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March 11, 2012

Life and death under Syria’s military onslaught

March 10, 2012 — Updated 1459 GMT (2259 HKT)
<br/>CNN senior photojournalist Neil Hallsworth films an oil fire in Homs, Syria.
CNN senior photojournalist Neil Hallsworth films an oil fire in Homs, Syria.
  • CNN crew explains how they were smuggled into Homs, Syria, to witness a brutal crackdown on regime opponents
  • After a year of protests across Syria, Homs was the focus of a military effort to quash the uprising
  • Women live in basements, snipers kill from rooftops, medics battle the odds in chaos
  • A home being used as a media center was targeted by the Syrian military surrounding the city

Editor’s note: Watch the full documentary “72 Hours Under Fire” on CNN International on Saturday at 4 a.m., 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. and Sunday at 6 a.m., and on CNN U.S. on Sunday at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. and Monday at 2 a.m. (All times Eastern)

(CNN) — Intense black smoke billowing from the flames of an oil fire blocks out the sun. A teenage mom with a one-day-old baby seeks shelter in a dimly-lit basement from a barrage of missiles and shells.

Incoming fire smashes through the wall of a house being used as an unofficial media center in Homs, the city that is the focus of anti-regime protests and Syrian efforts to silence them.

The horror of enduring the all-out assault by the Syrian military is brought vividly to life in a CNN documentary airing this weekend.

With the help of local activists, a CNN crew was smuggled into Homs, moving from house to house as the Syrian army fired missiles and tank shells.

For more than a year President Bashar al-Assad’s military had used brutal force to put down the uprising.

Across Syria, protesters demanded change — chanting “down with the regime” but it was Homs — and especially the neighborhood of Baba Amr — that became the epicenter.

See the videos here 

72 hours: Smuggled into Homs

72 hours: A precious lifeline

72 hours: Pipeline sabotaged

72 hours: Surviving in bunkers

72 hours: Indiscriminate fire

72 hours: Getting more dangerous

Even CNN correspondent Arwa Damon, with her vast experience of reporting from war zones, had reservations about the high-risk job. She said: “I actually wrote a letter home the first time, to my family. And I went to see some very close friends as well, just in case.”

She was joined by Neil Hallsworth, a veteran cameraman who has worked in Iraq, Afghanistan and Israel, and Tim Crockett, a former special forces officer to handle security and who would also become an unofficial stills photographer.

Just getting into Homs was an ordeal that took five days for what would normally be a two-hour drive.

Damon said: “It involves a fairly elaborate process of being moved through farmlands, back roads, trying to avoid the government, ending up in various safe houses. And at every single leg, every single stop, you have a different person who’s responsible to move you on to the next one, someone who knows the details of the lay of the land around you to ensure that they can actually get you through from one point to another.”

For the thousands trapped in Baba Amr, the route was their only lifeline and CNN agreed to keep it secret.

In Homs, there was no frontline meaning there was also nowhere that could be called safe.

Damon said: “It [seems] mostly deserted, most of the buildings have sustained some sort of damage. And then you’ll see a kid peek their head out from a doorway, or you’ll see a man walking in the street carrying an A.K.”

Some of the most constant fire has been on Baba Amr where people are killed or wounded daily, and where two doctors — and one of those was a dentist — are fighting against the odds to help the casualties.

In a makeshift clinic there was a man with head injuries from shrapnel, another whose leg injury was most likely going to lead to an amputation.

The medics say the Syrian military regards the clinic as a target so they have set up in numerous temporary houses around Baba Amr, each with patients and with the doctors moving between them.

But snipers posted on rooftops above the rubble-littered streets made even the shortest of trips treacherous.

Mosques put out messages before the bombardment started, telling people to not live on the upper floors, to try to stay away from windows, and to try to find protective rooms, inside their homes.

In basements used as bunkers, civilians pray the next bomb will miss their home and their loved ones. In one of these bunkers, the CNN crew met a teenager who had given birth the day before.

Her daughter Fatimah was the face of innocence amid the hell of Homs. Her father does not know she’s been born. He left the shelter to get supplies a month ago and has not made it back. And her gran trembled as she explained how two other relatives died.

Virtually everyone in the shelter — about 300 people — had similar horrific stories of violent death.

And it was easy to learn how death could come arbitrarily and suddenly in Homs and how survival was as much luck as anything else.

Working in a home that had become an unofficial media center for the few Western journalists that have made it into Homs, a rocket slammed into the building just two floors up.

Also in Baba Amr was Sunday Times correspondent Marie Colvin who would be killed alongside French photographer Remi Ochlik just a few days later.

Throughout Baba Amr, word was spreading that a ground offensive by the Syrian military was imminent.

And for CNN it was becoming too dangerous to let Damon, Hallsworth and Crockett stay.

Damon said: “It is fundamentally unfair that we live in a world where we can go film this, report on it, and leave, knowing that the people we’ve left behind’s suffering is going to continue. Feeling as if we should’ve done more, we could’ve done more.”

Hundreds of civilians are believed to have died in the siege of Baba Amr. At least three activists involved in getting video out of Baba Amr have been killed.

At the end of February, the Syrian military broke the resistance of Baba Amr. Opposition activists claim the military carried out summary executions.

Regime forces continue to bombard other areas that oppose Assad’s rule.



Israel, Iran and America

Auschwitz complex

Mar 6th 2012, 19:04 by M.S.

DURING his meeting with Barack Obama on Monday, Bibi Netanyahu said Israel “must have the ability always to defend itself, by itself, against any threat.”

“I believe that’s why you appreciate, Mr. President, that Israel must reserve the right to defend itself,” Netanyahu said. “After all, that’s the very purpose of the Jewish state, to restore to the Jewish people control over our destiny. That’s why my supreme responsibility as prime minister of Israel is to ensure that Israel remains master of its fate.”

News flash: Israel is not master of its fate. It’s not terribly surprising that a country with less than 8m inhabitants is not master of its fate. Switzerland, Sweden, Serbia and Portugal are not masters of their fates. These days, many countries with populations of 100m or more can hardly be said to be masters of their fates. Britain and China aren’t masters of their fates, and even the world’s overwhelmingly largest economy, the United States, isn’t really master of its fate.

But Israel has even less control over its own destiny than Portugal or Britain do. The main reason is that, unlike those countries, Israel refuses to give up its empire. Israel is unable to sustain its imperial ambitions in the West Bank, or even to articulate them coherently. Having allowed its founding ideology to carry it relentlessly and unthinkingly into what Gershom Gorenburg calls an “Accidental Empire” of radical religious-nationalist settlements that openly defy its own courts, Israel is politically incapable of extricating itself. The partisan battles engendered by its occupation of Palestinian territory render it less and less able to pull itself free. It is immobilised, pinned down, in a conflict that is gradually killing it. Countries facing imperial twilight, like Britain in the late 1940s, are often seized by a sense of desperate paralysis. For over a decade, the tone of Israeli politics has been a mix of panic, despair, hysteria and resignation.

No one bears greater responsibility for the trap Israel finds itself in today than Mr Netanyahu. As prime minister in the late 1990s, he did more than any other Israeli leader to destroy the peace process. Illegal land grabs by settlers were tolerated and quietly encouraged in the confused expectation that they would aid territorial negotiations. Violent clashes and provocations erupted whenever the peace process seemed on the verge of concrete steps forward; the most charitable spin would be that the Israelis failed to exercise the restraint they might have shown in retaliating against Palestinian terrorism, had they been truly interested in progress towards a two-state solution. Mr Netanyahu believed that the Oslo peace agreements were a mirage, and his government’s actions in the late 1990s helped make it true.

Having trapped themselves in a death struggle with Palestinians that they cannot acknowledge or untangle, Israelis have psychologically displaced the source of their anxiety onto a more distant target: Iran. An Iranian nuclear bomb would not be a happy development for Israel. Neither was Pakistan’s, nor indeed North Korea’s. The notion that it represents a new Holocaust is overstated, and the belief that the source of Israel’s existential woes can be eliminated with an airstrike is mistaken. But Iran makes an appealing enemy for Israelis because, unlike the Palestinians, it can be fitted into a familiar ideological trope from the Jewish national playbook: the eliminationist anti-Semite. With brain-cudgeling predictability, Mr Netanyahu marked his meeting with Mr Obama by presenting him with a copy of the Book of Esther. That book concerns a plot by Haman, vizier of King Ahasuerus of Persia, to massacre his country’s Jews, and the efforts of the beautiful Esther, Ahasuerus’s secretly Jewish wife, to persuade the king to stop them. It is a version of the same narrative of repression, threatened extermination and resistance that Jews commemorate at Passover in the prayer “Ve-hi she-amdah”: “Because in every generation they rise up to destroy us, but the Holy One, Blessed be He, delivers us from their hands.”

Mr Netanyahu is less attractive than Esther, but he seems to be wooing Mr Obama and the American public just as effectively. The American-Israeli relationship now resembles the sort of crazy co-dependency one sometimes finds in doomed marriages, where the more stubborn and unstable partner drags the other into increasingly delusional and dangerous projects whose disastrous results seem only to legitimate their paranoid outlook. If Mr Netanyahu manages to convince America to back an attack on Iran, it is to be hoped that the catastrophic consequences will not be used to justify the attack that led to them.

Mr Netanyahu thinks the Zionist mission was to give the Jewish people control over their destiny. No people has control over its destiny when it is at war with its neighbours. But in any case, that is only one way of thinking of the Zionist mission. Another mission frequently cited by early Zionists was to help Jews grow out of the “Ghetto mentality”. Mr Netanyahu’s gift to Mr Obama shows he’s still in it.

(Photo credit: AFP)

Norwegian Olive Planters Accused of Being Nazis



On Wednesday March 7, A group of 11 Norwegian students and their teacher from Oslo have been insulted and threatened off the land of Palestinian farmer Yassin Da’doua in Beit Iskaria in the southern part of the Westbank where they were helping the farmer to plant olive trees.

The group had just started the planting of 200 olive trees when the leader of the radical settler organisation ‘Women in Green’, Nadia Matar, arrived with two other Israeli settlers who started taking photos of the young Norwegians. Nadia Matar raised her voice and told the Norwegian youth that “your grandparents have killed my grandparents in the holocaust and now you are helping the Arabs to steal our land. This is the land for the people of Israel. You are helping the wrong people. You are like the nazis.”

When the army arrived the soldiers told the group to stop planting trees because it is prohibited to plant on Stateland. The farmer has documents both from the Ottoman period and from the Israeli court that state he is the private owner of the land. More soldiers arrived as well as the civil police, the boarder police, riot police and a representative of the Israeli Land Authorities.

When some of the Norwegian students continued planting trees, the army decided to arrest one of the Palestinian youth, the nephew of the farmer.

By this time the Norwegian students were overwhelmed by the number of army and police and the aggressiveness of the settlers. “How can they call me a nazi? My grandparents fought the nazis during the second world war,” said one of the students.

The commander in chief told the coordinator of the Olive Tree Campaign that the farmer and his family could stay on the land but the Norwegians had to leave. The bus was then escorted back to Bethlehem by an Israeli police car. On the way the farmer called to tell that the remaining olive trees and the tools had been confiscated by the army.

A team of 3 Israeli laywers from the ‘Rabbis for Human Rights’ is currently on the case.

Women in Green

Women in Green is a registered non-profit organization founded in 1993, and is not affiliated with any political party. According to the group’s website, the movement is “dedicated to the security and Jewish heritage of historic Israel”. It is opposed to a two-state solution; that is, the creation of a Palestinian state alongside, and mutually recognizant with, Israel. The group particularly opposes the return of land captured in1967, and aggressively supports Israeli settlement of those territories, which it proposes should be annexed.

Ruth and Nadia Matar, co-chairwomen of Women in Green, argue in Transfer of Arabs is the Only Solution for Peace that Arabs in the “Holy Land” are descended from relatively recent immigrants, and favor their “transfer” to the neighboring Arab countries from which, the Matars claim, they originate. They maintain that the United States and the E.U. could use the aid they provide (and political pressure) to help resettle Arabs, and that co-operation from surrounding Arab states would be required as well. They insist that “Fair payment can be made to those Arabs who agree to leave the Holy Land”, and that “Arabs who wish to remain can do so, provided they agree to be a citizen of a Jewish State.”

Women in Green’s political activism extends to the United States, where it maintains several chapters, which hold demonstrations and fundraisers every year.

From their website :

We act out of our firm belief in the central role of Eretz Israel for the future of the Jewish People. Today, more than ever, we must actualize our possession of our land. In addition to our usual activities of education and hasbara as to the right of the Jewish people to its Biblical Homeland, Women in Green is also behind the struggle for a Jewish Shdema and the Yibaneh fund for building and planting in the hills of Judea. One of the places where Women in Green plant trees to safeguard Israel’s Statelands, is Netzer; in the heart of Gush Etzion, between Elazar and Alon Shvut.

The area referred to as Netzer in the last sentece, in the heart of the Gush Etzion settlement block, is the location where farmer Yassin Da’doua has his lands where the Norwegian group was invited to plant trees.


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