Archive for the ‘Assad’ Category

 

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WRITTEN BY Francesco Petronella, translated by Mary Rizzo

Why is the war in Syria and its dead remembered only if Trump and Erdogan intervene, badly? Or when something touches Rojava?

Operation “Spring of Peace”, conducted on Syrian territory by the Turkish army against the Kurdish YPG militias (part of the security forces of the NES, commonly known as Rojava), comes as a thunderstorm that wipes out the fog of hypocrisy. It clearly shows the inherent contradictions in the way the Syrian conflict has been viewed by the Western world, and by Italians in particular.

The first “great discovery” that the Turkish offensive in northeastern Syria (NES) has brought to light is as extraordinary as it is obvious: there is a war in Syria.

9 YEARS OF WAR, ANYONE REMEMBER THAT?

The mainstream media, the in-depth news talk shows and the whole Western media circus connected to it, seem to have remembered the war in Syria only through the US withdrawal and the Turkish offensive. This creates some perplexity in the face of a conflict that has been going on, continuously, for almost 9 years and has resulted in a civilian death toll that is officially (under)estimated to count between 370,000 and 570,000 deaths.

In Syria, in fact, people died even before Trump gave the green light to Erdogan’s Turkey to launch the operation. One only has to look at the last battle ground between the self-styled Islamic State and the SDF and the constant Russian-Syrian government raids against anti-Assad rebels in the Idlib area, under the canton of Afrin.

In that region – regarded by the Assadists as “in the hands of fundamentalists” – people died (and still today die) in a very particular way. Local health officials, in fact, communicate the coordinates of hospitals, clinics and field schools to the Syrian army and to its responsible bodies, so that missiles and Russian-Syrian government air raids avoid these targets by focusing their firepower on the rebel positions.

IDLIB AND GHOUTA HAVE BEEN FORGOTTEN

The outcome, as evidenced by various sources including the UN and the WHO, is exactly the opposite: health and school facilities are systematically targeted by the Russian-Syrian forces using these coordinates supplied to them.

Mohamad Kattoub of the Syrian-American Medical Society (Sams), interviewed by the Italian agency “Dire”, said that of the 38 hospitals hit from April to July 2019 in the Idlib area “14 had shared their coordinates for the first time” with Assad’s forces.

A very serious act and a blatant crime against humanity, but also news that, taken up by almost no one in the Italian media, has not aroused a fragment of the political and social uproar seen in recent days for the Turkish campaign against the YPG. Almost as if there were double standards at play, however, ones that follow an already common pattern.

In February 2018, with operation “Olive Branch”, Turkish forces together with Syrian anti-Assad rebels took control of the Syrian canton of Afrin, which until then was controlled by the Kurdish YPG. The operation sparked protests in many of Italy’s cities, enraged tweets against Turkey and even the call for a No Fly Zone in the area to counter the air raids against Afrin.

A few months earlier, civilians living in Eastern Ghouta, a Damascus suburb controlled by anti-government militias, were subjected to indiscriminate airstrikes by Russian-Syrian government forces, with deaths in the thousands. Yet, also in that case, in the face of the outcry over Afrin, there was only silence for Ghouta.

COMMUNICATION IS EVERYTHING

Why did Afrin matter more than Eastern Ghouta, and today, why does Rojava matter more – for us Westerners – than Idlib?

The reason is because the difference between civilian deaths in Syria and victims of the Turkish invasions is purely political.

Without a doubt, abandoning Rojava to its own – terrible – fate after the SDF and YPG have been praised as having “defeated the Islamic State” is just as counterproductive as it is immoral and wrong, but this isn’t enough to explain why there is so much indignation currently.

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The YPG – talking about “Kurds” is a simplification that can even be misleading – arouse particular sympathy in certain circles of the Italian and international left, from Youth Social Centers to parliamentary forces. Everyone in recent days has spoken in favour of the Kurdish-Syrian cause and against the Turkish offensive and the issue has entered – to the detriment of the Turkish players – also on the football pitch.

The reason for this feeling between the YPG – armed branch of the Syrian wing of the Kurdish PKK – and the Italian left is due to the fact that the former have had, over the years, the incredible ability to propose their cause as a one that is socialist, libertarian, gender-friendly and even gay-friendly. They, as mentioned in a previous article, had the ability – for a just cause – to use the mass media and social media in their favour.

NOT JUST ROJAVA

To understand the phenomenon, just sift through social media or enter any bookstore. If we talk about the YPG or SDF, the images are always those of proud young women armed with machine guns and with the wind blowing through their hair: the perfect nemesis of the male-dominated jihadists and obscurantists of the Islamic State or al-Qaeda. The antithesis of what we as Westerners define as “wrong” in Islamic culture.

Bearded and observant? Terrorist. Woman without a headscarf? Courageous leftist revolutionary. The reality, unfortunately or fortunately, is much more complex than that.

Needless to say, among the Kurdish population, the vast majority of whom are Sunni Muslims, there are also bearded men who pray five times a day and observe Ramadan like any devout follower of Islam. Needless to say, Rojava, the PYD (of which the YPG are the armed branch) are only the forces on the ground, a fragment of a spectrum – the Kurdish cultural one – that is far wider and more diversified.

It would be superfluous, if these purely aesthetic and formal aspects were to become the substance of the discussions on the Middle East, those that make us define –  à la Fallaci – in a Manichean way, the “good” and the “bad”, fomenting the enormous misinformation in the West on the subject.

Mideast Syria

THE FORGOTTEN LEFT/S IN SYRIA

It is less superfluous to point out that the application of Democratic Confederalism in Rojava theorised by Ocalan was not the only “left-wing experience” of the Syrian conflict.

In the forgotten Eastern Ghouta, experiments in the organisation of civil society were undertaken by the rebels, involving the provision of the welfare and assistance needs from below through the Local Coordination Committees – tansiqiyat in Arabic – in competition with the top-level structure of the regime, known with the term Nizam (literally ‘system’). All this is following the writings of a Damascus dissident Omar Aziz, for whom the goal of the Syrian revolution – “the time of the revolution” – was to reduce the dependence of Syrian citizens on the regime and its structures – the time of power – for its daily livelihood.

Is there anything more left-wing than that? And Aziz was not the only one. Razan Zaytouneh, Samira Khalil are only some of the names, unknown in the West to almost everyone, of those who dreamed of a secular and democratic Syria, but did not have the press agents necessary for this dream, the original dream of the Syrian revolution, so it  was never able to reach the lazy ears of the Westerner.

Let us be clear, this is not a condemnation of the YPG, the SDF or of Rojava, but of the way in which we, here in Italy and the West, perceive and/or think we understand the war in Syria with the terrifying result that when we talk about it, the discriminating factor between general protests and indifference does not seem to be concerned with the loss of life, almost always civilian lives, but it is all about us and our ideological belonging.

This is why the visual narrative offered by the YPG is successful. It gives the left – or presumed such – a subject with which it is easy to empathise. Just as, always on an ideological and communicative level, the images of the Assad military and the “great defender of Christianity” (and beacon of American anti-imperialism) Putin against bearded terrorists fuel the rhetoric of the radical right.

Add to this the possibility that the attack – again from our ideological point of view as Westerners – or the invasion is carried out by the “absolute villain” Erdogan thanks to the betrayal of the “even worse villain” Trump against the “absolute good guys” of the YPG, we have the perfect storm: a scenario where it’s in fact too easy to take sides.

Even at the expense of forgetting now – as happened in the past – the rest of Syria, so it will be easier to forget it again when the Rojava emergency is over.

Original:  http://caffeopinione.com/rojava-erdogan-sinistra-ypg/?fbclid=IwAR07lVFI2iZ0RGK-AXUHzCDnhJfpobMHwFcIRMtotaCLZBIAE84mtgGDd9I

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Written by Yassin Al Haj Saleh, translated by Na Assouad (into Italian) and Mary Rizzo (into English)

13 October 2019

Suppose that we Syrians resigned ourselves and no longer had hope in the revolution, suppose that the revolution has come to an end and we wish, as many actually would, to turn the page and move on. I ask myself if our enemies would even allow us to do that? Would the despicable regime accept it?

No, they would desecrate the revolution, the memory of the martyrs and they would cancel every trace of it, as they have already done in Ghouta. They would falsify everything that happened, as they have been doing, imprisoning those who have returned to the “lap of the motherland”, torturing and killing them.

Would the protectors of the despicable regime accept it? No, never! They first have to paint the page as black as possible, they have to burn it and then scatter its ashes.

It must serve as an example for everyone! Isn’t that what they have always done in the past?

Would the comrades of the despicable regime accept it? No, never! They will continue their war, against even the memory of the revolution, against the term “Syrian revolution”, as long as the despicable regime stays in power.

They will pursue this memory and destroy it to the bitter end, dragging it in the mud with insults and lies until the end of their days.

For these reasons, the despicable regime and its accomplices and protectors can slaughter us, but they will never defeat us, because they do not even know the concept of politics, they are bereft of values, they can do nothing but contemplate their crimes.

The Syrian revolution has come to an end. It’s true! But the Syrian Cause has just begun.

And the enemy of the revolution is the same enemy of the cause, so there is no other choice than to continue, to persist, but with different methods, other rhythms, basing ourselves on the lessons that the martyred and battered revolution has given us.

The crux of the cause is the construction of Syria on the basis of the values of the revolution, of the republic, the takeover of politics and of the country, dignity and justice, to continue the battle after the defeat.

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Scattered and disconsolate thoughts
WRITTEN by Fouad Roueiha, translated by Mary Rizzo

The US green light for the Turkish operation in northern Syria is a disaster and yet another demonstration of how damaging the divisions between Kurds and Arabs have been, actually serving the interests of others, rather than to those of people living or who have lived in Syria. The Kurdish forces, the YPG and YPJ of the PYD party, have been the backbone of the “Syrian Democratic Forces” (SDF) sought by Washington and used for the purposes of not having to deploy American boots on the ground in the fight against ISIS. A battle that took place without regard for the local populations (see Raqqa, razed to the ground by US bombing) and which handed over large Arab-majority territories to a force perceived as Kurdish nationalist (not wrongly) and therefore as foreign, as if it were an invasion. Emblematic was the entry of the SDF into Raqqa after its “liberation”: no Syrian flags, many flags of the most powerful Kurdish party and enormous portraits of its ideologue Abdullah Ocalan. On the other hand, the military collapse by the Arab anti-Assad militias, increasingly becoming hostages to the “sponsors” and therefore quarrelsome and competing with each other, crushed by the enormous weight of the Russian air force and Iranian ground troops and other allies of Assad, has pushed whoever remained standing either to embracing Al Qaeda (in some of its recent incarnations) or becoming factually under the auspices of Turkey.

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This situation has already led to a huge polarisation between Syrian Arabs and Kurds, especially with the increase of cooperation between Kurds and the regime on the one hand, with the Turkish invasion of Afrin (and consequent deportations of Kurds) on the other. The Arabs now speak of the Kurds as “separatist militias” (which is only partially true) and the Kurds speak of Arab forces as “jihadists in the service of Turkey”, here too, only partially true.

The feared Turkish invasion of northern Syria to the Euphrates, to create a buffer zone and free it from “terrorism” (as Ankara defines the Kurdish forces), will produce the forced displacement of Kurdish-majority areas, which will be repopulated by Syrian Arab refugees currently hosted in Turkey and which Erdogan hopes will be loyal to him. We are talking about poor people who have lost their homes who will be allowed to leave the hell of the refugee camps to settle in the homes of poor people like themselves, expelled to make room and leave the government in Ankara alone. The PYD and its militias are likely to turn to their “least worst” enemy, namely Assad, and their traditional Russian ally, in recent years betrayed for those states that have now dumped them, attracting hatred, not concerned about the rest of the Syrian population, as there were not enough barbed wire to divide the communities that make up the Syrian people. The only moments when Arab and Kurdish forces cooperated fruitfully against common oppression were the peaceful demonstrations of 2011 (looked down upon by the PYD, which then prevented it from continuing) and the Battle of Kobane in which also battalions of the Free Syrian Army participated (looked down upon by Erdogan, who also had the historical rivals of the PYD/PKK participating, namely the Peshmerga of the Iraqi Kurdish leader Barzani).

This will inevitably produce more sectarian hatred and tensions, seeds that will transcend generations by building a fence of mistrust and resentment between Arabs and Syrian Kurds that will remain in people’s common memory.

PS.
If Turkey will really create this “safe zone”, then it too, like Russia and Iran, will be one of the occupying forces in Syria that will have under their control much larger portions of territory than those occupied (and now almost annexed) by Israel in the Golan Heights.

 

all that glitters

Any person who has been a campaigner for Palestinian rights is aware of the various techniques that Israel uses to whitewash the occupation of Palestine and the oppression that the Palestinians are subject to. Along with Hasbara, which is a kind of prepared narrative to dominate the talking points and shift the discourse to a place where it makes Israel appear to be the underdog fighting for its legitimate rights instead of its actual reality as a brutal militarily occupying force against Palestinians, there is “whitewashing”. When regimes or countries that are not democratic use whitewashing, they make use of propagandists to determine talking or selling points that make these countries seem more democratic, more progressive and more appealing than they really are. The curtain is never pulled back to show what lay on the other side of all that “great stuff”.

Israel invests heavily in campaigns of tourism. “Two Sunny Cities, One Break” and “Douze Points” are only two of the campaigns in recent years that have sought a new, fashionable kind of tourist, one that was looking for the nightlife and a place to party 24 hours, and mostly a place to continue the promotion with selfies to be shared, encouraging yet more tourism to Israel in a virtuous circle. In the advertisements, the emphasis is on discotheques, pools, chic restaurants and bars. It’s all about fun and hedonism. That doesn’t mean that the “heritage” tourism, to religious sites and kibbutzes has stopped, it’s just that the advertising focus wants the potential tourist to believe that going to Tel Aviv is exactly like going to Milan, Prague or Madrid, only in this case, your holiday will never be spoiled by rain and your fun never stops. It is selling the side of Israel that reaps the benefits from the occupation, and doesn’t actually have to even think about Palestinians existing on the other side of the wall or who are living imprisoned on the outskirts of Jewish Settlements or any of the other situations where Palestinians do not experience full rights, including the right of free movement in their own country.

The BDS movement has a statement on ethical tourism which begins as follows:

Based on the UN’s World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) affirmation in its statutes that it fundamentally aims at “the promotion and development of tourism with a view to contributing to […] universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion”

It would follow that tourism to countries where there is a brutal occupation, violations of human rights and enclaves of persons living in grave peril under bombing and siege by their “government” and its allies would be exactly like violating the BDS call to boycott Israeli tourism. To go to places like that would require a particular behaviour set in order to be ethical, and that set has to be consistent. One can’t dance in the Tel Aviv discos and also show solidarity by avoiding all institutional links of any sort with Israel. You can’t pick and choose parts from each; it’s all or nothing.

The Syrian government has learned so much from the Israeli government’s use of hasbara, of throwing the rock and hiding the hand. One can say that it realises that slick propaganda is the other side of military occupation and oppression. They are working hard at whitewashing Syria, pointing out the sun, fun and pride of the “loyalist” Syrians (who never had to experience the bombs and destruction of any of the opposition areas, because the opposition did not have the military power or the conviction to subject the civilian population to sieges and air strikes). But, the regime can’t do it alone. It can’t put up slick advertisements on major Western TV channels. It is really limited in the extent to which it can promote the false narrative. This means that it has to find an alternative.

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Facebook main photo of the Syrian Ministry of Tourism

The Syrian Ministry of Tourism has always been the propaganda arm of the regime. In the past, the process of vetting (and interrogating) tourists, with those finally passing through all the hoops specifically having limited or no access to some places and making a person fully aware that the “walls have ears”, made tourism there a sort of adventure tourism and a bit of a Truman Show. You accept that you have certain limits, which you are careful to not overstep. And how could you ever forget, with pictures of Big Brother everywhere, at public transport hubs and markets, but even on archaeological sites and churches. Everyone around you knows you can be called a spy, so you will only hear the most glowing and fervent praise of the government. The element of it being an inauthentic experience for everyone was more than mitigated by: for the tourist,  beautiful scenery and a very different kind of experience (something to write home about as weird but exciting), for the Syrians playing along, making some money off of tourists. Everyone played the game, but at least, everyone knew it was a game.

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The regime in the past also had a habit of involving bloggers and journalists – and not just those whose topic was travel, but especially those who were active in blogging for Palestine or Arab Nationalism – in “junket trips” where they not only had the government approved handlers, but were also shown many of the same places, with a similar narrative and the instructions to “take the talking points back home”, with a sort of briefing of what the points were. That allowed them to create a group of people who, given the amount of perks and the hospitality, were either blinded or they felt morally obligated to pay back the courtesy. Letting oneself be wilfully blinded works if someone can ignore reality. That was certainly easier in the past, when Syria was never in the news, when people “disappeared” for having told a joke or their opportunities were determined by how much they were able to prostrate themselves before the dynasty in power and all of its long arms around the country.

Today, it is impossible to ignore what is going on in Syria. That half of the country’s population has become refugees or internally displaced. That enormous areas of the country have been destroyed by constant and relentless air raids by the regime and other occupying forces, with Russia and Iran’s proxy militias playing the leading roles in these destructive raids, expecting their payback now and in the future. That hundreds of thousands of civilians have “disappeared” and many have been documented in photographs smuggled from a Syrian prison where they were tortured to death. That massacres of all kinds have been documented, with loyalists rejoicing and calling the victims terrorists, even the children who were slaughtered by knives, nerve gas or barrel bombs.

To go to Damascus and other regime-held areas, partying in the shisha bars, sunbathing at the beaches, buying souvenirs in the souks and visiting the sites, whether pretending to be “independent”, while employed by RT, or on a fact-finding mission, getting only the facts the regime wants one to get, with the loyalist behaviour doing the self-censorship, would require a certain, pathological kind of disconnect from reality, along with a severe ethical deficit.

To go to Saydnaya and to just look at the beautiful church, denying that the regime’s most brutal torture prison is located in the same village, is just like going to Tel Aviv, and not pulling the curtain back on Hebron’s misery.

Beware of any “journalist” or “tourist” going to Syria being anything but a propaganda tool for the regime and a knife in the heart of the Syrian people whose struggle for freedom was also a struggle to no longer play the game of lies and deceit. To live in their own country, authentically, without the oppression of the dynasty in power.

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(Aleppo Civil Defense/Pool/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

WRITTEN BY ASMAE DACHAN for Avvenire (print edition of 12 January, 2019)

Sixty thousand civilians of the city outside Aleppo are living under siege by the Jihadists of al-Qaeda. Two hundred who oppose are “wanted” by the terrorists. They are also not spared Assad’s bombs

The ordeal of Syrian civilians appears to be endless. The advance of the militias of Hayat Tahrir al Sham (HTS), a group affiliated to al-Qaeda, in the citadel of al-Atareb, in the Aleppo province, opens up a new, disturbing scenario. Roughly sixty thousand people live in the area, many of them displaced from other cities. In recent days, the militia bombed al-Atareb, which was under the control of the last pockets of resistance, the opposition forces, as well as being one of the first cities to have declared itself independent of the regime in 2012. In this town, civilians had organised themselves into committees for self-government. The HTS has surrounded the city, succeeding in easily advancing in an area where the forces of the National Liberation Front (NLF), a military opposition group supported by Turkey, are in the minority. According to the agreements signed by Turkey, Russia and Iran last September in Sochi, Ankara would have the task of curbing the terrorist militias of the north-west of Syria, supporting the military actions of the NLF, but the resounding advance of HTS at al-Atareb, just like at Darat Izza, simply reinforces the many perplexities regarding its implementation expressed by many parties. Al-Atareb is seen as an important conquest to many because it is in a highly strategic area, both from the logistic and economic point of view, because here one finds the main route of connection between Aleppo and the Bab Al Hawa pass (the only official border crossing with Turkey).

The terrorists immediately disseminated a list with the names of about two hundred matlubin, a “wanted” list, that included many women, all active in the self-government committees and protagonists of the revolts against both the regime and ISIS. Among them we also find the eighty-year-old Hajja Hamra Akush, known as “the mother of the opponents”, a woman known to everyone and whose home had served as a safe house for military deserters who refused to fight against their fellow countrymen.

Civilian sources report executions, kidnappings and violence, in addition to the closure of all schools. Concerning public health, the situation is dire; there is a lack of medicine and the few remaining medical staff is unable to provide for the needs of the entire population. The particularly harsh winter only aggravates the situation. Al-Atareb is one of the most emblematic examples of the way in which the moderate opposition, made up of civilians, women and men, who only sought a different Syria, without a regime and without extremists, were left entirely to their own devices, abandoned and at the mercy of the countless forces on the field. The fear of civilians in the area now is that the presence of the terrorists in al-Atareb is going to be used as a pretext to justify a new wave of joint Russian-Syrian regime bombing. According to civilian sources, more than seven hundred people have been killed in the city in recent years. No one can tell just how much more blood has to be shed by civilians before their lives become the priority in international negotiations.

A rally in al-Atareb on September 28, 2018 for the Syrian Revolution. Chants include:  “The Baathists [the party of Bashar al-Assad] went crazy when we demanded freedom”:

 

Translated by Mary Rizzo

mamloukAt the end of February, the Lebanese newspaper Al Akhbar, notoriously close to Hezbollah, reported that one of the most important names of the leadership of the repressive Syrian security apparatuses, Ali Mamlouk, who appears in the European blacklist for those responsible for crimes against humanity, is said to have arrived in Rome to discuss coordination under the name of “fighting terrorism”, expanding a relationship that already exists between the intelligence departments of the two countries. According to Al Akhbar and reported by the prestigious think tank Carnegie Middle East Center, Mamlouk is said to have met at the Viminale, home of the Italian Ministry of the Interior, the heads of the ministry itself and of the Agency for Information and External Security. The meeting is said to have been facilitated by the Lebanese Director of General Security Abbas Ibrahim, who has always been very close to Hezbollah and who seems to have also convinced Rome to send a private plane to pick up the powerful Syrian intelligence chief from Damascus.

The newspapers quoted in fact indicate that Mamlouk’s aim is to collaborate in fighting terrorism in order to obtain support from Italy in order to pressure the EU into softening the European Community position towards the Syrian regime. It is widely known that in recent years Mamlouk has made visits aimed at coordination in combating terrorism in many Arab capitals, especially in the Gulf countries. Therefore, it is conceivable that it became necessary for the regime to be accredited or to boast having special and direct relations also with European countries.

Although the news has been reported by various Arab and international media, there is no trace of it in the Italian media, focused on the political elections, and there has been no confirmation or denial by the Italian government or intelligence in this regard.

Considering as a very serious matter the possibility that our Government and our institutions have agreed to meet an individual who is included in all the international lists of those responsible for crimes against humanity, and in particular on the EU list (see EU regulations No. 504/2011 of 23 May 2011 and No. 442/2011):

– We ask the Italian authorities, and in particular the Ministry of the Interior and the Foreign Affairs Ministry and AISE to verify the truthfulness of what has been reported about this visit, and that, if it is fake news, as we hope it will be, they will be able to release a statement as such.

– We also ask the President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, to verify compliance with the European regulations concerning the sanctions against the perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated in Syria, in particular in the context of the upcoming debate regarding Syria to be held Tuesday, 13 March, to the EP in Strasbourg, in the presence of the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini.

We also ask that the question of Ali Mamlouk’s visit and its consequences be adequately included in the resolution that the EP will approve in Strasbourg on 15 March, the anniversary of the Syrian Revolution for Dignity and Democracy.

 Who is Ali Mamlouk?

Key man of the Syrian regime since the birth of Hezbollah in Lebanon, operation in which he cooperated in person, the little-known head of Syrian Political Security, became a leading figure in 2005, the year of the murder of the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, according to international court investigators on Syrian mandate and by Hezbollah militia. A methodology that he is quite familiar with.

After 2005 he became a key figure on another border, the Iraqi one. As reported by Limes, the Italian journal of geopolitics: “From there, according to various converging sources, he took over the task of organising the journeys of Syrian “jihadist” militias to Iraq in an anti-American function and to show that Damascus has cards to play on the regional table. The Anglo-American invasion began just two years prior to that, and the Iraqi insurgency attracted foreign fighters. Mamlouk coordinated recruitment, starting from Syrian prisons. He himself had helped to fill the cells of presumed or true fundamentalists (today they would be called radicalised) since the mid-80s, and the files were already on his table. It is estimated that in those years the Syrian government sent thousands of jihadists to Iraq to support Iraqi “resistance”. Not only Syrians, also men of other nationalities who used the Syrian territory as a natural bridge to the Anbar and Mesopotamia. ”

One wonders if they are the same bombers who struck Italian forces in Nāṣiriya in November 2003, given the similarities with other attacks that occurred in Lebanon and that a vein of the investigation led straight to Beirut.

The alleged mediation of the Lebanese Director of General Security Abbas Ibrahim then raises further questions, given that Mamlouk is accused of terrorism by the judiciary of the country of the Cedars, being implicated in many terrorist attacks in Lebanon, not least that which should have led to the elimination of the Maronite Patriarch and cardinal of the Catholic Church, His Beatitude Beshara Rai.

SEE also: Diario di Siria

First Signatories

Organisations:
Associazione Comunità Araba Siriana in Italia
The Violations Documentation Center VDC
Dawlati
Syrian Network for Human Rights
SOAS Syria Society
Syrian League for Citizenship
Start Point
Syrians for Truth and Justice-STJ
SCM-Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression
Rethink Rebuild Society
Initiative for New Syria
Syrian Emergency Task Force
Caesar team
Syrie MDL (Moderne Démocratique Laïque)
Hurras network
Comitato Stop the War – Udine for Syria
Osservatorio Iraq, Medio Oriente e Nord Africa
Le Voci della Libertà
Comitato Khaled Bakrawi
Comitato Nour
Committee in Solidarity with the People of Syria (CISPOS)
Amaal
Mazzaj Band
Basma Syria
Syria Untold

Individuals
Alhakam Afandi, segretario generale dell’ Associazione Comunità Araba Siriana in Italia
Amedeo Ricucci, giornalista RAI vicepresidente Associazione Giornalisti Amici di Padre Paolo Dall’Olio
Martina Pignatti, presidente dell’ Associazione Un Ponte Per
Giorgio Menchini, presidente COSPE
Debora Angeli, vicepresidente COSPE
Riccardo Cristiano, giornalista Reset presidente Associazione Giornalisti Amici di Padre Paolo Dall’Olio
Laura Silvia Battaglia, giornalista freelance
Joseph Halevi, economista
Asmae Dachan, giornalista freelance
Yassin al Haj Saleh, scrittore siriano
Leila Al Shami, scrittrice
Luca Geronico, giornalista di Avvenire
Umberto De Giovannangeli, giornalista collaboratore Huffington Post Italia
Gianluca Solera, autore di Riscatto Mediterraneo
Elena Zin, Presidente di Amaal
Fouad Roueiha, Comitato Khaled Bakrawi
Maria Laura Bufano
Alberto Savioli, archeologo
Mari Indennitate, Le Voci della Libertà
Mona Zeineddine, SOAS Syria Society
Francesco Petronella, collaboratore esteri il24.it
Cecilia Dalla Negra, Osservatorio Iraq, Medio Oriente e Nord Africa
Tania Hashem, USA
Moaz Mustafa, Syrian Emergency Task Force
Enrico De Angelis
Riccardo Bella
Samia Akkad, ricercatrice
Damiano Duchemin, Osservatorio Iraq, Medio Oriente e Nord Africa
Jessica Leyland, SOAS Syria Society
Caterina Coppola, blogger e attivista
Marina Centonze, Le Voci della Libertà
Mjriam Abu Samra, ricercatrice
Franco Casagrande
Antonietta Benedetti, Bianca Volta Edizioni
Giovanna De Luca, blogger
Donatella Amina Salina
Alice Bonfatti, SOAS Syria Society
Sara Buzzoni Project Manager presso Norwegian Refugee Council
Donatella Della Ratta, John Cabot University
Mary Rizzo, Le Voci della Libertà
Francesca Scalinci, ricercatrice
Maria D’Angiolini
Aurora Sottimano, Lecturer Università di Leiden
Leila Zimmermann, SOAS Syria Society
Loretta Facchinetti
Ahmad Sadiddin, agronomo FAO
Federico A.Cuscito, Communia
Cinzia Nachira, Cinzia Nachira, redazione rproject
Sami Haddad, Università L’Orientale di Napoli
Kester Ratcliff
Joey Husseini Ayoub, Hummus For Thought
Mariam Mahmoud – SOAS Syria Society
Lamia Ledrisi, Osservatorio Iraq, Medio Oriente e Nord Africa
Alessandra Mecozzi
Alessandra Fabbretti, giornalista agenzia DIRE
Piero Maestri, Communia
Alessandra Raggi
Pier Francesco Pandolfi de Rinaldis
Nawal Soufi, attivista
Paolo Pasta, Comitato Khaled Bakrawi
Giovanni Piazzese, Osservatorio Iraq, Medio Oriente e Nord Africa
Germano Monti, Comitato Khaled Bakrawi
Sara De Buzzicons, NRC Middle East
Lisanna Genuardi, Comitato Nour
Filomena Annunziata, Università L’Orientale di Napoli
Annalisa Roveroni. Civic Coop. Soc. Onlus
Enzio Zuffo. Istituto Sviluppo Olistico ISO Onlus
Ange Red Lee
Veronica Bellintani, attivista e studentessa in transitional justice – Italia/Turchia
Brada Tedeschi Guerriero
Debora Del Pistoia, Osservatorio Iraq, Medio Oriente e Nord Africa
Mariella D’Angiolini
Meniar Al Zoubi
Angela Bernardini
Sara De Angelis, Comitato Nour
Barbara Navarro
Emanuele Calitri
Anna Rita Canone

mahmoud al bashaInterview with Mahmoud al-Basha by Francesco Petronella, previously published in the print version of Sedici Pagine Magazine

Q: A year ago, around Christmastime, the city of Aleppo was besieged, bombed and then evacuated. What are your memories of those days?

A: I still perfectly remember everything that happened. The insane bombardment of the Assad regime and the Russians struck the city with weapons, even ones that are internationally prohibited. I still remember when the Russians started to use thermobaric missiles and bunker busters. At that time, I was doing whatever I could to allow the international media to understand what was going on in the city. I worked a great deal with them to show and document how the Russians and the Assad regime were killing innocent civilians. They took aim at all the hospitals and water tanks, without allowing any humanitarian aid to enter into the city under siege. In this desperate situation, the Russian air raids struck my neighbourhood, causing the death of 31 civilians. One of the was my brother Anas.

anas clown

Anas al-Basha, the “clown” of Aleppo

Anas refused to leave the city before the siege started. I still remember his answer when I begged him to leave as soon as he could: “I’m not going to leave the city, I don’t want the children of Aleppo to feel so sad, I want to do something for them so that they smile and I want to help the poor civilians who are still living here.”

Only three days before he was killed, Anas was recording a voice message for me through WhatsApp to explain to me what the situation was like and how he was helping the people. “Now, I’m going to the bakery – he said – we’re going to distribute bread to the people who haven’t got anything to eat.” Then, all of a sudden, there was the terrible noise of an explosion that was just steps away from him. “Can you hear what an awful life we are living?” he asked me. “The Russian raids are striking everything, every single day.”

When he died, my family and I were unable to even give him our final goodbyes. My friends buried him in Aleppo with other innocent people, killed like he was.

Q: How has life in Aleppo changed a year since then?

Life hasn’t changed since last year. The only difference is that there are no longer the bombing raids, which ceased once the Assad forces controlled the entire city. The majority of the urban fabric is destroyed, simply rubble. The regime was unable to guarantee a better life, or even a normal life, to the people. In Aleppo, before the war, there were around 5 million people. Today, there are only 2 million. The majority of the civilian population has become homeless or has sought refuge in other parts of Syria or abroad. The persons who live in the city today have  returned under the control of regime intelligence, without freedom or rights. Most of the young people have fled Syria in order to avoid forced recruitment in the regime army. Today, Aleppo is swarming with militias that come from various countries. Everywhere you look you see Russian, Iranian and Iraqi flags. The Assad regime no longer has any decisional power, Russia and Iran are the ones who hold the reins, especially in the military and political sphere.

Q: After what took place in Aleppo a year ago, how has the relationship between Christians and Muslims changed in the city and in the entire country?

A: The relationship between Christians and Muslims has changed. As I said before, around 3 million people had left the city from the start of the war, among them, many Christians. They weren’t really involved in the war because it was very easy for them to get visas for the EU or the USA. The strategy of the Assad regime, since the start of the Syrian revolution, was that of taking advantage of the minorities and using them as a pawn, where they would pretend for the Western countries that they were the only ones protecting them. There are many Christians against the Assad regime, but they left Syria. Many of them play an active role in the political Syrian opposition.

Q: What do you think life will be like in Aleppo and in Syria a year from now?

A: I think it will be exactly the same as it is right now. Aleppo will remain a ghost town and a place of destruction. There is no water, no electricity. There is no hope and no future in the eyes of the civilians. Very many families of Aleppo have become refugees in different countries. Hundreds of extended families are no longer together because of this war.

The city of Aleppo will return to be full of life only when the war ends. When the regime that has killed hundreds of thousands of persons will answer before the international courts of justice. When 500 thousand detainees are freed from the military prisons. When the international community will finally judge Bashar al-Assad for having used chemical weapons against innocent civilians. Aleppo will once again be a beautiful place only when those who have killed my brother Anas are facing Justice and are no longer able to kill persons, to kill children.

Mahmoud al-Basha is a Syrian journalist, fixer and activist. Hailing from Aleppo, Mahmoud currently lives in Turkey where he continues his work to raise awareness of the suffering and the terrible situation of his country.

Translation by Mary Rizzo
Original: https://levocidellaliberta.com/2018/01/27/natale-ad-aleppo-un-anno-dopo-la-tragedia/

timthumb

One of the celebratory posters of the Syrian General plastered in various Italian cities. It bears almost all the signs of the Fascist and Neo-fascist propaganda, (use of this stylised alphabet, the declaration of HONOR!) Interestingly enough also the Italian far left celebrates the same “hero”.

WRITTEN BY RICCARDO CRISTIANO, translated by Mary Rizzo

(Translator’s note: CasaPound is an Italian political movement that is proudly “far right”. It is the first “centro sociale” (youth and student movement starting in the 90s that is primarily far left) that considers its inspiration Fascist. Like many far-right movements in Europe, it maintains a very active base, which often makes up for its lack of “official” political recognition, though it currently participates in elections with its own candidates and in coalitions with other right-wing parties. Though the militants of CasaPound are renowned for their frequent episodes of violence and xenophobia, they also are very active in ideological recruitment in campaigns that are nationalistic, at times having a social character, such as proposals for interest-free public housing, and together with groups such as the European Front for Syria, are involved in the dissemination on the street level (literally) of international issues with propaganda for the regime in Syria in particular, because, in their own words: “For Six years Assad has been the best defence of Europe against terrorism”.) 

Sunday morning. The British press reported that Sahar Dofdaa, who was only one month old, had died in Damascus. She starved to death. She was born in the village of Hamuriya in al-Ghouta, an area that has been besieged for years by troops loyal to the government of Damascus and controlled by a fundamentalist group, the Jaysh al-Islam, which keeps a tight hold on the town’s inhabitants. It is the same area where Assad’s army, in 2013, used chemical weapons to massacre civilians, even if the UN has been unable to officially declare the culprit, because since 2012, the UN peacekeeping troops have been removed from Syria. The British newspaper The Guardian has published the statements of Dr. Yahya Abu Yahya, who speaks about a great number of cases of severe childhood malnutrition such as that of Sahar, born from a mother who did not have the strength to nourish her child, citing seventy infants who are dying of starvation and four thousand children who suffer from nutritional deficiencies. And the sample from which he refers is limited to just nine thousand children.

If not even this fact can shake us, it is probably because the propaganda machine has convinced us that in al-Ghouta, just as in other areas controlled by fierce jihadists, everyone is a terrorist, even children who have lived just one month of life. Instead, this is in all probability precisely the dramatic outcome pursued with ferocity by the regime since 2001. This is also the case with Idlib.

Tuesday morning. Although in Italy very little media time has been dedicated to it, there is an interesting piece of news from the International press: Russia has vetoed the resolution that would allow prosecution of the investigation in regard to the chemical weapons massacres in Syria, the Joint Investigative Mechanism, whose mandate expires in November. A report was scheduled to appear by the end of October concerning the massacres perpetrated this summer at Khan Shaykhun near Idlib by means of chemical weapons. In this massacre, just as in the Ghouta massacre with chemical weapons, many children were killed. Russia sought to discuss the report on the Khan Shaykhun massacre before renewing its mandate.

Wednesday morning. It should be mentioned that one hundred Italian cities have woken up discovering that Casa Pound and the European Front for Syria have plastered walls and monuments with slogans written to celebrate one of the most notorious Syrian army commanders, Issam Zahreddine, a war criminal responsible for crimes against humanity, recently killed in combat in Syria, supposedly struck by a landmine planted by ISIS. This General of the Syrian Republican Guard, has been placed in the “short list” of individuals that are subject to special and personal sanctions on behalf of the European Union, with the accusation that he was the organiser of the chemical attack on Khan Shaykhoun.

The General had become famous for a photograph that portrays him standing close to hanged bodies that had clearly been tortured prior to their execution, as well as a film that shows him walking in front of a row of corpses so long that he cuts his walk short before even finishing the entire review. According to family members of Marie Colvin, the journalist that was assassinated in Syria, he ordered the artillery attack that killed her when he learned where the famous reporter was staying. Among his last public actions, an interview released just a few weeks ago. Turning to the millions of Syrian refugees who fled abroad after losing everything, Issam Zahreddine said, “If you know what’s good for you, you will never again set foot in Syria.” It’s important to know that in addition to the far right who signed the banners, among the environments that sympathise with him are also groups of the radical left.

Originale: http://formiche.net/2017/10/26/casa-pound-fronte-europeo-siria/

 

spy vs spy“Even Govt don’t deny torture happened”: Spy vs Spy…. A Syrian comedy starring Vanessa Beeley. Guest starring Tim Anderson, Eva Bartlett, Scott Gaulke and Iman & Susan Safi

In the midst of the Syrian genocide, it’s always interesting when you manage to be amused by the antics of the enemy. If you thought that the Pro-Assad faction was united, you haven’t been paying close enough attention. The fact is that there is a civil war going on between the Old Guard and the New Guard. Both factions claim to be intimate with “the President” and privy to special, secretive knowledge. Yes, we know, Knowledge is Power. Both factions also are waging their own little cyber war based on calling each other spies, Mossad agents and cyber stalkers. There is so much importance given to the claim about being “invited” to countries such as North Korea and Syria by the leadership, with the other side shooting their bullets in the “DID NOT!” stakes, and bragging to have “informed” authorities about the lies and liars.

It’s a sight to savour, and you can enjoy the two pages on Facebook created for the purposes of “exposing” the Fake Experts” here and here. There are so many “proofs” that they provide that the currently popular western “Experts” such as Vanessa Beeley, Eva Bartlett, Tim Anderson and others who have been proclaiming their devotion to “the President” are actually Zionists and spies. That they are fake, we all can see that, but the spin given by their own allies is a joy to behold.

Let’s just point out two screenshots published (in Facebook and on Twitter) by Navastev, aka Scott Gaulke, of a chat between himself and Vanessa Beeley. Please read the content carefully. Here is an admission by today’s biggest regime pimp that Assad and the Govt were quite aware of the use of torture. And, naturally that torture is “irrelevant to the bigger picture”…

vanessa torture 1

vanessa beeley torture 2

Does the rage that surrounds her declaration that Assad and the Govt knew of their torture signal a shift in position and is this disowning of Beeley a sign that she instead has joined the opposition? In fact, can claims like this let us suppose that Beeley suddenly takes on a position totally different from the established narrative that “the stories of torture are FAKE” by claiming that she is aware it is a well-known fact that the “govt” tortures?

What is probably happening is a display of bragging and loyalty that got out of hand. She is obviously (as is everyone) aware that torture is systematically used by the regime. The evidence for it is so monumental that denying it would qualify someone as being psychologically disturbed, having a completely false perception of reality and a recourse to denial to support a worldview that is shattered by the evidence. What she probably hoped to do was to score points that depict her as very intimate with Assad. She wants to show that Assad confides in her, that she is aware of private information and of course, her work will follow the course set out by Assad. Ok… she’s a fangirl bragging. But what she THINKS she is communicating is that Assad knows about every leaf that moves in his country. The great man AND HIS GOVERNMENT is fully aware of “a few bad apples”. This is a mutation of the mantra of the Syrian regime supporters in the early days of the uprising when they repeated, endlessly, “We admit there is corruption in Syria, the President is aware of it and he is seeking to make reforms, but the foreign-backed protesters are instead turning some acceptable criticisms into regime change. We will not have that! We must support the President now!”

Beeley’s just showing her immense loyalty to the regime and the display of her acknowledgment of the perfection of Assad in another way, by an admission of HIS admission of torture. However, her frenemies are upset. She never should have put a crack into their gorgeous narrative. She was attacked by the husband and wife team of Iman and Susan Safi under their pseudonyms of Ghassan and Intibah Kadi on their various sites and pages. The following is the circling of Vanessa by them, labelling her as a spy while showing her in a meeting with Bouthaina Shaaban.

susan safi kor3It seems that the Old Guard does not appreciate the New Guard getting all this attention, glory, money, fame, and so on from their promotion of the regime. At the same time, they are doing damage control of the actual incidents that could be extremely damaging for the regime, such as Christian Zionists like Janice Korkamp (seen in a photo next to Beeley) making multiple visits to regime-controlled Syria and promoting the regime in her blog. It’s hell on the image to have to deal with this! You can point out very bad connections and label them all as spies, or you can “contextualise” all of these fault lines, as Vanessa hopes she can do. However, the fact is clear that the admission of Assad’s knowledge of the regime’s torture does not bode well for the snow white image of the regime, particularly after years spent denying torture having ever taken place. The only way the Old Guard seems to be able to do it is to follow the Tankie Handbook step by step.

You see, Susan and Iman Safi think that it’s necessary for a person to have permission, an invitation and possibly even be sponsored or paid for by the various “governments”. They had “serious meetings with serious people” while THEY were in Russia and announce that Russia is far more free than Australia, their home. Here is a photo of those great days.

iman safi

 

susan safi

And yet, fellow Australian Tim Anderson (whom they call “academic with murky past”), along with Eva Bartlett and actress Carla Ortiz has made a trip to North Korea. That’s not really a problem, but it IS a problem that they might have gone there privately. You don’t do that, even if you ARE on a propaganda trip.

susan kor5

susan safi korea

But, let’s get back to the crucial element here. When it comes to the REAL POWER in Syria, what matters is what reaches the ear of the right people in Syria, who of course will take the right “actions” against “spies”. They are bragging that they have “informed” the authorities about the visitors. We imagine so that “measures” can be taken against the “spies”. That always ends up VERY well, doesn’t it?

susan safi kor2

If the prisons in Syria have always been filled with persons whose “explanations” were extracted through torture, an awareness of torture may no longer be just from the mouth of Assad, but it could be very personal, as formerly pro-Regime westerners such as Pierre Piccinin are able to testify.

 

This text was written by Dyab Abu Jahjah in 2012. This is his site.
Relative to revolutions all around the world, the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions are historical miracles and a shining example of non-violent, civilized uprisings. The Yemeni revolution, in its insistence on non-violence and its discipline, is truly amazing, as is the revolution in Bahrain. The Syrian revolution, in its enormous sacrifices in the face of a ruthless killing machine, is a historical epic. The revolutions in Libya is an epitome of effectiveness.
We cannot just mention Libya in passing because the Libyan case has become the favorite example for conspiracy theorists and doubters in the revolution. It is true that the intervention by NATO is complicated and is definitely not innocent. But it is also true that the agenda of the Libyan revolutionaries is not identical to NATO’s agenda. This divergence will emerge slowly but surely because the relationship between the Libyan revolution and NATO is not one of submission. European powers wanted to secure the oil contracts that they had signed with Kaddafi and at the same time appear to support the Arab revolution after their shameful support for Ben-Ali and Mubarak to the very end. The Libyan revolutionaries wanted air cover in their confrontation with Kaddafi’s barbaric killing machine. and unfortunately no Arab or Islamic country was able to provide such a cover. Hence, a deal was struck, and we must look at this deal from the point of view of shared interests. In the end, Libya has been liberated and there are no occupation forces and no NATO mandate on Libya. As for the oil contracts, they are a matter of commerce because oil is nothing more than a commodity that is sold by the state based on the people’s interests; it does not represent our dignity or our honor. Isn’t it better for a free Libyan people to trade and cooperate with foreign countries to benefit itself rather than for a dictator like Kaddafi to do the same thing while oppressing his people for the benefit of himself and his sons with their many lovers?

A free people determines its path by itself and no one can claim any longer that a deranged tyrant knows his people’s interests better than the people. The alternative, for those who are always asking about alternatives, as if we were replacing one totalitarian government with another, is always the ballot box. What’s more important, and what is true in any region in the Arab World, is that foreign intervention is a small detail in the midst of the massive historical movement that the Arab revolution represents, which neither the reactionary oil oligarchies nor Western imperialism will be able to co-opt no matter how hard they try. The old regimes and their remnants will fail in their attempt to paint the Arab revolution as a western conspiracy to dethrone them because of their achievements in pursuing the interests of the people. The people know that the historical trend in our region is one of revolution, and they are aware of the West’s attempts to intervene and co-opt the revolution, but they are also capable of thwarting these attempts. In Syria, for example, the revolutionary forces have rejected military intervention and instead called for international protection and observers, and some insist on most being Arab, in spite of the enormous oppression and killing. Those who accuse the Syrian revolutionaries of being traitors are similar to someone who denies a seriously ill patient medicine because that medicine is made in Paris or London and is being distributed by United Nations agencies.

The current Syrian flag

WRITTEN BY SHIBLI ZAMAN
All kinds of scum are defending Bashar al-Assad following his attack upon the people of Idlib with chemical weapons. I’ve had to respond to many of these heartless people who prefer their vacuous Alex Jones based conspiracy theories over human life but…seriously…at least 10 kids under the age of 11 died an excruciating death so I am just way too PISSED OFF to carry on. But I want to address this Russian LIE that they supposedly bombed a munitions depot where the rebels were storing Sarin gas.

Sarin gas is highly unstable and is easily rendered inert.

“Decomposes thermally to form a variety of phosphorus containing products as well as propylene. The rate of decomposition increases with increase in temperature, and in the presence of acids. At the boiling point of GB, under atmospheric conditions, decomposition is fairly rapid.”
[PubChem: https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/sarin…]

The Russian account of having bombed a Sarin containing depot is scientifically impossible. If you bomb Sarin with incendiaries, it will be rendered INERT by the exceedingly high temperature of any blast. It just takes 150 °C to decompose Sarin into various forms of phosphorous. The average missle emits 2,480 °C (4,500 °F) which is way beyond what it would take to completely erase any Sarin.

Then these imbeciles are claiming that pictures of the White Helmets wearing only gas masks and no HAZMAT suits means there couldn’t have been a Sarin attack. Make up your minds! Either there was a gas attack or there wasn’t. Russia ADMITTED that Sarin was released upon the population because even they weren’t stupid enough to deny the overwhelmingly obvious! And to debunk this nonsense about the White Helmets not wearing Hazmat suits, by the time they and other personnel would have arrived in the area the Sarin would have dissipated. This is from the Center for Disease Control: “Because it evaporates so quickly, sarin presents an immediate, but short-lived, threat.” [https://emergency.cdc.gov/agent/sarin/basics/facts.asp]

Finally, as Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a former commanding officer of the British Armed Forces Joint Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear (CBRN) Regiment, said:

“Axiomatically, if you blow up Sarin, you destroy it…It’s very clear it’s a Sarin attack…The view that it’s an al-Qaeda or rebel stockpile of Sarin that’s been blown up in an explosion, I think is completely unsustainable and completely untrue.” [BBC]

So, the bottom line is that there are two versions of events here:

1) Tons of eye witnesses on the ground testify to the Russian/Syrian aerial bombardment of chemical weapons. There are PICTURES of the spent casings and tanks on the ground. The entire world knows Bashar and the Russians did it, and the SAA, Russia and Iran are the only people ON EARTH saying otherwise.

2) The SAA first released a statement saying they did nothing. That was a lie that Russia themselves ratted out when they admitted that they bombed Idlib. The first question is: Why were they bombing a residential area in Idlib? They claim that they were targeting a munitions depot that contained chemical weapons.

The SAA/Russian explanation is 100% a lie that can easily be proven by SCIENCE in that if they bombed a stockpile of Sarin gas, it would not release and kill everyone. It would be rendered completely inert and USELESS.

In the end you can’t argue with basic CHEMISTRY AND SCIENCE.

And there are a bunch of kids who choked to death on their own bodily fluids, and the fact that people are defending Bashar after that pisses me off immeasurably. So be warned: My tolerance level for nonsense when it comes to this tragic and painful subject is ZERO.

crop,750x427,2329709549reprinted from BALADI NEWS

On December 13, the Russian propaganda website Sputnik tweeted a photo captioned “Syrian Army prepares to retake Palmyra.” The image showed four men on a truck assembling munitions. One wore an Afghan flag as a headscarf, and another was identified as a member of the Hazara Shia minority in Afghanistan.

A month later, as ISIS assaulted Syrian regime positions at Khanaser southeast of Aleppo, an Afghan member of the Fatemiyoun brigade shot a video showing Afghans waiting for airstrikes to help push ISIS back.

The often-forced participation of Afghans is one of the great untold stories of the Syrian Civil War. It is estimated that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has sent between 18,000-30,000 Shia Afghans to fight in Syria on the side of the Assad regime since 2015. This is part of the IRCG’s effort to shore up their frontlines after six years of bloody combat against numerous Sunni rebel groups. It is also part of a wider alliance of Shia militias, such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah, that have poured thousands of fighters into Syria. However, unlike Hezbollah or Iraqi supporters of the Syrian regime, the role of the Afghan recruits is complicated and tragic. There is compelling evidence that they are victims of human trafficking, recruited and exploited by Iran, and then sent to Syria to die in a foreign war.

The Hazara Shia are a Persian-speaking religious and ethnic minority located mostly in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Often persecuted, they usually end up in Iran after fleeing violence elsewhere. For example, they are victims of constant terror by Sunni jihadist groups in Pakistan. In February 2013, more than 100 were killed in a bombing in Quetta, which has been a frequent target. In June 2015, half a dozen were murdered and three businesses owned by Shia attacked. Similar attacks occurred in April and November 2015. In October 2016, gunmen shot up a bus and killed several Hazara women in Quetta. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a Sunni jihadist group, claimed the attack was in response to the Afghan Shia’s role in the battle of Aleppo. On January 6, five Shia were murdered in a drive-by shooting. Al-Jazeera called the constant attacks on Shia in Pakistan a “sustained, targeted campaign of killings,” carried out by jihadists “once allied to the Pakistani state.” Caught up in this cauldron, Hazaras flee to Iran, where Iranian intelligence scoops them up and gives young men an offer they can’t refuse: Go die in Syria for the Ayatollah.

Afghanistan also has a population of several million Hazaras, who have been the subject of brutal persecution since the 19th century. Under the Taliban in the 1990s, they were subjected to discrimination and violence. Taliban commander Maulawi Mohammed Hanif told followers, “Hazaras are not Muslims; you can kill them.” As the Taliban creeps back toward Kabul, it has been targeting them again. In July 2016, more than 60 Hazaras were murdered in a bomb attack on a Hazara rights protest, and in November, their Baqir ul Olum mosque in Kabul was blown up. Vali Nasr of Johns Hopkins University believes that the ISIS attack might be “payback for Hazara fighting in Syria.” Clearly, a particularly vicious cycle exists: Iran uses Hazara Shia, rather than Iranians, to fight in Syria; this puts the Hazaras in danger of retaliation; this in turn forces Hazaras to flee to Iran, where they are recruited or forced to fight in Syria, beginning the cycle over again.

The Hazaras have suffered numerous casualties in Syria, where they are often referred to as “cannon fodder” or “meat shields” for the regime. In November 2016, a Syrian rebel Twitter account showed an image of a man they had captured who they claimed was an “Afghan.” Afghan army IDs and bank cards were found on other prisoners, sometimes with English on them. Their owners had died in Aleppo during 2016, and in some cases it is alleged they were child soldiers. Afghan parents have been interviewed who said they were surprised to find their sons had gone to Syria. One woman told BBC Pashto that her son left Kabul for Iran to find work and was sent to Syria and killed. By July 2015, more than 700 had been killed, according to an Iranian news website.

In 2013, two years after protests broke out against Assad and the civil war began, observers first mentioned the Hazara community in Syria in the context of migrants. They were living near the Sayyida Zainab shrine in Damascus as refugees. At the time there were several thousand. Their participation in the fighting was first noticed online in January 2014. By the following year, the IRGC-run Fatemiyoun brigade, made up of Hazaras, had been formed, and photos of its fighters were being circulated online.

How are they recruited? In the beginning, Iran enticed young men through cash. Afghans guarding the Sayyida Zainab shrine were described by The New York Times as facing “little choice if they wanted to support their families [back home].” In a tweet on January 27, Qalaat Al Mudiq, an academic and military analyst, wrote that Afghans are paid $600 per month and sent to Syria on regularly organized flights. Journalist Mirwais Afghan claimed in June 2016 that the amount was $450 per month. One woman told The Wall Street Journal that her brother was lured to a recruitment office in Mashhad. He received 20 days of training and religious indoctrination before being flown to Damascus. He was killed in November 2014. Another woman told the Pakistani newspaper Dawn that her 35-year-old husband was promised $750 a month and an Iranian residency permit. A report in The Guardian found the Iranian embassy in Kabul was paying middlemen to recruit fighters. The Christian Science Monitor interviewed an Afghan man in June 2016 who said recruiters from the IRGC’s Basij militia used to visit him daily to encourage him to go, saying, “We will send you to Syria and when you come back we will give you an Iranian passport, a house, and money.”

Most Afghans said they were sent on “suicide missions” and that “Afghan lives have no value” to their IRGC commanders. Recruits said that in Iran many Afghans were coerced and threatened with being kidnapped or killed if they didn’t sign up. When Afghans die, their families are told their sons are “martyrs” and promised money, which never arrives.

A BBC investigation in April revealed that many Afghan recruits flee their units and try to get to the EU. One man said he was born in Isfahan, Iran, to Afghan refugees and lived as a second-class citizen. Then the IRCG came and promised him a passport if he went to Syria. Once he joined, he received two weeks of training. The Iranian commanders took his cellphone. He said he was sent to take a sector. If the sector were taken, he was told, he and his fellow soldiers were to hand it over to their Syrian army allies.

Another Afghan in Greece—one of 200,000 who came to Europe in 2015—told the BBC that he was arrested in Iran. At the Asgar Abad detention camp, he was offered the chance to be deported to Afghanistan or go to Syria. After a year of service in Syria, he didn’t receive a promised Iranian residency permit, but was threatened with deportation if he didn’t go back to Syria. He deserted like many thousands of others and fled to the EU.

Iran has employed other methods as well, such as recruitment videos and religious propaganda. France24 has reported that Shia clerics were dispatched by Iran to aid in the recruitment. Sometimes outright violence is used. “One 17-year-old said he had been forced to fight without being given the opportunity to refuse,” the NGO Human Rights Watch reported.

There is unquestionably a large recruiting pool for Iran to exploit. There were more than two million Afghan refugees in Iran in 2016, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. One of those refugees was a man named Murad who was captured by Syrian rebels. He told Der Spiegel’s Christoph Reuter that he was arrested in Iran and falsely accused of selling drugs. “For fifteen days he was beaten and whipped,” Reuter wrote. Then one day at Evin Prison in Tehran, Murad received a visitor wearing the IRGC’s green uniform. “Do you want the final five years of your sentence commuted?” the man asked. Soon Murad was off to Syria to fight.

In May 2016, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei praised the families of the Afghans who had fallen in Syria. “Martyrs who die on this path are privileged,” he told his audience. “In fact your children have created a shield with their life to protect the holy shrines from these evil [forces]. Therefore their status is very important.” Iran denies the Afghans are mercenaries or coerced. The IRGC claims that they go to Syria for religious and patriotic reasons.

But the evidence proves that the IRGC has been targeting tens of thousands of vulnerable people to fight Assad’s war in Syria. Recruiters are paid a commission by the Iranian government to target Afghans rather than Iranians. The government has established a deep network throughout Hazara communities in Iran and Afghanistan, targeting the poor and those seeking work. It has lured them from Pakistan. In Iran it uses coercion by threatening those who refuse with deportation. It also offers passports and residency permits that it does not provide, hoping that the fighters will die as “martyrs” before they ask for compensation. It also recruits prisoners, paying them less than other recruits and promising them time off their sentences. It flies the recruits back and forth to Syria on civilian planes used by the IRGC. The Afghans have no travel documents, which means they are controlled entirely by the IRGC while in Syria and cannot flee. Underage teens are also recruited.

Clearly, Iran’s recruitment of refugees and asylum seekers violates UN guidelines that call on nations to “prevent the military recruitment of refugees in camps and settlements” and to “ensure that measures are taken to prevent the recruitment of refugees by government armed forces or organized armed groups.” This amounts to human trafficking.

The IRGC controls large parts of the Iranian economy and is intertwined with the leading political and military institutions of the state. Its direct and documented involvement in the violation of the rights of refugees provides more evidence of why it should be designated a terrorist organization. The Trump administration was discussing designating the IRGC in early February; the abuse of Afghan refugees adds evidence in support of the need for the U.S. and the international community to recognize Iran’s misdeeds. By providing payment and transport to Afghans who are sent to Syria under the command structure of the IRGC, Iran is also violating the Geneva Convention as spelled out in the Protocol Additional of June 1977 regarding the use of mercenaries as combatants in war.

New sanctions should be put on Iran, including sanctions specifically targeting the IRGC. The international community should target areas of the Iranian economy linked to the use and abuse of Afghan refugees, such as Iran’s use of commercial and other flights to move them back and forth. The U.S. should also call for an investigation into abuses committed by the IRGC in Syria, and members of the International Criminal Court should call for an investigation into the role and exploitation of Hazara Afghans as part of a wider probe into human rights violations in the Syrian conflict. Only by holding Iran accountable for its actions, rather than welcoming Iranian diplomats as was done by former Secretary of State John Kerry, can Iran be put on notice that its continued behavior does not put it above the law. The IRGC has continually flaunted national and international laws. The case of the Afghan refugees sent to die in Syria sheds a light on how Iran can finally be held to account.