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August 2012

Undercover report from Damascus

British doctor travels to Syria to provide medical help on her holiday

A British doctor has used her summer holiday to travel to war-torn Syria and provide medical help to victims trapped in the conflict.

British doctor travels to Syria to provide medical help on her holiday

Dr Craven said the hospital depended on the ‘exceptional’ local staff, who have been working for several months without a break Photo: REUTERS/Youssef Boudlal

By , Paris

8:26PM BST 28 Aug 2012

Rachael Craven, 42, usually works as anesthetist for the National Health Service in Bristol. But she has spent the past two weeks in a war zone, treating casualties in a secret hospital that is being run by humanitarian aid agency Medicine San Frontier inside northern Syria.

Operating without the permission of the Syrian government and fearing it could come under attack by regime artillery the hospital is in the guise of a civilian home.

“Luckily it is not like a house in the UK that is furnished with carpets. This had marble floors; the kitchen is a sterilisation room and the living and reception rooms have been turned into the operating theatres and recovery rooms,” said Dr Craven. “The courtyard is the emergency room”.

She was part of a team of local doctors and foreign staff that worked around the clock to treat the constant stream of patients. Snatched moments of rest were taken on the exposed hospital rooftop.

“We slept on the roof. Accommodation is a premium in northern Syria because of the influx from Aleppo. Any house has three or four families staying with them already,” said Dr Craven. “We were at risk of shelling but so far it is a relatively safe area. I think a bigger is when the rain starts!”

The hospital was nearly always full, with patients sometimes spilling out on mats laid on the balconies. “Every few days we would have a mass casualty event. Either when a battle had taken place near us and we saw a lot of rebel casualties, or after shelling attacks where the victims were civilians,” said Dr. Craven.

Close to the end of her stay an artillery barrage hit a village bazaar where locals had been gathering supplies: “The local field clinic took care of most of the casualties in the market, but it was an hour before anybody checked the nearby basement where fifteen children had been playing. Shrapnel had come in through the ground level windows.

“The children were all from one extended family and were from two to 18 years old. Five were killed outright; a few were taken to a local clinic and the rest were brought to us. One was dead on arrival, another died with us, we were able to do surgery on two, and two were sent to Turkey,” said Dr. Craven.

For the past seven years Dr Craven has been using her annual leave to volunteer with MSF in some of the world’s most galling humanitarian tragedies and dangerous conflict zones. She has worked in Congo, Indonesia, Haiti after the earthquake and in Libya in the city of Misurata when it was besieged.

Syria was one of the most difficult operations yet. The whole medical team and hospital equipment had first to be smuggled across an international border and there no escape route should the hospital come under attack.

“There was one occasion when there was a push by government forces and we were aware that a set of tanks were heading very close to us. We were on standby to evacuate, but we had a patient who was critical and could not be transferred. It is not something they really cover in medical training in the UK, the decision of where take a patient into theatre and so commit the rest of your team to stay [in a dangerous situation].

“Every day you had a mental tally in your head of which patients would have to come with you is you had to evacuate. We had one ambulance and one car that we could use,” said Dr. Craven.

Working conditions were extremely difficult, with the medical staff having to adapt to a back-to-basics approach. “You can’t have ventilators and other similar equipment because of things like electricity. It was not uncommon for the operating theatre to be plunged into darkness and then you lose your oxygen and that is dangerous. You need solid simple tools,” said Dr. Craven.

Dr Craven said the hospital also depended on the “exceptional” local staff, who have been working for several months without a break, often treating victims that are their friends or relatives, and on the “amazing spirit” of villagers near the hospital: “If we were ever shot of blood the imam would put out a message at evening prayer and there would be a queue of volunteers”.

Now back at work at the Bristol Royal Infirmary, Dr Craven said that she was likely to use her remaining two weeks of holiday to return to Syria: “It brings a whole new perspective on life and work at home”.


America Planning for a Post-Israel Middle East?

By Franklin Lamb

August 28, 2012 “Information Clearing House” —-  Congresswoman Illena Ros-Lehtinen will have her hands full as she makes the political and social rounds at this month’s Republican National Convention. Illena, is the only female committee chair in the House of Representatives and arguably Israel’s most ardent agent. She is a constant thorn in the Obama administration’s side, regularly castigating the president for playing “political games with U.S. foreign policy” and being “soft on Iran” and undermining the legitimacy of Israel. Ros-Lehtinen is a congressional cheer leader also for her Jewish voters in Florida — a key battleground in the rapidly approaching US presidential election. Most recently, Ros-Lehtinen helped shepherd through Congress yet another bill tightening sanctions against Iran while calling for US military action against the Assad regime in Syria.

The Congresswomen’s focus will likely not be on pushing the republican’s talking points regarding her party’s nominee, Mitt Romney the former “moderate Massachusetts governor” who she is aware is unlikely to win the White House. Nor, according to a source at the Democratic National Committee, frantically putting together final touches on their own Convention, to be held the week of September 3 in Charlotte, North Carolina, will Ileana spend much time with or promoting Mitt’ running mate, Congressman Paul Ryan. Ryan, an Ayn Rand (author of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged as well as founder of the Objectivism movement) follower, regularly tells audiences that “Ayn Rand’s teachings have been one of the most profound philosophical influences of my life.” Well, except for religion and abortion and a few other matters, as Ayn, who passed away in 1982 was an avowed atheist and strongly pro-abortion, the opposite of what Ryan tells audiences he is.

Rather, Ros-Lehtinen will be meeting with local, national, and international Jewish leaders in this must win state where she has been assigned the task of reassuring them that the Republican Party is Israel’s best friend and that a recent US government draft report urging a US re-think of its relationship to Israel is the responsibility of none other than Barack Obama, and it reveals his true disdain for Israel.

Helping her smear the White House with the findings in the draft  analysis will be William Kristol, publisher of the neoconservative Weekly Standard and Director of the New American Century, an “Israel first” Washington-based lobby “promoting joint Israeli and American political and military leadership across the globe, while bringing democracy to the Middle East”.

So what is all the fuss about?

It’s a paper entitled: Preparing For A Post Israel Middle East, an 82 page analysis that concludes that the American national interest in fundamentally at odds with that of Zionist Israel. The authors concludes that Israel is currently the greatest threat to US national interests because its nature and actions prevent normal US relations with Arab and Muslim countries and, to a growing degree, the wider international community.

The study was commissioned by the US Intelligence Community comprising 16 American intelligence agencies with an annual budget in excess of $ 70 billion. The IC includes the Departments of the Navy, Army, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, Defense Intelligence Agency, Departments of Energy, Homeland Security, State, Treasury, Drug Enforcement Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Security Agency, National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, National Reconnaissance Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency commissioned the study.

Among the many findings that Ros-Lehtenin and Kristol and other unregistered agents of Israel will likely try to exploit politically between now and November 6, by using them to attack the Obama Administration. A sampling of the findings includes the following:

•   Israel, given its current brutal occupation and belligerence cannot be salvaged any more than apartheid south Africa could be when as late as 1987 Israel was the only “Western” nation that upheld diplomatic ties with South Africa and was the last country to join the international boycott campaign before the regime collapsed;

•   The Israel leadership, with its increasing support of the 700,000 illegal settlers on the occupied West Bank is increasing out of touch with the political, military and economic realities of the Middle East;

•   The post Labor government Likud coalition is deeply complicit with and influenced by the settlers’ political and financial power and will increasingly face domestic civil strife which the US government should not associate itself with or become involved with;

•   The Arab Spring and Islamic Awakening has, to a major degree, freed a large majority of the 1.2 billion Arab and Muslims to pursue what an overwhelming majority believe is the illegitimate, immoral and unsustainable European occupation of Palestine of the indigenous population;

•   Simultaneous with, but predating, rapidly expanding Arab and Muslim power in the region as evidenced by the Arab spring, Islamic Awakening and the ascendancy of Iran, as American power and influence recedes, the US commitment to belligerent oppressive Israel is becoming impossible to defend or execute consistent given paramount US national interests which include normalizing relations with the 57 Islamic countries;

•   Gross Israeli interference in the internal affairs of the United States through spying and illegal US arms transfers. This includes supporting more than 60 ‘front organizations’ and  approximately 7,500 US officials who do Israel’s bidding and seek to dominate and intimidate the media and agencies of  the US government which should no longer be condoned;

•   That the United States government no longer has the financial resources, or public support to continue funding Israel. The more than three trillion dollars in direct and indirect aid from US taxpayers to Israel since 1967 is not affordable and is increasingly being objected to by US taxpayers who oppose continuing American military involvement in the Middle East. US public opinion no longer supports funding and executing widely perceived illegal US wars on Israel’s behalf. This view is increasingly being shared by Europe, Asia and the International public;

•   Israel’s segregationist occupation infrastructure evidenced by legalized discrimination and increasingly separate and unequal justice systems must no longer be directly or indirectly funded by the US taxpayers or ignored by the US government;

•   Israel has failed as a claimed democratic state and continued American financial and political cover will not change its continuing devolution as international pariah state;

•   Increasingly, rampant and violent racism exhibited among Jewish settlers in the West Bank is being condoned by the Israeli government to a degree that the Israel government has become its protector and partner;

•   The expanding chasm  among American Jews objecting to Zionism and Israeli practices, including the killing and brutalizing of Palestinians under Israeli occupation,  are gross violations of American and International law and raise questions within the US Jewish community regarding the American responsibility to protect (R2P) innocent civilians under occupation;

•   The international opposition to the increasingly  apartheid regime can no longer be synchronized with American claimed  humanitarian values or US expectations in its bi-lateral relations with the 193 member United Nations;

The Draft ends with language about the need to avoid entangling alliances that alienate much of the World and condemn American citizens to endure the consequences.

Interestingly, it notes Iran as an example of a country and people that have much in common and whose citizens have a real interest in bilateral associations (here an apparent reference to Israel and its US lobby) not determined by the wishes of other countries and their agents. It also highlights the need for the US to undertake “the repairing relations with Arab and Muslim countries including the drastically curtained use of drone aircraft.

The coming days will clarity the success of Israel’s in making an issue of the finding in the soon to be published daft report and the degree to which the Republican Party will gain for its findings in the race for the White House.

Franklin Lamb, former Assistant Counsel, US House Judiciary Committee and  Professor of International Law at Northwestern College of Law in Oregon, earned his Law Degree at Boston University and his LLM, M.Phil., and PhD degrees at the London School of Economics. Following three years at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Lamb was visiting fellow at the Harvard Law School’s East Asian Legal Studies Center.

He is currently doing research in Lebanon and volunteers with the Palestine Civil Rights Campaign and the Sabra-Shatila Foundation.  Lamb is the author of: Israel’s 1982 War in Lebanon:  Eyewitness Chronicles of the Invasion and Occupation, South End Press, First Printing, 1983, International Legal Responsibility for the Sabra-Shatila Massacre, Imp. TIPE: 42, Rue Lebour 93100 Montreuil, Paris, France 1984, The Price We Pay: A Quarter Century of Israel’s Use of American Weapons in Lebanon (Lamont Press) 2007, His latest book, The Case for Palestinian Civil Rights in Lebanon, is due out shortly.



The Fear of Breathin

Stories from the Syrian revolution
Ellie Violet Bramley, August 16, 2012

he Fear of Breathing is nothing if not daring. Staged recently at London’s Finborough Theatre, it takes verbatim reports from Syria and turns them into an urgent, artistic, thoughtful play.It is the product of reports garnered by the BBC’s Paul Wood, The Daily Telegraph’s Ruth Sherlock, and theatre director, Zoe Lafferty.

The material is cut and merged into a narrative that plots both the characters’ journeys, and that of the revolutionary movement in Syria, along with its descent into chaos. Lafferty has handled the material sensitively, for example deftly introducing the concept that protestors are being shot before mentioning the Free Syrian Army (FSA), and introducing characters as peaceful individuals who gradually begin to talk of arming.

Lafferty, speaking to NOW Extra, admitted being daunted by the task, but felt “if you’re going to take a risk on anything, this is the kind of material to do it on.”  Having personally gathered at least part of the material – spending seven weeks traveling to Syria covertly – she felt a profound responsibility to take back to Britain what had been confided in her.

To read more:
Only 25% of a given NOW Lebanon article can be republished. For information on republishing rights from NOW Lebanon:

Daraya: the defiance that led to the Syrian massacre of hundreds

The shrouded bodies of Syrians, including children, during a funeral in Daraya, near Damascus.

Aug 27, 2012



DAMASCUS // For a rather non-descript town of drab cement block buildings on the southern outskirts of Damascus, Daraya in two short months acquired a significance far exceeding its size or the apparent ordinariness of its neighbourhoods.

Until the start of last week’s all-out assault by regime loyalists, which culminated with the alleged massacre of at least 300 people, the community took up the task of governing themselves – a highly emblematic piece of defiance against a regime that has long warned chaos and Islamic extremism would engulf areas outside of its strict control.

Rather than sliding into anarchy after security forces withdrew entirely from the town this summer, Daraya had instead been run with a certain quiet efficiency by opposition activists and volunteers drawn from the town’s 200,000 or so population.

There was no state police in the area, but traffic flowed freely and residents reported little crime. Modest rebuilding projects to repair damage from previous army operations had been carried out, paid for by local donations.

Stores and wood workshops were open, an independent community newspaper was being published and volunteer street cleaners swept and washed down roads. People even queued politely at the local petrol station.

With no security forces on hand to make arrests, activists would stand at major intersections and hand out leaflets designed to educate residents on the key principles of the revolution, as drawn up by committees of local men and women.

The leaflets said there must be equality between all religious and ethnic groups in the new Syria and stressed the importance of ensuring justice and rejecting revenge in dealing with regime officials. They also spelt out that with new freedoms would come enormous responsibilities and duties for every citizen, including caring for the environment and conserving scarce water resources.

Daraya was one of a growing number of places living on the fraying edge of central authority in Syria, but its slide out of the government’s grasp was made all the more remarkable by its proximity to the very centre of power.

Rather than being some outlying village far from Damascus, the town is little more than 5 kilometres away from the capital’s upmarket Mezze embassy district.

The rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) sought to keep a low profile in the area. It did not set up checkpoints, fearing it would only bring about a quick, violent response from regime forces. Still, it grew in strength, boasting hundreds of fighters and according to one local activist, perhaps up to 3,000.

That force had proven capable of pushing out police and more lightly armed regime security units earlier this year. Afterwards, the Daraya police station lay ransacked and abandoned, the municipal offices shut.

Without government security forces present in Daraya, the town was poised to become a key staging ground for a renewed assault on Damascus by rebel groups after their attempt last month was beaten down.

Free to move inside Daraya’s urban centre and through the farmland at its edges – Daraya was once famed for its grapes – the insurgents established ties with the residents of the densely populated, working class sprawl that forms southern Damascus and reaches in to the very heart of the capital.

That range enabled Daraya’s rebels to coordinate their activities with militants in other key urban battlegrounds such as Nahar Aisha, Kafa Susa and Qadam. If FSA units are to replicate in Damascus the assault their fellow fighters have mounted in the northern city of Aleppo for the last month, these districts will have a major role to play.

Crucially, the northern edge of Daraya borders the Damascus military airport, where the regime detains thousands of prisoners, deploys combat helicopters and, in nearby fortified compounds, houses members of the loyalist officer corps.

Given the strategic and political significance of rebel-controlled Dayara, it was then probably just a matter of time before government units moved against it in force. Even activists and residents of the town understood that, saying days before the start of last week’s assault that it was a matter of when, not if, the regime would try to retake control of the town.

They even acknowledged that the lightly armed FSA would not be able to repel a much more powerful force of army units loyal to the regime. And indeed, their prediction came true.

It started last Tuesday night, when the town was sealed off and then battered by shellfire from a safe distance for three days, the explosions echoing throughout Damascus. Then hundreds of soldiers backed by heavy artillery, helicopter gunships and tanks moved in.

State-run media said that government forces had been successful in “eliminating” terrorists – its term for armed rebel groups such as the FSA and their supporters. It gave no figure for the dead, saying only that it was “large”.

“Our heroic armed forces cleansed Daraya from remnants of armed terrorist groups who committed crimes against the sons of the town and scared them, and sabotaged and destroyed public and private property,” declared Sana, the official state news agency.

Activists gave a stark account of the military operation, saying more than 300 bodies had been found on Saturday and yesterday, many of them apparently victims of execution-style killings by gunshot at close range.

Videos posted online yesterday showed bodies lined up for burial in a mass grave, and spread out in pools of blood in dark basements. The Local Coordination Committees (LCCs), a network of grassroots opposition activists, issued a statement saying Daraya has been subjected to the worst massacre since the start of the uprising 17 months ago. Neither the government’s account or that of activists could be independently verified.

Regardless of exactly how the blood was shed, activists who lived inside the town insisted even before last week that their revolution would not be crushed by military power.”What we are saying to the regime is, ‘you destroy, we build, you destroy again, we will build again’,” a prominent female dissident from the town had said.

“That is our revolution and that is why it will succeed in the end.”


Iran Said to Send Troops to Bolster Syria

BEIRUT—Iran is sending commanders from its elite Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and hundreds of foot soldiers to Syria, according to current and former members of the corps.

The personnel moves come on top of what these people say are Tehran’s stepped-up efforts to aid the military of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad with cash and arms. That would indicate that regional capitals are being drawn deeper into Syria’s conflict—and undergird a growing perception among Mr. Assad’s opponents that the regime’s military is increasingly strained.

A commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC, appeared to offer Iran’s first open acknowledgment of its military involvement in Syria.

ReutersSyrian Speaker Mohammed Jihad al-Laham, left, and Alaeddin Boroujerdi of the Iran parliament’s national security committee Saturday in Damascus.

“Today we are involved in fighting every aspect of a war, a military one in Syria and a cultural one as well,” Gen. Salar Abnoush, commander of IRGC’s Saheb al-Amr unit, told volunteer trainees in a speech Monday. The comments, reported by the Daneshjoo news agency, which is run by regime-aligned students, couldn’t be independently verified. Top Iranian officials had previously said the country isn’t involved in the conflict.

full article here

Rachel Corrie – Interview


Footage from Rachel’s interview conducted by Middle East Broadcasting Company on March 14th, 2003, two days before she was murdered by the Israeli Defense Forces.

A Syrian voice

@ SC 59. KDD

Mr. Aldendeshe –

I don’t receive my information from Moscow like you. I receive it from Damascus. I have family in Kafr Sousa, Midan, Jobar, and Harasta. The family on Kafr Sousa are now with me here in the US. If you wish to speak with them, you are welcome. They left after their building was rocketed by a Helicopter and large bullets from the gunships penetrated into their living room and bedrooms. They were sleeping in the corridor. Many people died there from shelling.

My family in Harasta has escaped to Beirut in the last month. There testimony is not good for your side, I am sorry. It spans almost a year of actions. Many people have gone missing.

My family in Midan was the one to bear the full brunt of the regime onslaught. They stuck it out and almost lost their lives when the building they were in came under tank fire. Also mortar fire. They have now relocated.

By far the most information I have been able to get were from those fortunate to be able to leave the country. People inside wont speak as freely as those right next to me here in US. Those in Lebanon now after having escaped also are Also provinding me with information. These are my family members, not some Soviet intelligence reports.


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