Saturday, 7 April 2018

What Americans forget about the War on ISIS

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 Janine di Giovanni:

 "I think that what people forget in this war on ISIS, and president Trump's policies on it, is there is a war going on in Syria, that involves Syrian people; it involves people that are being starved, besieged, burned out of their homes, raped, tortured, in a horrific way, for eight years. That's a terribly long time for a conflict to go on, when you think about it. The five million refugees that are outside the country, kids who have been born, kids under the age of eight, who know nothing but living in a refugee camp outside of Syria. People who are still inside, their day-to-day existence is horrific. So I get very frustrated when we focus so intently on ISIS, when there is still a war between the opposition and Bashar al-Assad.

 I think we have to remember there are still people living a day-to-day life, or trying to eke out a day-to-day existence in Syria. I remember in 2012, which was the beginning of the war, when Homs was being obliterated by Assad's troops, sitting in Damascus, which was in Assad controlled territory, and seeing people trying to live their lives, going to parties, going to the opera, going to museums. So I think that, while ISIS is important, the other issue is, is ISIS eradicated? I'm not so sure, because I don't think you can kill an ideology. You can bomb Raqqa into a parking lot, and you will still have people who will maintain what ISIS stands for, the creed of ISIS.

 There will be a vacuum of authority. When the American troops do pull out, we are going to leave an open space for Russia and Iran, who have vested interests there, both of whom support Bashar al-Assad, to take root there. It will be more space for jihadist groups to develop. Also, I think it is sending a signal, that the US is not going to be involved in the Middle East, and we're leaving it to traditional allies, like Saudi, like Israel, to clean up this mess.

 Had Assad not fired on his own people, and later chemically gassed his own people, this wouldn't have happened. Or if we had sent a very early warning sign to him, and said, "You will not get away with this, you will not get away with this level [of brutality],"...

 Instead, we have sent a message that you can get away with stuff. That you can act with impunity, that you can torture, you can imprison, you can kill 500,000 people. Eight years of war. It's an extraordinary amount. I've covered war for more than 30 years now, This is one of the worst.

 For régime change, Putin does hold the power there. If he said to Assad, he has to go, he would go. For now he is too intent, and the Iranians are too intent, on building up their little fiefdoms inside Syria. To me, what success would look like is peace, and for the refugees to be able to go home. In all the years I've worked with refugees, I have never known one who said I don't want to go home. You cannot go home until it's safe. Syria is still a place that is as far from safe as you can get. Eastern Ghouta fell recently. Those people have been corralled to Idlib. Idlib is now a festering place, where basically everyone has been dumped, bussed, and deported.

 We have to think of the restoration. Yesterday in Turkey, the Turks, the Russians, and the Iranians met, to discuss the future of Syria. Where are the Syrians? What is the country going to look like? Is it going to be a a mutation of an even larger proxy war? There's a lot of issues to look at, rather than just yanking out the troops."

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Thursday, 5 April 2018

A survivor from Assad's dark prisons tells it all

Hijazi shared a  damp,  bug-filled 6 square-meter cell with seven women for 30 days. She was tortured every day, electroshocked, stripped naked and abused.

 'Nur Alhuda Hijazi:

 "We were collecting aid for war victims in Syria. We were communicating through social media. Assad's soldiers hacked our friend's account and wrote us on his behalf, saying there are reliable people that will help us, they are expecting us in that place. We thought it was our friend and went with another man and woman to that address. We thought maybe they are from the intelligence, and laughed. Then, we dropped the guy from the car so that he would tell our families where we were in case we got caught. We saw the red car they mentioned and moved forward. Fifteen soldiers came and began to beat us, swearing. Ten minutes later, we saw our other friend caught as well.

 They took us to an intelligence building. They blindfolded us with our headscarves so that we would not see anything. They kept insulting and beating us. They started to touch our bodies, harassing us. They took three of us to separate rooms. They asked me for Facebook, Skype addresses and passwords we used for aid. Their purpose was to reach out to other humanitarian helpers, to block aid and to learn the location of drug stores and other supplies.

 They kept beating me for not talking. Then I gave them a Skype account that I had opened two days ago. I did not give them my personal account, but they asked me the address for my username. They talked to my friends through my account. A friend of mine wrote that he wanted to know where the drug stores in Damascus were. I made him understand that I did not write under normal circumstances when I wrote to him. The officer was angry that he could not get anything.

 They started hitting me. Meanwhile, my phone started ringing. My friends were worried and kept calling us. They started asking me who they were. They kept torturing me to tell them. Then I realized there was someone next to me. When I spoke quietly, I realized it was the girl I came with. We were blindfolded and handcuffed. We talked quickly about what to say.

 We did not know who was there with us. Then they took us to another room separately. In that room, they stripped me from head to toe. I was naked and so ashamed. This was inhuman. They inspected my body by hand. I felt terrible.

 They took us to a cell at midnight. We were in a 6-square-meter room. There were seven other women of different ages there and a 13-year-old girl. We realized that they were constantly raping her. Over time her belly began to grow.

 They claimed that she helped the soldiers. She was constantly raped. She was in a terrible situation. She was just a little girl.

 Our first question I asked was if they were being tortured. We relaxed when they said that they do not do it in this building. Then we noticed that they opened the heater core and talked to the people in the next cell. There were male inmates in there imprisoned for five years. "Will the war end, will the world help us?" they asked us. "Hopefully, you will be all released, the war will end, all Muslims will help us," I told them, not wanting to disappoint.

 They were pleased. Some of them were hafizes and imams. They started reciting the Quran. I remember crying my heart out.

 There were some blankets on the floor and two little openings where we could breathe. The cell smelled musty. They were constantly giving us hard, cold potatoes. Every day we had indigestion from eating the potatoes. They allowed us to go to the toilet three times in 24 hours. There were only 6 minutes for nine women to use the toilet. The soldiers waited for us, and when we exceeded the time limit, they forced the doors open to take us out. They only allowed us to wash ourselves after our periods. So, we could have a bath once a month.

 I was afraid whenever I heard the sound of the iron door because I knew they were taking me to be tortured. One day they called my name and blindfolded and handcuffed me. They took me to the interrogation room. "Give us the names of the opponents, where are they?" they started to ask. They kept hitting me when I said I didn't know. Then they gave me electric shocks. I jumped up from where I sat with each shock. It was very violent. The soldiers laughed as I screamed in pain. They tortured me for seven hours without stopping. But I did not give up a name.

 On the third day, they left me in a corridor with my eyes blindfolded and hands tied since I still had not given up a name. Those coming and going started hitting me and swearing. On the seventh day they gave me seven white papers. "You will write what we say," they said. When I refused, they took me to a room. There were four beds and soldiers on it. "If you do not speak, these soldiers will rape you," they said. I could not endure this torture any longer. I wrote what they said on paper. I had no other choice.

 They made me write that I helped the soldiers, that I worked for soldiers instead of civilians through social media. They made me read what I wrote in front of a camera. They broadcasted that video on official Syrian television. "We imprison them, but they are traitors, not victims; they are helping the soldiers," they said on the news.

 They were bringing young people to the cells every day. They were torturing them with both electric shocks and pressurized water. They were screaming in pain. Our mental health had collapsed from hearing those sounds. We were praying and waiting for the voices to stop.

 On the 17th day, the warden called me and my friend and said, "You will not make any noise, you will take your things and come here." We returned to the cell and everyone thought we were going to be released. They wrote the phone numbers of their families on tiny papers and sanitary pads and hid them in the seams of our pants and coats. We hoped to deliver a message to them.

 We thought we were going to be released, but they took us and imprisoned us in a 2-square-meter cell, and nobody came for days. We were very scared. There were only cells with male prisoners around us. We waited for five days.

 On the 27th day, they blindfolded us and took us downstairs. They first put us in an automobile and an hour later in a bus. We heard other men and women in there with us. We got out of the intelligence building. I was trying to see the roads by looking down. I realized we were in Damascus. Then we entered a tunnel. At that moment I said oh my God. I had heard that Assad had underground dungeons made just for women. I said they were taking us there for sure, and there was no longer a way of salvation, we were going to a horrible place.

 I was very scared at the moment. A soldier put me directly in an elevator. I smelled perfume in the elevator. The floor was sparkling clean. Then I realized this was not an underground dungeon. They took us to an elegant office. There were two women and three men in the room. We sat in front of them. A general came and said, "Now two Turks will come and meet with you, and you will say 'all is well' for everything they ask." We agreed.

 Those sitting in front of us were İHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation President Bülent Yıldırım and İzzet Şahin. "We came from Turkey. Hopefully we will get you out," they said. They had swapped us. We returned to the cell, and two days later we were released with the help of the İHH. They swapped us for Iranian soldiers. We were the first swap. In the second swap, there were 2,350 people like us, including 180 women.

 Bülent Yıldırım said we could call our families and come with them to Turkey immediately if we want. My family told me to go right away. But we wanted to stay and give humanitarian aid to those hurt by Assad's persecution. I worked as a nurse after jail. I opened an orphanage. We started with 250 children who were orphaned in the war. Before coming here in 2015, there were 2,200 orphan children. I got out of jail in October and never saw my family until 2015. I missed them very much. I decided to go and see my father in Belgium. I came to Turkey to go to Europe by sea.

 I opened Google Drive on my new phone while I was at Atatürk Airport. I saw İzzet Şahin's number on my screen without knowing how. A total coincidence. I called to thank him. "Nur, wait there, we will come and get you with Bülent Yıldırım," he said. "It is very dangerous to go to Europe by sea, you can die, we do not accept it, and if you work with us, you will prepare documents and go to your father legally." I have been working for the İHH since that day. I applied to do a master's degree on Islamic Economy. I miss my homeland very much. I think about why this happened and why so many people die all the time. But I still have hope. Freedom is a blessing; nobody knows its value. I pray that I am free." '

A survivor from Assad's dark prisons tells it all

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Syrian opposition pledges to continue anti-Assad revolution

 'The Syrian opposition on Monday pledged to continue the revolution against President Bashar Assad as pro-regime forces drew closer to taking full control of the besieged enclave of Eastern Ghouta.

 “What’s happening in Syria isn’t a matter of geography,” said opposition spokesman Yahya Al-Aridi. “The uprising in Syria is in the hearts and minds of people who reject the brutal dictatorship (of Assad). We’ll never stop.”

 Backed by Russia, pro-regime forces have scored a series of victories over the opposition in recent years, often through sieges, aerial bombardment and ground offensives that have drawn widespread international condemnation.

 “These aren’t Assad victories. This is an occupation achieved with horrible military power against civilians,” said Al-Aridi. “This is the propaganda of the regime and Iran when they talk about victory. It’s immoral.”

 Al-Aridi said: “It’s the start of the revolution all over again — reorganizing and learning from mistakes made… and organizing forces at the political and other levels. We’ll rebuild our efforts on different levels.”

 He added: “Our uprising has been peaceful from the very beginning. We didn’t select to carry weapons. We just tried to defend ourselves.”

 He said: “The regime created all sorts of pretexts, including terrorism, militias, Daesh and Al-Nusra Front. And it internationalized the Syrian case so it could sideline the people’s main request for freedom.”

 US Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, warned President Donald Trump on Sunday against pulling American troops out of Syria, saying it would lead to a resurgence of Daesh and increased Iranian sway in the country.

 Al-Aridi said: “The main beneficiary of Daesh is the Syrian regime and those who support it. Iran and Russia used Daesh as a pretext to rescue a falling regime.

 He added: “The revival of Daesh, if there is one, will be used again to oppress and suppress and kill people. Daesh is a tool in the hands of dictators.”

 He said: “There are different narratives of the deal struck between the people of Douma and Russia. The opposition says the wounded will be taken away for treatment but the people will remain there.

 “Russia’s story is different. It wants everybody removed. No final deal has been achieved yet. This is the last thing we heard from our people.”

 A Russian-brokered deal had been reported on Sunday for fighters with Jaish Al-Islam, the largest opposition group still in Eastern Ghouta, to leave Douma. But the fighters have not yet confirmed the agreement, amid reports of divisions within the group as hard-liners refuse to abandon their posts.

 In the past few weeks, such deals have seen more than 46,000 people — fighters and civilians — board buses with scant belongings to be driven to the northwest province of Idlib, which is largely outside regime control.

 “It isn’t the Syrian regime that has occupied Eastern Ghouta or has full control over it. It’s an Iranian and Russian occupation,” said Al-Aridi.

 He condemned “the Iranians with their militias on the ground and their vicious plan, and the Russians with their deadly jets bombing everything in a scorched-earth strategy like what they did in Grozny,” the capital of Chechnya.

 “People from the very beginning didn’t select to carry weapons. They chanted for freedom, but the regime resisted with firepower and killed them.” '

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Extracts from Jonathan Littell's 2012 Syrian Notebooks - Inside the Homs Uprising

 'When I returned from Homs, in early 2012, I was invited to brief the then French foreign minister, Alan Juppé. I outlined my most important observations. The main revolutionary forces still believed in a non-sectarian democratic Syria. The régime was doing its utmost to provoke cycles of sectarian violence while the Free Syrian Army was frantically trying to contain them. The revolution was struggling to contain its negative forces; if al-Assad was not overthrown soon - something that would only be possible with strong Western support, including the provision of sophisticated weaponry and possibly a no-fly zone over Syria - worse forces would emerge.
 Juppé completely shared this analysis; but alone, he added, without the participation of its American and British allies, France could do nothing. Inaction is always easy, but it is rarely a wise course of action. We have seen the results.'
 [Introduction to the Verso edition, pp14-15]

 'The revolutionary coordination committees are collecting proof that Gilles Jacquier was killed by the régime. The shabbiha running rampant in Homs; it's very hard for people from the opposition to enter these places. The university, to the west, is a military zone. Finally Syrian television mentioned mortar shells: D. affirms that the FSA does not have any mortars.'
 [Monday, January 16th, p25]

 'The public hospital in al-Qusayr, near the cemetery, is occupied by the security forces. There are snipers on the roof.
 A visit to a clandestine medical unit set up inside a house. The doctor who had been in charge, 'Abd ar-Rahim Amir, was killed in Rastan two months ago. He was cornered in a health centre by the military mukhabarat and executed.'
 [Tuesday, January 17th, p33]

 'Demonstration in the street, in front of the neighbourhood mosque, protected by the FSA and lit up by spotlights. 300 people? There's one every day. Opposition flags, drums, chanting and dancing, all of it very beautiful and joyful.

 M: "The demonstration is a dhikr [mystic Sufi ceremony]." But there were Christians as well. he introduces me to one, a thirty-four-year-old man, pro-opposition, who proudly shows me the cross he wars around his neck,. He says, "We've lived together for over a hundred years. It's Bashar, when he came to power, who stirred up problems between us. So that France and other countries would say, 'The Christians must be protected.' " '

 'One man: "People are very afraid, they fear the Army." For him, the presence of the FSA makes not only our visit possible, but also the demonstrations, the burials. Previously, the security forces patrolled, entered houses, arrested people.'
 [Wednesday, January 18th, p42]

 'Arrival of an FSA officer, Abu Hayder. A friend of his had been wounded, by some shabbiha, during a peaceful demonstration in which he took part. He brought the friend to the emergency ward, but he died. At that time the hospital was still functioning. At the hospital, his dead friend was filmed, then shown on Dunya TV [private TV network of Assad's cousin Rami Makhlouf], and presented as an innocent demonstrator killed by terrorists. This lie revolted Abu Hayder and was the trigger for his desertion. At that time, there was no FSA in town.'

 'A soldier enters, wearing a balaclava, with a scarf knitted with the colours of a free Syria. He deserted three hours ago, he explains. He's a mulazim [lieutenant], based in Damascus., who came here on leave. He is still in uniform, a camouflage jacket. His brother, a mulazim as well, is in prison for refusing to shoot at demonstrators. He's afraid for his brother, and that's why he's wearing a balaclava. He wants to join the FSA. Quickly he shows his face, so we can see it corresponds to his card.

 Two friends told this officer what happens in the military prisons in the suburbs of Damascus, al-Qabun and Azzara. Officers are imprisoned there, for speaking out against the régime, or for refusing to shoot. They are separated by faith, and there is no intermingling. All faiths are represented, Druze, Alawite, Christian, etc.

 He comes from the Air Force, he was based at the military airport in Dumayr, a Damascus suburb. He confirms that helicopters were used against demonstrators, in az-Zabadani, with a 7.62 mm machine gun mounted in the door. At first it was just to frighten people, but later they fired for real.'
 [Thursday, January 19th, pp53-54]

 'The word Salafist means two things. The Muslims of the land of Sham [Syria] follow the path of moderation. To live well, they follow the example of pious ancestors, of a pious man from long ago who lived justly in Islam. That is the original meaning of Salafist. The other meaning, the Takfirist, jihadist, terrorist version, is a creation of the Americans and Israelis. It has nothing to do with us.'

 'Ibn Pedro says the FSA has prisons in Baba 'Amr, where they hold some shabbiha. They put them on trial in "good due form. Those who have killed children are condemned to death." '

 'I am reading Plutarch [Greek Roman writer of the 1st Century CE], the only book I brought with me. "These things and others like them will, I venture, please readers more for their novelty and curiosity, than they will offend them for their falsity." '

 'Abu 'Abdallah was an electrical engineer, he studied for six years at the engineering university. He was fired from his job at the Homs refinery in the 1990s, because he refused to collude in corrupt practices. Now he helps the FSA with logistics.

 "I belong to the people who had no political consciousness. When I took to the streets, I didn't want to get rid of Bashar al-Assad. We just wanted a dignified life, to eat and be respected. But even practising my religion is a problem. If you meet people at the mosque, you'll be seen as an opponent.

 The Syrian people are raised like chickens in a hen house. There's no room for thought. You live under the régime of the Ba'ath and Bashar al-Assad is our president for eternity. You can't imagine any alternative."

 At first, Abu 'Abdallah was ready to accept anything to get rid of the régime. In the first months, seeing the massacres, he would have accepted a foreign intervention. Today he doesn't want to replace one evil with another.

 He thinks that France, the United States, the West let the repression continue without intervening in order to keep Syria weak and protect Israeli interests. They don't want a strong, democratic Syria, with a powerful Army.'
[Thursday, January 19th, pp57-59]

 'Visit to the underground clinic in Baba 'Amr. I talk with a doctor, Dr. Abu 'Abdu. He refuses to be photographed: if he is identified by Security, his family would be threatened.

 He shows me a video, found on Youtube apparently, in which we see two young men - one from al-Khalidiya, the other from Baba 'Amr - caught in al-Zahra by some shabbiha and decapitated alive, with a knife. Ultra-graphic film, a huge gush of blood when the knife slices. The killers put both heads on the ground and plant the knife next to them. The second head, on the ground, is still quivering. "You see this? How can we stop when they do this?" '

 "The government says ther is a problem between faiths, but it's the government that created this problem. Alawites come to the centre of town, they kidnap women, they fuck our daughters, and they film it. They put the videos on the web to say: 'See, we fuck Sunni girls.' For us this is very heavy, as Arab and Muslim people." '

 'Bassam is from the countryside around Aleppo. Seeing the régime's crimes - the rapes, murders, etc. - he decided a month ago to come to Baba 'Amr to join the FSA.

 "In Baba 'Amr, it's the safest place in Syria. The people go out at night, they're not afraid of snipers. Al-Assad's tanks will pass over our bodies before they get to you. We fight for our religion, for our women, for our land, and lastly to save our skin. As for them, they only fighting to save their skin.

 We don't kill any human being on the basis of religion. 'He who kills a soul not in legitimate self-defence, it's as if he killed all of humanity,' says the Qur'an."

 The men come from the Army, where they're ready to kill anyone. The Military Councilis trying to change these habits, so that FSA soldiers have good relations with civilians.

 In the hallway, the soldiers are cleaning their weapons. Purchases, bought from Lebanon. They teach me a phrase: Ash sha'ab yurid isqat an-nizam, "The people want the fall of the régime." Before we go to bed, one of the young men runs a vacuum cleaner through the room. Touching thoughtfulness.'

 'Friday demonstration. It begins at the neighbourhood mosque. At the intersections, FSA soldiers keep watch. Some slogans are in English ("WE WANT INTERNATIONAL PROTECTION").

 We join the other processions of Baba 'Amr for a monster demonstration. Signs in English addressed to the Arab League. All along one side the women stay grouped. They applaud with enthusiasm, shout, yodel, and also chant slogans. Men wave their shoes. A level of joyful and desperate energy I have never seen before.

 G., a sympathetic Franco-Syrian gentleman: "If they didn't shoot at the demonstrators, all of Homs would be out on the streets."

 Volleys on the main street, just as people are leaving. The shots come from the east, from a bridge that leads to the Alawite quarter.'
 [Friday, January 20th, pp77-79]

 ' 'Abd ar-Razzaq Tlass mentions several massacres of demonstrators, including one on February 24th in Sanzamin. He says he never believed the régime's propaganda.

 "The Army should be neutral. We saw the opposite. The checkpoints shot at people. Dara'a was devastated."

 He wants a NATO military intervention. "If there's no NATO intervention, we'll call for jihad across the Muslim world." Abd ar-Razzaq Tlass explains that the idea is to put pressure on the West, so that the West will intervene before it becomes a regional war.'

 'When someone is kidnapped or arrested, they pay to find out where he is, and sometimes to recover the body.'

 'A young soldier from the checkpoint, Fadi, is an Alawite. Fadi is from Jiblaya, a village near Tartus. He joined the FSA in July or August, in Homs. Because he saw the Army killing civilians, he said to himself, "I am not with them, I am with the people. It is not: Iam Alawi, so I am with Alawi. No. If they do wrong, I try to do right."

 Here in Baba 'Amr, there are five or six Alawites in the FSA. He has no problem. "I never heard: We want to kill Alawis. Only specific people who have committed crimes."

 Alawites take women hostage, and that makes him sick.'
 [Saturday, January 21st, pp92-93]

 'Visit with Imad to a neighbourhood next to the railroad.Twenty days ago, there were three very deadly days: the first day, eighteen dead, the second, nine dead, the third, seven dead. Shooting at the funerals caused many wounded.'

 'The officers know girls who have been abused, raped, but the social rules mean the families will never let us talk to them. The shame is too great.'

 'Abu Ibrahim comes in, a nurse who was imprisoned in September. He worked at the National Hospital. Denounced for treating revolutionaries and arrested. He was whipped with a thick rubber cable and given electric shocks. Says his treatment was relatively OK: they didn't break his bones.'

 'Abu Salim was a doctor with the military mukhabarat for the past two years.

 "What is the first mission of a mukhabarat doctor? To keep people subjected to torture alive so they can be tortured for as long as possible." '

 'Long story of Abu Salim. In Damascus, in the Regional Section, there are Arabs detained since 1985. Lebanese, two Jordanians, and one Algerian. They are incarcerated in the harshest conditions.

 One day Abu Salim was handcuffed to one of them, returning from the hospital, and found him briefly alone with him: "What's the problem with you?" - "I had a problem with the big boss" (Hafez al-Assad).'

 'Before, wearing a beard was in itself motive for indictment: "Ah, you're part of bin Laden's gang." Now they arrest a student: "What are you studying?" - "French literature." - "Ah, you're part of the Sarkozy gang, jama'at Sarkozy!" It's a true story: "You can meet the student." He was kept in prison for twenty-one days, three months ago.'

 Abu Salim affirms that even children are under surveillance. They asked his son which channels his parents watch. The parents of children who replied al-Jazeera, al-Arabiya, France 24, BBC, etc. were summoned.'

 ' 'Ali, another doctor, shows us his torso, crisscrossed with scars. He caught several bullets on October 28th. Some shabbiha, four men armed with Kalashnikovs and a machine gun, in a black KIA, entered the neighbourhood, greeting the FSA people in a friendly way, and then machine-gunned the demonstration.'

 'At the military hospital, Z and his brother's son 'Ali, were handed over to the men in charge of the cells, tied to beds, and tortured right on the beds, for over eight hours. Hit on the body and head with food trays. 'Ali died under the torture. An hour after 'Ali's death, he was finally operated on, an attempt to re-attach the still partly connected leg. From lack of care, his leg got infected; six days after his arrest, a military doctor decided they had to cut it off. He was already handicapped, his right leg was 17cm shorter than his left leg. Now it's the only one left.

 Muhammad Z. says, "He's the only person from here we know who left the military hospital alive."

 I return to the question of the torture. Z. explains. The torturers didn't ask any questions, just mouthed insults. "Ah, you want freedom, here's your freedom!" They also insulted their wives. During the torture, his face was covered with a blanket, and he couldn't see the people who were beating them.

 The torturers signalled their entrance in the room by rattling the door handle, and all the prisoners had to cover their faces with their blankets, under penalty of being executed.'
[Sunday January 22nd, pp108-110]

 'Around 2pm, in the centre of the suburb, a protest demonstrating against the report of the Arab League. They want the issue to be transferred to the Security Council.

 An officer is lifted on to people's shoulders and carried with his AK as the people chant "Long live the FSA!" He's a naqib who has just deserted. They also chant: "The people want international protection," "The people want a no-fly zone," "The people want the proclamation of jihad." '

 'Muhammad's two wives were captured at the end of December by the shabbiha, in the orchards. Muhammad is wanted. The shabbiha didn't find him at his country home, and took the two women hostage so he would give himself up. They were held for six days, freed when the Arab League observers arrived.

 Muhammad's wives were mistreated, says Muhannad, badly mistreated. No more details. Too many people in the room to insist.

 'Abu Slimane: "Our parents submitted through fear. We broke down the wall of fear. Either we will win, or we will die." Makes a V sign with his fingers. Photo session, they all pose making Vs - but only for their cameras, not mine.'

 'A young soldier nicknamed The Cat leads us on foot to the home of some other activists. These guys are violently against the declaration of jihad: "Our revolution is not a religious revolution, it's a revolution for freedom. Declaring jihad would completely change the scope of the message of the Syrian revolution. Yes, people have chanted the slogan during demonstrations. But they're simple people, they don't undrstand."

 Our host, Abu 'Adnan, is a Communist lawyer who defends political prisoners. "Please tell the world we are not islamists." - "I am a Communist and I hate islamists."
 [Monday, January 23rd, pp130-131]

 'Gunfire broke out between the checkpoint soldiers and the FSA; the soldiers bound the civilian and used him as a human shield. He wasn't hit, but was executed afterwards.'
 [Tuesday, January 24th, pp132-133]

 'Ahmad: "I've travelled a lot, Russia, Romania, greece, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and I've never seen a government like this." His pharmacy was looted three times by soldiers.

 He talks about his uncle, a pilot. Air Force officers are closely watched. Several colleagues of his uncle wanted to desert, they were caught and killed. The uncle managed to flee, he fought a little with the FSA, now he is hiding in the village.'

'First visible difference between al-Khaidiya and Baba 'Amr: the presence of women. In baba 'Amr, other than during demonstrations, they're almost invisible, whereas here they're everywhere, mingling with the men. It's from details like this you realise how conservative a neighbourhood Baba 'Amr is.

'A wounded man arrives in a car. Probably paralysed. Isn't bleeding much, the bullet is lodged inside. Hit the spinal column.

 Abu 'Abdu has seen this type of case often, 150 to 200 at least. Thinks the snipers aim for the spinal column. They're little bullets, sniper bullets, not Kalashnikov bullets. Has also seen many people wounded by what he calls explosive bullets, maybe dum-dums.'


 'Big rectangular square. On one side, a large banner: "No to the imaginary opposition, a creation of al-Assad's gangs. The SNC unites us, factions disperse us." Clear allegiance to the Syrian National Council.

 A kid begins singing in an artificial, rasping voice, and the dances in rows begin.
 The leader: "We are not rebelling against the Alawites or the Christians. The people are one!"
 Everyone: "The people, the people, the people are one!"
 Leader: "We count only on God, not on the Arab League, not on the observers, not on NATO!"
 Everyone: "We count only on Allah!" (x3)'

 'Abu Bilal explains that the funerals are no longer the way they used to be, they no longer turn into demonstrations: the cemetery is completely exposed, and the snipers on the Homs citadel shoot if there's a crowd. So they bury in small groups, quickly.

 Thus everything is hard to verify. This is what explains the difference between the numbers provided by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights(SOHR) and those we hear about here. For yesterday the SOHR says one dead in Homs. But our friends insist that in Bab Tadmur there were dozens. One building, targetted by the shelling, collapsed, and they're still pulling corpses out of the rubble.'
 [Wedenseday, January 25th, p147]

 'A woman in a niqab: "In this street, in every house there is a martyr. Soon it will be a year this has gone on. When is it going to stop. We can't even walk in the street safely anymore. We're people who work, but we can't even feed ourselves. Let our voices be heard!" '

 'Visit to the private hospital of Bab as-Sba'a. Three months ago they arrested a member of the staff who does blood tests, and accused him of doing analyses on FSA soldiers. They kept him for a month, and tortured him with electricity, pouring water on his body.'

 'Muhammed is fourteen. His brother Iyad,twenty-four, was killed last week. He was walking with his family near the cemetery, the Army was advancing to enter the neighbourhood, and they began shooting. There was no FSA there.

 There is also his little brother Amir, four years old. Muhammed to his brother: "What do the people want?" - Amir, in his tiny voice,: "The people want the fall of the régime!"

 Muhammed hasn't gone to school for four months. Soldiers and shabbiha came and took four children away. At the time the children from the schools were going out to demonstrate; these four must have been denounced for having taken part.'

 'Evening demonstration in Safsafi. Small, about a hundred people maybe on a little square, but the same intense energy as everywhere else. Everyone shows me his scars, bullet or truncheon injuries. Same slogan as every day: "No-fly zone, international protection." '

 'One of the men calls himself Abu Mout, the father of death. His three brothers are dead, and his mother took a vow to cook every day for the FSA soldiers, until the end of the revolution.'

 'This sniper also entertains himself by killing cats. He has already killed eight. There are about ninety soldiers in the school. The sniper is safe.

 Another kid shows us his hand, two fingers cut off by a bomb, and his belly, starred with little black dots, scars from one of the infamous nail bombs. He is thirteen.

 Yet another kid, also thirteen, with nail bomb scars on his legs.'
 [Thursday, January 26th, p166]

 'The doctor is actually a nurse practioner, a musa 'id fani.The doctors fled because of the systematic arrests. "Doctors have been targetted since the beginning of the events," he explains, like all his colleagues.'

'Hysterical crowd. They're finished lynching a shabbiha they caught. We stop. A black pickup arrives with two FSA soldiers standing in the back, above a corpse, obviously the lynched shabbiha. It looks as if his head was smashed in with rifle butts. All around people are howling "Allahu Akbar!" '
[pp172 -173]

 'The mukhabarat and the shabbiha penetrated the neighbourhood, entering houses and arresting people. They attack by shooting indiscriminately, then advance with BTRs, the FSA can't withstand them. They entered a house and shot an entire family, twelve people.
 Three of the children had their throats slit, the others were executed point blank with a bullet in the head. Two children survived: 'Ali, a three-year-old boy, and Ghazal, a little four-month-old girl, wounded by a bullet. Two adults from the family also survived, they were at work when it happened.
 When Ra'id arrived there, the baby was babbling, but the three-year-old boy was in tears, terrorised, no one could calm him down. I saw it later on YouTube, it's even worse than the deaths. In any case it's always worse for the survivors than the dead, the dead don't feel anything anymore.'
 [Thursday, January 26th, pp176-178]

 'The imam talks about all the blood that's been shed in the neighbourhood:
 "It's our blood, all those souls killed are our children. But even so, we say to all our oppressors, all our tyrants, to all those who have succumbed to hubris: Whatever you do, victory will be ours." '
 [Friday, January 27th,p182]

 'Passage behind the demonstration of a dozen FSA soldiers. Immediately the crowd start chanting "Long Live the Free Syrian Army!" The kids run after them and swarm around them. A kid shouts to his father, "it's them, it's them, it's the Free Army!" Slowly they head toward the demonstration, and enter the crowd to the shouts of "Allah grant long life to the Free Army!" '

 'The funeral processions I've seen here don't express mourning or contemplation, but rage and the live pain of loss.'
 [Saturday, January 28th, p193]

 'Mazhar Tayara, twenty-four years old. A young, friendly Syria. He was killed, coming to the aid of the wounded, during the great bombing of Khalidiya on the night of February 3rd.'

 'There's an old Hajj sitting in a chair, smoking in the company of a friend, who tells us how he was tortured for twenty-one days by the mukhabarat, beaten, electrocuted, accused of complicity with terrorism, him, a sick old man.'

 'Abu Hamza, surgeon, worked at the military hospital since 2010. At first he heard strange things in the emergency room. When they brought in wounded demonstrators, their hands were tied and their eyes blindfolded. The first time he saw it, it was April [2011]. The wounded, without any medication, were beaten with cables by military policemen and nurses. The victims were all men, sometimes fourteen- or fifteen-year-old boys. Several doctors took part in the tortures.

 I filmed wounds, traces of beatings with cables. There were two torture tools: an electric cable and strips of reinforced rubber.

 Another case he witnessed: some Air Force mukhabarat had confiscated two ambulances, and put two of their agents in each ambulance armed with Kalashnikovs. They went to the Homs cemetery. The Army began shooting at the people bringing the bodies to the funeral. Then the mukhabarat arrived with the ambulances, pretending to come for the wounded, took in the wounded and brought them to the military hospital. There, they took them to the prison. Abu Hamza saw the ambulances return, and recognised the Air Force mukhabarat by their special uniform and white sneakers.'
 [Sunday, January 29th, pp204-210]

 'Two women completely in black come to see us. Their house was burned down and they wanted to testify. Where they live, they are surrounded by Alawites on one side, Shiites on the other.Some men came around 2am, shot at the house, threw a grenade against the door, then a can of gas which they shot at, setting fire to the house. Half the house was burned down before they managed to put out the fire. They didn't see the men, but they were yelling: "We'll get all of you out of here, you Sunnis!" Think they were Alawites supported by Security. Their neighbours' house was also attacked. There were seven Sunni families in the street, all have left except these two.'
[Monday, January 30th, pp217-218]

 'We call Imad. Baba 'Amr is being shelled by twelve T-72s. Yesterday there were eight tanks, the FSA destroyed four of them. We call Hassan. He says twenty tanks since yesterday, and that they're completely powerless.'

'It's only after I left Syria, that things in Homs really went haywire. On the night of February 3rd, several shells fell in Khalidiya, very close to the Square of the Free men. Al, struck more or less the same place, the people who rushed to help the victims were killed or grievously wounded in turn. On Saturday 4th, the Army intensified its shelling of Baba 'Amr. The pounding of the neighbourhoods was intensifying every day, and the number of civilian victims  kept increasing.A modern army , equipped with assault tanks,, Grad rockets, and mortars of calibres up to 240mm, pounded Baba 'Amr street by street, house by house, in an orderly systematic way, for twenty-seven full days. British photographer Paul Conroy: "They're living in bombed-out wrecks, children six to a bed, rooms full of people waiting to die."

 The offensive of Bashar al-Assad's forces had begun, the day after a vote by the UN Security Council on a rather weak resolution, nonetheless firmly vetoed by Russia and China. American and European diplomats were bogging themselves down in rather ridiculous discussions about "humanitarian corridors" or some such proposition. The Qataris and Saudis were beginning to murmur that a more forceful intervention might be imaginable, notably through weapon deliveries to the FSA, but no one was listening.

 Of many I've named here, by their first name, an initial, or a name they chose for themselves, there will probably remain nothing beyond these notes, and their memory in the minds of those who knew and loved them: all these young guys in Homs, smiling and full of life and courage, for whom death, or an atrocious wound, or ruin, failure, and torture were nothing compared to the incredible joy of having cast off the dead weight crushing, for forty years, the shoulders of their fathers.'
 [Epilogue, pp241-246]