US, France, Turkey, Britain and the rest of the international community.
"Also recognise that the inspectors there are already destroying any stocks of chemical weapons"
No, this is a falsehood. OPCW have finished their work "destroying" Assad's chemical weapons stocks. It has repeatedly been shown that Assad has not surrendered all of his stockpiles of nerve gas. Assad and Russia are actively blocking further OPCW work. Corbyn is again either hopelessly ignorant or being wilfully misleading. He again fails to mention that the chemical weapons in question belong to Assad, a man he does not name at all in this interview.
"The issue has to be finding a political solution so that the millions who have been forced to flee from Syria are able to return home"
The vast majority of these millions fled Assad, a man Corbyn again refuses to name. The vast majority have clearly and explicitly stated they can not and will not return to a Syria with Assad at the helm. Again, Corbyn refuses to address this and refuses to call for Assad to step down. The "political solution" line is just words to shut down debate. It is a false dichotomy to say there is either a military solution or a political solution, any political solution needs to include accountability and enforceability, those are the hard things that Corbyn can not and will not talk about.
"There has to be a political solution and that is what we are looking for"
The British government, along with the Americans, have been pushing for this "political solution" since 2012. Multiple "peace" initiatives have been tried in Geneva, Vienna and Astana. They have all failed, namely because the Assad regime uses negotiations as a chance to make further military gains on the ground backed by Russia and Iran. He does this by starving and bombing civilians in the hope that they will surrender to him. This is what Assad's political solution looks like, and by extension, this is what Corbyn's political solution looks like. A political solution under these terms is a negotiated surrender for all anti-Assad forces and the endorsement of the regime's ethnic cleansing campaign, such as their devastation of Aleppo, which has been labelled by the UN's human rights body a "war crime". Corbyn's shadow foreign minister Emily Thornberry openly endorsed this war crime as a solution to end the fighting in Aleppo in Parliament. That's right, a supposedly progressive MP in the country's most left wing opposition in generations actively called for the ethnic cleansing of Aleppo in Parliament.
Let me be very clear, Corbyn has no Syria policy, none whatsoever. It is absolutely indefensible. You can argue for voting for Corbyn for whatever reasons you like, but if any of you attempt to portray his Syria position as the moral or sensible option then don't be surprised when history labels you a Chamberlainesque appeaser of mass murder.'
Tuesday, 25 April 2017
' "Dabiq was a great symbol for the Islamic State group. It was here that the Prophet Muhammed said Muslims would defeat the Romans. This is also the spot where Britain's Jihadi John murdered the American aid worker Peter Kassig.
IS were right about one thing though. This is a place of reckoning, but it's the place of their defeat. They have now been driven more than a hundred kilometers from here, and these days they don't make much mention of Dabiq.
"Our first enemy was IS, and we have defeated them. Now we face some separatist terrorist groups that want to divide Syria. So after the fall of Aleppo we have two enemies: the separatists and the régime. And for us there is no difference between the two." '
Pictures of corpses, some with eyes gouged out, part of shock evidence against Syria’s Bashar al-Assad
'Thousands of pictures showing dead Syrian men, some with their eyes gouged out or with screaming expressions still on their frozen faces, are part of mounting and damning evidence against Bashar al-Assad.
The shocking images were smuggled out of Syria in 2014 by a forensic photographer who worked for the country’s military police force.
They sit with some 600,000 pages of records that investigators say paint a picture of systematic torture sanctioned at the highest levels.
Stephen Rapp, a former American ambassador, quit his high-level posting in the Obama administration to help lead the investigation into atrocities in Syria.
“I sat at a computer and went through (the photographs), one after the other, and it’s like pictures of hell,” Mr Rapp said in a powerful documentary aired on Four Corners on ABC on Monday night.
“The most excruciating, painful things you can imagine, examples with eyes gouged. You see the pain on the face, frozen images of the last moments of life.”
Among the corpses are young men — children and teenagers with ligature marks around their necks, he said.
“The regime itself has taken these photographs … they were indexing and building files on people they’d tortured to death. They were keeping meticulous records … the regime is so bureaucratic that it’s stupid.”
Mr Rapp said it’s some of the strongest evidence of state-sanctioned war crimes he’s ever seen in his career.
He has no doubt that the arrest, torture and murder of thousands of Syrians over the past six years is part of a barbaric program operated by the regime itself.
“You’ve got facilities that are part of the regime,” he said.
“They can’t say this was a crazy thug doing it and they were against it … they know. They’re not doing anything about it. They’re not punishing a single soul.
“We’re talking about State Security, the security services here. We’re talking about Military Security. Air Force Intelligence. Within the chain of command. Official forces. This is Syria.”
The images and trove of documents smuggled out of the country — hundreds and thousands of pages of evidence, now kept in a secret location where investigators are building their case — are the “legal equivalent of a slam dunk”, he said.
Bill Wylie, a veteran war crimes investigator, is working with Mr Rapp and says building a case against Assad will be “the final act in my career”.
Among the stack of documents he’s examined are internal communications, memos to the Minister of Defence and heads of intelligence and security, and damning records of imprisonment, torture and death.
“Too many people have died in detention of unnatural causes,” Mr Wylie said.
Tens of thousands of people are still missing in detention.
Those detentions began in 2011 when protests erupted throughout Syria, as the Arab Spring uprising swept across the Middle East.
Assad’s forces responded with brutality, shooting people in the streets and killing scores.
It only fanned the flames of unrest, so there were orders issued to arrest people on an unprecedented scale and some 200,000 were detained in months.
One of those men was Mazen Alhummada, who told the program how he endured brutal abuse so extreme and depraved that “the human brain can’t imagine it”.
Officers jumped on his back until his ribs were broken, hung him by his wrists off the ground and even put a clamp on his penis.
“And he put the clamp and started tightening, squeezing, until you feel like he’s going to cut off your penis,” Mazen revealed. “And a man from behind puts a pole up your anus. And he is hitting you. Things that can’t be imagined.”
When asked how he felt about the men who’d tortured him, Mazen sat quietly sobbing for 30 seconds before responding: “God will hold them to account”.
Another man detained by the Syrian regime was Ayham Halaq, a dentistry student who started working with a Syrian human rights organisation.
Their offices were raided and 13 people were detained. Ayham was beaten during interrogations but eventually released.
Six months later he was arrested against and his mother Mariam desperately searched for him without luck.
For 18 months she pleaded with government officials to tell her what happened to her son.
“They didn’t tell me anything until an assistant felt sorry for me … and (wrote a note) … my attention immediately went to ‘corpse 320’,” she recalled.
The note was a summary of a file on Ayham kept by officials, stating that he died six days after he was detained.
Among the thousands of images of dead people was Ayham’s.
“When I saw the photograph, I felt a great relief,” Mariam said. “Now I carry it with me on my mobile phone because it’s a confirmation, it’s his last moments, because we didn’t see his body.”
While continually denying the atrocities, al-Assad labelled accusations of torture as “fake news” and propaganda designed to damage his government.
Mr Rapp said the evidence was indisputable.
“Even the Nazis sitting in the dock at Nuremberg looking at concentration camp films were still denying it. And we don’t expect confessions.” '
'In the ramshackle town of Atareb, a Free Syrian Army bastion 15 miles north of Aleppo, Maj. Anas Abu Zaid said he has looted Russian rockets, American-supplied anti-tank missiles and other firepower to hold off the forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
He says it’s time to move on.
“We were facing airstrikes on a daily basis, but now some civilians are coming back to Atareb,” said Maj. Abu Zaid. “We are working to put in place civil governance for the town and even rebuilding some houses.”
His optimism reflects an energy that has infused the once-faltering rebel force in the wake of missile attacks that President Trump ordered on a Syrian air force base this month following Mr. Assad’s suspected use of chemical weapons on civilians.
Analysts say it doesn’t take a lot to tip the balance from one side or another in Syria’s grinding conflict, which is why the U.S. missile strike, limited as it was, had such an impact, said Alberto Fernandez, a retired State Department counterterrorism officer who is the go-to authority on capabilities and limitations of the multiple rebel groups in Syria.
Add to that the fact that the much-derided U.S. effort to train the Free Syrian Army fighters is starting to pay dividends on the battlefield, boosted by substantial financial aid from wealthy Persian Gulf emirates, Mr. Fernandez said, “A war that has been going on so long is basically a war of attrition and exhaustion, and all parties are being worn down.”
Mr. Fernandez, now president of the Washington-based Middle East Media Research Institute, said, “Those that remain from each part, unit or entity are the fittest, the most clever, the most savage and the most capable. So the question is: Who is going to be the last man standing?”
“Too often, [the FSA has] been written off, and they shouldn’t be,” he said. “On the other hand, they have been limited — like everyone else — in what they have been able to do, so far.”
Charles Lister, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, wrote in a lengthy study that the Brookings Institution released in November that the FSA was far better than its reputation suggests and has evolved into an effective fighting force while retaining a base of popular support that few of its rivals can match.
“By late 2016, the FSA had come to represent an expansive, socially and symbolically powerful but complex umbrella movement, composed of dozens of semi-autonomous armed opposition groups that are united by the original moderate ideals of Syria’s revolution,” Mr. Lister concluded.
He called the FSA “the cornerstone of Syria’s moderate opposition component.”
“For the U.S. and allied countries seeking an eventual solution to the crisis in Syria, the FSA’s military preeminence does not necessarily have to be the sole objective, but sustaining its ability to represent opposition communities is of crucial importance given its mainstream positions,” Mr. Lister said.
Maj. Abu Zaid was one of the Free Syrian Army officers selected by the Pentagon in 2015 for a U.S. program to boost moderate forces after previous training programs faltered.
In February, that effort reaped results when, with help from the Turks, Free Syrian Army forces took over almost 1,250 miles of territory from the Islamic State group on Syria’s northern border.
“The Americans made it clear that the regime was not the world’s priority, and the issue was defined as terrorism,” said the major, who added that Mr. Assad’s behavior since then has proved that the U.S. training was worth the cost. “With the Khan Sheikhoun chemical attack, Assad reminded them he was the biggest terrorist.”
Mr. Assad’s forces were responsible for more than 90 percent of the 207,000 civilian casualties in Syria from March 2001 through February 2017, according to the Violations Documentation Center, a monitoring group working with human rights activists inside and outside Syria.
Free Syrian Army fighters insisted that the chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun revealed Mr. Assad’s fundamental weaknesses while highlighting their own stamina as a fighting force.
“His only way to defeat the people is by punishing civilians with these weapons to put pressure on them to make local truces, forcing them to leave,” said Maj. Issam Al Reis, a 41-year-old spokesman of the Free Syrian Army’s southern front near the Jordanian border. Pro-Assad forces “don’t have enough manpower to defend their front lines.”
Despite reports in the second half of last year that Mr. Assad’s forces, backed by Russian and Iranian support, had scored some major victories, facts on the ground support the rebels’ confidence.
Analysts at Omran Center for Strategic Studies, an independent think tank in the United Arab Emirates, said that despite Russian and Iranian backing, the Free Syrian Army controls almost 17,700 square miles inside the country, compared with less than 14,000 square miles in 2015.
Northeast of Damascus, Free Syrian Army forces briefly occupied the towns of Qaboun and Barzeh. The wins were ultimately reversed by the regime and Russian airstrikes, but they were a surprise to those who had written off the rebel group as irrelevant to Syria’s future after their defeat in Aleppo late last year.
“Thanks to the Russian brutality, we tended to think a month or two ago that Assad had prevailed and that he can do whatever he likes,” said Mordechai Kedar, a Syria specialist at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar Ilan University near Tel Aviv. “I would not repeat that assessment today.”
As the civil war continues, the insurgents’ success should help them garner more aid from the West, said Fahad Almarsy, a former Free Army spokesman who now leads a loosely affiliated political organization in Paris called the National Salvation Front.
“The United States and Israel can target [Lebanese] Hezbollah and Iranian forces propping up Assad in and around Damascus and help the Free Army advance and clear Syrian territory of foreign fighters,” he said.
While most of the Islamic State’s losses in its Syrian base stem from Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces, who now control 20 percent of Syria, the group’s links to Kurdish separatists in Turkey bar them from becoming close U.S. allies, said Ayman Abdul Nour, an early opponent of Mr. Assad and a leader of Syria’s exiled Christian community.
“The Free Syrian Army is now positioned as America’s best bet if Washington wants to see a unified or at least a federal Syria,” Mr. Abdul Nour said in a telephone interview from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
The rebels said they intend to keep up the pressure on Mr. Assad. Their “Victory Army” in west-central Syria recently turned their guns on the regime’s Hama Military Airport, using Russian missiles to destroy a Russian-made fighter jet. Like the American missile strike, which destroyed six Mig-23s at the Al-Shayrat Air Force base, the attack was designed to downgrade the size and shorten the reach of Mr. Assad’s air force.
Refugees from regime-controlled areas, meanwhile, are joining rebel enclaves committed to Mr. Assad’s downfall.
“The people suffer exhaustion from the war, but they are still loyal to the Free Army,” said Kamal Bahbough, a 36-year-old physician in the besieged town of Al Rastan, about 14 miles north of Homs. “The Free Syrian Army soldiers are the sons of this region.” '
Monday, 24 April 2017
'Much like events for other Independence Days, the Syrian celebration Sunday involved a flag raised high and mighty. Unlike the ceremonies for other countries, the flag raised by many Syrian ex-patriots was different from the one flown by the governing powers. The difference was intended as a sign of political resistance.
“This is the Freedom Flag, or they call it the Revolution Flag,” said Hassan Almaleh, who works with a New England nonprofit that offers humanitarian aid to people in Syria. “It’s against the regime in Syria. It’s different colors to show we’re different from those people killing. Those carrying the red flag, the regime flag.”
On the steps of City Hall, more than 50 people gathered to celebrate Syria’s Independence Day. The raising of the Revolution Flag, which has a green strip at the top instead of a red one, was the culmination of an event that saw city officials, residents and Syrian refugees speak and listen to words of patriotism and revolution.
Syria’s Independence Day, also known as Evacuation Day, represents the day the last French soldier left Syria on April 17, 1946. After World War I, France occupied Syria, which was part of the Ottoman Empire. More than 70 years after the French departure, the date stirs emotion, as Syria faces adversity and atrocities.
Since 2011, Syria has been in the grips of an armed conflict between President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and opposition forces. The fighting has killed and displaced thousands of Syrians. Assad has been accused of using chemical weapons against the people of Syria.
The afternoon celebration, a week later than usual because of the Easter holiday, was held to offer support for the Syrian community, to thank those who have helped refugees and to remind everyone of the circumstances overseas.
“It’s just a reminder for everyone that we still exist,” said Noha Alzouabi, who came from Daraa five years ago. “Syria still exists. And there will be one day when we come here again and celebrate the independence from the Assad family. Not just France.”
Speakers included Alzouabi, Councilwoman Ruby Cotton, Councilman Luis Velez and Councilman Andre Sayegh, who has Syrian ancestors. Also speaking was Imam Dr. Mohammad Qatanani. Though Qatanani is originally from Palestine, he spoke of the need for solidarity in the face of war.
“We are here to stand beside our brothers and sisters in Syria,” Qatanani said, “who are suffering; who are taken out from their homes.” '