Saturday, 2 February 2019

Syria Found Liable for the Death of War Correspondent Marie Colvin

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 'Judge Amy Berman Jackson, of the D.C. District Court, has unsealed a $302 million judgment against the Syrian Arab Republic, finding it liable for the assassination of intrepid journalist Maria Colvin in Syria in 2012.

The judgment (still partially redacted to protect the identities of some sources) offers a stinging indictment of the Assad régime. It notes that the systemic suppression of the media during the revolution led to the rise of citizen journalists, who disseminated news about the conflict through social media networks and smuggled satellite transmitters, the locations of which were partially hidden through the use of proxy servers. The Assad régime considered media activists to pose an existential threat because they were helping to organize protests and reporting on the government’s abuses. Accordingly, the régime’s Central Crisis Management Cell ordered government forces to launch “daily joint security-military campaigns” against “those who tarnish the image of Syria in foreign media and international organizations.” This resulted in a policy and practice of targeting journalists and other media personnel for arbitrary detention, disappearances, torture, and summary execution.

 According to the judgment, Marie Colvin—“hailed by many as the greatest war correspondent of her generation”—traveled to Syria in February 2012 to cover the war via a smugglers’ route. She made her way to Baba Amr, in Homs city, which was the heart of the independent media movement. A defector, code-named Ulysses, offered testimony that the government had made it a priority to eliminate the Baba Amr Media Center. To this end, the government was intercepting communications coming out of the local neighborhood to try to pinpoint the Center’s precise coordinates. A network of intelligence personnel and informants intercepted Colvin’s final live broadcasts in which she charged the Syrian army with shelling a city full of cold, starving civilians. Having effectively located the Media Center, the Army began a new shelling campaign, “bracketing” the location of the satellite uplink. Journalists attempted to evacuate the area, assuming their location had been identified. A blast killed Colvin and French journalist Remi Ochlik as they tried to escape. After the attack, evidence revealed that the security officials celebrated Colvin’s death. Homs Security Chief Major General Sahadah stated: “Marie Colvin was a dog and now she’s dead. Let the Americans help her now.” He was rewarded with a new car from President Assad’s brother, Maher al-Assad, and was later promoted to head of the Syrian Military Intelligence Department.

 All told, the evidence “shows that officials at the highest level of the Syrian government carefully planned and executed the artillery assault on the Baba Amr Media Center for the specific purpose of killing the journalists inside.” The attack was timed after it received information as to the location of the Media Center and was consistent with “Syria’s long-standing policy of violence towards media activists.”

 The court awarded $2.5 million in solatium damages (for pain and suffering) and $300 million in punitive damages based upon the unconscionable nature of the régime’s conduct, the grave harm to the plaintiffs, the imperative of deterrence, and the wealth of the defendant. The fact that Colvin was specifically targeted for her profession (unlike some victims of terrorism) for the purpose of silencing journalists justified an elevated award ($150 million is typically awarded per victim of terrorism). The court noted that “the murder of journalists acting in their professional capacity could have a chilling effect on reporting such events worldwide,” which warranted punitive damages to vindicate the shared global interest in the collection and dissemination of information about armed conflicts.

 Indeed, the court noted that, "By perpetuating a directed attack against the Media Center, Syria intended to intimidate journalists inhibit newsgathering and the dissemination of information, and suppress dissent. … A targeted murder of an American citizen, whose courageous work was not only important, but vital to our understanding of warzones and of wars generally, is outrageous."

 Upon learning of the verdict, Cat Colvin, Colvin’s sister and the lead plaintiff, stated: "My heart goes out to the families of the many thousands of victims of the Syrian conflict. It is my greatest hope that the court’s ruling today will lead to other criminal prosecutions, and serve as a deterrent against future attacks on the press and on civilians. Marie dedicated her life to fighting for justice on behalf of the victims of war and ensuring that their stories were heard. This case is an extension of her legacy, and I think she’d be proud of what we achieved today." '

Syrians in FSA-controlled town rebuild their lives

 'Residents of the Syrian town of Qabasin are now rebuilding their homes after the war caused severe damage to infrastructure and the economy.

 Around one-third of the town's houses now lies in ruins – a problem that has forced residents to look for other places to live.

 "At the time of Daesh [ISIS] we couldn't get even a loaf of bread. They would not allow us to work or move around. They stepped into everything. They didn't allow us to live," said Abdullah Asani, a construction worker.

 For the past two years, the town has been in the hands of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), backed by Turkey. With their help, reconstruction has started.

 "The project consists of five blocks. In total we'll have 190 apartments and 95 shops. In addition, there'll be a playground for children," said Jouma Muslim, the director of a reconstruction project in Qabasin.

 "The compound will house 2000 people when finished. Nearly 50 people work on the project."

 Amina Muharram recently returned after spending three years in Turkey with her six children. She said, "Daesh heavily persecuted us. They threatened to kill me and my children and seize our properties. They killed the sons of my brother. It was terrible here. But now I came back to my home, I can't leave my home any more."

 Turkish officials say more than 300,000 Syrians have returned since 2017, a move which was made possible after the Turkish military cleared out Daesh during Operation Euphrates Shield.'

With the help of the Turkish-backed FSA, Syrians are are rebuilding devastated areas in Qabasin, Syria.

Friday, 1 February 2019

White Helmet hero is haunted by loss and war

 ' “I was not afraid of dying. I was afraid of being caught and tortured.” Mayson al-Misri, 43, had been a reporter, covering the lies the Syrian government was telling the people about the deadly attacks they had levelled against the innocent citizens in her home-town of Daraa. She was pressured by the government to blame the bad news on al-Qaeda and ISIS, who were also plaguing the city with their extremism, but al-Misri told the truth.

 She joined the White Helmets after the régime had killed 10 members of her family, and learned how to use her wits to help her neighbourhood survive. She says, ‘You learn how to get from street to street by timing the bombings: the Syrian planes bomb a location, then they switch, and a Russian plane comes. The switch takes about 10 minutes — that’s when you make a run for it — one street to the next.”

 There was no safe place for a female White Helmet who is being hunted by the régime. So when her colleagues Jihad and Farouq got in touch with her in early July and said, “Start moving,” she packed what she could in a backpack along with her husband Maan Al Aboud, 40, who is also a reporter but not a White Helmet. They began a perilous journey to what’s known among Syrians simply as “74” — a strip of land between Syria and Israel, and a supposedly demilitarized zone along the frontier that still contains about 40 Syrian villages. There were as many guns, rebels and fanatics as there were government forces between Daraa and this 500-square-kilometre stretch of no man’s land.

 They were on the run for three weeks — sometimes without food and one full day without water. They lived under tarps and hid wherever they could. “We were scared all the time. The road wasn’t safe. It could be bombed, we could be seen and arrested. I knew to get to 74, we’d have to be very lucky.”

 She couldn’t even say goodbye to her nieces and nephews — the children of her dead brothers and brothers-in-law. They went partway by car but worried about being stopped and eventually left the car to go by bus. “We were on the bus when I had a call from Jihad, who said, ‘Get off the bus right now, the régime is moving it to a government-controlled town.’” He told them to go to the Golan Heights border which they thought was a very unusual instruction. “Israel and Syria don’t have good relations. I wondered, how are we going to get help from our enemy? ISIS was on one side of us, the Syrian army was on the other. We were in the middle — more than 400 of us, all of us terrified — walking toward the Israeli border.”

 At about 9:30 p.m., the gate opened and the order came to cross one family at a time. “I had to leave my backpack with my computer and camera and clothes behind. The only thing I could bring was my phone. That was because they needed to move us as quickly as possible and checking bags would take too long.” She shudders while retelling the story, remembering the abject fear she felt at the time. “I looked back – the last I saw of Syria was black smoke from the bombs and flashes of light from explosions. The régime was moving fast.”

 They were bussed to the Ayzak Camp in Jordan where they stayed until their relocation to Canada on October 23. As much as Mayson is quick to say she’s happy in Canada, she admits her soul is in Syria. “I’m afraid to answer the phone, afraid it’s bad news.” She can’t call her surviving family members as it might tip the régime to their relationship, so she gets her news from others in a scattered chain of information. “I only think short term. I can’t think long term,” she says.

 The agony of war and the memory of loss haunt this woman who says she can no longer cry. She scrolls through her phone naming each smiling person on the screen — a young man giving her a thumbs up, another boyish-looking fellow who is grinning at her. “Dead, my brother,” she says in her halting English, “dead, also my brother,” as the photos flash by. She knows she and her husband are safe now. “Canada is a place where you don’t have to be afraid. Everyone lives their own life here; no one looks at your religion or your scarf.” She’s very grateful for all that has been done to save her. But here in a strange city at the onset of winter, she struggles to hide her broken heart.'
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Thursday, 31 January 2019

Popular discontent in YPG militia-held areas as violations peaked

Popular discontent in YPG militia-held areas as violations peaked

 'Most areas under the control of the YPG militia have been in a state of popular unrest because of the militia practices and violations, which reached their peak in the recent period, and as a popular reaction, the people and some tribesmen began carrying out a popular movement that developed into armed clashes and attacks on military sites and checkpoints in the rural areas of Raqqa province.

 Dozens of youths from the Bukhmis tribe left Wednesday in the town of Mansoura in the western countryside of the province, attacked and burned some of the YPG militia's barriers, and managed to control a military headquarters run by the so-called Asayish, the security arm of the YPG.

 The move comes after a young man from the clan was shot dead by YPG militiamen while he was trying to escape in an attempt to arrest him to be taken to forced conscription camps.

 The protests reached the eastern districts of Deir al-Zour province, where the tribesmen of the "Shu'aytat" clan also decided to go out to express their resentment at the situation in their villages of deliberate neglect of services, forced recruitment of young people and the implementation of arbitrary arrests.

 The "roadmap" presented by the YPG to Russia to reach an agreement with the Syrian régime on the fate of northeastern region of Syria raised the fears of the people of those areas, especially since a small part of their residents fought against the régime at the beginning of the revolution and some are still fighting even now with the factions In northern Syria.

 The map will be under a Russian guarantee and pave the way for the militia to join the Assad army and recognize him as the "president" of the country, said Saleh Musallam, the representative of the YPG's political wing the PYD.. "The map included a decentralized administration of our regions, and the distribution of wealth in the north-east of Syria in addition to the border crossings and gates."

 "Suhaib al-Jaber," a member of the network "Furat Post," specialized in reporting events in the Eastern region said" that the main cause of protests, whether in Raqqa or other areas is the resentment of the population against the practices of YPG militia and violations on the one hand, and fear of hidden ties with the Assad régime, especially after the Kurdish units repeatedly announced their intention to reach a final settlement with the Assad régime, and this is an important reason that drives hundreds of thousands of people wanted by the régime to action.

 As a direct measure, YPG militia launched a large-scale raid in the town of Mansoura, west of Raqqa, aimed at arresting and forcibly recruiting participants in the protests and sending them to other areas to get rid of them in order to avoid their re-demonstrations.

 According to identical sources, more than 50 youths were arrested by the militias and taken to the detention centers in conjunction with the imposition of a curfew on some streets of the town.

 Deterioration of service and humanitarian conditions are pushing the population to revolt.
All areas of eastern Euphrates under the control of the YPG suffer from deliberate neglect of services despite the abundant funds resulting from the sale of oil, and the theft of millions of US dollars of financial aid by YPG forced the people to take to the streets.

 The villages of Abu Hamam, Granagh and Al-Kashkiya in the eastern suburb of Deir al-Zour witnessed for the second time in a row in less than a week the emergence of popular demonstrations to express dissatisfaction with the policies of the protection militia, where the protesters insisted on the implementation of their demands, including the allocation of part of the oil revenues to activate services and repair houses damaged by shelling as well as their emphasis on the need to stop arrests for the purpose of forced recruitment.

 "Civilians are in constant discontent and discontent in all respects, suffering from a lack of water, electricity, sewage services or even waste disposal," Al Jaber said. They also complain about the problem of removing rubble and recovering the bodies of their victims, which pushed them to protest several times denying the Kurdish units presence in the region. "

 "What these civilians need is humane treatment," said a Furat Post member. "They are not slaves at the al-Assad farm and for the YPG, and that's what they have said over and over again."

 Al-Jaber noted that the demonstrators' efforts and demands seem to have been displeased with YPG, which has been increasingly constrained by the curfew, which has become the standard weapon against which these protests sometimes reach 20 hours out of 24 hours.

 The spokesman for the Supreme Council of the Syrian tribes and clans, Mudar Hammad al-Asaad, led by the Free Army and Turkey, called for intervention and the expulsion of the YPG militia from the eastern Euphrates region, stressing that they received daily appeals and demands from the residents.

 Al-Asaad told Arabi21 website that the YPG militia "are working to kill the remaining residents of the region under the pretext of fighting terrorism, following the policy of demographic and geographical change in the region. This happened in Hasakah, Raqqa and Manbij, as Arab guys had been taken to the war fronts, most of them children, where hundreds of young Arabs have been killed in the past months by involving them in the battles of the Kurdish YPG-dominated "Syria's Democratic Forces" to achieve the separatist project that seeks to apply.

 A few weeks ago, a group of Arab tribes in Manbij issued separate statements calling on the Turkish army to enter their city and kick out the militia, stressing their readiness to provide all kinds of support to implement this.

 Turkey has mobilized tens of thousands of troops in the border area east of the Euphrates to launch a military operation against the protection YPG militia, but US President Donald Trump's proposal to create a safe zone has contributed to delaying the process. Turkish leaders have agreed to accept according to a set of conditions agreed between Washington and Ankara.'

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Wednesday, 30 January 2019

Rebellion in Daraa against the Assad régime, dozens of young people demonstrate

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 'Dozens of people from the city of Daraa demonstrated on Tuesday to express their refusal to join the military service in the forces of the Syrian régime.

 According to local sources, dozens went out to protest the practices of the regime's intelligence services, the ongoing arrests, the imposition of forced recruitment on young people, and to demand that the crisis committee to abide by its commitments not to take the wanted to military service according to the time specified during the negotiation process.

 On Monday, hundreds of young people from the town of Nawa in rural Daraa joined the recruitment centers in the presence of Daraa Governor, Mohammed Khalid Al-Hanous, Secretary of the Baath Party branch Hussein Al-Rifai and the Negotiations Committee after the intelligence sent threats to the wanted and dissidents to punish them in the event of absence.

 It should be noted that the recruitment division of the Syrian régime sent to the reconciliation areas recently lists of thousands of wanted for compulsory and reserve military service, and circulated names at checkpoints and barriers and demanded their arrest.'