Thursday, 28 December 2017

Really bad situation for the people in Southern Idlib

Green/Blue - Rebels
Red - Assad
Black - ISIS
Yellow - YPG

 'Really bad situation for the people in Southern Idlib. Pro-Assad forces are advancing fast northwards. 100s of airstrikes on civilians and rebels today so far.'

River Orontes: "The battle for Hama and Idlib isn't about a tiny village taken or two, it is about breaking the regimes will, inflicting on them heavy losses so that their offensive halts. Difficult to stop the regime advances because they are using the scorched earth policy, but if the price for one small village is dozens of dead the régime doesn't have the manpower to recapture all of Idlib. Today the regime took Musharifah, and in the process lost over 60+ killed and dozens of wounded. The 60+ death are confirmed via official outlets. The régime groupings ran into several IED locations that HTS set up when retreating from Musharifah. They also fell into several ambushes trying to capture Abu Dali. To fully break the regimes offensive another front needs to be open but the opposition groups in ES areas and Southern Front are totally useless."

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Syrian armed opposition protects Christians for holiday

Syrian armed opposition protects Christians for holiday

 'Southern Syria’s Christian community is celebrating the Christmas holiday amid tight security provided by armed opposition fighters.

 In opposition-held parts of the southern Al-Suwayda province, scores of Christians took part in church services in the majority-Christian town of Harb.

 Holidaymakers also visited their relatives and decked their homes, gardens and streets with colorful Christmas lights.

 Armed opposition fighters, meanwhile, have imposed strict security measures, stationing guards around the church with a view to preempting possible attacks.

 Residents expressed satisfaction with security provided by opposition groups.

 According to town resident George Bishara, Harb serves as an example of peaceful coexistence between the country’s Muslims and Christians.

 "There are no problems between us,” Bishara told Anadolu Agency. “Both communities respect each other's holidays.”

 Abu Saddam, a commander of the opposition Free Syrian Army (FSA), confirmed that FSA fighters were protecting the region’s Christian communities.

 "We are responsible for protecting Christian lives,” he said, “Contrary to the Assad regime’s claims, the FSA isn’t the enemy of the Christians.”

 Syria has only just begun to emerge from a destructive civil war that began in 2011, when the Assad regime cracked down on pro-democracy protests with unexpected ferocity.

 Since then, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed in the fighting and more than 10 million displaced, according to claims by UN officials.'

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Syrian torture survivors speak out

 ' “My wrists were bound together with iron chains,” said the man who calls himself Abu Firas. “They put me onto an iron bar under the ceiling so that my feet were two centimetres above the floor.”

 “They hung me on my hands from the ceiling,” Abdul Karim Rihawi told Euronews.“They beat me with an iron stick.”

 “My finger felt like it was the size of a football,” said Yazan Awad. “I felt my arms were very long because my shoulders became dislocated (by this torture). I looked and saw my arms far away. “

 Sometimes, when emotions run high, Nahla Osman takes her clients for a walk alongside the river Main. Osman was born in Germany to parents from the Syrian city of Aleppo. She helps victims of torture. She and her brother run a law firm in the German city of Rüsselsheim.

 She has compiled hundreds of witness reports detailing torture on a massive scale inside Syrian prisons and will file criminal complaints using the principle of universal jurisdiction which Germany enforces.

 “Many are still waiting for family reunification,” Osman told Euronews. “If family members are still in Syria, those in Germany are afraid of taking legal action. If they trigger a case here, the Syrian regime would imprison or kill their relatives.”

 Euronews reporter Hans Von Der Brelie met two people who say they survived Syrian prison torture: co-founder of the Syrian Human Rights League Abdul Karim Rihawi, and a civil rights activist from Damascus, who didn’t want to be named. He calls himself “Abu Firas” and is speaking out for the first time.

 “They had an electric instrument and they put electric cables under my toes, under my arms and on my thumbs,” Abu Firas described. “You still can see traces from that procedure on my thumbs. Then they turned the current on and off, on and off, again and again.”

 Abu Firas wants to submit his case to the German public prosecutor and wants arrest warrants to be issued for high-ranking Syrian officials.

 “They tortured me with the car-tyre method, squeezing my body with bent arms into the tyre up to the knees so I could not move,” he alleges. “They hit me with a piece from a tank engine, a kind of a V-belt… After the first two blows, my body felt paralysed. I just hoped to see the son my wife was pregnant with.”

 “Reconciliation with all the sectarian groups in Syria is possible, yes, but not with this criminal regime,” Firas said.

 Abu’s friend Abdul Karim Rihawi invited Euronews to the hotel room he’s called home for more than two years. This is where he has been gathering evidence with his civil human rights network, which is still working undercover in Syria. Euronews asked if the photos shown during our visit included people who had tortured, he replied: “A lot of them, many of them: torturing… a lot of crime… they committed a lot of crime… For that reason, we are asking the German authorities to take action again.

 “We make a list of these murderers. Until now we have six lists, we presented this lists to the German government… There are at least 7,000 war criminals (from Syria) in Europe but the highest number of them (are residing) in Germany, especially they arrived after the massive arrival of refugees in 2015.

 “That’s also what makes me very angry: they are enjoying their life here in Germany and they have all the benefit from the law and they are war criminal.”

 The war crime unit at the German Federal Office of Criminal Investigation told Euronews that they have 4,300 reports from Syrian and Iraqi survivors, resulting in 43 person-related investigations. But it’s difficult to collect hard evidence.

 “Torture in Syria is very normal, very systemic,” said Abdul Karim Rihawi, co-founder of the Syrian Human Rights League. “It is an abnormal thing if you go to the prison and nobody tortures you… They beat me with cables, with their hands, with their legs… When they get us to the toilet we had to pass through the dead bodies on the ground. Oh my God, that was really terrible…All the night you still hear the voices of the people begging or yelling or shouting from torture… I was hearing the voice of a child: maybe he was 14 or 16 years old, he was seeking for his father: ‘please – I need my Bab (daddy), my Bab’.”

 Syrian artist Hamid Sulaiman invited Euronews to his Berlin studio. He too is familiar with Syrian prisons from the inside. After his release, he was granted asylum in Paris. Today he lives between Germany and France. Sulaiman is the author of “Freedom Hospital”, a graphic novel about the start of the civil protests in Syria, in 2011. His book is dedicated to a former friend, Hussam, who was allegedly tortured to death.

 “We were with each other at the start of the Arab Spring,” Sulaiman said. “We shared the dream of freedom in a better country. Me, I left Syria, and Hussam was getting ready to leave Syria when he was arrested … and he was killed in prison. Five days later, they called his mother to come and get his body.

 “I am a survivor, the others are dead. I have a duty to tell their story.

 “I gave a lot of thought about how to present the violence in this book, because there are quite a few people who will say: you did not have to talk about the blood and violence to talk about Syria .. but at the same time I said to myself: that’s the reality.”

 Next, we headed to an organisation tracking war criminals around the globe: the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights where we met prominent Syrian human rights lawyer Anwar al-Bunni, and Syrian civil rights activist Yazan Awad, both torture survivors.

 Hamid Sulaiman’s artwork is displayed at the centre. Anwar and Yazan have filed criminal complaints with the German Federal Prosecutor through their legal advisor Alexandra Lily. They want to hunt down those who gave the orders.

 Lily spoke to us about the next step in the case:

 “Following these person-specific investigations we hope for arrest warrants issued by the Federal Supreme Court in Germany and following those German arrest warrants we hope for a European wide and international arrest warrants against those individuals.”

 “Personally, I met the head of (the Syrian) National Security Office and told him about the torture”, said Anwar. “He knows that… because I was in detention, in his detention,” said Anwar.

 The next person we met during our investigation, Yazan, is listed by the German federal prosecutor as ‘key witness number 24’. Yazan had organised youth protests during the ‘Arab Spring’. In November 2011 he was arrested and says he was tortured so badly, that he confessed to crimes he never committed – such as having killed the prime minister of Lebanon.

 “I told the torturer: I will confess to everything, I will even testify against my own mother,” said Yazan. “He replied: we will bring her and we will see. He went and after 15 or 30 minutes he told me: we brought your mother, but I knew he was lying. I started to cry: I said, what, my mother, where is my mother? And he punched me in the face. The torturer said: okay you will see what we will do with your mother – but I was blindfolded. The psychological pressure on me was huge – I collapsed because they abused an innocent women. I did not know her, maybe she was just one of the prisoners in Jaweyeh. They brought her, she was inside the room and it was obvious that two people were torturing or raping her because I recognised several voices. I collapsed… I told the torturer: I admit to whatever you want but stop torturing her, stop raping her. He told me: The guys have not finished with her yet.

 “They had been torturing the other prisoners before, but all five or six of them came to me and tortured me together. They tortured me, tortured me… From my point of view, I thought I was already dead. From their point of view, they pretended that I am a man attacking them. But how can a man forced to strip attack his torturers? They said to me: You think you are a man? We will show you that you are a woman. They continued beating me and the torturer who was using the butt of the gun for hitting me, suddenly turned the gun around and put the barrel into my body from behind and then he ripped it out again. When he took it out, the iron sights on the gun barrel destroyed the anus.”

 The International Criminal Court in the Hague could not take action against Syrian officials because Russia and China used their veto. But Germany and about a dozen other countries have implemented the principle of universal jurisdiction and started investigations on a national level.

 “First message we want to send it to the murderers and criminals in Syria and in whole the world in fact: impunity time is finished,” said Anwar. “Impunity is not allowed anytime, anywhere. Be careful! And: Justice is waiting for you! Without justice, there is no Syria. No country in the whole world can (be) built without justice.”

 Al-Bunni has some top-level appointments in Brussels, with the European Commission and the Belgian government. He wants to convince more EU member states to use the tool of “universal jurisdiction” too: No safe harbour for torturers, anywhere.'

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Syrian rebel groups reject Russian-sponsored Sochi conference

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 'Syrian rebel groups on Monday rejected Russia’s planned Sochi conference on Syria, saying Moscow was seeking to bypass a U.N.-based Geneva peace process and blaming Russia for committing war crimes in the war-torn country.

 In a statement by around 40 rebel groups who include some of the military factions who participated in earlier rounds of Geneva peace talks, they said Moscow had not put pressure on the Syrian government to reach a political settlement.

 “Russia has not contributed one step to easing the suffering of Syrians and has not pressured the regime that it claims it is a guarantor by move in any real path towards a solution,” the rebel statement said.

 Russia, which has emerged as the dominant player in Syria after a major military intervention over two years ago, received backing from Turkey and Iran for holding a Syrian national dialogue congress in the Russian city of Sochi on Jan. 29-30.

 “Russia is an aggressor country that has committed war crimes against Syrians... It stood with the regime militarily and defended its politically and over seven years preventing U.N. condemnation of (Syrian President Bashar) Assad’s regime,” the statement said.

 Moscow says it targets militants but rebels and residents say the Russian air strikes conducted since a major aerial campaign over two years ago has caused hundreds of civilian casualties in indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas away from the frontline.'

 River Orontes: "If you reject the Russian conferences, reject them not through statements, but aid the frontlines, lessen the pressure on Beit Jinn and besieged areas, do so both militarily and politically. As for these meaningless statements, they are exactly that, meaningless."

Sunday, 24 December 2017

U.S.-Backed MOM Operations Room Ends Support for FSA Groups

U.S.-Backed MOM Operations Room Ends Support for FSA Groups

 'America and the "Friends of Syria" countries will end their military and financial support for Free Syrian Army groups at the end of the month, Syrian rebel sources have confirmed.

 The sources said that all the groups who benefit from this support had been informed of the decision that December would be the last month that fighters of these groups would receive their salaries.

 The military operations and support coordination room, known by the acronym MOM, has overseen support and supplying of “moderate groups” with money, ammunition, training and some weapons since 2014.

 A commander in the First Coastal Division, who asked not to be named, said: “The groups were informed around three months ago that the support would end without a reason being given.”

 He added that there were a number of factors that contributed to this, including “a change in American policy and its concession to Russia on the Syrian issue, the changing of the situation on the ground, and the decline of most groups in favor of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham.”

 Responding to the possibility of there being a link between this decision and the developments in the international negotiations, the military commander said it was too early to talk about a real solution on the ground as long as President Bashar al-Assad did not comply with international resolutions.

 “The United States has not been honest for one day in giving sufficient support to the opposition groups as they did with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, because Assad was not one of their priorities,” he added.

 For his part, the military commander of the Jaish al-Azza rebel group, Mustafa Marati, told Sada al-Sham that “MOM stopped support for Al-Azza four months ago because of accusations it was fighting against the Assad regime.”

 Marati added that one of the most important factors for stopping the support was “the desire of the backers to stop fighting against regime forces and not to respond to its violations.”

 A defected officer from the regime forces, Mohamad Khalil, said that the groups had achieved important victories before the start of the MOM operations, and at the time the fighters had “secured their salaries from the spoils of fighting.” He added that despite the negative impact of the decision today, it “liberates the groups from all the pressures they had endured and frees them from all burdens.”

 Khalil said that the United States, through this support, had “played a negative role toward the revolution, given its many interventions in affairs on the ground and forbidding the groups from obtaining effective weapons, especially anti-aircraft weapons.”

 Khalil did not rule out that this decision could be temporary to pressure the groups to accept new concessions on the ground, including allying with Assad’s forces to fight Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, which is something all the groups reject.'