Wednesday, 12 July 2017

How the Russians Suckered Trump in Syria, and Iran Comes Out the Big Winner

 Charles Lister:
 'The core principles underpinning the Trump administration’s new Syria policy are roughly as follows: The United States is only in Syria to fight the so-called Islamic State (widely known as ISIS) and is not in a position to directly challenge the legitimacy of the Bashar al-Assad regime, despite its many crimes. Meanwhile, it is to be conceded that Russia has invested heavily in Syria and its proposed establishment of “de-escalation zones” is the best path forward to securing stability.

 With U.S. troops actively supporting our Syrian partners in a major assault on ISIS-held Raqqa, the second portion of U.S. Syria policy is being newly revealed by our expressed diplomatic support for Russian-mediated ceasefires and our direct role in negotiating one in Syria’s southwest.

 While de-escalation by itself is a highly desirable state of affairs for humanitarian reasons, the U.S. is lending diplomatic cover to what is, in all respects, Russia’s foremost strategic mechanism for methodically guaranteeing an Assad victory by selectively freezing front lines in order to free up pro-regime forces to fight elsewhere.

 By lending American support to such schemes, the Trump administration is failing to learn from recent history in Syria, where such agreements brought short-term stability to the benefit of one party over the other.

 At the core of the agreement, which was sealed during a meeting between Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin in Hamburg last week, the U.S. and Jordan are responsible for coercing opposition groups to stop fighting, while Moscow will ensure the Assad regime, Iran, and Iranian-backed militias do the same.

 This is not a new strategy—it is a consolidation of a policy developed by President Barack Obama, whose administration frequently called for Assad’s departure, but never seriously sought to realize it. By acknowledging the limits of our objectives in Syria, the U.S. is effectively admitting its defeat to Russia and Iran. Gone are the days of “leading from behind”; today we are following from the back.

 The greatest weakness in this Syria strategy is short-termism. The U.S. may not have existential interests in Syria, but we have created a stake by intervening against ISIS and putting boots on the ground. If U.S. interests are limited and dominated by combating terrorism, then we need to begin pre-empting those threats, rather than reacting to them after they have developed and matured. There are four major problems with our Syria strategy as it currently stands.

 First, by limiting its actions to counter-terrorism, the United States continues to treat illogically a symptom of a crisis, while allowing its root cause (the Assad regime) to survive. Extremism has never been the primary cause of instability; instead, extremism feeds off pre-existing conditions that give its radical narrative credibility. Our current strategy does little if anything to address those underlying conditions.

 Assad’s horrendous brutality is well-known. Roughly 500,000 people have died since his refusal to consider the opposition’s peaceful demand for political reforms in 2011. Assad’s subsequent use of chemical weapons has shocked the world, but such agents have been responsible for less than 1 percent of civilian casualties. Recent documentation showed that 13,029 Syrians had been killed by torture since March 2011, 99.2 percent (12,920) of whom were killed by the Assad regime. Similarly, 24,799 child deaths have been documented throughout the conflict, and 85.2 percent (21,123) of them were killed by Assad regime weapons.

 Those realities, and many more besides them, are the real drivers of extremism. Whatever form ISIS takes next will undoubtedly benefit from and seek to exploit continued instability in Syria, but it is al Qaeda that stands to benefit the most. Through its presence in Syria, al Qaeda has embedded itself deeply within the anti-Assad movement, attaching its fate to that of the indigenous revolution. By that standard, a U.S. admission of Assad’s survival, and thus of Russia and Iran’s victory, would likely embolden nobody more than al Qaeda.

 Second, the U.S. does not look set to invest in long-term stabilization efforts in territories captured from ISIS. Instead, local decision-making is being devolved to our Syrian partners: the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), and its lead force, the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG). The SDF and YPG maintain an ambiguous relationship with the Assad regime, sharing power in some areas, coordinating militarily elsewhere, and abiding by mutual d├ętente in others.

 Senior U.S. administration officials have suggested—publicly and behind the scenes—that we expect the Assad regime to eventually re-establish influence in SDF areas and that this would not be an issue for U.S. policy. Looking beyond the YPG’s documented human rights abuses and refusal to allow party political diversity, the eventual return of the Assad regime to towns and cities we liberated from ISIS contradicts every moral and ethical value that the U.S. should uphold and will do nothing but embolden the very reason for groups like ISIS in the first place.

 Third, beyond the fight against the Islamic State, the U.S. looks set to lend its support—publicly or not—to Russia’s de-escalation zone initiative in Syria. This suggests we have some faith in Russia’s intentions and trust in its ability to deliver calm, and that we have forgotten that Russia has failed to secure a single neutral, meaningful and durable ceasefire since it intervened in Syria two years ago.

 Russia may genuinely want to achieve calm in certain areas, but it does so only to strengthen Assad’s hand. Moreover, there remains no evidence that Moscow has the necessary leverage to control the behavior of Assad, and more importantly, of Iran. Repeatedly entrusting this responsibility to Russia, while repeatedly watching its failure, means the U.S. is pursuing a strategy of insanity—doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

 It is highly unlikely that Russia’s de-escalation zones will prove durable mechanisms for stability. Moreover, by placing trust in their chance of success, the U.S. is emboldening a regime whose survival precludes the likelihood of more than 6 million refugees returning to Syria and instead sustains the drivers of conflict, radicalism, and divisions that have existed since 2011.

 Fourth, a limited counter-terrorism strategy paired with a tacit admission of Assad’s victory means Iran has won a huge strategic victory. Over the past several years, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have exploited instability in order to establish a large and intricate network of Shia militias across the Middle East. Today in 2017, Iran may exert overwhelming influence, if not de facto control over more than 230,000 militiamen in Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon combined. That number includes 150,000 in Syria alone.

 This is the realization of a long-time Iranian strategic ambition: to undermine American influence in the Middle East and to pose an acute threat to Israel. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah pointed to this victory on June 23, when he proclaimed that the next war with Israel would be strengthened by “thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of fighters” from across the region. Though the latest de-escalation agreement for southwestern Syria includes a clause requiring the withdrawal of Iran-linked militias from territory bordering Israel, Tehran has a history of extracting its assets from the area due to external pressure, before again re-infiltrating them when conditions allow. There is no reason to believe this time will be any different.

 It is true that the U.S. does not have an interest in forceful regime change in Syria, but it does have an interest in stability. The U.S. has intervened in parts of Syria and has acquired a stake in its fate—we should own that stake and protect progress made in those areas. Holding and stabilizing territory, protecting it and its inhabitants from extremism or other forms of aggression, and fostering an environment in which interim reconstruction and localized governance can take shape would serve to create an alternative reality to that of the Assad regime.

 The U.S. must urgently assume a more long-term view when it comes to Syria, based on a continued and genuine commitment to the idea of a negotiated settlement that includes as much of the opposition as possible. By sticking to the short-term vision pursued today, we risk having to intervene again in Syria further down the line, when the consequences of our limited approach come back to haunt us. By then, our options will be even more limited and risk-laden than they are today.'

A blind girl killed by snipers

Image may contain: 5 people, people sitting


This is the blind girl "Rayan Omaian
". She has been killed by a sniper of the Assad Regime.

Now she'll celebrate her 5th birthday in paradise...'
Image may contain: 1 person, sitting, child and close-upImage may contain: one or more people

Monday, 10 July 2017

Prison in Hama (Syria): Detainees take control

 'Since May 2016, Sijin Hama al-Markazi Central Prison in Hama, Syria, has been completely under the control of the prisoners. Starting from the protest against the transfer of four detainees to a detention center run by the Syrian secret services, political and ordinary prisoners united and took control of the building. The doors of the cells were broken, the outer doors barricaded. The remaining supervisors were locked up and no one can enter or leave the prison without the permission of the detainees. Since the authorities have not yet regained full control of the building and hundreds of prisoners have been released as a result of negotiations.

 En Route! Was able to contact by telephone with two mutineers, Hamid and Urwa, political prisoners still currently detained. Here we reproduce the fruit of several telephone interviews with them. They tell us how they took control of the prison, how they organize themselves inside, the negotiations with the authorities ... At their request and for obvious reasons of security we only give here part of what they told us.

 The unique and little-known situation of the Hama mutiny is the very example of the kind of tension that could spread in a Syria where armed rebellion is unable to hold but where new forms of struggle can emerge in "pacified" areas. It is likely that this experience, far from the front lines, foreshadows the challenges facing Bashar al-Assad's regime: resistance from the areas under its control.

 Following the interview with Hamid and Urwa, you will find a brief description of the Syrian prison system and its operation since the uprising.

 Can you tell us how the mutiny started? It all started in May 2016 when four prisoners from Hama's central prison were to be transferred to Sednaya prison. We know that they would be transferred there for execution. They had been sentenced to death by a military court without any possibility of defending themselves. Then their families had paid a corrupt judge so that the penalties were not applied. The judge pocketed the money but it did not change anything. The secret services then tried to transfer them and we opposed it. We tried to negotiate and in the face of their refusal to discuss, we closed the doors of the prison, barricaded all the issues.

 After a walk, we took control of all parts of the prison, the courtyard, the canteen, the officers' offices, and so on. Inside we destroyed all the doors that separate the cells, to make it impossible to regain control of the prison, even if they managed to return to the prison.

 For eight days we received neither water nor food. The situation was very difficult. By closing the gates of the prison we had locked up with us several employees of the administration of the prison. They were not armed and we did not do anything to them, they were just in jail when we took control of the building. We are in conflict with the secret services and the judges.

 After eight days, the regime agreed to start negotiating. Gradually we released the employees of the administration of the prison in exchange for the release of some prisoners. It started with the release of a policeman against the release of 46 inmates. Then, in tranches, 380 prisoners were released. Finally, we reached an agreement that was only partially respected. The mutiny was terminated, and we all had to be released within four months. In reality it did not happen. Admittedly, the administration took over part of the operation of the prison, notably administrative management and the canteen. But inside we are the ones who take care of the rest as we want. The cell doors are still not closed despite their demands and threats.

 How did it happen between the prisoners? We know that you do not all have the same status, did it make it difficult to organize? The mutiny was initiated by a group of political prisoners, but it was successfully extended to prisoners of war. common right. It was not easy to make a junction with ordinary prisoners. They are judged and they know the date of their release, which is not our case. We have nothing to lose when they do not have an interest to join us in this fight. But fortunately all the prisoners were united.

 Of course we must be careful, the regime has certainly infiltrated us. But we almost all come from the city of Hama which has facilitated the building of bonds of trust between us.

 What has made this trust possible is that we do not have a leader and we are not affiliated with political movements. In general, for decisions taken urgently, we improvise with the principle of always remaining together. For the other decisions we discuss it among ourselves in each cell, we decide on something and the coordinators of each cell come together to decide together. If we do not agree we vote but generally we try to all agree.
Subsequently, committees are appointed to negotiate with the administration of the prison and with the State.

 What did the mutiny actually change in your daily life? Before we could rarely get out of our cells, we were crammed into closed cells with a ban on going out for a walk. Now everything is open and we go out for a walk whenever we want. We choose in which cell and with whom we sleep. And above all, there is no danger of being transferred to a prison of the secret services. The policemen and the masters who enter come in only when they are given permission and without their weapons. They are harmless. The mutiny, even since the partial return of the administration of the prison, allows us to protect ourselves from the secret services. On the other hand, we have very little food and no access to care.

 And where are you today? Despite the promises, there have been no new releases so the fight continues. There have been several visits by representatives of the regime, including the Minister of the Interior and the Minister of Justice. Also of the so-called "opposition of the interior", deputies presented as opponents in Syria but who in reality are affiliated to the regime. Each time they come to give us guarantees, we make promises. They are afraid that the movement will grow, make noise and spread to the city or other prisons. So they try to save time like that.

 What we are asking for is not only the cancellation of the transfer of our four comrades, but the release of all prisoners from our prison.

 Currently we have control of the prison but the security forces are all around. We can not go out and they can not enter. It's been a hard year. Sometimes members of the prison administration and police officers enter the prison, but without their weapons. On the other hand, they can not question anyone or summon anyone. There are distributions of food, but in insufficient quantity. We are obliged to buy most of our food from the administration of the prison, which makes good use of it. There is a shortage of medicines and there are several serious illnesses. The situation in the prison is very difficult, but it is better than before the mutiny because we are free of our movements and we are all together.

 Do you know how it happens in other prisons? Are there similar movements? I believe that there were attempts at an uprising in Tartous Prison. But no mutiny situation like here in Hama. In some prisons, police officers find it difficult to enter and take one of the prisoners to transfer or interrogate. They must come in groups to intervene in the cells. But at home it is not at all possible. In other civilian prisons, such as Adra prison in Damascus, a mutiny like home is more difficult because the prisoners come from all over Syria and do not necessarily know each other. So it's more complicated to create bonds of trust, everyone suspects to collaborate with the regime. In addition to Adra the political prisoners and common law are mixed. So the political networks, from which the mutinies, the trusted groups, are separated and divided. Common prisoners are often responsible for monitoring political prisoners, so there is internal control by the prisoners themselves. It is well known that the regime did not hesitate to starve or bomb whole districts to resume them To the rebels. How do you explain the fact that they have not already done so for Hama prison? 

 Did they not have the means to forcibly restore it? The regime repeatedly tried to force it back into prison by sending tear gas and firing live ammunition. But it must be understood that there are technical reasons but also political reasons for his inability to return to prison. Technical, Because we completely barricaded the whole prison and they can not enter. The only solution would be to bomb the prison and exterminate us. The regime would certainly have no problem doing that in another prison, especially in a military prison or a prison run by the secret service. Except that, and this is the more political reason, our prison is a civil prison and all the prisoners come from Hama. Hama is a Sunni city, traditionally hostile to the Assad regime (an insurrection was violently crushed in 1982). Since 2011, the regime has invested heavily so that the insurrection does not take in this city. Indeed, the rebels never managed to take it and the front line is about 30 km to the north. So we're really in the back of the front line with the rebels, it's an area that the regime can not afford to see wavering. I think that here, more than anywhere else, the regime must keep the population safe. They cannot afford to risk an insurrection some kilometers from the Idlib front. This is partly why he is trying to avoid the passage in force here. Then, the regime has no special interest in losing that card there. They certainly think they can appear to be making concessions by releasing prisoners. If we are in this prison and we are not in a prison managed by the secret services, it is because they do not consider us to be really dangerous. If we were rebel fighters or mere supporters of the armed rebellion we would have been tortured to death. So we say that the regime wants to keep us as a bargaining chip, to be able to make a move when the time comes. It must be realized that such a mutiny in another prison would probably not have been possible.

 In Syria, there are several types of prisons corresponding to several detention regimes.
First of all, there are civilian prisons for ordinary prisoners. Prisoners pass before a judge, are tried and know the length of their detention. Since the beginning of the revolt, due to lack of space, political prisoners are also detained in civilian prisons. This is the case of the Hama central prison. Civilian prisons are administered by the prison administration and the police, and are under the control of the Ministry of the Interior. Political prisoners are generally arrested and tortured by the secret services in various centers, which depend on their authority, and therefore have no connection with the police and the judiciary. Then these prisoners with special status are sometimes transferred to civilian prisons, Where conditions of life are better (access, no interrogation under torture, the possibility of purchasing food, and an easily corruptible prison administration).
 Finally, there are detention centers depending on the regimes of exceptions: that is, centers run by the army or the secret services directly. It is the case of the Palestine Branch, the prison of Palmyra (before its destruction by the Islamic State) and Sednaya , as well as numerous clandestine detention centers scattered in the buildings of the various secret services, military bases and hospitals. Mass executions and systematic torture have been reported by Amnesty International, including the Sednaya prison.

 The organized and bureaucratic nature of these massacres was revealed following the defection of "Caesar" [ 1 ].
 The vast majority of political prisoners, especially when accused of supporting the rebels (having taken up arms, But also nourished, cared for, welcomed ...) are locked there.Torture is systematic and the living conditions are terrible. It is rare to get out alive. These prisons existed before the outbreak of the insurrection. After the 1980s, the Syrian regime massively locked up Islamist militants, far-left or pro-Palestinian. [ 2 ]

 Since the beginning of the insurgency, new detention centers have emerged to deal with the massive influx of prisoners. In hospitals, military bases, cellars, clandestine torture and detention centers are set up. Each secret service, Syrian or foreign militia has its own detention centers.
 The issue at the outset of the Hama mutiny was precisely to prevent the transfer of prisoners from a civilian prison to one of those detention centers which are not alive and which depend on the exception regime of the secret services.

 While attempts at a political settlement of the Syrian conflict have been proliferating for many years without any results, the issue of the release or exchange of prisoners is regularly highlighted in the negotiations as the only way there may be some progress.
At the international conferences in Astana (since January 2017) and Geneva (2012, 2014, 2016, 2017), the issue of the release of prisoners is systematically raised. At the same time, the actors of the conflict regularly sign local agreements which can allow the release or exchange of prisoners (for more details consult the article Diplomacy against the Syrian rebels which revisits the agreements of Astana,

[ 1 ] Caesar is the code name given by international lawyers and Syrian activists who interviewed this official military police photographer, who defected in January 2014. Caesar was responsible for photographing the bodies of dead detainees in order to archive. He left Syria with tens of thousands of images, many of them showing the bodies of deceased detainees in Syria's detention centers.

[ 2 ] The book The Shell , by Mustapha Khalifa, is one of the best stories about Syrian prisons before the insurrection.'

Assad Supporters Protest Face-to-Face With Regime Forces Amid Aleppo Security Breakdown

Assad Supporters Protest Face-to-Face With Regime Forces Amid Aleppo Security Breakdown

 'Loyalists of the Bashar al-Assad regime in Aleppo protested on Thursday against violations by its forces and allied militias amid growing anger at the regime’s failure to control the abuses of the shabeeha members.
 The Aleppo News site on Thursday published images of dozens of regime loyalists protesting in the industrial city near a military barrier called the “prison checkpoint.” The protesters held up placards denouncing thefts by regime forces manning the checkpoints, chanting “no to the barriers of theft” while calling on Assad to control the abuses.

 Images showed the protesters standing up to the regime forces at the military checkpoint, a development warning of the growing state of discontent in regime-held areas, as most loyalists are content to express their anger on social media rather than take to the streets in direct confrontation with government forces.

 Residents in the regime areas of Aleppo live in constant terror as a result of increasing kidnappings, especially of women and girls, and extortion by the loyalist shabeeha militias. In some cases captives have been killed at the hands of the kidnappers either because the family is unable to pay the ransom or to settle personal accounts.

 According to regime media, hardly a week goes by without Aleppo being shaken by a new crime, the most recent of which was on June 11 when a popular committees member shot a child named Ahmad Jaweesh while he was selling chewing gum in the Al-Mojambo district. The culprit is still in hiding, amid calls from residents to impose the death penalty on the member of the pro-regime forces.

 The many abuses, killings, kidnappings and thefts in the city indicate the clear inability of the Assad regime to control its forces. According to a media activist from Aleppo, Mohamad al-Shafei, the reason for that is that some of the fighters in the regime forces are backed by official figures and it is not possible to approach them or to hold them to account for their crimes.

 The people of the city live in constant anticipation, not because they are subjected to killing and kidnapping, but because of the spread of crime in their districts, and the fear of what could result from any dispute with regime fighters.

 The situation in Aleppo’s districts resembles the remaining areas under regime control in which local and foreign militias are deployed at military checkpoints, especially in Homs and Damascus. The “ta’feesh” (looting) carried out by regime forces in the areas where they are located are considered a characteristic associated with them, while the regime has not appeared to respond to the appeals of residents of these areas harmed by the practices of the shabeeha.'

 Infighting between Syrian regime militants in Aleppo city*
 'In the past two days the city of Aleppo witnessed violent clashes and mutual shootings between militias loyal to the Syrian regime and groups of National Defense Forces (NDF).

The clashes resulted in fatalities and injuries from both sides, Following the inability of the regime forces to control the insurgency of these militias in the city.

 Activists reported that a dispute between members of the “Marrdel” militia and the National Defense Forces ,outskirt of the Arts faculty in the ‘villaat’ street in Sheikh-Taha neighborhood in the center of Aleppo, and escalated later into violent clashes during which the parties used light and medium weapons in addition to hand grenades.

 The incident sparked a wide trending on the social media platforms , as loyalists considered it as the most prominent example of the security chaos and the absence of state and power.'
Infighting between Syrian regime militants in Aleppo city

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Syrian revolutionary flag flying over Ahrar al-Sham controlled border crossing for first time in years

Syrian revolutionary flag flying over Ahrar al-Sham controlled border crossing for first time in years

 'Syrian rebels raised the revolutionary flag above a border crossing with Turkey on Saturday, the first time the green-white-black banner has flown over the Bab al-Hawa in many years.

 Ahrar al-Sham fighters hoisted the huge banner on the Turkey border on Saturday, where it will fly alongside a white "Shahada" flag - bearing the Muslim testimony of faith - which the Islamist group commonly uses.

 The flag is 17 metres in length and was hoisted on a 25 metre flag post at the Bab al-Hawa crossing.

 The green-white-black banner was Syria's national flag before the Baath Party ruled the country and has been adopted by anti-regime revolutionaries since near the start of the 2011 revolution.

 It is believed to be the first time since at least 2013 that the flag has flown over the Bab al-Hawa crossing in Idlib province.

 The flag is used by Syria's opposition government and the Free Syrian Army which has been one of the rebel camp's more moderate forces.

 The decision by Ahrar al-Sham to raise the flag at the border point it controls comes at a significant time.

 Tensions are simmering between the Islamist coalition group and its al-Qaeda linked rival Tahrir al-Sham northern Syria's Idlib province, according to activists.

 Both coalitions are competing for influence in the only Syrian province fully in the control of rebels, with some analysts suggesting a potential intra-opposition battle could break out at the border crossing.

 In an attempt to appear the moderate party, Ahrar al-Sham issued a fatwa permitting the use of the colours of the revolutionary banner in its branding and for supporters to fly the flag.

 A leader from the group also appeared next to the flag during a video statement last month.'