Saturday, 28 May 2016

In Syria, a slow-motion genocide while diplomats chatter

Car bombing aftermath

  Janine di Giovanni:

 The challenge we face now is to transform these possibilities into the reality of an agreement,” U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry declared, referring to a “basic framework” for a united, non-sectarian Syria.

 Those words mean nothing to the fighters on the ground, who continue to push for more territory. In Aleppo, missiles fall and helicopters whir in the sky. In Daraya, a suburb of Damascus that has been besieged by Syrian government forces since 2012, 8,000 inhabitants are starving.

 In August 2012, I defied government rules by sneaking into Daraya after what locals had called a massacre and the government called a prisoner swap gone wrong. Three hundred people were dead. One of the first witnesses I met was an injured man, a mechanic, searching for his elderly father. They had been separated during the fighting and the mechanic had lost his eye. The smell of dead bodies was overwhelming. We searched for a while, together, and the mechanic eventually found his father's body, rotting, in a farmhouse outside of town.

 “This is not my Syria,” he told me, weeping. “This is not my Syria.”

 I spent four years gathering testimonies in my notebook. I met Nada, a young activist from Latakia, who was taken from her home, placed into a tiny cell and beaten and raped for months by government police and security services. “They used my body to practice their judo moves.”

 Hassan, a law student from Homs, was tortured by regime physicians who operated on him without anaesthetic. He escaped by pretending to be dead and was tossed on top of a pile of corpses. One of them was his brother's.

 But the worst was the little boy who followed me around a displaced persons camp near Azaz. He had no face, only a hole for a mouth and a hole for a nose. His father told me the story of hearing “the worse thing in the world, the screams of your own child’s pain”  after his son was struck by a rocket inside his home in Hama.

 The war in Syria will eventually end, and the battered country will be sewn back together.  But we missed many opportunities to prevent the war, or to stop it. The initial days of the uprising might have been a time for the U.S. to pressure Assad not to kill his own people.  The crossing of the chemical weapon “red line” in 2013 was another chance.

 But the war continued, as did the death toll.  How do we explain  – to the living, to the survivors, to the orphans, to those who lost homes, families and livelihoods – how we stood back and did nothing?'

The Morning They Came For Us by Janine di Giovanni

Atma camp Syria

 It's useful to understand that the rĂ©gime's use of rape as a weapon has made it impossible to live again under it's rule, and has silenced the victim's voice to the extent that it doesn't appear at all in the mainstream media's There Are Atrocities On All Sides narrative. We here about ISIS and sex slaves, we hear nothing about this atrocity.

Robin-Yassin Kassab:

 "The fear of rape is perhaps the greatest factor in making the rebellious population flee. Giovanni gathers victims’ experiences both as journalist and as a UNHCR researcher, and she recounts the double trauma of violation and retelling. Here the tragedy accumulates. Searching for rape survivors in Atma camp she comes across a burned 11-year-old, his mouth “nothing more than a hole” his nose non-existent, his ears flaps of skin “stretched tight into pink crevasses”.

 Giovanni attended the aftermath of the regime’s August 2012 massacre of at least 300 civilians in Darayya, a suburb west of Damascus. The war correspondent Robert Fisk, she notes, entered Darayya on the same day, embedded with the regime army, and described the rebels as the perpetrators. Giovanni went in with civilians, interviewing locals. None of them corroborated Fisk’s story. Nor did Human Rights Watch, nor Darayya’s local coordination committee. Of course, once Giovanni’s article appeared, her Syrian visa was revoked."

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

'Waiting for the World': An Interview with One of Aleppo's Last Doctors

Photo Gallery: 'Fear and Desperation'

 'For almost four years now, eastern Aleppo has been the target of bombing by the Syrian air force, with Russia joining the bombardment as of last September. The cease-fire announced in February only briefly changed the situation. Beginning in April, the Syrian army again increased its targeting of civilians. Prior to the war, thousands of doctors worked in the city, which was once home to a million people. In the eastern part of Aleppo, only around 30 doctors remain today. Osama Abo El Ezz, a 30-year-old surgeon, is one of the few still holding out.

 SPIEGEL: Did the April 27 attack on the al-Quds hospital have an impact on you and your work?
 Ezz: Absolutely, even if they aren't bombing us, we still run to the cellar every time jets appear over the city. They are able to target much more precisely than they could before when they dropped their untargeted barrel bombs. They were savagely powerful, but they hit their target less often. Today they do hit their targets. And they obviously want to hit and kill the last doctors and nurses in eastern Aleppo.

 SPIEGEL: And you? Will you stay on?
 Ezz: I won't go. If we doctors leave, we are not only robbing the people of their chance to get medical treatment, but also of the hope that our city will survive. There is no replacement for anyone who leaves or dies. Many people here are being driven crazy by fear and desperation. Children are hysterical and are wetting themselves. The elderly get heart palpitations when they hear the sound of the jets. Three months ago, rockets killed an entire family in the Firdaus quarter, except for the seven-year-old son. We took him to the hospital and treated his injuries, but then we had to tend to the other patients. He suddenly began to shake uncontrollably. He had swallowed all the pills he could find. We were just able to save him.

 SPIEGEL: You don't think the attacks are random?
 Ezz: No, they never were. I had three colleagues with whom I provided care to wounded protesters starting in 2011. In May 2012, they were arrested together at a regime checkpoint. Seventy-two hours later, residents found three charred bodies that were taken to the coroner. The families of the three then identified them. Any person providing medical aid is risking their life. Why are they killing us? It is not enough for them to kill people every day in Aleppo. They also want to destroy any chance that they can be treated. Assad's regime has swept away the universal idea that doctors should be spared along with all other humanitarian principles. No government cares that we are all being killed one after the other. Human rights and all that? They are empty words. Like all the others who are still staying here, I am nonetheless waiting for the world to stop being indifferent about our fate. What choice do we have anyway? Should we give up and flee?

 SPIEGEL: Since the beginning of the revolution, you have campaigned for the release of arrested doctors as well as providing care for the injured. Did you envision yourself being involved in a war, even years later?
 Ezz: No. In 2011 I was beaten after protests together with 27 other colleagues and 14 of us were arrested, but we were released again the next day. We founded the network Nur al-Hayat, or Light of Life. We wanted to defend peaceful demonstrations and treat people who had been shot. But then I learned that the military's secret service was searching for me. Colleagues were murdered and I had to abandon my work at the university hospital and go underground. Later we founded the Aleppo Doctors Council and attempted to continue providing medical care.

 SPIEGEL: What do you tell your family regarding your decision to remain in Aleppo?
 Ezz: My wife and the three children are now living in Turkey. When we speak about it, I always tell them that our life is in God's hands. I hope he will protect me. But if I die in our hospital, at least that is the right place. I could leave the city and die anywhere in the world in a traffic accident. That would be a betrayal of all those who hope that this criminal regime will one day be gone. I don't want my children to grow up as refugees. They should be able to live in Syria as free people.

 SPIEGEL: Did you have hope when the cease-fire was announced in February?
 Ezz: Of course I had hope. As fragile as this peace may have been, at least the people had a chance to catch their breath after years of fighting and bombing that had indiscriminately hit residential areas, markets, bakeries and hospitals. But of course the attacks have begun again -- and they have been even more intense in recent weeks than they were before. I have lost so many friends and colleagues in the last five years -- and now it looks as though Aleppo, or at least the eastern half of it, is simply going to be destroyed completely.

 SPIEGEL: What do you believe to be the purpose of the attacks?
 Ezz: To rid Aleppo of all people, just like in Homs. And then to hunt down anyone who has ever stood up against Assad's regime. To not allow the original residents to return, but rather to change the demographics of the city and the entire country -- even if that means the destruction of Syria.'

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Ex-detainee tells about horror of Sednaya Prison, 285 Security Branch

Ex-detainee tells about horror of Sednaya Prison, 285 Security Branch

 'Doctor Kamal Muhee al-Deen al-Jum’a devoted himself to the work of Coordination Committees since the onset of the Syrian revolution. He worked in Ma’aret al-Nu’maan and countryside of Aleppo. He secretly transported medication between the two cities to help the injured; however, a colleague doctor in surgery department of Aleppo University Hospital reported him which led to his detention.

 He refused to confess although he was severely tortured for 45 days and he was unconscious for days. Kamal was transferred from the 285 Security Branch to Sednaya Prison where there are three wings; one for the political prisoners, the white wing for civilians, and the red wing for terrorists. Kamal says, “whoever faces terrorism charges is put in the red prison. The red prison is known to be the prison of death and daily killings. Very few survive the red wing.”

 Kamal lived through a daily death experience in the red wing. There is no language to describe the ugliness and savagery the ex-detainee experienced in Sednaya Prison in addition to cases of scabies, lice, furuncles, infections, and tuberculosis. Kamal tried to treat the different diseases with primitive methods and to offer treatment to injured to ease their pains as he was injured himself.

 Kamal adds, “they used to give us moldy salt, jam, and bread. Animals would not eat the food they gave us. They physically and psychologically torture us as they give the food. This is not to mention the endless humiliations.”

The dormitory was 5 meter of length and 3 meters of width, Kamal was assigned with 100 other prisoners to the dormitory.

 The red wing detainees do not forget the morning and evening deportation of prisoners either to hospital or to security branches for further interrogations. Whoever was deported in the evening is usually shot directly or hanged.

 After a year and 8 months in Sednaya Prison, Kamal was taken to Military Court in Qaboon. There, he was tortured with others in a collective torture. He was deported suddenly to al-Baluneh Prison in Homs. Al-Bauneh is the military prison subordinate to Sednaya; however, it was better conditions for him and his colleagues there and he could see his wife for half an hour. There are three dormitories underground. The prisoners were granted one-hour break to see sun light.

 Kamal signed on his release papers on 9th of March 2016. He was released on 13th of April carrying his ID and a hope that did not leave him. Kamal al-Jum’a returned to his house in al-Ghadfa town in Idlib countryside. He is trying to heal himself physically and psychologically to return to life with a bigger determination without giving up to any tyrant or jailor.'

There is no ’Syrian government’

 "In most of western political discourse - and the ongoing peace negotiations - a tripartite is used when describing the current political situation in Syria. We have the so-called ’Islamic State’, a terrorist organization that rules mostly desert area and some bigger cities, ’the rebels’, various groups from moderates to Islamists that hold scattered areas throughout the country and the ’Syrian government’, the regime that ruled all of Syria until 2011 and which is still led by Bashar al-Assad. Such a description would be unproblematic if the used terms wouldn’t be connoted with highly normative content. 

 No one doubts that the ’Islamic State’ has no legitimacy whatsoever in ruling any square meter of Syria as its aims and methods are widely believed to be inhumane and nonnegotiable. The term ’rebels’, sometimes replaced by ’insurgents’, ’the armed uprising’ or ’the Syrian opposition’ is not necessarily negatively charged. Still, it describes a questionable, dubious and often doubtful movement, rather shaped by aspiration to receive legitimacy and the entitlement to govern than the natural right to do so. The mostly-used term ’rebels’ also (mis-)leads as an antonym to the remaining party as it defines it as the legitimate ruling body of Syria - the ’Syrian government’.

 Saying someone represents a ’government’ means acknowledging he has the ’authority’ - the power and right - to govern a country, speak for its population and represent its interests in internal and external negotiations. And there are hundreds of reasons why the reverse is true for dictator Assad and his gang.

 Yes, most people still live in government areas but this has several - not less criminal - reasons. The war, driven by dictator Assad, displaced more than 11 million people and 4.5 million have left Syria since then, most to neighboring countries and some to Europe. Another 7 million people are listed as internally displaced. Former population hubs that are now under rebel control have lost most of their population. Some fled rebel rule but most fled the ongoing regime air strikes on these areas and unbearable living conditions, caused by starvation campaigns and targeted attacks on vital infrastructure like schools, hospitals, electricity and water facilities. Up to 400.000 civilians, almost 2 percent of Syria’s population, have been killed, 9 of 10 of them by Assad’s brutal campaign against the people of Syria. So, there are many reasons why the majority of Syrians still live under Assad’s control. None of them qualifies the regime to be called ’the government’ of Syria.

he Assad regime today relies mostly on foreign support, namely from Iran and its proxies and Russia. The power of its reign doesn’t originate from inside Syria anymore. With hundreds of thousands of young men having fled looming conscription by Assad’s collapsing military, foreign ground and air forces do the job for the regime in Damascus today. This qualifies Assad at best as a proxy war lord, realistically as Tehran’s and Moscow’s puppet at the strategically important eastern shore of the Mediterranean.

 All these aspects bring us back to the question why western politicians continue to refer to Assad-loyal officials and troops as the ’Syrian government’. Continuing to refer to the Assad regime as the ’Syrian government’ contradicts all facts on the ground in Syria and ignores the atrocities and campaign of millionfold displacement this body is practicing. What the ’Syrian government’ euphemism does is legitimizing the party that continues to kill between 30 and 60 civilians per day and has no intention to stop that policy until every person in Syria is either dead, fled the country or obeys its absolute claim to power."