Saturday, 23 February 2019

Abu Hamza's son 'trying to appeal' decision to revoke British passport after travelling to Syria to fight

Abu Hamza's son Sufyan Mustafa

 'The son of Britain's Abu Hamza is reportedly trying to appeal the decision to revoke his British passport amid the furore of the case of ISIS bride Shamima Begum.

 Sufyan Mustafa, 23, was stripped of his UK passport in 2017 after travelling to Syria to fight.

 But at the end of last year he was said to have been stopped from boarding a flight to the UK from Turkey when his name was flagged as being on the terror watch list.

 In his 2017 interview with al-Quds, the Arabic newspaper, Mustafa spoke of his irritation at being accused by the Government of being a terrorist. He also told of his “surprise” at his passport being revoked.

 He said he would return to Britain when the régime of President Bashar al-Assad has fallen and the fighting has stopped.

 He also questioned the Home Office decision, insisting he was fighting with a moderate group which was supported with British and American weapons.

He said: "Britain is the place where I was born and lived. I have never been a threat to national security in Britain and will not commit aggression on its population because our religion does not allow attacks on unarmed innocents."

 Talking in 2017, Mustafa admitted his father, a 59-year-old cleric jailed for life after a trial in New York in 2015, had made mistakes, but added by way of explanation: "Who hasn’t when they believe in a cause?"

 Mustafa said he had taken part in battles in Aleppo and on his Twitter feed he has written about the killing of regime forces.

 He said: "I am a believer that the real battle will be after the fall of the régime, in the construction of Syria again and reform of the political and economic affairs and construction of public schools to study. The victory of the revolution will be when we see the people elect a representative government and take the country to a better future than it was."

 In March 2017, Mustafa appeared in a jihadist propaganda video in which he both denounced Assad but also criticised ISIS for giving Islam a bad name.'

 Sufyan Mustafa, son of Abu Hamza

Friday, 22 February 2019

Idlib peace talks mean little to Syrians still being bombed

Idlib peace talks mean little to Syrians still being bombed

 Zouhir al-Shimale:

 'Ever since Assad's régime recaptured the majority of opposition territories across the country, Idlib has provided a haven for the majority of displaced families once involved in the uprising, unable to return home and forced to stay displaced in domestic exile.

 Idlib has been one of the main issues at the international negotiations in Russia aiming to resolve what Moscow calls "the last rebel pocket".

 The Sochi agreement, launched in September 2018, established a buffer zone with Russia and Turkey running joint patrols in the area between rebel-held and Assad-held territory.

 But despite the agreement, Syrian troops have been bolstered by Iranian militants recently removed from Damascus - reportedly after Russian orders - and moved towards the infamous T-4 airbase and Idlib's frontlines.

 The largest bakery in Khan Shaykhoun has been devastated after it was deliberately targeted in a recent bombing, which killed four civilians.

 "This bakery is the only one of its kind in the area," local activist Bahr Shaheen said. "People from inside and  outside the town come in the morning and all day to buy their bread supply - it was deliberately targeted by Assad's militants, he's done it before. Assad's militants are targeting vital facilities, now they've devastated our bakeries, later they'll attack hospitals and schools."

 Khan Shaikhoun, along with other towns in the Idlib countryside, has been pounded with mortars, explosive rockets and cluster bombs.

"We're very frustrated and letdown, even though Russia and Turkey have agreed to set up the demilitarised zone here. There is no application whatsoever, or commitment. It's worse [than before Sochi]," added Shaheen.

 Thousands of families who have already fled from Aleppo, Homs, Ghouta and Dara'a have had no choice but to leave their shelters under fire and become displaced for a second or third time.

 Fawaz Haj Alo is a father-of-three who fled from Arbin in East Gouta last April and settled in Al-Teh, a town in the Idlib area with his family.

 But the local council has announced an emergency situation after declaring "catastrophic status" on the majority of Idlib's southern countryside.

 "Since we arrived in this town we've been trying to establish a way to earn a living and resume our lives. We were, despite the desperate circumstances, able to survive," Fawaz said.

 "However, we were forced to leave the town. The bombing has always been random and sudden; it hasn't stopped since last year, but massively increased in the past few months. Our house and our neighbours' one got hit by the attacks. My son was already wounded with shrapnel in his legs. As a result, we had to move to the Salqen camp near the border. I call on everyone to help us, it's unbearable here in these camps, there is nothing to survive with, no NGOs, no food. Just stop the bombing, so we go back to our town."

 However, many civilians remain in Idlib's towns under fire, maintaining their shelters and unwilling to leave their homes, taking daily risks out of a sense of despair and a lack of alternatives.

 "Where would we go to? The borders and camps are full of refugees, we can't find an empty tent or shelter," said Salem Obayda, an Arabic teacher living in Maratnomn.

 The town has come under daily artillery fire, with many families forced to leave the southern part of the city, heading towards the camps on the border.

 "Education here was fully halted because of the attacks and a lack of underground schools," says Salem. "I prefer to stay rather than undergoing the dilemma in the border camps. "Everything is under attack, the peace talks have brought only blood and grief to us. All of us can see a large scale insurgency looming in the close future. We have no military existence in the city, all the factions left as part of the peace talks, but it has changed nothing, we've been under ruthless attacks since the start. We've been displaced many times, from Dara'a to Ghouta then to Idlib and within the cities. Where else would we go? Turkey has closed its border, camps are the only option. We are not willing to go anywhere, and we'd rather stay - regardless of the consequences."

 Amid the devastation and rubble, volunteers from Syria's Civil Defence Corps, known as The White Helmets, have been doing what they can to save lives.

 "The White Helmets have been carrying out non-stop rescue efforts to help civilians affected by Assad's relentless offensive," Mohammad Abdoullah, a White Helmet volunteer in northern Syria said. Our teams have been at full capacity across northern Syria's towns. There have been indiscriminate attacks against civilian residential areas, killing unarmed people - nevertheless, our medical and rescue teams are working on the ground, day and night. Most of the deaths and injuries have been women and children. We've been taking risks and pulling dead and severely injured and burned bodies from beneath the collapsed buildings."

 Hospitals and makeshift medical centres across northern Syria have been over-crowded with patients. Many have been moved to Turkish hospitals due to a lack of equipment.

 "In spite of the medical fund's recent cut, we're still able to function and run the hospitals to treat the large numbers of patients we've been receiving so far," said D.Feras al-Jonde, the health minister in the Azaz-based Syrian Interim Government formed by the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces. On the other hand, the medical support available isn't sustainable and [treatment] won't be carried out as efficiently as it is at the moment [for long], we're running low on medical resources. We put the responsibility for the catastrophic consequences of the medical fund's cut on the international community - who must as soon as possible understand the upcoming shut-down of our medical facilities. The donors must be conscious of putting more than 3.5 million civilians at risk of losing even their rights to medical treatment." '

 "For the second time this week people in in Al-Bab protest in solidarity with the people who are suffering under government shelling."

Image result for saraqib

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

‘They will do what they want to do’: How the Syrian régime has managed former rebel communities

‘They will do what they want to do’: How the Syrian regime has managed former rebel communities

 'It was not so long ago that the notion of negotiating with the Syrian régime was considered an untenable prospect to the residents of areas formerly under the control of the armed opposition.

 Whether the aim of such negotiations was allowing the entry of food supplies to besieged residents, opening closed crossings or reaching certain local agreements, such calls were often considered insufferable, and the fate of those who proposed such negotiations was sometimes assassination.

 However, when the régime’s sieges started to tighten on one opposition area after another, compounded in 2015 with the start of the Russian air force’s intensive bombardments of rebel-held areas - the increasingly-exhausted locals of the besieged areas started to soften their stance towards negotiations. In time a clear shift started to transpire, whereby “Local Reconciliation Truces” (and later full-blown “settlement agreements”) started to become a demand of some in rebel-held areas.

 One official involved in negotiating such a reconciliation agreement on behalf of former rebel-held areas in Southern Damascus, describe the change in attitude: “A few months before signing the agreement with the régime, we distributed 3,000 paper questionnaires to the population to find out whether they were indeed leaning towards negotiating with the régime. The result was that 76% of them wanted to negotiate – and that was before the last bombardments by the Russian air force in the area. After the bombardments, the proportion surpassed 90%.”

 Dozens of such agreements were signed in the countryside of Homs, Eastern Ghouta, Southern Damascus, Dara’a and other areas across the country. They were distinguished in form by only minor differences, and the key clauses and general template remained the same: evacuating those who refused to subjugate themselves to régime authority; surrendering heavy weaponry; and offering guarantees of safety to those who decided to stay.

These agreements were signed by committees that represented the populations of the besieged areas. Yet following the implementation of the agreements, many of the very same committee members could be found amongst the first contingents of displaced residents to Syria’s north, arriving in the now-infamous “green buses” to the remaining areas still under rebel control.

Others remained to share the fate of the residents on whose behalf they negotiated. Whilst some of these were sometimes targeted and intermittently subjected to accusations of “treachery”, they are today faced with a new and far more perilous reality. At a rate that has markedly intensified in recent times, many are being arrested by régime security forces - especially in the southern province of Dara’a, once the cradle of Syria’s revolt.

 In general, the opposition-held areas that signed “reconciliation” settlements all underwent a similar scenario. First, communication channels would be opened with the régime, to be followed with the formation of a negotiations committee and the commencement of meetings with régime representatives. The drafts of the agreements would then be presented to the civil and armed local authorities in the area, before being signed and subsequently implemented.

 Abdullah al-Hariri, one of the members of the negotiations committee for Southern Damascus as a representative of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), recounted: “The committees, particularly with their first representatives, did not include the notable religious, academic, or public opinion leaders in the areas they were negotiating for. Instead, they encompassed those who had the ability to reach influential individuals within régime circles - and those who had contacts on the opposing side who they could communicate with to try and obtain food supplies in the first stage [of implementation]”.

 He adds that the committees became more organised at a later stage, transforming into “negotiation sittings, in which [the aim would be] to surrender the areas with the least possible losses”.

 Delineating how the makeup of the negotiation committees would evolve, al-Hariri said: “When the idea of negotiation was still in its early days, the original proponent of the concept in Southern Damascus, Shaikh Abu Omar Khalifa, was assassinated. After the siege tightened however, every segment began looking for a representative to negotiate on its behalf - leading to the increase in prominence of negotiators as intermediaries with connections to the régime, which in turn allowed them to occupy a social and political status in their areas since they were responsible for the entry of aid supplies to civilians and fighters. Thus, negotiators with the régime at a certain stage became leaders in their areas.”

 In Dara’a however, the situation was different, Hariri noted. On the one hand, negotiations were rapid and did not follow a period of prolonged siege, as took place in Southern Damascus and Eastern Ghouta. Omar al-Khateeb, a journalist who was forcibly displaced from Dara’a following the signing of a reconciliation settlement in his area, said that the negotiation committees in Dara’a were initially founded by groups locally known as “the men of reconciliation” - individuals who negotiated with the régime after its latest military offensive there. On who constituted their membership, Al-Khateeb said: “Some of them were cooperative [even] originally with the régime and this was discovered afterwards; they had a large role in inciting the population against the [armed] factions, as well as spreading rumours”.

 Al-Khateeb marks the Russian entry into the negotiation process - and its request of the rebel factions to form a negotiations committee – as the moment which crystallised a split between the opponents and supporters of reconciliation. “Popular pressure was moving towards negotiation in order to cease the continued bombardment and destruction of the areas,” he said. “Subsequently meetings began and a settlement was reached”.

 Soon, the emergent situation in the northern countryside of Homs, which would be subject to threats of a pro-régime offensive, before agreeing to a settlement, would be replicated in Dara’a.

 Mahmoud, a member of the negotiation committee that represented areas of the Northern Homs countryside, who requested anonymity for security purposes, said that among the members of the committee were representatives of the armed and civil factions.

 “Some of whom had an intimate relationship with the régime, and indeed counted amongst them individuals who would leak the private deliberations of these committees before [even] sitting on the negotiation table with the régime,” he said. “Most of these committees were infiltrated, with each negotiating with the régime individually to try and attain the best conditions for its own area, whereas the régime was negotiating professionally as a single body, knowing how to impose what it wanted and how to infiltrate one committee or another.”

 The Syrian régime has lately begun to implement a new stage of the settlement agreements – one naturally absent from its provisions, but considered implicit by many who preferred displacement – namely, the stage of nullifying the settlement.

 Beyond the forcible displacement of those who refused to subsume themselves to régime authority to Northern Syria, along with the surrendering of heavy weaponry, the terms of the reconciliation agreements also entailed granting “settlement [identification] cards” to former rebels who surrendered themselves. Under these terms, former rebels were guaranteed that they would not be transferred to military fronts outside of their local areas – indeed, going further to even provision for their retention as a strong local security force.

 Furthermore, conscripts required for military service would not be taken to frontlines before a certain period had elapsed - granting some of them the right to obtain a deferral of service or choose to travel. Finally, the terms of the agreed settlement offered the guarantee that civilians would not again be subject to arbitrary arrest.

 Ultimately however, the aforementioned promises which would serve as the main basis of “guarantees” within the reconciliation settlements - in which Russia would play the role of “guarantor” - have collapsed one after the other in all the “reconciliated” areas following the entry of the régime into them.

 Symbolising this de facto reality, a group of women arrested almost two months ago by régime security forces would include the wife of a member of the negotiation committee, then representing Dara’a.

 Indeed, activists and journalists have documented dozens of cases of arbitrary detention - which have not only targeted former activists, but have also expanded to include dozens of former members of negotiation committees, as well as former rebels who have been granted “settlement cards”. Recently, these cards have mutated into what could perhaps be more accurately described as “condemnation identifiers” - serving as witness to their holder’s past as a fighter in an opposition faction, and expediting the arrest of its carrier.

 One local journalist in Dara’a, Emad al-Ahmed, has documented the arrest of dozens of former negotiation committee members and holders of settlement cards.

 “The current number of detainees from the negotiation committees exceeds twenty, whereas the number of settlement card carriers in Dara’a who have been detained has surpassed hundreds”, he said. “The régime is arresting those that it granted settlement cards on a daily basis and under various pretexts. Additionally, it has arrested those who have not yet enlisted in military service before the passing of the six-month period that was granted them as part of the settlement agreement.”

 Various charges are invoked under which former negotiation committee members are taken to detention camps: ranging from the theft and smuggling of antiques; working in unlicensed money transfer bureaus; possession of unlicensed weapons and building violations, among others. Some of those detained are released after a few days, only to be eventually re-arrested – a common occurrence according to local sources. Others remain in detention today.

 These events serve as testimony to the easy manipulation of the agreed settlement clauses, which some say was a reality known to the Russian “mediators” themselves from the start.

 Abdullah al-Hariri said: “In our last session with the Russian officers, they told us: ‘the régime will impose its conditions, and will not accept except what it wants, and will not abide by its promises’. They used to indirectly communicate to us that none of us should stay in the area after signing the agreement.”

 He added: “They offered us, as a negotiation committee, to travel to Moscow to continue our lives there, which we rejected. We signed [the settlement] and went to Idlib knowing what the régime would do, and praying that those who remained can endure the upcoming injustice as they endured the hunger, deprivation and bombardments before”.

 Al-Hariri arrived at his evaluation after closely following the trajectory of the negotiation process. “It is laughable to call them negotiations,” he said. “We were only trying to guarantee our exit, and reduce the level of suffering that those who remained would live under, nothing more.”

 Evoking an incident that took place during the negotiation process, he said: “I remember that we submitted a paper [in the negotiations] asking that the régime does not enter our areas, and that they give us the right to govern our localities; the paper returned to us torn up via the Russians.”. The goal of the “negotiations”, he concluded, was obvious, and it was “evacuating those who did not want to stay, and ruling the rest by iron and fire.”

 Expounding on the likely fate of others who, like him, had also been members of the negotiation committees, following the implementation of the “reconciliation settlements”, Al-Hariri said he had no illusions.

 “Most of the committee members in Southern Damascus left the area, because they knew that the régime would not take it easy with anyone,” he said. The régime knows exactly who we were, knows that we are his enemies that were forced to sign reconciliations with it, knows that we utterly hated negotiating with it, but did so because we were negotiating to safeguard the safety of people. Of course, [it was clear that] it [the régime] would not be lax with anyone, especially the committee members, and it will arrest them, as has transpired recently in the countryside of Homs, Dara’a and elsewhere.”

 Al-Hariri left Southern Damascus after the signing of the reconciliation settlement and was displaced to Northern Syria and then Turkey, following eight years as a field doctor and political activist in an area that witnessed the harshest siege in Syria.

 It is still nonetheless the case that some committee members have not left their areas following the réegime’s entry, and have also not turned into agents of the régime. Absent any political solution however, Al-Hariri’s prediction for their fate is a somber, morbid one.

 “Of course, their fate will be death or detention,” he said. “The régime entered these areas to implement its law, and will find a thousand excuses to arrest whoever it wants - whether it be those who sat with it to sign the “reconciliation” settlement, or those [former fighters] who hold settlement cards”.'

Image result for daraa

Sunday, 17 February 2019

My heart almost stopped from fear

 'Under this fire and flames there are 2 bodies, the siblings Mohammed and Amenah. Near them under the rubble there are the bodies of brothers who have physical disabilities. Khan Sheikhoun massacre yesterday.

 What is the guilt of this children? In the eyes of this child who was wounded today by Assad's shelling on Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib is one question for us all... What did we do to deserve all this? What did we do to be killed in such a horrific way?!

 Since the morning, Assad’s forces have started shelling cluster bombs on the southern Idlib countryside.

 The first city was Khan Sheikhoun. At 1:20 the shelling began on the city of Ma’arat al-Nu’man.

 When the first rocket landed on my city, I was very afraid. My heart almost stopped from fear.

 People started running down the streets to hide from the shelling.

 My sisters and children in school — I was very afraid for them.

 The ambulance began to rush to the bombing sites to save children and civilians. I went to the bombing site to document and photograph the location of the shelling.

 When I was there, an observer said there is a rocket in the sky. I ran and ran away.

The rocket landed 500 meters away from me. My legs no longer carry me with fear.

 Finally I went to my workplace and took a break. There were many dead and wounded civilians and children.
 We were afraid of cluster bombs falling on us.

 This is our life — when you live in the most dangerous country in the world.

 Now I am very tired. Today was very difficult from the severity of the bombing. I’m going to sleep for comfort

 Please everyone pray for us.'

Under Assad Regime Attack: A 1st-Hand Account from Idlib Province