Saturday, 3 December 2016

The Post-Aleppo Syria

Middle East Briefing

 'First, a couple of words for those trash ATMs who keep talking about “foiling the conspiracy of regime change in Syria”. This trash assumes that the hundreds of thousands that rushed out to protest in the streets of Syrian towns and villages in 2011 were all pushed by a vicious American conspiracy to change the regime in Damascus. It is an interesting assumption to say that all those protestors moved because someone pressed a button somewhere in Washington.

 Furthermore, if Obama wanted indeed to topple Assad he could have helped the opposition in 2012. At that time, the opposition’s main group, the Free Syrian Army (FSA), was made of defecting Syrian officers and soldiers who refused to obey orders to shoot at civilians. In fact, the main criticism directed by the Syrian at the US is that it resisted all along any decisive action to topple Assad.

 Those active distributors of that kind of trash are in fact helping the Iranian IRGC, Hezbollah, the Iraqi Shia zealots who raise sectarian flags over their units in the Nujaba gang fighting in Syria and one particularly oppressive dictators whom his crimes against opinion prisoners are documented.

 If some people do not have the moral fabric to admit that Assad is a children killer, a dictator who used brutal violence to quell peaceful protestors in 2011, and a man who accepted to destroy his country to defend his chair, they better at least shut up.

 Second a quick comment on what will follow Aleppo.

 The assumption that the fall of Aleppo to Assad’s forces is a game changer in Syria is questionable, at least, and flat-wrong at most. After all, Aleppo was in the hands of Assad until mid-July 2012. The way the opposition captured the east of the old city could very well be repeated in a future phase of the ongoing Syrian tragedy, so long as this tragedy continues.

 Even the claim that the defeat of Syria’s armed opposition will guarantee that it will never be back on its feet again is as erroneous as the previous one. In 2011, there was no Syrian armed opposition at all. Now, this armed opposition is a decisive factor in the course of events. As it was born from villages and streets five years ago, when Assad killed peaceful demonstrators, it will be born again and again, even faster as now most Syrian know who destroyed their country to his rule.

 We may be absorbed by the daily details coming from the battle fields in Syria. We may be too close to the picture to see the basic facts that started this tragedy and pushed it to spiral to what we currently see. But as it all started, it can start again over and over until the dictator leaves, oppression ends, and a free Syria ruled by its people emerges from this painful birth. For as long as there are Syrian, there will be opposition to Bashar Al Assad.

 Now, to Aleppo.

 Secretary of State John Kerry understands that capturing Aleppo will simply inflate Assad’s illusions about “liberating every inch of Syria”. The Secretary understands that this will mean “liberating Syria from Syrians” as is already happening. He knows that the fall of Aleppo will in fact complicate the path to any reasonable pacification plan in a country torn by war. But in all fairness to the Secretary, his boss denied him any tools to help pressure Assad and his allies.

 Still, the Secretary was desperately trying to prevent this complication until the last moment. He understands that the Trump administration may act in a way that exacerbates the deep split in Syria and he tried to open one last road to a reasonable end of the war before he goes.

 But Kerry’s attempts did not succeed before the elections, it is difficult to see how they could after the elections. Kerry’s most recent proposal was to stop the vengeance bombardment of Aleppo and embark on a meaningful exchange on the diplomatic track. He proposed a separation between the non-ISIL and non-Qaeda opposition and the rest. According to his plan, the terrorist affiliated groups would leave Aleppo when the relentless bombardment of its eastern quarters stops. A multi-party talks is to start soon after.

 But there was no chance whatsoever that Kerry’s midnight effort succeeds. Assad’s media mocked it. The Russians laughed. And the Iranians did not even listen.

 If Aleppo is captured by Assad and his Russian and Shia allies, the opposition fighters will go to the north west, the east and the south to continue their fight. They will focus more on infiltrating western urban areas. A long-term insurgency will begin until the next revolution in Syria topples the dictator. No one should expect the Syrians to give up after all these sacrifices.

 Unless Assad empties east Aleppo of its inhabitants, as he is already doing with starvation and extremely brutal violence against civilians, the city will resist his thugs. Only an empty Aleppo is a defeated Aleppo.

 In few words: Assad’s control over Aleppo is but one phase of a long-term strategy. Assad may win a battle, but let us not forget that he thought he won before to end up bringing the Russians, Hezbollah and Iraqi and Afghani Shia militias to help him remain presiding over a people who refuse him. And we still see some idiots applauding this.'

Friday, 2 December 2016

The Syrian rebellion will continue no matter what happens in Aleppo

Photo by: AFP

 Asaad Haana:

 "Am I alive? Where am I? Where is my family?
 With these words, the children of Aleppo emerge from under the rubble, in a city where mornings are akin to a daily rebirth – for if they can sleep, they don’t know whether they’ll remain alive until the next day or not. For the past fifteen days, the people of Aleppo have endured a vicious military campaign, unleashed upon them by Russia and the Assad regime.
 This campaign was premeditated and organised in full view of the international media and community; many an international media outlet had warned that Russia was amassing its troops in Syria and preparing for a major military operation aimed at taking control of the eastern section of Aleppo. Russia, now Assad’s most powerful ally, brought over its largest airplane carrier along with volunteers to fight alongside its army.
 Aleppo’s civilians did not sleep on the night of November 15 and the sound of the bombs was very different from what they were accustomed to. Bunker busters were dropped at random in the city’s eastern neighbourhoods, in the most destructive campaign the city has ever been subjected to. According to statistics by the Syria Civil Defence, more than 2000 air strikes and 7000 artillery shells targeted the city. They specifically targeted hospitals and Civil Defence centres, to prevent any attempts to rescue injured civilians. All hospitals were taken out of commission; the Civil Defence’s equipment was inoperative, rendering it useless in the effort to rescue civilians.
 After Assad used barrel bombs filled with toxic gas, that lead to multiple deaths from asphyxiation, those heavily shelled areas were rendered uninhabitable. The Free Syrian Army (FSA) then secured corridors to allow civilians to withdraw before the arrival of Assad’s ground troops, and then retreated to its second line of defence. The regime’s army thus entered the Masaken Hanano housing district, and the death toll for the first ten days of the offensive was 508 civilians, according to the Free Health Directorate of Aleppo. The army then extended its control on Al-Sakhur, with clashes shifting to Al-Bab road as the FSA established barricades in the southern part of Eastern Aleppo, which the FSA views as the best area from which to defend the city.
 As the FSA granted civilians the freedom to move to whichever area they deemed safest, a few moved to regime-controlled areas, with Russian guarantees of safe passage. Most relocated to the Kurdish-dominated Sheikh Maksoud neighbourhood. We received information that the Kurdish YPG, which controls the neighbourhood, arrested a number of young people aged 18 and upwards and handed them over to the regime, which promptly arrested them under the pretext that they were wanted for military service.
 Concurrently, the YPG has advanced onto and taken control of three opposition-held neighbourhoods, as part of a secret agreement with the regime forces. The FSA, it stands to mention, has fended off the YPG and the regime’s advancement for four years in addition to fighting ISIS terrorists, as part of “Operation Euphrates Shield” which was launched by Turkey a few months ago.
 Several politicians and analysts saw fit to announce the fall of the city of Aleppo, or even the end of the Syrian revolution, after the latest retreat of opposition forces. We find this unacceptable. Only those fighting on the ground can declare the fall of a city. As we speak, the FSA continuous to fight in Aleppo with all the means in its power, to regain control of the situation.
 The latest siege of Aleppo was not only conducted by Syrian regime forces. According to information gathered from combatants apprehended by the Free Syrian Army in previous battles, Syrians represent a mere 20% of those fighting on the regime’s side. Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard lead the ground operations, along with Afghan fighters and Shiite militias from multiple countries, backed by air cover from Russia and the Syrian regime. According to information we’ve received, 4000 Hezbollah fighters have entered Syria over the past two months, in preparation for the battle of Aleppo.
 It’s too early to talk about the aftermath of Aleppo, it is not over yet.
 It is true that the regime’s progression is a catastrophic development. But fighters remain in the heart of Eastern Aleppo, with thousands more outside of the city. They could tip the scales at any moment and the regime forces could become besieged in the same city they’re laying siege to.
 This has happened numerous times during the revolution: the regime would advance into an area, only for it to be retaken by the revolutionaries.
 What is notable, and deplorable, is the deafening global silence on what is taking place in Aleppo. Though the international community knew full well that Russia was gearing for an attack on the city, taking advantage of the transitional phase in the United States, not a single measure was taken to halt this operation, or at the very least to protect the area’s more than 250,000 civilians, mostly women and children.
 The unjustifiable American silence outright serves Russia and Assad, who is attempting to regain control over Syria regardless of the toll on human lives. Europe’s attempts to push the political needle, a fig leaf for its long-lasting negligence, are pointless, as it would take too long and would change nothing on the battlefield. Europe has failed to uphold the principles of human rights it claims to cherish, much like it has failed to stand up to Russia which has defied the entire world by violating every human right in its onslaught on the Syrian people.
 This military escalation on this densely populated city destroys one of the world’s oldest cities, expels its inhabitants from their homes, and deprives, yet again, more than five million people from the dream to return to their homeland. Many considered Aleppo to be a city they could safely return to, even if the liberation of the entirety of Syria’s territory was further delayed.
 Russia perceives controlling Aleppo as additional leverage over the new American administration, which had announced it would cease supporting the opposition.
 The Free Army wants you to know that the Revolution did not start with support from the US or anyone else, and it won’t stop should they withhold support. This is our right, and we are defending our country from a foreign occupation that now commands the country’s economic and military capabilities. We want to remove a dictatorial and criminal regime that has proven its willingness to sell its own country, kill its own people, all for the sake of maintaining its throne. As long as the regime remains, so will terrorism in the region.
The revolution will not cease. Revolution is an idea; and ideas do not die."

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Air strike kills the last clown of Aleppo, Anas al-Basha

Syrian social worker Anas al-Basha, 24, dressed as a clown, while posing for a photograph in Aleppo, Syria.

 'He was the clown who brought joy to the lives of children in a city that has been described as going through a "slow-motion descent into hell".

 Social worker Anas al-Basha refused to leave the rebel-held Syrian city of Aleppo despite a merciless bombing campaign by Syrian and Russian forces that has seen the city of two million people disintegrate.

 Instead, the 24-year-old dressed as a clown and provided counselling to hundreds of children who have been orphaned by the country's civil war that has torn apart a country for almost six years.

 On Thursday, he was killed in an air strike presumed to have been launched by allied Syrian or Russian forces on the Mashhad neighbourhood in eastern Aleppo, two months after marrying his wife.

 "The last clown of Aleppo," mourned the Children of Syria Facebook page. "With him the besieged children of Aleppo laughed."

 Anas was a director for the Space for Hope centre which helps other psycho-social support centres and 12 schools in eastern Aleppo. He sent his salary to his parents, who left the city before the government sealed off the rebel-held eastern districts.

 "He would act out skits for the children to break the walls between them," his supervisor Samar Hijazi said.'

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Alleged Nusra militant grabs Syrian uprising flag during anti-Assad protest

 'Activists and locals from Aleppo and Idlib took the streets of the rebel-held city of Idlib at the clock tower in solidarity with those suffering in eastern Aleppo. During the demonstration, the people chanted for the Free Syrian Army to unite, for Russia and Iran to stop bombing Syria and to show solidarity with Aleppo.

 They chanted: “Aleppo, we are with you till death”.

 Activists held banners that read: “The conscious of humanity is burning in Aleppo.”

 Hadi Abdullah, a Syrian media activist who has survived many assassination attempts by the Syrian regime and has covered the massacres in Aleppo attended the protest and said that during the march, a man ran up and grabbed one of the freedom flags 'angrily' and tried to destroy it. He said a group of men ran up and confronted the guy, grabbing the flag back. According to Hadi, the man who attempted to disrupt the peaceful protest, could be affiliated with Nusra front.

 Hadi said his message to the people of the world is: "It's very shameful that the world has abandoned the oldest-inhibited city filled with civilians for ruthless killers to destroy every house, rock for rock, and kill its own people. We have lost hope in international justice, human rights… We’ve lost hope that the international community would stand up for the victim in the face of the oppressor. There is one thing that I am sure of, we will continue with our revolution for freedom and justice until we win or die.” '

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Europe can stop Syria's suffering

Shiyar Khaleal:

 'I consider myself lucky to have survived one of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad’s detention centres. Since the start of the Syrian revolution in March 2011, hundreds of thousands of innocent people have been arrested and unlawfully detained for: seeking freedom, democracy and a government accountable to its people, the same crimes I was charged with.

 The vast majority of those arrested cannot tell the accounts of the horror they saw and experienced. They are dead. For every person killed inside a regime prison cell, thousands more starve and are tortured, too often with sexual violence, in captivity. Former chief prosecutor of the special court of Sierra Leone, Desmond Lorenz de Silva, likens torture inside Assad’s jails to “industrial-scale killing.”

 While the world’s attention was on the outcome of the US elections, on 16 November I travelled to Brussels with a delegation of Syrian human rights lawyers and former detainees to meet with senior EU diplomats. Our message is clear: Europe must be a moral partner for the Syrian people and pave the way for a new comprehensive approach on Syria. This is now even more important given the outcome of the US elections.

 Our delegation in Brussels bore the onus of speaking for all those who perished in detention. They all are a constant reminder of why, we Syrians, first came to the streets, and why our revolution endures. Efforts to secure the release of detainees will save lives and help unlock efforts to reach a political solution. The Syrian people have repeatedly called on the regime to release detainees as a confidence-building measure. Making progress on the detainee's file remains one way to restart meaningful negotiations for a political transition.

 Justice and peace in Syria will also translate to more security in Europe. The refugee crisis and the rise of terrorist attacks show Europe is not isolated from Syria's crisis. Yet, neither terrorism nor the refugee crisis will be addressed without genuine accountability in Syria.

 There are concrete steps the EU can take to guarantee justice and accountability for the Syrian people. For example; the EU and its member states should lead an effort both within Europe and the UN General Assembly to demand that international monitors, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, gain immediate access to all Syrian detention facilities, including secret facilities controlled by foreign militias.

 As the Caesar photos show, some of Assad’s harshest forms of ‘justice’ are meted out with daunting regularity in these facilities, where detainees are raped, tortured, starved, suffocated, shot, and murdered. As the EU's foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini steps up her regional engagement, we call on her to press the regime - and its backers in Moscow and Tehran - into suspending all execution orders in the detention centres. Those responsible for kidnapping, torturing, and executing innocent people must be held responsible.

 Syrians deserve a future where they can live safe, free of tyranny and fear of indiscriminate bombs. As long as hundreds of thousands of Syrians are detained unlawfully, no Syrian is free. That’s why we need Europe to stand up and ensure those responsible for abuses and tortures inside Syrian’s prisons will be brought to justice. Accountability and transitional justice are critical for a future free Syria for all Syrians.'

'Will Not Surrender': Syrian 'White Helmet' Describes Aleppo Siege


 'Ismail Alabdullah, a volunteer rescue worker with the White Helmets, described the siege as the heaviest bombing he had experienced in the country's five-year civil war.

 "I can't describe this bombing, I mean non-stop bombing, every time, every second, every minute."

 Alabdullah pleaded for help from the international community to "end this massacre," but he acknowledged that such an outcome was, at this point, unlikely.

 "I'm pretty sure, 100 percent they will not do anything," he said, adding: "The Syria revolution is now going to end. They will not hear our voices."

 Alabdullah said it was impossible to leave to Aleppo — "there is no road to go out" — and that many people remain trapped in a small western section of the city. There is no electricity there, nor are there medical supplies and he anticipated running out of fuel in two days, he said.

 "The streets are full of people," he said. "They are walking in the streets without any, like, clothes or food."

 He added: "It's like more than hell."

 Still, Alabdullah said he had no choice but to continue working.

 "I didn't stay in Aleppo City for these years to surrender at the end," he said. "We are doing our duty to our country and for our people. Will not surrender, will not give up, will not give up." '

How Can You Heartbreak A Stranger?

 Yasmine Nahlawi:

 "Up until now the Security Council has been paralysed because of Russian and Chinese vetoes. but the draft resolution that the Security Council put forward last month was vetoed by Russia alone. If we continue to rely on the Security Council as a scapegoat for not engaging in any action, there will be no action on Syria. What we are advocating for is the pursuit and the convening of an emergency special session of the United Nations General Assembly. This is an alternative to overcome the abuse of vetoes in the Security Council, when there is a situation that threatens international peace and security, as Syria obviously does. The Canadian government is involved in calling for an emergency special session. It has submitted a letter to the President of the General Assembly last month, signed by over 70 countries including the UK, calling on the President of the General Assembly to convene an emergency special session on Syria; and should this happen, the General Assembly would be able to recommend measures, including the use of force, for states to take with respect to Syria.

 The Syrian heartbreak is twofold. The first is obviously the family, friends, cities, neighbourhoods, communities, memories, that you've left behind, and the people you know who continue to face starvation by Assad, continue to face bombardment by Assad and Russia. So that's the first heartbreak that Syrians face. The second heartbreak is just watching all of this, and realising that the international community is doing absolutely nothing. It could be as simple as dropping humanitarian aid on to besieged areas, and if the international community isn't even willing to do that, then us Syrians have faced a very big heartbreak in this respect."

 David Miliband:

"We've spoken to people today, and they describe the situation and I quote as "Doomsday" in East Aleppo. And of course the key point is it's not only East Aleppo that there is a pounding of an incessant kind. In East Damascus, in the south-west of the country, there are people with that worry as well, and it gives the lie to the argument that this is being done to target ISIS or Jabhat al-Nusra. In Eastern Damascus it's rebel groups that do not fall into those two categories. So I think you are right to say there is a very high order of concern. I'm afraid that recommendations from the General Assembly don't carry the same weight or the same action as a decision of the Security Council can, and it's the Security Council that can invoke force and deploy UN force and of course provide legal cover for other countries to do their own actions. I think it's very important that it's political division that has neutered efforts to bring relief to the people of Syria, and inside Eastern Aleppo. Since the 13th of November, they've had no food aid at all.

 The history of air drops is far from simple. The dangers are real for the people on the ground, never mind the people flying there. Certainly they should be on the table, and if Hilary Benn has made the point that we're in last resort situation, he's
 absolutely right to do so. Secondly, it's vital that we don't lose sight of the core demand, which is a cessation of hostilities and a freeze in the fighting, because until that happens, there will be no space at all for the political movement necessary. One other point, I want to know who ordered the bombing of the IRC medical facilities this year. Our own organisation has had eight hospitals bombed this year. Accountability for war crimes, and that's what we're talking about, bombings of humanitarian centres marked on maps, that then get bombed, I want to know as the CEO of the International Rescue Committee who is ordering those things. It's the breakdown not just of mechanisms for action in the Security Council that's of concern, it's also the breakdown of any sense of accountability for one of the most heinous crimes we've seen this century.

 I think that the consequences of the 2003 decision [to go to war in Iraq] are clear for all to see, and in various aspects have been disastrous. But I think it's also very important to say that the uprising in Deraa in 2011 was a homegrown revolt against autocratic rule. And it's very important that in the West there is proper recognition of decisions that are made in the West. I was a Schools Minister in
 2003, and I say very clearly about the mistakes that were made in 2003, and the mistakes, frankly, that were made subsequently in the administration of the peace, never mind the waging of the war, after 2003. It's also important to say that history is made by Arabs in the Middle East too, and the people of Aleppo who made peaceful protests in 2011, the people of Deraa where the civil war started, were protesting and demanding accountable government. And I think it's very important not to forget that the conflict that's happening in Syria is not just a sectarian one between different confessional denominations in the country. It's also part of a demand for accountable and legitimate government, never mind the wider geopolitical and intra-regional conflagration that has been taking place since then."