Wednesday, 13 March 2019

It is an occupation by Russia and Iran

Image result for moustafa assad puppet

 Mouaz Moustafa:

 "It's really hard to sit here eight years in. We thought that when these protests cam out, calling for freedom and democracy, for the God-given rights we enjoy in the West, the United States, in Europe, and elsewhere, didn't think the brutality of the régime would be to this extent. But the winners right now are Iran, Russia, Hezbollah, extremists and their propaganda. Not the Assad régime. General McMaster, the former National Security Adviser to President Trump, said that 80% of on the ground troops for Assad are Iranian militias. It is the Russian air force that has bombarded and targeted civilians. So the winner isn't Assad. It is an occupation by Russia and Iran of our country because its people came out calling for their dignity.


 Assad is merely a puppet. He's a puppet of Tehran, and to a lower degree, of Moscow. If you look at the areas he controls right now, he's unable to govern. Even some of his loyalists have been critical of the régime. They have to be careful, because anyone who shows any criticism, even loyalists of the régime, are tortured to death in some of the worst dungeons. Even though he has the Russian air force and Iranian ground troops, he still has not taken over the entirety of Syria, and even those in the "reconciliation" areas that came under régime control, have come out in protests in the last 48 hours, calling for democracy. He's there now, but he's more of a puppet than anything, and I think the Syrian people will still call out for their democracy, for their freedom, for their rights of self-determination, as long as they have the power to do so, despite the fact that the world has deserted Syria, has deserted our Never Again moment.

What's shocking is the Assad régime, Jamil Hassan who heads his Air Force Intelligence Branch, at one point announced that there are three or four million arrest warrants still out. Those refugees who essentially came back on the basis of guarantees that nothing would happen to them. were either arrested, killed, or forcibly conscripted to go kill their own people. The conditions in Assad's jails since Caesar - an incredibly brave humanitarian hero, not just a Syrian national hero, that brought out almost 55.000 pictures of men, women, children and elderly tortured to death - that systematic machinery of death, continues. It continues to kill people, it continues to torture people in the most sadistic ways. I was talking to a Holocaust survivor, and he mentions that he's hearing from victims of Assad's régime about the sadistic torture; he can't imagine that this is sort of OK in this century, that we allow this to happen, knowing we have the documentation, having someone like Caesar, a defector who documented on behalf of the régime what happened, and showed the world.

 It is mind-boggling that we aren't doing more to stop him, and what's more disturbing is that the Assad régime probably holds more American citizens than any state or non-state actor in the world. So I call on President Trump, who has had a success record in bringing Americans home, to bring every American held by the Assad régime home, and to hold him accountable for what he's doing to his own people. There are a large number of foreign nationals being held in Syria today. The American families for the most part have decided not to go public, but I could point to one amazing family, who decided the bring their case publicly, the family of a man called Majd Kamalmaz, who is a humanitarian therapist, who was arrested when he went to visit his elderly family in Syria, he spent less than 24 hours there before he was arrested. This American citizen continues to be held by the Assad régime, as does Austin Tice, an amazing journalist. There are quite a few other who have not decided to go public yet, but even one American is one too many and they need to be home yesterday.

 There are two ways to go. Either the world can continue to do nothing, and the Assad régime will slaughter millions. You have in Idlib, a province with three million people, one million of them children. You have countless civilians who continue to be targeted, and you have hundreds of thousands of people who are being tortured to death. If we do nothing about it, this will continue, this will empower more extremists. ISIS, al-Qaeda and others will point to this and say it shows the world doesn't care about the Syrian people, and try to recruit. And the Assad régime is very smart about manipulating and utilising extremists.

 There is a ray of hope. There is a Bill in the United States Congress, called the Caesar Civilian Protection Act. It has passed the House three times. It has passed the House of Representatives on a voice vote. It has passed the Senate in a different form. I call on members of Congress, of the House and Senate, to put this at the President's desk at the nearest possible opportunity. I know the White House is in support of the Caesar Bill, which calls for the protection of civilians. I also call on the President, who has done this in the past, to continue to raise the alarm about Idlib, to continue to make it clear that Iran, Russia, and the Assad régime, cannot murder civilians in Idlib province which has the potential to double the number of refugees in Europe. I call on everyone, all human being, to know, that sometimes when the Holocaust happened we should all have been calling for the bombing of the railroads so that six million Jews don't get murdered. When Rwanda happened we should have stopped the machetes being shipped. When it comes to Syria, civilians are targeted, and men, women, and children, are tortured in prisons. It is our obligation to raise our voices, to do all we can, to put a stop to the killing."

Image result for moustafa assad puppet

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

No, of course Syrian refugees can't go home

No, of course Syrian refugees can't go home. Here's why:

  Abdulwahab Tahhan:

 'When the Syrian uprising against Assad began back in March 2011, the protesters demanded reforms such as equality and freedom of speech.

 Now, nine years into the conflict, these demands still stand and there have been no reforms.

 Instead, Assad's régime stands accused of human rights violations against its civilians, and US Congress is pushing to introduce more sanctions on the Syrian régime based on the Caesar report which documents the number of civilians tortured to death in Assad's prisons.

 Last month, two members of Assad's régime were arrested in Germany based on a report that they were involved in torturing civilians in prison back in 2012. 

 Despite all these documented violations, some media outlets still choose to focus on the return of Syrian refugees, and promote an image of a normal country, ignoring all the red flags, violations and risk of persecution these refugees might face on their return.

 In November 2018, the Lebanese minister of state for refugee affairs, Mouin Merhebi stated that about 20 Syrian refugees who returned from Lebanon to Syria had been killed by régime forces.

 Moreover, Rami Abdul-Rahman, director of the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, stated that around 700 were arrested when they crossed the borders and went back home, though not all of them remained in prison.

 The practice of incarceration is however very common by the Syrian régime, and those who leave prison do not necessarily live freely.

 Last year, Sally Hayden and Ziad Ghandour reported for The Irish Times that those who returned where detained at the airport and had their passports confiscated, while others were sent to prison, later conscripted and taken to the front lines to fight.

 In a country when law is on the side of those connected with the régime, there is no guarantee they'd be protected by presidential amnesty or any laws that might otherwise guarantee their safety.

 In a TV appearance, Syrian Republican Guard General, Issam Zahreddine once infamously threatened those who had fled Syria and since returned, telling them they'd regret their decision.

 This general is now dead, by his mentality prevails.

 When I was a university student in Aleppo, I had to attend a two-week mandatory military training camp one summer. We were given a military uniform and boots and were told to show up at the camp on our own. At the entrance, the colonel, who goes by the name Abu Saqer shouted at all the students, ordering us to duck. He took some soil and scattered it over our heads. 

 Swearing at us, he intoned, "your worth is less than this soil!" People serving in the army had, and still enjoy a status above civilians, and often practiced such violations without ever being questioned.

 Syria is no longer fit for normal life. 

 The gas, electricity and petrol crisis in Assad-controlled areas make life very difficult even for supporters of the régime. Following the fall of Aleppo in December 2016, the city was devastated, drawing comparisons with WWII Stalingrad.

 It remains perilous to live there: A couple of residential buildings have since collapsed, putting more civilians at risk of sudden death.

 And then there are the recent, horrific allegations of kidnap for ransom and body parts, which have become common in régime-controlled areas. Many I speak to in Aleppo describe how unsafe they feel, especially given the 'disappearances'.

 In Idlib, where according to the UN around 3 million now live, the majority are displaced from all over Syria, and the régime continues to violate the Russian-Turkish de-escalation zone, carrying out air and artillery strikes.

 In one week alone, 
Airwars - an independent monitoring organisation based in London - reported that 16 civilians were killed in these airstrikes, including women and children.

 In the East of the country the situation is no better; the US-led coalition's air campaign is 
ongoing and civilians are trapped between IS snipers and mines, and coalition airstrikes reportedly killing up to 120 civilians in a week.

 Assad's régime is notorious for torturing civilians to death in its prisons. Save the Rest campaign and others advocate on behalf of those who are missing in Assad's prisons and demands their release.

 Layla Shweikani, for example, a 26-year-old Chicago native was detained in Assad's prison and tortured to death for helping refugees and displaced people in Syria. The family learned about her death two years after she had died.

 This practice is common by the Syrian régime; many families learn about the death of their loved ones in prison years after they were arrested.

 The Syrian Network for Human Rights, based in Qatar, estimates that over 118,000 have been arbitrarily arrested since March 2011.

 Despite all of this, some journalists happily go to Syria on a régime issued visa, surrounded by régime minders as they interview people on the street about how safe they feel. 

 By promoting this image that the country is safe for refugees to return, despite the fact that many members of the present régime are facing allegations of human rights violations, these outlets act as a mouthpiece for a régime responsible for the death of hundreds of thousands of civilians.

 When Twitter's CEO tweeted photos of his meditation trip to Myanmar last year, it backfired, and he was widely accused of being a mouthpiece for a government that oppressed and killed thousands of Muslims and is accused of ethnic cleansing.

 Concerning Syria, western journalists with a powerful platform are at best ignorant of a régime accused of killing hundreds of thousands, and at worst whitewashing the most brutal crimes of a generation.

 I am reminded of Stuart Hall, a Jamaican-born British citizen who migrated to the UK when he was still a child and later became a professor in Cultural Studies. He wrote that all of his tutors asked him, "When are you going back home?" when he was lived in Britain and went to school there.

 I am a Syrian refugee living in London, and I still wonder why people are obsessed with sending me home, while I am paying my taxes and contributing to society.

 Is it not obvious that we are fleeing the bombs, and that Europe could be the safest place? For now, at least, returning home is not an option.'

Monday, 11 March 2019

Syria Will Never Be Stable With Assad in Power

 'In March 2011, tens of thousands of enraged Syrians gathered in the southern city of Daraa to attend an anti-government demonstration. There a group of protesters toppled a statue of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's late father and predecessor, Hafez al-Assad. Days later, hundreds of Syrians climbed on top of the rubble of the statue, shouting slogans denouncing the Assad régime, which by that time had begun using violence to crush popular protests calling for political reforms. Still, despite the régime's brutality, the Syrian people had hope for a better Syria, one that was a little freer, a little more prosperous. Then the mass slaughter began.

 Eight years later, after killing some 500,000 Syrians and displacing millions more, Assad won. Indeed, barbarity won. With the support of Russia and Iran, the Syrian president is still in power, and will remain so for the foreseeable future. But victory is not enough, apparently. Supporters of the régime are now rubbing the Syrian people's faces in the dirt, erecting the statue of Hafez in the same spot where protesters tore it down.

 In response, hundreds of Syrians took to the streets in Daraa, the cradle of the Syrian uprising. "Syria is ours, not for the house of Assad!" the protesters chanted, walking through the old quarter of the city. "Long live Syria, down with Bashar Assad!" others chanted, as well as, "Your statue is from the past, it's not welcome here!"

 Security forces closed off the area to prevent residents from other parts of Daraa from joining the protests.

 The latest demonstrations are a reminder that a Syria ruled by Assad will never be stable. Some commentators and politicians have argued the opposite for years, claiming that, while Assad may be brutal, he is necessary to ensure stability and to prevent Islamist terrorists from taking control. This notion, often articulated as some deeply intellectual notion of hard-nosed realism, is deeply misguided.

 The Syrian people will never accept the Butcher of Damascus, whose régime probably raped, tortured, or murdered their friends and families, as their legitimate leader. What's more, their desire to topple Assad has not gone away, nor has their rage. Yes, the régime has defeated opposition forces through shocking savagery, which can crush and deter them for a time. But that is no recipe for a stable and sustainable—let alone prosperous—situation, especially today, when social media and other new-age technologies make political movements so much easier to spread.

 Even now, there is evidence that the protests in Daraa will continue and grow. "There have been small, peaceful protests after prayers on Friday for a few weeks now," one resident of Daraa told the Telegraph by What's App, another tool that can help the opposition organize and solicit outside help. "But the Russians are in charge of everything, so everyone's scared."

 "But," the resident added, "people are testing the limits now, seeing how far we can push back."

 On cue, protests continued Monday in the nearby town of Tafas. Residents protested against the régime's corruption and brutality, including its shelling of Idlib.

 The Syrian people have been demoralized, their homes leveled, but their spirit and dignity seem to remain intact. Moreover, their level of hatred for the régime is a powerful force, one that should not be underestimated. And Assad continues to provoke that rage, even after conquering most of Syria. Just look at Syrian refugees who have returned home. Some of them have disappeared into the country's notoriously brutal prison system. No one is safe from the régime's persecution.

 More broadly, the situation that sparked the Syrian conflict is still in place: a brutal régime is oppressing its people, who want better lives and a more responsive government. The key difference now is that the Syrian people want the Assad régime thrown into the sea, not to institute reasonable reforms, as they wanted in March 2011.

 Beyond the Syrian people, recall how the Islamic State grew in power in Syria after the American surge in Iraq in 2007-2008. The terrorist group waged an insurgency in Iraq, as it is doing now, and then moved into Syria following the outbreak of the Syrian conflict. It gained strength from revenue courtesy of the oil fields in eastern Syria, but also from thousands of disgruntled Sunnis opposed to the Assad régime. And there is the small detail that Assad strengthened ISIS and other terrorist groups to discredit opposition forces and ensure that Western countries did not intervene against him. ISIS is going back to its old playbook in Iraq. It is not that crazy to imagine a similar sequence of events happening again.

 Assad's survival also risks a region-wide war in the Middle East. It is no secret that Assad has allowed Iran to entrench itself militarily throughout Syria, which the Islamic Republic has sought to make a forward operating base against Israel. As Iran and its proxies continue to threaten Israel, and as Israel responds with military strikes against Iranian assets in Syria, the two sides move closer toward a large-scale conflict, one that could be disastrous for the entire region. While Assad remains in power, this dynamic is sure to continue to hold, forming a storm cloud over the Middle East. The question is if and when the cloud opens up, and it begins pouring.

 It is not just a moral stain on humanity for Assad to remain in power, but also a major threat to American and allied interests. But now there are reports that some European countries want to recognize that Assad won the Syrian conflict and help him reconstruct Syria. Under no circumstances should any Western country do such a thing. Rather than help the Syrian people, Western money for reconstruction will further entrench Assad's control over Syria, enrich those who committed war crimes, and bolster those who would do harm to the United States. Put aside morality for the moment: Assad is no force for stability; he is a walking time bomb.'

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Syrian forces use widespread sexual violence to humiliate and silence male prisoners

 'Assad régime forces are using widespread sexual violence to humiliate and silence male prisoners, psychologists and a monitoring group said Monday, offering a rare window into a form of abuse rarely discussed by its survivors.

 Eight years after the start of Syria’s uprising, more than 100,000 detainees remain unaccounted for, most of them in Assad régime custody. According to the United Nations and human rights groups, torture and abuse are systematic, and thousands, if not tens of thousands, of those detainees are probably dead.

 But while many forms of abuse are well documented, the men who emerge from régime cells — often after years of neglect in near-total darkness — rarely discuss the levels of sexual violence they encountered, and little psychological help is available for survivors.

 According to a report released Monday by Lawyers and Doctors for Human Rights, a Syrian rights group, security forces have used rape and enforced sterilization, as well as the tying, burning and mutilation of men’s genitals, to force confessions and submission.

 The abuse has taken place at checkpoints, on journeys to prison and inside interrogation rooms, the group said. Several men said their jailers inserted a water hose into their anus and turned on the tap, causing the prisoners’ bodies to swell up.

 There are no accurate statistics for the scale of the sexual abuse inside Syrian custody, in part because survivors are scattered around the world. Former detainees also are often hesitant to report such abuse, particularly when they come from conservative communities in which discussion of sexual violence is taboo.

 But of 138 people interviewed by the LDHR, more than 40 percent reported some form of sexual assault. That figure rose to almost 90 percent when describing instances of forced nudity ordered by their prison guards.

 “What is revealed is extensive, pervasive and brutal sexual violence against Syrian political prisoners across time, government security agencies and their detention centers,” the group said. The testimonies were accompanied by medical evaluations. Where possible, experts in treating sexual violence then cross-checked the details from the survivors’ accounts and the evaluations.

 In interviews, dozens of men formerly held in régime prisons, particularly in Damascus, have described how they were ordered to strip before being severely beaten, or how they spent days lying naked alongside other prisoners in packed and squalid cells. Others reported extreme forms of sexual abuse involving mechanical tools or sharp objects.

 “These were moments when you didn’t recognize yourself as a human,” said one man, speaking on the condition of anonymity out of fear for his family’s security in a régime-held area. “As I lay there, it wasn’t that I wanted to die. It was that I wished I’d never existed.”

 These accounts by survivors describe historical cases of abuse, but there are few indications that the practice has stopped. More than 2,000 Syrians have been detained since November, most of them by régime-linked forces, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights.

 It remains unclear how many have been sent to detention facilities, rather than being forcibly conscripted. But recently released detainees say the pace and scale of abuse inside régime prisons and security branches remain unchanged.

 The legacy of sexual abuse can be devastating, and trauma can last years after release. More than three-quarters of the men interviewed described depression, flashbacks and nightmares since they left prison.

 Psychologists in Gaziantep, a city in southern Turkey and a hub for Syrians fleeing the war, have recorded cases of suicide that they believe to be linked to sexual abuse experienced in régime custody.

 “Coming from conservative societies, these men often leave feeling destroyed and humiliated as men,” said Jalal Nofel, a Syrian psychiatrist who works with former detainees in Gaziantep. “The patients we see often believe that they cannot recover from that.”

 He said, “A man from Douma did not speak to his family for three days upon his return, and then he killed himself. We only learned his full story from cellmates after his death.”

There is scant help available for rehabilitation of former detainees, as needs outstrip the capacity of international and local humanitarian groups working in Syria and in countries hosting the war’s refugees. And men are far less likely to seek help than women.

 In their interviews with the LDHR, survivors said they had often chosen isolation, in some cases forgetting details about their family lives while being unable to shake flashbacks from their time in jail. One man likened himself to a small bird. Another man, identified only as Abdullah in the report, told a researcher that he lived in constant fear.

 “The soul has died, doctor,” he said.'

Sunday, 10 March 2019

New Assad statue triggers protest in cradle of Syrian revolt

 'Hundreds of Syrians in the city of Daraa protested Sunday at the erection of a new statue of Bashar Assad's late father, nearly eight years after the original was toppled at the start of Syria's civil war. Demonstrators and witnesses said residents walked through the streets of the war-ravaged old quarter of the city calling for Assad's overthrow, days before the eighth anniversary of the start of the conflict. This is the largest anti-régime protest to be held in any area outside of opposition control since the first year of the Syrian uprising.

 Daraa was where peaceful protests against 40 years of autocratic Assad family rule began in 2011, and were met by deadly force, before spreading across the country. The Syrian army, aided by Russian airpower and Iranian militias, recaptured Deraa from rebel forces in July on its way to regaining control of the bulk of Syrian territory. But since then, residents of Deraa say disaffection has been growing as Assad's secret police once more tighten their control.

 The régime had given schools and government employees a day off Sunday to attend a pro-régime rally to inaugurate the new bronze statue of late President Hafez Assad, erected on the site of a previous statue felled by protesters. But a group of youths protesting in Daraa's old quarter carried a placard reading: "It will fall. Your statue is from the past, it's not welcome here."

 Lawyer and activist Adnan Masalma said: "People have gathered without organization and to peacefully demonstrate over just demands."

 After Daraa surrendered to régime forces last summer, many residents chose to stay put rather than head to remaining rebel-held areas in northern Syria, where tens of thousands of others displaced from recaptured areas have gathered.

 "The country has been destroyed and, instead of reconstruction, we place memorials," read another protest placard.

 The Syrian authorities have reinstalled several large statues of the elder Assad after military victories that have seen his son regain most of the territory once held by rebels. Many residents of those areas now complain that services have not been fully restored, while young men fear being conscripted into the army to fight the remaining rebels. There has been a spate of attacks on army checkpoints in Deraa province, which the authorities blame on rebels operating covertly.'