Saturday, 14 May 2016

Assad is considering genocide and has Russian backing to act with impunity

Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad

 'Last week the Syrian regime bombed Al-Kamouna camp for internally displaced people on the outskirts of Idlib. Moscow and Damascus both resorted immediately to deception in order to ward off any accusations of responsibility for this criminal act. They accused Al-Nusra Front of killing those displaced in a camp which is in an area under the group’s control. Washington also participated in the deception, with the secretary of state saying no more than “nothing justifies attacks on civilians.”
 What is the result of this lack of responsibility demonstrated by Russia and the US? The alarming answer to this question is the legitimisation of genocide. With the escalation of the conflict and the heated search for an end to a crisis that has become more complicated both internally and externally, the regime believes that it has a solution supported by its Iranian and Russian allies – genocide — elements of which it has adopted periodically since 2011 in a repeat of the 1982 Hama massacre that the US also chose to overlook.
 An example of this genocidal mentality and its justification can be seen in the heinous acts committed by the Kurds from Afrin on the bodies of those they’ve killed. It was one of the ugliest incidents of the war, but it happened and passed without anyone addressing it, as if it was something normal.

study conducted by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for West Asia (UNESCWA) and Britain’s University of St Andrews, is shocking: “Millions are deprived of the essential necessities of life: 13.5 million are in need of human assistance and 12.1 million lack adequate access to water, sanitation and waste disposal, over 4 million of whom live in Damascus, its suburbs, and Aleppo.” These are areas that the regime intends finish off in order to achieve what Assad called “the final victory” in a telegram thanking Vladimir Putin.
 What was revealed in Aleppo and then in the bombing of the Kamuna camp was not only the approach of genocide or the difficulty in reaching a comprehensive truce, but also the US-Russian efforts to cover up the false “political solution” that actually aims to subordinate the Syrian conflict to the war criminal Assad and his gang of killers. Perhaps this approach to the logic of genocide is what pushed the French, the British and the Germans to sound the alarm bells, which is what the Arabs and Turks did before them. They support the American action and understand much of its aspects, despite its vagueness and confusion. However, they reject the idea of the Americans following the Russian-Iranian approach and justifying and overlooking Assad’s crimes.
 The Europeans believe that there is a vast difference between using the US-Russian understanding to urge Assad and the opposition to come to a political understanding that requires commitments and concessions, and using this understanding to please the Iranians and encourage the Syrian president to carry out a military takeover and protect him from any accountability or responsibility. What is more important is that the Europeans who wanted to alleviate or ease the waves of refugees and therefore accepted a political solution, albeit one that is unfair to the opposition, realised that the Americans and Russians lied in terms of the truce being upheld or the feasibility of the proposed political process.
 What is happening now is that the difficulty in establishing a truce and ensuring that it is respected and upheld by the regime and the Iranians has made it difficult to get the opposition to return to the Geneva talks, because the game that is being played with people’s lives has been exposed. Now the regime does not even want the unfair settlement, as it wants to break the truce deliberately in order to hinder negotiations. This is what drove the Europeans to call for a new initiative, as the formulation stemming from the Vienna talks, that later became UN Resolution 2254 has been ruined — and destroyed — by the Russians, Assad and the Iranians.'

Friday, 13 May 2016

Syrian Regime Blocks Aid Convoy and Shells Civilians Who Gathered to Receive It

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 'On Thursday, Omar eagerly awaited the arrival of an international aid convoy that was scheduled to bring medicine and baby formula into Daraya. It would have been the first convoy to reach Daraya since it was first besieged in 2012 — but the trucks didn't make it to the town.

 According to the ICRC, it was turned away at the last checkpoint outside of Daraya. Just minutes after the convoy was sent back, the Local Council of Daraya — a committee that operates as the local government — reported that the Syrian army had shelled a group of civilians who'd gathered to receive the aid. A father and son were killed and five other civilians were injured, the council said.
After the shelling, Omar rushed to a nearby field hospital where the wounded were being treated.
"The people are now filled with frustration and anger," he told VICE News via messaging app. "To be honest, at this point we no longer trust the international community or the UN."
 Though it's just a 20-minute drive from the center of Damascus, Daraya is one of the most isolated places in Syria: it's been under siege for over four years, and it's one of the few areas where no aid convoys have ever been permitted to enter. According to residents interviewed by VICE News, people survive on meager meals of lentil and rice soup that are often fortified with weeds or grass. The water supply was cut off two years ago. 
 The UN later reported that regime soldiers at the last checkpoint outside of Daraya began removing medical and nutritional items for children — everything except vaccines — from the convoy. Speaking to reporters in New York, UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said that Staffan de Mistura, the UN's special envoy for Syria, and Jacob el-Hillo, its humanitarian coordinator for the country, "made the decision not to go through because these key items were taken out" despite the fact that the regime had already authorized their delivery.
 But less than an hour after the UN accused the Syrian regime of pilfering supplies, the UN and ICRC released a joint statement with no reference to the removal of items in the Daraya mission. The convoy was simply "refused entry," the statement said.
 Pawel Krzysiek, an ICRC spokesperson who was traveling with the convoy, also stressed that the convoy didn't turn back because certain items were removed. The convoy had waited for more than seven hours at the regime checkpoint outside of Daraya before being turned away, he said, noting that he didn't think the soldiers at the checkpoint had any intention of permitting the convoy into the besieged area.
 Daraya has endured round after round of atrocities. Shortly before the siege was imposed in November 2012, nearly 500 residents were killed in just two and a half days in one of the most bloody massacres of the Syrian civil war. For most of the last four years, Daraya has been pounded from the air — locals say Assad's forces dropped more than 6,800 barrel bombs between January 2014 and February 2016, when a cessation of hostilities agreement was reached between the regime and some rebels groups. Over the course of the war, what was once a city of 80,000 people has dwindled to a ghost town of 8,000.
 Muhammad Shihadeh, an English teacher who works with the Local Council, said that the failure of Thursday's aid convoy fits within the regime's pattern of behavior.
 "I believe its revenge," he told VICE News via-messaging app. "The regime is trying to take revenge against the people by starving it, even as they allow aid to other places within Syria." '

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Women emerge as changemakers in war-torn Syria

 'As in a number of Arab countries, many of Syria's women were largely confined to traditional roles before the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the outbreak of war. Now, however, more and more women are at the forefront of new efforts to solve local problems and counter the death and destruction that has engulfed the country.

 One of the ways they've done this is by starting their own independent magazines and radio stations, such as Jasmine Syria, Sayedet Souriya, Radio Souriyat and Nasaem Radio, which focus on highlighting the daily struggles of Syrian women amid the conflict."The stereotypical image of women presented in media reflects a patriarchal society," said Reem al-Halabi, director of Nasaem Radio, which is based in the northwestern city of Aleppo. "Women's interests are not limited to fashion, beauty, cooking, family and children. This image does not reflect the real interests or concerns of Syrian women or how hard they are working to take part in building their country."

 More women are also launching community initiatives, such as Women Now for Development, a center formed by women in 2012 in the besieged town of Hazza in the Damascus countryside to provide training in new skills. The initiative focuses on young women who have had to quit school due to the security situation and widows who need to generate income to support their families. Layla, the manager of Women Now for Development, said the conflict had paradoxically "opened new horizons" for some Syrian women. "They are more self-confident and not afraid to express their opinions anymore, and this is reflected in the way they raise their children and deal with their husbands and the society around them," said Layla, who asked that her real name not be used for security reasons.Layla added that Women Now's workshops about women's rights have contributed to increasing the number of women who voted in local council elections in Eastern Ghouta, a suburb of the Syrian capital, Damascus.

 "Since the revolution began, Syrian women have shown an interest in politics," she said. "They do not base their opinions on what men say; they form their own opinions by analyzing the news themselves."

 Another such initiative is the Network of Guardians, which was founded by a group of young women in 2012 and provides training in caring for children during emergencies – for example, how to deal with the psychological shock many children suffer after a bombing. The organization also works with educators in schools in Ghouta, near the capital, and northwestern Idlib to develop school curricula that take into consideration war and its influence on children.

 "My work with the Network of Guardians helped me develop management skills, which was something I never learned in college," said Hiba, a fourth-year architecture student at the University of Damascus who had to quit her studies because of the security situation, especially the random arrests at checkpoints between Damascus and her home in Douma. "The current conflict in Syria has played a positive role in breaking the stereotype of women as housewives. Women today have a great opportunity and they should take advantage of it, especially with the number of men being lost in Syria to the fighting, imprisonment and abduction."

In the city of Raqqa in northeastern Syria, Suad Nofal has become a symbol of resistance to tyranny. For a long time, she had opposed the Syrian regime. Later, she confronted the Islamic State. Since she had been a well-known teacher in Raqqa, she initially succeeded in opening a dialogue with a number of IS fighters who were former students, which irritated IS's foreign leaders. They banned their fighters from talking to her, then they began to harass and threaten Suad and issued a fatwa ordering her execution, which forced her to move to Turkey in 2013.'

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

In exile from Syria, humanitarian workers recall death threats, prison and torture

Humanitarians Mariah Abadeh, Houda Atassi and Sandra Bitarova were honored in Washington D.C. by CARE. (Carey Wagner/CARE)

 'In April 2011, as protesters began gathering in Homs’ Clock Square, Atassi joined them. Like many women, she brought her children along. For hours, she said, people stood and peacefully protested, for “freedom, justice, dignity, and pride.” Around midnight, regime forces began shooting.

 “I saw the first man killed. He was killed in front of his wife and children. My children were so afraid. We left, running to the car,” said Atassi. Though they escaped unharmed, she said, “this made me look for victims of the regime … This is when I decided to help.”

 In late 2012, her son, who was then 17, was detained at a Red Cross checkpoint in Homs while en route to distribute supplies to protesters. He was released only a week later.

 “Then myself and my family received direct threats for our humane work,” said Atassi. “That’s when we decided to leave.”

 Before fleeing Syria, Sandra Bitarova told Women in the World, she was detained twice for getting involved in humanitarian work there. This included connecting protesters with media outlets to share videos of their demonstrations, and distributing supplies, such as baby milk, in central Homs. The first time Bitarova was detained for only 24 hours. But the second time she said she was held for 35 days. While in jail, she said, “I kept hearing people screaming out of torture, and smelling burning flesh.”

 “I am one of the lucky few who didn’t get physically tortured, but there was psychological torture,” she said. “They were saying: ‘You will be next’ and ‘Where is your sister? We hear she is active too.’”

 After being released, Bitarova said she received information from a government agent, who later defected, that she would be arrested a third time. This time, the agent said, she would not be released. “He said you have two days to vanish,” according to Bitarova. And so, in August 2012, she and her sister fled the country.

 The women described a continued lack of basic services in many areas of Syria, random searches and arrests by government forces, millions who have lost their homes, children who have never been to school, and no recourse for government violations. “Anybody who does open a mouth is detained and tortured, eventually leading to death,” claimed Atassi.

 While Atassi said the general atmosphere of fear increased after the extremist group ISIS — or Daesh, as it is known in Syria — began seizing large parts of the country, the main terror remains Assad’s forces.

 “We always have to have hope, because without hope, we are not going to be living creatures,” said Atassi. “Our hope is to get rid of this crisis and this war… But I implore the world community to stick to their resolution to get Assad out, because as long as Assad is there, the problems are not going to end.”'