Tuesday, 29 March 2016

'Liberation' of ancient Palmyra came at huge cost, say opposition activists

The ancient ruins of Palmyra are on UNESCO's World Heritage list.

 'A 30-year-old activist from the anti-Assad Palmyra Revolutionary Coordination Committee, who asked to be referred to as Abdul Majd al-Tadmuri, told Fairfax Media "the regime wants to show the whole world with Russian support that they are the only force that can stand up against IS's barbarity ... but that's not true".

 The local opposition group, which started in July 2011 after the revolution against Dr Assad turned bloody, still receives footage from activists on the ground using satellite phones in hidden sites around the city. It said in a statement that Russian raids over a week had destroyed half of Palmyra's infrastructure.

 "When Palmyra was invaded in May 2015 by the Islamic State, it was more of a swap between the regime and the terrorists," 'Abdul Majd' said. "The Syrian forces withdrew from their military stronghold in the city centre, the airport, the prison, to the deserted areas outside of the city." '

Monday, 28 March 2016

Syrian exiles speak, five years into the war

Syrian exiles speak, five years into the war

 'University student Mais (29) found herself in the southern city of Deraa when the first major security crackdown took place on March 18th, 2011.

 “A lot of revolutionaries were in the streets calling for freedom when the solders started firing on them,” she recalled. That day, at least five were killed and dozens of others detained by security forces, never to be seen again.

 “The people woke up from their numbness,” she said. When her brother, an activist, was abducted and found dead outside Damascus in 2012, Mais blamed the regime’s security forces.  “I left Syria for Turkey because we lost my brother and my family didn’t want to lose me too. Also I’m a girl if they [the security forces] took me at that time I would be raped by them.” '

Former ISIS Hostage: 'We Need A New Narrative'

Image for the news result

 Nicolas Hénin:

"They are not enemies. They cooperate together. ISIS needs the regime to kill Syrians in huge numbers, so then, ISIS can come and tell the Sunnis in Syria we are the bad guys powerful enough to protect you. We are like your godfathers. Because as long as ISIS is here, the West will be terrified and will say, maybe, Bashar al-Assad is the lesser problem. This regime, which claims that it fights terrorism, that it is secular. It is nothing like that. All the foreign fighters who joined the Iraqi insurgency in the early years of the American occupation of Iraq, they all transited through Syria! And this transit was managed by the Syrian intelligence. The regime played with terrorism to ensure its future.

Assad needs ISIS to survive. He released Jihadi prisoners at the very early stages of the revolution, he declared an amnesty. But this amnesty did not concern all the democrats. They stayed in prison. All the political prisoners in jail, they stayed in jail. But all the Jihadis, they were released because he wanted a civil war, he wanted this revolution to become a civil war. And for the very same reason he also created tremendous fear among the minorities in the country. So that the Syrian Christians, for instance, are convinced that if ever the revolution succeeds then they will be either dead or will have to flee, which was at least at the beginning totally wrong. Yes, there is definitely now concerns for the future of minorities in Syria. But at its early stage it was just people begging for its freedom.

 One of our main mistakes is to believe that ISIS is the problem. No, ISIS is just the result of the problem. If we fight only ISIS, is just like if we fight fever but don’t care of the disease. No, we have to fight the disease. And the disease, what is it? It is the massacres being committed against the Syrian population. Since the beginning of the revolution over 300 thousand Syrians have been killed. Do you know that the Syrian regime has killed between seven to ten times more civilians, since the beginning of the civil war, than ISIS? So it is our short view on this, and our only focus on ISIS and terrorism because we are afraid of these guys. And it’s normal because it’s their job to terrorize us. It is this which creates the conditions for ISIS to become prosperous."

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Syrian recounts flight from civil war, struggle for acceptance

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 'Syrian refugee Lawrence Powell was born in the wrong place at the wrong time, a secret "criminal" whose family disowned him as civil war erupted in his homeland. 

 "No one in my family or friends knew I was gay," he recalled Friday evening. "It's a crime in Syria. It's a scandal socially." 

 Then came the Arab Spring of 2011, which led to rulers being ousted from Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen. In Syria, though, rebels pushing for freedom of speech, jobs and education were killed by President Bashar al-Assad's regime. 

 "Blood brings blood," Lawrence said. "When people are being killed, they seek revenge. It was a real revolution. Then the revolution was stolen. ISIS came, Hezbollah came, the Free Syrian Army came. Unfortunately, this revolution by good people was stolen."

 When Lawrence refused to be seduced by a high-ranking government official, he was jailed for three months.

 "After jail, my family knew. To be outed by police - this is a scandal. And I am the oldest son, so I am like a role model for the family. So I was disowned."

 That's a bit of an understatement. His brothers pummeled him brutally, and Lawrence's sisters helped him escape through a window while the brothers took a break. George helped Lawrence move to Lebanon in 2013 while trying to obtain either U.S. or Canadian tourist visas. Neither country cooperated. But finally, after medical exams, background checks and repeated interviews, the treasured U.S. visa came through. The couple flew to Houston and visited George's family members en route to Colorado. They loved Lawrence, too.

 "They all showed me all the love," Lawrence said, beaming. "Even George's mother, who is 94 years old and very conservative. But after a day, she loved me so much.

 Personally, I have a good life, and everyone is welcoming me. But I want to tell the people that Middle Easterners aren't terrorists. We have the same fears you do. We just escaped from the war. We want to be productive, we want to work." '

Muzna Al-Naib speaking about Palmyra

 Muzna al-Naib:

"The city is not saved. ISIS and Assad are basically two faces of the same coin. I spoke today to activists inside of Palmyra, they said nothing has changed. Before ISIS took this city, the artifacts were looted by Assad's shabiha, and the city has long been known to Syrians as the site of one of most horrific prisons, where people have been tortured to death. At least 1,800 people have been killed in the 80s, in seven massacres, and basically the city has been bombed with cluster bombs for the last few weeks, causing more than 50% of the neighbourhoods in the city to be destroyed.

 This is the perfect propaganda game. The city was handed to Daesh, to ISIS, according to the former attorney-general of Palmyra, who spoke about this; and now it was taken again. So as the loss of Palmyra was the perfect coin to get international attention, now the regaining of Palmyra is the same thing.

 There are two evils on the ground. The people on the ground are fighting both, but the outside world are more concerned about the artifacts than the people on the ground. No-one can claim they are more devastated about what is happening to the heritage of Syria than Syrians; but come on, human life is more important, the protection of civilians should be the priority of any narrative about Syria, and there is no excuse for putting all the attention on the artifacts and playing the propaganda game of Assad and ISIS.

 What needs to happen now is the protection of civilians. There are so many prisons right now in Syria where people are being tortured to death. The tragedy of Palmyra prison shouldn't have been repeated, shouldn't be going on right now. Inside Sednaya prison, people are dying in horrific ways right now. We need the world to act. We need them to prioritise human lives, our human values, rather than historical artifacts."