Friday, 21 October 2016

On Syrian border, rebel goals not all shared by Turkish backers

 "Our most important target is to break the siege of Aleppo. There, our FSA brothers are trapped," Ismail, a commander from the Sultan Murad group, an FSA faction, told Reuters in Jarablus, wearing camouflage fatigues and Adidas sneakers. "This is our own idea, but in the coming days we will discuss this with our Turkish brothers," he said.

 The answer may not be what he wants to hear. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and Russia's Vladimir Putin agreed at a meeting in Istanbul last week to try to seek common ground on Syria, despite backing opposing sides, although there has been little sign of concrete progress. Erdogan said he had spoken with Putin on Tuesday and agreed to try to help meet a Russian demand that fighters from the group formally known as the Nusra Front, now called Jabhat Fatah al Sham, be removed from Aleppo.

 "The necessary orders were given to our friends, and they will do what is needed," Erdogan said in a speech in Ankara.

 Such willingness to do Moscow's bidding is unlikely to go down well with the FSA fighters Turkey is backing.

 "Russia says they are bombing terrorists, but be it al Nusra or Ahrar al Sham, these are people who have fought with us to save our land," Sighli Sighli, another commander from the Sultan Murad brigade, told Reuters in Jarablus.

 He said he was grateful for the backing of the Turkish military, and that the FSA's recent advances could not have been achieved without it, but that Aleppo was the strategic goal.

 "It's not possible for us to accept what Russia or Iran or the PYD (Kurdish militia) wants to do with our country. This land belongs to Syrians, not Russians or Iranians," he said.

 Some of the civilians in Jarablus, where shops have gradually reopened selling fruit and cloth as rebel fighters patrol the streets on foot and in pick-up trucks, are also suspicious of Ankara's warming ties with Moscow.

 "My family is starving in Aleppo. Thousands are starving... Erdogan has left our people there to die, he has abandoned us," said one Turkmen resident who gave his name only as Yahya, and who said his wife and five children were in Aleppo.

 Some of the civilians in Jarablus, where shops have gradually reopened selling fruit and cloth as rebel fighters patrol the streets on foot and in pick-up trucks, are also suspicious of Ankara's warming ties with Moscow.

 "My family is starving in Aleppo. Thousands are starving... Erdogan has left our people there to die, he has abandoned us," said one Turkmen resident who gave his name only as Yahya, and who said his wife and five children were in Aleppo.

 "We have put aside our desire to fight Assad just for now. We haven’t abandoned it ... it's not like we've dropped our target," Bessam Muhammed, a 40-year-old rebel fighter, told Reuters in the garden of a Turkish-run field hospital.

 "We haven’t come all the way and fought this war to seize Jarablus and then stay here," he said.

 Operation Euphrates Shield has made good progress. Backed by Turkish tanks and warplanes, the rebels captured the village of Dabiq, southwest of Jarablus, from Islamic State on Sunday, a stronghold where the jihadist group had promised a final, apocalyptic battle with the West.

 Turkey's military has said border security has now been largely achieved. But as the offensive moves towards al-Bab, 35 km (22 miles) northeast of Aleppo, the battle may get harder.

 "The fight here for Jarablus was easy, but the fight for al-Bab will be much harder. Here there wasn't much resistance. They fled the town and we moved in," said Mahmut, 26, an FSA fighter wearing a Turkish police helmet.

 "We don’t want to stop here or in al Bab. Next is Aleppo." '

The people demand the downfall of the régime

No to systematic displacement

Monther Etaky:
"This is a peaceful protest organized by activists and civilians against systematic displacement which Regime and Russia decides to force on them."

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Syria rebels reject Aleppo withdrawal after Russian statement

Smoke rises from airstrikes on Guzhe village, northern Aleppo countryside, Syria October 17, 2016. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi

 'Syrian rebels said on Tuesday they rejected any withdrawal of fighters from Aleppo after Russia announced a halt in air raids which it said was designed to allow insurgents to leave and to separate moderate fighters from extremist militants.

 "The factions completely reject any exit - this is surrender," said Zakaria Malahifji, the political officer of the Aleppo-based Fastaqim group.

 Al-Farouk Abu Bakr, an Aleppo commander in the powerful Islamist group Ahrar al-Sham, said the rebels would fight on.

 "When we took up arms at the start of the revolution to defend our abandoned people we promised God that we would not lay them down until the downfall of this criminal regime," he said, referring to President Bashar al-Assad's government.

 "There are no terrorists in Aleppo," he said, speaking from Aleppo.'

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

‘Are You Silent Because There Are Muslims in Our Country?’

‘Are You Silent Because There Are Muslims in Our Country?’

 'Last week was the worst yet for the besieged neighborhoods of eastern Aleppo. Russian and Syrian government warplanes launched a new campaign of indiscriminate bombing Tuesday, terrorizing the city and causing a wave of casualties. On Friday, the warplanes targeted the area’s food supply, destroying a bread distribution facility and attacking a flour mill.

 A staggering 174 airstrikes were launched over the course of the week on eastern Aleppo, the rebel-controlled portion of the city, and 159 deaths were reported through mid-afternoon Friday.

 For one resident of eastern Aleppo, the silence of the United States and its allies — which have not taken any military steps to stop the onslaught — has made an already intolerable situation even worse.

 “I want to ask the Western world, which has laws to protect animals: Where are you when it comes to protecting women, children, the elderly, and the disabled?” said Fatima Kaddour, “Are you silent because there are Muslims in our country and they should be exterminated?”

 Kaddour, a 56-year-old housewife and mother of 11 children, lives in a one-room apartment, along with her son and two daughters, close to the front lines with government forces. It is not her flat. Like so many of their neighbors, her family was internally displaced, forced to move from their old home in the Salahuddin district of eastern Aleppo when their house was destroyed in January.

 She railed at the ruling regime for attacking Syrians but said she’s ready to leave the rebel-held areas if given a chance. Like many other Syrians, she is perplexed by the U.S. fixation on destroying Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, the al Qaeda affiliate formerly known as the Nusra Front, rather than acting to stop the regime’s assault on civilians. Jabhat Fatah al Sham is a relatively small player in Aleppo and runs the areas under its control in an orderly, nonabusive fashion, she said.

 Although she and her children have tried to fix up their new home, the bombing campaign has broken the windows and damaged the doors. It is full of sunlight, and there is room for the children to study, she said. But when they hear warplanes overhead, usually once or twice a day, “We run to the bathroom or the hall.”

 Compared with some other residents of eastern Aleppo, they are lucky. Not long ago, the Russian or Syrian air force bombed a building nearby that had housed five families, reducing it to a heap of rubble. All 20 inhabitants were killed, and most are still under the debris, she said.

 The sole survivor from one of the families was a girl of 10, who had not been in the building. For a full week, she slept in the street, waiting for the civil defense volunteers to dig out her relatives, Kaddour said. But the volunteers lacked the equipment to recover the bodies, and the ruins have become their grave. The girl was so traumatized that she would not speak to a family that offered to informally adopt her, and in frustration they took her to an orphanage in the Shaar neighborhood of Aleppo.

 “She never laughs. She never cries. She never asks for anything, even food,” Kaddour said. “The other children feed her.”

 Meals for those living in besieged Aleppo are spartan, consisting of Syrian flat bread, which humanitarian aid groups distribute every other day, rice, lentils, and bulgur, a local grain that can be cooked or consumed raw when mixed with water. The grains are distributed in food packets every second or third month. Residents obtain water from a water delivery service, which provides 250 gallons to fill a tank for $10 — as long as the purchaser can supply the fuel to power the delivery truck. But fuel is almost impossible to find.

 Because of the cost of cooking fuel, residents comb destroyed buildings for scrap wood, which they use for a fire to boil water, Kaddour said.

 The situation in Aleppo is at the edge of a still bigger disaster, with the main vulnerabilities in the area being fuel and water, according to the top official in rebel-held parts of the province. The city had built up supplies in anticipation of a siege of up to six months, said the official, Mohammad Fadelah, in a phone call Friday. But it cannot use them all due to a fuel shortage.

 “We brought in substantial amounts of wheat, but the problem is we don’t have the fuel to run the mills to make the flour,” said Fadelah, the president of the provincial council.

 The fuel shortage also threatens to paralyze water filtration systems, which make the area’s well water fit for human consumption. The enclave also suffers from a growing crisis in health care, as two of the 10 hospitals in the area were recently destroyed, and a shortage of medicine grows worse.

 “We had our strategic plan before the siege to keep functioning for six months,” he said. “But with the recent escalation, I don’t think we would be able to serve that long.”

 The children of eastern Aleppo, however, are forced to take on tasks that would terrify even the bravest adults. Kaddour is both proud of and worried for her teenage son, Amir, who volunteers at a local hospital, helping rescue people pinned down when buildings collapse. He got involved in the job after enrolling in a first-aid course without telling her, using his pocket money to buy a first-aid kit.

 “I don’t want him to leave the house when there is bombing,” she said. “Sometimes he listens to me. Other times he sneaks out and leaves without telling me.”

 On one occasion, when Amir was working, two missiles struck the building next door to her and set it on fire. Neighbors told her that they’d seen her son and he was safe. But when she began searching for him, she came upon the bodies of two young men who’d died in the attack.

 “I lost consciousness. I didn’t feel anything for six hours. Even when I was awake, I couldn’t remember anything for a week,” she said.

 Now she and her family live in fear for their future. Bashar al-Assad’s regime and Russia appear determined to reconquer all of Aleppo, which was once the country’s largest city. Kaddour believes they want to expel the people of eastern Aleppo, as they have the population of Darayya and other towns near Damascus.

 “They have destroyed us, expelled us, and killed us only because a group of youths protested and asked for freedom, the freedom of opinion, of education, and to live as you like,” she said. “They took away everything from us, even the air, which they polluted with chlorine gas, with phosphorus and the smell of ruin.”

 “Now after all the suffering, we are worried they will take us out in the green buses,” she said — referring to the state-owned fleet used to deport Darayya residents from their hometown to rebel-held areas. She said she’d go willingly to Gaziantep, Turkey, where she has a married daughter, and others would go to rebel-held Idlib or even to the regime-held areas.

 “The international community has ignored us,” she said. “We are unarmed. And we are fed up.” '

Monday, 17 October 2016

Aleppo to the Ivy League: Syrian doctor preps for end of war

Image result for Aleppo to the Ivy League: Syrian doctor preps for end of war

 'Khaled Almilaji coordinated a campaign that vaccinated 1.4 million Syrian children and risked his life to provide medical care. He is one of three Syrian scholars studying at Brown University, which said last year it would welcome Syrians after dozens of governors attempted to block refugees.

  He said he feels lucky because many other Syrian doctors have had to give up their work after sacrificing for five years, watching their families suffer and seeing their children go without an education.

 "Every time I go inside Syria, I see the smile on the face of families and people. They say, 'We will stay here. We will never go out, and we will still fight this regime,'" he said. "You cannot go out with less energy, just to continue supporting those people."
 Almilaji was born in Aleppo, now the epicenter of Syria's conflict. He studied in the coastal city of Latakia to treat disorders of the ear, nose and throat. He was preparing to go to Stuttgart, Germany, for a residency in March 2011 when anti-government protests sparked the conflict.
 He treated protesters who likely would have been arrested or killed if they went to government-run hospitals, he said, and he set up field hospitals.
 "They accept to be killed if this is the way to show the world we are in a revolution here," he said. "But I cannot accept that those people will never go to a protest because they don't have any hospitals to receive them in case they are injured."
 Almilaji said he was arrested in September 2011 in Damascus, interrogated and tortured. The savagery he witnessed during six months in prison convinced him he was "one thousand percent correct" in opposing the regime, he added.
 Almilaji returned to Aleppo after his release and cared for protesters' families, considered a crime. A friend who was helping those families was arrested in April 2012. Almilaji escaped to Gaziantep, Turkey, and his parents soon followed.
 A U.N. commission found government forces in Syria deliberately target medical personnel to gain a military advantage, by depriving the opposition and those perceived to support them of medical assistance. The commission called the targeting of medical personnel one of the most insidious trends of the war.
 Almilaji translated for Syrians in Turkish hospitals and worked to equip Turkey with ambulances to transfer Syrians from the border. He made trips into Syria to work in a medical clinic in Aleppo and deliver medical supplies. He successfully pushed for the building of underground hospitals because he expected health facilities to come under increasing attack, a fear that proved true.
 He said he joined the humanitarian arm of the opposition and began monitoring the spread of communicable diseases in northern Syria by setting up an early warning response and alert network.
 The first case of polio was discovered through the network in October 2013 in eastern Syria, he said. Almilaji planned the vaccination campaign as the administrative director. Teams went house to house and vaccinated 1.4 million Syrian children.
 He is working with Canadian doctors to establish safe health facilities in Syria, train medical workers and connect hospitals. The group formed the Canadian International Medical Relief Organization, and Almilaji reviews the projects from Providence.
 If insurgents are still fighting President Bashar Assad's forces when he graduates in two years, Almilaji plans to work from Turkey on relief efforts that can later facilitate redevelopment. When Syria is stable enough, he wants to return and work on preventing diseases and other health problems, since resources for treating ailments will continue to be scarce.'

Sunday, 16 October 2016

First video footage of FSA rebels in Syria's Dabiq

Image for the news result

 'In this video footage filmed by a Rudaw news partner in Syria, rebel fighters of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) are seen in the town of Dabiq in northern Aleppo on Sunday morning.

 The Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) said its forces captured Dabiq from ISIS after violent clashes.

 “Free Syrian Army forces have taken control of the strategic town of Dabiq in the northern Aleppo countryside after violent clashes with Daesh (ISIS),” the FSA said in a tweet.
 Backed by Turkish air strikes the FSA launched an offensive against ISIS in Dabiq on Saturday as part of their drive against the extremist group.
 According to the US-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights ISIS had stationed 1,200 of its fighters in Dabiq, to protect a town so important to ISIS that it gives its name to the militants' main magazine.' 


Saturday, 15 October 2016

'We need deeds, not words': bombs fall on Aleppo as MPs debate Syria

Syrian boys cry following Russian air strikes on the rebel-held Fardous neighbourhood of the northern embattled Syrian city of Aleppo

 ' “At the moment we have an aircraft in the sky above the hospital, so we are hoping that we won’t get hit,” said Hamza Khatib, one of the handful of medics still working in rebel-held Aleppo, who lost two patients on Tuesday morning alone.

 As MPs debated the risks and benefits of a no-fly zone, he said it was the only hope for about a quarter of a million people in rebel-held Aleppo.

 “The only thing that we really need is to stop the main source of the violence and killing: Russia and the regime aircraft. We don’t want medical aid, we don’t want food – that will make us last longer, but if there is still bombing, it will not save our lives.”

 Monther Etaky, a journalist, stayed home with his wife and baby son during the debate. He had raced back to comfort them after the bombardment began and, with a surveillance plane circling overhead, said he was worried the jets would return. “Even the small children in Aleppo can recognise every plane by its sound now,” he said.

 Like many in Aleppo, he is frustrated by the international attention focused on a proposal from the UN special envoy to Syria. Staffan de Mistura has offered to personally escort the most radical rebel faction out of Aleppo if doing so would bring a halt to the bombardment.

 “I wonder if he is really interested in our situation and saving Syrian blood and life? If so, I invite him to deliver aid here personally,” Etaky said. “I invite him to escort the prisoners out of Assad’s jails, I invite him to escort out the sectarian groups fighting for Assad.”

 For many in Aleppo, the debate was just another day of talking that will bring no change in their suffering.'

“There are debates and speeches outside Aleppo, and Assad and Russians are killing us inside,” said activist Abdulkafi Alhamdo. “We need deeds, not words.”

Friday, 14 October 2016

Young filmmaker aims to tell besieged Syrians' story

 'A Syrian filmmaker whose harrowing footage of sarin gas victims in 2013 was seen around the world is using his experience of the attack and conflict to make a drama looking at why people take up arms in a war which began as a peaceful revolution. Humam Husari's self-financed short film explores the chemical attack near Damascus through the eyes of a rebel fighter who lost his wife and child but was denied time to bury them. Instead, he is called to defend his town from a government offensive. The story is based on real-life events, he said.

 "We need to understand how people were pushed into this war and to be part of it," said Husari, 30. "I am talking about a story that I lived with. They are real characters."

 Making the film was an emotional but necessary experience for Husari and his performers, who were witnesses to and victims of the attack, and not trained actors.

 "The most difficult thing was the casting and auditions," said Husari, who took about two months to write, produce and direct the 15-minute film and is currently editing it. "A 70-year-old man said to me: I want to be part of this movie because I lost 13 of my family ... I want the world to know what we've been through. And all I wanted from him is just to be a dead body," he said.

 "I was amazed with how much those people were able to express their tragedy and to cooperate with me on this movie."

 Mohamed Demashki, a business student and professional bodybuilder before the war who plays the main character, said he took part in the film because of its message.

 "It tries to convey to the world that the people who live here are not just fighters, they are not terrorists. They are people with a life. The war conditions them to become fighters," he said.

 When the sarin attack happened, Husari took his camera to the makeshift hospitals that sprang up to cope with thousands of victims and sent the footage to international media.

 "I wasn't filming because I am a cameraman, I was filming because this is the only thing I could do for the victims," he said.

 "During it, you can't feel anything, you just feel shock ... After, when you just think about what you have witnessed, you rethink how big and real and really tragic this was. It is not easy for me to watch my footage."

 Husari, who studied film at the Brighton Film School in Britain, now makes a living covering the Syrian conflict for international news organizations, but still hopes to make filmmaking his career. Husari said that living the daily reality of war will equip him to tell the story of the conflict when the war ends and films can start to be made.

 "Let's just think about how I reacted to those war jets in the sky. It has become something very normal to me, and this is something it is really hard to understand from the outside," he said.

 He has acquired the tools to direct actors to accurately respond to events in a conflict setting, he said.

 "I feel I have a responsibility in the future to tell this story, these stories, through cinema and drama. That's usually what happens after every war," he said.

 With parts of Damascus's Ghouta under opposition control from the beginning of the conflict, a number of areas have come under siege by Syrian government and allied forces. Making cinema in a place where there is no free passage of food, people and other supplies is tough. Husari made his lighting equipment and camera track himself, but had the good fortune to have access to a good quality camera.

 "It is an irony that in a besieged area you can find the best cameras you need," he said.'

Saturday, 8 October 2016

"Singing and dancing, asking for the same goals - freedom and dignity"

 Robin Yassin-Kassab: 

 "I don't think there is a play between the superpowers. I don't think there is a battle between Russia and America. On the ground in Syria, the perception is that they are more or less on the same side. America wants Bashar al-Assad to go, but the régime to stay in place. Russia wants Bashar al-Assad to stay as well, and they're trying very hard to work together. When Assad killed 1500 people with sarin gas in 2013, Obama's red line disappeared, and he very publicly handed the Syria file to Russia. He's just done a deal with Iran over the nuclear issue, which is a good thing, but precisely at the moment when Iran has got tens of thousands of occupation troops, including Shia jihadists, in Syria. He's not talking about that. So the Syrians think Russia and America are, more or less, on the same side, the whole world is betraying them." Mazen Darwish:

This is our life for more than four years. This is daily Syrian life in many places. And they ask why are there all these refugees, why do people become extreme and turn to terrorism? This is the result." 

 Robin Yassin-Kassab: 

 "We have to remember that as well as the horrors of war, and the extremists, the jihadists, the fascist régime, the foreign occupation, there is also remarkable stuff happening in Syria, in the revolutionary areas, which nobody talks about, which is part of the solution. There are over 400 local councils in Syria, many of them democratically elected; and these are the people who are representative Syrians, they are keeping life together in the most difficult of circumstances. That's what's under threat in Aleppo. Aleppo is the biggest concentration of civil society activists and groups, education services, the White Helmets, everybody else, in the country. If they manage to destroy that in Syria, then in a year or two we will be facing just jihadism."

Mazen Darwish:

 "Nobody can win in the end through military means. We are talking about 300,000 civilians in this area. If they want to kill all of them, this is the only way to have a victory." 

 Robin Yassin-Kassab: 

 "I must dispute that the Syrian government forces are trying to invade eastern Aleppo. It's not really the Syrian government forces. The Syrian Army is more or less finished. It hasn't won a battle by itself since 2012. It's Russian bombs, Iranian and international Shia jihadist ground troops. It's a foreign occupation as much as it's a civil war at this point."

Mazen Darwish:

 "From the beginning, the régime pushed for this solution -for the extremism. While we were arrested, the human rights defenders and civil society leaders, Assad released more than a thousand jihadists from al-Qaeda from prison. So from the beginning they have had this strategy, to push the country towards violence. And because they get support, not just from Russia and Iran, but from the West in general. They see what happens in Syria, and they don't care, or don't think we will reach this level. Only now after the refugee crisis has Syria become important, but what has happened is systematic, and this is the result."

Robin Yassin-Kassab:
 "The revolution survives, remarkably, despite the fact that the régime has made it into a war, and done everything it can to bring extremists into the country so that the West will be scared of the alternative. Nevertheless, there are hundreds of democratically elected councils, there are tens of Free radio stations, Free newspapers, Free TV stations, women's centres." 

  Mazen Darwish:

"Each time you have a ceasefire, like you had in February, thousands of people come out in civil protests again. Singing and dancing, asking for the same goals - freedom and dignity."

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Al-Zoghbi Uncovers Russian Plan Targeting Idlib, Hama following Aleppo

Syrian civil defence volunteers evacuate a man and children from a residential building following a reported air strike on the rebel-held eastern neighbourhood of Bab al-Nayrab in Syria's second city Aleppo, on April 29, 2016.

 'Head of the Syrian opposition delegation to Geneva, Asaad al-Zoghbi revealed a Russian-Iranian plan in coordination with the Assad regime to move the systematic destructive battle from Aleppo to the city of Idlib and later to Hama.

 In remarks to Asharq Al-Awsat published on Monday, al-Zoghbi said that a meeting of the opposition held in Istanbul two days ago agreed on uniting all military opposition factions under one brigade and one leadership capable of facing the Russian destructive forces that are supported by the Syrian regime and Iranian militias.

 The position will have two parts: Enhance the military operations and ask for the help of the international community without relying on Washington,” he said.

 Commenting on the latest developments in Aleppo, al-Zoghbi said: “Currently, there is a complete systematic destruction of Aleppo, and this destruction is on its way to devastate Idlib and later Hama. The attention in Syria is not directed anymore to a revolution against the Assad regime, but rather towards the Aleppo battle. This is what the Russians and the Americans want.

 “After this phase, an agreement will be reached supported by a decision from the U.N. Security Council. Then everybody will forget about what Assad controls from Lattakia to Damascus.”

 The head of the Syrian negotiating team said scores of Russian warplanes are currently bombing Aleppo. “There was a Russian plan that the Russian Defense Minister and Iran had agreed on during a meeting held three months ago in Tehran to either totally control Aleppo, or completely destroy the city.”

 He said that since the announcement of the alleged seven-day ceasefire during the Eid al-Adha, the Russians, the Iranians and the regime were mobilizing their forces and more than 8,300 soldiers to prepare for the battle of Aleppo.

 Al-Zoghbi said that Saudi Arabia and other brotherly countries, which are helping the Syrian opposition, have decided to back the armed opposition and provide them with weapons.

 He said Turkey also supports arming the opposition, adding he expected a similar position from Gulf countries soon.'

'The Country Is a Devastated Graveyard'

Boys climb over rubble

 'For at least a year before the summer of 2016, civilians and fighters in rebel-held East Aleppo prepared for a siege they believed was both avoidable and inevitable. Correctly, it turns out, they calculated that the opposition’s bankrollers and arms suppliers—the United States, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and other “friends of Syria”—cared little for the well-being of civilians in rebel-held areas. Through the spring, contacts inside Aleppo prepared for the siege, expending minimal effort on appeals to the international community, which they assumed would be futile.

 For all the world-weary resignation of the opposition fighters and other residents of rebel Aleppo, they have a well-earned pride in what they’ve done. They’ve maintained their hold on half of the jewel of Syria, and under withering assault, have cobbled together an alternative to Bashar al-Assad’s rule. “From the beginning of the revolution, we held Aleppo as the role model of the liberated city, that holds free elections, has an elected city council, and elected local committees that truly represent the people,” Osama Taljo, a member of the rebel city council in East Aleppo, explained over the phone after the siege began in earnest. “We insisted to make out of Aleppo an exemplar of the free Syria that we aspire to.”

 Unfortunately, Aleppo has become an exemplar of something else: Western indifference to human suffering and, perhaps more surprisingly, fecklessness in the face of a swelling strategic threat that transcends one catastrophic war.

 Now that Russia, determined to reestablish its status after the humiliating collapse of the Soviet Union, has pushed the United States into a humiliating corner and weakened that international order, it is raising the stakes. Either the United States will push back, or the disequilibrium will spread even further. In either case, many thousands more Syrians will perish. As Bassam Hajji Mustafa, a spokesman for the Nour al-Din al-Zinki Movement, one of the more effective, if violent, rebel militias influential around Aleppo, put it, “People have adapted to death, so scaring them with this siege is not going to work.” Those who remain in Aleppo echo this refrain again and again: The last holdouts have stayed out of conviction. It’s hard to imagine anything but death driving them out. “If Aleppo falls and the world stays silent, then that will be the end of the revolution,” Hajji Mustafa said.

 In the end, Aleppo is not a story about the West; it is a cornerstone of Syria and an engine of wealth and culture for the entire Levant. Aleppo is the story of the willful destruction of a pivotal Arab state, a center of gravity in a tumultuous region in sore need of anchors. It’s a story of entirely avoidable human misery: the murder of babies, the destruction of homes, the dismantling of a powerful industrial and craft economy.

 Perhaps, finally, Assad and his backers have gone far enough to provoke an American defense of that indispensable order that America helped construct.'

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Despite The Odds, Syrian Activist Keeps Basement Schools Running In Aleppo

 "Bombing a school in 2016 shouldn't be normal, shouldn't be OK," insists Marcell Shehwaro, a 32-year-old Syrian activist, who runs a network of informal schools out of basements in the devastated city. Classrooms, bakeries, hospitals and even rescue workers are targeted in her hometown during the most merciless airstrikes of a war now five years old.

 "Stopping the bombing is what I need right now," she says in an interview in New York. Shehwaro was part of a delegation of Syrian civil society workers at the United Nations. They came to confront world leaders over the Russian and Syrian offensive in Syria after a short-lived ceasefire collapsed. She is from a Christian family, and President Bashar Assad's regime and Islamist militants have targeted her. Syria's Christian community shuns her, blaming the revolt she supported for ushering in militant Islamists that target Christians.

 "I can't quit. I speak English. I have two degrees and I'm privileged. Quitting means that I lost," she says. "When I am tired and I want to quit, I say, 'OK, 100 girls went back to school [last month] so I will keep going,'" says Shehwaro. She runs Kesh Malek, which means "checkmate" in English, and the defeat of the king in chess.

 Her group has opened seven schools in rebel-held Aleppo, serving up to 3,000 pupils in basement classrooms to shield students from the bombs. But the war has taken an immense personal toll.

 "Maybe I didn't leave because I'm guilty that I survived," she says. "I'm without a family, without a country, without dreams, but I'm more determined, more realistic."

 In July 2011, the Syrian government held a "national dialogue," a gathering of establishment and moderate opposition figures. The meeting was a gesture by Assad's government to address the nationwide demonstrations that had erupted four months earlier, in March. 
After the gathering, the protests continued and the government responded ever more harshly. Shehwaro paid a heavy price as a blogger who was openly critical of the government.

 "I lost my job," she said. "I went to a weekly interrogation [by security officials] that lasted for hours."

 She eventually joined the street protests in Aleppo, in the north of the country. By the summer of 2012, half of Aleppo was under rebel control.

 "I don't know if I want to remember who I was in 2011. It was a peaceful revolution. It was a cry for help for something beautiful," she says about those heady days of promise. What followed was something she never imagined five years ago: protesters were met with brutal force, peaceful activists were arrested and tortured, thousands of deaths were cataloged and photographed by the regime. Rape was used as punishment in Assad's jails, according to activists. Rebel factions, increasingly radicalized, adopted an extremist ideology hostile to those advocating democracy. When her mother was killed at a military checkpoint in Aleppo in 2012, Shehwaro accused the regime of murder on her Facebook page.

 "As an activist I had a responsibility to tell the truth," she says.

 Later, when she went to the hospital with her sister to identify her mother's body, a police officer told her not to overreact.

 "I told him, 'You killed her, it's not a mistake.'" Her sister urged her to leave Aleppo for her own safety.

 Islamist militants arrested her in 2014 because she refused to wear a veil in an ISIS-controlled neighborhood.

 "I survived the regime and I survived ISIS. It's an amazing story," she says. Referring to Sunni Muslim activists who sheltered her, she adds, "I have been around really good people who protected me along the way. Many of them weren't Christians. Actually, 90 percent of them were not Christians."

 When she moved from Syria to southern Turkey last year because the dangers had become too great, she wrote about it as another defeat, "A year of denial, guilt, grief, and surrender. Nothing of the hero left for me."

 Shehwaro says she's still committed to a democratic Syria but most of her idealism has been ravaged by the barbarity of the war.

 As the ceasefire collapsed in Aleppo last week, the regime launched a new military offensive with Russian allies against rebel neighborhoods where Shehwaro runs some schools. Shehwaro's team often closes classrooms to preserve fuel for hospitals overwhelmed with civilian casualties.

 "I'm 32 years old and I don't want to take those kinds of decisions," she says. "I don't want to decide whether fuel should go to schools or to save lives." '

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Gulf may arm rebels now Syria truce is dead

A rebel fighter of 'Al-Sultan Murad' brigade arranges weapons inside a warehouse in the northern Syrian rebel-controlled town of al-Rai, in Aleppo Governorate, Syria, September 26, 2016. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi

 'The collapse of the latest Syria ceasefire has heightened the possibility that Gulf states might arm Syrian rebels with shoulder-fired missiles to defend themselves against Syrian and Russian warplanes, U.S. officials said on Monday.

 One U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss American policy, said Washington has kept large numbers of such man-portable air defence systems, or MANPADS, out of Syria by uniting Western and Arab allies behind channelling training and infantry weapons to moderate opposition groups while it pursued talks with Moscow.

 But frustration with Washington has intensified, raising the possibility that Gulf allies or Turkey will no longer continue to follow the U.S. lead or will turn a blind eye to wealthy individuals looking to supply MANPADS to opposition groups.

 "The Saudis have always thought that the way to get the Russians to back off is what worked in Afghanistan 30 years ago – negating their air power by giving MANPADS to the mujahideen," said a second U.S. official.

 "So far, we’ve been able to convince them that the risks of that are much higher today because we’re not dealing with a Soviet Union in retreat, but a Russian leader who’s bent on rebuilding Russian power and less likely to flinch," this official said, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

 Asked if the United States was willing to do anything beyond negotiations to try to stop the violence, State Department spokesman Mark Toner did not outline other steps, but stressed that Washington does not want to see anyone pouring more weapons into the conflict.

 Another administration official, however, said, “The opposition has a right to defend itself and they will not be left defenceless in the face of this indiscriminate bombardment.”

 Critics of U.S. President Barack Obama, argued that U.S. diplomacy has been hamstrung by the White House's reluctance to use force.

 "Diplomacy in the absence of leverage is a recipe for failure," Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, Republican critics of the Democratic White House, said in a statement. "Putin and Assad will not do what we ask of them out of the goodness of their hearts, or out of concern for our interests, or the suffering of others. They must be compelled, and that requires power," they added. "Until the United States is willing to take steps to change the conditions on the ground in Syria, the war, the terror, the refugees, and the instability will all continue."

 White House spokesman Josh Earnest accused the Russians of targeting the civilian water supply of eastern Aleppo used by refugee camps, aid convoys, and the White Helmets, a civilian group that seeks to rescue victims of air strikes.

 "The idea of weaponising access to a clean water supply for civilians; it’s beyond the pale," Earnest told reporters.

 Sarah Margon, director of Human Rights Watch’s Washington office, said the actions alleged by Earnest "all constitute war crimes under international law."

 "The U.S. has treated Putin as a partner in peace instead of an accomplice and perpetrator of war crimes," Margon said. "The question is now what steps the U.S. will take to compel Russia to refrain from further abuse and from facilitating Assad’s atrocities."

 The White House did not immediately respond to an emailed question on whether the United States believed that Russia has committed war crimes, a charged made by Britain.'

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Russia is a partner to the régime in crimes against our people

Aleppo residents plead for help as Syria fighting rages

Image result for Aleppo residents plead for help as Syria fighting rages

 'Residents of rebel-held eastern Aleppo said "ferocious bombardment" by Syrian and Russian jets on Saturday had levelled neighbourhoods and killed at least 91 civilians.

 "We don't have the equipment to pull the corpses out," a resident said, standing on the rubble of a destroyed building in the city's al-Bab district.

 Describing the horror around him, he said an entire family was killed in a strike, with several people still lying under the debris.

 "We are trying to help the injured, those who survived ... but the situation is catastrophic. Destruction and death, everywhere around us. It seems that the Russians and the regime have been given a green light to slaughter us all. As if starving the people here was not enough - it's now mass murder."

 Abdulkafi al-Hamdo, a professor at the University of Aleppo, said that residents were expecting another night of horror.

 "What we are suffering can't be expressed by words in any language. We don't have water to give our children … [Rescuers] can't help people anymore and the roads have been cut off by rubble. In the hospitals, there are three-four people on one bed, even in the intensive care units."

 Another resident from the al-Mashhad district pleaded with the international community to save the more than 250,000 civilians stuck in besieged areas as air raids continued to flatten civilian areas.

 "We urge all honourable people around the world, please, we beg you, come to our aid; save us," he said.'

Friday, 23 September 2016

Aleppo residents tell of onslaught as airstrikes enter second day

A still image from a video posted on social media shows a baby being rescued from rubble in a collapsed building in Aleppo.

 'Activists posted images of massive craters from the city that they alleged were the first instances of warplanes dropping bunker buster bombs.

 “Are we in the era of technology and civilisation?” said a resident of eastern Aleppo. “Is this Russian civilisation and democracy? The killing of children, women and elderly people?”
Bara’a, a nurse at a hospital which doctors in Aleppo refer to with the codename M2 to conceal its location, said she had witnessed several children brought in with severe injuries on Friday.
 “It is so saddening,” she said. “The strikes and massacres do not stop. Bombings, siege, homelessness, exhaustion, fear, manpower shortage. The silence of the world is killing us.”
 Graphic photographs from the bombed-out streets and homes of Aleppo showed rescuers attempting to dig out bodies – many of them children’s – from the debris.
 “Anger has filled everyone who remains in this city of rubble,” said Bara’a. “Many of the wounded are children, and when you look in their eyes they weep and say we have nothing left. Curse this justice. They lose their limbs and become disabled for life and their only sin is that they are the children of Syria. They have burned their childhood and their innocence and made them homeless in their country and all we get in return are words and promises from outside. God curse humanity if this is what it has become.”
  One western diplomat said he did not believe that the rebel-held districts were in immediate danger of a ground incursion. “It seems highly improbable that there would be a quick defeat of eastern Aleppo,” the diplomat said. “The only way to take it is with such a monstrous atrocity that it would be remembered for decades or generations. To take it quickly, much of Aleppo would be destroyed.” '