Friday, 1 June 2018

Raqqa in the eye of the storm again

Raqqa in the Eye of the Storm again

 'Raqqa is witnessing developments not previously observed since it was declared controlled by YPG militia-dominated Syria's Democratic Forces (SDF) militias in 2017. As the popular demands for exiting the city increased, clashes broke out between the rebel and Kurdish protection militia (YPG) that the US-led International Coalition forces failed to stop such clashes. This comes in conjunction with preparing Saudi Arabia-backed Arabic forces to manage the region.

 Kurdish protection militia YPG-dominated Syria's Democratic militias seized in October 2017 complete control over Raqqa after months of fighting against ISIS that ended with the complete destruction of the city, the displacement of most of its population and the killing and wounding of thousands of civilians. The YPG have imposed its laws, which led to compulsory recruitment and the resettlement of Kurds, and this is what the Syrian Arabs considered an attempt to change the region's demographics.

 Public protests in the city of Raqqa have been going on for more than a week, demanding the end of the arbitrary arrests and forced recruitment implemented by Kurdish protection militias.

 "Such demonstrations were caused by the militias' practices of theft and confiscation of civilian property, raids and random arrests, and the imposition of forced conscription, as well as the issuance of decisions and judgments and the administration of the city to suit their plans," media activist, Mohamed Othman, said.

 Almost every day, evening demonstrations take place in the areas of al-Sakia Street, Dawar al-Barazi and al-Mashbal district. Although they are met with violence and repression, the protesters insist on their demands for the militia to withdraw and hand over the city to civilian bodies. Recently, a demonstration erupted in "Rumaila" street was attacked nearby the "al-Batani" square and the protesters were met with shooting, which resulted in the injury of some demonstrators lightly injured and the arrest of four of them.

 In response to the popular movement in the city, the militias blocked cars with food aid from entering the Rumaila neighborhood, in a move described by the people of the city as "collective punishment."

 Clashes broke out last Sunday between the Al-Raqqa Revolution Brigade and Kurdish protection militias near the roundabout of al-Barazi, where the latter targeted civilian houses with heavy machine guns, coinciding with the roll-out of military reinforcements towards the district of Maslab to storm the area.

 Osman explained that the protection militias represented by the forces of Asayish and its military police tried to arrest one of the military commanders of the Brigades of Raqqa in his home in the neighborhood of Rumaila and got a quarrel and loud voices before a number of elements of the brigade managed to assist the commander and then patrols withdrew towards the district's outskirts and called for support from the elements of "Syria's Democratic Forces" in conjunction with the deployment of the brigade's fighters at the entrances of the neighborhood.

 He added: "Then the militias fired at the neighborhood, which led the brigade to respond in the same manner. Meanwhile, the civilians came out in dozens and then developed the situation until they became hundreds of protesters from the neighborhoods of Rumaila and al-Mashlab to demand the exit of Kurdish protection militia from Raqqa.

 On the other hand, the leader of the brigade, "Abu Ismail al-Askari" declared that "Syria's Democratic Forces" are trying to pressure the brigade to dismantle and prove their selves the only force on the ground, stressing their willingness to resort to similar operations against them in the event of continued violations.

 Despite the intervention of the international coalition more than once to calm the situation and force the militias to withdraw to the outskirts of Rumaila, but they have returned the attack.

 "Syria's Democratic Forces" has been trying to get rid of any military entities that have Arab forces majority, where the village of Abu Hamam in the eastern suburb of Deir al-Zour witnessed earlier military confrontations between Syria's Democratic militias and the "Elite forces" of the al-Ghad Movement headed by Ahmad al-Jarba, before the American President's envoy to the International Coalition "Bret Magork" interfered to resolve the conflict.

 The Arab Council of the Jazira and the Euphrates region, which is close to the al-Ghad Movement said that the Kurdish protection militias that control the decision in "Syria's Democratic Forces" reject the presence of any Arab faction in the region, because it poses a threat, especially in light of the refusal of members of the Arab tribes to join them.

The Council expressed its fear of an Arab-Kurdish sedition that foreshadows more Syrian bloodshed, and the region of the al-Jazira and the Euphrates remains open to all possibilities.

 After the announcement of the representative of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) that the city of Raqqa after the expulsion of ISIS from the city  will join its federal system, and a member of the Political Bureau of the Kurdish Democratic Party, "Azad Brazi" revealed the existence of the idea of establishing a federation of Manbij and Raqqa, Deir al-Zour after the entry of Arab forces backed by Saudi Arabia, pointing out that is now being discussed by the Syrian Democratic 
Council which is the political front of the SDF militia.

 A delegation from Arab countries met with officials from the Syria's Democratic militias to form a nucleus of a new Arab force in northern and eastern Syria. According to the sources, the meeting was held between the leaders of the Sanadid forces, the Elite forces, the brigades of Raqqa and other Arab factions in Syria with officials of the Saudi Arabia, UAE and Jordan defense ministries, at the American-run base "Esh Kharabak" in the countryside of Ain Al Arab.

 According to PassNews website, the Arab forces will be stationed initially only in the areas of Raqqa from which Washington withdraw its troops, which pressed the YPG to accept that step.

 The source adds that the sheikh of the clan of Shammer "Hamidi Dahham Al Hadi" made an offer to participate in this force through the grouping of the Arab tribes and the formation of a Sunni tribal force with its capital (Raqqa) and under the supervision and support of Saudi Arabia.'

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Daraa revolutionaries respond to the Syrian regime's psychological warfare

Daraa revolutionaries respond to the Syrian regime's psychological warfare

 'The Daraa revolutionaries responded to the psychological warfare waged by the Syrian regime against them by promoting reports of the imminent attack on the liberated areas, and the publication of leaflets from the helicopters calling for the people of the province to surrender.

 The revolutionary factions in the operations room of "al-Bunyan al-Marsous" used drones to drop leaflets on the areas under the control of the Syrian regime forces in Daraa province, in which they called on the people to revolt against Assad because he has killed thousands and caused the displacement of millions of Syrians.

 Numerous reports issued by media outlets close to the regime talked about preparing for a battle against free Daraa areas and about crowds in the region. However, military sources denied that there were any reinforcements or field changes.'

Daraa revolutionaries respond to the Syrian regime's psychological warfare

Monday, 28 May 2018

Residents in Hasakah, Syria Protest PYD, Reject Conscription

 'Local sources and some social media accounts have been reporting that the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which controls certain cities in Syria, was forcing civilians into full submission. Besides for using taxation and other ways of collecting money, the PYD has a major problem with its conscription activities.

 The PKK-affiliated group has been employing youth in its attacks against Turkey and opposition groups. It has been reported that the residents of the Syrian city Hasakah, in the country's north, have gathered to protest the PYD.

 In fact, at the beginning of the civil war Hasakah residents were totally siding with opposition groups. However, due to the city's strategic position the regime forces did not abandon the city center. Instead, when it became clear that the regime would not maintain its rule, the PYD somehow ascended to power. The regime and the PYD refuse to admit that they are allies, but it is a fact that the two sides have allied several times and avoid confronting each other. The regime has never considered the PYD a threat, for instance, when its militants captured large swathes in Syria's north or Aleppo's northern neighborhoods.

 One of the first things that the PYD did was to silence other Kurdish groups. There were certain Kurdish groups, who were supporting the opposition, willing to fight the regime and not intended to be associated with terror activities.

 However, an implicit alliance between the PYD and the regime, and U.S. support has led the emergence of the PYD as the sole power in that area.

 According to the Syrian sources in Istanbul, it is not possible for the civilians to raise their voices against PYD rule. They need to launch another revolution attempt as they did against the regime. Yet, people seem to be fed up with the unjustified acts and harsh measures imposed by the PYD since they, in the protest in Hasakah, exclaimed that they were not going to give their sons to the so-called PYD army. The PYD and its main backers, including the U.S., claim that their struggle is focused against Daesh. Indeed, the U.S. has benefited from using Kurdish people as manpower against the terror group. Yet, the civilians, according to the claims on social media, say that their sons do not want to be conscripted.

 News agencies reported that a large number of armed PYD members were mobilized last week into the country's south. A new wave of fights against Daesh would be possible. Therefore Hasakah residents along with the residents of other cities, which have fallen under the PYD control, were worried.The conscription issue seems like a problem for the residents. Another problem, mentioned by rights groups, is that the PYD patrols are free to arrest anyone. The Syrian Network for Human Rights reported that a few people are arrested almost every week and taken to an unknown destination.'

'Anti-SDF protest in Rumialah neighborhood after clashes erupted between predominantly Arab rebel group Liwa Thuwar ar-Raqqa & the Kurdish-led #SDF. "Raqqa is free. Kurds go out!" '

A woman’s place in the resistance

 'Syrian journalist Kholoud Helmi has paid a heavy price for her fight for the truth. Since co-founding a newspaper in 2011 she has watched her hometown come under siege and lost friends and family at the hands of President Assad’s brutal regime. But her pursuit for the freedom and dignity of Syrian citizens is one she will never give up.

 Born in 1984, as a child growing up in Darayya, a suburb outside Damascus, Helmi was unaware of the atrocities the ruling government was capable of. Everything they knew was fed to them by the ruling Ba’ath regime, and nobody dared to speak against the government. It was these memories of growing up under state control that led Helmi to join the Arab Spring protests, and the injustices she witnessed shaped the course of her life as she found herself reporting from the frontline.

 “We had one channel for TV, which was state-owned media. We watched all the same programmes. There’s something funny where all Syrians have all the same collective memory, as if we were all brought up in the same house where nothing could change,” she says.

 Helmi’s transition from Syrian child to activist and journalist was gradual, informed by whispers of information she heard. When she was 11 a schoolfriend told her about her father, who had left Syria after he was accused of being affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood. At the time Helmi did not know anything about the group, or about the massacre in 1982, when government forces, under the orders of the country’s then president, Hafez al-Assad – father of the current leader – besieged the town of Hama for 27 days to quell an anti-government uprising.

 The attack has been described as one of “the single deadliest acts by any Arab government against its own people in the modern Middle East” but, growing up just a decade later, Helmi had no idea of the atrocities that had taken place.

 But by 2011 Helmi had learned enough about the ruling regime to know she wanted change. Inspired by protesters in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen and Libya, she attended a demonstration in Damascus.

 “I will never forget that day,” she says. “Demonstrations were so dangerous, so we relied on the trust groups. We would go to the neighbourhood and then we would receive another sign to direct us to a point, then when we got closer and the numbers were there, people would gather together and then we would start the demonstration for one minute.

 “The first time we were just chanting. We chanted for freedom of expression and change. I will never forget what I was feeling. I felt like I was floating, not walking. Demanding something that we were not allowed to – speaking up – it was like I was flying. What I remember is that I was so happy to the extent that I was shedding tears the whole time, for no reason. I have never felt free, but that time I did.”

 Protesters handed bottles of water to soldiers. Others gave them roses as a sign of peace, but it wasn’t long before soldiers then reacted with violence.

 “We believed we were all brothers and sisters of the same nation, but it turned out that they arrested people anyway,” says Helmi, whose friend Islam Dabbas, a civil engineering student, handed soldiers water and roses and was arrested. Seven years on, Helmi does not know what has happened to him.

 “You could mention thousands of names of people who have disappeared because they were peacefully protesting in the streets.”

 The state-run media was keen to brush over the truth. TV cameras would turn up hours after the demonstrations had finished, denying that anything had happened.

 “They would cover things that told people nothing was happening in the streets of Syria, but [meanwhile] my friends were arrested, killed, taken to prison, and the security forces were breaking into houses, arresting people, harassing women.”

 Helmi and a group of friends decided to take matters into their own hands. In December 2011 they founded a newspaper.

 “We had to tell the people why we protested and what we had been facing,” she says. “Darayya is 20 minutes from Damascus, but most of the people in Damascus didn’t know what was going on. We also wanted to reach the international media.”

 In January 2012 the first issue of Enab Baladi was published. Helmi and colleagues knew they were risking their lives, so they had to devise a meticulous method of distributing the newspaper. They would gather the news, write it at home and send it to the designer. It was printed by another colleague, who would fold the newspapers and put them in bin bags outside his home. The group communicated through a secret Facebook group, and once the newspapers were ready people were assigned to go and collect them.

 “People would come to my house and collect their editions,” says Helmi. “The people who came to me didn’t know that I worked for the newspaper. My own family didn’t know that I was a journalist and writing for the newspaper. They only discovered later on when I started to have huge loads of the newspaper in the house.

 “I was afraid but the dream was so huge, to the point that we forgot that we were under danger. What we were aspiring for, freedom, freedom of expression, change, democracy – the dream was big and we had belief in the international community at that point.”

 To distribute Enab Baladi as far as Damascus, Helmi would smuggle copies underneath her clothes and pass through army checkpoints.

 “We had big dreams at that time and it really conquered our fear, but to tell you the truth many times I was really terrified. I would write the news or contact people and I knew for certain that security forces could break into my house or kill my parents.”

 In May 2012 Helmi’s worst fears came true. Security forces broke into her home and arrested her brother Ahmad. She has never seen or heard from him since. Three months later the regime arrived in Darayya and massacred over 1,000 people in 15 nights.

 “We were besieged and bombarded,” says Helmi. “The army left the town and left it on fire.

 “We stopped issuing the newspaper for two weeks, but we had to keep up the work, so Enab Baladi was issued and we told the world what happened during the massacre: the raping of the women, the killing of the men and women, the suffocating of kids, everything.”

 At the beginning of 2013 Helmi decided to leave Syria for Lebanon. Meanwhile, some of her colleagues on the newspaper were incarcerated.

 “Some were arrested for 10 months and released, so they started to tell the stories of what the prison was like and how they had been tortured in prison and all these horrible stories. The bad things that happened added to the diversity of the newspaper. When I went to Lebanon I started to report on how life was for Syrians in Lebanon while others moved to Amman, so they started to write about how life was for Syrians in Amman. We started to be the voice of Syrians in diaspora, not only inside Syria.

 “We were so fragile in the hosting communities. No one knew who we were. It was so dangerous to continue so we stopped printing the newspaper when we left, but it was online instead.

 In the following months, four of Helmi’s colleagues were killed.

 “The first one we lost was the CEO, Mohammad Quraitem. He took the decision to stay in my hometown after we left and he was killed by a missile that hit his home. Then we lost a reporter from Darayya one month later. Then within the period of two or three months we lost the managing editor, Ahmad Shihadeh. Then in 2015 one of our co-founders, Nabil Shurbaji, was killed under torture in prison after he was arrested in February 2012. He was the only journalist among us. The rest of us were amateurs.

 “We only learned that he had been killed two years later. Other people are still in prison. We paid a very heavy price.”

 In 2014 Turkish authorities granted them a licence to open an office and the newspaper returned to print soon after. As its readership grew, so did its team of reporters. It now has anonymous citizen journalists based throughout Syria, including in Raqqa, a former Isis stronghold. The newspaper is considered one of the most prominent Syrian media organisations and publishes 7,000 print copies a week.

 In 2015 Helmi was awarded the Anna Politkovskaya Award for her services to journalism. The prize honours female human rights defenders from war and conflict zones. Helmi believes her role as a female journalist gave her a unique advantage in leading the resistance, as she was able to reach areas her male colleagues couldn’t.

 “Women have a unique role in leading the resistance in Syria,” says Helmi. “First of all because of the culture in Syria the army were afraid to trespass the cultural norms at the very beginning of the Syrian revolution where it was taboo to touch a woman or to take her to jail, but shortly afterwards they stopped abiding by anything.

 “The other thing is that being a woman I was able to tell the stories of other women. I could speak to ordinary Syrian women and see how they were suffering, whereas it would be more difficult for men to enter a house and interview women and ask them what’s going on.

 “During the massacre in August 2012 they raped women. One of my colleagues went to the houses and she created that trust circle with a number of these girls. She listened to their testimony and wrote an article and it went viral.

 “We had access to many places, we could easily interview women, we could deal with delicate stories of kids who had been burned or suffering. It was easier for us women to deal with these stories than men.”

 Has the global community failed Syrians. “Yes,” she says sadly. “Unfortunately. I mentioned before that we used to have big dreams and big expectations, but these expectations only remained until 2013. We kept those high expectations until the minute Assad used chemical weapons against people in Eastern Ghouta. To wake up in the morning, open your eyes, go on Facebook and to see all the images of the kids who had been killed just because they were breathing, it literally suffocated me. I thought: ‘I am breathing and I am alive, but these kids had been breathing to die.’

 “I was so naïve. I thought that the whole universe was going to shake. But nothing happened. Since then we lost all our belief and all our faith in the international community.”

 In response to the UK’s recent air strikes against Assad, Helmi says it is too little, too late.

 “It would have meant fewer casualties and less forced eviction if such an action, but a real serious one, happened in 2012, or 2013 when the first chemical attacks occurred. I know it did nothing, Assad is still there, still bombarding people and forcing them to leave their homes and towns. The attacks resulted in nothing serious.”

 Helmi is now studying for a masters degree in the UK. When she graduates she plans to reunite with her parents, but for now, she wants to continue the work of her Enab Baladi comrades.

 She says: “I am not arrested yet, but my friends are. And I am not dead, but my friends are. I think I have to carry the burden of their messages to tell the world what is going on.” '

Image result for A woman’s place in the resistance Kholoud Helmi

Sunday, 27 May 2018

Assad accused of ‘using urban development law to carry out ethnic cleansing’

 'The Assad régime in Syria was accused on Saturday of using a new law on urban development to rid the country of all political opposition.

 The so-called “Law 10” allows the regime to acquire previously private property to create zoned developments, and to compensate the owners with shares in the new projects.

 However property rights are in a state of confusion after a seven-year war that has created more than 5 million refugees and 6 million internally displaced people. Many of the displaced have lost the necessary paperwork, are struggling financially or not aware of the legal requirements in time.

 The Assad regime is using the confusion to create a suitable environment for demographic change, Syrian opposition spokesman Yahya Al-Aridi said.

 “The régime has a two-fold goal,” he said. “First, terrorize the opposition and supporters of the Syrian revolution so that they lose the right to their properties.

 “Second, there is talk of reconstruction in Syria now. This law sends out a message to investors that their interests lie with the regime. It is an attempt to tempt companies and business people to support the regime, because the regime is the only party that approves bids and gives grants and contracts. All this merely adds to the Syrians’ plight and misery.”

 Al-Aridi said the attempted land grab was being resisted by European countries, especially France and Germany. “The Syrian Negotiating Committee is also exerting a very important effort so that such an evil act will not happen,” he said.

 Also on Saturday, the US warned Damascus it would take “firm action” if the regime violates a cease-fire deal, after Syrian aircraft dropped leaflets on a southern province in advance of an expected offensive.

 Al-Aridi said any such offensive would be a breach of agreements between Russia and the US on de-escalation zones, and he warned the regime and Iran against “playing games” with the US. “Such threats are part of a response to the two unanswered Israeli attacks on Iran’s military positions in Syria,” he said.

 “They area also meant to divert attention from the American-Israeli intent to kick Iranian militias and forces out of Syria.”

 He said the regime and Iran could do nothing without Russian support. “We don’t think the Russians are willing to provide such support, or to mess with the US or Israel. Parallel to such threats, Assad is trying to make certain reconciliation agreements with what they call ‘Syrians in liberated areas.’ We believe that they cannot do anything of the sort.” '