Wednesday, 28 March 2018

In the Ruins of a Dream

 'In March 2011, a popular uprising began in Syria against the government of President Bashar al-Assad. The protests were violently opposed by the Syrian army. Some areas and cities have suffered destruction on an enormous scale.

 In the Ruins of a Dream features five Syrians who've been internally displaced or sought refuge in Europe. They reflect on the devastation wrought on their homes, some of which took years to build.

 "Syrians go through a lot to build a house, especially because of the economic situation like the high cost of construction materials," says Shahoud al-Jadou, from the town of Kafr Zita. His father built the family home but was killed by the Syrian air force, so Shahoud and his family were forced to leave.

 "When the revolution started, we took part in the protests," says Ahmed Dabbis, from the small town of Kafrnbodeh. "We thought it would succeed quickly, like in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. During this time, the regime was absent in our areas. So we started to build the house and homeland. Military operations in Kafrnbodeh town started in July [2011]. I left the town for a couple of hours each time I heard an operation was about to start. Every time, the government army broke into my house, destroyed and looted it. It's where my wife and I felt safe and comfortable and where we started our family, had our kids and planned for the future," says Ahmed, as he looks at his destroyed home. "I wasn't enraged by the destruction because I was grateful for my family's and my own safety."

 Muhammad al-Obaid is a singer who performed songs for the protesters during the 2011 revolution. He used to live and work in Beirut, doing manual jobs, to save enough money to build a family home over the course of 12 years in al-Lataminah.

 One day he rushed home and found his house levelled after a helicopter had dropped two barrel bombs. "It had been completely demolished. Nothing was left, not a single brick. My heart was broken. It had taken me years to build it," says Muhammad.

 Human rights activist Mohammed al-Abdo's Idlib home was commandeered by the army who then burned it down. "I became targeted by the regime because of our intensive activities". Sifting through the rubble and old stacks of papers, he says "I wasn't upset by the destruction of the house. I just felt sad for my books. It took me about 25 years to collect them all. I had some very rare books."

 While those who actively took part in the 2011 anti-government protests were targeted, others like Um Hisham became victims simply because their homes were in the wrong place. "A large military patrol was always deployed in our neighbourhood. They stayed in the shop next to my house," says the 70-year-old widow from al-Kadam area of Damascus.

 When the military action increased, she says, "I went to my daughter's house in al-Yarmouk refugee camp, and it was the same there. So we went back home." Um Hisham now lives with her daughter in a tiny apartment in Worms, Germany, after her Damascus home was burned and robbed.

 The monumental loss of her family home is still very painful and has worsened her heart condition. "My house is always on my mind... It's very difficult to see your own house burned...All the trees in my house were burned. We went inside the house, and everything was burned. You could even see the iron girders in the ceiling. I hope no one ever sees what I saw," says Um Hisham.

 "I told my daughter I'd just like to see our home in Syria one more time, to see our family. Unfortunately, there's no one left there. All my neighbours have died."
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Monday, 26 March 2018

Iran tells Assad – Pay the bill

 'Iran today demands the régime pay the new bill which has reached nearly twenty-one billion dollars, the price of Iran support to the regime. General Yahya Rahim Safavi (military adviser to Khamenei), has publicly demanded that Assad pay the bill.

 “We are serious about defending Syria and its territorial integrity, but the regime has to pay the cost bill,” Safavi said during a seminar at the Institute for Future Studies in the Islamic World, according to the ISNA news agency. “In Syria, there are Gas and phosphate mines, and these natural resources can pay the required bill. “

 Safavi offered to establish long-term agreements between Iran and Syria to ensure compensation for what Iran lost there, pointing out that the Syrian mines began exporting phosphate to Iran effectively. “Syria’s neighbours wanted the Assad régime to fall, including Jordan, Israel, the United States and Saudi Arabia, but our alliance has prevented the régime falling, and we expanded our influence in Iraq.”

 The mullahs’ government may not have noticed that oil and gas have become under American control for an indefinite period.

 Russia, which is still preventing Assad from visiting the city of Aleppo, the largest economic and industrial city in Syria, is not likely to share the spoils with Iran. In fact, during the last visit of the foreign minister to Moscow, the Assad government granted the largest percentage of contracts with the acceptable return to Russia. It has authorized Russia to consider the contracts of other countries with the Syrian government, and any state, which wants to participate in the contracts, should pass through the Russian government for approval before Damascus' approval.'

Meshal al - Adawi

Under Turkish tutelage FSA becomes better organised, but its mission shifts

Turkey-backed opposition fighters of the Free Syrian Army patrol the northwestern city of Afrin. Lefteris Pitarakis / AP

 'Since the moniker “Free Syrian Army” was first used nearly seven years ago, it has been a movement marked by loose coalitions and often deadly competition between groups.

 But militants in northern Syria say that one of the effects of Turkey's two year-intervention in the war has been to provide increasing order in areas controlled by the rebel groups under its patronage, a force that now has as many as 20,000 fighters.

 The groups have continued to use the acronym FSA to describe their alliance, even as their primary mission has changed and they have become a more effective fighting force, at least when backed by the Turkish military.

 Turkey began to provide covert support to rebel groups in northern Syria at least as early as 2012, funneling weapons and aid across the border in concert with other foreign backers.

 The redirection of foreign support inevitably changed the nature of Syria’s conflict.

 The FSA groups that Turkey initially backed fought the Syrian government in hopes of overthrowing President Bashar Al Assad, but the rebel groups it now supports are largely engaged in clearing the Syrian side of the two countries’ border of the YPG, a Syrian Kurdish militia that Turkey regards as terrorists.

 “In 2012 I was a member of the FSA,” said Firas Mierzafi, a Syrian fighter from Idlib. “In 2013, I moved to Ahrar Al Sham,” he said, referring to a different opposition group.

 But by 2017, rebel infighting had paralysed Idlib and the campaign against the Syrian government, Mr Mierzafi said. Idlib had also simply become a dangerous place to live, as criminals and armed groups kidnapped with impunity and no single group could impose social order.

 “We didn’t want to continue in this disordered situation. Factions were going against one another. We joined the revolution to topple the regime, not to fight one another,” he said.

 So Mr Mierzafi left Idlib and joined the Al Hamza Division, a Turkish-backed group that was participating in Operation Euphrates Shield, a campaign along the Turkish border in Aleppo province further east. Euphrates Shield marked the first major deployment of Turkish troops to Syria since the war began.

 Mr Mierzafi, who is currently participating in Operation Olive Branch, the latest Turkish-backed operation, cited financial support provided to rebels by Turkey as a crucial factor in the operation's success.

 “Our brother Turks will take care of the injured and of the families of the martyrs,” he said. “After seven years, our fighters are very poor. They are no more able to feed their children.”

 Fighters said Turkish government support for the families of fighters who are killed includes free apartments, cash, and Turkish citizenship.

 “On the other hand, the injured of the groups in Idlib get nothing. The families of the martyrs are paid nothing and left to homelessness,” Mr Mierzafi said.

 Whether the Turkish-backed FSA will again take on the Syrian government directly remains to be seen – for now, they are preoccupied with the YPG, though they insist that it is the same fight.

 “We are fighting for the same cause of liberating our lands from the regime and the (YPG), but with better conditions,” Mr Mierzafi said.

 The YPG has links to the Syrian government, but has also received extensive backing from the US as an ally in the fight against ISIL.

 But commanders of the FSA now echo Turkish leaders when speaking of their next objective: moving further eastward against the YPG, which still controls hundreds of kilometers of the Syrian side of the border with Turkey.

 “This is a terrorist and a separatist party,” said Mustafa Waddah, a commander of the Zinki Movement, another group that is part of Operation Olive Branch. “We have achieved a substantial proportion of our goal, but there is more future work to come.”

 The vast majority of the rebels Turkey backs are Syrian Arabs, and there have been claims and counterclaims of ethnic cleansing and human rights abuses across northern Syria.

 “We will liberate Arab towns from the (YPG)," Mr Waddah said.

 Videos from the Kurdish city of Afrin last week showed Turkish-backed fighters looting everything from livestock to automobiles from the city after the FSA and Turkish forces drove out the YPG as hundreds of thousands of civilians were displaced.

 Mr Waddah said his group was working to stop such crimes.

 “With the liberation of each new area, there are some of the corrupt who take the chance for personal illegal gains,” he said. “We erected more checkpoints and put an end to all thefts."

 Turkey has also turned the FSA groups under its command into a more effective fighting force, including with the provision of air cover - something it was unwilling to do when the FSA was fighting the Syrian government.

 “We also received artillery coverage and some trained special forces that were used to storm territory along with FSA,” said Muhammad Al Hamadin, a member of the FSA and spokesperson for Operation Olive Branch.

 Mr Al Hamadin acknowledged that Turkey had “its own interests” at heart in securing its border, but denied that his men had become mercenaries.

 “Liberating Afrin from the (YPG) is like liberating any Syrian land from the regime or ISIL,” he said. “We will be satisfied only if we get Syria rid of oppression and help people live in dignity and freedom.” '