Saturday, 26 November 2016

Aleppo 'faces starvation' amid continued bombardment


 'Deadly offensive continues as residents of eastern Aleppo face harsh winter conditions and critically low food supplies. At least 39 people, including five children, have been killed in the latest round of air strikes and shelling in and around the Syrian city of Aleppo. Witnesses and activists said the air strikes on Friday destroyed two women's hospitals in Aleppo and Idlib province, as the renewed government offensive to capture Aleppo city from opposition fighters stretched into its tenth day. Some residents said meat now costs $50 per kilo, compared to $9 four months ago.

 Mohamed Shbeeb, a freelance journalist trapped inside the besieged city, said conditions in Aleppo were rapidly deteriorating.

 "Since the early [Saturday] morning, Russian warplanes attacked the city. Many people were killed. In the last 10 days in this campaign, more than 500 people have been killed by Russian air strikes and ballistic missiles. All the hospitals in the city are out of service. So the injured are a risk as there is only limited medical aid available. The situation is becoming worse every day. Food supplies have almost dried up. All stores are closed. Some people sell vegetables that they grow in their garden. Other food is no longer available."

 On Friday, Raed al-Saleh, the head of the Syria Civil Defence, or White Helmets, said the inhabitants of east Aleppo have fewer than 10 days to receive aid or face starvation and death from a lack of medical supplies. The volunteer group, which works in opposition-held territory and has rescued thousands of people from buildings bombed in the civil war, is also running out of basic equipment from Lorries to diesel and gas masks.

 With freezing winter conditions setting in, about 275,000 people are trapped in eastern Aleppo, where the last UN food rations were distributed on November 13. Anti-government fighters in east Aleppo have agreed to a plan for aid deliveries and medical evacuations, according to UN officials, but the global body is awaiting a "green light" from Russia and the Syrian government before it can begin operations.'

A Message To the world From Bilal Abdul Kareem Inside Besieged Aleppo

 Bilal Abdul Kareem:

'I am Bilal Abdul Kareem. I am a journalist for On The Ground News, but today, I'm going to step out from my role as a journalist, and I'm going to talk to you directly, one person who is in Eastern Aleppo, as you can see, to the rest of the world. My message here is very simple and it is very compact, and that is this: if there is anyone who is out there, who believes that this war that is taking place here, inside of Syria, is a war on terrorism, I am telling you, that the people saying it are playing you for a fool. I will say this again. Anyone out there who hears someone saying they are attacking Aleppo because they are going after Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (or Jabhat al-Nusra) or some terrorists, know for a surety they are playing you for nothing more than an abject fool.

 In this city, in the last week, I'm talking seven days, in the last week, five hospitals have been put out of service. Now what do I mean, out of service? That they just hang an out of service sign on the door? No. What I mean by out of service, is that the hospitals have been blasted to powder, killing both patients and doctors, and children and women, and anyone else who happened to be in the area at that time. That is what I mean when I say hospitals here have been put out of service. They have been targeted by barrel bombs, missiles, and Grad rockets. Our office was near one of these hospitals. Which is why these days, everybody's seen me wear the same clothes for almost the last week, because all our clothes were destroyed in the Grad rocket attack, and the ensuing fire that took place after it.

 Now, I didn't come here today simply just to give you a history lesson, in terms of what is happening here in Aleppo. You have to ask yourself a question. How in the world could you fall for, and believe, that a person who killed more than half a million people, is not the terrorist? However, some small groups that happen to be operating here in Syria, are the terrorists? I am saying to you, in no uncertain terms, that in Eastern Aleppo, the groups that you have here, are protecting the Syrian people from the same entity, the Syrian Arab Army, that has killed so many people, has produced so many deaths, so many injuries, that even now, the people cannot even say that they can go to a hospital, so that they can be treated for their broken legs, or their missing limbs.

 This is a reality that the world is going to have to come to grips with. So now, if I didn't come here today to tell you these things, then what in the world did I get in front of the camera for? I'll tell you. My message here today is clear. I am calling on every single man, woman, and any child that wants to participate, to go to any Syrian or Russian embassy, around the world, and you get all of your friends and your family, and everybody else, and you demonstrate in front of the embassies. Now, wait a minute. People are going to sit there and say, "In our country, you can't just walk up in front of the embassy and have a protest." So to that I would say this, go to whatever council you have to go to in your respective country, and get the permission for it. If they don't give the permission in 24-48 hours, then you bring 10,000 people in front of that building and tell them, "We want the permission, we're going to demonstrate, we want the permission right now."

 Why would you do that? You do that because no-one likes terrorists, no-one likes terrorism. But terrorists don't grow in a vacuum. Everybody would have to understand, that when you look at groups like ISIS, ISIS was born in Iraq, and the oppression there. And they migrated here to Syria. So as I see them, these people are terrorists. But, everyone knew the Americans were oppressing the Iraqi people, and therefore they did nothing, and now you have ISIS. So I am saying to you, if you are serious, I mean if you are really serious, that you don't want a terrorist attack to happen to you, or to your family members, or to anybody anywhere around the world, it is incumbent for people like you and me and everybody to stand up to terrorism. And if you can't say that Bashar al-Assad, who has killed more than a half a million people, has displaced half of the Syrian population, and has done all that they are doing here right now; if you cannot call him a terrorist, then I would have to say, that something is severely wrong with you.   

 I'd just like to introduce to everybody, before I do go, my little companion. I don't know what her name is. But I promised her owner, who lost quite a few family members, and her uncle's building was demolished. When I say demolished, I'm using the linguistic term demolished,  there is nothing left of the building. Alhamdulillah, they were able to escape uninjured. But I promised I would do this video, with her doll, and she was nice enough to loan it to me. So I would have to go back to her, and I want to tell her the world is listening, the world is hearing, and the world is gong to come together and do something to take these atrocities away from her population, and the people here in Aleppo, and in Syria in general.

 Finally, I say to you, don't you dare fall for anybody who's telling you - I don't care if his name is Obama, Putin, Assad, or whatever the case is - that what is happening here in Aleppo is that they are fighting terrorists, and terrorism. My name is Bilal Abdul Kareem. Do share this video, don't hit the stop button until you decide to share it.'

Friday, 25 November 2016

Surviving Bashar: Syrian women tell stories of rape, torture

 They stripped my clothes off and did their worst, Shandana uses an alias, afraid of revealing her identity, as she tells us about her detention, torture and rape by Syrian regime forces.

 Wearing large dark glasses, that cover most of her face, Shandana tells us her journey from a suburb of Damascus to Bashar al Assad’s torture chamber.

 “At the beginning of the revolution, I was helping with relief work with opposition activists. The regime considered this as a terrorist activity. I now wish they had tortured me like a man, at least I could live with myself”, she said.

 Mariam was a nurse in Hama when a military intelligence unit detained her. “They hung me up from my hands for three days, then pulled my teeth out using pliers and then they did things to me no human could imagine.”

 As she told her story, Mariam broke down several times, crying, as she recollected that time in her life in 2013.

 “These are women who have lost everything,” said Ali Zeer, a Syrian lawyer, now living in Turkey. Zeer has documented eighty-five cases of women who said they were raped and tortured by regime forces.

 “They would make women watch gang-rapes of both men and women. It would have the desired effect”, said Zeer. He told us that women would readily confess to crimes they did not commit and would also implicate family members in anti-regime activities.

 “The screams were the worst”, said a woman in a white scarf with a Syrian flag. She spoke of women being humiliated in front of her. “They’d tie the women to beds posts and then a man called Azrael would go around with a sharp-ended stick. There was blood everywhere”, said the woman in the white scarf.
 “They’d say anything, admit to any crime to avoid a similar fate” said Zeer the lawyer. But a confession was often the beginning, not the end of a victims struggle.
 Once released the survivors were abandoned by their families. In many cases husbands would divorce survivors for dishonoring the family.
 “This would happen even if the women had not been raped”, said Zeer.
 He says in some cases women even contemplated suicide. “They will live with severe trauma for the rest of their lives”, he said. 
 “We lost everything.  We lost our families and our children”, said Shandana with tears trickling beneath her large sunglasses.' 
Photo by: TRT WORLD

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

A message from the people of Aleppo to the world

 Dr. Hamza al-Khatib:
 'Today marks the 91th day of the siege of the city of Aleppo. According to Aleppo city council statistics, 271,536 are stuck inside the east of Aleppo, over 2300 strikes including airstrikes, explosive barrels, artillery, cluster bombs, bunker-busters and bombs, loaded with chlorine gas have been documented just over the last 23 days. 8 hospitals and medical centers have been struck, 4 hospitals over the last week, 6 schools, 2 bakeries and civil defense HQ. 

 Both Russian and Syrian regime air-forces are intentionally targeting the civilian infrastructure in order to break people’s will, currently people have almost zero access to medical care, people are afraid to go to hospitals due to the intentional Russian and Syrian regime airstrikes. It has been almost 6 years and we are wondering what the world was doing… more than 500 000 people have died, how many hospitals or schools does it take to see real actions against war crimes in Syria? It can’t get more gruesome than this, we are in 2016, and 271,536 people are trapped in a besieged city facing death from bombardment and possibly very soon starvation, the dysfunctionality of the world is responsible for 500,000 deaths and those 271,536 trapped in the city, we wonder why do we have U.N, why do we have human rights laws?

 This has been a slow-motion train wreck, and this message is from the people who lasted in Aleppo to the world, don’t look back years from now and wish that you could have done something, you can still do, we ask you to ground Assad air-force that’s killing us, or at least have some diplomatic leverage to force the Syria regime and Russia’s bombardment of the city of Aleppo to be stopped. We ask you to open a demilitarized humanitarian corridor for the people of Aleppo to revolutionary-held areas under the observation of the U.N only without the presence of any other groups or countries, a corridor that allows free movements of food, fuel, medicines and all merchandises for the civilian essential infrastructure inside eastern Aleppo, “water stations, electricity, hospitals, schools and civil defense”, facilitating both relief aid and trade movements. Revolutionary armed groups have agreed on allowing relief aid passage to eastern Aleppo, yet both the Syrian regime and Russia are refusing. If the international community won’t be able to open the previous mentioned corridor, or be able to convince the Syrian regime to pass the relief aid toward eastern Aleppo, we urge the world and the west specially to airdrop the humanitarian aid as there are already warplanes for the US-led collation in Syria not far from Aleppo city.

 We are the people of eastern Aleppo and we emphasize that we have no problems with relief aid airdrop. The international community holds responsibility of any future consequences of Aleppo's besiegement. We are hoping that our voices will be heard, and Aleppo will be saved.'

Newest Australian reveals atrocities of Madaya siege

Khaled Naanaa, his wife Joumana and their daughter Ayaa

 'Nurse Khaled Naanaa, 31 stands at Kings Park lookout in Perth, Western Australia, staring out at the Swan River. "To me, Australia is like heaven on Earth," Mr Naanaa said. "Not long ago I was under barrel bombings, snipers' shootings, amputating people's legs. I've gone from hell to heaven. It's an amazing feeling."

 Nine months earlier he had been trapped inside the besieged town of Madaya, Syria, running the only medical clinic in a town where children were slowly being starved to death. It is only now that Mr Naanaa and his wife and daughter are safe, as newly arrived refugees in Australia, that he can tell the full story of what happened in Madaya.

 "One day when the Bashar al-Assad Government falls, this documentation of war crimes will be used to indict them in the courts of The Hague."

 Mr Naanaa grew up in the Syrian capital Damascus, where he studied nursing at university. After graduating, he spent much of his career working as a surgical and anaesthesia nurse at government hospitals.

 Late one evening in April 2011 he was on duty at Tishreen military hospital when a busload of injured protesters was brought through the hospital gatesAn uprising against Mr Assad's rule had begun two months earlier, and now unarmed protesters had been shot in the streets by regime troops. But hospitals were no safehaven. To Mr Naanaa's horror, instead of treating the wounded, his colleagues began to beat and torture the injured demonstrators.
 Mr Naanaa refused to join in, and instead became part of a secret underground medical network in Damascus, treating wounded opposition supporters across the capital.
 "We treated people away from the eyes of the regime, it could have been in a kitchen, in a bedroom, in any place. This job was done very secretly, I didn't tell my family even."
 In 2012, Mr Naanaa moved to the opposition-held town of Madaya, a mountainous village about 40 kilometres from Damascus and close to the Lebanese border. There he helped set up a medical clinic and makeshift surgical theatre, assisted by a young dentistry student and a vet.
 "During those years it was all happening. Shelling every day, barrel bombs, daily massacres. I always had emergency cases to take care of," Mr Naanaa said.
 He taught himself how to perform surgeries by watching YouTube videos.
 "I used to have to look things up, in medical guides or watch on YouTube," Mr Naanaa said. 
 As the most qualified medical practitioner in the town, the young nurse became "Dr Khaled" to the 40,000 residents of Madaya. In July 2015, the situation in Madaya took a dramatic turn for the worse. The rebel-held town became completely besieged by the Syrian Government and its ally, the Lebanese Shiite militia group Hezbollah. Access to and from the town was blocked.
 "They began planting landmines, sniping, watch towers, the situation became impossible for anyone to be able to leave Madaya," Mr Naanaa said. "During July it became a 100 per cent siege, it was impossible to allow in even a grain of wheat … There was no baby milk, no food, no drinks, nothing."
 A United Nations convoy of food arrived in Madaya in early October but it lasted only a few weeks, and soon hunger set in again. Like the rest of the town, Mr Naanaa was existing on only one meal a day — lentils or rice soup. Mr Naanaa was weak and dizzy from a lack of food, but his workload intensified as an increasing number of townspeople tried to escape Madaya.
 "We had so many amputation cases because of the landmines surrounding the town and the many people who tried to break the siege."
 Mr Naanaa said he appealed to the United Nations (UN) and Red Cross offices in Damascus, asking for aid to be urgently delivered to Madaya.
 "We tried to communicate with so many people but this didn't help at all. We were told they needed the agreement of the Syrian regime," he said. "People started to look pale, even their cheeks started to dissolve. They were getting so thin, even starting to look like skeletons."
 Five months into the siege the first victim, a three-month-old baby, died of starvation.
 "We made so many calls to the UN offices. We told them, 'people are dying of starvation, you must help save them'. They didn't give us any real promises," he said.
 Mr Naanaa's patients continued to die. "I will never forget the looks on the children's faces," he said. 
 With mounting international pressure, the Assad Government granted permission for the UN and the Red Cross to deliver food aid to Madaya, on the agreement that they also send a convoy to two towns besieged by Syrian opposition rebels.
 "It was the happiest day of my life, I don't think we'll ever experience such happiness again, me and all the people of Madaya," Mr Naanaa said.
 Supporters of Mr Assad had accused the Madaya medical staff of faking the videos of starving, emaciated children Mr Naanaa had filmed and sent to ABC. Mr Naanaa was determined to show the UN representatives that the situation was real.
 Mr Naanaa led the UN and Red Cross workers into his clinic, where the most malnourished patients lay on the floor in various stages of illness and distress.
 "They all started to cry, all the delegation, when they saw kids, the women, the older people, even young men lying on the floor," Mr Naanaa said.
 "Skinny people, skeletons, skin attached to the bones, nothing in-between. Then the talk ended. No more questions were asked."
 After exposing the use of the Syrian regime's starvation tactics to the world, Mr Naanaa received death threats.
 On a snowy, freezing night in January this year he managed to escape from Madaya, and after walking through mined fields for two nights he crossed the Lebanese border.
 But I didn't want to leave. I never wished to leave Syria. But at the end this was not my choice, I was forced to leave, I was facing death."
 The hardest part for Mr Naanaa is that, despite everything he risked to tell the world about the deliberate starvation of people in Madaya, the siege continues. And despite intermittent UN convoys, many more people have starved to death inside the townThe Madaya medical clinic has now also been suspended due to a lack of resources and staff.
 "When I eat and drink, I ask myself, how the people in Madaya are living?", Mr Naanaa said. "How are the patients? Is there someone who needs my help? These questions are on my mind all the time, not only every day but also every minute every hour." '

Monday, 21 November 2016

Halifax journalist helps pen gut-wrenching documentary on war in Syria

 'The War Show is told through footage mostly shot by Syrian radio host Obaidah Zytoon. Starting in 2011 she took her camera to protests against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. For the next few years, Zytoon filmed her friends, their involvement in the revolution, and the torture, gun battles, starvation and destruction of her country.
 The film's co-writer Spencer Osberg met Zytoon in 2013 when he was working as a magazine editor in Beirut. She had escaped Syria and sought refuge there.
 “The reason I've stayed involved with (the film) for so long is because it feels like a defining movie, like 15, 20 years from now when people talk about the Syrian conflict, this tells the story of it,” he said.
 The film premiered at Venice Days in August, received a standing ovation and won the jury prize. Osberg said during its first showing, some audience members were weeping during the film.
 “It tells the wider story, but it brings you through it in a personal way where you get attached to the people,” he said. “You feel you know them and then they're taken from you.”
 His hope is the film makes what's happening in Syria feel real and creates a bridge of empathy.'
A woman in the city of Zabadani preparing masks for a protest.