Saturday, 23 September 2017

Siege Watch Seventh Quarterly Report on Besieged Areas in Syria May-July 2017

 'An estimated 821,210 people remain trapped in at least 34 besieged communities across the country and nearly 1.7 million additional Syrians live in “Watchlist” areas, under threat of intensified siege and abuse. The Syrian government and its allies remain responsible for the vast majority of all of the sieges in Syria and for most of the threats to “Watchlist” communities. ISIS-controlled al-Raqqa city was added to the Siege Watch “Watchlist” for the first time ever, after being surrounded by US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in June. Two more “Watchlist” communities – Barzeh and Qaboun – capitulated to forced surrender agreements in the face of humanitarian crises caused by Syrian government’s “surrender or die” strategy. Both were subjected to forced population transfers uprooting thousands of civilians. Qaboun was entirely depopulated and removed from project monitoring efforts. At least six suspected chemical attacks were launched against opposition fighters in Jobar and Ein Tarma during the reporting period. In one case, victims showed symptoms consistent with exposure to a nerve agent. Eastern Ghouta, the largest remaining besieged enclave in the country, is the most likely target of the Syrian government’s next major scorched earth campaign after pro-government forces capture Jobar. More than 420,000 people are at risk. Humanitarian conditions continued to deteriorate in Deir Ezzor, where besieged civilians are bracing for escalated hostilities.'

Image result for Siege Watch Seventh Quarterly Report on Besieged Areas in Syria May-July 2017

Nobody did anything against the régime and Russia

Image result for Syria war 'ignored by United Nations'

 Khaled Khateeb:

 "The bombing hasn't stopped yet. A lot of people will be killed. A lot of houses will be destroyed, and construction will be destroyed. How can we let the refugees back to Syria, if there is no chance for them to live in peace in Syria?

 I feel really disappointed for the international community, because nobody did anything against the régime and Russia until now. Right now there are a lot of people bombing, and Assad is still president.

 A lot of Syrians pay to leave Syria. Most of them have lost some of their family. Who can live in Syria? Right now, more than 500.000 people have been killed. They have to do something against the bombing, and they have to protect the civilians, because it's the role of the international community to protect the people.

 I was a high school student, but when the bombing started in 2011, I felt I had to do something to document what was going on, to document the massacres, and that's why I joined - as a photographer - the White Helmets. It's very important to share this story, even if it's scary and dangerous, but there is an important mission and message; to let all the people watch what we watch in Syria. What we see. That is why a lot of Syrians have become photographers and cameramen, because we want to be documenting what is going on.

 And that's why we have made this movie [The White Helmets]. Not for attending festivals or to win the Oscar, we have to reach it for the people around the world."

Friday, 22 September 2017

What we really mean when we say ‘liberated’ in Syria

 Nadine Almanasfi:

 'Earlier this month, during a UN Humanitarian Task Force update, UN Special Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura solemnly proclaimed that “a moment of truth” was coming in the Syrian war.

 With the advance on Deir Ezzor and the impending defeat of the Islamic State (IS) group in Raqqa, de Mistura suggested that it was increasingly likely that, for many of the international actors who became involved in the conflict to fight IS, their work was nearly over.

 Or to use Donald Trump’s language, the “destruction” of IS was complete, and for de Mistura and the UN this signified the transformation of those key areas into “liberated zones”.

 “Deir Ezzor is almost liberated. In fact, it is as far as we are concerned,” he said during the press conference on 6 September. “The next one is going to be Raqqa – it’s a matter of days or weeks.”

 It is worth looking at the use of the term “liberated zone” in the 21st-century Middle Eastern context, and how it is used sparingly and mostly in reference to anti-Islamist activity.

 In July 2017, after his army fought against several militias including the al-Qaeda affiliated Ansar al-Sharia, Libya’s General Khalifa Haftar, a field marshal under Muammar Gaddafi, announced the liberation of Benghazi from “terrorism, a full liberation and a victory of dignity”.

 Somewhat paradoxically, even the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen, which has killed hundreds of civilians in air strikes and created the world’s worst outbreak of cholera, has labelled their territorial gains against al-Qaeda in the southern provinces as “liberated areas”.

 I am not suggesting that removing Islamic militant groups from the region isn’t a priority. But I question the use of the term for areas like Deir Ezzor and Raqqa when we look at other Syrian cities where citizens operate independent media outlets documenting the activities of both regime and opposition groups.

 Or, as in Idlib earlier this year, set up local council elections outside of the purview of both regime and Islamist militant elements.

 Both Western and Arab governments have equated victory against Islamist groups with this notion of liberation, as if these groups are the only threat to progressive notions of justice and security and overlooking the authoritarian regimes at the foundations of these societies. These narratives serve to de-legitimise the long-term and liberationist practices of citizens in their local areas.

 This designation of the “liberated zone” is used frequently in relation to IS-controlled areas of Syria and Iraq (see the most recent liberation of Mosul).

 But throughout the history of the Syrian conflict in particular, “liberation” has rarely been used by international actors to describe the state of affairs in areas where citizens have managed to govern themselves such as in Zabadani.

 Starting in mid-2012 and even as the city was besieged, locals in this Damascus suburb ran their own autonomous and independent municipality, governed through democratic elections for a period of time. Earlier this year after years under siege, the remaining residents were transferred to Idlib as part of an agreement between rebels and the regime. But their local governance during those years should not be forgotten.

 We complain that the international community is all words and no action, but their use of language is still important and sets a tone for how diplomacy proceeds. All too often, that language simply mirrors the regime’s "jihadist vs the world" point of view, rather than acknowledging the political activism of the Syrian people, big and small, since the beginning of the uprising.

 Yes, these democratically governed areas may have negotiated with opposition forces, including militant Islamists, and also with regime forces, especially when it came to securing food and resources for their people. But the key point is that they were governing themselves outside of both Ba’athist and Islamist authoritarian repression.

 So when we are talking about liberated zones in Syria, what do we actually mean? A temporary, faux-liberation that enables the previous Syrian socio-political structures of intimidation and coercion to prevail?

 Defining geographies of liberation in the Syrian civil war has always been subjective, but through the influence of the Syrian regime and its international allies, much of the country’s genuine political opposition has been portrayed as a homogenised group of potential terrorists.

 This securitisation of the opposition has affected the built environment of the country. In 2012, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad signed Decree 66 into law allowing for the redevelopment of “unauthorised housing and informal settlements”.

 The law has allowed urban developments like Basateen al-Razi in Damascus to move forward, despite the fact that many believe, as journalist Tom Rollins has reported, the projects are a guise to forcibly dispossess those who oppose the regime and engineer demographic change.

 “When al-Assad announced Decree 66, his minister of local administration, Omar Ibrahim al-Ghalawanji, hailed it as a ‘first step in the reconstruction of illegal housing areas, especially those targeted by armed terrorist groups’,” Rollins writes.

 “State media promotional material for the Basateen al-Razi development makes a similar argument. With 'terrorists' gone, it says, the serious work of rebuilding Syria can begin.”

 Reconstruction projects have been launched in the Homs neighbourhood of Baba Amr, once a rebel stronghold, and Rollins reports that observers expect east Aleppo to be next.

 The regime’s use of polarising and securitising language is no surprise considering they wish to remain in power. But now we see a resigned international community which is failing to find solutions for a post-conflict Syria that do not pivot around the Assad regime.

 The Astana peace talks are a prime example. In these ongoing negotiations, the concept of “de-escalation” has been central, but again what are the consequences of de-escalation - and what does the term actually mean?

 What the international community now seems to be saying is that as the agenda of defeating Islamic extremism in the region is coming to an end, the war is coming to an end, and any military advances on the Syrian regime and their allies must be put to the side for the sake of non-violent peace processes. These, of course, have a tendency to fall flat on their face in the Middle East. Just see the Israeli-Palestinian "peace process" for an illustration.

 “On the opposition, the message is very clear: if they were planning to win the war, facts are proving that is not the case. So now it’s time to win the peace by negotiating and by making concessions on both sides,” de Mistura explained.

 It’s as if war and peace are not intertwined, as if the Syrian regime – by aiding the rise of al-Qaeda in Iraq and releasing militant prisoners early on in the war - didn’t contribute towards the perpetuation of Islamic extremism in the region that morphed into IS. But war and peace, the Syrian regime and IS do not exist in separate spheres, they are not mutually exclusive.

 The greater war that Syrians have long fought and will continue to fight against the Assad machine will not end through peace talks that continue to legitimise the regime’s position in the country in order to achieve part-time liberation. De Mistura’s comments simply fall into the same tired rhetoric that repeats ad nauseum that political processes need to occur between the regime and “the opposition”.

 After seven years of war, and many years before that when the regime and Syrian civil society held shallow negotiations as part of the Damascus Spring, what are the chances of winning the peace?

 The next round of Astana peace talks, scheduled for October, will be brokered by Iran, Russia and Turkey, yet despite their in-depth knowledge of the conflict, they are explicitly biased interlocutors. The talks have seen opposition groups drop out because of a lack of faith in the practical implementation of the decisions if one has to rely on the Syrian regime and its allies.

 Sloppy references to “liberated zones” isolated from the deeper political context do not tackle the root of the repression in the country, and the reason why liberation will stay relegated to zones, and not the entire country itself.

 De Mistura, the UN, and the international community as a whole must be consistent with their narrative for a peaceful post-conflict resolution in Syria, one that recognises the fundamental obstacle to long-lasting peace: the regime and the international community’s inability to gauge whether Assad will abide by non-violent resolutions – agreed by the regime and the opposition - for the long-term goal of justice and peace in Syria.'

FSA rejects US offer to fight alongside PYD in Syria's Deir el-Zour

A general view of the eastern Syrian city of Deir el-Zour on September 20, 2017 (AFP Photo)

 'The Free Syrian Army (FSA) has turned down the U.S.' offer to fight alongside the PKK's Syrian offshoot People's Protection Units (YPG) dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to liberate Deir el-Zour from Daesh terrorists, saying that they do not want to fight alongside a terrorist group.

 FSA-affiliated Maghawir al-Sawra group's spokesperson Muhammad Jarrah has said that they received an offer from the U.S. to fight with the SDF in Deir el-Zour.

 He noted that they rejected the offer as they consider the YPG and its political wing Democratic Union Party (PYD) as separatists and that both the SDF and Daesh paralyzed the Syrian uprising and boost Assad's strength.

 Jarrah noted that the only condition their group would participate in the liberation operation is by taking "independent steps" as they "do not want to share the burden of crimes committed against Syrian civilians."

 "Assad regime and Russian jets committed massive massacres in the city" he added.

 Another U.S.-backed moderate opposition group's spokesperson Saed el-Hajj also said that they received the same offer from the U.S., but they rejected it.

 "The SDF and the regime are from the same group" el-Hajj said, adding that they do not trust the SDF and that such offers aim to create division among moderate opposition groups and destroy their goals and principles.

 The spokesperson noted that they are also in favor of an independent road map for Deir el-Zour, not including the SDF.

 The PYD started advancing toward Daesh-held Deir el-Zour on Sept. 9, with no resistance from the terrorist group.'

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Report From Dera’a, Cradle of the Syrian Revolution

FSA Dera’a

 Khaled al Zubi:

 'In July, in one of President Trump’s first foreign-policy advances, the United States, Russia, and Jordan brokered a cease-fire between Syrian regime and opposition forces in the country’s southern provinces along the Jordanian border. The deal raised many people’s hopes that a new era had begun, one that would rein in Bashar al-Assad’s military operations against his own people. That’s not the way it worked out.

 Several weeks ago, I awoke late at night to the whizzing sound of regime aircraft circling the skies above my village, Muleiha Sharqiyya, and my 1-month-old son, crying. It was his first experience with warplanes in his short life, and no doubt scary. I rolled over and quickly scanned my phone; friends on WhatsApp were saying that several hundred Syrian and Russian forces were gathering outside Sama Hneidat, just east of Muleiha Sharqiyya, in apparent preparation for an assault. Not more than 15 minutes later, FSA rebel convoys carrying reinforcements could be heard passing down the main road heading east, toward the regime buildup.

 Muleiha Sharqiyya is part of a string of towns in Syria’s southernmost Dera’a province that collectively form a sort of border between regime- and opposition-held territory. Our hamlet of 6,000 faces several regime-held towns located just under two miles east, well within range of small artillery. A few miles south looms the sprawling Tha’la military air base, where Assad’s forces regularly assemble before launching assaults on cities and towns in east Dera’a.

 I got up and texted Yasser, a colleague who worked the nearest checkpoint through which the convoy was undoubtedly passing. “It’s nothing, inshallah,” he wrote, “but some of the guys think they [the regime] might wanna take the reservoir before the winter.” This was a reference to the water reservoir in a nearby village, which serves both regime and opposition farms.

 “There’s foreigners with them,” Yasser added, which usually meant Iranians, Afghans, or even Russians.

 By the end of the night, the FSA mustered a big-enough show of force to deter the pro-regime forces without firing a shot. It’s a testimony to the organization and readiness of opposition forces here and the popular support they enjoy.

 The Syrian revolution began in Dera’a in 2011, and what transpires here is crucial to the viability of a political solution to the Syrian conflict. It was in Dera’a city that Syrian youth sprayed “The people want the fall of the regime” on walls and were arrested on March 6 of that year. The first mass protest against the regime—the so-called “Day of Rage”—occurred on March 15. On March 24, Dera’a saw the first massacre of the revolution, when security forces killed more than 200 civilians just outside the Omari mosque in Dera’a’s Old City. [The Nation could not independently verify this figure and therefore does not endorse its authenticity. International reporting at the time of the event placed the number killed there, on that day and in the days afterward, at anywhere from 5 to 150.]

 Perhaps because the revolution began here, its spirit has been preserved in its purest form in the south. Unlike other liberated areas—such as Idlib in the north and East Ghouta in the Damascus suburbs, which are dominated by Islamist military factions—FSA factions here, collectively known as the Southern Front, have successfully prevented the spread of such groups. Both a free press and civil society thrive here, along with independent civil courts that resolve disputes between individuals. If the Assad regime can’t preserve a fragile peace with the Southern Front, it’s unlikely to do so elsewhere.

 The fact that the Southern Front factions are committed to the principles of democracy has a downside. This region has historically enjoyed more support from the United States, Britain, and other sectors of the international community than other FSA factions and has been spared the grinding poverty in besieged parts of Syria where Islamists or other radical forces have sway. On the other hand, much of what goes on in our province goes unreported, both internationally and in the regional press. When violations occur, they often go unnoticed.

 That is not to say that locals are uninformed. The near-clash in my area took place in late July, just over two months after the fourth round of talks in Astana, Kazakhstan, in May, where Russia, Iran, and Turkey came up with the idea of implementing “de-escalation zones” across Syria. But neither those talks nor the US-brokered cease-fire has stopped regime aircraft from regularly bombing Dera’a city, the large provincial capital. Nonetheless, on this particular night, in Sama Hneidat, regime forces may have figured that it wasn’t worth violating the cease-fire over a battle they were likely to lose.

 “Putin’s playing with Papa Trump,” a neighbor, Abu Faysal, told me the next morning, over coffee. “Everyone thinks Trump is crazy and that Putin—guided by logic—is pulling the strings,” he added. “What they don’t realize is that Syria makes everybody crazy.” Abu Faysal was convinced that the regime buildup was a Russian attempt to intimidate both the FSA and the United States to gain leverage for the next round of talks, whenever they would be. “Trump tried to show Russia he was the worst by bombing Assad,” a reference to the April 6 US airstrikes on Syria’s Shayrat air base after Assad used chemical weapons in Khan Sheikhoun. “Now Putin’s saying, ‘I can be crazy too, but a different kind of crazy.’”

 When the “Day of Rage” protests began, I was an economics major at Tishreen University in the northwest province of Latakia. Dominated by the Assad family’s minority Alawite sect, Latakia has always been loyal to the regime, and Tishreen University was no different. When I and other students organized a march in solidarity with Dera’a, most of the student body watched from the sidelines as we entered the main quad, to be detained by school security.

 By April 2011, many of the Tishreen students were labeling the protesters in Dera’a as radical Sunni jihadists. The regime had already adopted the slogan “us or the terrorists.” The university paper published articles claiming that intelligence had been intercepted demonstrating that “calls for help” had been made to international jihadists like Al Qaeda.

 It was shocking to hear what was being said about my distant home province. The mood on campus was becoming so different from what I was hearing back home that I decided to leave university, return home, and join the protesters, or at least comfort my family. In the end I did both, as I learned soon after that one of my cousins, Ahmed, had been shot and wounded by security forces during a demonstration.

 Shortly after my return home, six friends and I, armed with just two AK-47s and several hunting rifles, set up our town’s first neighborhood watch along the road leading south toward the Tha’la air base, which we would man at night. It was a modest effort, but our ranks would slowly grow, and to our surprise, we got support from sympathetic army officers, many of whom would later defect and join the opposition.

 One such person was Zakaria, a sergeant from the northeastern town of Qamishli who was stationed at the 52nd Brigade base located just west of Muleiha Sharqiyya. Zakaria often frequented the mobile-phone shop my family owned, initially to buy credit for his phone. As time went on, Zakaria became more and more friendly with me and our staff, and ultimately began to speak about his desire to defect, saying that he feared what would happen to his family if he were killed.

 One day Zakaria gave me his phone number and told me to call if I needed anything. I wasn’t sure if he was aware of my nighttime activity manning an armed checkpoint to deter his security forces. However, several weeks later, it was Zakaria who reached out to me, and it was clear from our conversation that he was privy to what I was up to.

 “Security forces are going to launch night raids tonight looking for Khaled, Fadi, and Maher,” he said, referring to another volunteer named Khaled. “They’re going to charge them with engaging in terrorist activity.” I forwarded the message, advising all three to leave town. I also advised the other guys manning the checkpoint to stay home. Sure enough, the raids were launched, but the security forces came up empty-handed.

 “Whoever saves one life—it is as if he had saved all of mankind,” I told Zakaria the next day, citing a well-known passage from the Quran and Talmud during a phone call thanking him for his help. He later defected from the army while on leave in Damascus. Before doing so he introduced us to other sympathetic army officers who would continue to help us stay several steps ahead of the regime. The last I heard, Zakaria was dead, killed while fighting the regime alongside an FSA faction in the eastern Damascus suburb of Qabun.

 As the months went on, I switched from carrying a rifle to a camera. As the armed insurgency phase of the revolution intensified, more and more Syrian army officers defected to the opposition who were far more qualified than I to provide security for our town. Furthermore, working at my family’s mobile-phone shop afforded me more experience than most people in my area working with computers, cameras, and other forms of technology.

 My experience with Zakaria and other army officers who would later defect also meant I was uniquely placed to coordinate with the armed factions and track developments through the course of the revolution. I dived headfirst into journalism and activism and haven’t looked back. My work has taken me to frontlines all over the south, where I’ve been able to witness FSA losses and gains and had the privilege of developing ties with other like-minded activists. Our job is to use our cameras to document regime war crimes and tell individual stories of triumph, failure, and perseverance that collectively make up the ethos of resistance in the south.

 My work allows me to see first-hand the solidarity among the southern factions that characterize our region. Unlike in other parts of the country, where individual groups lay claim to specific towns, regions, or swaths of land, in many parts of the south armed brigades and factions share territory and come and go between different front lines, as the situation requires. This freedom of movement extends to myself and others, and is a testament to our region’s success: Though I pledge allegiance to no faction, my work on behalf of the Syrian revolution ingratiates me with the Southern Front factions, whom I call my brothers.

 Ever since the fourth round of Astana talks in early May, when de-escalation zones were first broached, Syrian regime forces have adopted a series of new tactics in the Dera’a countryside that appear to be aimed at provoking a violent response from FSA opposition forces, while allowing the regime to maintain plausible deniability.

 The first incident occurred between May 28 and 30, when, similar to what happened in Sama Hneidat, hundreds of pro-Assad Iranian, Afghan, and Lebanese Hezbollah fighters mobilized with dozens of tanks and heavy artillery over a period of three days outside the town of Khirbat Ghazala, six miles northeast of Dera’a city. The show of force was interpreted by FSA artillery units stationed in the area as a direct provocation.

 Muhammad Badr al-Izra’i, an FSA commander stationed with a local artillery brigade, told me regime columns were approaching from two different directions, one from Damascus and the second from the frontlines in Dera’a city.

 Al-Izra’i was convinced the regime would claim it was implementing the terms of the Astana talks by de-escalating the fight in Dera’a and then, after the fact, send in the second column the next day and commit a massacre in Dera’a city. “They wanted to hide this fact from the international community, so they withdrew some forces first, in order to provide cover,” he said.

 To preempt an ambush of FSA forces in Dera’a city, al-Izra’i’s unit leader decided to fire on the regime forces approaching from Dera’a. Regime ranks took heavy losses, scattered, and withdrew in different directions. “Our actions that day are what showed the regime we’re not willing to stand for such trickery,” he said. The FSA stand at Khirbat Ghazala may explain why pro-regime forces stood down later in Sama Hneidat after the FSA mobilized its own reinforcements.

 Since then, regime forces have avoided clashing directly in the open with FSA factions in the Dera’a countryside, choosing instead to launch air strikes or quick hit and-run artillery attacks. The regime, it seems, is changing its tactics. Throughout June and July, regime forces have used airstrikes or hit-and-run artillery against the towns of Sayda, al-Na’ima, al-Laja, and the al-Nasib border crossing with Jordan. As it launches airstrikes, the regime claims it does so in response to the movement of terrorist groups, knowing that moderate FSA forces dominate opposition areas.

 One of those killed in a June 22 air strike in al-Na’ima was a close friend, Mustafa Abd al-Nur, a civilian who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time when Syrian regime jets dropped their bombs. Regime violations of the agreed-upon de-escalation zone aren’t as bad here as they are in other areas—in particular East Ghouta—but innocent people are still being killed due to the regime’s failure to live up to its promises.

 Most southerners are skeptical of Russian and regime intentions in the de-escalation zones. No one believes that Assad or his allies seriously intend to let the Syrian opposition maintain control of any part of the country in the mid- to long term. The Southern Front in turn has not abandoned its aim to defeat Assad militarily or force his government to dissolve.

 However, many here support de-escalation zones—but on the condition that Jordan and Russia, not Iran, serve as guarantors. That will allow the Southern Front time to redress problems within the region that have undermined the progress of our revolution for several years—in particular, rooting out what little remains of ISIS, HTS, and other extremist factions. I expect the regime would also like to take advantage of the calm to carry out a bit of spring-cleaning on its side as well.

 For now, the Assad regime is likely to try to sabotage and weaken the FSA in the south. Late at night on June 28, my own home was shot up by unknown assailants as I was sleeping next to my wife, just five days before the birth of our son. Luckily, no one was hurt, and we left to stay with family members in the town of Sayda, a safer spot deeper in opposition-held territory. My son, exposed to the sound of gunshots before his own birth and the sound of warplanes within his first month, will undoubtedly grow up fast, and will likely become desensitized to the sounds of war before he’s able to walk.

 As of now we don’t know who is responsible for the shooting. It could be elements of the Assad regime infiltrating behind enemy lines in order to kill those of us who are most active in the media. Or it could be the HTS/Al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra), whom I’ve been outspoken against since their arrival in the region back in 2013.

 Luckily, the south hasn’t fallen under the sway of radical jihadists as in other parts of the country, such as Idlib, East Ghouta, and Qalamoun. This stems partially from the social dynamics of the south and partially from luck. When the revolution began, many radical groups focused their efforts around Syria’s urban enclaves, such as Damascus, Hama, and Aleppo, ignoring the south. By the time Jabhat al-Nusra, ISIS, and others sought to penetrate the region, the social, democratic, and military infrastructure in place was strong enough to resist their spread.

 This infrastructure was undergirded by resilient communal ties that have evolved and intertwined since the earliest days of the revolution, when individuals such as myself and others took the initial risks that were needed to inspire others and instill in them a sense of purpose. The south’s status as the birthplace of the revolution means we have had more time to evolve and strengthen these ties, building trust between individuals, communities, and towns that have in turn provided fertile ground for the development of grassroots, democratic reform.

 Many have died defending the south, and I expect many more will. However, military power alone hasn’t got us where we are.

 Activists and journalists such as myself aren’t doing it for salary or some messianic ideology full of empty promises. We fight for our families, our homes, and the dignity of our towns. The civil, social, and political infrastructure is the bedrock that holds our foundation in place, even if soldiers die in the fighting. We think our model is an example, and we trust that our allies abroad won’t abandon us. I believe the south will prevail.'

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Syrian Regime Forces Loses Strategic Areas In Northern Hama


 'At the beginning of today, the Syrian regime and its militias lost several military positions following a military operation launched by several military factions in the northern Hama countryside.

 According to media sources affiliated with the Syrian regime, its troops retreated from al-Qahera, Al-Shaatha, Al-Talisiyah and Al-Suda hill near the town of Ma'an in the northern countryside of Hama, military factions have not released information yet.

 The Russia warplanes launched several air raids on the villages and towns of the northern Hama countryside, as well as rendering two Hospitals in both Kernabal and Khan Sheikhun out of service as a result of the raids.

 The northern Hama countryside has been relatively calm in the military operations since entering the de-escalation agreement on the 4th of May, but the regime forces attacked the opposition factions in violation of the agreement in both the Janaba and al-Zalkeyat and seized them north of Hama.'

Three hospitals in an hour

Image may contain: sky, cloud, outdoor and nature

 'Three hospitals in an hour were destroyed by Assad regime and Russian warplanes in the countryside of Idlib. The Obstetrics hospital of "Tah" was one of them. This is in addition to two schools.

 Rahma hospital in Khan Sheikhoun in the countryside of Idlib has been targeted by Assad planes.

 They always start killing life and hope.'

Image may contain: fire and outdoor

Monday, 18 September 2017

In Syria, the World’s Democracies Failed Us

 Fadi Azzam:

 'Umar ibn al-Khattab, a chief adviser and successor to the Prophet Muhammad, was the last truly just ruler in the Arab world, and he died 1,400 years ago. Khattab was called “al-Farooq” — the one who distinguishes between right and wrong.

 He also uttered one of the most beautiful phrases in Arab history: “How can you turn people into slaves when their mothers gave birth to them as free human beings?”

 Khattab extended the Islamic empire as far as Persia and was renowned for establishing evenhanded governance throughout the conquered lands, including in what is now Syria.

 Damascus is a pivot point for understanding history and its movements. Conquered countless times, the city has always managed to remain steadfastly itself when its occupiers change.

 During the last century, Damascus established many of the essentials of democracy: elections, a parliament, political parties, anti-government protests, freedom of the press.

 Then came the Baath Party coup in 1963. Hafez al-Assad snatched freedom and instituted a paranoid regime. In 2000 his son Bashar succeeded him, and promised — at first — to redeem Syria. But the reform movement stalled.

 In March 2011, in the midst of the Arab Spring, protesters took to the streets of Damascus, demanding democratic reforms and the release of political prisoners. Security forces opened fire — and a revolution began, gradually convulsing all of Syria.

 In a video from that time, President Bashar al-Assad’s soldiers trampled a group of young protesters shackled in chains on the ground: You want freedom, you animals? Tell me: What is freedom? That was the question. And the Assad regime responded decisively.

 Meanwhile, in an area of Syria seized by Al Qaeda, a video camera documented how foreign fighters from Chechnya, France, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia were terrorizing the young people of the Syrian revolution, tearing down their flag. Then Al Qaeda posted signs on the roads under its control: “Democracy Is Blasphemy.”

 The Syrian tragedy came to dominate screens worldwide. And the question for Arab nations was clear: Do you understand the fate of those who demand freedom and democracy? This question, which was answered with Syrian blood, confirmed that this dreadful Arab Spring must end in Damascus.

 America and the West confined their intervention mainly to words, as if statements alone would counter the Assad regime’s brutality and the hatefulness of the imported terrorists. In our time, terrorism has emerged as an effective prescription for treating all diseases — a postmodern sorcery that has opened Syria’s doors to thousands of jihadis from around the world.

 Once in Syria, these bearded men drove tanks and fired machine guns, applying what they had learned from playing video games. Fantasy blended with fact so that the two were hard to separate.

 As terrorists streamed in and Syria erupted, the free world kept a safe distance. In 2014, President Barack Obama, defending the West’s lack of significant military intervention, questioned whether the “moderate opposition” in Syria — which included “farmers or dentists or maybe some radio reporters” — could ever prevail against “a battle-hardened regime, with support from external actors who have a lot at stake.”

 But if a Syrian dentist says to the world, in effect, “You have bad breath,” what’s wrong with that?

 We know how the United States has helped sustain brutal regimes in the Middle East and around the world, how it has overthrown democratically elected governments in Latin America and elsewhere. We know that Syria’s oil reserves don’t compare with Iraq’s and that we’re not vital enough to American interests for the United States to intervene on our behalf.

 We know what happened in Abu Ghraib prison. And we know what happens to people who find themselves at the wrong place when a drone strike hits. This is the power that America and the West can wield. But such power is immoral if it doesn’t assert the values of freedom and democracy for the world’s poor and dispossessed.

 We Syrians asked for help to end the massacres, to provide safe havens for civilians and to prosecute war criminals. Those pleas were futile. Syrian deaths became a moral scandal for the entire world.

 The nation’s most courageous men and women were killed while they danced and sang for freedom, dignity and democracy. There is no nobler death than this. Take a moment to view the faces of those who died in the streets and inside detention camps. You can find online the thousands of photos of the dead in government custody leaked by the Syrian defector code-named Caesar.

 The democratic world failed Syria. I don’t mean the West’s politicians, foreign ministers and generals. I mean its cultural elites, civil societies and human rights organizations. Those are the people who failed us.

 For us in the Middle East, democracy has brought misery — at relatively little cost to the West, which always protects its own interests first. Policy is tailored to business concerns. The focus of Western decision-makers today is “jobs, jobs, jobs …”

 The Sept. 11 attacks shattered a barrier. The West immediately took revenge on the poor of Afghanistan, and applied democracy there like a handkerchief on a hemorrhage.

 The supposed existence of weapons of mass destruction provided a pretext for Iraq’s annihilation, which allowed Iran to vandalize an enormous Arab nation. A democracy was created in Baghdad’s Green Zone, an area of just a few kilometers.

 Mr. Assad ridiculed Mr. Obama’s porous red lines. The former president claims that he owes a patch of his gray hair to the debates about what the United States should do in Syria. He won the Nobel Peace Prize — which he can’t talk about without being haunted by a photo of a child asphyxiated by sarin gas in Syria.

 Can democracy be achieved through the use of military force? The answer is yes. If the West had intervened in support of the Syrian revolution, democracy would have had a chance. Instead, the Syrian people have been left with democracy’s slogans and lies — and more destruction and extremism.

 The world’s free men and women have been tied up and forced to the ground by the leaders of the new era: Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Benjamin Netanyahu and Mr. Assad himself. Each of them applauding while he tramples our backs and yells: You want freedom, you animals? Tell me: What is freedom?'

Fadi Azzam

This is only a battle in a longer struggle for justice

Image result for yassin al-haj saleh bbc interview newshour

 Yassin al-Haj Saleh:
 "The challenge that Syrians faced was to essentially change the political environment in the country, and this challenge has not been achieved. So everything will be worse in the country, Bashar is staying, and it is an occupied country; occupied by at least the Russians and the Iranians.

 What remains of the state is the killing machine. There are no services or services are in a pretty bad shape, schooling, almost everything; but the security tools, and the killing machine, is almost safe.

 The Salafi-jihadist source of strength is not only arms. They capitalise on destruction, on hopelessness. So maybe they'll be defeated, militarily speaking, but the ground will still be fertile for we can't say now what extremist groups. Everything that caused the dynamics of radicalisation, militarisation, Islamisation and sectarianisation are still there.

 The emancipatory movement is weakened. We are the ones, hundreds, thousands of us were killed under torture. Many disappeared and we don't know about them: my wife is one of them, my brother is one of them. Tens of thousands of people are displaced outside Syria in the neighbouring countries and in Europe, but there is a silver lining to this cloud, the creativity of these people on the artistic/cultural level. Maybe we are not powerful or influential, but I think we are trying to produce meanings for this horrible suffering of our country. Syria now is a global symbol in my opinion, and it is not the end of the struggle. Actually, I think this is only a battle in a longer struggle for justice, for equality, for freedom; and I hope that the democratic movement will have important work in this long struggle.

 Prison gave me a different maturity, I hope. Now I am more ready to fight for life, and also it was an inoculation against despair. I hope it changed me positively to be a more human agent and struggle for justice."

Image result for yassin al-haj saleh