Monday, 30 November 2015

UK airstrikes on Raqqa 'must be combined with aid for moderate forces'

Members of Free Syrian Army groups fight Assad forces in Aleppo

 Cooperating with the moderate forces fighting on the ground is essential, otherwise the airstrikes are not going to be useful at all,” said Mohammad al-Hassoun, commander of a small group called Fursan al-Huria, or Knights of Freedom, north-east of Aleppo.

 Bombing Isis oil infrastructure is already hitting its financial base, Hassoun said, but its opponents need to take the whole Turkish border with the help of ground troops so they can stop the supply of another key resource for the Islamist group, foreign recruits.

 “Isis has two key resources, one is financial and one is human. Finally the coalition understands that those people are making money from the oil, and have started to bomb the oil, which is useful to cut their financial revenue,” he said. “If the FSA controlled the area [along the border] we could cut their human resources off too.”

 Commanders’ hopes for new supplies range from stinger missiles to target Russian and Assad regime aircraft, which all groups want but know they will not get off western powers, to much more realistic demands for assault and sniper rifles. Several said they would also ask for tactical support in areas like mine detection.

 “The British role was negative because they were just talking and doing nothing in Syria,” said Abu Qutaiba, a former fighter who is now a media and political activist for several groups. “Of course I support the airstrikes, but it depends how they do it. Even though its too late, I think any people could be involved against Isis are welcomed.”

 “Is it going to be useful for the British and others to bomb? The problem is the big powers have a disagreement on who is going to fight who,” said Ahmad Shhab, also political adviser to a smaller group. “Some say their priority is Isis, while for the others the priority is to finish the opposition and the FSA and the Syrian revolution in the end.”

MPs are being asked the wrong question on Syria

Image result for Scotland 4 Syria

 'Dear Member of Parliament, MPs are being asked the wrong question on Syria: Whether or not to bomb ISIS. Assad is the cause of ISIS. As long as the Assad regime remains, the terror threat will remain.

 The resolution we need MPs to vote on: “That this house recognises the legal justification for humanitarian intervention in Syria on the basis of evidence of overwhelming humanitarian necessity and the lack of any other feasible or workable solutions; and calls upon the Government to take exceptional measures in order to avert a humanitarian catastrophe by imposing a no-bombing zone in Syria to enforce an end to aerial bombardment attacks against civilians.
” '

What do Syrians themselves want?

Image result for Muzna Al-Naib

 Mark Mardell: "Muzna Al-Naib is an activist with Syria Solidarity UK. She says President Assad needs to be defeated before Islamic State can be tackled."

 Muzna Al-Naib: "I think Mr. Cameron should start talking about the real problem in Syria, which is Assad. He needs to talk about it more effectively, and make the protection of civilians from Assad the priority, in order to defeat ISIS, and protect civilians here in the UK."

  Mark Mardell: "But you're not against military action. You didn't join Stop the War at the weekend."

 Muzna Al-Naib: "We didn't join Stop the War at the weekend, because we refused to participate in a narrative that didn't have the input of Syrians. Stop the War Coalition is not listening to Syrians. They need to start listening to Syrians, when we say the protection of civilians needs to be a priority."

 Mark Mardell: "You're saying that President Assad is more of a problem than IS, Islamic State?"

 Muzna Al-Naib: "Of course! Assad killed far more civilians than ISIS ever did. ISIS wouldn't be here if Assad wasn't in power. Assad killed so many civilians, that the Syrian people now doesn't have the power to fight back against ISIS or anyone else. People there are just surviving. ISIS came to the country, from outside the country, and took ground there, because people didn't have the power to fight back; because they are being bombed every single day by Assad, the youth of the country are being jailed in detention centres and tortured to death, and the whole country is fleeing. There are areas where they cannot flee, because they are under bombardment every single day.

 Mark Mardell: "So if it does come to a vote in the House of Commons, how would you like MPs to vote?"

  Muzna Al-Naib: "My concern is only for the Syrian people, and what I want MPs to do is start talking, and discussing, the protection of civilians, rather than sending more bombs to Syria. We don't need more bombs in Syria. We are not asking for an intervention, we are not asking for imperial powers to come and occupy our country, we're just asking for the Syrian people to be given a chance to fight their fight. We're not asking you to do our fight for us."

 Mark Mardell: "How strong are the forces against President Assad. I mean, David Cameron has suggested there are 70,000 troops of the Free Syrian Army. Do you think that's correct?"

 Muzna Al-Naib: "I think that's correct, but I also invite you, not just to look at the Free Syrian Army, I also invite you to see other elements of the picture. For example, civil society institutions, grassroots and aid organisations. They are a great example of how Syrians can be organised, how they can fight their own fight, how they are able to pursue their dreams of freedom, and for freedom create a Syria that has a place for all."

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Alawites’ anti-Assad movement has been brewing for years, says head

 'Assad has always claimed that Syria’s minorities – including Alawites and Christians, which make up about 10 percent of the population – would be defenseless in face of an uprising heavily hijacked by Islamists. But Hamira said that this narrative was false, and had long been propagated by Assad’s father Hafez, who ruled Syria for three decades until his death in 2000.

 “Through lying and rumors…. [Hafez al-Assad] had implanted the idea that Alawites and Sunnis are not partners but enemies,” said the activist, adding that the Assad dynasty had always strived to present itself as a protector of minorities. “The truth showed that these minorities are the ones who are protecting the regime,” Hamira explained, claiming thousands of Alawites were killed to protect Assad’s “throne” and stay in power.
 “The number of Alawites killed in comparison to their number [in proportion to Syria’s population] is very big. The regime is using them as fuel, they started thinking why my son is being killed but not those close to Assad’s family? No one is killed in Assad’s family,” he said. Kouch described protest slogans such as “you are in palaces and our sons in graves” as becoming more conspicuous. “Even in funerals, the [Alawite] families do not accept Assad’s relatives or those close to the regime, making it a form of protest,” said Kouch.
 Both Hamira and Kouch agree that Assad’s “real supporters” come from different backgrounds - including Sunnis, who make the majority of the Syrian population. “Yes, of course, there are Sunnis who are still with Bashar Al-Assad…especially bourgeoisie of the Sunnis such as merchants from Damascus, Aleppo, even Homs cities,” Kouch said, showcasing how pledging political support to an embattled leader and personal interests interest and overlap.'

Voices from Raqqa: 'We can't hide from your bombs. Tell MPs to say no'

From left, former teacher Mona, who escaped across neighbouring rooftops; a nurse who fled Raqqa when faced with arrest; anti-Isis activist and medical students Feras

  If I went to the UK parliament to make a speech, the first thing I would say is ask them to remove the cause [of our problems], which is Assad, not the symptom which is Isis,” said Abu Ahmad. “Hundreds of thousands of people died in the last few years, and no one came to bomb Damascus.”

 “Why is this just in response to Isis? Why was no one moved when the regime was bombing us in 
Syria? Is it just because [terror] came to western countries? For us, it doesn’t matter which bombs are killing us,” said Mona, a teacher and activist who fled from Isis James Bond-style over the rooftops of her neighbourhood.

“People don’t like Isis at all, but if Kurdish forces come with the coalition to displace them they are both bad, and maybe some will think the least bad is Isis, so you are pushing them to join Isis,” said a nurse who reluctantly left Raqqa this autumn after the group tried to arrest him, although he still doesn’t really know why he came under suspicion. “If they want to help, they have to choose the right partner, not Kurdish forces. Picking the wrong partner might make people react against them. Tal Abyad is a perfect example. They used Kurdish forces as their partner and they displaced a lot of people.”

“It will not benefit us [for the coalition] to fight Isis [alone] because Assad has a good relationship with them,” said Feras, an activist and medical student who was one exam short of his medical degree when government forces jailed him. He later fled Isis, but says that fighting the group in isolation will not end the war: “The Assad regime is the main problem for us.”

“In this situation people won’t even support the Free Syrian Army as they are not credible,” the nurse said. Abu Mohammad agreed: “I like the FSA, but we need a real one; they are not organised and don’t have supplies.” '

Saturday, 28 November 2015

A letter to David Cameron from Syrians in Britain


 "We want more than anyone to be freed of ISIL and so we welcome international commitment to rid the world of this disease. But simply bombing ISIL will not defeat them. If anything it will make them stronger.

 The only way to defeat ISIL is by stopping the Assad regime’s indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas, including areas controlled by moderate rebel groups. Once this happens, Syrians will be freed up to drive out ISIL themselves, as they have proved themselves capable of doing.

 We are urging you Prime Minister to prioritise the resolution of the conflict in Syria over the bombing of Raqqa. It is simply not possible to defeat ISIL while Assad maintains his grip on power and keeps the war burning and refugees pouring over the borders."

‘No IS group in Aleppo, so who is Russia bombing?’

Rami Jarrah:

 "The morale of the people of Aleppo is very low at the moment. They feel vulnerable, since they have three enemies: the IS group, Assad’s regime, and now Russia. That the international community allows Russia to continue these air strikes on civilians – while lying about their reasons for them – has left Aleppo residents feeling that freedom, democracy and human rights are just phrases. They’ll seldom say it on camera, but off-camera, people will often tell you that they don’t believe in these principles anymore."

Thursday, 26 November 2015

The sound and the fury: how Syria's rappers, rockers and writers fought back

 Robin Yassin-Kassab

 'In the first heady weeks of the Arab spring, commentators made much of the role played by social media, but far more significant was the carnivalesque explosion of popular culture in revolutionary public spaces. Protests in Syria against Bashar al-Assad’s dictatorship were far from grim affairs. Despite the ever-present risk of bullets, Syrians expressed their hopes for dignity and rights through slogans, graffiti, cartoons, dances and songs.

 Assad’s barrel bombs, and to a lesser extent the ravages of Isis, have displaced almost 12 million people, most internally, huddling in unregulated camps along the border fences or under trees outside their destroyed villages. More than four million are abroad, the vast majority in neighbouring states, others washing up on unwelcoming European shores. It seems the only Syrian who doesn’t want to leave is al-Assad.
 The refugees have carried their creativity with them. One of the most pressing cultural initiatives has been how to educate the lost generation of Syrian children. In the Atmeh camp –inside Syria close to the Turkish border – for instance, the basic Syrian curriculum is taught, but pictures of the president are ripped out of the textbooks and the propagandistic “nationalism” class is dispensed with. School days begin and end with a revolutionary song and a shouted question and answer (Our Aim?… Freedom!). For the Kesh Malek organisation, now based in southern Turkey, this is depressingly reminiscent of the old Ba’athist catechism. The organisation’s Zaid Muhammad wants to build an alternative: “Our aim now is to build a generation through non-ideological education. For this reason, we don’t accept the revolutionary flag in the classrooms of our schools – even if we’re ready to die for it on the streets.”
 Syrians are rightly infuriated by their abandonment by the world’s states. But there’s good reason to hope their responses will be more positive and diverse than mere terrorism. Already Syrians have changed the image of refugees in Europe. Before, clandestine migrants crossed borders in silence, in the dark. Today – thanks to their revolutionary training – they march in broad daylight, in their thousands, still demanding dignity.'

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Art of war: Syrian artist Imranovi's graphic portrayal of his country's struggle

Syrian artist Imranovi creates graphics to remind us that while the world focuses on ISIS, Bashar al-Assad is still waging war on the people of Syria. <br /><br />"My main message was spreading the news. But now after this amount of time, everybody knows what's happening. So now the purpose of my art is to say this is us, whatever you can do, think, just think about these people."

 'This is the Modern Face of Syria according to Syrian artist Imranovi. The image is the centerpiece of his first ever solo exhibition in London, and part of a collection of graphics about the destruction of his home country at the hands of, as he sees it, one man:

 "It's all because of him. This man is still ruling the country, he's still in power. He's the main reason but everyone has forgotten him. Now all their attention is on ISIS."

"I spent several months in Syria in protest; it was true freedom that we experienced. That was three years ago." 
He left Syria for the UAE and began work as an animator, but is worried about his family still living in Damascus. "It's all still under the control of the regime, full of barricades. There are lots of house raids and they just take whoever they find to prison. That's what happened with my two uncles. And my father. They took him as a detainee but recently we found his image as one of the people who died under torture."
 Imranovi most recently created artwork Deluge for the exhibition opening. As a depiction of Syrians in a boat floating on the debris of war, it represents a shift in the focus of his work to the people desperately trying to escape.
 "The sad thing is that I can't make something that represents the level of suffering that they are facing," he says. "I blame myself because I can't design or find any idea that fits this level. When you see the real image, it just cancels everything else."
 "The purpose of my art now is to say: think, just think about these people. Teach your children, teach your family, or find some organization that helps these refugees. If you can do anything about it, please." '

"There go the Syrian people, always have their heads up high."

Rami Jarrah:

 'Trying to get doctors to speak regarding the strikes on Aleppo, all of them are saying they won't go on camera and that we are not allowed at all to film in or near the hospital. They say the Syrian regime will attack them if they try to show any of what they are doing to a public.
 Usually the assumption was that the location would be identified by the Syrian regime then the hospital would be attacked but this is unrealistic given the fact that it is no hard job to have spies in the area who would easily provide coordinates to them.
 So they know where these key services are but they only attack them when they are shed light on in the media and especially the western press, Assad's propaganda machine wants to make sure that those that oppose Assad never come across as a civil society and maintain the "extremist" image. unfortunately it seems to be working because as I said noone wants to be filmed, they say we "will certainly be punished".'

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Telling the Truth About ISIS and Raqqa

The group Raqqa Is Being Silently Slaughtered faces unceasing peril from ISIS as they smuggle out information about what's happening in their city.

 'When anti-regime demonstrations broke out in March, 2011, in Dara’a, a city in the south, and reports spread throughout Syria that Bashar Al-Assad’s security forces were firing on civilians, Al-Hamza and many others joined in protests, in Raqqa. “We wanted to be free,” he said. “It seemed simple.”

 As the uprising against Assad spread throughout Syria and the casualty counts rose, tens of thousands of people left Aleppo, Homs, Idlib and other embattled cities and towns and arrived in Raqqa, which is on the northern bank of the Euphrates River. The city swelled and became known for a while as “the hotel of the revolution.”

 By March, 2013, Free Syrian Army (F.S.A.) troops, as well as Islamist rebel forces, including al-Nusra, controlled the city and tore down a statue of Assad’s father, Hafez al-Assad, to celebrate. “Raqqa was the first liberated city in Syria,” Al-Hamza said.

 But at around the same time, members of ISIS, or the Islamic State, bearing black flags, began accumulating in the nearby town of Slouk. “At first, there were only around fifteen people,” Al-Hamza said. “None of us knew about it” until fighters from al-Nusra began switching over to ISIS, which had its origin in Iraq. “Over time, around ninety per cent of the Nusra fighters in the area became ISIS, and only ten per cent of them refused,” Al-Hamza said.

 In May, 2013, ISIS fighters started making kidnapping runs and attacking F.S.A. leaders, and, by late summer, there were full-scale battles with F.S.A. troops. As the F.S.A. began to suffer defeats, car bombings, kidnappings, and executions, one of the journalists at the table said, some F.S.A. soldiers “out of complete fear” also joined ISIS. People in Raqqa could see that ISIS was growing stronger, as they brought in heavy weapons from Iraq and seasoned soldiers who had fought in the Iraqi Army under Saddam Hussein. By the beginning of 2014, ISIS had absolute control of the city. They now overran the mosques, drove out Christians from the city, and turned major municipal buildings into their various headquarters. The propaganda campaign that ISIS mustered following the capture of Raqqa brought on a wave of foreigners.

 The member of R.B.S.S. are utterly frustrated with the efforts of the West to defeat both Assad, who has fended off the opposition so far, and ISIS, which has suffered recent losses in Iraq and Syria, but which has proved capable of exacting suffering from Sinai to Beirut to Paris.

“The problem the Syrian people have with the United States is that we are suffering for five years with barrel bombs,” one R.B.S.S. journalist said. “Assad has killed so many innocents, and many people have lost hope. After Assad’s chemical attack, when he crossed the so-called ‘red line,’ the U.S. just took the weapons. It made America look like a liar and weak.

“When you say ‘Raqqa’ the first thing people think of is ISIS,” he continued. “They forget hundreds of thousands of civilians, normal people like us. I am not a terrorist. There are so many people, normal people, who want to live in a free, democratic Syria. We want to rebuild Syria, and the only way we can do it is through our civil-society group and others like it. If the United States government and other governments want to fight ISIS on social media, their Twitter accounts are seen as propaganda. But when real life is shown through us, and you see what life is like, normal people believe it.” '

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Syrian rebels, and their clandestine war against IS

Syrian rebels, and their clandestine war against IS

 'Over the past three days, locals in Mu Hassan, al-Mayadeen, al-Bukamal have all protested on the streets against IS' brutality.

 They also pointed out that dozens of civilians had been killed by French and Russian bombs, while no IS fighters reportedly died - a thinly veiled attack on IS policies of moving military hardware and fighters into civilian areas.

 "The protesters raised the flag of the Syrian revolution in these three cities. This is a clear sign that the people are starting to rebel against IS, step-by-step, as they did before with the Assad regime," said the Deir az-Zour activist.

 "The people in the eastern region only show support to the FSA," said Tim. "And they clearly understand that they are the only ones who can retake al-Sharqiya from IS." '

Despite Russian airstrikes, FSA continues to confront regime

 'After the regime failed to advance toward the center of Hama’s countryside on Oct. 7 and after media outlets such as Al-Araby and All4Syria showed such abatement to the regime’s supporters, the regime opened several other fronts in the southern countryside of Aleppo, the northern countryside of Homsand the Latakia mountains as it desperately sought to advance and show its progress in the media as an achievement aimed at lifting the spirits of the regime supporters and forces.

 For this instance, a video published by pro-regime Russia Today news outlet on Oct. 12 depicts the battles led by the Syrian regime forces in some small villages in Hama’s countryside, which are, however, still under the opposition’s control.
 Hamoud enjoys wide popularity among Syrian dissidents who either know him personally or from social networking sites. He has chosen the nickname of “Abu TOW” (Arabic for "father of TOW"), given his passion for the missiles.
 “Our generation lived a peaceful life full of love and joy, but what is happening in our country has forced us to engage in battles and take up arms. Despite all the violence we live in, we are still human beings, and we have not changed. We are waiting for the war to end to throw away the arms and get back to our previous lives,” he said.'

Friday, 20 November 2015

Syria’s only hope of peace is if Assad is removed

Damaged buildings in the town of Douma, Syria, earlier this week.

 'Assad never has been, nor will ever be, an alternative to Isis. He will never bring peace to Syria, nor will he ever be capable of taking on extremists. There is no capacity on the regime’s side to regain control and restore stability to the country. Moderate forces of the opposition are the only forces that have proved capable of combating Isis and winning back territory, as the Free Syrian Army (FSA) did in 2013. But, thanks to the failure of our western partners, Syria’s moderates are deeply under-resourced. Despite our repeated appeals, we never received the support needed from our friends.

 The only way to effectively take on Isis is to create a ground force capable of fighting terror and stabilising the country. With proper support, such a force could eradicate the Isis terror nest in Raqqa. But this will only happen when we formulate a political plan that ensures a transition away from Syria’s current leadership and state clearly that the end game is Assad’s exit from power.

 Under the aforementioned conditions, the opposition would work with Syrian government organisations to restore basic services and the FSA would willingly concentrate its efforts on defeating Isis. De facto cooperation would occur with the units of the Syrian national army that are not tied directly to the Assad family. The FSA, together with these army units from which identified criminal officers have been removed, would form the two natural components of an indigenous force dedicated to fighting Isis and any combination of forces that aims to destabilise the country. Such a force would provide the international community’s best chance to defeat Isis.'

Syrian refugee, survivor of 2013 chemical attacks, speaks out after U.S. House vote

Image result for Syrian refugee, survivor of 2013 chemical attacks, speaks out after U.S. House vote

 ' "Everybody failed us," he said. "And now they're talking about bad about refugees, about people who are fleeing for their lives." Eid, who goes by the name Qusai Zakarya, came to the United States on a tourism visa more than a year and a half ago. Before that, he was in the town of Moadhamiyeh in Syria when the government of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad launched a chemical weapons attack using sarin gas. "I watched hundreds of people die, suffocate," Zakarya told ABC7. "My heart practically stopped. And I was placed with the dead bodies."

 Although Zakarya is disappointed by the House Republicans and the dozens of Democrats who joined them for Thursday's vote, he also blames President Obama for the mess Syria has become. He says the President never did anything despite the fact that the chemical weapons attacks crossed the "red line" he said he had drawn. For Zakarya, the President's threat to veto the Syrian refugee bill if it passes the Senate isn't enough. "President Obama should be the last person on earth who should talk about helping others, because if he acted since the beginning of the Syrian revolution, he could have saved four hundred thousand lives," he said.'

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Syria's Assad could benefit most from renewed global push against ISIL

Image result for Syria's Assad would benefit most from renewed global push against ISIL

 'Friday’s massacre in Paris has amplified calls among French politicians for coordination with Russia — and Assad — against ISIL. “Most right-wing politicians are in favor of getting closer to Putin to solve the Syrian crisis,” Bitar said. “The lesser evil narrative ... is triumphing because of these [Paris] attacks, so Assad and Putin are among the victors.”

 Syrian opposition figures believe the French and others are taking the bait set by ISIL. “The main goal is to force France to change its stances, to escalate its campaign in Syria,” said Fahd Al-Masri, a Syrian opposition figure based in Paris. “Any terror attack carries a political message. Everyone’s priority now is to fight terrorism, not topple Bashar al-Assad, who is the reason for the birth and development of terrorism in Syria.” '