Friday, 17 July 2015

The View From Inside Syria

Saeed al-Batal, a Syrian photographer, posted this image from Douma, Syria, on his Facebook page on March 31.

MONTAGNE: Wow. Well, let me ask you, when we first spoke with you late last year, you were quite angry that the U.S. was paying so much, at that point, attention to ISIS. And what you said was, what about the regime? The Assad regime - more people have been killed by far by them in Syria than by ISIS. I wonder, though - it's been months now - what about ISIS? Or - are they coming into your neighborhood? Is there a threat?
AL-BATAL: Most of the population here, like, do not agree with how ISIS think or act. So they don't have any place to grow any followers here. But what I am afraid is that the more you have been feeling injustice and the more you feel that you have been left alone, that you have been pushed to maybe sometime even make a deal with the devil to get out of here. So we manage to push back those ridicules, but the more the situation get bad, no one knows what going to happen.
MONTAGNE: How are you getting news, and how much news are you getting about what is happening outside?
AL-BATAL: Most of the people get the news. They have this two hours a day of electricity, and they watch television. But they don't watch it with that much care anymore. They are more interested in the local news because they say that the news here, like, it has been the same for, like, three years. The only thing that's changed is the number of people who die. Nothing major have change. There's always an airstrike. There's always someone dying. Even this morning, we have two airstrikes. So people are walking the street. They hear the plane coming, so they just look up, wait for the bomb to fall, and after that they keep walking normally like nothing had happened. That's one side of human nature - that you can get used to anything. I told you my friend of mine lost all of his family, and he didn't even cry. He was, like, the meaning of death have been changed. And he was like, maybe they are relieved now or out of the siege in the one way that no one can stop them - up to the sky.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Syrian rebels decry Iran's nuclear deal with the west

Syrian rebels march in a show of strength during a demonstration in Idlib, Syria.

Well done again to Kareem Shaheen, for actually reporting what Syrians have to say.
 ' “It is the belief of many on the ground that America and Iran are strategic allies, and all the overt signs of animosity are simply hypocrisy,” said Ahmad al-Alwan, a religious official with the Army of Conquest, an alliance of rebel groups in the north of Syria that scored a series of victories against the regime’s army this year.
“Iranian assistance has never been severed from Assad and Iran has been aiding Assad above and below the table before the entire world with the tools to kill the Syrian people,” he added. “The nuclear agreement will not change this equation.”
“We have a real fear that Iran will use the unfrozen accounts for more shameless intervention in the region and enflaming strife and war, as well as providing more support to the Assad regime to prevent its fall and allow it to continue carrying out terrorist massacres against the Syrian people,” said Mohammed Maktabi, the secretary general of the Syrian National Council, the exiled opposition. 
“We know that if America wanted to remove Assad it would have, but America wants to lengthen the conflict in Syria, to manage it, not to end it,” said Alwan. 

“Iran is America’s best partner in the region,” said a source close to Jabhat al-Nusra. “The war in Syria will continue, and the solution for them is a political transition while preserving the regime.”
“Everyone is feeling resentment: why at this decisive time?” said Ibrahim Noureddine, a spokesman for the First Legion, an opposition faction in the south. Many of the opposition groups in the area, save for Jabhat al-Nusra, are seen as moderate and close to western and Gulf states opposed to Assad. 

“The street and the opposition factions in the south resent this because it is completely against them,” he said. “Iran’s role in resolving the Syria crisis is to leave Syria.” '

On front line of the war against Isis, joint action by US and Iran has never felt closer

Image result for On front line of the war against Isis, joint action by US and Iran has never felt closer

Patrick Cockburn isn't lying less because someone else is saying it. Turkey and Saudi Arabia aren't providing military aid to ISIS, or even to anyone affiliated to al-Qaida in Syria. Nor are the Turks encouraging people to cross their border to join ISIS.
 "A senior Shia clergyman called for the US to supply Iraq with modern weapons and to put pressure on Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar to stop providing covert military aid to Isis, and to rebel groups in Syria affiliated to al-Qaeda."
The US hasn't really supported the approach of backing the rebels. To actively support their oppressor would be a disaster. And to call them Sunni at every turn obscures their far less sectarian aims and methodology than that of the Islamic Rpeublic of Iran and its proxies. That it is Shia clergymen Cockburn is constantly quoting should give one a bit of pause on that front. I don't see any Sunni imams being given such respect.
"Shia clerical leaders are cautious, but they hope the US will no longer automatically support the approach of Sunni states like Saudi Arabia and Qatar – its traditional allies, which have backed the Sunni-dominated rebels in Syria."
It's probably not true what he's saying about Iraq either, but I'm not an expert on that front.
In reality, Iranian control is predominant in only three of the main militia units."

A Syrian Parody Features the Civil War, and Is Stalked by It

The New York Times wants to blame all sides, but you can see, if you look, that Assad and the rebels are not the same threat.
'The show skewers President Bashar al-Assad and his government, as well as the religious groups that have taken over much of the uprising.
 It even mocks the rebels in the Free Syrian Army, who provide
 security when the show is filmed on location.
“We make fun of the way they treat civilians, but they have no choice but to protect us,” said Yamen Nour, one of the stars of the show. Mr. Nour, 37, a painter and actor who led demonstrations in 2011,
 considers his theater and television work a continuation of the revolution by other means.
“We want to show people that we are still living,” he said. “It’s very difficult to make people smile during war. We want them to forget the war for a moment.”
Tony el-Taieb, 24, the producer of the series, said he and the 55 or so actors and crew members who work for his company, Lamba Productions, believed that Syria’s original revolutionaries must establish cultural alternatives to those generated by the government in Damascus.
“Our videos drive the regime crazy, because we show the reality,” Mr. Taieb said. “We can’t leave the field of drama to the regime.” '

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Did Saudi Arabia Barter in Christian Lives with the Vatican?


No. Even the Wikileaks version still makes it sound like the Saudis were threatening Christians, "Saudi to Vatican: Help us bring down Assad and we will ensure Christians are spared from retaliation". In fact what they told the Vatican was this, "All parties who support the Syrian people are committed to the rights of minorities in Syria and, in the event of the fall of the Syrian regime, will not accept for them to be subjected to any acts of retribution."
Similar elisions in Robert Fisk's latest for the Independent*. "[Iran's] Guard Corps and its Hizballah allies from Lebanon are literally in the front lines against the Islamists." Not against ISIS, but against those fighting to free Syria from Assad. Similarly, "Israel has been allowing Iran’s militant Sunni enemies to slip across the Golan from Syria into Israel for medical treatment every few days." Will it really need him to write that all Sunnis are terrorists before it becomes obvious what Fisk is like?
Patick Cockburn** has wrapped up his lies in support of an alliance with Assad into a neater little bundle.

Isis, the Syrian army’s main opponent."
Now we apparently want to remove Daesh, but without helping Assad. These two things are incompatible. It is a choice of evils”."
President Bashar al-Assad probably holds another third, though these proportions are a little deceptive because the government still holds most of Damascus, the main cities and the roads linking them."
There is an attempt to rebrand al-Nusra as kinder, gentler jihadis, but those who believe this propaganda should reflect on al-Nusra’s unstinting praise for the perpetrators of 9/11." "Assad may be about to lose the city of Daraa in the south to the Southern Front, an alliance of groups which present themselves as more moderate than Isis or al-Qaeda."
t is Isis and the most extreme Islamist groups that will ultimately benefit from the weakening of Assad and the government in Damascus."
In the case of the Southern Front, often advertised as an anti-Assad force which is not extreme jihadi, its guise may be adopted to hoodwink foreign backers." "Assad’s forces are exhausted but are not close to collapse."
The militarisation of politics in Syria since 2011 has benefited both Isis and Assad: it has left Syrians opposed to Isis and al-Nusra, but even more terrified of Assad’s forces, with no alternative but to fight and die with the jihadis.""You will have heard the opposition slogan “Alawites to the cemetery and Christians to Beirut”."

 Most have some reflection of the truth, but have been elided so far from it as to be unrecognisable. His conclusion that we should ask Assad to stop barrel bombing in return for bombing ISIS that he hardly bothers to fight is a fantasy, and the idea that we will end up supporting Assad if ISIS or al-Nusra threaten Damascus, so we should do so now, is utterly stupid as it will only preserve the disorder of Assad's genocide and encourage the extremist response to it.

Pan-Arabists and the Iran "deal"

Maysaloon - ميسلون

 'You're reading the blog of a bitter and disillusioned man who once cheered for Hassan Nasrallah during the 2006 war and believed that Tehran's 'Axis of Resistance' was the region's only hope. I changed my mind because Syrians were being murdered by the thousands, their legitimate claims dismissed, and their uprising brushed off as a terrorist uprising by a tinpot dictator who would not have survived had it not been for the help of Tehran and Hezbullah. The pan-Arabists were blasé about the news. We were brutalised and the world did nothing. We were tortured, and the world did nothing. We were starved, and the world did nothing. The world looked away when Syria started.
 I'm sorry that Syrians are inconvenient, that we're not being killed by the right type of enemy for you people. I'm sorry we haven't received your stamp of approval. Pan-Arabists are cheering a deal with Iran, because, as they keep reminding us, Israel is the real enemy; Palestine the real goal. Never mind the untold misery, guts and excrement that we are being forced to crawl through in the name of this mythical liberation that hovers on our horizon like a promised paradise for the wretched of the world. Syria is "complicated". Syrians are only to be felt "sorry for", like the victims of some flood or an earthquake. From your glass towers in Dubai you intellectual pan-Arabists can toast a deal with Iran, and celebrate the fact that nothing has been allowed to deviate your attention from the lofty goal of "liberating Palestine".'

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Refugees content in Turkey, await Assad's fall to return

Refugees content in Turkey, await Assads fall to return

"We will never return to Syria unless the Assad regime is gone. He must be ousted."
"I was a fourth-grade student and I cannot go to school here. If Assad goes in Syria, I still have a hope of returning. He is a bad guy, but Erdoğan is giving iftar to us."
"I do not have any hope of returning to Aleppo. I had built my house there with blood and sweat. But Assad's missiles turned it into ruins. I cannot go back."

Documenting Death Inside Syria's Secret Prisons

 “I saw his color, and was like, ‘Thank God he wasn’t starved to death.’ He didn’t have his ears taken off or his nose. So, I thought he made them furious enough to kill him right away rather than being tortured on a daily basis. It’s always better to know, is he alive or is he dead.”

 “It was systematic, the regime was using it as a way to quell the revolution.

 There’s a lot of missing Syrian people and a lot of people don’t know the fate of their family members. They hear about it through rumors. They pay money to try and find information and really there’s nothing concrete. And unfortunately there’s nothing more concrete than pictures of dead bodies. So the idea was to open up to help people identify their own family members.

 For an American audience, I think it was shocking. But the sheer … mass production of this, I think, is what overwhelms. They’ve documented it in such detail.

 Syrians inside Syria that had any experience with intelligence [services] automatically knew why the documentation had to happen.

 When there’s an order from above, they need evidence that those orders are being carried out. In a highly corrupt government, where you can pay people to release people, they need the evidence. They needed to keep the evidence to show that you told us this is what we need to do, and therefore, this is what we are doing.”

Palestinian refugees in rural Damascus appeal for help

Palestinian children gather to show solidarity with Palestinian refugees in Syria

"In a statement published by the the National Working Group for Palestinians in Syria yesterday, the families who live in the neighbourhoods of Duma, Zamalka, Hazzah and Humouriya in rural Damascus said they suffer from a severe shortage of food and medical supplies due to the suffocating siege imposed on them by the Syrian regime since the beginning of September 2013.
It said the heavy shelling and strict blockade imposed by President Bashar Al-Assad's forces caused Palestinian families to lose their income and stopped them receiving the aid needed for their survival."

Syrian War Takes Rising Toll on Hezbollah

Syrian War Takes Rising Toll on Hezbollah

'Hezbollah units are now spearheading the fight against opposition rebel groups while the faltering Syrian army plays a supporting role. Although the militia is highly secretive about the size of its footprint in Syria, Western officials and analysts believe it has roughly 6,000 to 8,000 fighters on the ground there.
The group also refuses to discuss its losses in Syria, but the numbers are substantial and on the rise. Since Hezbollah began taking part in full-fledged combat in Syria in 2013, officials and outside analysts estimate that roughly 700 to 1,000 fighters have been killed or wounded in battle, a substantial loss for the group.
Losing the border town of Zabadani would be a massive setback for the militia, as the town lies along vital land routes that link up Hezbollah-controlled territory with Syria. In the past, Zabadani served as a logistical hub used to transport Iranian arms to the militia.
Iran, which backs Hezbollah as well as other Shiite foreign fighters in Syria, has doubled down on its gamble on the Syrian regime, expanding shipments of weaponry, ammunition, and other equipment.
Tehran also has deployed advisors from the country’s Revolutionary Guard force closer to the front, and some have reportedly taken charge of some operations from Syrian army officers, analysts said.
“They’re running a high-risk, high-reward type of path right now. If it gets to a point where the [Assad] regime looks like it is on its last legs, then Iran has a big decision to make.” '

Syria is caught between bombs and butchery

Syria is caught between bombs and butchery

"As a Syrian, I feel guilty about warning a child or teenager against a smuggler’s promise to take him to Europe. I know where their thoughts might head if that desperate option ceases to be a possibility. I then wonder how long sane people can resist as the situation deteriorates.
It is no better in the rest of Syria. Even though ISIL dominates the headlines, the Assad regime remains the top killer in the country by some margin. The daily suffering caused by the regime now rarely makes it to public discussions, but highlighting Mr Assad’s disproportionate violence has practical benefits. Apart from the humanitarian factor, failure to focus on the atrocities committed by both ISIL and the regime distorts the reality and creates a schism between how outsiders and Syrians conceive of a resolution to the conflict.
Nowhere is this clearer than when America’s train-and-equip programme reportedly failed to attract enough recruits because volunteers are asked to focus on ISIL. A year after Barack Obama announced the programme, no more than 200 Syrians joined it. Moreover, even those who have joined the programme will be treated as mercenaries by fellow rebels as long as the focus is ISIL not the regime. Even before the US officials publicly admitted the challenge, it was apparent.
As long as the suffering and sacrifices of people on the ground are overlooked, the world should not expect true partners in the conflict. The savagery of the Assad regime is no less than the barbarity of ISIL. On the contrary, it helps perpetuate it."

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Syria crisis: Tremseh 'massacre' - Friday 13 July 2012

Russian Mi-24 helicopter gunships

'A big number of the young men were killed in the field when they were trying to escape the army attack. Helicopters targeted them by heavy machine guns while they were driving their motorcycles - while they were fleeing the village.
Today the people of Tremseh opened a house that was burned by troops. They found two people who were burned alive. My sister told me that the only two doctors in the village were targeted by mortar shells. Both doctors were killed in their houses.
Khalid Saleh, executive member of the Syrian National Council, insisted the reported atrocities were well documented.
Asked why alleged massacres often coincide with UN security council meetings, he said:
From the Assad regime's perspective it is very clear that any political or international solution at this point will mean the end of the Assad regime. I think the Assad regime, in committing all these massacres, is really talking to [its] shabiha, to his forces on the ground. I think these massacres unfortunately increase the morale of the Assad gangs. It is the same thing when they shot down the Turkish airplane.
Assad doesn't really care about the international community. What he is focused on is winning the battle on the ground, so he is doing all he can to raise the morale of his troops. Unfortunately it is a sad reality that committing massacres like these will increase the morale of the gangs ...
The Syrian regime has made it very clear that they are killing any chance for a peaceful transition.'
Three years ago tomorrow. All the elements of the mainstream media narrative are here. The undeniable massacre, the denial by the régime, the splitting the difference by calling the massacre 'alleged', the back-covering condemnation by the UN, the promise of some binoculars by the West to the rebels, amid American fears that guns don't mix well with Muslims, the denial by the Guardian's commentariat that we can possibly know anything. And this, from Brian Whittaker among others, is some of the best of the mainstream reportage.

Assad pummels key rebel province with ship mines

 'Bullets, bombs and explosive barrels have long been a feature of Bashar al-Assad’s campaign to quell dissent in the southern province of Daraa, birthplace of the rebellion against the Syrian president’s brutal rule.
Residents are now reporting a new, even more potent and indiscriminate instrument of death: naval mines, designed to destroy armoured ships, that regularly tumble from regime helicopters, leaving craters 15ft deep and up to 30ft wide.
Their explosive power has been a devastating addition to an already brutal bombing campaign directed at the first town to rise up against Assad’s regime. Witnesses to the deployment of the new weapon report that the mines are smaller than barrel bombs and can be distinguished as they fall from above by their bright red colour.'