Thursday, 8 December 2016

Doctor reveals horrific torture in prison as Amnesty International estimates 17,723 detainees killed

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 'Bashar Farahat, a 32-year-old doctor, was working in a hospital in Latakia province when he was arrested by officers from Syria’s notorious Military Intelligence Directorate in July 2012.

 “The minute you get in the car you disappear. You don’t know anything about the world outside and the world outside doesn’t know anything about you. Once you are detained you become the property of the guards and the interrogators can do anything to you to get a confession.”

  Mr Farahat believes he was reported to the authorities for supporting anti-government protests and treating those injured in the ensuing regime crackdown.

 The trainee paediatrician was taken to the headquarters of the Military Intelligence branch in Latakia and subjected to a so-called “welcome party”, where new arrivals are beaten publicly by groups of officers armed with metal bars and electric cables.

 “They hit you with whatever they want, whatever they have – I arrived alone, so I had a full party,” he said, with a bitter laugh.

 Mr Farahat would go through a fortnight of torture at the hands of government interrogators, who were searching for the names of other suspected revolutionaries to hunt down. Unsatisfied, officials transferred him to the much larger headquarters of Military Intelligence Branch 291 in Damascus.

 “I was blindfolded and they handed me over to an officer who started insulting me,” Mr Farahat recalled. “He said: ‘I will make sure you will never, never see the sunlight again.’ I thought it could be true.”

 He was put in a cell measuring just five by six metres that contained more than 100 men, mostly suspected of conspiring against the Assad regime.

 “I just don’t remember how I survived,” Mr Farahat said, describing horrific conditions during his four-month imprisonment including extreme heat, a lack of water and food, and dire sanitation.

 He shared a 30cm by 150cm patch of concrete with a cellmate, taking turns to stand and sleep to gather their strength for endless rounds of questioning and beatings. The prisoner witnessed seven people die during his detention, hearing tales of many more.

 “Some people were beaten to death during interrogation,” Mr Farahat said. “The torture is to make people confess but it’s also a method of punishment so they will never, ever think of joining the revolution. This has been going on for 40 years in Syria. Others died from illness or weakness – a small injury can become life-threatening because of the conditions in the cells and lack of medical supplies. I would try to help the injured people and knocked on the door asking the guards for medical supplies, or to be allowed to take them outside for fresh air,” Mr Farahat said. The guards would come to the bars and tell me: ‘Knock on the door when they die.’ It became a famous saying.”

 His account has been echoed by numerous other prisoners, including a man jailed at the Syrian capital’s Military Intelligence Branch 235. Ziad said dozens of people suffocated to death when a ventilation system stopped working in their cell. He added: “The guards began to kick us to see who was alive and who wasn’t. They told me and the other survivor to stand up - that is when I realised that I had slept next to seven bodies. Then I saw the rest of the bodies in the corridor, around 25 other bodies.“

 Mr Farahat was eventually moved to another prison in Damascus and tried by a “terrorism court”, which freed him after finding no evidence to support his continued detention. But he returned to his hospital to be refused work, having been blacklisted by the authorities, and had his dream of qualifying as a paediatrician within months dashed. While continuing to seek medical work, he was re-arrested with a group of friends in April 2013 as they ate at a restaurant.

 When he was freed for a second time six months later, he received a conscription note for mandatory military service and fled to neighbouring Lebanon illegally to avoid border checks.

 “I only told my parents when I had arrived in Lebanon but I wasn’t completely safe because there were spies for the Syrian regime,” he said.

 Using the testimony of dozens of torture survivors, Amnesty International has chronicled massacres at facilities including the notorious Saydnaya Military Prison, on the outskirts of Damascus.

 One man told researchers a prisoner was forced to rape another man by guards or be killed, while a jailed lawyer said 19 detainees were beaten to death after they were found to be learning martial arts.

 “They beat the Kung Fu trainer and five others to death straight away, and then continued on the other 14,” said Salam, a lawyer from Aleppo. “They all died within a week. We saw the blood coming out of the cell.” '

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Aleppo under Siege: Interview with Suqour al-Sham- an Islamist Rebel Perspective

 'Western media rarely gets an insight into how Islamist battalions work and think especially within the rebel operation room, Jaysh al-Fath, the Army of Conquest. This is a coalition of seven Islamist rebel groups including Jabhat al-Fateh al-Sham (JFS), Ahrar al-Sham and Suqour al-Sham. They remain the most effective and cohesive rebel force currently fighting in Aleppo. Whilst much is known about JFS and Ahrar al-Sham little is known about Suqour al-Sham or the Sham Falcons.

 Suqour al-Sham was formed in 2011 after peaceful demonstrations failed and became a fully fledged armed rebellion. Its founder Ahmed Issa al-Sheikh or Abu Issa formed the battalion after the death of his two brothers by the regime. He belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood as were many opponents of the regime in the eighties, and had been imprisoned several times by the regime but not as is often assumed, in Seydnaya prison where Islamist prisoners were kept. Through the merger of local groups in the Idlib province Suqour al-Sham became a powerful opposition group. In its heyday it expanded as far as Damascus and Aleppo province. It was instrumental in forming the Syrian Islamic Liberation Front but left in 2013 to join the Islamic Front which was more in line with its vision. In fact, Ahmed Issa al-Sheikh became the leader of the Islamic Front which was able to field an estimated 40 000 to 70 000 fighting men.

 Whilst Suqour works with AQ affiliated groups it has always felt uneasy about them. The group does not adhere to suicide operations or use terror tactics associated with AQ affiliates.

 In a rare and frank interview with Suqour al-Sham’s official spokesman Mamoun Mousa Hajj, Suqour gives its view on the current crisis. Mr. Hajj considers himself a revolutionary, he is a former student of agricultural engineering and Islamic law, and a graduate of communication studies. Although born in Jebel Zawiya, Idlib, he grew up in Aleppo and claims to have joined the revolution from its very inception. His political activities led to his arrest several times by the Assad regime. Instead of fighting however, Hajj used his specialism in the media to establish the Aleppo Media Centre and then moved on to being Suqour’s official spokesman.

 Q: Is the lack of rebel success in Syria because the Syrian opposition’s leaders are afflicted with a love for leadership and so the opposition cannot unify under one leader?

 Hajj: Our military leaders in all the revolutionary groups, have led from the front and are martyred every day. The reason is due to the lack of effective support from the Friends of Syria which is in contrast to the friends of the regime who have unlimited support and direct military intervention. The Russian role in Syria is immense- with the missiles that arrived recently and of course the air craft carrier that arrived carrying tens of air craft. It is unfortunate that the likes of Reuters report for instance that Grad rockets are reaching the revolutionaries but what is that in comparison? The missile was present since the second year of the Syrian revolution.

 Q: Despite support from the international community not forthcoming, don’t you think that after five years the opposition should be more united?

 Hajj: Of course to have one leader and every one fighting as one makes a difference, but with the character of the Syrian revolution, the regional situation and the international political climate, it is difficult. There is support for sectarian militias and the support for the regime is immense. With regards to the sectarian militias to say that they are united, in our experience is far from the truth as we have seen in Minyan, most of the criminal militias of the regime don’t stay long, only twenty percent remain. The battle is directed by Iranians and Russian forces and the sectarian Iraqi militias. We often hear of the problems they face when we intercept their communication systems, what happens to us they suffer twice over. The media has to be more accurate in this regard. Generally, more should be expected from the revolutionary groups and as I mentioned before, Suqour has been at the forefront of the unification process between the groups; the beginning was the formation of the Syrian Islamic Liberation Front and then our merger with Ahrar al-Sham. Currently, I can inform you that there are organisational procedures on the way outside of the Army of Conquest operation room, which will bear its fruit in the near future, it will lead to further unification of arms and military effectiveness.

 Q: How long will the Syrian conflict last? Are you optimistic? Do you regret this conflict?

 Hajj: As long as there is international support for Assad and no clear support for the Syrian revolutionaries it means that the revolution will continue. We as people and revolutionaries don’t look at the result but at the price we have paid to defend ourselves, we have a right to defend ourselves. We don’t regret it because we were compelled to take up arms as I mentioned before… not because taking up arms was one of the choices… The Syrian revolution was an example to others and I believe that considering all the attempts to hamstring the revolution, the car bombs and so on, in spite of it, we remain such. If we compare our revolution to others the situation is still good to a certain extent. So we don’t regret it, now there is no solution left especially with the occupation of the Russians and the Iranians. We must resist them and hope to be successful like any other people that have been oppressed in the past.

 Q: What has been the impact of US forces in Northern Aleppo province? Is their presence a good development?

 Hajj: With regards to the help from Turkish air and land support this has had a positive impact. After the Turks became serious about entering the country, they cleared up DAESH in Northern Aleppo in record time. In contrast to the Coalition despite it consisting of more than fifty countries and were there before them, they have not realised anything on the ground unfortunately. And this makes us doubt the seriousness of the Americans over Syria and DAESH.

 Q: If you could advise Western policy what would it be?

 Hajj: Western politicians have not dealt with Syria in a humanitarian way. Sadly, they have thought about their own interest. Syrian revolutionaries and we are of them, welcome any attempt to relieve the suffering of the Syrian people whether that is logistical or humanitarian aid. We hope that they deal with Syria within the framework of human rights which is required of them. We hope that they will participate in the humanitarian aims effectively, for the friends of Bashar al-Assad help them in men, materiel, economically and politically…Despite the fact that the international community has agreed on international human rights, so far there has been no attempt to bring charges against Bashar al-Assad, at the same time we have seen tens of rulers being charged with war crimes even ten years later…

 Q: Syrians don’t seem optimistic about Western involvement- is it possible for the West to change their course after five years?

 Hajj: Of course this matter would probably involve a change in president or leader, it is not possible to change the general policies- but at the same time we hope from God to change the opinion of Western and other non-Western societies with regards to the Syrian revolution. We don’t hope for a change in President or Prime Minister but we hope that God opens up ways that can change the opinions of international leaders and community with regards to the Syrian people.

 Q: What is your message to the people in the West?

 Hajj: Our message to Westerners is this: just like the majority in your countries enjoy privileges, express their identities, beliefs and ideas and all the world’s governments respect this. As the majority our identity is Islamic and we won’t hide it. It is up to the world to respect our identities. Our revolution was not for one day a civil war but from the day it started in 2011 it was a popular revolt started by school children. The criminal regime smashed this freedom. We hope the people in the West pressurise their government to help the Syrian revolution and push the Security Council, United Nations and influential organisations to establish safe zones and support the revolutionaries through arms in order to stop the very epitome of terrorist- Bashar al-Assad. We hope that people in the West listen to us, not just about us.

 Q: After five years of fighting isn’t the solution now a political one, rather than a military one?

 Hajj: With open help both militarily and politically by the great powers spearheaded by Russia to Bashar al-Assad and his militia, and the weak aid rendered from the so called Friends of Syria to the Syrian revolutionaries, of course the solution is not going to be a military one. But the continuation of the war, I mean the crushing of civilians, and after the regime and its criminal militias used banned chemical weapons and breaching human rights a thousand times…the Syrian revolutionaries have taken the decision not to be subjugated to anything other than the five points outlined by the Syrian Islamic Council.

 Q: Surely you have to be realistic? There are two parties, one party is stronger and they have interests and so do you, granted they commit war crimes but is it not time to do negotiate, if only to end the bloodshed?

 Hajj: For us it is not a problem to sit down, we will sit down with any group that will meet the Syrian people’s demands and needs whether that be Russian or Iranian, but if we have to negotiate with Bashar al-Assad, the terrorist, this has to be done through a competent intermediate, even with the Iranians it needs to be indirect because we consider them an enemy of the Syrian people. We have demonstrated how in Zabadani, the Iranians mediated with Ahrar al-Sham who represented the Army of Conquest. So we don’t have a problem sitting down with any party that leads to the end of this criminal regime. But we haven’t seen any seriousness from any party. The Russians say that they are going to turn Aleppo into Grozny at the same time they are negotiating to get the injured out of Aleppo with out any guarantees.

 Q: The warming of Russo-Turkish relations will it impact Suqour al-Sham?

 Hajj: Turkey like any nation has a political leadership, it has priorities and national interests that satisfies its internal and external ambitions without loosing its principles. We as a part of the Syrian revolution have found our Turkish brothers to be helpful and supportive in our aims and issues after we left our families and relations. Up to now, we have not experienced a negative impact with regards to Russian and Turkish differences being resolved.

 Q: So far, what has been Suqour’s view of the UN’s role in Syria?

 Hajj: Unfortunately, in Syria we associate the United Nations and its slogans with demographic change and the impotence to stop the criminal Bashar al-Assad… even by international law, they can’t even protect their own people as the recent targeting of the aid convoy by a Russian air strike in Western Aleppo shows. Then their warehouse, their boss and thirteen employees were killed. They asked for help to create a humanitarian corridor with out permission from the Assad regime to get them out. But only a few days earlier their convoys were waiting in Bab al-Hawa [under rebel control] for several days to obtain permission to enter besieged Aleppo from the regime! And then they said they can’t enter proffering a number of excuses because the roads were not secure and they had all the means to get it done.

 The latest declaration by De Mistura supports Russian aims that wants to see the removal of the injured revolutionaries and civilians without any guarantees from arrest or death, this is what the Russians want from the siege in terms of demographic change and putting pressure on the revolutionaries. The revolutionaries showed the contradiction in that behaviour, they [UN] never honoured anyone like they honoured Bashar Jaafari [ the current Syrian Permanent Representative to UN who was honoured for ten years of service] very recently.

 With regards to the UN being ‘appalled’ by the bombing of civilians [in Western Aleppo] in our recent military campaign. The operation was in military areas only, there weren’t any civilians inside them, just because they are called Ma’mal Karton or Kindi Hospital does not mean that they are civilian, when we say it is a Suburb of Assad [Dahiyatul Assad] it doesn’t mean that it is a suburb full of civilians. We have seen a lot of buildings that serve as military quarters. Any one who lives nearby will tell you that.

 With regards to civilian areas we teach our fighters how to deal with them in urban warfare and the rules of war, the Syrian revolution remains innocent and doesn’t target civilians, rather they protect civilians, a few days ago we protected civilians using our transport vehicles because we know that the regime targets civilians deliberately.

 Q: Should there still be a no-fly zone in Syria?

 Hajj: To have a safe zone is a solution but it is not the comprehensive solution. The revolutionaries have asked the international community for no-fly zones, this is a logical step to protect civilians who have suffered immensely.

 Q: Is there still a Syria? Some analysts in the West have suggested that it be partitioned?

 Hajj: The Syrian revolution will not end in surrender or by being split up. The Syrian people will not accept Assad and Iran’s attempt at demographic change. Even those they got out from Darayya and Moadhamiyeh which was was unfortunately supported by the UN and benefited the regime.

 Q: How will the battle of Mosul affect Syria?

 Hajj: Half of the criminal DAESH is in Iraq and the other is in Syria, certainly to fight DAESH in Mosul is a serious battle, to destroy their power is a good thing but as long as it is not a game, if it is to weaken them so we can push them out. But if Mosul is about bringing them to Syria the matter will be far more complicated.

 Q: Western media has depicted Suqour al-Sham as a Jihadi-Islamist group which is not as extreme as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham [formerly known as Nusra Front], is this an apt description?

 Hajj: We are Syrian revolutionaries, all our leaders are Syrian revolutionaries and were part of the first peaceful demonstrations. We were compelled to carry arms. Western media has painted us as terrorists when in fact the biggest terrorist in the region is Bashar al-Assad, and so young Syrians joined the various groups and this contributed to the various problems that has hampered the areas where the revolution entered.

 Q: Many Muslims and non-Muslims are deeply troubled by the ideas of al-Zawahiri and his handiwork because they believe that it is extreme. Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (JFS) despite renouncing Nusra Front still believes in some of his ideas. What is the position of Suqour in this regard?

 Hajj: After what the regime has thrown at the Syrian moderate revolutionary groups in reality the only choices was to become al-Qaeda, but they didn’t turn to them. It is proof that the groups are convinced that the way of al-Qaeda is not possible. Our aims are within our national borders and our aims are five which have been outlined by the Syrian Islamic Council and has been signed by all groups and activists. We are at the forefront of that.

 Q: Western fear of Jabhat Fateh al-Sham is that a realistic fear?

 Hajj: We are interested in ensuring that our ranks are united against the enemy that are attacking us with all the means available to him. There isn’t a militia in the world that hasn’t sent its people to fight us and hide amongst the ranks of Assad. This is what concerns us above any other matter.

 Q: What is Suqour’s vision for Post-Assad Syria, will it be a secular or an Islamic one? If it is an Islamic one, how will it work and how is it different from that of ISIS’ vision?

 Hajj: In the beginning like in many countries, we wanted to express our identity which is Muslim, this is the right of all nations. DAESH came and showed it to be one of terrorism and blood thirstiness. Unfortunately, much of the Western media got to know Islam through the DAESHI definition of Islam. But Islam respects democracy, freedom of expression and the freedom of the individual. So what we are working towards is a Syria built on law, justice and a state that respects individual freedoms and rights; that this state is not drawn from our perspective but comes with the full consent of the Syrian people after the fall of the criminal terrorist Assad regime.

 Q: Why do you use derogatory terms for sects which prevent groups like the Druze and others from joining you?

 Hajj: We have dealt with the various groups without sectarianism. To prove it, today there was an encirclement of the revolutionaries in Deraa, after the filming of our martyrs we filmed one of the officers that represented the enemy and he was Sunni, not Alawi or Druze. Our issue is not Druze, Alawi and is irrespective of what goes on in every day life. We don’t take issue with the Alawis, the Assad regime doesn’t allow his own sect to retreat and they have Alawi opposition members to this day. With regards to the Druze, there was a problem with them and Nusra Front in Maharim, Lousa. Ahrar al-Sham negotiated a settlement. Our position was clear, there were negotiations and we overcame the challenges. We have no problems with any group as long as they don’t fight us. We don’t care what flag they carry, if they have a beard, no beard, clothes, colour or whatever. If they fight us they are our enemies.

 Q: There are many reports that there will be an intra-rebel civil war- for instance Ahrar al-Sham HQ was blown up recently and there are suggestions that the culprit is from the Syrian opposition? Could you comment?

 Hajj: What happened to Ahrar [the death of its leaders] was painful to the group. It was a heavy blow for the moderate opposition especially given their impressive record. Nevertheless, the opposition groups have been able to face the challenges and remain united. The Ahrar al-Sham investigation has not been able to come to a decisive conclusion as to responsibility. But it is likely that Syrian and foreign intelligence agencies were involved.

 Q: Why did Suqour leave Ahrar al-Sham and then join the Army of Conquest [Jaysh al-Fath]?

 Hajj: This is incorrect, we never left the Army of Conquest. We were one of the founders of this operation room from the very beginning before the battle and liberation of Idlib. The media, especially Western media, often view the Army of Conquest as a unified whole, but this is not correct. Usually you see the operations of Jaysh al-Fath being presented alongside JFS as if they are one and the same and this is incorrect because Suqour has also had a lot of military successes. The operations room consists of seven groups which, once the plan is set, each group has his independent axis where he operates in conjunction with the other partners. Suqour merged with Ahrar after the liberation of Idlib and its actions went under the name of Ahrar al-Sham, after the siege of Aleppo we returned back to the operation room. The merger didn’t succeed because of administrative and organisational issues.

 Q: How does the Suqour view the struggle between Jund al-Aqsa and Ahrar al-Sham?

 Hajj: Before the military operation against Jund al-Aqsa the revolutionaries used to belittle them by calling them Jund al-‘Afa [the Army of the Rotten] and Jund al-Daesh [the Army of ISIS]. If we return to Jund al-Aqsa’s formation who are they? How did they take over areas like Sarmin and Musaybin? All the areas that they took over belonged to the Dawood Battalion [a Salafi-Jihadi battalion based in Idlib] and other groups like Jaish al-Sham, not to be confused with the one in Aleppo of the same name. This group consisted of members who didn’t join ISIS directly but they wanted to be a type of mustering point for joining ISIS in Raqqa. So if anyone wanted to join DAESH they would go to the mustering point in Sarmin village in order to travel to Raqqa. Those who didn’t want to join ISIS remained with the Dawood Battalion and became Jund al-Aqsa which was lead by Saudis, Emiratis and Kuwaitis whose beliefs were different. Even Nusra Front didn’t accept them at first. They thought they were better than Nusra Front and in some aspects more correct than them. So what does that mean? It means that they have affinities to DAESH. There have been many investigations that have established this such as in Ariha where clashes occurred between them and Ahrar al-Sham.

 One young man from Ahrar was injured and went to Idlib hospital for treatment Jund al-Aqsa arrested him and treated him the way DAESH did with Abu Rayan. There were many incidents and car bombs on the road between Aleppo and Saraqeb where only the cars of Ahrar al-Sham, Faylaq al-Sham or ours would get hit but theirs wouldn’t be affected. In the recent incident one of their men kidnapped an Ahrar security officer at a check point because a few days before, it had been established that their men had been in contact with DAESH and there was conclusive proof that they were DAESH. This frightened the Jund al-Aqsa leadership and they used the battle in North Hama the same way the Shias defend themselves [against the charge of treachery] and they got away with it. But when they kidnapped him, beat his family and shot at some of them and gave them [Ahrar] the ultimatum: either you give us back these crypto-DAESH fighters in exchange of the man or he will die. So Ahrar took the decision to fight and Suqour and others joined them.

 For us however, any behaviour which is DAESHI we will deal with it as it is. It doesn’t matter what name you have. This is why we stood alongside Ahrar. The struggle between Jund and Ahrar al-Sham was not between revolutionaries but actually a fight against DAESH as has been shown by the assassination of its leaders. With regards to JFS taking them under their wing depends on how they deal with the issue and those who accept it- it will be in the interest of the revolution. As for those who work against it they will bear the responsibility, of course.

 Q: So the matter has not ended?

 Hajj: Absolutely, there are condition that they have to adhere to, the solution has been agreed to by all parties. And all the parties will side against the wrong doer whatever the flag or party.'

Ahmed Issa al-Sheikh or Abu Issa leader of Suqour al-Sham

Syrian revolution: Into a struggle against occupation

 'At the beginning of the Syrian revolution, in March 2011, the two sides of the conflict were clear-cut. The first party was the people of Syria who have suffered Assad regime’s persecution and oppression with a deep passion for change. The second party was composed of a group of people bound together by mutual interests, those who were leading the country according to a military, security and economic ad hoc system god-fathered by the Assad family. Through time, changes have taken place. A large part of the Assad "army" defected, leaving that gang and choosing to defend innocent people, thus creating a large vacuum, in human terms, in the Assad gang, prompting him to seek help from the militias he has already planted and patronized in the Middle East, such as Hezbollah and ISIS-like organizations.

Soon, Iran intervened to protect these militias, a necessary move for its expansionist plans in the region, by thousands of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and members of the allied countries, such as Iraq.

I am surprised when I read the formula used to transfer news from Syria. CNN and BBC used the definition "Syrian government forces", so that listeners and readers who cannot have information on the details of the events in the Syrian arena will understand that the winners in battles are purely Syrian soldiers. Yet, their comprehension is far from reality. The percentage of Syrians fighting by the side of the regime in the battle that is taking place now in Halab (Aleppo), does not exceed 10% of the total forces. The rest is a mixture of various militias.

Iraqi militias

The Iraqi militias that first entered Syrian territory were Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, Nujaba and Abu al-Fadl al-Abbas, at the beginning of 2013. They were coordinated by the Iraqi and the Iranian government. Ī¤hese militias number 15,000 fighters, spread mainly in Damascus and Halab. Their operational center is located at Al Sayeda Zainab district of southern Damascus. The ideology and therefore the motivation of these militias is mainly religious. They have committed many massacres against the Syrian people in the rebellious areas of Damascus and Halab which cost the lives of hundreds of unarmed civilians. Their monthly salary is around $ 500.

Afghan militias

Liwa Fatemiyoun is the strongest among the Afghan militias in Syria. This militia was formed in southeast Iran, backed and trained by the IRGC. The Iranian government took advantage of Afghan refugees fleeing the war in Afghanistan and exploited their bad economic situation. In addition, it pumped extremism in the hearts of the Afghan youth. Afghan militias began entering Syria at the beginning of 2014. They are around 5,000 fighters located in Halab, Daraa and Damascus, fighting for around $ 400 per month. The town of Al-Zahra in the northern countryside north of Halab is their operational and recruiting center.

Pakistani militias

Three thousand fighters under the name of Zainabiyoun, mainly present in Halab and Daraa. This militia was formed by the lobby of the Iran-backed Shiites in Pakistan, by supercharging young Pakistani Shiites with sectarianism and taking advantage of their deteriorating financial situation, under the supervision of the IRGC and their financial support. These young people were trained in an IRGC camp in eastern Iran, and then they were transferred to Damascus to support Assad’s forces. Their monthly salary is around $ 600.

Hezbollah militia

A world-known militia, ranked within the international and European terrorist list. It was formed during the Lebanese civil war in 1982 with the support of the Iranian government, and started cooperating with the Assad regime which has increased its support in the war on Christian militias in Lebanon, when Assad the father was in power. The so-called “Party of God” carried out several terrorist operations in Europe, South America and Africa, not to mention its role in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005. Hezbollah came to Syria at the beginning 2012 to support Assad’s forces in the repression of peaceful demonstrations, then moved to carry out military operations against Syrians opposing the regime. Its operations’ room is located in southern Homs. The number of Hezbollah members who entered the Syrian territories is 10,000. During the previous four years, more than 2,000 have been killed. Its members are spread in Damascus, Daraa, Halab and Homs.


The relations between Assad regime and Iran go back to the late seventies of the previous century, after the return of Khomeini to Tehran, culminating in military and intelligence relations between the two regimes. At the beginning of the Syrian revolution in 2011, the Iranian government showed open support for the Assad regime, at first by military experts. Then, it moved to the stage of sending the aforementioned militias. At the beginning of 2015, Iran’s Ali Khamenei gave orders to the IRGC to intervene directly and send more than 4,000 members who were stationed in Damascus and Halab. Damascus airport is the center for the operational command for those members. According to Iranian newspapers’ reports, in the past two years more than 1,000 were killed.

Last but not least, Russia

The first Russian military base in Syria was created in 1971 by the ex-Soviet Union under an agreement with the Assad regime. After the beginning of the Syrian revolution, Russia stood as a shield for the Assad regime in international arena such as the United Nations. Russia also significantly contributed to stopping European and American military strikes against Assad regime after the chemical massacre in August 2013. Russia then moved to the next level: the direct military intervention on September 30, 2015. It sent nearly 100 military aircraft and established a new military base in the coastal city of Latakia. Russian air force supported the Assad regime in its war against the Syrian people and the Syrian military opposition. Furthermore, Russian leadership secretly commanded the Russian intelligence to send Russian fighters through cooperation with Russian private security companies. More than 2,000 Russian fighters have already been distributed in the countryside of Latakia, Halab and Hama. 

After this detailed description of the militias supporting the Assad regime, the picture is completely clear. Those who are really fighting against the free Syrian people who made the revolution are groups of expendables: mercenaries, criminals and sectarian groups under the name of Assad regime troops. Having in mind that the Ministry of Defense of the Assad regime does not have the authority to order these militias, they move under orders either from Iran or Russia. Thus, what began in Syria as a civil revolt against a brutal regime has become a "revolt against occupation." '

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

After Aleppo falls, Syria's bloodshed may continue

Haid Haid:

 'The recent activity in Aleppo, which has seen Syrian government forces retake control of large parts of the city, confirms that there is no military solution to the conflict in Syria. Only a widely accepted political settlement can end the fighting and stitch the country back together.

 The internal divisions among rebel groups, their poor military performance and the lack of support channeled to them has led to speculation about the possibility of a military solution to the conflict in favor of the Syrian regime. These assumptions are likely jumping the gun: the regime controls less than a third of the country's territories. Restoring its grip on the rest of Syria faces huge challenges, both internally and externally.

 A small number of rebel fighters -- fewer than 1,000 -- were able to stop pro-regime forces from capturing the city of Daraya in rural Damascus for three years, despite all of the weapons used, including chemical attacks, airstrikes and starvation. The number of fighters in Aleppo is estimated to be around 8,000, which makes the chances of a swift victory less likely. Additionally, the majority of rebel groups in besieged Aleppo haverecently merged together, which improves their ability to defend the city.

 "The merger overcomes the divisions that allowed Assad to advance. Losing territories, which is bad in general, allows us to better defend the rest of our areas -- especially now that we have limited ammunition. Pro-regime forces will have to depend more on street fighting, which is in our favor because we know the area," said a fighter with the Aleppo's Army coalition on condition of anonymity.

 Despite the significance of Aleppo, the fate of the city alone is not a decisive factor in the Syrian conflict. Even if the rest of Aleppo falls, it is likely that rebel fighters and civilians who wish to leave will be allowed to move to Idlib's province -- as has happened in similar cases -- where they will continue to resist the Syrian regime. The number of Syrian rebels estimated to still be fighting in the country is around 150,000. In addition, the regional powers, namely Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, are still invested in opposing Assad and remain actively against any solution that allows him to restore his power over the country. With the Syrian regime in control of so little of the country's territories, there is a long and a bloody road before it can claim any kind of victory. As a result, the armed conflict will last for a long time, even if it takes different formats.

 Even if Assad is able to control Syria militarily, after a long struggle, the regime will still not be able to efficiently run the country. The Syrian regime has been depending for a long time on the manpower and support from its allies, namely Russia and Iran, in order not to collapse. Restoring and maintaining the rest of the country would also heavily depend on the support the regime receives from these allies. Keeping in check the local and foreign militias -- sponsored by Iran -- that helped in recapturing the country will be a security challenge and will likely create a weak government. The inability of the weak Iraqi and Lebanese governments to control the armed groups in their countries, the Popular Mobilization Units and Hezbollah armed wing, give a glimpse as to what could happen in Syria.

 The state institutions are weak and do not provide quality services for the majority of the country. There has been a catastrophic decline in the quantity and quality of services in the small percentage of regime-held areas due to a growing deterioration in the infrastructure and manpower resources on all services sectors such as health, education, industry.
Many regional and international countries will also oppose donating money to the Syrian regime to reconstruct the country and provide better services, which will lead to the marginalization of a big percentage of the country and negatively impact the regime's ability to rule them.

 The fragile security situation and lack of services and opportunities will likely discourage Syrian refugees from going back home. The fear of detention and pursuit by the security services and militias loyal to Assad for leaving the country or for opposing Assad, will continue to prevent many refugees from returning, which will not help in solving the Syrian refugee crisis. The Syrian regime, similar to what happened in the 1980s after the armed confrontation with the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood party, will likely imprison or exploit thousands of those who actively opposed Assad and will continue to push more Syrians out of the country in search for protection and a better future.'

Civilians fleeing rebel-held east Aleppo 'detained and conscripted' by Syrian forces

Some 275,000 people were living in rebel-held eastern Aleppo before the government's advance 

 'Dozens of military-aged teachers, medics and aid workers are reported to have been rounded up and spirited away, as regime troops push further into the city. The brother of one told how government officials were detaining men under the age of 40 whom they accused of supporting the rebellion.

 “I was with him (Mohammed, his brother) when he was taken by the secret service,” said Yussef, who did not wish to give his full name for fear of reprisal. “We just wanted to leave Aleppo to find safety. He was not political, he never took part in any anti-government protests,” said Yussef, speaking from the northern Syrian city of Azaz, a few miles south of the Turkish border, where he and his family are now seeking refuge.

 He said father-of-three Mohammed, 30, had worked as a nurse at a hospital until a few months ago, when he joined a local medical NGO. When Syrian troops entered the family’s al-Firdous neighbourhood a week ago, they tried to escape the fighting.

 “They did not allow us to leave - we were all taken to an old cotton factory in the Jibreen area of southeast Aleppo. Men were separated from women and everyone was questioned, and after a few days were allowed to go,” he said.

 But as the family tried to pass through a checkpoint in the Ramousseh district last Friday, secret service officials checked Mohammed’s ID against a list and arrested him on the spot.

 “They took his phone and all his belongings. The names on the list were of NGO workers, medics and anyone thought to be aiding the rebel cause. They told my brother ‘We have a situation and you need to help us fix it’. I did not speak out, I could not. I knew there was nothing I could not say to stop them,” said Yussef, a 36-year-old factory worker who was not on the government’s blacklist. “I could only think of my own children and wife and did not want to be detained or killed myself.”

 One father, whose son was arrested 10 days ago, had heard he was already fighting with the Syrian military in the eastern city of Deir Ezzor. The army has been looking to bolster its dwindling numbers, having suffered a huge loss of manpower during the bloody five-year-conflict.

 “We haven’t heard anything from him since December 1st,” Yussef said. “I think that we will never hear from him again.”

 Fares Shehabi, an MP for Aleppo, denied civilians were being held, saying they had been offered shelter in the regime-held western side of the city.

 “All civilians leaving the east are being taken care of by the government and various civil society groups,” he told the paper. “None have been detained to my knowledge.”

 Bashar al-Assad’s forces, supported on the ground by Russian, Iranian and Lebanese Hizbollah fighters, have regained nearly two-thirds of the east in a blitzkrieg assault. The parts still held by the rebel have been bombed relentlessly by the regime, which is hoping to empty out the east and reclaim full control of Syria’s second city. The opposition remains defiant however. Abu Abdel Rahman Al-Hamawi of the Army of Islam group said rebels "would fight until the last drop of blood".'

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Attacks on schools aim to 'destroy Syria's identity'

 'Wafa Mohammed Ali Zeidan, 35, was in the third-grade classroom when she heard the aeroplane's first, terrifying rumble. Without a second thought, Zeidan, an English teacher, rushed to the door, panicking some of the girls in her class.

 Other pupils laughed, shouting: "Miss, are you scared of the aeroplane!"

 She went back to her desk, ashamed of frightening the children, and disrupting her own lesson. And then they heard the first explosion.

 "A girl grabbed hold of my clothes, trembling and crying," said Zeidan. "Then we heard the awful sound of the second aeroplane. We lost control of the students as they started to panic and run."

 Zeidan lost four of her colleagues in a brutal aerial bombardment on the main Kamal school complex in the northern Syrian town of Haas in late October. A teacher for 13 years, Zeidan had witnessed previous aerial bombardments in the course of Syria's five-year-long war. But never had she seen anything like the destruction wrought that October morning.

 "It was a calculated assault to strike fear in the hearts of the children and the parents."

 Teachers and aid organisations believe the attacks on schools are deliberate. Abdul Hammami, director of the US-based Swasia Charity Foundation, which runs 14 schools in Syria's Ghouta region, believes that the Syrian government and its allies target schools to impair education and create images of chaos.

 "They want to give the impression they are fighting extremists, when of course they are the ones that are creating this."

 Zeidan believes the motive lies in destroying Syrian identity: "The small dreams of our future teachers and doctors have been killed by criminals who do not know the meaning of compassion. They [Russia and the regime] know that no one will be punished for those crimes. They are war criminals, because they killed children in the holy place - school."

 Russian officials were sceptical about the Haas attack. A spokesperson claimed that photos of the aftermath were "computer graphics". On the same day as the Haas attack, Syrian state media reported killing "terrorists" in Idlib province but did not report any dead or wounded children. That was a far cry from Zeidan's experience.

 "The street [outside the school] was filled with corpses. I felt like I could not move - especially when I looked to my left and saw my husband's nephew. He was dead."

 The story of one of the parents, Khaled Da'ef, also differed from the Russian and Syrian official media version of events. His 13-year-old daughter Renad, a top-of-the-class student, was killed in the Haas attack.

 "On the morning of the massacre, I took her to school and gave her her daily allowance. I did not expect that it would be the last goodbye."

 With schools coming under attack, it is often difficult to persuade parents to send their children to those that remain in use. Even the children now associate school with negative connotations.

 "Our children hate to hear the word 'school'," Zeidan said. "Even I have become afraid of going to school. I hate the sight of books or bags - they have become frightening memories."

 The problem is exacerbated by extreme poverty: Swasia has resorted to providing food packages for the worst-affected families in Ghouta, so that children are not forced into work to buy basic supplies.

 Zeidan and her two children escaped the school unharmed. She and her colleagues are now clubbing together to give lessons to their pupils wherever and whenever possible.

 "We will not leave them in ignorance. They have the right to education, like all the world's children."

 In eastern Aleppo, where up to 100,000 children remain under siege, teachers have replaced conventional classrooms with basements, for fear of strikes on schools and open spaces such as playgrounds. Other safety measures include replacing glass classroom windows with plastic. In opposition-controlled Idlib province, schools have gone underground to protect children from aerial bombardments while they take lessons, and as schools have been destroyed. For now, teachers like Zeidan on the ground in Syria bear the weight of the violence, and witness the mental strain on her country's youngest generation.

 "I loved my work at the school; it was a good school. I loved the pupils,"said Zeidan. "A chasm full of great sorrow and fear has been left in the hearts of the students, parents and rest of the townspeople. What remains will not be erased from their hearts easily." '

Saturday, 3 December 2016

The Post-Aleppo Syria

Middle East Briefing

 'First, a couple of words for those trash ATMs who keep talking about “foiling the conspiracy of regime change in Syria”. This trash assumes that the hundreds of thousands that rushed out to protest in the streets of Syrian towns and villages in 2011 were all pushed by a vicious American conspiracy to change the regime in Damascus. It is an interesting assumption to say that all those protestors moved because someone pressed a button somewhere in Washington.

 Furthermore, if Obama wanted indeed to topple Assad he could have helped the opposition in 2012. At that time, the opposition’s main group, the Free Syrian Army (FSA), was made of defecting Syrian officers and soldiers who refused to obey orders to shoot at civilians. In fact, the main criticism directed by the Syrian at the US is that it resisted all along any decisive action to topple Assad.

 Those active distributors of that kind of trash are in fact helping the Iranian IRGC, Hezbollah, the Iraqi Shia zealots who raise sectarian flags over their units in the Nujaba gang fighting in Syria and one particularly oppressive dictators whom his crimes against opinion prisoners are documented.

 If some people do not have the moral fabric to admit that Assad is a children killer, a dictator who used brutal violence to quell peaceful protestors in 2011, and a man who accepted to destroy his country to defend his chair, they better at least shut up.

 Second a quick comment on what will follow Aleppo.

 The assumption that the fall of Aleppo to Assad’s forces is a game changer in Syria is questionable, at least, and flat-wrong at most. After all, Aleppo was in the hands of Assad until mid-July 2012. The way the opposition captured the east of the old city could very well be repeated in a future phase of the ongoing Syrian tragedy, so long as this tragedy continues.

 Even the claim that the defeat of Syria’s armed opposition will guarantee that it will never be back on its feet again is as erroneous as the previous one. In 2011, there was no Syrian armed opposition at all. Now, this armed opposition is a decisive factor in the course of events. As it was born from villages and streets five years ago, when Assad killed peaceful demonstrators, it will be born again and again, even faster as now most Syrian know who destroyed their country to his rule.

 We may be absorbed by the daily details coming from the battle fields in Syria. We may be too close to the picture to see the basic facts that started this tragedy and pushed it to spiral to what we currently see. But as it all started, it can start again over and over until the dictator leaves, oppression ends, and a free Syria ruled by its people emerges from this painful birth. For as long as there are Syrian, there will be opposition to Bashar Al Assad.

 Now, to Aleppo.

 Secretary of State John Kerry understands that capturing Aleppo will simply inflate Assad’s illusions about “liberating every inch of Syria”. The Secretary understands that this will mean “liberating Syria from Syrians” as is already happening. He knows that the fall of Aleppo will in fact complicate the path to any reasonable pacification plan in a country torn by war. But in all fairness to the Secretary, his boss denied him any tools to help pressure Assad and his allies.

 Still, the Secretary was desperately trying to prevent this complication until the last moment. He understands that the Trump administration may act in a way that exacerbates the deep split in Syria and he tried to open one last road to a reasonable end of the war before he goes.

 But Kerry’s attempts did not succeed before the elections, it is difficult to see how they could after the elections. Kerry’s most recent proposal was to stop the vengeance bombardment of Aleppo and embark on a meaningful exchange on the diplomatic track. He proposed a separation between the non-ISIL and non-Qaeda opposition and the rest. According to his plan, the terrorist affiliated groups would leave Aleppo when the relentless bombardment of its eastern quarters stops. A multi-party talks is to start soon after.

 But there was no chance whatsoever that Kerry’s midnight effort succeeds. Assad’s media mocked it. The Russians laughed. And the Iranians did not even listen.

 If Aleppo is captured by Assad and his Russian and Shia allies, the opposition fighters will go to the north west, the east and the south to continue their fight. They will focus more on infiltrating western urban areas. A long-term insurgency will begin until the next revolution in Syria topples the dictator. No one should expect the Syrians to give up after all these sacrifices.

 Unless Assad empties east Aleppo of its inhabitants, as he is already doing with starvation and extremely brutal violence against civilians, the city will resist his thugs. Only an empty Aleppo is a defeated Aleppo.

 In few words: Assad’s control over Aleppo is but one phase of a long-term strategy. Assad may win a battle, but let us not forget that he thought he won before to end up bringing the Russians, Hezbollah and Iraqi and Afghani Shia militias to help him remain presiding over a people who refuse him. And we still see some idiots applauding this.'

Friday, 2 December 2016

The Syrian rebellion will continue no matter what happens in Aleppo

Photo by: AFP

 Asaad Haana:

 "Am I alive? Where am I? Where is my family?
 With these words, the children of Aleppo emerge from under the rubble, in a city where mornings are akin to a daily rebirth – for if they can sleep, they don’t know whether they’ll remain alive until the next day or not. For the past fifteen days, the people of Aleppo have endured a vicious military campaign, unleashed upon them by Russia and the Assad regime.
 This campaign was premeditated and organised in full view of the international media and community; many an international media outlet had warned that Russia was amassing its troops in Syria and preparing for a major military operation aimed at taking control of the eastern section of Aleppo. Russia, now Assad’s most powerful ally, brought over its largest airplane carrier along with volunteers to fight alongside its army.
 Aleppo’s civilians did not sleep on the night of November 15 and the sound of the bombs was very different from what they were accustomed to. Bunker busters were dropped at random in the city’s eastern neighbourhoods, in the most destructive campaign the city has ever been subjected to. According to statistics by the Syria Civil Defence, more than 2000 air strikes and 7000 artillery shells targeted the city. They specifically targeted hospitals and Civil Defence centres, to prevent any attempts to rescue injured civilians. All hospitals were taken out of commission; the Civil Defence’s equipment was inoperative, rendering it useless in the effort to rescue civilians.
 After Assad used barrel bombs filled with toxic gas, that lead to multiple deaths from asphyxiation, those heavily shelled areas were rendered uninhabitable. The Free Syrian Army (FSA) then secured corridors to allow civilians to withdraw before the arrival of Assad’s ground troops, and then retreated to its second line of defence. The regime’s army thus entered the Masaken Hanano housing district, and the death toll for the first ten days of the offensive was 508 civilians, according to the Free Health Directorate of Aleppo. The army then extended its control on Al-Sakhur, with clashes shifting to Al-Bab road as the FSA established barricades in the southern part of Eastern Aleppo, which the FSA views as the best area from which to defend the city.
 As the FSA granted civilians the freedom to move to whichever area they deemed safest, a few moved to regime-controlled areas, with Russian guarantees of safe passage. Most relocated to the Kurdish-dominated Sheikh Maksoud neighbourhood. We received information that the Kurdish YPG, which controls the neighbourhood, arrested a number of young people aged 18 and upwards and handed them over to the regime, which promptly arrested them under the pretext that they were wanted for military service.
 Concurrently, the YPG has advanced onto and taken control of three opposition-held neighbourhoods, as part of a secret agreement with the regime forces. The FSA, it stands to mention, has fended off the YPG and the regime’s advancement for four years in addition to fighting ISIS terrorists, as part of “Operation Euphrates Shield” which was launched by Turkey a few months ago.
 Several politicians and analysts saw fit to announce the fall of the city of Aleppo, or even the end of the Syrian revolution, after the latest retreat of opposition forces. We find this unacceptable. Only those fighting on the ground can declare the fall of a city. As we speak, the FSA continuous to fight in Aleppo with all the means in its power, to regain control of the situation.
 The latest siege of Aleppo was not only conducted by Syrian regime forces. According to information gathered from combatants apprehended by the Free Syrian Army in previous battles, Syrians represent a mere 20% of those fighting on the regime’s side. Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard lead the ground operations, along with Afghan fighters and Shiite militias from multiple countries, backed by air cover from Russia and the Syrian regime. According to information we’ve received, 4000 Hezbollah fighters have entered Syria over the past two months, in preparation for the battle of Aleppo.
 It’s too early to talk about the aftermath of Aleppo, it is not over yet.
 It is true that the regime’s progression is a catastrophic development. But fighters remain in the heart of Eastern Aleppo, with thousands more outside of the city. They could tip the scales at any moment and the regime forces could become besieged in the same city they’re laying siege to.
 This has happened numerous times during the revolution: the regime would advance into an area, only for it to be retaken by the revolutionaries.
 What is notable, and deplorable, is the deafening global silence on what is taking place in Aleppo. Though the international community knew full well that Russia was gearing for an attack on the city, taking advantage of the transitional phase in the United States, not a single measure was taken to halt this operation, or at the very least to protect the area’s more than 250,000 civilians, mostly women and children.
 The unjustifiable American silence outright serves Russia and Assad, who is attempting to regain control over Syria regardless of the toll on human lives. Europe’s attempts to push the political needle, a fig leaf for its long-lasting negligence, are pointless, as it would take too long and would change nothing on the battlefield. Europe has failed to uphold the principles of human rights it claims to cherish, much like it has failed to stand up to Russia which has defied the entire world by violating every human right in its onslaught on the Syrian people.
 This military escalation on this densely populated city destroys one of the world’s oldest cities, expels its inhabitants from their homes, and deprives, yet again, more than five million people from the dream to return to their homeland. Many considered Aleppo to be a city they could safely return to, even if the liberation of the entirety of Syria’s territory was further delayed.
 Russia perceives controlling Aleppo as additional leverage over the new American administration, which had announced it would cease supporting the opposition.
 The Free Army wants you to know that the Revolution did not start with support from the US or anyone else, and it won’t stop should they withhold support. This is our right, and we are defending our country from a foreign occupation that now commands the country’s economic and military capabilities. We want to remove a dictatorial and criminal regime that has proven its willingness to sell its own country, kill its own people, all for the sake of maintaining its throne. As long as the regime remains, so will terrorism in the region.
The revolution will not cease. Revolution is an idea; and ideas do not die."

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Air strike kills the last clown of Aleppo, Anas al-Basha

Syrian social worker Anas al-Basha, 24, dressed as a clown, while posing for a photograph in Aleppo, Syria.

 'He was the clown who brought joy to the lives of children in a city that has been described as going through a "slow-motion descent into hell".

 Social worker Anas al-Basha refused to leave the rebel-held Syrian city of Aleppo despite a merciless bombing campaign by Syrian and Russian forces that has seen the city of two million people disintegrate.

 Instead, the 24-year-old dressed as a clown and provided counselling to hundreds of children who have been orphaned by the country's civil war that has torn apart a country for almost six years.

 On Thursday, he was killed in an air strike presumed to have been launched by allied Syrian or Russian forces on the Mashhad neighbourhood in eastern Aleppo, two months after marrying his wife.

 "The last clown of Aleppo," mourned the Children of Syria Facebook page. "With him the besieged children of Aleppo laughed."

 Anas was a director for the Space for Hope centre which helps other psycho-social support centres and 12 schools in eastern Aleppo. He sent his salary to his parents, who left the city before the government sealed off the rebel-held eastern districts.

 "He would act out skits for the children to break the walls between them," his supervisor Samar Hijazi said.'

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Alleged Nusra militant grabs Syrian uprising flag during anti-Assad protest

 'Activists and locals from Aleppo and Idlib took the streets of the rebel-held city of Idlib at the clock tower in solidarity with those suffering in eastern Aleppo. During the demonstration, the people chanted for the Free Syrian Army to unite, for Russia and Iran to stop bombing Syria and to show solidarity with Aleppo.

 They chanted: “Aleppo, we are with you till death”.

 Activists held banners that read: “The conscious of humanity is burning in Aleppo.”

 Hadi Abdullah, a Syrian media activist who has survived many assassination attempts by the Syrian regime and has covered the massacres in Aleppo attended the protest and said that during the march, a man ran up and grabbed one of the freedom flags 'angrily' and tried to destroy it. He said a group of men ran up and confronted the guy, grabbing the flag back. According to Hadi, the man who attempted to disrupt the peaceful protest, could be affiliated with Nusra front.

 Hadi said his message to the people of the world is: "It's very shameful that the world has abandoned the oldest-inhibited city filled with civilians for ruthless killers to destroy every house, rock for rock, and kill its own people. We have lost hope in international justice, human rights… We’ve lost hope that the international community would stand up for the victim in the face of the oppressor. There is one thing that I am sure of, we will continue with our revolution for freedom and justice until we win or die.” '

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Europe can stop Syria's suffering

Shiyar Khaleal:

 'I consider myself lucky to have survived one of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad’s detention centres. Since the start of the Syrian revolution in March 2011, hundreds of thousands of innocent people have been arrested and unlawfully detained for: seeking freedom, democracy and a government accountable to its people, the same crimes I was charged with.

 The vast majority of those arrested cannot tell the accounts of the horror they saw and experienced. They are dead. For every person killed inside a regime prison cell, thousands more starve and are tortured, too often with sexual violence, in captivity. Former chief prosecutor of the special court of Sierra Leone, Desmond Lorenz de Silva, likens torture inside Assad’s jails to “industrial-scale killing.”

 While the world’s attention was on the outcome of the US elections, on 16 November I travelled to Brussels with a delegation of Syrian human rights lawyers and former detainees to meet with senior EU diplomats. Our message is clear: Europe must be a moral partner for the Syrian people and pave the way for a new comprehensive approach on Syria. This is now even more important given the outcome of the US elections.

 Our delegation in Brussels bore the onus of speaking for all those who perished in detention. They all are a constant reminder of why, we Syrians, first came to the streets, and why our revolution endures. Efforts to secure the release of detainees will save lives and help unlock efforts to reach a political solution. The Syrian people have repeatedly called on the regime to release detainees as a confidence-building measure. Making progress on the detainee's file remains one way to restart meaningful negotiations for a political transition.

 Justice and peace in Syria will also translate to more security in Europe. The refugee crisis and the rise of terrorist attacks show Europe is not isolated from Syria's crisis. Yet, neither terrorism nor the refugee crisis will be addressed without genuine accountability in Syria.

 There are concrete steps the EU can take to guarantee justice and accountability for the Syrian people. For example; the EU and its member states should lead an effort both within Europe and the UN General Assembly to demand that international monitors, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, gain immediate access to all Syrian detention facilities, including secret facilities controlled by foreign militias.

 As the Caesar photos show, some of Assad’s harshest forms of ‘justice’ are meted out with daunting regularity in these facilities, where detainees are raped, tortured, starved, suffocated, shot, and murdered. As the EU's foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini steps up her regional engagement, we call on her to press the regime - and its backers in Moscow and Tehran - into suspending all execution orders in the detention centres. Those responsible for kidnapping, torturing, and executing innocent people must be held responsible.

 Syrians deserve a future where they can live safe, free of tyranny and fear of indiscriminate bombs. As long as hundreds of thousands of Syrians are detained unlawfully, no Syrian is free. That’s why we need Europe to stand up and ensure those responsible for abuses and tortures inside Syrian’s prisons will be brought to justice. Accountability and transitional justice are critical for a future free Syria for all Syrians.'

'Will Not Surrender': Syrian 'White Helmet' Describes Aleppo Siege


 'Ismail Alabdullah, a volunteer rescue worker with the White Helmets, described the siege as the heaviest bombing he had experienced in the country's five-year civil war.

 "I can't describe this bombing, I mean non-stop bombing, every time, every second, every minute."

 Alabdullah pleaded for help from the international community to "end this massacre," but he acknowledged that such an outcome was, at this point, unlikely.

 "I'm pretty sure, 100 percent they will not do anything," he said, adding: "The Syria revolution is now going to end. They will not hear our voices."

 Alabdullah said it was impossible to leave to Aleppo — "there is no road to go out" — and that many people remain trapped in a small western section of the city. There is no electricity there, nor are there medical supplies and he anticipated running out of fuel in two days, he said.

 "The streets are full of people," he said. "They are walking in the streets without any, like, clothes or food."

 He added: "It's like more than hell."

 Still, Alabdullah said he had no choice but to continue working.

 "I didn't stay in Aleppo City for these years to surrender at the end," he said. "We are doing our duty to our country and for our people. Will not surrender, will not give up, will not give up." '

How Can You Heartbreak A Stranger?

 Yasmine Nahlawi:

 "Up until now the Security Council has been paralysed because of Russian and Chinese vetoes. but the draft resolution that the Security Council put forward last month was vetoed by Russia alone. If we continue to rely on the Security Council as a scapegoat for not engaging in any action, there will be no action on Syria. What we are advocating for is the pursuit and the convening of an emergency special session of the United Nations General Assembly. This is an alternative to overcome the abuse of vetoes in the Security Council, when there is a situation that threatens international peace and security, as Syria obviously does. The Canadian government is involved in calling for an emergency special session. It has submitted a letter to the President of the General Assembly last month, signed by over 70 countries including the UK, calling on the President of the General Assembly to convene an emergency special session on Syria; and should this happen, the General Assembly would be able to recommend measures, including the use of force, for states to take with respect to Syria.

 The Syrian heartbreak is twofold. The first is obviously the family, friends, cities, neighbourhoods, communities, memories, that you've left behind, and the people you know who continue to face starvation by Assad, continue to face bombardment by Assad and Russia. So that's the first heartbreak that Syrians face. The second heartbreak is just watching all of this, and realising that the international community is doing absolutely nothing. It could be as simple as dropping humanitarian aid on to besieged areas, and if the international community isn't even willing to do that, then us Syrians have faced a very big heartbreak in this respect."

 David Miliband:

"We've spoken to people today, and they describe the situation and I quote as "Doomsday" in East Aleppo. And of course the key point is it's not only East Aleppo that there is a pounding of an incessant kind. In East Damascus, in the south-west of the country, there are people with that worry as well, and it gives the lie to the argument that this is being done to target ISIS or Jabhat al-Nusra. In Eastern Damascus it's rebel groups that do not fall into those two categories. So I think you are right to say there is a very high order of concern. I'm afraid that recommendations from the General Assembly don't carry the same weight or the same action as a decision of the Security Council can, and it's the Security Council that can invoke force and deploy UN force and of course provide legal cover for other countries to do their own actions. I think it's very important that it's political division that has neutered efforts to bring relief to the people of Syria, and inside Eastern Aleppo. Since the 13th of November, they've had no food aid at all.

 The history of air drops is far from simple. The dangers are real for the people on the ground, never mind the people flying there. Certainly they should be on the table, and if Hilary Benn has made the point that we're in last resort situation, he's
 absolutely right to do so. Secondly, it's vital that we don't lose sight of the core demand, which is a cessation of hostilities and a freeze in the fighting, because until that happens, there will be no space at all for the political movement necessary. One other point, I want to know who ordered the bombing of the IRC medical facilities this year. Our own organisation has had eight hospitals bombed this year. Accountability for war crimes, and that's what we're talking about, bombings of humanitarian centres marked on maps, that then get bombed, I want to know as the CEO of the International Rescue Committee who is ordering those things. It's the breakdown not just of mechanisms for action in the Security Council that's of concern, it's also the breakdown of any sense of accountability for one of the most heinous crimes we've seen this century.

 I think that the consequences of the 2003 decision [to go to war in Iraq] are clear for all to see, and in various aspects have been disastrous. But I think it's also very important to say that the uprising in Deraa in 2011 was a homegrown revolt against autocratic rule. And it's very important that in the West there is proper recognition of decisions that are made in the West. I was a Schools Minister in
 2003, and I say very clearly about the mistakes that were made in 2003, and the mistakes, frankly, that were made subsequently in the administration of the peace, never mind the waging of the war, after 2003. It's also important to say that history is made by Arabs in the Middle East too, and the people of Aleppo who made peaceful protests in 2011, the people of Deraa where the civil war started, were protesting and demanding accountable government. And I think it's very important not to forget that the conflict that's happening in Syria is not just a sectarian one between different confessional denominations in the country. It's also part of a demand for accountable and legitimate government, never mind the wider geopolitical and intra-regional conflagration that has been taking place since then."

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Aleppo 'faces starvation' amid continued bombardment


 'Deadly offensive continues as residents of eastern Aleppo face harsh winter conditions and critically low food supplies. At least 39 people, including five children, have been killed in the latest round of air strikes and shelling in and around the Syrian city of Aleppo. Witnesses and activists said the air strikes on Friday destroyed two women's hospitals in Aleppo and Idlib province, as the renewed government offensive to capture Aleppo city from opposition fighters stretched into its tenth day. Some residents said meat now costs $50 per kilo, compared to $9 four months ago.

 Mohamed Shbeeb, a freelance journalist trapped inside the besieged city, said conditions in Aleppo were rapidly deteriorating.

 "Since the early [Saturday] morning, Russian warplanes attacked the city. Many people were killed. In the last 10 days in this campaign, more than 500 people have been killed by Russian air strikes and ballistic missiles. All the hospitals in the city are out of service. So the injured are a risk as there is only limited medical aid available. The situation is becoming worse every day. Food supplies have almost dried up. All stores are closed. Some people sell vegetables that they grow in their garden. Other food is no longer available."

 On Friday, Raed al-Saleh, the head of the Syria Civil Defence, or White Helmets, said the inhabitants of east Aleppo have fewer than 10 days to receive aid or face starvation and death from a lack of medical supplies. The volunteer group, which works in opposition-held territory and has rescued thousands of people from buildings bombed in the civil war, is also running out of basic equipment from Lorries to diesel and gas masks.

 With freezing winter conditions setting in, about 275,000 people are trapped in eastern Aleppo, where the last UN food rations were distributed on November 13. Anti-government fighters in east Aleppo have agreed to a plan for aid deliveries and medical evacuations, according to UN officials, but the global body is awaiting a "green light" from Russia and the Syrian government before it can begin operations.'

A Message To the world From Bilal Abdul Kareem Inside Besieged Aleppo

 Bilal Abdul Kareem:

'I am Bilal Abdul Kareem. I am a journalist for On The Ground News, but today, I'm going to step out from my role as a journalist, and I'm going to talk to you directly, one person who is in Eastern Aleppo, as you can see, to the rest of the world. My message here is very simple and it is very compact, and that is this: if there is anyone who is out there, who believes that this war that is taking place here, inside of Syria, is a war on terrorism, I am telling you, that the people saying it are playing you for a fool. I will say this again. Anyone out there who hears someone saying they are attacking Aleppo because they are going after Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (or Jabhat al-Nusra) or some terrorists, know for a surety they are playing you for nothing more than an abject fool.

 In this city, in the last week, I'm talking seven days, in the last week, five hospitals have been put out of service. Now what do I mean, out of service? That they just hang an out of service sign on the door? No. What I mean by out of service, is that the hospitals have been blasted to powder, killing both patients and doctors, and children and women, and anyone else who happened to be in the area at that time. That is what I mean when I say hospitals here have been put out of service. They have been targeted by barrel bombs, missiles, and Grad rockets. Our office was near one of these hospitals. Which is why these days, everybody's seen me wear the same clothes for almost the last week, because all our clothes were destroyed in the Grad rocket attack, and the ensuing fire that took place after it.

 Now, I didn't come here today simply just to give you a history lesson, in terms of what is happening here in Aleppo. You have to ask yourself a question. How in the world could you fall for, and believe, that a person who killed more than half a million people, is not the terrorist? However, some small groups that happen to be operating here in Syria, are the terrorists? I am saying to you, in no uncertain terms, that in Eastern Aleppo, the groups that you have here, are protecting the Syrian people from the same entity, the Syrian Arab Army, that has killed so many people, has produced so many deaths, so many injuries, that even now, the people cannot even say that they can go to a hospital, so that they can be treated for their broken legs, or their missing limbs.

 This is a reality that the world is going to have to come to grips with. So now, if I didn't come here today to tell you these things, then what in the world did I get in front of the camera for? I'll tell you. My message here today is clear. I am calling on every single man, woman, and any child that wants to participate, to go to any Syrian or Russian embassy, around the world, and you get all of your friends and your family, and everybody else, and you demonstrate in front of the embassies. Now, wait a minute. People are going to sit there and say, "In our country, you can't just walk up in front of the embassy and have a protest." So to that I would say this, go to whatever council you have to go to in your respective country, and get the permission for it. If they don't give the permission in 24-48 hours, then you bring 10,000 people in front of that building and tell them, "We want the permission, we're going to demonstrate, we want the permission right now."

 Why would you do that? You do that because no-one likes terrorists, no-one likes terrorism. But terrorists don't grow in a vacuum. Everybody would have to understand, that when you look at groups like ISIS, ISIS was born in Iraq, and the oppression there. And they migrated here to Syria. So as I see them, these people are terrorists. But, everyone knew the Americans were oppressing the Iraqi people, and therefore they did nothing, and now you have ISIS. So I am saying to you, if you are serious, I mean if you are really serious, that you don't want a terrorist attack to happen to you, or to your family members, or to anybody anywhere around the world, it is incumbent for people like you and me and everybody to stand up to terrorism. And if you can't say that Bashar al-Assad, who has killed more than a half a million people, has displaced half of the Syrian population, and has done all that they are doing here right now; if you cannot call him a terrorist, then I would have to say, that something is severely wrong with you.   

 I'd just like to introduce to everybody, before I do go, my little companion. I don't know what her name is. But I promised her owner, who lost quite a few family members, and her uncle's building was demolished. When I say demolished, I'm using the linguistic term demolished,  there is nothing left of the building. Alhamdulillah, they were able to escape uninjured. But I promised I would do this video, with her doll, and she was nice enough to loan it to me. So I would have to go back to her, and I want to tell her the world is listening, the world is hearing, and the world is gong to come together and do something to take these atrocities away from her population, and the people here in Aleppo, and in Syria in general.

 Finally, I say to you, don't you dare fall for anybody who's telling you - I don't care if his name is Obama, Putin, Assad, or whatever the case is - that what is happening here in Aleppo is that they are fighting terrorists, and terrorism. My name is Bilal Abdul Kareem. Do share this video, don't hit the stop button until you decide to share it.'