Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Dr. Jalal Nofal: Connecting Relief Work and Civil Activism

[Photo: Dr. Jalal Nofal with psychologist Wifa' al-Hayek - Yabrud - Rif Dimashq - 7-9-2012 (Yabrud Ahl al-Khayr Facebook Page)].

 'Dr. Jalal Nofal, born 1963 in Damascus to a working class family from as-Sweida’, is a prominent psychiatrist and activist who has been involved in politics and relief efforts throughout his lifetime.

 In 1978 Nofal joined the Communist Action Party (CAP), after rejecting the Syrian Communist Party’s pro-regime stances, particularly during the Muslim Brotherhood uprising (1976-82) and the ensuing government crackdown. “With regards to the Hama massacre (1982), for me as a leftist, the Communist Action Party took the most balanced and satisfactory stances,” explained the doctor.

 Nofal, a medical student at Damascus University at the time, remained an active party member until his arrest in 1983, when the regime launched a nationwide crackdown against leftists. He was released in 1991 after more than eight years in prison. Like many of his contemporaries, Nofal decided to resume his studies, graduating from medical school and specializing in psychiatry.

 Before the start of the revolution in March 2011, Nofal was working on a campaign to improve public transport under the slogan “Public Transport that Respects Citizens”. After the revolution began, however, he transitioned from reformist calls to participating in the revolutionary activism sweeping the country. Nofal was convinced that “all democratic movements and individuals must take part in revolutionary activism, regardless of ideology or religion.”
 Nofal worked with the Damascus Neighborhoods Coordinating Committee to organize a protest in the capital’s Arnus Square on May 2, 2011, demanding democracy, an end to the regime’s violence and sectarianism, and the lifting of the siege on the southern city of Darʿa. He was arrested at the protest and spent ten days in ʿAdra prison before being released in an amnesty. He then returned to work with the committee, though it was soon dissolved after its founders were arrested.
 After that, he joined the Damascus Doctors Coordinating Committee, which was set up to cure patients, especially protesters, who were routinely arrested, abused, and tortured at hospitals in the presence of Dr. Nofal and his colleagues. This campaign was effectively halted, as were most others, by widespread arrest campaigns.
 Nofal also worked with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC), which in his words was “one of the few organizations where revolutionary humanitarian workers were allowed to operate.” Nofal’s relief work focused on psychological and social support for internally displaced persons (IDPs) living in Damascus and victims and witnesses of conflict and siege throughout Rif Dimashq. “Working in Damascus with IDPs was far more dangerous as we were accused of supporting terrorism, while we had more liberties in Rif Dimashq due to the looser grip of the regime,” clarified Nofal.
 The government continued to clamp down on relief efforts, accusing any aid agency of supporting terrorism and arresting and exiling many field workers. In April 2012, Nofal himself was arrested while on SARC duty in Rif Dimashq and subjected to torture while in prison.
 Towards the second half of 2012, the armed struggle began to take an increasingly prominent role, but Nofal persisted in his peaceful initiatives. In 2013, he was a founding member of the National Call Movement, which had over 200 members in Damascus and “called for the establishment of a democratic civil state that rejects sectarianism, Islamization and civil war,” as Nofal put it.
 The National Call Movement members aimed to revive the peaceful movement and along with the Syrian Revolutionary Youth they installed speakers chanting anti-regime songs across Damascus. By early 2014, the network was exposed and disbanded; its members, including Nofal, were arrested and forced to confess under torture at the capital’s Military Intelligence Branch 215.
 After his release in early July, Nofal continued his relief and civil society work, only to be arrested less than two weeks later. He was accused of funding terrorism by the Counter-Terrorism Court for having provided relief with his wife in Yarmuk, and spent six months in prison. When Nofal was let out in January 2015, he was smuggled out of the country and fled to Germany to join his wife, poet and activist Khawla Dunia, who had fled the country earlier.
 Nevertheless, this reunion did not last long. “What I could offer in Germany was far less than that which I could in Turkey,” explained the doctor. Nofal currently resides in the Turkish southern border town of Gaziantep, where he is a regular guest on programs such as those of Alwan FMRadio Hara, and Radio Rozana. He is also part of a team of psychiatrists and social workers who work in schools and orphanages, while training therapists and supporting similar activities inside Syria.
 Jalal Nofal is an example of how many Syrian revolutionaries have never drawn a line between two inextricably intertwined realms: relief work and civil society activism. In their opinion, it is in fact impossible to ignore the political dimension that has led to the current suffering.'

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Closer than close

 Marcus Henry Weber:

Battle for Aleppo: Regime (red) supply route into W. Aleppo has been cut. Rebels(green) are close to fully breaking the siege and opening route into rebel-held Aleppo neighborhoods."

Saraqeb 'attacked with chlorine gas'

Image result for Saraqeb 'attacked with chlorine gas'

 "Barrels suspected to contain chlorine gas have been dropped on a town in Syria, a doctor and rescuers have said. It is not clear who was responsible."
 It is clear who was responsible. It is only Assad who has been dropping barrels of chlorine from aircraft to kill children. Shame on the BBC.
 They've also only just stopped saying the Russian military helicopter which was shot down nearby, packed to the gills with weaponry, was on a humanitarian mission. Sky News was better, reporting the Syrian National Council's reaction:
 "After shelling, besieging and killing civilians and perpetrating war crimes on them, the Assad regime has resorted once again, and in breach of UN resolutions 2118 and 2235, to using chemical substances and toxic gasses. The daily reality confirms that all the international agreements and previous security council decisions, be they about chemical weapons or otherwise, are meaningless for the Assad regime."

“No negotiations before: the cessation of the shelling, the lifting of the siege and the release of the prisoners.”

CRY FREEDOM: Residents protest in Aleppo, asking for the release of prisoners held in government jails and lifting of the siege on besieged areas, in Aleppo, Syria, January 24. The banner reads “No negotiations before: the cessation of the shelling, the lifting of the siege and the release of the prisoners.”

 'No sunlight enters the dingy, oxygen-less cell. Six by ten meters in length, each identical to the other two dozen, occupied by thirty men who sleep on the cold ground. Thaer bides his time, nursing a broken foot and abscessed ear—poorly healed marks from a previous torture session—by drawing caricatures on the walls, caked with a slovenly, muck-like amalgam of sweat, blood, and the thick black smoke from the burning trash which provides the only heat during the cold desert nights in Syria’s heartland. It’s an idle retreat that allows him to briefly escape his reality.

 “Life inside the prison is utterly static. The only physical action is you and your cellmates being drained psychologically and somatically. Your sense of time and place and your surroundings disappears, like shadows you can see but cannot grasp,” Thaer told Newsweek Middle East. We spoke to him through a cellphone he managed to smuggle into the prison. His name is being concealed to protect his safety, but Newsweek Middle East has confirmed his identity and case number through a family member, as well as a lawyer in Damascus.
 When revolution broke out in Syria in 2011, Thaer, then an out-of-work theatre director, quickly began organizing theatrical performances promoting freedom, dignity and citizen participation. For a time, art was a relatively safe way to express dissent in Syria. He took part in peaceful demonstrations, and urged fellow activists to remain committed to non-violence when the revolution started arming itself. Then, one summer morning in 2013, the “ghosts” came for him. Named for their shadow business as government hitmen, they carry out the Syrian regime’s dirty work before disappearing without a trace. It was 6:30AM when three cars pulled up to Thaer’s home in Hama. Ten men poured out carrying Kalashnikovs. Without a word, they broke down the door, cracked him in the head with the butt of their rifles, tied his hands and feet and threw him in the trunk of the car. Three years later, he sits in Hama Central Prison, with about 850 others in the “disorder wing”—reserved for political prisoners.
 Thaer is one of the lucky ones. He is alive. His family knows where he is. The same cannot be said for the over 200,000 Syrians estimated to have simply disappeared—swallowed up by a shadowy system of secret prisons without any record in the courts. Agonized, their families have gone years not knowing where they are, if they’ve been charged or sentenced, or if they are alive or dead. In most cases, all that’s known is that they were taken away by the secret police, and never seen again. A few weeks ago, tensions reached a breaking point. The prisoners staged a revolt, blockading themselves inside the disorder wing. In a desperate battle for their lives, they found themselves in control of half of the prison—staring down their jailers, it was either victory or death.
 The most comprehensive effort to date documenting human rights violations committed over the course of the Syrian conflict was completed in April 2016 in a report by the Violations Documentation Center of Syria (VDC). After years of painstaking research collecting documentation through gut-wrenching interviews with the family members of detainees, it estimates some 200,000 have disappeared inside the prison system, and confirmed 23,000 of their names. After testifying with his research at a U.N. commission of inquiry, Bassam Al Ahmad, one of VDC’s founders, collected his files and left Syria. “It’s too much. We’re talking about not just a catastrophe on the level of Syrian society, the future of the economy, of families… People will need psycho-social support for generations.”
 In early 2014, officers of the secret police came to Khalid’s office to arrest him. “Will you cooperate? Or will you be a problem?” the captain asked him. He went quietly, and was taken to a branch of one of the intelligence divisions, where officers accused him of helping to organize demonstrations. Khalid answered that he had never taken part in any. The captain, named Maher, replied, “So you’re going to be a problem now.” Guards seized him, and began to beat him with metal pipes, making him count to eighty. “While they’re beating you, it’s like a dream. You become unconscious, but you are still aware of what is happening. Your mind just hopes that your body can survive the beating,” Khalid recalled. After some time, the officers threw a bucket of cold water on him. His skin shrank, having been stretched out by the beating. Maher asked if he was ready to confess. Khalid swore to God that he had nothing to confess. He says he’ll never forget what the captain uttered next: “Bring me the mother of storms.”
 A guard brought Captain Maher a silicone bat with a metal tip charged with electrical shocks, searing Khalid’s drenched body. “Each hit felt like it made a hole in my head. I didn’t know if I was alive or dead.” But the worst was still to come. Guards fixed thin plastic cuffs to Khalid’s wrists and hoisted him up, suspended from the ceiling. The plastic cut into his skin as he hung with his full weight. He doesn’t know how long he hung for, but eventually he couldn’t take it anymore. When he was brought down, he said he could see bone protruding from his wrist. Khalid then signed a document written up for him, using his mouth to hold the pen.
 “If I didn’t have this experience, I would never believe it. After I’ve been inside, I’ve seen things that will make you crazy for the rest of your life,” Khalid said. After eight months in a civil prison in Adra, Khalid was brought to the Terrorism Court in Damascus. Chained together in a line with twenty other men, officers led them into the building through an underground entrance at the east of the building, then up a long flight of stairs, where a row of soldiers kicked and beat them with clubs as they walked toward the courtroom. As Khalid waited, he listened to the sentences handed down to detainees before him. Execution by hanging. Seven years’ prison. Ten years’ prison with labor. When it was Khalid’s turn, the judge recognized him and asked, “You’re a lawyer, aren’t you?” Khalid nodded his head. “So you confessed under torture.” He was released without charges, and walked out the door. A week later, he left Syria.
 Given asylum in Germany, Khalid now assists with a clandestine network of lawyers advocating on behalf of prisoners who have no voice. Some, taking exceptional risk, operate underground from inside Syria while others in exile are more free to communicate and liaise with the families of those detained, providing one of the only lifelines of information over safely encrypted channels. Lawyers participating in the network, say they have connections inside ten prisons throughout Syria—including to police and intelligence officials who, they claim, are willing to talk.'

Monday, 1 August 2016

The stories we will tell

 Rami Jarrah

"Imagine the stories we will tell years from now;
 Once upon a time children stood up to a notorious army because the world lied to them and told them they were by their side.
The sketch is self explanatory: children of Aleppo burn tires to fill the skies with smoke to protect their homes from the planes in the sky."

Regime / Russian Air Force Bombing Destroys 3 More Medical Facilities In 6 Hours

 Dr. Anas Al Kassem:
 "3 more medical facilities have been destroyed by a wave of targeted airstrikes by the Regime / Russian air force in the past 6 hours (2200 hr Damascus time)

 1) Jassem Hospital in Daraa (Southern Syria): Hospital ambulance entrance hit by an airstrike resulting in 10 casualties including: 2 children, 4 women, 1 pharmacist and a nurse. The hospital has 60 staff and serves roughly 2350 patient a month and attends to a population of 40,000. UOSSM supports the hospital with medicine/medical supplies. The hospital is also supported by other large international NGO’s.
 2) Hoor Clinic in (Western Aleppo Countryside)
Destroyed by an airstrike. Casualty/ injury numbers unconfirmed. Clinic managed by the NGO “Iskan”
 3) Forensic Lab in Aleppo:
Hit by airstrikes for the 3rd time in 4 days and completely destroyed. 2 staff are killed including a 25 year old technician and more injured.
 July 30, 2016
 Hospital hit by Airstrike in Northern Aleppo at approximately 11pm Damascus time on July 30, 2016. The hospital was the last operating in Western Rural Aleppo. UOSSM supports the Anadan Hospital with medicine and supplies.
 Anadan had 4 ICU's and a maternity ward, serves 5000 patients monthly, performs 100 surgeries, 35 cesarean section surgeries. This was the last operating hospital in Northern Aleppo leaving a population of 100,000 without medical access.
 July 29, 2016‘
 Save The Children’ maternity hospital was bombed in Idleb leaving two people killed, six injured, and a six months pregnant woman who lost both her legs.
 In the past 7 days, 4 other hospitals have been bombed in Aleppo crippling the medical system at a time when trauma injuries are skyrocketing from the government siege. Patients are avoiding critical treatments fearing injury/death from frequent hospital attacks."

Julian Röpcke:

"UOSSM Canada-supported staff fled from Anadan to Hawar after the air strike last night. Today they got hit there again."

In wartime Syria, local councils and civil institutions fill a gap

 'Where rebel groups have taken over areas previously held by Bashar al-Assad’s government, local residents have begun to organize councils to provide basic functions for their communities, who now enjoy freedoms that were prohibited by Assad. For the first time since the Ba’ath party gained control of Syria in 1963, democratic elections for appointments to local and provincial councils have taken place.

 Robin Yassin-Kassab and Leila Al-Shami, authors of “Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War,” met with Syrians who fled to Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan to learn more about the details of the local councils and their structure.

 Al-Shami: "The local councils are in liberated areas where the regime has completely withdrawn or has been pushed out. Now basic administrative units are functioning there, so they’re responsible for the provision of all social services, and they’re responsible for water supplies, electricity supplies. They often work with external donors to distribute humanitarian aid, or aid which they’ve collected from the local community. They’re providing support to the makeshift hospitals, makeshift education facilities. In some areas they’ve also been responsible for growing and distributing food, specifically in communities which have been under siege, such as Darayya. And in Darayya they’ve set up a fantastic local library, and they also have legal services. They also sometimes operate security services or community police forces. It depends on their size and capacity."

 Yassin-Kassab: "They are, of course, in survival mode, and that’s that sad thing. They’re dealing with the day-to-day, trying to keep life going under bombardment, under siege."

 Al-Shami: "The level of survival sustenance they have is in relation to how much of a target that community is for the regime and for its ally Russia. Some of the communities which have been most under attack by the regime are communities which have had very successful local councils and have had very successful experience in building these grassroot structures, such as Darayya. It seems that these democratic structures are precisely what has been under attack by the regime in a lot of places."

 Al-Shami: "Governments have provided money through the provincial councils, and lots of international aid agencies are sending things through the local councils. Lots of Syrian aid agencies."

 Yassin-Kassab: "In many places, there’s nothing really getting through, and people are trying to grow food on their rooftops, and so on. The real, fundamental point about sustainability is that if you got access to Aleppo, you could take them water purifiers, tons of food, and you build hospitals. And then the next day, these things would be bombed by the regime and Russia. So these things are ultimately not sustainable, of course, and won’t be sustainable if the world continues to sit back and watch."

 Yassin-Kassab: "They’re in the liberated areas [rebel-held areas]. There’s a lot of them in the south, in Daraa, where the regime has been pulled out of that southern province, reaching down to the border with Jordan. In the suburbs in Damascus, which are liberated from the regime, and usually besieged, so places like Darayya, places like Douma, Harasta. Idlib province, part of Hama province. A little bit of Homs province. A bit of the north of Latakia province, and large areas of Aleppo province and Aleppo city."

 Al-Shami: "In areas that are under regime control, there are councils which are still operating in secret."

 Al-Shami: "I think the council structures themselves have not been inclusive to women at all. There’s very few women that are sitting on local councils. What they try to do is include people who are selected to the council for their technical, professional expertise. They’ve tried to include people from prominent families and tribes. They’ve always included, in mixed communities, minority groups, so people from different religions or sects.

 There’s been lots of campaigning by activists to call for greater women’s greater representation."

 Yassin-Kassab: "There are members who are liberals and democrats, and then the more moderate sort of Islamist as well has been involved, and then nationalists and ex-Baathists and so on. But in a way it’s not been so important. In general, they’re non-ideological bodies, particularly at the local level, which, in a way, looks like a way forward. It doesn’t matter if one guy is a leftist and the guy next to him is an Islamist. They’re there because one of them knows something about how to get the water system working, and another one knows something about education, and they’re working about practical things for the sake of the community."

 Al-Shami: "I think it’s been very different, the experience of cooperation between these civilians and administrative structures and armed groups. And I think some of the difference often comes down to whether armed groups are the local community itself. Because in many areas, the armed groups that are operating there, they’re the sons and brothers and fathers from that neighborhood. The men have picked up arms to defend their community. So then they’re also part of the same families or the same networks as the local councils. In those kind of areas, cooperation’s been very broad. Some councils, and Darayya is one example, they’ve specifically set up structures to improve cooperation. So for example, the military brigade in that area attends some of the meetings of the local council, and they ensure cooperation so that the militia is essentially working as a security force which is subject to popular and local control and to civil control. So that’s obviously an ideal model. That’s not the case everywhere."

 Yassin-Kassab: "It’s difficult to remember that in 2011, 2012 — it was this brief window — it looked like there could be a completely different future in Syria and the wider Middle East. Change was happening at a tremendous rate, and people were really interested in democratic ideas. These weren’t seen as something imposed from the West or imported from the West. They were seen as immediate necessities. And people were discussing what that meant: how could people run their own lives, how could they live without dictatorship.

 The democratically elected local councils are a glimmer of that hope surviving in the midst of all of this chaos." '

Sunday, 31 July 2016

Syrians are left saving themselves

 Anna Nolan:
"These burning tyres are saving lives than billions of dollars spent on the 'war in syria' refuse to.
 300,000 people are under siege in Aleppo‬. Cut out from food and medicine and penned in on all sides Russian and Regime jets are dropping barrels bombs and missiles on trapped civilians.
 For years Syrian heroes like the White Helmets and medics have asked for a no-fly zone to stop these brutal attacks from the air. Their calls have been ignored.
 As a last resort they are now burning tyres to create smoke so the fighter jets cannot see the hospitals, schools and homes they like to target.
 Yet again Syrians are left saving themselves."

 Rami Jarrah  "Resistance groups in Aleppo have began a mass operation that has already gained significant territory from Assad's forces. Rebel groups claim that 1km of advance is left to break the siege of Aleppo. Blue area are those that resistance groups in besieged Aleppo (green) have taken from Assad's forces (red)." 

Hillary Clinton will reset Syria policy against 'murderous' Assad regime

A child clears damage and debris in the besieged area of Homs 

 'Hillary Clinton will order a "full review" of the United States' strategy on Syria as a "first key task" of her presidency, resetting the policy to emphasise the "murderous" nature of the Assad regime, foreign policy adviser with her campaign has said.

 Jeremy Bash, who served as chief of staff for the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency, said Mrs Clinton would both escalate the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and work to get Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, "out of there".

 "A Clinton administration will not shrink from making clear to the world exactly what the Assad regime is," he said in an exclusive interview with The Telegraph. "It is a murderous regime that violates human rights; that has violated international law; used chemical weapons against his own people; has killed hundreds of thousands of people, including tens of thousands of children."

 Mr Obama has been roundly criticised by top experts and members of his own administration for instating an approach to the Syrian war - which has seen estimates of more than 400,000 people killed - that is riven with contradictions.

 The White House remains notionally committed to removing Mr Assad, whilst at the same time, working in alliance with Russia, Damascus' top champion. As America switches its focus to destroying Isil and creating alliances with Moscow, the White House has quietly dropped its rhetoric against the Assad regime. Critics warn that this approach will only foster anti-American sentiment among Syrians, who feel abandoned by the United States following its failure to take decisive action against Damascus.

 A source with access to White House officials said the administration sees the dangers that partnering with Russia could have in terms of worsening the dynamics on the ground, but that the president is trying to cover his bases until he steps down in November. The source said the White House feels it cannot not be seen to be doing nothing against an Al-Qaeda affiliate at a time of heightened national security in America. Were there to be an attack in the US that was claimed by Al-Qaeda the president's legacy would be destroyed, they fear.'

Making the Anti-Assad Case in Washington

Image result for Making the Anti-Assad Case in Washington

 'Few political movements have a harder case to make to the world, or to the American public and its leaders, than Syria’s secular opposition. And few movements have more reason to feel discouraged or abandoned right now. An organization like the Syrian American Council, for example, faces a morass in both Syria and Washington, D.C., pleading the ever-imperiled case for supporting democracy in Syria even as the conflict worsens and attention to situation flags in the U.S.

 A collection of non-jihadist rebel groups was recently encircled by the Syrian army in their former stronghold in Aleppo, and are coping with a number of steep geopolitical hurdles outside the country: the perception of Assad as a partner in fighting terrorism, the widespread conflation of the Syrian opposition with Sunni jihadism, a U.S. administration wary of antagonizing the pro-Assad Iranian regime and seemingly set on brokering the opposition’s surrender, and a U.S. and western public allergic to anything that even smacks of expanded involvement in the Middle East.

 But the people making the anti-Assad case in Washington are not exactly discouraged or demoralized. On July 20, while most of the country fixated on the chaos unfolding at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, I met with Chad Brand and Shlomo Bolts of the Washington, D.C.-based Syrian American Council (SAC), a group whose mission is to “organize and advocate for a free, democratic, and pluralistic Syria through American support.”

 SAC backs things like no-fly zones, the establishment of humanitarian safe-areas in Syria, and U.S. weapons and training assistance for the Syrian opposition. They’ve gotten a cold hearing from the White House, and have largely given up on lobbying Obama’s inner circle. At the same time, they push an attainable legislative agenda and have had some successes in Congress. House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Ed Royce, once a problematic member of Congress from the Syrian opposition’s perspective, is now a full-fledged ally; earlier this month he helped introduce a bill authored by Democrat Eliot Engel that would expand U.S. sanctions against the Assad regime.

 As Brand, one of SAC’s government relations officers, explained, Congress is “nipping at” Boeing’s controversial sale of aircraft to the Iran government, with some members of Congress insisting on measures that would ensure the planes aren’t used to ferry weapons and personnel to Syria. SAC has successfully advocated for including funding for the Syrian “train and equip” program in defense authorization bills.

 And they often get a sympathetic hearing from members of Congress and their staff when they recount the abuses of the Assad regime and the dangers the Syrian government poses to global order. Congressmen and their staff sometimes learn of specific regime atrocities for the first time from SAC: “To a person they say, ‘We didn’t know about that and we wish we knew.’ The problem is that the administration doesn’t brief us on these things, Brand said. He emphasized that SAC is a nonpartisan organization, “even if and when we get stymied by the administration.”

 Not even the potentially dubious choices of their own government, or the recent global wave of attacks by supporters of ISIS, whose “capital” is in the Syrian city of Raqqa; or the reality of ceaseless death and destruction in a strategically vital part of the world, have been enough to really make Americans care about Syria, even during a fractious election year. If anything, one of the two major U.S. political parties is tacking in a sharply isolationist direction, with Donald Trump alleging that Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton had supported regime change in Syria during his July 21 acceptance speech for the Republican presidential nomination.

 The fact that Americans have largely tuned out the moral and humanitarian dimensions of the conflict doesn’t mean SAC’s goals are hopeless. Bolts believes there a pragmatism to the American public and its leaders that won’t allow a situation like Syria’s to endure forever. “My own personal view is that something happens in the American political cycle when the public sees a lot of people dying repeatedly,” said Bolts. “There’s awareness for the first few massacres, and then after awhile people wonder, ‘What’s next?’ And if large numbers of people are killed, it deadens sensitivities. The main hope for us is to get people to understand the costs of their inactions….it’s not practical to ignore when tens of thousands of people are being killed.”

 “Long-term, long-game, there’s reason for optimism,” he added. “It could just be a much longer time frame than a lot of us were hoping for.” '

CIA's Brennan: I don't know if Syria can be put back together

 CIA Director John Brennan:

 "So we need to be able to have some sense that Assad is on the way out. There can be a transition period, but it needs to be clear that he's not part of Syria's future. Until that happens, until there is at least the beginning, or the acknowledgment of that transition, you're going to have Syrians dying, continue to die, because they...many of them are trying to reclaim their country, for the good of Syria's future, but many of them also want Syria to be the safe haven for terrorists.

 So I don't know whether or not Syria can be put back together again, whether there's going to be some kind of confederal structure, where the various confessional groups are going to have the lead in governing their portion of the country. We've looked at the different parts of the country, and which ones could be self-sustaining, which ones would rely so much on external assistance. Most of the people in Syria are in that western spine of the country, but large portions of the eastern part of Syria are desert and limited urban centres.

 So, I don't think also you're going to be able to have some sense of tranquillity in Syria until you're also able to address the Iraq issue, and that's why I think this administration, and President Obama, gets a lot of credit at trying to look at what we need to do in both countries, so that what we're doing is going to be complementary to this effort."

1. Assad must go - At the most basic level, this can be treated as misdirection. The US has done everything to ensure Assad remains, getting ever closer to the Russians in their strategy of bombing anything that moves in rebel areas.

 We can also look at a slightly more interactive level. Partly it is a response to the coming message of the Clinton campaign, forcing the current administration to be somewhat on the same page. It can also be seen as focusing on Assad as an individual, believing that if Assad is gone, there can be a peaceful continuation with the régime essentially intact. It's hard to tell if the administration doesn't realise this wouldn't stop the killing, rape and torture - the régime's modus operandi - or just doesn't care. Implicitly it is a message to the Russians to agree to give up Assad in order to keep the régime, but they have no reason to give him up, and reason to fear the régime would lose legitimacy without them, hastening the day when a representative government that would reject Russian domination might come to power.

2. Many of them are trying to reclaim their country - And the administration wants to do as little as possible to help them do that. Again, it is only because there are other forces that want to support the rebels that the rhetoric changes to this from "We're not sure if there are forces in Syria we can work with."

 The only people trying to make Syria a safe haven for terrorists are ISIS. And Assad and all his allies of course. Jabhat al-Nusra was always focused on fighting against Assad, not attacking the West, but the US intelligence community's predilection for seeing everything in the Middle East about al-Qaida was always likely to see them as the threat rather than ISIS or Assad. They simply cannot see that this is a disaster, that Assad was always going to be seen as Syrians as the threat, and attacking Nusra, or Jabhat Fath al-Sham as they are now, was only going to encourage Syrians to their world view where all the secularists and non-Muslims were conspiring against them.

3. Partition - They've clearly thought about the mechanics of this, but possibly just by reading up on the geography in encyclopedias. Do they really think the rate of ethnic cleansing would slow down or become a peaceful transfer of population if they were internationally sanctioned areas of ethnic supremacy? How would you stop the war at all if Sunni Muslims are expelled from large parts of the West, or that Assad - assuming he continued as the warlord of Damascus and the West - would agree to stop the war when that's the only thing keeping his régime going? Plan B is no plan at all.

4. Give the President some credit - Give it a rest. This is the President who said nothing should be done about Syria until ISIS took over half of Iraq, then that ISIS should be taken on in Iraq while Syria should have a train-and-equip programme that produced a literal handful of fighters, and even now thinks that sectarian militias backed up by sometimes ill-directed American bombing is the best way to deal with ISIS while the biggest dangers to life are accommodated. 

Julian Röpcke:

"This is how WE are increasingly seen because of our ignorance of the situation in #Syria ...Silence is complicity."