Thursday, 17 September 2015

The massacre will not be hashtagged

Faiek al-Meer was arrested in October 2013. His fate and whereabouts remain unknown.

 'Creating Facebook pages demanding the release of detainees was common during the first two years of the uprising. Their creation in itself illustrated a remarkable change in a country where political detentions before the uprising used to be cloaked with the utmost secrecy and censorship. But it was also a testament to the lengths that Syrians had come and of the various cracks they managed to break in the regime’s previously impenetrable wall of fear.
 But the Facebook page created following Imad’s second arrest, this time with six of his friends, was quickly removed at the request of the detainees’ families. This time around, they said, they did not want any noise or publicity. A seemingly small detail, one illustrating a new shift taking place in Syria.
 As the revolt eventually gave way to civil war, the initial sparks of hope and buoyancy were quashed and transmuted into utter despair. The cracks that Syrians had made in that impenetrable wall had all but faded, giving way to even greater fear: fear of the mere mention that a son or daughter had been detained; fear of demanding their release; fear of merely uttering their names.
 In Syria, the forced disappearance apparatus doesn’t only seek to conceal evidence, exonerate perpetrators, and intimidate the survivors. It also operates to subsidize the Syrian regime’s prison industrial complex. The numerous security and intelligence services use the information they withhold as a bargaining chip, misleading families and exploiting their need, powerlessness and vulnerability, eventually forcing them to pay millions of SYPs for the evidence that will never come.
 Fear, silence, exploitation and intimidation become essential to the perpetuation of forced disappearance as an effective weapon in the state’s arsenal against the people, against the “unwanted” disposable class. It becomes more than just a punitive measure for caging dissidents and squelching dissent. It carries a far more destructive and collective impact, constantly hovering over entire communities.
 A thought has to be spared to those whenever we write down a hashtag that includes the names of prisoners. Because in Syria, the hundreds of thousands of forcibly disappeared will never be hashtagged, and neither will be their tragedies. In Assad’s Syria, families are tired of hoping that their loved ones will be free; all they can say, after an estimated 20,000 had been killed under torture is, “Save the rest!” They already know that no one will listen to their shattered voices and pleas.'
  

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Student activists organize for a free Syria



When you ask the refugees what they think, they want to be back in Syria. Their main concern is the threat that they’ve been feeling, especially from the regime, especially from the barrel bombs that have been falling on many civilian-populated areas.”

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

How The Assad Regime Pushes Syrians Out, Fueling Refugee Surge

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"The regime has not relented on its crackdown of anyone suspected of being opposed to Mr. Assad. They're still detaining people, torturing people, according to the reports we're getting. They're still besieging opposition areas, starving them of food, denying them medicine and also bombing them almost on a daily basis. And then there's also the constant threat of being drafted into the army. A lot of families are opting to leave instead of having, you know, their sons go into the Army."
 There is a ridiculous piece by Ian Black¹ in today's Guardian, where he tells us,
 "In places such as nearby Douma and other parts of the eastern Ghouta region – ruled by what the authorities call “terrorists” and by the UN, “armed opposition groups” (AOGs) – schools do operate, and the staff are still paid by the central government, on paper at least. But that is the limit of its involvement."
 They are also involved by bombing² all the schools. And, "teachers in liberated areas of the southern province of Daraa risk being arrested because they have to visit the regime’s intelligence services before receiving payment from the Directorate of Education."³ That Ian Black gives more than equal coverage to the lies of the régime supporters is a poor reflection on his journalistic standards, as well as a result of only reporting from the government side. Just as Jeremy Bowen⁴ is doing, also from Damascus, advising us that Assad's army is professional and disciplined and can fight indefinitely.

¹[http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/sep/15/first-day-school-damascus-syria-aggression-common-education-war]
²[http://notris.blogspot.co.uk/2015/03/east-ghouta-changes-school-hours-to.html]
³[http://www.syrianobserver.com/EN/Features/29773/Teachers_Daraa_Risk_Regime_Interrogation_Get_Monthly_Paychecks]
⁴[http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-34244430]

Russia’s Smart-Dumb Move into Syria’s Civil War

Russian president Vladimir Putin confers with members of his Security Council at his country residence outside Moscow, June 17

 "The risk for Moscow is that Syria becomes its second Afghanistan or, more accurately, a Russian Vietnam. The Vietnam analogy is better than the Afghan one because the Soviet Union suddenly and fully invaded Afghanistan, as opposed to the US in Vietnam which escalated and dithered until it found itself in a full-blown war.
 The amount of power necessary to reorder Syria is staggering. The price tag on the refugee crisis alone can’t yet be calculated. To bring regime power back to all of Syria’s provinces would require a commitment of troops and power that could well cripple Russian efforts to carry out any of its basic defense needs, including holding Ukraine and keeping a lid on Chechnya.
 Even to carve out an Assad enclave will be terribly expensive and dangerous. No faction is content with such a slice of the pie: everyone is fighting to the death. To convince the FSA, Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State to leave the Alawite homeland alone will require an open-ended commitment of troops and equipment that Russia can ill-afford.
 Worse, if Russian troops are killed in some headline-grabbing attack, Putin may face pressure to either escalate, as he did in Chechnya, or pull out. He can’t manage Syria as he does Ukraine where he holds the leash to the Donbas rebels’ collar."

Monday, 14 September 2015

Assad's 'war' against the Islamic State group in Syria

Assad's 'war' against the Islamic State group in Syria

 'So has the Syrian regime actually fought IS? Undoubtedly, there have been confrontations between regime forces and IS, but a closer look would reveal that those battles were to help the regime in areas its forces were surrounded, such as the Meng and al-Tabqa airbases, or because IS needed weapons.
 Since the establishment of the IS group, its main battles have been against the armed opposition forces that drove the group out of northern Syria, the Damascus and Homs countryside, in addition to Deir Ezzor. The main battles fought against IS were fought by opposition forces that saw the group as a saboteur used by the regime against the revolution, and those opposition forces continue to fight IS in areas such as Mari and Jarabulus.
 A recent study on the conflict in Syria revealed that 63 percent of the IS group's fighting was against the armed Syrian opposition, while only 13 percent of the group's battles were against the regime. The rest of the battles were against the Kurds and other fundamentalist groups such as al-Nusra Front and Jaish al-Islam.
 This clarifies that role played by the IS group and how it intersects with the regime as a force assisting it against the revolution - and not a force opposing it. Perhaps the only people who believe there is a clash between the regime and IS are those who want to justify the death, destruction and displacement committed by the regime as a necessity to confront IS.'

THE SYRIAN CRISIS: MILITARY INTENSIFICATION AND FUTILE NEGOTIATIONS

Image result for ‫عزمي بشارة‬‎

 'Following intense diplomatic machinations over the past few weeks, the parties to the Syrian conflict are now back at square one. All sides have returned to their original positions, with the only difference being the intensity of the Syrian regime’s attacks on the country’s civilian population, once the Zabadani ceasefire had expired without an agreement between Iran and Syrian resistance forces operating in the border town. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov thus put paid to any hopes – however remote – that Moscow’s policies towards Syria were at a turning point.
 Lavrov contradicted recent comments by Khaled Khoja, President of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, who, during a visit to Moscow in August, claimed that Russia’s commitment to the permanence of Bashar al Assad as president in the context of a peace settlement was beginning to shake. In fact, Lavrov insisted: “While some of our partners believe that it is necessary to agree in advance that at the end of the transitional period the president will leave his post, this position is unacceptable for Russia.”
 Recent gains by the armed Syrian opposition, together with a Turkish policy of creating a security corridor along its Syrian frontier, gave the Assad regime’s allies the impetus they needed to begin frenetic diplomatic maneuvers on behalf of their partner in Damascus. With armed opposition forces, and in particular ISIL, approaching the Syrian regime’s strongholds along the coastline, Russian and Iranian anxieties about the impact of these advances have been felt more keenly. This compounds the impression given by recent fighting in areas such as Jisr al Shughoor and Ariha that the regime’s forces are losing morale, with the victory long promised to them by their leaders nowhere to be seen. Sensing the danger, and wishing to take advantage of a change of leadership in Saudi Arabia, Moscow led a new diplomatic initiative.
 The Syrian regime’s response indicated its reliance on Iran, which has now shown itself to be effectively in charge of Damascus. In a speech delivered in late July, President Assad attacked Saudi Arabia and thanked Iran for its support. Assad used the occasion to legitimize the activities of, and express support for, Hezbollah and other foreign militia that were bolstering his rule, helping the regime make up for a deficiency in morale and manpower within the ranks of the regular army and across the Syrian population more broadly. Indeed, Assad did away with the last remaining fig leaf not only of the regime’s lip-service to pan-Arab nationalism but also of any specifically Syrian patriotism, when he claimed that “Syria belongs to those who defend, not those who [merely] are its nationals”. Coming from an individual who presents himself as “President of Syria”, this was tantamount to a declaration of intent to carry out a population transfer of those Syrians not sufficiently loyal to the Assad government.'

Barrel bombs and oppression: The roots of the Syrian refugee crisis

Syrian rebels fire tank and missiles against Syrian regime forces [file photo]

Amr Salahi 

 'Increasingly, the conflict in Syria is being portrayed as one between the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and the Daesh militant group, with the former being portrayed as the lesser of two evils. The civil society organisations which still work on the ground overtly in areas held by moderate opposition forces and covertly in areas held by the Assad regime and Daesh, have been largely ignored by the media and the voices of refugees have not been heard.
Oqba Fayyad, a Syrian journalist from the town of Qusair in Homs Province says he was forced to flee his hometown in May 2013, just before it was overrun by Syrian regime forces and their Hezbollah allies. He says that in the month before it fell to the regime, hundreds of people in this town of 5,000 were killed in the regime's aerial and ground attacks, which he says, included "barrel bombs, cluster bombs, and napalm… just before they stormed the town, they used vacuum bombs which can suck out the oxygen of any building, turning it into dust in seconds". He had no choice but to flee.
He says "For three days, we travelled in the forests with no food or water, carrying the injured on our backs, with their wounds festering. We managed to reach the [opposition-held] towns in the Qalamoun area". However, they did not receive a warm welcome there. The inhabitants had seen the brutality of the assault on Qusair and now feared that if they took in the refugees, a similar fate would befall them. Clashes broke out and they fled once again to Arsal in Lebanon where they were subjected to a harsh regime by the local authorities, including a curfew after 6 pm. He eventually managed to contact the Swedish consulate in Lebanon, and was able to gain asylum in Sweden.
However, Syrians are not only fleeing regime bombardment of opposition-held areas. Sometimes, when an area is captured by opposition forces, some of the inhabitants flee to areas still controlled by the regime. Usually they fear what the regime will do to the areas held by rebels, which includes bombardment similar to the one described by Fayyad or, in areas surrounded by regime controlled territory, prolonged sieges which lead to the starvation of inhabitants.
Mohamad Manla is a Syrian opposition activist who has been a refugee in Germany for nearly three years. He fled from the Salah al-Din area of Aleppo when it captured by rebels from Syrian regime forces in July 2012, to western Aleppo, which stayed in regime hands. Salah al-Din later became one of the most dangerous places in the world as the Syrian regime pounded it and other rebel-held areas of Aleppo with barrel bombs.
However, rather than finding safety in regime territory, whenever Manla went out, he was stopped at security checkpoints, and threatened by regime soldiers and agents who accused him of loyalty to the rebels, simply because his ID card said he was from an opposition-held area. Two months later, he fled once again, to Egypt, and from there to Germany.'

Syrian refugees find a haven in North Jersey

Hussam Alroustom, right, arrived in Jersey City in July after fleeing his family home in Syria in April 2013 with his wife, Suha Shaaban, left, son Wesam and daughter Maaesa.

 ' “My family and I did not have the basics of life. We had lost everything,” Alroustom said in Arabic through an interpreter. “For me to come to the United States, I was willing because there was nothing for me to lose.”
 Homs, a city in west central Syria, was one of the first places to join the rebellion against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, and it was commonly the site of mass anti-government demonstrations. As passive protest was replaced by armed revolt and the country descended into civil war, Homs became a priority target for government forces as a determined Assad held onto power. Destruction in the city became widespread as Assad’s forces took aim at rebel strongholds there with deadly implements of war.
 Alroustom lived there before the war with his wife, Suha Shaaban, his autistic son, Wesam, and his daughter, Maaesa. He said he ran a supermarket in the city and had relatives nearby. Like many people in the city in the early days of the Syrian revolution, he had hoped that the protest movement would bring reform to a regime viewed as corrupt and repressive. But as Assad cracked down, rebel-held areas in Homs came under hellish bombardment.
 Returning home after bombings, Alroustom said they would find shattered windows and blasted walls, until the toll was so great they decided to leave. They stayed with relatives in two other places, but those neighborhoods also came under fire.
 Shaaban recalled a time when her son, now 7, was standing near a window and a bullet whizzed by, just missing him. Another time, the bombing was so heavy the boy fell to the ground and struck his head.
 “Imagine those heavy barrel bombs,” Shaaban said, about the infamous and deadly explosive devices filled with shrapnel and oil and dropped by plane or helicopter.
 “Every time, he gets so scared. Even now, we have Fourth of July fireworks and he’ll go crazy,” Shaaban said, describing how her son closes his eyes, grabs her and cries.'

Syrian refugees tell their harrowing stories in their own words

Children look through the fence of the migrant holding camp at the Hungarian border with Serbia.



 'They would randomly call out people and tie them up with their arms and legs spread out on the wall, and beat them. There was so much blood. When they came to interrogate me, they took my shoes and all my clothes and kept me blindfolded. They beat me while they questioned me about why I’m against the regime. I stayed there for about one week.
 Before I was released, a lieutenant told me: “You’re a doctor and you want democracy but we taught you — and then you fight us? We will let you live, but go back home and tell the people that we let you live. We were merciful to you and if we want we can take you back at any time.”
If I could go back to Syria safely, I would. But I can’t. Not with the Assad regime. It hurts us so much that people around the world are looking at us, and letting him kill us.'
 
'One of doctors at the hospital where I volunteer, a man who is related to Bashar Assad, supervises the nurses. Several times he told me, “you should not help the wounded, never, because they are terrorists” — even though most of the patients were children and women.
 I thought I would be safer than others because the medical profession is the cleanest profession in the world, and should be there to help everyone no matter what his community, race or religion. But a few months later, the doctor had me arrested. For six days I was tortured.
 Then my father paid a large amount to the Syrian army and they released me.'

 'I was studying with my cousin when the soldiers came and arrested about a thousand men randomly.
 Of course I was punched and I was tortured. In the bus, they were humiliating and insulting us and hitting us as though we were animals.
 They told me that I was a terrorist, that I took money from Israel and United States and Qatar and Saudi Arabia. I remember that when I reached the prison I was full of blood and black and blue in my face.
 I live in Jordan now as a refugee, but my family is not with me. I don’t have a job. I never was able to finish my school, so I can do nothing.'

 'My name is Basil Mohammed Alriabi. I’m 10 years old.
 My father died by a barrel bomb dropped from the sky. Then I was separated from my mother and my brother when I was hurt by a land mine while we were trying to leave Syria.'

 'When we were living in Daraa, the Shabiha men broke down our door and came to our home. They accused my husband of being part of the opposition. He wasn’t.
 The men tied our hands and feet and they started to beat my husband. They made us watch while they each raped him. Then, they used their sticks on him. When they were tired of beating him, they forced us all to the window of our home and made us watch as they threw my husband out of it. He died.
 They kept us tied up and pushed us to the ground. One of the men brought a big pot of boiling water from the kitchen and threw it on my boys.'

 'My name is Dr. Rida Harah and I’m a refugee in Jordan. If I go back, I’m dead. I want to go home, but I don’t want to die. What do I do?'



‘Son of Syrian revolution’ scoops photojournalism award



'Now in Paris for the prize, Halabi said, he’s keen to return to Syria, a country that refugees are desperately fleeing. He wants to continue to live in Syria to be with his family, but moreover, he said that if everyone leaves, only the Islamic State group and the regime would remain.
"I want to return to Syria to continue the revolution," he said.'