Saturday, 2 September 2017

In the heart of Syria's brutal war, Daraya was a small bastion of hope

Hosam, one of the members of Daraya's now disbanded governing council.

 'War is always first and foremost a breakdown in order. But what documents from the Islamic State's rule over cities like Mosul and Raqqa tell us is that governance of a kind can emerge even in the midst of violent conflict.

 The Syrian war spawned not only the dark officialdom of Islamic State, but also lesser-known examples of rebel governance, such as the city of Daraya on the outskirts of Damascus.

 In August 2016, when Daraya finally fell to the regime of Bashar al-Assad, one of the most promising democratic experiments of the Syrian civil war seemed to have come to an end. However, for Hosam, a local council member, and a group of around 30 of his friends, the bonds that were forged as a result of their experience in Daraya are impossible to break.

 While the Syrian civil war constrained, and ultimately ended, the governance project in Daraya, Hosam says that he and his fellow pioneers in Daraya, "wanted our small city to be a kind of ideal city, a utopia".

 Throughout many massacres, battles for control of the strategically located town, sieges and starvation, the ideals of freedom and equality remained the guiding force.

 Daraya was one of the only areas in Syria where the armed group that sprang up from local ranks, the Martyrs of Islam Brigades, remained subordinate to the democratically elected local council.

 The local council itself was divided into portfolios that covered media, the military, hospitals, food and services – these included maintaining tunnels used during the siege as well as fixing cars.

 It also managed a budget of thousands of dollars in the early days of the uprising and had the foresight to future-proof their precarious situation, to the extent that was possible, by establishing a "general kitchen" with food stores stockpiled from residents that had left the town in order to provide those that remained with three meals a day. This dwindled to two meals a day in 2013 during the second year of Assad's siege and one in the third. When the warehouse was nearly empty all they had left was rice and then only wheat that they made into a type of soup they would eat along with tree leaves.

 "We made sure that no one died of starvation, but we were all very skinny," says Hosam.

 He and his friends are now scattered between Amman, Turkey and Idlib but still talk together every day via social media, and with them the founding principles of their revolution are kept alive.

 Many years before the war in Syria even began, these ideals were propagated by their local religious leader, Abdulakram al-Saqqa. Hosam was 15 when he attended his first class with Saqqa, whose curriculum was filled with grand themes of gender equality, freedom of religion and expression, and liberalism.

 Saqqa and his followers quickly gained the attention of Assad's security apparatus. During a street cleaning campaign organised by al-Saqqa, Hosam was arrested for the first time by security forces and beaten. He was one of the lucky ones – other older boys were arrested and then detained for a number of years. However, when they were released they brought with them a somewhat surprising message: "Syria's jails are full of maverick thinkers. There is hope for change in this country yet."

 After demonstrations for political reform began in Daraa in southern Syria in March 2011, and Assad's subsequent lack-lustre "reform" speech, Hosam and his friends organised similar demonstrations in Daraya. Following the teachings of Saqqa, who was arrested for the third time in July 2011 by the regime and has not been heard of since, Hosam was determined to keep the protests peaceful. "Even after the regime opened fire on protesters ... we gave out roses and water to the soldiers in a gesture of non-violence."

 Over the course of the next five years Daraya experienced some of the worst brutality the Syrian regime could offer but the remit of the Council that Hosam and his friends had established in October 2012 only expanded.

 While the number of fighters entering the town increased over time, the armed group always remained subservient to the Council. The Council established a checkpoint at the frontline to control bribery and theft and later would not allow soldiers to bring their weapons into the town.

 Additionally, under the auspices of the Council, Hosam organised to pay two supermarkets in the neighbouring town of Moadamiya to funnel food into Daraya during the siege. This enabled the Council to reopen the general kitchen and provide food for the fighters and the small number of civilians that remained.

 Despite their high level of organisation under difficult circumstances, things did not always run smoothly.

 Hosam says that there were many conflicts at work. Yelling and screaming was not uncommon. For example, during negotiations for a truce with the regime there was disagreement between Council members about whether to accept the deal or to wait to see the outcome of international peace talks in Geneva.

 While those in favour of waiting and seeing won the round at work, once they left for the day they were all friends first and foremost. "There would be fighting in the morning and cooking together in the evening," said Hosam. "We all agreed that the conflict would have been useless if we destroyed each other in the process."

 The Syrian government's aim in pacifying towns like Daraya is to show the international community that there are no other actors in Syria capable of governing and hence securing its own viability. However, while the governance structures that Hosam and his friends created may now have ended, the unbreakable bonds that developed because of their collective experience means that Assad may have been able to destroy the edifice but he has not been able to dismantle their dream for a more equitable and inclusive Syrian society.'

Daraya fell in August 2016, days after Russian and Syrian fighter jets had reportedly bombarded the city with ...A mural in the besieged Syrian city of Daraya accuses Syrian government troops (right) of fleeing in the face of ...
"A utopia": The logo of Daraya's city council, an experiment in democracy cut short by Syria's war.


 Feras Hanoush:

 'The past two years have seen a series of truces between the Syrian regime and rebel groups. Such deals, labelled by the regime as “national reconciliation” agreements, lead the two sides to compromises that extract them from existential battles of attrition. To persist, they require all sides to enter in good faith and abandon the principles of victory and loss, in order to overcome the remnants of the past that led to the conflict in the first place.
The phrase “national reconciliation” is used to describe a return to life under Assad’s murderous regime. The deals are generally imposed through the bombing and siege of residential areas and starvation of their inhabitants. The essential condition for reconciliation has been ignored—namely, the idea of transitional justice, an approach that achieves justice during the transitional phase at the end of a conflict, through commissions of enquiry, redress and reparation, thus avoiding a return to conflict, as in the case of the reconciliations in South Africa and Latin America.

 In the Syrian case, the Assad regime sees itself as embodying the Syrian state, takes the arrogant view that “the state does not reconcile,” commits vast numbers of war crimes that have killed an estimated half million victims with no regulatory framework or laws to guarantee justice or accountability. The regime does not see itself as a party to a national conflict, but rather that it is simply exercising its powers as a sovereign state against illegal groups. All this has contributed to making the reconciliation deals into farcical shows of forced settlement carried out by the regime and its allied militias, and with support from Russian and Iranian forces.

 While the reconciliation deals appear to be a way for the regime to retake lost territory, there are more dangerous implications for Syria and the Middle East, already ravaged by sectarian strife. Such deals could become an internationally-accepted prototype and a way in which the Syrian conflict is ended, wiping the Assad regime clean of Syrian blood and absolving it of crushing popular dissent. The deals involve a destructive change to Syrian society, through “reconciliation evacuations” in which residents leave areas entirely, mostly heading for northern Syria. These have taken place in many places such as Homs, the Damascus region and the Aleppo countryside. They are a deliberate tactic used by the regime and its supporters to strengthen their control of “useful Syria”, in the phrase coined by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. These deals have been portrayed as “gifts” from the regime to people living in the areas covered, who have had their status “normalized,” laying the way for their sons to be forcibly conscripted into the regime army.

 Russia, through its base on the Syrian coast, overseas these reconciliations, provides the air support necessary to force opposition areas to submit to the regime, and provides Russian mediators to help negotiate the deals and act as guarantors. The reconciliations strengthen Russia’s ground presence and allow Russia to present itself as progressing toward peace in Syria. Through the reconciliations, Russia has been able to stand by its requirement that Bashar al-Assad not step down. With the elimination of the remaining pockets of moderate opposition forces, Russia can make the claim that the regime is only fighting jihadists true, and twist America’s arm into accepting Assad and even working with him to fight extremist groups.

 The Jaroud Arsal area on the Syrian-Lebanese border is the latest area to be the target of such a deal. Following a six day battle with Hezbollah, the agreement led to the evacuation of eight thousand Jabhat al-Nusra fighters and their families along with civilians from the area to Idlib in northern Syria. Prior to that, Madaya and Zabadani in the Damascus region were emptied of their inhabitants. Shia civilians from Kafraya and Foua in northern Syria were moved to regime-controlled areas in what was known as the Four Towns Deal. The regime taking full control of Aleppo last December played a major role in drawing the borders on Assad’s “useful Syria.”

 Reconciliation deals are being directly supervised by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, which is trying to connect geographical areas stretching from the borders of Afghanistan to the Mediterranean. It has largely succeeded in taking control of Iraq through its local proxies, the Shia militias forming the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), although the Iraq government remain dependent on US support and unwilling to ask its Western partner to leave. It has also sent its militias to fight alongside the regime in Syria as well as nurturing Hezbollah in Lebanon, which has developed advanced rocket capabilities. Iran has supported the Houthis in Yemen against the Arab coalition and stood alongside the Shia opposition in Bahrain, making Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province its next target and the final piece of the crescent.

 Today, unless the United States and the NATO alliance stands up to Iranian expansionism and its attempts to join up these areas, the world will face an Iranian state that has won major political gains, taken control of vast geographical areas rich in oil, as well as a key commercial sea route. Its latest steps to influence the region can be seen in the reconciliation deals in Syria and its efforts to undermine a solution in Yemen. Given the current lack of will to fight Iran militarily, the best solution would be to cut off its arms outside its territory by making use of the Free Syrian Army in southern Syria, and finding a truly just form of peace instead of these so called reconciliation deals that have allowed for pro-regime militias to take control of large parts Syria.

 However, the Trump administration policy, or lack thereof, seems unlikely to take any concrete action. Trump’s focus has been on fighting the Islamic State (with no clear reconstruction strategy for areas liberated from ISIS) and achieving some kind of peace to show that he can end the war. If the war, ends, though, it will not be because of any action taken by Trump, whose Syria policy has been characterized by abrupt actions with no follow up, such as the bombing of Shayrat airbase on April 2017. Instead, it will be because the regime and its allies have found their military solution to Syria.'


Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Syrian Coalition: Hezbollah-ISIS Deal Exposed Close Links Between Them

Syrian Coalition: Hezbollah-ISIS Deal Exposed Close Links Between Them

 'The Syrian Coalition strongly condemned the negotiations that were conducted between the Hezbollah militia and the Assad regime on one side and the ISIS extremist group on the other. The Coalition expressed surprise at the silence of the international community over these negotiations as it fully rejected their outcome.

 Over 300 ISIS militants on Monday left the western Qalamoun area in Rural Damascus to Deir Ezzor province under regime forces escort after ISIS and the Hezbollah Militia concluded a deal to transfer ISIS militants from the border areas between Syria and Lebanon.

 In a press release issued on Monday, the Syrian Coalition said that the negotiations have exposed the close links between ISIS, the Iranian-backed Hezbollah and the Assad regime.

 The Coalition said that these three sides are complicit in the spread of terrorism in Syria and Lebanon. It stressed that the deals resulting from these negotiations fall within the framework of supporting terrorism and violate the resolution of the UN Council Security and the General Assembly which prohibited the establishment of contacts or cooperation with terrorist organizations.

 The Coalition emphasized it totally rejects the deal reached by the three sides and the provision of safe passage for ISIS militants to move from the area bordering Lebanon deeper inside Syria. It called on the Lebanese government to prevent the transfer of terrorist elements from Lebanon to the liberated areas in Syria.

 “Condemnation of this deal should not be limited to the parties involved, but extends to the Lebanese security agencies that played a role in reaching and sponsoring the agreement as well as to international organizations that have remained silent about the deal,” the Coalition added.

 The Coalition reiterated calls on the UN Security Council to shoulder its responsibilities towards this serious violation and all violations and crimes being committed by the Assad regime and its allies targeting the sovereignty of Syria and the rights of the Syrian people to live in security and stability.'

The families of Syria’s disappeared face blackmail with impunity

The families of Syria's disappeared face blackmail with impunity

 ' “I was a revolutionary from the beginning, but my husband had nothing to do with that. He told me: I am a farmer. If Assad is in power, I am a farmer. If he goes, I am still a farmer,” says Ghazal (not her real name), from the small Lebanese town of Al-Marj where she has taken refuge with her five children since July 2015.

 On 9 September 2012, nearly five years ago to the day, her husband was arrested while picking pears on his small parcel of land in the town of Zabandani, by a Syrian army brigade searching for suspects following an attack.

 She has not seen him since, and she does not know where he is being held, or even whether he is still alive. Time has come to a standstill for Ghazal, as it has for thousands of the loved ones of the forcibly disappeared.

 The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) estimates that 106,000 people have been detained or reported missing since the beginning of the popular uprising in March 2011.

 The Syrian regime is responsible for about 90 per cent of these cases, compared to 8.5 per cent for the radical Islamist groups such as the self-proclaimed Islamic State and the Fatah al-Cham Front.

 Thousands of them have died as a result of torture and hardship, as revealed by the unbearable photographs by Caesar, a former military police photographer who defected in 2013.

 In February 2017, Amnesty International revealed that up to 13,000 detainees had been executed by hanging at the infamous Saidnaya prison.

 The SNHR puts the number of people who have simply fallen off the radar at 65,000, leaving behind families ready to do anything to discover their whereabouts.

 After hoping in vain that her husband would be released after the legal 60 day limit for preventive custody, Ghazal has begun like so many others to move heaven and earth in search for him: “There isn’t a single police station in Damascus where, from the person in charge to the cell warden, my husband’s name hasn’t been mentioned. I was told to go and see people who have lots of blood on their hands, because they alone can release prisoners. I did it. I even paid for a ring for an officer’s wife to get my husband back! But it didn’t work,” she sighs.

 Bashar al-Assad’s regime first used mass detention to silence all the pacifist protestors. But as the popular uprising mutated into armed conflict, then a war of attrition, detention became a source of personal enrichment for the regime’s supporters, explains Ansar Jasim, author of the article The Malice of Power: Arrests in Syria as part of a politico-economic rationale.

 “People will sell their house or borrow money to get their loved ones out of prison, because everyone knows about the horrors that take place in Syrian jails. For the regime, it is a means of ensuring loyalty in its ranks and of alleviating its economic difficulties,” says the researcher.

 The centrepiece of this strategy is the counter-terrorism court. Created by the Counter-Terrorism Law of 2012, this body has created an anomalous justice system detailed in the report Counter-Terrorism Court in Syria: A tool for war crimes, published by the Violations Documentation Centre (VDC) in April 2015.

 According to the testimony of lawyers gathered by the organisation, the right to a defence is denied, trials are held behind closed doors and the judges base their decisions on confessions obtained under torture in the detention centres run by the intelligence agencies.

 The simsar act as the eyes and ears of the families of the detainees in the corridors of the court. They are the intermediaries who know which judge or which prosecutor to buy off, in the hope of securing the release or a reprieve for a detainee. Sometimes the court’s judges themselves demand eye-watering amounts from the families of the detainees, failing which they will impose even longer sentences.

 Like certain business people for whom war is a lucrative business, the corruption surrounding the prisoners enables the judges to line their pockets on the backs of the prisoners’ loved ones, already ruined by six years of war.

 Everything can be paid for, from information on where they are being held to the possibility of visiting them, as well as attempts to secure their release. This corruption reaches a climax with the general amnesties decided arbitrarily by the regime, which released 672 detainees at the end of Ramadan last June. Families pay dearly to have their loved ones put on the amnesty list.

 “As soon as an amnesty is announced, the prison officers begin to promise families they will put their loved ones name on the list,” a lawyer told Jasim.

 The only alternative to this institutionalised blackmail is the release of detainees. Alive.

 “I was lucky enough to survive,” says Mansour Omari, one of those who was miraculously freed. Arrested with activists from the Syrian Centre for the Media and Freedom of Expression (Mazen Darwish, Hussein Ghrer, Hani Zitani and Abdel-Rahman Hamada), Mansour Omari was released in February 2013, after a year of torture and ill-treatment, in one of the intelligence agencies’ numerous detention centres.

 He and his cellmates decided that whoever was released first would wear a piece of cloth which bore the names of all the detainees, written in blood using a chicken bone. The task fell to him.

 “I came out with this piece of cloth on which 82 names were written. Some of them got wiped out by sweat when I was transferred to an overcrowded cell. There are 60 left: I have managed to contact most of the families to let them know where their loved one is,” he explains from Sweden, where he has built a new life.

 Six years after the conflict began, some families have decided to end their silence.

 During the talks on Syria in Geneva in February 2017, five women relatives of men who have disappeared, who founded the organisation Families for Freedom marched carrying a photo of their loved ones to demand that the case of the enforced disappearances be put on the negotiating table ahead of the other issues.

 One of the women, Bayan Sharbaji, carried the portraits of Yahya and Maan, her two brothers who disappeared six years ago in Daraya: “We are demanding the release of all prisoners detained without trial and judged in a summary court, the publication of a list of all detainees and their places of detention, the delivery of a death certificate to the families of those that have died, and the opening of detention centres to NGOs to put an end to torture. Whatever the result of our initiative we can no longer remain silent,” she said by Whatsapp from England.

 Ghazal, who has joined the initiative, feels torn between hope and realism: “Our campaign is a powerful means of pressure, because it is peaceful. But the regime does not want to tackle the subject of the disappeared, because everyone knows what happens in the prisons. It is the scandal of the Syrian regime. It knows that if it agrees to open the case, it will be its downfall.” '

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Inside Assad's prisons: Horrors facing female inmates in Syrian jails revealed


 'Zahira (not her real name) was 45 when she was arrested at her workplace in a suburb of Damascus in 2013. As soon as she arrived at Al Mezzeh Military Airport, she was strip searched, tied to a bed and gang raped by five soldiers.

 For the next 14 days, she was raped, or threatened with rape, again and again and again.

 During one interrogation, in which she says she was sexually penetrated in “every body cavity”, a soldier filmed what was happening and threatened to show it to her family and community.

 Shunted from facility to facility over the course of five months, in addition to repeated brutal sexual violence Zahira was also regularly beaten. One one occasion she was electrocuted and beaten with a hose pipe; on another, tied upside down for over an hour and hit in the face.

 Between interrogations at Al Mezzeh she was held in solitary confinement, in a cell no bigger than one metre by one metre, with no natural light.

 In Military Intelligence Branch 235, she slept in a three by four metre cell with up to 48 other women that was so cramped the prisoners had to sleep in shifts. They were allowed to use the toilet once every 12 hours, and to wash once in every 40 days.

 Zahira was only released from the notorious Adra prison when the conditions affected her health so severely she lost consciousness and was taken to hospital, her jailers fearing they’d killed her.

 On arrival at a medical facility doctors found she had hepatitis, pneumonia and anaemia. She had to stay in hospital for four months for corrective surgeries for faecal-urinary incontinence caused by her repeated rapes.

 The woman’s story is not easy to read. Experiencing what she went through is beyond the imagination of most of us.

 But Zahira, and dozens of other brave women, have shared their stories with a network of exiled Syrian doctors and lawyers, who have documented what happened to them in Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s prisons in a new report.

 One pregnant woman, arrested because the government suspected her husband of supplying medicine to rebel forces, describes seeing dead bodies dragged through corridors, leaving them slick with blood. The screams of those being tortured still haunt her.

 Another former detainee described being locked in a pitch black cell for six days with a dead body. A razor blade had also been purposefully left there, and she used it to try and kill herself.

 The physical and mental scars from detention will affect these women for the rest of their lives. Many feel shame, and their relationships with their families and communities has changed because of the stigma attached to sexual assault and rape.

 Their hope is that shedding a light on what happens in Assad’s detention centres will amount to international pressure to allow inspectors into the country and thus stop the government acting with impunity.

 What their testimony also means, however, is that officials in Syria’s government, police and military could be held accountable for their actions in potential future war crimes trials.

 “This might be the most powerful evidence we have, the international lawyers say,” one neurosurgeon and founding member of Syrian NGO Lawyers and Doctors for Human Rights(LDHR) said on the phone from Gaziantep, on the Turkish-Syrian border.

 “This is one of our best chances to get justice for these crimes against humanity.”

 There has been precious little in the way of legal redress for any of the victims of Syria’s complex six-year-old war so far. There are few avenues open to them.

 Carla del Ponte, a distinguished international war crimes prosecutor, resigned from her position on the UN’s investigative panel into human rights abuses in the civil war earlier this month because she was so frustrated with its inability to hold criminals to account.

 “I give up. The states in the [UN] Security Council don’t want justice,” she told media when it emerged she had quit.

 The Security Council, she said, should have appointed a court similar to those for the Rwanda and Yugoslavian conflicts – a decision vetoed by permanent member Russia, which is a key backer of the Assad government.

 While the investigative panel has compiled thousands of interviews and other documentation of possible war crimes committed by all sides in Syria, the work was pointless without a tribunal, she added.

 “We have had absolutely no success” holding perpetrators of war crimes in Syria to account, the prosecutor said. “For five years we’ve been running up against walls.”

 Faced with a powerless UN and no prospect of an International Criminal Court tribunal, transitional justice and human rights lawyers have begun trying new tactics.

 In March, a Spanish court agreed to hear the case of the torture and death of a 43-year-old truck driver at the hands of the Syrian government, because the man’s sister, a Spanish citizen, was the plaintiff.

 Under international law relatives of victims of crimes against humanity committed elsewhere are also counted as victims – so the Spanish judge’s decision to hear it was viewed as an important landmark for potentially prosecuting high-level Syrian officials.

 Guernica 37 International Justice Chambers, the Madrid-based legal advocacy group that bought the case, said in a statement it would “specifically allow the courts to investigate the torture and execution of thousands of civilians in the illegal detention centres” operated by the Assad government.

 It could also mean international arrest warrants could be issued for the nine Syrian officials named in the complaint – meaning their assets could be seized or they could be charged if they travel abroad.

 While the decision was reversed due to a split panel of Spanish judges last month, the case has been appealed. Stephen J Rapp, a former United States ambassador at large for the Office of Global Criminal Justice and current nonresident fellow at The Hague Institute for Global Justice, who helped to file the preceedings, told The Independent if necessary they would fight it to the Spanish Supreme Court.

 “The attorneys of Guernica 37 are quite confident regarding the law and of eventual success,” he said.

 “Given the years of pain that has been visited on tens of thousands family members of persons who have been forcibly disappeared into Syrian government custody this is also a very important issue of principle.”

 Buoyed by the progress in Spain, Syrian victims and survivors now living in Germany have also filed a prosecution case based on an investigation by the NGO the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR).

 This represents another type of case – one based on the concept of universal jurisdiction, which allows states to claim criminal jurisdiction over an accused person regardless of where their crimes were committed because of the severity of the allegations.

 More than 65,000 people are thought to have died in the Syrian regime’s prisons over the last six years, and thousands and thousands more have faced abhorrent treatment in detention. The allegations are crimes against humanity - and are thus too serious to tolerate jurisdictional arbitrage, the prosecutor will argue.

 LDHR’s activists are hopeful that their findings – compiled under the Istanbul Protocol, the UN’s methodology on how to recognise and document signs and symptoms of torture so the documentation may serve as valid evidence in court – will be presented as evidence in future cases constructed on the same basis.

 “There were too many women to choose from, with horrible stories, when we set about compiling this report," the LDHR doctor said.

 “I have often felt powerless during the war. This is documenting our history, no matter how terrible it is, and probably the only way the Syrian people will ever have some justice.” '

Quietly, the Assad regime is reshaping Syria

Image result for stephen starr pro regime militias syria's anarchy

 Stephen Starr:
 'Away from the fight­ing and humani­tarian disasters pummelling Syria, another tragedy that may have deep socio-economic consequences for generations is unfolding.

 As residents of opposition-held districts and towns have been forced from their homes by the violence that encompassed Syria, an illegal, state-sponsored mass redistribution of property has been taking place.

 A report published by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation stated that authorities in Damas­cus were systematically destroy­ing property owned by communi­ties that opposed it during the war. The regime has also “erased and falsified property records with the aim to prevent the population from returning and from claiming any rights,” and “has passed many laws and regulations to formalise the transfer of public assets to regime cronies,” the report said.

 The Syrian regime is attempting to reshape the country’s societal map by stealing and redistribut­ing private property.

 The document, written by Jihad Yazigi, a former resident of the Syrian capital and editor of the Syria Report, recognises that many claims are subject to broad interpretation or based on circumstantial evidence. Much of this is due to the absence of trans­parent or formal government procedures or the lack of inde­pendent media outlets to report on individual cases of the state allegedly stealing from people.

 Nonetheless, Syrian authori­ties’ efforts suggest the destruc­tion of homes and businesses is a central strategy of its war effort. It is an enterprise that will allow the regime to fund itself for years.

 The destruction of residential and commercial buildings, properties rendered uninhabit­able or unusable, forces the owners to leave. Government authorities can then claim ownership and hand the proper­ties to influential individuals to secure their allegiance.

 In the words of one World Bank analyst writing on the subject: “For now, Syria’s disparate reconstruction efforts appear to be cementing divisions rather than building bridges.”

 The Friedrich Ebert Foundation report said the regime was readying itself for the massive reconstruction work needed ahead. It has established a council to oversee the metal and steel sector and two regime cronies have joined forces to run a major steel melting plant.

 An entire district in Hama, once controlled by rebel groups and reduced to ruins, has been declared open to investment by a state development commission without the approval or consent of the people who lived and worked there.

 With reports suggesting the post-war rebuilding of Syria could cost $200 billion, the regime and its backers clearly plan on being front and centre when the awarding of contracts begins in earnest.

 There was also, the report stated, growing evidence that Iranian elements were buying or being given property in and around Damascus and Homs. Iran has invested heavily in propping up the Assad regime and would, once the guns have fallen silent, exact a heavy price for this. Given that the Syrian regime is essen­tially broke, the ability to confis­cate privately owned land to pass off to its supporters, including influential Iranians, is crucial to its survival.

 The Assad dictatorship has prior record in this regard. Starting in 1973 under President Hafez Assad, Syrian authorities moved thousands of people to the predominantly Kurdish north-eastern region of the country, where it built 41 villages for settlers. The intention was to establish an Arab belt that would ensure that corner of the country would have a pro-government population. In that case, Kurdish-owned land was expropriated by the state.

 What are the long-term consequences of the regime’s current actions? Undoubtedly, we are seeing the redistribution of entire local populations because of their loose opposition to the regime. Broadly, it has been Sunni Syrians who make up the majority of those opposed to the regime. This is not a conse­quence of sectarian loyalties but simply because most of the Syrian population are Sunni Muslims. As such, this systematic cleansing of mostly Sunni communities may constitute crimes against humanity.

 When Israel began the forced removal of Palestinian communi­ties and settling Palestinian territory in the West Bank, the Arab world was enraged. Now that Damascus’s tactics mirror that same occupation, the Arab world cannot ignore the Assad regime’s actions. That is some­thing to be remembered when the task of rebuilding Syria finally comes into view.'