Saturday, 30 January 2016

We are Syria’s moderate opposition – and we’re fighting on two fronts

Free Syrian Army fighters in Aleppo

 Asaad Hanna: 'There has been talk of a number of “moderate” fighters who are open to co-operation. David Cameron has talked about the existence of 70,000 fighters opposing Daesh, and there is reason to believe the number is yet higher. I want to unpack this a little.
Last October the UN special envoy for Syria, Steffan de Mistura, invited Syrian military factions to engage in dialogue with the regime through the so-called Four Committees Initiative. The initiative was rejected by the factions out of mistrust, but it did reveal the elevated number of opposition fighters that were active in Syria: 74 military factions signed the rejection statement, the smallest of which numbered 1,000, while others totalled more than 10,000.
 Crucially, none of these 74 are internationally classified as extremists. The moderate opposition is not a myth. Syrians do not need foreign fighters to help them fight Isis; they have indigenous fighters, better acquainted with the land and able to confront any aggressor, particularly where there is firm international will to support them to do so.
 The Syrian armed opposition is fighting a war on two fronts: against Assad and against Daesh. Assad’s barbarity has driven Syrians from their homes and resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Syrians over the past five years.
 On the other side, we are facing Daesh, a terrorist group whose creation Assad must take some of the responsibility for. Daesh is helping the Assad regime by fighting us, the armed moderate opposition. The relationship between the two should not be in doubt.

 Whenever we have made advances and secured victories, Daesh has defended the Assad regime. For example, we have seen Daesh launch offensives in order to draw Free Syrian Army forces away from battle, to ease pressure on the regime. During a battle near Qardaha – the birthplace of Bashar al-Assad – the armed opposition was achieving great victories until Daesh suddenly launched an attack on a key military position in the nearby city of Aleppo, killing a number of Free Syrian Army commanders. Just three days later they withdrew, at which point they handed the area over to regime forces.
 The moderate opposition remains firm in its struggle to combat the Syrian regime, as well as the growing threat from terrorism in Syria. The Free Syrian Army welcomes any hand extended to help bring the Syrian people closer to gaining their freedom, without being deflected from its goals or the fundamental principles of the revolution.
  “I will tell God everything I saw” was the last sentence uttered by a Syrian child before he died of injuries caused by one of the Assad regime’s barrel bombs. Almost half a million Syrians have paid with their blood, and the bloodshed needs to stop. The opposition wants to ensure that barbarism doesn’t triumph in Syria, neither Assad’s nor Daesh’s, and that the country is returned to the Syrian people.'

Reaction To U.N. Envoy's Video Shows Difficulties Of Syria Peace Talks

A car passes in an area that was destroyed during the battle between the U.S. backed Kurdish forces and the Islamic State fighters in Kobani, north Syria, in 2015.

 Staffan de Mistura: "We've heard what you've been telling us ... enough bombing of my city where I am, and I don't know who is bombing me. I just see bombs coming down. Rockets, anything."

Shakeeb Al-Jabri: "Dear Mr. de Mistura, We'd like to remind you that "peace" was the first cry of the Syrian Revolution. We'd also like you to know that we know exactly who is bombing us. And so do you. If you want to trust you, at least name them."

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Syrian children in bombed-out Aleppo 'protest' against Iranian intervention as President Rouhani visits Europe


  "As the Iranian President continues his landmark visit to Europe, Syrian children have been photographed with posters calling on leaders to oppose his alleged intervention in the country’s civil war.

 Pro-rebel activists in Aleppo, where civilians have been indiscriminately bombed during continuing battles between the Syrian regime, anti-government rebels and Islamists, claimed to have photographed the children in the rubble of their former homes.

 They were seen holding posters accusing Hassan Rouhani of being “responsible for crimes committed by the Iranian regime in Syria” and addressed Francois Hollande, asking the French President to force his counterpart to withdraw troops."

 As if there were any doubt about the Iranian invasion of Syria, or the bombing of these children's homes. Even when the Syrians being killed by Assad have their story reported at all, every effort is taken to cast doubt on their veracity.

Monday, 25 January 2016

David Nott interview: War surgeon reveals how healthcare workers are being 'systematically' targeted in Syria

Dr David Nott at his offices; he is calling for a no-bombing zone in Syria protected by the international community

  'As he looks back over photos of his last visit to Aleppo, Syria, he pauses for a moment over a picture of two young doctors, smiling at the camera in their blue scrubs.

 “He was an anaesthetist I knew. He was killed two weeks ago last year. An air-to-ground missile,” Dr Nott says, sad but matter-of-fact, pointing to one of the pair. “And he was killed not long before,” he says, indicating the other. “Doctors are targeted.”
 In the grim logic that has taken hold among the forces of President Bashar al-Assad and his allies, “healthcare is seen as a weapon”, he says. “You take out one doctor, you take out 10,000 people he or she can no longer care for.”
 “Nearly nobody is reporting this, the direct attacks on healthcare and healthcare workers,” he told The Independent last month, citing figures from the NGO Physicians for Human Rights, which recorded 23 attacks on medical facilities in Syria in October and November last year – all but one by Syrian government or Russian forces.
 The United Nations Office for Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs also reported that 20 health facilities were struck or damaged by aerial bombs dropped by the Assad regime or its allies in October and November, and that many aid organisations have had to scale back or suspend their operations as a result of increasing attacks. In December, Amnesty International said Russian air strikes had killed hundreds of civilians – and hit medical facilities.
 Aid workers believe the increasing frequency of such attacks suggest a strategy. Nott has long been convinced that both Syrian – and now Russian – forces are intentionally hitting hospitals: a view that is shared by the Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, who accused the Russians of deliberately targeting civilians, hospitals and ambulances after speaking to Syrian civil defence workers in Southern Turkey earlier this month. 
 “The nature of the bombing has changed so completely in the past few months. It has to be the Russians,” Dr Nott says. “Russian jets fly very high up. Syrian jets fly lower, firing rockets and missiles. The Russian planes tend to be 10,000ft up and you don’t see it, you just see the weapon hitting the hospital,” he says.
 “The British are fighting Isis – fair enough – but this is happening daily and has been forgotten about.”
 In 2013, he called for humanitarian corridors to be set up to support populations trapped in conflict zones. Now, he says, a no-bombing zone is urgently needed over Aleppo and Idlib provinces, which the international community should set up, even if it meets with Russian opposition.
 “It has to be achieved. Somebody has to stand up and say, ‘The humanitarian situation is so bad that this has to be achieved’. It is a systematic destruction of the healthcare system: a weapon of war which Syria and Russia are using at the moment. That has to stop.

 Make it an area refugees could come back to, protected by a peacekeeping force – I’m sure Assad and Russia would not start attacking any Americans that were there.” '

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Syria's real life stories

Image result for Syria's real life stories

Robin Yassin-Kassab:

"Living conditions are absolutely unbearable, in some places people are actually starving to death. There's constant barrel bombing, etc., etc., chemical weapons, and so on. Having said that, the inspiring thing, and the thing the media really hasn't covered very well, is that there are over 400 democratically elected local councils in Syria.

 Now this is something that is quite amazing, and I can't understand why we're not talking about it much more, because in the previous decade the West was invading the Middle East, to bring them democracy supposedly, on the back of tanks, and that didn't really work out. Now, out of necessity, in places where the state has collapsed, or has been driven back; people have got together, they've organised elections, and they've got local councils that are trying to keep life going in the most difficult of situations. These people should be part of the solution.

 They've done it in different ways in different places, but in some ways they are elections as we would recognise here. So, for example, in the south, where the dominant militia is the Southern Front, a group of Free Army militias, they have refused to enter into alliances with Jabhat al-Nusra, the al-Qaida group, they have had no problem at all with people organising elections in the south. The leaders of militias were not allowed to stand, so we've got civilian councils.

 And the reason why those people must be part of the solution, is not only because they are democrats, but because they would allow for a decentralisation of power in the future. Now for example, currently in Syria, because of this war, we have explosive polarisations, ethnic and sectarian. In the future, it may be, in a liberal, coastal city like Tartous, which has many Christians and Alawis living in it; the local council may decide - when they get their own local council, it's under régime control, so they don't have their own, at least not in public, at the moment - if they have their own local council, they may decide that alcohol should be freely available in Tartous, whereas a conservative Sunni city like Hama or Deir Ezzor, they may decide, the local council in the area may decide that alcohol should be illegal. In that way, with decentralisation, you could allow for people with very different ideas and traditions in the same country in the future.

 Most people are not able to leave the country. You need at least one or two thousand* dollars to get someone to smuggle you over the border. There are however some people who have decided to stay, either because they've seen some neighbours who've gone off to live in Beirut for a year, and their money run out, and they came home and the army had taken their house, or another family was living in their house, or their furniture had been stolen, and they wished they'd never left. There's that. And there is also the issue that some people are so committed to the situation, that if they are going to die, they want to die on their own soil, and they want to stay doing the best they can for their community.

 We've seen the absolute depravity of the human being in Syria over the last five years. We've seen absolute horrors, people torturing children to death, a mass rape campaign; at the same time, we've seen really inspiring human stories of people being self-sacrificing, and creative, and intelligent, in the most difficult of circumstances.

 We saw Mr. Fallon, the British minister, the other day pointing out that 80% of Russia's bombs are not dropping on ISIS. They're dropping on the opposition to both Assad and ISIS, the people that we need for a solution. Now a peace process under the aegis of the power that's backing Assad and murdering the Syrian people is not going to work, it's not going to be acceptable, it's not going to begin to work. And it's rather irresponsible to be pretending we've got a peace process going on, when this enormous catastrophe on the Eastern Mediterranean, with huge implications for everybody's security, is still escalating and intensifying, the Russian intervention has made it much, much longer, it will go on for years more I would expect. It's getting much worse, it's a huge problem, it's growing exponentially, and we're pretending there's a peace process, when there isn't."

 "I remember the story of my friend Aziz Assad from  Salamiyeh. He was in prison for two years before the revolution started, when he was 19, for writing an article for a French magazine. As soon as he came out of prison, the revolution started, and he was involved in the local coordination committee in Salamiyeh. He then became a media activist working with the Free Army. And then he ended up leaving the country, because he was being threatened by ISIS and Nusra and people like this, as well as being in danger from the Assad régime. This kind of encapsulates the tragedy of the whole thing.

  I remember Raed Fares, the director of the media centre in Kafranbel, he's a great character; I remember him being being asked, 'If you'd known what was going to happen, would you have come out 
in the spring of and demonstrated?" And he said, no, absolutely not, if had any idea that this would happen, that so many people would die, the country would be burned, no, I would have stayed at home. But here we are now, this is the situation we find ourselves in, there's no going back, and all we can do is keep going. Of course many of them are now out of the country, or dead, or disappeared; but there are still hundreds of local councils, for example, in Syria, which not many people talk about. Everybody's heard of ISIS, nobody's heard of the Syrians who have organised democratically selected local councils, which are keeping life going in the most difficult of circumstances, in the war zone. So those people still exist, and a lot of the ones outside have said to us that they want to go back; as soon as they feel safe they will go back and continue agitating for freedom and democracy.

 I'm not against bombing ISIS, if the people doing the bombing, as I think the British are at the moment, are very careful to try and not hit civilians, which will help the ISIS narrative. I think that ISIS is being pushed back, certainly from the Kurdish areas. I think the West should be working far more with Arab opposition militias, people who've already driven ISIS out of their areas, to continue driving ISIS further back. Having said that, none of that is going to change the big problem, because even if ISIS itself is defeated, something will come and replace it. Jabhat al-Nusra, for example, the al-Qaida franchise, which is less extreme than ISIS, it's also much more intelligent at embedding itself in Syrian society, and a lot of people who don't like al-Qaida's politics in Syria, are willing to work on the battlefield with al-Qaida, with al-Nusra, because they see the greater enemy as the régime which is barrel bombing them.

 At the moment, the Syrian people are being attacked by Iran, by transnational Shia militias, by Russia - 80% of Russia's airstrikes are not hitting ISIS, they are hitting the opposition to ISIS and Assad - and there are British and French planes mixed up in there too, and there are American planes. The Syrian people on the ground, all they can see is, everyone is bombing us, the western Christians, the Eastern Christians, the Shia are attacking us, maybe it's because we're Sunni Muslims. The only thing they're not attacking is Bashar al-Assad, the man who is responsible for 95% of the civilian casualties, and the vast majority of the displacement.

 So the narrative, or the vacuum, which allows these transnational jihadis to step in and take advantage, that's the real problem that has to be dealt with, and so long as Assad and his allies are bombing people from the sky, this radicalisation will continue and grow."

*Corrected from "hundred".