Friday, 21 October 2016

On Syrian border, rebel goals not all shared by Turkish backers

 "Our most important target is to break the siege of Aleppo. There, our FSA brothers are trapped," Ismail, a commander from the Sultan Murad group, an FSA faction, told Reuters in Jarablus, wearing camouflage fatigues and Adidas sneakers. "This is our own idea, but in the coming days we will discuss this with our Turkish brothers," he said.

 The answer may not be what he wants to hear. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and Russia's Vladimir Putin agreed at a meeting in Istanbul last week to try to seek common ground on Syria, despite backing opposing sides, although there has been little sign of concrete progress. Erdogan said he had spoken with Putin on Tuesday and agreed to try to help meet a Russian demand that fighters from the group formally known as the Nusra Front, now called Jabhat Fatah al Sham, be removed from Aleppo.

 "The necessary orders were given to our friends, and they will do what is needed," Erdogan said in a speech in Ankara.

 Such willingness to do Moscow's bidding is unlikely to go down well with the FSA fighters Turkey is backing.

 "Russia says they are bombing terrorists, but be it al Nusra or Ahrar al Sham, these are people who have fought with us to save our land," Sighli Sighli, another commander from the Sultan Murad brigade, told Reuters in Jarablus.

 He said he was grateful for the backing of the Turkish military, and that the FSA's recent advances could not have been achieved without it, but that Aleppo was the strategic goal.

 "It's not possible for us to accept what Russia or Iran or the PYD (Kurdish militia) wants to do with our country. This land belongs to Syrians, not Russians or Iranians," he said.

 Some of the civilians in Jarablus, where shops have gradually reopened selling fruit and cloth as rebel fighters patrol the streets on foot and in pick-up trucks, are also suspicious of Ankara's warming ties with Moscow.

 "My family is starving in Aleppo. Thousands are starving... Erdogan has left our people there to die, he has abandoned us," said one Turkmen resident who gave his name only as Yahya, and who said his wife and five children were in Aleppo.

 Some of the civilians in Jarablus, where shops have gradually reopened selling fruit and cloth as rebel fighters patrol the streets on foot and in pick-up trucks, are also suspicious of Ankara's warming ties with Moscow.

 "My family is starving in Aleppo. Thousands are starving... Erdogan has left our people there to die, he has abandoned us," said one Turkmen resident who gave his name only as Yahya, and who said his wife and five children were in Aleppo.

 "We have put aside our desire to fight Assad just for now. We haven’t abandoned it ... it's not like we've dropped our target," Bessam Muhammed, a 40-year-old rebel fighter, told Reuters in the garden of a Turkish-run field hospital.

 "We haven’t come all the way and fought this war to seize Jarablus and then stay here," he said.

 Operation Euphrates Shield has made good progress. Backed by Turkish tanks and warplanes, the rebels captured the village of Dabiq, southwest of Jarablus, from Islamic State on Sunday, a stronghold where the jihadist group had promised a final, apocalyptic battle with the West.

 Turkey's military has said border security has now been largely achieved. But as the offensive moves towards al-Bab, 35 km (22 miles) northeast of Aleppo, the battle may get harder.

 "The fight here for Jarablus was easy, but the fight for al-Bab will be much harder. Here there wasn't much resistance. They fled the town and we moved in," said Mahmut, 26, an FSA fighter wearing a Turkish police helmet.

 "We don’t want to stop here or in al Bab. Next is Aleppo." '

The people demand the downfall of the régime

No to systematic displacement

Monther Etaky:
"This is a peaceful protest organized by activists and civilians against systematic displacement which Regime and Russia decides to force on them."

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Syria rebels reject Aleppo withdrawal after Russian statement

Smoke rises from airstrikes on Guzhe village, northern Aleppo countryside, Syria October 17, 2016. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi

 'Syrian rebels said on Tuesday they rejected any withdrawal of fighters from Aleppo after Russia announced a halt in air raids which it said was designed to allow insurgents to leave and to separate moderate fighters from extremist militants.

 "The factions completely reject any exit - this is surrender," said Zakaria Malahifji, the political officer of the Aleppo-based Fastaqim group.

 Al-Farouk Abu Bakr, an Aleppo commander in the powerful Islamist group Ahrar al-Sham, said the rebels would fight on.

 "When we took up arms at the start of the revolution to defend our abandoned people we promised God that we would not lay them down until the downfall of this criminal regime," he said, referring to President Bashar al-Assad's government.

 "There are no terrorists in Aleppo," he said, speaking from Aleppo.'

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

‘Are You Silent Because There Are Muslims in Our Country?’

‘Are You Silent Because There Are Muslims in Our Country?’

 'Last week was the worst yet for the besieged neighborhoods of eastern Aleppo. Russian and Syrian government warplanes launched a new campaign of indiscriminate bombing Tuesday, terrorizing the city and causing a wave of casualties. On Friday, the warplanes targeted the area’s food supply, destroying a bread distribution facility and attacking a flour mill.

 A staggering 174 airstrikes were launched over the course of the week on eastern Aleppo, the rebel-controlled portion of the city, and 159 deaths were reported through mid-afternoon Friday.

 For one resident of eastern Aleppo, the silence of the United States and its allies — which have not taken any military steps to stop the onslaught — has made an already intolerable situation even worse.

 “I want to ask the Western world, which has laws to protect animals: Where are you when it comes to protecting women, children, the elderly, and the disabled?” said Fatima Kaddour, “Are you silent because there are Muslims in our country and they should be exterminated?”

 Kaddour, a 56-year-old housewife and mother of 11 children, lives in a one-room apartment, along with her son and two daughters, close to the front lines with government forces. It is not her flat. Like so many of their neighbors, her family was internally displaced, forced to move from their old home in the Salahuddin district of eastern Aleppo when their house was destroyed in January.

 She railed at the ruling regime for attacking Syrians but said she’s ready to leave the rebel-held areas if given a chance. Like many other Syrians, she is perplexed by the U.S. fixation on destroying Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, the al Qaeda affiliate formerly known as the Nusra Front, rather than acting to stop the regime’s assault on civilians. Jabhat Fatah al Sham is a relatively small player in Aleppo and runs the areas under its control in an orderly, nonabusive fashion, she said.

 Although she and her children have tried to fix up their new home, the bombing campaign has broken the windows and damaged the doors. It is full of sunlight, and there is room for the children to study, she said. But when they hear warplanes overhead, usually once or twice a day, “We run to the bathroom or the hall.”

 Compared with some other residents of eastern Aleppo, they are lucky. Not long ago, the Russian or Syrian air force bombed a building nearby that had housed five families, reducing it to a heap of rubble. All 20 inhabitants were killed, and most are still under the debris, she said.

 The sole survivor from one of the families was a girl of 10, who had not been in the building. For a full week, she slept in the street, waiting for the civil defense volunteers to dig out her relatives, Kaddour said. But the volunteers lacked the equipment to recover the bodies, and the ruins have become their grave. The girl was so traumatized that she would not speak to a family that offered to informally adopt her, and in frustration they took her to an orphanage in the Shaar neighborhood of Aleppo.

 “She never laughs. She never cries. She never asks for anything, even food,” Kaddour said. “The other children feed her.”

 Meals for those living in besieged Aleppo are spartan, consisting of Syrian flat bread, which humanitarian aid groups distribute every other day, rice, lentils, and bulgur, a local grain that can be cooked or consumed raw when mixed with water. The grains are distributed in food packets every second or third month. Residents obtain water from a water delivery service, which provides 250 gallons to fill a tank for $10 — as long as the purchaser can supply the fuel to power the delivery truck. But fuel is almost impossible to find.

 Because of the cost of cooking fuel, residents comb destroyed buildings for scrap wood, which they use for a fire to boil water, Kaddour said.

 The situation in Aleppo is at the edge of a still bigger disaster, with the main vulnerabilities in the area being fuel and water, according to the top official in rebel-held parts of the province. The city had built up supplies in anticipation of a siege of up to six months, said the official, Mohammad Fadelah, in a phone call Friday. But it cannot use them all due to a fuel shortage.

 “We brought in substantial amounts of wheat, but the problem is we don’t have the fuel to run the mills to make the flour,” said Fadelah, the president of the provincial council.

 The fuel shortage also threatens to paralyze water filtration systems, which make the area’s well water fit for human consumption. The enclave also suffers from a growing crisis in health care, as two of the 10 hospitals in the area were recently destroyed, and a shortage of medicine grows worse.

 “We had our strategic plan before the siege to keep functioning for six months,” he said. “But with the recent escalation, I don’t think we would be able to serve that long.”

 The children of eastern Aleppo, however, are forced to take on tasks that would terrify even the bravest adults. Kaddour is both proud of and worried for her teenage son, Amir, who volunteers at a local hospital, helping rescue people pinned down when buildings collapse. He got involved in the job after enrolling in a first-aid course without telling her, using his pocket money to buy a first-aid kit.

 “I don’t want him to leave the house when there is bombing,” she said. “Sometimes he listens to me. Other times he sneaks out and leaves without telling me.”

 On one occasion, when Amir was working, two missiles struck the building next door to her and set it on fire. Neighbors told her that they’d seen her son and he was safe. But when she began searching for him, she came upon the bodies of two young men who’d died in the attack.

 “I lost consciousness. I didn’t feel anything for six hours. Even when I was awake, I couldn’t remember anything for a week,” she said.

 Now she and her family live in fear for their future. Bashar al-Assad’s regime and Russia appear determined to reconquer all of Aleppo, which was once the country’s largest city. Kaddour believes they want to expel the people of eastern Aleppo, as they have the population of Darayya and other towns near Damascus.

 “They have destroyed us, expelled us, and killed us only because a group of youths protested and asked for freedom, the freedom of opinion, of education, and to live as you like,” she said. “They took away everything from us, even the air, which they polluted with chlorine gas, with phosphorus and the smell of ruin.”

 “Now after all the suffering, we are worried they will take us out in the green buses,” she said — referring to the state-owned fleet used to deport Darayya residents from their hometown to rebel-held areas. She said she’d go willingly to Gaziantep, Turkey, where she has a married daughter, and others would go to rebel-held Idlib or even to the regime-held areas.

 “The international community has ignored us,” she said. “We are unarmed. And we are fed up.” '

Monday, 17 October 2016

Aleppo to the Ivy League: Syrian doctor preps for end of war

Image result for Aleppo to the Ivy League: Syrian doctor preps for end of war

 'Khaled Almilaji coordinated a campaign that vaccinated 1.4 million Syrian children and risked his life to provide medical care. He is one of three Syrian scholars studying at Brown University, which said last year it would welcome Syrians after dozens of governors attempted to block refugees.

  He said he feels lucky because many other Syrian doctors have had to give up their work after sacrificing for five years, watching their families suffer and seeing their children go without an education.

 "Every time I go inside Syria, I see the smile on the face of families and people. They say, 'We will stay here. We will never go out, and we will still fight this regime,'" he said. "You cannot go out with less energy, just to continue supporting those people."
 Almilaji was born in Aleppo, now the epicenter of Syria's conflict. He studied in the coastal city of Latakia to treat disorders of the ear, nose and throat. He was preparing to go to Stuttgart, Germany, for a residency in March 2011 when anti-government protests sparked the conflict.
 He treated protesters who likely would have been arrested or killed if they went to government-run hospitals, he said, and he set up field hospitals.
 "They accept to be killed if this is the way to show the world we are in a revolution here," he said. "But I cannot accept that those people will never go to a protest because they don't have any hospitals to receive them in case they are injured."
 Almilaji said he was arrested in September 2011 in Damascus, interrogated and tortured. The savagery he witnessed during six months in prison convinced him he was "one thousand percent correct" in opposing the regime, he added.
 Almilaji returned to Aleppo after his release and cared for protesters' families, considered a crime. A friend who was helping those families was arrested in April 2012. Almilaji escaped to Gaziantep, Turkey, and his parents soon followed.
 A U.N. commission found government forces in Syria deliberately target medical personnel to gain a military advantage, by depriving the opposition and those perceived to support them of medical assistance. The commission called the targeting of medical personnel one of the most insidious trends of the war.
 Almilaji translated for Syrians in Turkish hospitals and worked to equip Turkey with ambulances to transfer Syrians from the border. He made trips into Syria to work in a medical clinic in Aleppo and deliver medical supplies. He successfully pushed for the building of underground hospitals because he expected health facilities to come under increasing attack, a fear that proved true.
 He said he joined the humanitarian arm of the opposition and began monitoring the spread of communicable diseases in northern Syria by setting up an early warning response and alert network.
 The first case of polio was discovered through the network in October 2013 in eastern Syria, he said. Almilaji planned the vaccination campaign as the administrative director. Teams went house to house and vaccinated 1.4 million Syrian children.
 He is working with Canadian doctors to establish safe health facilities in Syria, train medical workers and connect hospitals. The group formed the Canadian International Medical Relief Organization, and Almilaji reviews the projects from Providence.
 If insurgents are still fighting President Bashar Assad's forces when he graduates in two years, Almilaji plans to work from Turkey on relief efforts that can later facilitate redevelopment. When Syria is stable enough, he wants to return and work on preventing diseases and other health problems, since resources for treating ailments will continue to be scarce.'

Sunday, 16 October 2016

First video footage of FSA rebels in Syria's Dabiq

Image for the news result

 'In this video footage filmed by a Rudaw news partner in Syria, rebel fighters of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) are seen in the town of Dabiq in northern Aleppo on Sunday morning.

 The Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) said its forces captured Dabiq from ISIS after violent clashes.

 “Free Syrian Army forces have taken control of the strategic town of Dabiq in the northern Aleppo countryside after violent clashes with Daesh (ISIS),” the FSA said in a tweet.
 Backed by Turkish air strikes the FSA launched an offensive against ISIS in Dabiq on Saturday as part of their drive against the extremist group.
 According to the US-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights ISIS had stationed 1,200 of its fighters in Dabiq, to protect a town so important to ISIS that it gives its name to the militants' main magazine.'