Thursday, 31 December 2015

Seeking the football champions divided by war

Muhammad al-Farouh

 'There were other executions and disappearances all over the country too. Raed's father, a politician who supported the wrong side when the ruling Baath party split, was taken away by the secret police and never seen again. Raed was then just 10 years old.

 "I was always afraid, afraid of everything, because our regime is very harsh," he says. "To this day I don't know where my father is, whether he's alive or not… It's better not to try to imagine, because it's so awful what happens in our prisons - it's better to think he died a long, long time ago."

 The regime was bombing Marea relentlessly, and the walls of the soccer complex were soon pitted with shrapnel. Raed returned to Russia, and Muhammad al-Farouh, the tall striker everyone had admired for his running and singing abilities, decided it was too dangerous for his family to stay in their home town. Abdul-Rahim, the impetuous one with the wild hair, is now a fighter with the Free Syrian Army.

 Yasser, who created the team, thinks there are some lines that can't be crossed. He always hated the government, even as a boy, and he says he'll never speak again to another player, Abdulrazzak, who now works for Assad's political intelligence service.

 "I could say hello to someone else from the government side, but not someone from my own town, a cousin of mine, who knows exactly what happened - that in the beginning there were peaceful demonstrations, but they started killing us. That I cannot forgive him for."

 Meanwhile Muhammad al-Farouh, the star runner who spent time as a major in the Syrian air force, still plays football every Friday in his refugee camp. He runs the camp nursery school, with 800 kids. But he can't always handle the questions they ask.

 "One child asked me why Bashar is the president of Syria when he bombs Syria, and other presidents don't bomb their countries," Muhammad says.'

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Assad regime jets bomb Douma Syria killing civilians

 It's only in the Syria Direct headline that you get the full truth of what is happening. The Mirror¹, quoting the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said "unidentified war planes" hit the town. For NBC², they were "government airstrikes" in the text if not in the headline. For Yahoo! News³, they were "airstrikes on rebel-held areas". The Independent said they were "a barrage blamed by some activists on Russia", though they do call them "pro-Assad airstrikes" in the headline, and quote an activist on the ground, they call them near rather on a school, and give the Syrian state News Agency space to claim with no proof that this was just a response to rebel shelling, as if it would be any justification. And that's how the daily mass murder by Assad and Putin is reduced to a confusing tragedy to which we can see no solution because we never have the cause identified.

¹"Harrowing video of Syrian children calling for their mums after air strike kills 49 people"[]
²"Kids Cry for Mom after Airstrikes in Syria"[]
³"Children Call for Their Mother After Strikes on Douma"[]
⁴"At least two children among 28 civilians killed by pro-Assad air strikes 'near school' in rebel-held area of Damascus

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

This Filmmaker Was Assassinated In Broad Daylight After Receiving Death Threats

  'A foe of both ISIS and the Syrian regime, the independent filmmaker and native of Salamia, a town near the city of Hama, was among the peaceful democracy activists who spearheaded the 2011 uprising against Bashar al-Assad. They are now being subsumed by the ensuing violence and sidelined by a war that has become a regional conflagration with no end in sight.
 “It is terrifying that there are Syrians who have dedicated so much for principle and stood against tyranny and extremism yet (with) no real recognition,” Rami Jarrah, a Syrian journalist and friend of Naji al-Jerf’s based in Aleppo, wrote on his Facebook page. “It is lost in this mess of misinformation that says that there are two sides fighting (Assad and ISIS) with little mention of those that oppose both wrongs. Those like Naji.”
 The killing came as Jerf prepared to depart for Europe to escape mounting death threats that followed the airing of a film he made about ISIS and its campaign of terror against citizen activists in Aleppo. ISIS in Aleppo, chronicling the months when the group ran parts of Syria’s commercial capital and came to be despised by all other groups fighting the Assad regime, was broadcast two weeks ago on the pan-Arab Al-Arabiya satellite news channel.'
 Nader Atassi
 "Those who have tried to expose the crimes of ISIS and the other counter-revolutionaries in Syria are all, without exception, anti-Assad activists who are part and parcel of the Syrian uprising. Anti-ISIS activism by Syrians was simply seen as a natural extension of anti-Assad activism, that is, activism against those who wish to dominate Syrians by force. This is where Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently's roots are, this is the background of all the activists in Syria and the surrounding countries that are organizing against and exposing ISIS. As a result, ISIS is trying to silence anti-Assad activists in Syria and in Turkey. Just this fact should be sufficient to destroy the oft-repeated talking point the 'experts' propel that Syrians have to side with Assad and be 'realistic' because he is the strongest force against ISIS. ISIS is not killing pro-Assad anti-ISIS activists—because there are none. There's only one way forward, and that is by siding with those who work tirelessly against all these forces. They have a world to overcome, but they are the only way forward."

Sunday, 27 December 2015

The District of Jobar

 Ziad Majed

  'There are numerous places, regions, villages, cities and urban neighborhoods that come to mind when we remember the beginnings of the Syrian Revolution and the stages of its transformation into armed struggle that went before the war currently raging. Among these places, the Jobar district, which stretches from the east to northeast of the Syrian capital, has a special status, and this for several reasons.

 Among these reasons, there is the fact that Jobar had been a hotbed of peaceful protest and that this neighborhood had seen on April 22, 2011, a huge demonstration march through, where the inhabitants of many of Damascus suburbs came together with those of many areas of the capital with the goal of walking to the Abbasid Square, which is just 500 meters from Jobar, to organize a sit-in. When they got to the neighborhood of al-Zablatani, regime forces fired live ammunition at protesters, killing and wounding dozens in a few minutes, and arrested and tortured several hundred others. Young men exposed their bare chests to the forces of "order" to demonstrate their peaceful intentions but were shot mercilessly in the most significant and unforgettable historic step.

 Among the reasons, too, there is the fact that young people of this district had risen in armed revolt in late 2012, Jobar thereby becoming the most advanced front line against regime forces in the outskirts of the capital Damascus. This earned them the highest concentration of bombings a limited geographical area has ever known, both aerial and ground-to-ground missiles fired by heavy artillery and tanks. The people of Jobar also had to undergo the second use of sarin gas by the regime (in March and April 2013), four months after Homs and four months before Zamalka, Arbin and the outskirts of Mu'dhamiyyet al-Sham (three Ghouta localities of Damascus where 1500 people died August 21, 2013).

 Another features of Jobar we should also mention is the fact that since the end of 2013 and to date, it is subject to incessant attacks by the army of Bashar al-Assad, Hezbollah fighters and Iraqi (Shia) militias.

 Despite all this, one can see the defenders of the neighborhood, some holed up in basements and other highly visible, holding their positions, not giving up one inch. When al-Assad, on New Year's Eve 2014, claimed to have visited Jobar and have reviewed his armed forces (after alleging that these forces had broken through), photos circulating the next day showed that he had not exceeded the limits of al-Zablatani, and the person with whom he was seen exchanging a warm handshake was not one of his frontline soldiers, but Muhammad Ahmad Aïssa, a senior Lebanese Hezbollah officer.

 Thus, the biography of this neighborhood summarizes an entire segment of the epic hidden Syrian Revolution. It also summarizes one aspect of its tragic fate. As Syrian journalist and photographer Said Al-Batal wrote in his brilliant article entitled "Syria: quietly close their eyes" (published on the website of the Association Bidâyât in Arabic and in French in L'Express) after visiting this area in October 2014, expressing more accurately and more deeply what life is like in this little corner of the earth forgotten as it is trapped behind a wall of fire, which is an outrage for all of humanity:

 "During my Internet searches, I came across a photo of Jobar, yesterday, under the bombs, taken from another point of Damascus ... And I shuddered.

I shuddered, not because I managed to get out from under the rubble framed in this picture. I shuddered because it reminded me that there was someone on the other side! I had forgotten that there could be someone who sees, hears, that thinks, dreams and photographs the bombs falling on us. Someone who has his thoughts and his faults, someone who is my reflection, the theory that there are others in our reality. My confinement has made me forget the other. I had come to think that we were alone in the world; the only thing that was on the other side of the shore, was death, rocket, bomb or a bullet.
Do you think my photos, I am on the opposite bank, make you feel something when you look at my eyes? Is it possible, that you are so absorbed in your concerns, the tumult of your lives, to also forget our existence?"

 To Jobar neighborhood and its inhabitants, or rather what remains of it, admiration and heartfelt greetings.'

Saturday, 26 December 2015

What It’s Like to Have Russian Jets Bomb the Crap Out of Your Town

ALEPPO, SYRIA - DECEMBER 15: (EDITORS NOTE: Image contains graphic content) People save a disabled man from the wreckage after the war crafts belonging to the Russian Army carried out airstrikes on opposition-controlled Firdevs neighborhood in Aleppo, Syria on December 15, 2015. (Photo by Beha el Halebi/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Michael Weiss

 'Aleppo’s children are now being educated in apartments on the front-lines, because their open air schools have been bombed by Russia. In these makeshift academies, the primary fear is “elephant bombs,” the regime’s “locally made” ground-to-ground missiles (so called because sound like the an elephant’s trunk blow when they’re launched) which can hit 60 or 70 times a day.

 The Russian Defense Ministry has yet to claim responsibility for any civilian casualties and often denies striking in civilian-heavy locations which evidence suggests they have struck. But the claims of Russian collateral damage, Jarrah tells me, are “absolutely true. Russia is killing civilians and waging an information war. I want every single person on this planet to know that, whether they admit it or not.”

 Kenan Rahmani, a Syrian-American activist, spent the better part of November in Idlib, Syria’s northwest province, which is also under constant Russian bombardment. In the town of Maarat al-Noman, he says “they bombed half a kilometer from where I was, killing three children in a school. The residents in Maarat al-Noman had gotten used to the barrel bombs,” he says, referring to metal canisters filled with shrapnel and explosives dropped from Syrian helicopters. “But these were more limited in their scale of destruction. The Russians destroy more buildings and raise the stakes for Syrians to stay alive inside. But it’s the same form of collective punishment. If you want to live in opposition areas, these are the consequences.”

 On Dec. 15, Russian warplanes bombed Mash'had market in an area called Saif al-Dawla, a central marketplace in Aleppo. (ANA Press published footage of the aftermath, viewable here.) “Ten meters to the right and the missile would have landed inside the market, killing 200 or 300 people,” Jarrah says. “The attacks are not that precise. Shoot one person in a protest, and he runs away. Then the next day, more come. Then you have to shoot five people to make the same point. The Russians want to kill a lot of people at once so they don’t have to kill even more later. The marketplace, it’s like the veins of the city. If you open the veins, you bleed the city.”

o far, there has been no conspicuous hemorrhage of civilians from Aleppo because the inhabitants don’t want to leave. Jarrah says that this isn’t because they’re patriots or defiant in the face of a brutal onslaught. It’s because most of them are already internally displaced. Jarrah reckons that, apart from Aleppo’s historic Old City, where longtime residents still remain, in the “modern” districts, only about 20 percent of the current population is native. “The rest are Syria’s poorest. If they leave, they’ll have nowhere else to go.” '

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Assad has again used sarin gas against civilians

 "Five Syrian civilians were suffocated by sarin gas used in barrel bombs dropped by Assad helicopters on the southern part of al-Moadamiyeh city near Damascus. Assad forces have been trying to isolate Dariah from al-Moadamiyeh city for the past 24 hours using every possible means including sarin gas."

Monday, 21 December 2015

Drawing the horror of a Syrian detention centre

Illustration - three figures one with head bowed, one screaming, and one chained and hung by the hands

  Lina Sinjab
 ' "Every day there would be about eight new bodies. After a week I managed to get closer and count the number written on a body's forehead. It was 5,530 - and after a month and a half, the number on another body was 5,870. I got used to it. The first night I saw a dead body and smelled it, I felt so sick and sad I couldn't sleep. But later on we were eating while a dead body was next to us. I remember leaning on a dead body and thinking, 'When are they going to remove it so I can have more space?' "

 Sami was arrested twice in the years after the Syrian uprising in 2011. His crime was coming from a town, a religious group and a family that had revolted against President Bashar al-Assad. "I had long curly hair when I was detained for first time. This modern look was a sign for the government that I belong to the co-ordination committees that organised protests. The security officer dragged me by my hair and told his boss, 'We've got one of the co-ordinators sir,'" Sami told me.

 "I was picked up on my way to work, my head was covered and I was put in a car. I don't know where they took me but they put me in a hall while my hands were tied with wires. They started beating me up madly. Then I reached the detention centre. I was bleeding, bones broken, ears damaged so that I couldn't hear properly. The place was like Dante's inferno. You are constantly tortured and you hear the cries of people being tortured. I was kept in the basement maybe seven storeys down."

 His wife, Fidaa (not her real name) had the difficult job of finding the right person to bribe. It took $3,000 simply to find out where Sami was being held. Then she had to pay money to ensure that Sami would not continue to be tortured. One of the people who promised to help ensure Sami's release disappeared after a week, forcing her to look for another contact who might help.

 Sami has lost 40 members of his family, all killed by the regime. He moved home twice inside Syria looking for a safe place to live with his wife and daughter. His own house and another belonging to his family were burned down by government forces in the Damascus suburb he comes from. Many have argued that this sort of treatment drives poor young Sunnis into the arms of Islamist radicals - though Sami says he personally never encountered any Islamists in Syria. "I didn't see any Islamists or jihadists or radicals in prison. I just saw ordinary Syrians. Needless to say, almost everyone in prison is Sunni. Men from the city with money are treated differently than those coming from poor and rural areas. The more money and connections you have, the less tortured you are."

 The threat to him, he says, came exclusively from the Assad government, and it was the government that drove him eventually to leave the country. He and his wife and daughter are now in Europe, where Sami is recovering from his ordeal. "I try to get over my fears by drawing or playing music," he says. "This is the only way I can survive." '

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Assad-Putin Airstrikes on Idlib Courthouse

 Bilal Abdul Kareem

 "Immediate aftermath of today's Putin-Assad attack on Idlib Courthouse in Syria. If you've never seen the absolute chaos that ensues after an airstrike then this is a clip you may need to see to have a proper perspective. The airstrikes landed at approximately 10am, the busiest time of the day in the courthouse. In total there were 5 targets in the city. The number of wounded and killed are still being counted."

 When bombs drop on the halls of justice, there is no justice in the halls.

Friday, 18 December 2015

My Family Will Never Recover From Being Refugees

 ' "You have five minutes to leave the house or we'll burn you in it."

 That was the warning the shabiha, thugs supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime, gave to Salma* and her family in October of 2012. Salma, her husband, and their four children had been incarcerated in a relative's home for 10 grueling months, most of the time unable to venture into the blasted city streets even to get food. They had become trapped amid crossfire between Assad's army and the rebels while visiting Salma's brother, who lived just a short drive from their own home in Homs, Syria. But after the regime rolled tanks into the city and posted armed guards in office buildings, nowhere in Homs was safe. They fled to live among family in rural Damascus. From there, they began an arduous journey to Jordan, where they would attempt to rebuild their lives.

 Salma remembers precisely when her family's life in Syria began falling apart: March 15, 2011, the day that 15 students were arrested for writing anti-Assad graffiti in the southern province of Daraa. Three days later, peaceful protests began in Homs and other cities around the country. As Assad responded with violence, Homs became the stronghold of the opposition and the capital of the Syrian revolution. Salma remembers watching the weekly demonstrations from her kitchen balcony. She says that Addounia TV, the private station reportedly owned by allies of Assad, broadcast scenes of the protests. "Then, as soon as they finished filming, the cameras would be turned off and the demonstrators would be shot at by the regime," she said.

 Within months, quotidian tasks — going to the market, to school — became life-threateningly dangerous. A group of older boys armed with sticks began to escort Mariam and her classmates to the elementary school at the end of Salma's street. The violence was so indiscriminate and incessant that anyone could be killed or arrested at any time, Salma said. That fall, a rocket hit Salma's cousin's house. His wife, who had a habit of wearing lots of makeup, lost half her leg. His daughter was killed; his other daughter lost her eye. Salma recalls with horror that the regime-aligned media attempted to discredit the report. The media insinuated that a woman who looked so done-up could not possibly be injured.

 In January 2012, Salma and her family set out to visit Salma's brother, who was staying in another area of Homs, a 10-minute drive from her neighborhood. A two-day visit turned into 10 months, however, as going back home was too risky, and the fighting between Assad and the rebels intensified around them. Throughout a siege that left them without water or electricity for six days, Salma comforted her youngest, 4-year-old Bassema, by telling her they would go to heaven soon, where they would all be together and feast. "What can we do? We surrendered to the situation and waited. It was like waiting for death," Salma said. Thugs came and ransacked the town, now nearly empty. Two families who lived there disappeared. Then, in October, came the militiamen warning them that their house would be burned. Salma and her husband left with their children, heading south to rural Damascus. Her brother did not come with them.

 The various factions warring over Syria had by now divided the country into territorial lines like creases in a crumpled piece of paper. Every journey by car involved passing through security checkpoints, where armed guards would check their Syrian IDs. At one checkpoint, Assad's army accused Bassema's doll of being a bomb. Bassema became politically savvy: she'd tell Assad's guards she loved them and then, when they'd driven away from the checkpoint, she'd curse them, Salma said.

 Salma would later learn by word of mouth that her brother, along with her two uncles and their families, had been slaughtered and burned that winter.

 Salma and her family are doing their best to make a life for themselves in Amman, but they have limited economic means and almost no opportunities for work. Without the asylum seeker permits or government cards, they are barred from any aid or assistance from UNHCR or its partners, and are ineligible for the Jordanian public schools available to registered urban Syrian refugees. They are stateless and nameless in the eyes of the Jordanian government, and live in constant fear of being discovered as trespassers. Huda said her 17-year-old brother Mohammed has already been caught and let go twice by police officers who took pity on him.

 Salma's dreams for her children are more modest than they were in Syria. She wishes simply for them to be safe and secure, to have basic rights like health care and education. Though they have left the bloodshed and violence behind, the war has forever changed her children. Bassema, for example, plays by drawing pictures of tanks. She's now 7, and talks about violence like a hardened war veteran. "She's always swearing at Bashar al-Assad, saying that he is responsible for everything that has happened to her," Salma said. "She said, 'I want to take rockets and a tank, all the artillery, and go to Bashar and shoot him dead because he took our home.'" When Bassema's grandfather passed away due to health complications in October, Bassema said, "OK, so what? Everyone dies." She has become numb to death.

 While most parents can look forward to the successes of their children, war has suspended this natural order of progression. Salma and her husband rely on Mohammed and Huda for financial support, and Mariam and Huda told me they glean what little hope they have from their mother.

 "Because of what we have been through, we sometimes feel there really is no hope. No hope in anything whatsoever. We look around us and we can barely make a living and so we feel that's it," Huda said. "We tell her it is impossible for us to continue our studies and she says, 'No.' She always supports us and says, 'You know, there's always a way. God is great and capable of doing anything. You never know, you can always study and learn anything. If you can't continue education now, then you can do so in the future.'"

 "Our future is unknown and bleak," Huda said. "We don't how it's going to end." '

Writer in Exile: An Interview with Yasmin Merei

Writer in Exile: An Interview with Yasmin Merei

 "Now, it is every side is killing people. But if we want to talk about the first three years, no! Only the regime was killing then. It is very clear for us, as Syrians, the people who are against the regime are still against the regime, whether they are inside or outside. I am a member of the revolution since 2011, and I still am. Because day after day, when you learn how savage this regime is, you cannot change your mind.

The magazine, Sayyidat Suria, talks about Syrian women’s issues. We have five offices inside Syria. They are not in the areas of the regime. In the area of the regime, you cannot work.

My family moved to Suwayda because my city of Homs was bombed heavily. When they were bombing the city, my father always said to my mother, “I want to leave; I don’t want to be killed by a bomb.” We moved to Suwayda because I had a brother working there. But my father was killed by the torture. [she starts to cry for a moment … then regains her composure.]

 It was very difficult to leave a city [Homs] that is still 100 percent ruled by the regime you are struggling against. Do you understand me? You are against this regime and you are escaping from his bombing and shooting but you’re going to a city — Suwayda — that he is also ruling. It is protected by him. So you feel you are leaving from him but going to him.
 A lot of activists there were doing relief work, and I was working with them and so, after awhile, somebody reported me. They took photos of our small relief group and they started asking, “Who is this veiled woman from Homs who is working for the refugees?” And within 18 days of when they asked for me, my father and two of my brothers were arrested. For my mother, it was impossible to think of me being arrested. I have four brothers and they took two of them and two of them remained at home. My mother pointed to her two sons still in the house. She said to me, “Do you see your two brothers?” And I said yes. She said, “I would agree with them if they take these two in addition to your father and your other two brothers, but I cannot think that you would be arrested. They would take you.”
 You see, everybody feels afraid if a woman, a girl or a wife — would get arrested … because they think about rape. Because the regime did that a lot. So for my family, it’s better to be dead than to be raped. Not for only my family, but for everybody, even maybe for me. I escaped, left my country, only because I was afraid of being raped. For no other reason. Because when I went with friends to demonstrations in Homs, they were shooting at us. We knew there was a possibility of being killed.

 My father was in prison for 50 days. And my brothers they kept for six months and after that, they escaped to Lebanon. And earlier this year I went to Lebanon to see them. They told me a lot of things. The guards knew they were a family, so every time they brought them to the cell where they tortured my brothers, they forced my father to watch. They always said, “We are happy to welcome you as a family.” Always they made them take off all their clothes.

I feel, well, I am an activist. Maybe some of the Syrian people did not want the Revolution to start. But we wanted it. We said, we have to do it. This dictator should leave. Now I am out of the country, and, because I am working, I can help my family. If I was still inside Syria, we would have nothing. When you are inside Syria, you feel that everyone is thinking about us, everybody is interested in listening to what is happening. But when you leave — you are shocked, because people are not."

Book review: Charles Lister’s The Syrian Jihad – a must read that untangles the web of militant groups

Book review: Charles Lister’s The Syrian Jihad – a must read that untangles the web of militant groups

 Robin Yassin-Kassab

 'Security discourse dominates the international chatter on Syria. Most Syrians see Bashar Al Assad as their chief enemy – he is, after all, responsible for the overwhelming proportion of the dead and displaced. But the Syrian people are not invited to the tables of powerful states, which are in agreement that their most pressing Syrian enemy is “terrorism”.

 There is no question that the moderate Syrian opposition exists, in the form of hundreds of civilian councils – sometimes directly elected – and at least 70,000 democratic-nationalist fighters. In a recent blog for The Spectator, Charles Lister, one of the very few Syria commentators to deserve the label “expert”, explains exactly who they are.

 Lister’s book-length study The Syrian Jihad: Al Qaeda, the Islamic State and the Evolution of an Insurgency, on the other hand, focuses on those militias, from the Syrian Salafist to the transnational jihadist, which cannot be considered moderate. It clarifies the factors behind the extremists’ rise to such strategic prominence, among them the West’s failure to properly engage with the defectors and armed civilians of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in 2011 and 2012.
 Then, on August 21, 2013, a year-and-a-day after United States president Barack Obama declared a supposed chemical weapons “red line”, Assad’s regime killed 1,429 people with sarin gas. The West’s failure to act, even over this atrocity, destroyed any residual rebel faith in western-backed structures. In September, 11 powerful groups renounced the authority of the West-friendly coalition. In the same month the CIA delivered arms to select FSA factions for the first time – a case of too little too late.
 Largely as a result of its engagement by foreign states, Ahrar has moderated its discourse. It and Jaysh Al Islam (another IF militia) signed the May 2014 Revolutionary Covenant, calling for a unified and “diverse multi-sectarian” Syria which would respect human rights and reject dictatorship. This commitment, however cosmetic, marks a clear distinction from the monolithic intransigence of the transnational jihadists. So these are not moderates, but Salafist Syrian pragmatists who can and must be involved in a final settlement (as must regime-loyalist Alawi communities), lest they act as spoilers.
 Lister warns that Russia’s bombing of moderate opposition forces is inevitably driving them into closer coordination with Nusra. “Rather than fighting jihadist militancy,” he writes, “Russia’s military intervention [is] fuelling it like never before.”
 Increased and improved supply has had the effect of amalgamating FSA groups into larger, better coordinated units. If this effect were magnified and spread, the FSA could again dominate the field, an outcome which would produce global benefits – because the only effective long-term strategy against jihadist extremism is consistent support to the democratic nationalist forces whose aims most closely align with the Syrian people’s.
Presently, however, there is little sign of sense prevailing. No powerful state has a serious strategy to stop Assad’s war. So the jihadist threat will grow, despite the bombs thrown at it. Politicians should therefore arm themselves with a copy of The Syrian Jihad – at once the definitive guide to such groups and the most comprehensive blow-by-blow military account of the war thus far.'

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Ready to go


 John Kerry: "We absolutely agree that ISIL/Daesh and al-Nusra are absolutely outside this process, no matter what...With regard to the announcement or proclamations of the people who came together in Riyadh [that Assad must go now], that is not the position of the International Syria Support Group, it is not the basis of the Geneva communiqué, it is not the basis of the UN resolutions; and we are assured by the members of the International Syria Support Group who were attending that meeting, and helping at that meeting, and hosting that meeting, that that is not in fact the starting position, because it's a non-starting position, obviously."

 Kerry thinks he has successfully bullied the states opposed to Assad and the Syrian opposition into accepting a deal the Russians can live with. You could get people to reject al-Nusra, you can insist that Assad is staying, but you can't do both. For more on the US' double-dealing, see here.*


Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Syrians say the Free Syrian Army 'does exist'

Syrians say the Free Syrian Army 'does exist'

 'Following comments from Syria's al-Qaeda affiliate that the Free Syrian Army 'does not exist', a campaign was launched by Syrian activists to highlight the wide-reach the moderate rebel group has inside the country. Jolani's remarks were strikingly similar to those made by the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov who described the FSA as a "phantom group". 

 All through the Saturday night, Syrians took to social media to counter Jolani's statement with slogans such as "the Free Syrian Army represents me" and "we are the free Syrian army" widely used. One widely shared photo on social media showed a wall with graffiti reading: "The Free Syrian Army, I know them and who they are, but who are you? The revolution continues". Another Syrian activist using the name Mohammed said, "The Syrian revolution is the pride of our people and the pride of the Syrian revolution is the FSA."

 Ana Press took the campaign further still and went out onto the streets of Aleppo to find out from resident if the Free Syrian Army did exist. "There is an FSA and they are our brothers," one man told the reporter. Other residents of the war-torn Aleppo said that the FSA had a strong presence in the north Syria city.

 In response to the campaign, Nusra officials said that that they did not deny the organisation's existence and even commended their work in the "Hama tank massacre", where the defending FSA fighters managed to block the regime offensive and destroyed 15 armoured vehicles.  

During a later press conference, the Nusra leader backtracked on his earlier remarks and said that he had only implied that the FSA was not "one faction".'

Monday, 14 December 2015

Syria’s local councils, not Assad, are the answer to Isis

Syrian children wait to receive food in the rebel-held side of Aleppo

 'While we bomb Islamic State and Boris Johnson advocates supporting Assad for the sake of stability, we ignore the people who right now are running the only version of Syria that is neither a dictatorship nor a murderous caliphate, and that embodies a riposte to them both.

 In the “free areas” of Syria loosely held by the moderate opposition, there has been essentially no central government since the revolution four years ago. In this vacuum grassroots local councils have emerged and are providing essential public services such as water, electricity, education and healthcare.

 In the struggle to assert legitimacy, both Isis and Assad single out the councils for attack. An NGO official who works with the councils told me about persistent assassinations and proudly said they were “number two on Isis’s hate list” behind the US-led coalition. A councillor in Deraa, in the south of the country, told me about regime forces trying to bomb their meetings, saying, “I was there when it was targeted by air-bombing, not once, not twice, but more than 10 times. Luckily, if it doesn’t hit you exactly in the head, you will be safe.”

 To end the chaos, what is needed is infrastructure, public services and effective government. That may lead people like Johnson to look to Assad as the person best placed to offer a stability that does not involve Isis. But what a betrayal it would be of the things we believe in. Not least because these local councillors will presumably be put up against a wall if the regime ever gets its hands on them again.'

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Jeremy Corbyn Tells Stop The War Critics To Leave The Group Alone

 'Abdulaziz Almashi, co-founder of the Syria solidarity movement that opposes President Bashar al-Assad, said Corbyn’s comments were hypocritical because STW is not opposing the Syrian leader: “If Jeremy Corbyn believes Stop the War is one of most democratic movements in this country then why don’t Stop the War support the democratic movement against the dictator Assad, who came to power illegally?”
 Almashi is a constituent of Corbyn and was quoted approvingly by the Labour leader during his House of Commons speech against bombing ISIS targets in Syria. But he told BuzzFeed News that Stop the War would not listen to his movement because they were anti-Assad: “I am a Syrian. I am against bombing of my country. Jeremy Corbyn I believe and respect him but Stop the War coalition are wrong when it comes to Syrian crisis.
 “They don’t recognise the Syrian people have started a peaceful revolution. Why has Stop the War never organised a demo against the Syrian regime? Why don’t they organise a demo outside the Russian embassy against their intervention? “If they are anti-intervention they cannot be selective in their anti-intervention,” he added.'

Journalist live-broadcasts from inside Syria in #AleppoLive chat

Image result for rami jarrah aleppo

 'When one person asked what a normal day is like in Aleppo, he translated several men’s answers. One said: “A normal day is, we see massacres and a lot of airstrikes. This is a normal day in Aleppo … If you don’t hear any attacks, if you don’t hear bullets being fired, if you don’t see signs of war, this is something we’re not used to.”

 Jarrah translated for one child who said that he had to work to help his family, and another child who said that he used to attend a school that was hit by airstrikes so regularly that he stopped going. “Every time we want to go to school, we’re attacked,” the child said.

 “The people here are terrorized by both ISIS and the Syrian regime, and it’s important to understand that.” In fact, many Aleppo residents are afraid to discuss the Islamic State for fear the group could track them down, he said. “There is a constant worry in talking about ISIS … They know that ISIS will kill them if they ever came back to these areas and they knew that they had been talking,” '

Wondering in Syrian City About Future After Truce

 'When rebels and security forces struck a truce recently that could end the blockade trapping him in the last rebel-held district in the city of Homs, pastry chef turned antigovernment activist, Bebars al-Talawy did not feel safer or freer. Instead, he was sure it meant choosing surrender or death, calling it the start of “the final countdown to the end of my life.”

 If he stays, he fears arrest, by the government or by rebel leaders who have made deals with it. If he goes, that means accepting safe passage to insurgent-held areas still pounded by Syrian, Russian and American airstrikes. Though security forces will not be inside the district, he said, “they have power over the rebels inside,” enough to make them round up the wanted and the draft dodgers. “They will get rid of all rebels who joined the revolution,” he said. “We will be liquidated one by one.”

 At night, he said, he walks in the outskirts of Waer. Sometimes he goes to a park, sometimes to a destroyed gas station where he once hid from security forces. “I like sitting there, digging up memories,” he said. “Sometimes I listen to the Quran, sometimes to revolutionary songs, to help me be more patient. This is all because of the Dara’a children,” he said, sarcastically blaming the boys in that southern city, whose arrests in 2011, for scrawling antigovernment slogans on walls, set off early protests. “They should ban selling spray paint to children.” '

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

The West's Dilemma: Why Assad Is Uninterested in Defeating Islamic State

Photo Gallery: Free-For-All in Syria

 "Sunday, Nov. 29, was market day in Ariha, a small city located in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib. The people shopping at the market didn't stand a chance. Just seconds after the roar of the approaching Russian Sukhoi fighter jet first became audible, the first bombs struck. They killed passersby, vegetable sellers and entire families. "I saw torn up bodies flying around and children calling for their parents," said a civil defense rescuer hours after the attack.

Jets from both Syria and Russia continue unhindered to bomb markets, hospitals, bakeries and pretty much any other place where people gather in the provinces that are under rebel control. Two years ago, Russia voted in favor of United Nations Resolution 2139, which was supposed to bring an end to attacks on Syrian civilians. But that hasn't prevented Russia from flying hundreds of exactly those kinds of bombing raids itself since the end of September. And that, in turn, hasn't prevented France from talking to Russia about the possibility of conducting coordinated air strikes and joining together in the fight against Islamic State.

Moscow had been hoping that massive air strikes would force rebel fighters in opposition-held areas to abandon the fight. That would then pave the way for Assad's ground forces to advance and take back those regions. But in October, when Assad's tank units rolled into those areas that Russian jets had previously bombed, they didn't get very far. Instead of fleeing, rebels there had dug in instead.

 Near the northern Syrian city of Tal Rifaat in early November, an IS suicide attacker detonated his car bomb at an FSA base, though without causing much damage. Just half an hour later, two witnesses say, Russian jets attacked the same base for the first time. Was it a coincidence? Likely not. There have been dozens of cases since 2014 in which Assad's troops and IS have apparently been coordinating attacks on rebel groups, with the air force bombing them from above and IS firing at them from the ground.

Sending ground troops into such a situation, or even lending legitimacy to the Russian-Syrian offensive, would unwittingly transform Europe into Assad's vassals. Beyond that, the dictator would have to be given troop reinforcements so that he could halfway successfully advance against the enemy.

 Even if one were to ignore all of the military problems, there is also a significant moral question: Would the West really want to go into battle with a regime that has used, aside from nuclear weapons, pretty much every weapon imaginable against its own populace in an effort to cling to power? And once Islamic State is defeated and driven away, what should happen with the cities -- such as Raqqa, Deir el-Zour, al-Bab, Manbij and Abu Kamal -- that they now hold? All those cities had been take over by local rebels long before Islamic State moved in. Who should such areas be given to?

 Certainly not to Assad. That would merely turn the clock back on this war by three years. Rebel groups would once again try to throw out Assad's troops -- and ultimately Islamic State would strike again."

Monday, 7 December 2015

As a Syrian, I know there's only one way to defeat Isis

A Free Syrian Army fighter throwing an improvised bomb

Syrian refugee talks about his experiences

  'Zaid Ojjeh is glad that he is in America and safe from the fate befalling many of his Syrian countrymen in their war-ravaged homeland. In Syria, “every day it was getting worse and worse,” he said in an interview before his talk. There people knew not to talk about politics or their ruler, Bashar al-Assad, whose father had ruled the country before him. You never talk about the president,” said Ojjeh. “He’s like God. It’s been like that for 40 years.” A friend of his had a conversation about Assad with his parents and that friend was arrested, said Ojjeh.
 “I heard from him how much he was tortured,” said Ojjeh. His older brother was drafted into the Syrian military and saw horrible things, but escaped and is trying to leave the country, he said. However, his parents remain in Syria.
 “All my friends left the country,” he said. “Either you’re with the government or against them … People can’t go back anymore. Everything is gone. I want everybody to understand these people are just running for their lives,” said Ojjeh, about his fellow Syrian refugees. “You don’t have to be scared. People just want a place to live. A lot of my friends got killed by gas or by things that fall out of a plane (bombs),” he said. “ISIS is not Islam. It is not religious.” '

Sunday, 6 December 2015

They terrorized my daughters and killed my baby. That’s why we’re Syrian refugees.

 "Peaceful protesters began asking for improvements from the government — basic things, fundamental rights. Among other things, they were calling for the release of political prisoners and for an end to the government’s corruption. My husband and I were not revolutionaries. We respected the role of the government in our lives, but we agreed that changes were needed and believed those changes could happen peacefully. Our family did not participate in the protests. We watched from our house.

e demonstrators were not terrorists. They didn’t carry weapons; they carried signs calling for a better life. I remember seeing people with olive branches and flowers, symbols of peace. So the government’s reaction came as a terrible surprise. Soldiers began using violence to silence the voice of the people, shooting them in the streets. A war between the people and the government had begun.

ne day, my 7-year-old came home petrified about something she had seen. She told me the soldiers had pulled random students and people from the street and lined them up on their hands and knees, in two rows, in front of the tanks. They were not allowed to move. The soldiers in the tanks threatened to run them over and taunted those who were watching. Before, I tried to ease my daughters’ fear by telling them that things would get better. Now I could no longer say this. After that day, I stopped sending my daughters to school.

In the fall of 2012, I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy, our first son. He was born with jaundice, and we had to take him to the Al Fateh Hospital occasionally for treatment.  A family friend who worked at the hospital called us. The government believed that a rebel was hiding there, he said, so troops shelled the building. Many children were dead. My 7-day-old son was among them."