Saturday, 30 July 2016

Waiting for a miracle

 'Syrian authorities backed by Russia on Thursday offered safe corridors out for residents and rebels in the city of Aleppo's besieged quarters.

 Rebels and residents of Aleppo said they were skeptical of the safe-corridors offer, saying it presents them with an impossible choice between a slow death if they stay behind and possible detention if they attempt to leave. There was no sign of people massing to leave the besieged parts of the city.
 "I will not leave. I will be the last man in the city," said Mohammed Zein Khandakani, 28, a resident of the Maadi neighborhood of Aleppo who volunteers with the city's medical council. "I can't imagine ever seeing a member of this regime one more time."
 But Khandakani, formerly a lawyer who was detained for a month in the early days of the protests against the Syrian government, said he was worried about his family.
 A father of two -- the youngest a girl of 9 months -- he said that despite the risk of maltreatment and even arrest, he is urging his mother, wife and sister to use the safe passages to leave the city. He said he hopes the Russian role and intense international attention to the humanitarian corridors proposition means the government would abstain from flagrant violations.
 Few residents of eastern Aleppo said they expected good treatment if they accepted the government's offer.
 "All the passages are going to the Assad regime," said Farida, a doctor in an Aleppo hospital who gave only her first name for safety reasons. Surrendering, she said, would mean, "death or jail," while the latter would eventually mean "death in the jail."
 She acknowledged, however, that some civilians want to leave.
 Aid groups have been warning of an impending siege, and with it a humanitarian crisis, after government forces cut the last road connecting Aleppo's eastern districts to rebel-held areas to the north.
 Zaher Azzaher, an activist in Aleppo, said residents had begun to feel the pinch; one of his neighbors had acquired two barrels of fuel, and scores of people had lined up to get a share, he said.
 "People are fighting over two bags of eggplants," he said. "I don't know how these eggplants managed to find their way here."
 He said some residents hesitated to eat the food packs dropped from the air, out of fear that they might be poisoned.
 Khandakani said life has progressively gotten harder under the 10-day old siege with bread and water shortages and electricity finally going out Wednesday.
 "The next 48 hours are fateful for the whole revolution," he said via Whatsapp.
 Youssef Rahal, a lawyer from Aleppo who left the city 10 days ago but remains in touch with people inside, said there is no way to get in vegetables or diesel fuel, which rebel-held areas used to buy from the market and transport through the now blockaded Castello Road.
 This has affected bread production. "It means some people are getting only a quarter loaf of bread a day," he said.
 Russia's defense minister said in televised comments that President Vladimir Putin has ordered a "large-scale humanitarian operation" that will begin outside Aleppo to help civilians as well as allow fighters who wanted to lay down their arms to surrender.
 Shoigu said three corridors will be open for civilians and fighters who lay down their arms and a fourth corridor will provide fighters a "safe exit with weapons."
 Bahaa Halabi, an opposition media activist inside Aleppo, said there are no corridors out of east Aleppo and even if there were, he would not take them.
 "Definitely not. We will not surrender ourselves to the criminals. They are killing us every day. Slaughtering us, starving us, and besieging civilians," he said, speaking from the city via Skype.
 Assad has issued amnesty offers several times during Syria's civil war, now in its sixth year. The latest offer, like those before it, is largely seen by opposition fighters as a publicity stunt and psychological warfare against the rebels. More than a quarter of a million people have died and millions have been displaced since March 2011, when Syria's conflict broke out.
 Khandakani said the offensive and siege is depriving him of his "brief feelings of independence and freedom" living in the part of the city under rebel control since 2012.
 "I am still waiting for a miracle. Something extraordinary, like the rebels for instance managing to open a corridor for us toward the liberated rural areas," he said.'


'Russia's "humanitarian corridor" in Syria. F**k the Putin,Obama,Assad,UN, and Arab world especially.'
'#Syria Rebels in eastern #Aleppo have enough weapons & ammo for years to resist against the siege by #Putin, #Assad & #Khamenei.'

Friday, 29 July 2016

Nusra confirms split with al-Qaeda 'to protect Syrian revolution'

 'Nusra Front leader Abu Mohamed al-Golani confirmed late on Thursday that his group has formally split from al-Qaeda and has renamed itself the Levantine Conquest Front.

 "The creation of this new front aims to close the gap between the jihadi factions in the Levant," Golani said in his first televised appearance, soon after Nusra released the first photo of the leader ever seen publicly. "By breaking our link, we aim to protect the Syrian revolution."
The split appears to be an attempt by Nusra to attract other opposition groups to unify with it, just as the US and Russia have reportedly agreed to target Nusra and the Islamic State (IS) militant group.
 Earlier this week, a writer purporting to be a Dutch associate of Nusra called Al-Maqalaat and said that the timing of the decision was "no coincidence".
 "The overall message of the break with al-Qaeda will be that the US is not enemies with al-Qaeda or any other so-called terrorist organisation, but their animosity is against the Muslim Ummah as a whole, especially the Muslims who are seeking to establish the rule of Islam," Al-Maqalaat wrote.
 "If the other parties agree to any of these preconditions, then this would be the best deal in the history of Islam, or rather mankind. If the other parties agree to these preconditions, then the breaking of ties between Jabhat Nusra and al-Qaeda will form a major backlash for the West."
 At the daily State Department news conference on Thursday, spokesman John Kirby said the US has "certainly seen no indication that would give us reason to change the designation of this group". 
  "My interpretation is that Nusra was not doing it to avoid being bombed, because it will be bombed either way," said Thomas Pierret, a lecturer in contemporary Islam at the University of Edinburgh.
 Instead, the group is "playing chess" with other rebel groups, like Ahrar al-Sham, who have long demanded that Nusra break its allegiance to al-Qaeda in order for the groups to unify. When joint Russian-US operations start, Pierret said, Nusra will be able to say it has fulfilled its end of the bargain.

 "I think there will be limited appetite among more mainline or nationalist rebel brigades to join up with the Nusra that has been picking them off one by one and progressively seizing political control in the north," Sam Heller, a Beirut-based analyst who tweets as Abu Jamajem, said.

 Both analysts said it is unlikely that Ahrar al-Sham, the other main fighting force in northern Syria, would join the new Nusra venture.
 Since its inception, they said, Ahrar has tried to avoid being designated as a terrorist group by the US, and has been successful. If Ahrar joined the new incarnation of Nusra, it would risk being blacklisted, especially as the US will likely continue to designate Nusra a terrorist organisation regardless of the split.
 "My gut feeling is that an integration between Ahrar and a non-al-Qaeda Nusra wouldn't mainstream and legitimise Nusra; to the contrary, it would just render Ahrar politically toxic," Heller said.
 Still, Pierret said, Ahrar's leadership is divided. One faction within the leadership has pushed for a "moderate line" that has included involvement in peace negotiations and abiding by ceasefires, with little pay-off for the group. 
 "So inevitably, if the line you are pushing appears to be a complete failure in the end, the countervailing line gets more weight and credit within the organisation. So I wouldn’t be surprised if the hardliners were on the rise again," Pierret said. If this faction were to join the new Nusra, he added, it would be such a strong force that it would be difficult for the rest of the organisation not to join.
 Equally, he said, other rebel groups may be eyeing the Nusra split and wondering whether this is a last-ditch opportunity, especially since the result of "playing nice" over the winter - abiding by ceasefires and participating in negotiations - is Aleppo besieged and the rebels "got exterminated," he said.
 "So what is the point of being a moderate rebel today in Syria?" he said, referring to the US-backed New Syrian Army push last month in eastern Syria, which resulted in the group being routed by IS.
 "The only credible option is to be cannon fodder for silly [US-led] anti-IS operations in the desert." '

Why’s Obama Covering for Russian War Crimes in Syria?

 'As evidence mounts that Russia is deliberately targeting civilians in Syria with cluster bombs and other anti-personnel weapons, what has long been a nagging question about Washington’s policy has now taken on real urgency:  Why is there no comment from the U.S. government is to confirm or refute the allegations of war crimes?

 A Human Rights Watch report out Thursday documents how Russian aircraft dropped cluster bombs on an informal fuel market outside Termanin, a village in Idlib province, on July 11, killing 10 and wounding more than 30 people. The victims were all civilians and included two who were first responders.
 According to HRW, three fighter aircraft, two of them SU-34s flown only by Russia, and an SU-24 that’s in both the Russian and Syrian air force, launched eight attacks: the first two of them using cluster bombs—large canisters containing dozens of tiny bomblets that scatter through the air and across the ground. Many do not explode—at first, but may kill and maim days, months, even years later.

  The Daily Beast asked the State Department how the U.S. expects to bring Russia into compliance with the 1949 Geneva Conventions’ ban on indiscriminate attacks if it doesn’t publish or otherwise inform the public of its intelligence findings. There was no response.
 One reason for U.S. silence about Russian violations is that the Obama administration has classified its intelligence findings in order to “protect sources and methods” of collection. Making that information public “would also set a precedent of the U.S. reporting on foreign military activity,” a senior administration official told us earlier this year. “Where do you draw the line?”
 But that leaves open the question of whether the U.S. government has raised the issue with Russia and how Russia responded. It also raises the larger question of whether international law as drafted after World War II will be respected when a major power violates the laws of armed conflict with impunity and there’s no public protest from the United States.
 Ever since Russia began its bombing campaign Sept. 30, the U.S. response has been largely “hands-off.” Despite public pleas by Syria’s moderate opposition and private urging by neighboring states like Turkey, the U.S. has not stepped up aid to moderate rebel forces already receiving U.S. military support, nor has it threatened the use of force or any other measures that would raise the price for Russian intervention. Instead, the administration has sought a cease-fire through what it calls diplomatic means, which it hopes will lead to a negotiated settlement of the Syrian conflict. 

 But the Russian and Syrian governments in the past month instead have gone for the kill in Aleppo, Syria’s biggest city, and now the timetable for negotiations appears to be put off until the end of August. Syrian forces, augmented by Iranian ground troops and the Lebanese Hezbollah milita and Russian air power, cut the last road to the rebel held enclave July 10. Besides surrounding the eastern part of Aleppo, which has a population of at least 300,000, the regime-led forces destroyed four of the eight hospitals and the only blood bank and forensic lab. They also dropped barrel bombs and other munitions on residential areas.
 But the Obama administration has yet to draw attention to the biggest siege since Serb forces surrounded Sarajevo from 1992 to 1995. 
 Throughout the Russian intervention in Syria, the administration has refused to clarify whether Russia or Syria is responsible for the destruction of hospitals, schools, mosques, and infrastructure protected by international law.
 In early May, after airstrikes destroyed a camp for displaced persons in northern Idlib province, Russia rejected charges that its aircraft were responsible. After Russia and the Syrian regime were accused of bombing several major hospitals in rebel-held Aleppo, a hospital in regime-held Aleppo came under attack also in early May. The government blamed rebel forces, but those forces said they didn’t have weapons that could have reached the target and said the government had launched the attack in order to claim that the rebels were a criminal force. 

 Given that the U.S. intelligence gathering capabilities in the region are extensive, especially where warplanes are concerned, Washington almost certainly knows who is doing what from the air. But there are none so blind as those who will not see, and the official refusal to acknowledge culpability undermines the efforts of those organizations and journalists who are trying to get at the truth. 

 Increasingly, it appears that the administration has written off Aleppo and with it the popular rebellion against Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad. Whatever criticism the U.S. may have stated when Russia began its armed intervention, officials now rationalized it as Moscow’s rescue of a longtime ally. 
 In March, a senior U.S. official said that Russia had intervened because rebel forces were advancing so fast that they threatened the survival of the Assad regime. There was great concern in Russia “about potential catastrophic success” under which “Assad collapses, but so do all the Syrian state institutions.” 
 The Russian intervention has returned Syria “to the stalemate,” the official said.
 On Wednesday, the State Department cast the Russian intervention in the context of Moscow’s long-term alliance with Damascus.
 Russia has “a historic defense relationship with Syria that goes well back  before the current conflict,” department spokesman John Kirby told reporters. “They’ve had basing there. They’ve had troops there. They’ve had a presence there. So it came as a shock to no one in the State Department that as the civil war progressed in Syria, that they would have interest in how things were going,” he said.
 The question of the moment, however, is why Washington seems to have no interest in the war crimes Russia commits as part of that “interest in how things were going.” '

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Syria's Secret Library

 'When a place has been besieged for years and hunger stalks the streets, you might have thought people would have little interest in books. But enthusiasts have stocked an underground library in Syria with volumes rescued from bombed buildings - and users dodge shells and bullets to reach it. Buried beneath a bomb-damaged building, it's home to a secret library that provides learning, hope and inspiration to many in the besieged Damascus suburb of Darayya.
 "We saw that it was vital to create a new library so that we could continue our education. We put it in the basement to help stop it being destroyed by shells and bombs like so many other buildings here," says Anas Ahmad, a former civil engineering student who was one of the founders.
 "In many cases we get books from bomb or shell-damaged homes. The majority of these places are near the front line, so collecting them is very dangerous," he says. "We have to go through bombed-out buildings to hide ourselves from snipers. We have to be extremely careful because snipers sometimes follow us in their sights, anticipating the next step we'll take."
 Since a temporary truce broke down in May, shells and barrel bombs have fallen almost every day. The location of the library is secret because Anas and other users fear it would be targeted by Darayya's attackers if they knew where it was.
 It turns out that even the greatly out-gunned Free Syrian Army fighters, who have the daunting task of defending the town, are avid readers.
 "Truly I swear the library holds a special place in all our hearts. And every time there's shelling near the library we pray for it," says Omar Abu Anas, a former engineering student now helping to defend his home town.

 Unfortunately for Omar, his fellow fighters and the people of Darayya, they may soon have little time for reading. Over the past two weeks Syrian government forces and their Hezbollah allies have moved into all the farmland around the suburb and even some outlying residential areas. For now though, Omar says the library is helping to strengthen the town's defences as well as its resolve.
 "Books motivate us to keep on going. We read how in the past everyone turned their backs on a particular nation, yet they still made it. So we can be like that too. They help us plan for life once Assad is gone. We can only do that through the books we are reading. We want to be a free nation. And hopefully, by reading, we can achieve this." '

Tuesday, 26 July 2016