Saturday, 1 September 2018

Russia should draw lessons from Soviet experience for its Syrian war

Showing the way. A Russian soldier guides a Syrian woman at the Abu Duhur crossing on the eastern edge of Idlib province, on August 20.                    (AFP)

 'That Iran refuses to learn from the experience of the Soviet Union couldn’t be less expected. That experience says that you cannot practise imperialism without a strong economy shoring you up. What is less expected is that Russia refuses to learn from the same experience and the causes that led to the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

 Russia has been a party to practically every battle in the war that was brought on the Syrian people since the beginning of their revolution in 2011. Russia was instrumental in keeping Bashar Assad in power, especially in the autumn of 2015 after taking over the Hmeimim Air Base near Latakia to prevent opposition forces from liberating the Syrian coast and entering Damascus.

 Russia agreed to intervene in Syria only after it had got what it wanted from Assad during a meeting that was very humiliating to him. When the Russian Sukhoi bombers and fighter planes started landing in Hmeimim, it became clear to Assad that the Russian terms and conditions were not negotiable and he had no choice but to bow to them if he wished to save his neck. So he flew to Moscow, met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and signed the infamous agreements.

 Russia also demanded that Iran accept its terms. Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani, commander of al-Quds Force in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps preceded Assad in going to Moscow and assured the Russians of Iran’s agreement to everything Russia was doing in Syria.

 Three years down the road since that Russian decision to save Assad, without necessarily guaranteeing the future of his regime, what do we find in Syria?

 Well, the Islamic State is still alive and kicking in Syria. Its connection to the Syrian regime and to pro-Iranian militias is slowly emerging. It manifested itself after the massacre of the Druze population in Sweida in July.

 Despite its size, the Druze community in Syria had refused to be part of the dirty war on the Syrian people. It was wise enough and patriotic enough to stay away from the internal fighting that it knew would spell disaster for its members if they got involved in it.

 Like everybody else, Russia must have witnessed the recent visit to Damascus by the Iranian defence minister as well as his consorting in Aleppo with leaders of sectarian militias. Despite the provisions of Russia’s agreement with Israel requiring Iran and its proxy militias to keep well away from southern Syria, including Damascus, Iran sneaked inside the heart of Damascus through the window of Assad.

 Iranian Defence Minister Amir Hatami had talks in Damascus with no less than Assad and Syria’s defence minister as well as the high command of the Syrian Army. The talks concerned a potential Syrian-Iranian defence treaty. Clearly, Tehran aims to keep its forces in Syria and, if Iranian media sources can be trusted, Iran is planning to take part in the reconstruction projects and the rehabilitation of the Syrian Army.

 That goes totally against what Russia is trying to accomplish in the Syrian theatre. How would Russia react to that?

 Let’s make one thing perfectly clear: Russia wouldn’t have been able to assist the progress of the pro-Assad forces in southern Syria towards the city of Daraa without Israel’s consent. So, what Russia would do now that Iran has taken it upon itself to rebuild the Syrian Army instead of considering how to sell Assad’s head?

 The situation has taken surreal dimensions with Russia inviting other countries, including the United States, to share in the reconstruction of Syria. It was naive of Russia to think that the Americans would invest in rebuilding Syria so Iranian companies would end up managing the reconstruction projects or that the Syrian Army ends up in Iranian hands.

 It is an amazing paradox to see the forces that had helped destroy Syria invite the Americans, Europeans and other world powers to pay for the country’s reconstruction. Doesn’t Russia realise there is always a heavy price to practise imperialism?

 Nobody will accept to pay for Russia’s crimes in Syria. Germany, for example, made it clear it would not be part of any reconstruction effort in Syria before a political settlement is reached that would guarantee the safe return of Syrian refugees to their homes from which they had been driven out by the Syrian regime, Iran and Russia.

 The Soviet Union has been dead for more than 35 years and no official in Moscow seems to have learnt this simple principle: You can have the strongest army in the world and you can make the most sophisticated weapons but if you don’t have the economic strength to back your imperialistic fantasies, you better leave Syria alone.'

Friday, 31 August 2018

No to reconciliation! No to surrender! No to occupation!

Demands of Popular uprising in the Syrian north

 'The Syrian north witnessed on Friday major demonstrations in the cities and towns of Idlib and suburbs of Aleppo and Hama in a Friday called "Rejection of the Russian aggression," denouncing the recent statements made by the international envoy, "Staffan deMistura," and to emphasize the people support the revolutionary factions and their decisions.

 There were demonstrations of Idlib residents and rebels in the areas of Sarmada, Idlib city, Sarqib, Ghadfa, Habit, Bennish, Ma'rat al Shlaf, Ma'arat al-Nu'man, Al-Dana, Jirjanaz, Ma'arShurin, Kifroma, Harem, Kafraweid, Ma'arat Mater, Khan Shikhun, Ariha, Jisr al-Shoughour, Kafranbel, Ma'arat Misreen, al-Teh and Jbala.

 Demonstrators in Idlib confirmed their rejection of reconciliation and acceptance with what they called the occupation "in reference to Russia" and their stand in support of the factions' decision to repel any upcoming attacks. They also raised a group of banners say that Idlib is strong and both the military and political factions are supported by the residents of the region completely.

 In the city of al-Dana, which also witnessed demonstrations as some children carried figures in the form of frogs as an expression of their rejection of the advocates of surrender and confirmation that the Syrian revolution is the only way to them.

 As for the countryside of Aleppo where people came out and the rebels in each of the areas of Atarb, A'zaz, Jarabulus, al-Bab, Baza'a, Anadan, Darat Ezza, Anjara, al-Eis, al-Zerba, and Abin Sam'an as slogans blamed de Mistura for his own demands to open humanitarian corridors, calling his as a partner in the aggression against the people asserting that they do not need a human path rather than they need a humanitarian situation. Another demonstration took place in the city of Morek in rural Hama.

 The statements made by the international special envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, have aroused great discontent among the rebels and the civil activities, especially because of his adoption of the regime and Russia's novel about Idlib and accusing the revolutionary factions of possessing chemical weapons. He said that the province includes about 10,000 "terrorists" ,calling at the same time for establishing a humanitarian corridor allows civilians to leave and this is what is sought by both Moscow and the Assad regime.

 Commenting on the words of the envoy, the organization "Response Coordination Group" specialized in follow-up of the displaced in Syria, called on the international community to end the mandate of "Staffan de Mistura" and search for another one to end the suffering of civilians, considering that the statements of the envoy is not different from the statements of the Russian Foreign Minister or the regime itself, as the organization sees that he is an employee of both Russia and the Syrian regime and works to get them out of the crises that plague them.

 The Muslim Brotherhood in Syria condemned the remarks of de Mistura and considered that he turned with the United Nations to "promoters for a military attack on millions of civilians in Idlib," noting that this is "the summit of international failure to prevent the protection of innocent people displaced by the violation of the De-escalation Zones agreements by the Russian occupation.

 Activists described de Mistura as the spokesman for the Syrian regime's army. Among the comments, activist Wael Abdel Aziz posted a picture of the envoy behind a platform reading "The General Command of the Army and the Armed Forces," saying that it is a leaked picture of de Mistura is believed to have taken last comments directly , which justified and legitimized the attack of Russia, Iran and the Assad regime on the liberated north, and likely the picture from the statement of his announcement of zero hour to start the attack.

 The Syrian regime and its militias have brought military reinforcements over the past two weeks to the villages of Hama in preparation for the attack on Idlib. They also set up an operations room to manage the battle. In return, the revolutionary factions announced that they had finished preparing their defensive and offensive plans and become ready to repel any operations that might target the villages of Lattakia, Hama and Idlib.

 Turkish Defense Minister Khulosi Akkar confirmed that his country is exerting efforts to prevent attacks on the city of Idlib and to ensure the safety of 4 million people, adding that his country has 12 monitoring posts to maintain the agreement of de-escalation zone.'

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

Kafr Zeita's Displaced People Condemn Russian Claims on Chemical Weapons

Kafr Zeita's Displaced Persons Respond to Russian Claims on Chemical Weapons (Photos + Video)

 'The displaced people of the town of Kafr Zita, in the camps of Atmeh in northern Idlib, held a protest rally in which they condemned the Russian statements about the intention of the revolutionary factions to use chemical weapons in the town.

 The protesters raised slogans in which they stressed that the régime is responsible for the use of chemical weapons in both Khan Sheikoun and Eastern Ghouta.

 The displaced people who participated in the protest denied that the revolutionary factions possessed such type of weapon, pointing out that the Russian statements are a prelude to the use of chemical weapons in the region.

 The Russian Defense Ministry makes daily statements accusing the Civil Defence ("White Helmets") of preparing to use chemical weapons in cooperation with the military factions in north Hama.'

Kafr Zeita's Displaced Persons Respond to Russian Claims on Chemical Weapons (Photos + Video)

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

White Helmets rescuers start over in northern Syria


 'Syrian rescue worker Samir Salim found his mother's body under their collapsed house, but there was no time for a funeral.
 "We buried her and went back to work. There were a lot of people under the rubble," he said. Months later, he can no longer even visit her grave.

 When Syrian government forces clawed back his eastern Ghouta hometown, near the capital Damascus, Salim followed hundreds of thousands of others who had fled to the northwest under rebel surrender deals.

 Now, he and "White Helmet" workers driven from different parts of Syria have come together in the rebel-controlled town of Azaz to try to rebuild their lives near the Turkish border.

 Their work has changed drastically: with no warplanes cruising overhead, they help the opposition authorities put out fires, clean the streets, and plant trees.
Azaz falls within a de facto buffer zone which Turkey has carved out since 2016. The northwest corner remains Syria's last major insurgent stronghold and is now in President Bashar al-Assad's crosshairs.

 The White Helmets have often said they worried about reprisals as government forces defeated rebel enclaves with Russian and Iranian help.

 The civil defense service, which receives funding from Western governments, pulls people from the rubble of air strikes in rebel territory. Assad has accused it of being a Western-sponsored front for al Qaeda's branch in Syria.

 Salim said many comrades stayed behind in eastern Ghouta.

 Before leaving, he helped burn down the emergency center he had once helped establish in his town, where his three brothers also worked.

 As buses shuttled evacuees out through government territory, including Salim's wife, five children, and relatives, some people cursed and threw stones at them, he added.

 "We arrived with great misery," said Salim, 45. "Our peers gave us an exceptional welcome."

 Azaz is worlds apart from Ghouta, which lived through years of bitter siege and air strikes - far from the Turkish influence of the northwest.

 Salim recalled a sarin gas attack that killed hundreds of people in 2013 in the rebel enclave. "People were running down the streets screaming 'chemicals' and there were a lot of civilians lying in the streets foaming at the mouth."

 He said he injured his spleen during an air strike on a market in 2016 and had part of his intestines removed.

 The White Helmet first responders say Damascus has specifically targeted them during the more than seven-year conflict. The government says it only targets militants.

 "We fear building a new life in a foreign place and then having to leave once again," Salim said. "I fear northern Syria will face what we did in Ghouta."

 His family now lives in the nearby Afrin region, where a Turkish assault earlier this year ousted Syrian Kurdish fighters. Those forces have accused Turkey of expelling Afrin's residents to resettle other people, which Ankara denies.

 Salim's new team includes Ahmed Rashid, 30, who was bussed out of eastern Aleppo two years ago after fighter jets leveled entire districts.

 The bloody battle for Aleppo in northern Syria marked a turning point in the war as pro-government forces swept through the insurgent half of the city. Rashid said 12 friends from his center in Aleppo were killed.

 "Nobody expected me to persevere, especially since my parents are in Turkey. But I cannot leave the civil defense," the former shoe designer said.

 "In Aleppo, the bombing was so heavy we couldn't sleep. "Here (in Azaz), there is no such pressure."

 Nayef al-Aboud, also part of the same team, said they largely work on services like helping with car accidents.

 "Today, our center has workers from the displaced populations," said Aboud, 22, who is from Azaz. "Our strength has grown because they are here, we learn from their experiences, they lived through harsher times." '


Monday, 27 August 2018

Assad’s Syria recorded its own atrocities. The world can’t ignore them

The ‘Caesar’ photographs of people killed in detention in Syria on display at the UN headquarters in New York, 2015

 'Imagine your son or daughter was arrested. And you heard nothing about them for years. Until one day, thousands of photographs of dead bodies were published – corpses of people who had died in custody. You start looking through them one by one, sick to your stomach wondering if the next photograph you click on is of your loved one. But as you go through them, you realise many of the corpses are so severely emaciated, mutilated, some with their eyes missing, that you’d find it hard to recognise even yourself in that state.

 Hundreds, if not thousands, of Syrian families have done just that – looked through the so-called Caesar photographs – images of over 11,000 people who apparently died in Syrian regime custody. A defector, codenamed Caesar, claimed he smuggled the photographs out of Syria and, astonishingly, that they had been taken by the regime itself as part of its record-keeping. Chillingly, each corpse has a number, alongside the number of a regime detention facility. No names, just numbers.

 In May 2014, in part motivated by these images, the UN security council debated a draft resolution to refer Syria to the international criminal court. Thirteen of its 15 members voted for the resolution, but it was vetoed by Russia and China. The Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, has consistently questioned the authenticity of the photographs, and when confronted with one of the horrific images by reporter Michael Isikoff in a Yahoo News interview last year, the president referred to them as “fake news”, and asked: “Who verified the pictures?”

 New evidence suggests his own regime verified the pictures. War crimes investigators have recently uncovered documents they say provide corroboration of the Caesar photographs by the regime itself. Investigators at the Commission for International Justice and Accountability (many of them veterans of the international criminal court and the tribunal for the former Yugoslavia) discovered the evidence among hundreds of thousands of records abandoned by the Syrian regime when it lost control of areas to opposition forces.

 The key documents are from the head of detention facility 227 to one of the regime’s senior intelligence chiefs, the head of military intelligence, informing him of the arrest, interrogation and deaths of detainees, and crucially, referring to their dead bodies with a number. When the investigators cross-checked these body numbers in the regime documents, with the corpse numbers and detention facility numbers displayed on bodies in the Caesar photographs, they matched. So not only do we have the Caesar photographs of thousands of corpses bearing marks of torture and starvation, we now have documents which appear to link the Syrian regime to some of the people in the photographs, and to their deaths. The photographs captured one moment in time, depicting the state of the detainees’ bodies. But the documents name the detainees, and talk about them from the time they were arrested, to the details gleaned from their interrogation, to the day they died, and finally, to what should be done with their bodies – confirming all of it happened in regime custody.

 For example, among the Caesar photographs, corpse 2668, detention facility 227, is an emaciated man who appears to have had one eye gouged out. In the documents, he has a name, a village where he came from, the date he was arrested, what he confessed to during his interrogation, his death, and the cause given: “his heart and breathing stopping”. Somewhere he has a family, but the head of detention facility 227 didn’t recommend returning his body to them.

 There are likely to be more of these documents because the records show the head of military intelligence asked to be informed of every single detainee death, and be consulted on what to do with the corpses. This is a man who, at the time the Caesar photographs were taken, held one of the most senior intelligence roles within Syria’s security structures, which report to President Assad.

 Records reveal the regime knew detainees were being tortured and that deaths had risen considerably. A haunting new detail in the documents is the reference to detainees’ bodies being buried in a “known place”. Known to the regime, but as yet unknown to detainees’ families who are denied that information – an ongoing source of pain and anguish for them.

 Why does all this evidence matter now? Because you only have to look at the calls from some quarters to lift sanctions on the Syrian regime, and at reports the Greek government, for instance, has already started importing phosphates from them, to know that steps are afoot to normalise this regime.

 If that’s what people want, then they should own it. And they should understand exactly what they’re owning. Look at the Caesar photographs – just as families trying to identify their loved ones do – and ask whether it’s acceptable to normalise this.'

Image result for caesar syria torture photos