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April 2013

NPR’s On Point Syria, Chemical Weapons, And The Intervention Question

see article here on Syria Comment

Syria: Hezbullah’s Quagmire?

Nasrallah’s speech earlier today was, rhetoric not withstanding, a declaration of war on Syria. Syria, as some people would like us all to forget, is not the Assad regime, it is the Syrian people. And it is the Syrian people that are revolting against Assad, a fact that Nasrallah conveniently ignores in his discourse. His talk today was couched in the same kind of vague language that the Syrian regime uses to refer to the “crisis”, with veiled references to “outside actors” without mentioning names, and with promises that details may perhaps be revealed “in future”. That is all fluff, and observers will notice that the rhetoric Nasrallah uses to explain Hezbullah’s sometimes controversial (to his followers) behaviour is intended to filter down the cult of resistance pyramid – to politicians, journalists, and social media – and shape the discourse. In this way he creates the epistemic grounds for legitimizing what his party does. But that is another blog post for another day.

Most interesting to me was Nasrallah’s statement regarding Damascus. He promised that Damascus would never fall militarily and I believe he means what he says. It is one thing when all of us feel that a sustained push against the regime in Damascus is long overdue, but another thing when Nasrallah confirms this view because that means that somebody is in a position to try and take the city soon.

The statement that the city will “never fall” can mean two things, and neither bode well for the Damascenes and other Syrians who have fled there. The first is that Hezbullah (and Iran) may be heavily invested in the capital and will emerge in full force to support Assad when the campaign begins, and secondly that there will be such a rain of destruction on the city that Aleppo will look like a walk in the park in comparison. Assad’s artillery and bases on Mount Qasiyoon, overlooking Damascus, have been raining destruction on the city suburbs for almost a year, and can easily level the old city if it looks like the regime will lose it. But this is not yet the case, and here it looks like Nasrallah’s warning is intended to point to an alternative that he desires, negotiations. But these are not the negotiations that most people would understand.

I’ve said previously that when Assad’s allies speak of “negotiations”, they use a different meaning. Assad will use “negotiations” to refer to discussions with a loyal opposition, whilst his allies really mean negotiations between the United States and Russia on one level, and perhaps an uneasy understanding between the Gulf states and Iran on the other. The elephant in the room is the Syrian opposition in all its flavours, from the Muslim Brotherhood to the Muaz al Khatib current. This is because they are the only party that Assad and his allies cannot allow to operate freely within Syria. To allow any of these currents will mean genuine political plurality and a real challenge to the regime, therefore its downfall.

The recent, and controversial, statement addressed to him by Muaz al Khatib appears to have not even registered with Nasrallah. Instead he chose to focus, as an ally of Assad, purely on the narrative that there is an international conspiracy against the Syrian regime and that negotiations should really be with the “foreign backers” of these armed gangs. This is unfortunate and he may come to regret this olive branch later, especially when the fighting reaches Lebanon – and it will at some point.

Between Assad negotiating with his loyal opposition, and his foreign allies pushing for the world to abandon Syria’s revolution, the real Syrian opposition in all its spectrums, is to be starved to death, and the Syrian people will be returned back to their fifty year induced coma. In summary, Nasrallah has dug in his heels over Assad’s regime and declared war on Syria. His party will fight on under the pretence of protecting Lebanese in the country, and on the pretence of protecting the shrine of a woman who is revered by Sunnis as well as Shiites.

Hezbullah is now fully embroiled in the Syrian quagmire, and has committed itself to supporting the Assad regime. This is a grave error of judgement for while Hezbullah might be strong in Lebanon, it is not strong in Syria. One need only recall the dreadful blow it received through the assassination of Imad Mughniyeh in Damascus a few years ago, right in the heart of Assad’s security district. Furthermore, Hezbullah’s soldiers are not familiar with the territory they are fighting in, and they are far from their supply lines and support base.

It is clear they have been having an extremely difficult time in the Qusayr, which may be part of the reason why he chose to address his followers about it and also to justify the involvement. Finally, whilst the situation in Lebanon is still not serious enough to concern him, politics in Lebanon can escalate very quickly. By underestimating his domestic opponents and involving himself with a costly fight in Syria, Nasrallah will compound his errors and find himself biting off more than he can chew.

Nasrallah told us tonight that it is not important how “you” understand the situation (regarding Shiite interests in Syria), but how other people (his people) see it. But with his fighters trickling back to Lebanon in boxes, Mr Nasrallah seems to be misreading the situation. The only people who’s understanding he needs to consider carefully is that of the Syrians, and they have already made their views of his involvement very clear. It was not long ago that Israel slipped away during the night after its failed and costly involvement in Lebanon. Today Hezbullah appear to be making the same mistake.

Posted by Maysaloon at 8:50 pm  


Chemical weapons used by Assad Gangs in Eastern Ghouta

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Dear Friends

I know I have not been writing for a while.  This is very important and it is from Yasin Haj Saleh, please spread it. It is important to note that Yassin Haj Saleh is an MD. After his lengthy incarceration by the Assad regime, he went on to finish his medical studies, interrupted by the Assad goons in the eighties. He graduated from the faculty of medicine  at the University of Aleppo.

Injuries by Chemical Weapons in Eastern Ghuta

Yassin Haj Saleh*
Tuesday, April 30, 2013.

From   الجمهورية لدراسات الثورة السورية (The Republic for Syrian Revolution Studies)

Obama's red-lines

Obama’s red-lines

The thirty-year-old man was brought to “spot 200″ in Duma as being injured by chemical weapons. He seemed debile and his voice was barely audible. The fighter on the front of Jawbar, East of Damascus, had spent 9 hours in “spot 1″, which is a hospital where casualties receive first aid.

Out of the nine hours, he was unconscious for six hours, between 8 in the morning and 2.

Besides fatigue, the man looked physically fine and conscious when I met him at 6 in the evening of Sunday, April 14. He could stand up on his feet, but not firmly.

“What happened?” I asked him. He said that something that looks like a large stone was thrown nearby, but he didn’t pay much attention. But his companion asked a few moments later, “man, what’s this smell?”. The man did not smell or see smoke, but he had difficulty breathing, and his eyes were frozen wide. He thought himself dying, so he started to pray to God loudly.

He also said that after waking up in the hospital, he was spitting blood- he was still spitting blood at six in the evening, but in much smaller quantities.

He had no skin (dermatological?) symptoms. And when he woke up in the hospital, he knew that his friend had died, and possibly others had fallen martyrs. He did not know whether more bombs of the same kind were shelled on Jawbar front.

In his report, the doctor mentioned that the symptoms that the man, who comes from Qanawat neighborhood in Damascus, were pinpoint pupils and mental confusion, which seems to indicate a injury in the central nervous system. The report also says that the man was given 9 injections of atropine, 5 of hydrocortisone, and other 5 of a drug called Dexone (Dexamethasone).

The doctor recommended a normal diet and serums. There were two spots in the man’s left leg and left arm where two viens were opened to insert the serums, of which one was connected to a serum bag above the bed.

The man remained four days in “spot 200″ for follow-up.

Dr. Sakhr from the medical center in Eastern Ghuta said that he examined 20 cases of injury that day, and he personally suffered from the gas that was stuck to the clothes and hair of patients.

According to Dr. Sakhr, symptoms of injury include shortness of breath, red eyes, runny nose and eyes, hemoptysis, fainting and pinpoint pupils.

Two days later, symptoms of emotional instability manifested in form of agitation and anger or in form exhilaration and mania. These symptoms disappeared after two or three days, according to Dr. Sakhr.

Dr. Sakhr thought that the poison gas used was Sarin. He based his evaluation in the report on clinical assessment (symptoms and pathological development of cases). He had no decisive proofs, but he said that he took samples from infected hair, urine, blood and clothes and sent them to agencies that would supposedly be able to determine the type of toxic substance, and the most appropriate antidote for it.

Some of the people I have seen here think that tactical chemical weapons are the ones used by the regime until now. They target fighters and residents in limited areas.

* Translated by Jalal Imran


We kill, drone and bomb Muslims and we wonder why some hate us?

April 30th, 2013 in General

Pow­er­ful col­umn in the UK In­de­pen­dent by Yas­min Al­ib­hai-Brown:

First, read this un­con­di­tional ac­cep­tance of facts that can­not be de­nied nor ex­cused. Is­lam­i­cist ter­ror­ism has in­flicted atroc­i­ties and dif­fused panic and amor­phous, long-term anx­i­ety from east to west, south to north. Cit­i­zens of Nairobi and Bagh­dad, Madrid and Lon­don, Ba­mako and Dar es Salaam, New York and Bali, Mum­bai and Dam­as­cus, Moscow and Karachi and now Boston, other places too, have had their lives and sense of safety blown apart. Those un­af­fected per­son­ally are haunted by the im­ages and sto­ries. Trep­i­da­tion has en­tered their bones, our bones. Al­most as chill­ing as real at­tacks are those thwarted by in­tel­li­gence and se­cu­rity ser­vices. How many plots are still being planned? What if? Why? What do they want?

Mil­lions of ir­re­proach­able Mus­lims are be­wil­dered and en­raged by this global vendetta which seems de­ter­mined to an­ni­hi­late mod­ernism, oc­ci­den­tal val­ues, and also to desta­bilise some of the poor­est and most hap­less of na­tion states for rea­sons not made clear at all. Why are they try­ing to de­stroy Mali’s old cul­ture for ex­am­ple? Some of us feel ashamed that Islam has be­come a by­word for sin­is­ter, guer­rilla war­fare and is now re­garded as a mon­strous, rogue faith, eas­ily turned into a killing call, most ef­fec­tively for young men for whom life lacks mean­ing and di­rec­tion. Women are now join­ing in too. The “spir­i­tual lead­ers” be­hind the may­hem are wicked and psy­cho­log­i­cally ma­nip­u­la­tive men in­ter­ested only in high body-counts and lurid pub­lic­ity.

OK, now let’s turn to the most dom­i­nant coun­tries in the world – and their fi­nessed, wide­spread, ex­treme tac­tics used against peo­ple, some ev­i­dently fa­natic and dan­ger­ous, oth­ers to­tally in­no­cent. This is state-spon­sored, state-ac­ti­vated, state-en­gi­neered ter­ror­ism which we are just meant to ac­cept as a pro­por­tion­ate re­sponse to the evil above. More peo­ple are vic­timised by the un­ac­count­able, se­cre­tive ac­tions of the west­ern na­tions – the US and UK most no­tably – than all those vic­timised by Is­lam­i­cists. Most brain­washed and gen­uinely fright­ened west­ern­ers just ac­cept what their gov­ern­ments do in fight­ing a neb­u­lous “war on ter­ror”. Hun­dreds of thou­sands are killed, phys­i­cally and psy­cho­log­i­cally maimed and shocked and awed by west­ern weaponry. It is fair enough and sen­si­ble to use in­tel­li­gence and pre­vent plots home and abroad, but what is hap­pen­ing and has been since 9/11 is not de­fen­si­ble, moral, right, just or sane.

Solidarity with Syria

April 29, 2013 § 1 Comment

Published at the Global Campaign of Solidarity with the Syrian Revolution, this petition in support of the Syrian people’s struggle against dictatorship and genocide has been signed by leftist luminaries such as Norman Finkelstein, Gilbert Achcar and Tariq Ali (how good it is to welcome the latter back), academics of the stature of Frederic Jameson, Syrian intellectuals such as Yassin al-Haj Saleh, novelists such as Khaled Khalifa, and on the ground activists such as Razan Ghazzawi.

Who we are

As intellectuals, academics, activists, artists, concerned citizens, and social movements we stand in solidarity with the Syrian revolution and people’s struggle against dictatorship. Join us on Facebook.
Solidarity With the Syrian Struggle for Dignity and FreedomWe, the undersigned, stand in solidarity with the millions of Syrians who have been struggling for dignity and freedom since March 2011. We call on people of the world to pressure the Syrian regime to end its oppression of and war on the Syrian people. We demand that Bashar al-Asad leave immediately without excuses so that Syria can begin a speedy recovery towards a democratic future.Since March 2011, Asad’s regime has steadily escalated its violence against the Syrian people, launching Scud missiles, using weapons banned by the Geneva Convention such as cluster bombs and incendiary munitions, and using aerial bombardment. The regime has detained and tortured tens of thousands of people and committed untold massacres.

It has refused political settlements that do not include Asad in power, and it has polarized the society through strategic acts of violence and by sowing seeds of division.  The regime has also, since the early days of the uprising, sought to internationalize the crisis in order to place it within geopolitical battles that would only strengthen the regime.
Staying true to the logics of an authoritarian regime, Asad could never accept the legitimate demands of the Syrian people for freedom and dignity. Thus, there is no hope for a free, unified, and independent Syria so long as his regime remains in power.This is a revolt that was sparked by the children of Deraa and the sit-ins and demonstrations of the youth in the cities, the peasants of the rural areas, and the dispossessed and marginalized of Syria. It is they who rallied non-violently through protests and songs and chants, before the regime’s brutal crackdown.
Since then, the regime has pushed for the militarization of the Syrian nonviolent movement. As a result, young men took up arms, first out of self-defense. Lately, this has resulted in attempts by some groups fighting the regime to force a climate of polarization, and negation of the Other politically, socially and culturally. These acts that are in themselves against the revolution for freedom and dignity.Yet, the revolution for freedom and dignity remains steadfast.  It is for this reason that we, the undersigned, appeal to those of you in the global civil society, not to ineffective and manipulative governments, to defend the gains of the Syrian revolutionaries, and to spread our vision: freedom from authoritarianism and support of Syrians’ revolution as an integral part of the struggles for freedom and dignity in the region and around the world.The fight in Syria is an extension of the fight for freedom regionally and worldwide.  It cannot be divorced from the struggles of the Bahrainis, Egyptians, Tunisians, Libyans, Yemenis, and other peoples who have revolted against oppression and authoritarianism as well as against those seeking to usurp or destroy the uprisings and divert them for their own agendas. It is connected to the Palestinians’ struggle for freedom, dignity and equality.

The revolution in Syria is a fundamental part of the North African revolutions, yet, it is also an extension of the Zapatista revolt in Mexico, the landless movement in Brazil, the European and North American revolts against neoliberal exploitation, and an echo of Iranian, Russian, and Chinese movements for freedom.The Syrian revolution has confronted a world upside down, one where states that were allegedly friends of the Arabs such as Russia, China, and Iran have stood in support of the slaughter of people, while states that never supported democracy or independence, especially the US and their Gulf allies, have intervened in support of the revolutionaries. They have done so with clear cynical self interest. In fact, their intervention tried to crush and subvert the uprising, while selling illusions and deceptive lies.Given that regional and world powers have left the Syrian people alone, we ask you to lend your support to those Syrians still fighting for justice, dignity, and freedom, and who have withstood the deafening sounds of the battle, as well as rejected the illusions sold by the enemies of freedom.

As intellectuals, academics, activists, artists, concerned citizens, and social movements we stand in solidarity with the Syrian people to emphasize the revolutionary dimension of their struggle and to prevent the geopolitical battles and proxy wars taking place in their country. We ask you to lend your support to all Syrians from all backgrounds asking for a peaceful transition of power, one where all Syrians can have a voice and decide their own fate.

We also reject all attempts of any group to monopolize power, and to impose its own agenda, or to impose unitary or homogenous identities on the Syrian people. We ask you to support those people and organizations on the ground that still uphold the ideals for a free and democratic Syria.

Sign our petition here

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The global day of solidarity


Revealed: The boy prankster who triggered Syria’s bloody genocide with slogans sprayed in his schoolyard

By Ian Birrell

Bashir Abazed painted s the words ¿Ejak el door ya Doctor¿ (It is your turn, Doctor) ¿Bashir Abazed painted s the words ¿Ejak el door ya Doctor¿ (It is your turn, Doctor) ¿ a defiant message aimed at Syria¿s despotic president Bashar Assad, who trained as an ophthalmologist

It was a typical day for the teenagers, with school followed by a game of football – no different from millions of other boys around the world. Afterwards, they sat about chatting and joking, with one eye on television reports of the revolutions that had flared in Egypt and Libya.

There were seven boys, good friends who had grown up together on the same streets of a suburb of Deraa, a prosperous agricultural city in the south of Syria. They talked about the uprisings engulfing the region and their frustration that their nation, ruled by the repressive Assad family for four decades, had escaped the waves of unrest.

Suddenly, one of them had an idea –  to paint graffiti on the school walls to annoy the security forces. So the boys waited until after evening prayers. Then, on that February night two years ago, they sneaked into their schoolyard and began spraying slogans of protest.

Bashir Abazed, 15, painted in huge letters the words ‘Ejak el door ya Doctor’ (It is your turn, Doctor) – a defiant message aimed at Syria’s despotic president Bashar Assad, who trained as an ophthalmologist in London.

As the other pupils kept lookout, another of the teenagers sprayed a simpler slogan: ‘Eskot Bashar al-Assad’ (Down with Bashar al-Assad).

Afterwards the excited friends ran off home. ‘We were laughing and joking all the time – it was fun,’ said Bashir. ‘But now we do not laugh.’

For little did they know their prank would spark a revolution, one that would descend into the darkest of civil wars and rip apart their nation.

Scroll down for video

Anti-government activists in Daraa in March 2011, days after Bashir Abazad was taken for tortureAnti-government activists in Daraa in March 2011, days after Bashir Abazad was taken for torture

Jittery security forces, led locally by Assad’s thuggish cousin Atif Najib, responded with such savagery against these teenagers that Deraa rose up in protest. After people were shot dead, the uprising spread across Syria.

Two years later 70,000 people have died, the savagery and sectarianism growing more horrific by the day;  now there is even evidence the regime has unleashed chemical weapons. One million more have fled the carnage and shockwaves threaten the stability of the Middle East.

The ‘Kids of Deraa’ have become icons of the revolution. I heard of them when undercover in Syria four weeks after the uprising, reporting on their deeds and the vicious response for this newspaper.

Now, for the first time, one of them has gone on record and told the full astonishing story of the school pupils who changed the course of history.

‘If we knew our graffiti would have caused so much trouble, we would not have written it that night,’ admitted Bashir. ‘But we are not to blame. The trouble is all down to the security response. The regime fought back with torture and killing, thinking they could suppress the revolution. They were wrong.’

A soldier walks past a row of men forced to the ground during a raid on DeraaA soldier walks past a row of men forced to the ground during a raid on Deraa

I met Bashir in Ar Ramtha, a sprawling Jordanian town near the border. His family fled Syria seven weeks ago and we sat talking on thin mattresses on the floor of a barren whitewashed room drinking sweet tea from small glasses.

The friendly teenager – now 18 and bearded – laughed at times, but also admitted to being plagued by awful memories of the horrors he endured.

At the time of the school stunt, he was the youngest and smartest of four boys from a traditional family, the only one to stay on at school, and with ambitions to be a computer engineer.

The graffiti was found the next morning by his shocked headmaster, who instantly summoned the police. Officers gathered all the school  pupils, then took away ten at random for questioning.

Among them was Nayaf, Bashir’s  14-year-old best friend and part of the gang. They beat the terrified child, who quickly gave up his friend’s name. Bashir went into hiding for two days, but eventually Nayaf’s father found him and begged him to go to the police, who had promised to release both boys after they answered a few questions.

Some of Bashir’s family pleaded with him not to hand himself in. ‘But I felt guilty and responsible for my friend – I thought if I did not give myself up he might never be released,’ he said.

Two years after the uprising 70,000 people have diedTwo years after the uprising 70,000 people have died, the savagery and sectarianism growing more horrific by the day; now there is even evidence the regime has unleashed chemical weapons

At the police station gate, he met a group of soldiers who said he should have fled the country. ‘They asked me if I was crazy, which made me feel like I was making a big mistake.’

Within minutes he realised the scale of his error. Officers made him strip and he was searched. Then he was given back his underwear and shirt and led off to a basement where three of them began the torture, beating him with cables and giving him electric shocks.

The authorities feared this was the first flickering of the Arab Spring  in Syria, so Bashir was transferred quickly to a military intelligence unit at As Suwayda, an hour’s journey east. He spent the next six days stuffed into a cell smaller than the single-bed  mattress we sat on, then taken out to suffer unspeakable savagery.

A section of rubber tubing was placed over his eyes and ears, so tightly that he felt constant pulsing in his ears. His hands were cuffed behind him and he was crammed, bent double, into a large tyre, with his back and feet left exposed for vicious beatings with whips and cables. His hands were also whacked repeatedly with cables as a punishment for writing anti-government slogans, causing his fingernails to split and fall out.

‘I thought I would never get out,’ Bashir said. ‘It was so violent – I just wanted to die to get rid of the pain.’

The lead interrogator fired endless questions at him, asking who else was involved, who had set them up and whether they were jihadists.

Bashir admits he cracked rapidly, giving them the names of friends. They did not believe his story, insisting adults must have been involved, so he suggested older people he knew in the hope of stopping the agony. ‘I would have said anything,’ said Bashir. ‘All I wanted was to get away from those whips.’

Families have been torn apart by the war, with civilians fighting for the Free Syrian ArmyFamilies have been torn apart by the war, with civilians fighting for the Free Syrian Army, and thousands of homes destroyed

But the security forces rounded up the people he identified, including three of his cousins. Within three days, 24 people had been seized. However, four of the gang of seven boys were never caught.

During his six days in custody, he never saw his friend Nayaf because of their blindfolds but did catch a glimpse of his feet as they passed between torture sessions.

‘I could see the blood coming off his toes, his feet were swollen and they were blue, red, yellow – almost every colour,’ he recalled.

At one point, Bashir’s captors told him that they wanted to conduct an experiment. They cuffed his hands around a hot pipe above his head, before kicking away a chair they had stood him on; he faced the choice of burning his hands holding the scalding pipe or hanging from chains cutting into his wrists. He tried holding on, but ended up hanging from the cuffs.

Bashir and Nayaf were moved after ‘signing’ confessions by putting their bloodied fingerprints on them.

Armed soldiers took them in a darkened bus to the capital Damascus, ordering them to stay silent and crouched down, heads touching the seat in front. They arrived at the headquarters of the Palestine Security Branch, the most feared Syrian security force. ‘It just got worse and worse – by now I was wishing I was back at As Suwayda,’ said Bashir.

He was taken immediately to meet the chief, who asked what he had written on the wall. After saying the phrase, Bashir was beckoned closer to the desk where the official slapped him hard on both cheeks.

When at last his blindfold was removed, Bashir was delighted to find himself in a cell with Nayaf, although he was shocked to see his friend’s weeping wounds and dramatic weight loss. ‘The first thing he said to me was how sorry he was for giving them my name. I told him not to worry, that I had given myself in. After five minutes we were both crying. We sat there wondering what we had done, saying this was the end of our lives.’

One million Syrians have fled the carnage and shockwaves threaten the stability of the Middle EastOne million Syrians have fled the carnage and shockwaves threaten the stability of the Middle East

Half an hour later they were hauled off for more torture – and Bashir was told he would not be released until he was 60 and his hair had turned grey. For 24 days the abuse continued, with even more brutality.

The security forces had also captured members of Bashir’s family. His cousin, Nedal, showed me where he had lost five top teeth, smashed out in one assault. Another cousin, Mostafa, told me that his genitals were so badly electrocuted and beaten with metal bars that he now felt too ashamed to ever marry.

Meanwhile their frantic families, aided by the influential imam at Deraa’s historic mosque, were begging senior government officials for their release.

A mass protest on March 18 demanded the return of their sons but when anti-Assad slogans were shouted, black-clad security forces opened fire, killing two people. This inflamed the protests, there were more killings – and the revolution seeped across Syria. Two days after the mass protest, the schoolboys were told they were being granted an amnesty by the president since it was Mother’s Day. On his release Bashir was surprised to see so many friends and relatives from his town – he had no idea all these people had been rounded up.

They were given their clothes back and some cigarettes, and Nayaf retrieved his backpack, with his schoolbooks still inside. They were driven back to Deraa and, as they approached, they could hear the sound of tens of thousands of demonstrators. ‘We thought that this was it – we were going to be executed,’ said Bashir.

Instead, protesters grabbed the captives from the bus and hoisted them on their shoulders, while the guards fled for safety.

Signs were hung around them, urging other cities to rise up, and slowly they began to understand  the seismic scale of events they  had detonated.

For a month afterwards, Bashir tried to return to his studies. But as events in Deraa, then the rest of Syria, spiralled into lethal conflict and the country collapsed, it became too risky to go back to school.

Like so many others, his family has now been torn apart by the war, with a brother and one of the cousins who was locked up with him killed fighting for the Free Syrian Army, and their homes destroyed.

Now the remaining members of the family struggle to survive in Jordan, where the flood of refugees has driven up rents and prices. Nayaf and his family live nearby.

It was all too much for Bashir’s elderly father, who died last month.

Bashir is working as a mason but says he wants to return to join the rebels fighting in Syria.

As we conclude our long talk close to midnight, Bashir tells me he is disappointed by the West’s failure  to intervene in the conflict, as it did in Libya.

‘The kids of Deraa sparked a revolution, now we are saying please stop this cascade of blood. Please help us, give us weapons, anything, otherwise you big countries have failed us.’

I ask him what he would do when peace finally returns to his country. ‘I want to be an officer in the army so that I will know how to deal kindly and nicely with any future revolutionaries,’ he says.

Suddenly I see once again that naive schoolboy, whose mischievous deed on a dark winter night inadvertently inspired such extraordinary and epic events. He grins and we say goodbye.
Additional reporting by  Wjd Dhnie in Irbid

Kremlin warns against Western move on Assad

Glen Owen, Will Stewart

Diplomatic tensions were last night growing between Britain and Russia over Syria after the Kremlin warned that it would not tolerate military action as a response to fears that the Assad regime was using chemical weapons.

Increasing evidence that Damascus is deploying the toxic nerve agent sarin against rebels has helped to harden opinion in Downing Street over the possibility of intervention.

But after David Cameron said this weekend that world leaders must look at Syria and ‘ask ourselves what more we can do’, Vladimir Putin’s envoy to the Middle East, Mikhail Bogdanov, issued a blunt warning, saying: ‘Russia strongly rejects any moves aimed as an excuse for  launching a military offensive against Syria.

‘We must check the information immediately and in conformity with international criteria, and not use it to achieve other objectives. It must not be a pretext for an intervention in Syria.’

Mr Putin, who has consistently opposed Western military action in Syria, has sent a powerful  naval force from Russia’s  Pacific fleet to Syrian waters.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has called on Syria to allow UN inspectors  to investigate the alleged use of chemical weapons.

But Russia and China have blocked several Security  Council draft resolutions threatening sanctions against  the Assad regime.

President Obama has warned that the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime would cross a ‘red line’ and provoke a major American response.

Western intelligence agencies believe that Syria has mustard gas and sarin, and is attempting to develop more toxic agents.

Syria’s information minister Omran al-Zohbi said the accusations were a ‘barefaced lie’.

Not the Jihadists but we are the problem


A few days ago, a Belgian mother called me to ask if I could contact the Syrian Jihadists of Jabhat Al Nusra. Her son left his family to join them a month and a half ago and since then she hasn’t heard anything of him anymore. I had to disappoint her, as I have no contact with the Jihadists. In fact, when in Syria, I always try to avoid them.

She was of course very worried, but also embarrassed. Her son is fighting in a battle she does not at all support and even not understand. I kind of recognize this embarrassment as it made me recall the story of a relative whom my family barely ever talks about. He was killed in the Second World War when he decided to fight with the Nazis against the Communists. He believed he had to choose between Rome and Moscow; between God and the Devil and that this choice needed sacrifice even if it meant his own life.

Each time I travelled to Syria during the last months, I saw Jihadists taking the same plane and the same bus as I did and following the same illegal way to enter northern Syria. What drew my attention and worried me each time is the self-confidence in their eyes, the acceptance that they will die in Syria. Above all, they are proud of it. They know they are going to be at the front line of the battle and that some people will admire them for that. And for them, this is exactly what they missed in their lives; admiration, guidance and heroic acts.

What disturbed me most however, wasn’t seeing these Jihadists entering Syria. I can’t stop them anyway. No, what is worse is that I didn’t see any others entering Syria. No relief teams, no doctors and no trucks loaded with aid for the other Syrians, for the vast majority of the rebels who have nothing to do with the Jihadists’ ideologies. While Al Qaida’s friends possess weapons and money to distribute to their fighters, people are dying of hunger in refugee camps supervised by the FSA.

We in the West are so mesmerized by a small group of radicals that we lost the ability to see the reality. By fearing the ghost of Afghanistan, we decided to do nothing. Because if we do nothing, we can’t do anything wrong. And this is precisely the huge mistake we are committing today. Because by doing nothing we only make Assad and the Jihadists stronger. While we are leaving those who share our values on their own.

The main excuse I hear for not intervening is: we don’t know what the Free Syrian Army is and we don’t know what they want. It’s a silly excuse. Because if you don’t know, it’s simply because you haven’t done the effort. It’s not that difficult. Two weeks ago, I had a dinner in Turkey with the Chief of Staff of the FSA, Salim Idriss and four of the five Front Commanders. Anyone who does the effort to go to Antakya will be able to meet any officer of the FSA. You will hear that they want freedom and democracy, that they try everything in order to respect human rights, protect the minorities and help the refugees. But you will also hear that they don’t have the means to achieve these goals properly.

Anyone who makes an effort can reach the refugee camps in Syria very easily and will be able to see how disastrous and inhuman the situation is there, how children spend sometimes days without food or even weeks without milk, how they die because of injuries, caused by a shrapnel, due to lack of medical care. You will see how our aid to Syria is mainly distributed through Assad, which is the reason why almost no aid is reaching the liberated areas. Whoever makes an effort will see that it are the soldiers of Assad and no one else that are attacking and bombarding civilians.

But, apparently all this requires too much effort. We prefer to do nothing “as we don’t know what will happen after Assad falls”. Just imagine that the Americans and the British wouldn’t have entered in WWII because of fear of communists, and because, they too, didn’t know “what would happen after Hitler falls.

Should we be surprised then that those who fight for a better Syria are getting more and more angry and frustrated with the West? They have to witness how the only thing that comes from the West are Jihadist fighters – whatever small and insignificant their number is – while the secular forces and the Syrian people are being left on their own.

It is of course justified to feel uncomfortable and even fearful for “our boys” who go to this far away and unknown Syria to fight for the sake of forming an Islamic State. However, we will not solve this problem by trying to stop them. We will only solve them if we start to engage in Syria itself. It’s less difficult than we might think. We just need to do an effort.

(with thanks to Maha Alasil for helping with the translation from the Arabic version)


Al Azm on “Anti-Imperialists”

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Dr Sadiq Jalal al Azm is somebody I’ve been wanting to read more of and never had the chance to. I just stumbled upon a recent translation of his interview and I’m impressed by his razor sharp analysis. Of particular interest to me was his classification of the so-called anti-imperialist camp that has made it their mission to obfuscate and confuse the discourse surrounding Syria since the start of the revolution.

Whereas the smaller bloc of the left has hardened its old positions, as if nothing happened after the end of the Cold War, and with time its attitudes and methods became of the same nature as that of the Taliban-Jihadis or dogmatic closed-minded sectarians, or even that of terrorist “Bin Ladenites,” in its blind defiance of the West, global capitalism (a global capitalism that Russia and China are now a part of) and imperialism. This bloc from the left, in the Arab world and internationally, is today the most hostile to the Syrian revolution and the closest to defending the tyrannical military-security-familial regime using several arguments, not least of which is that the entire world plotted, apparently, against this regime that is peace-loving and stable.

This type of leftist emphasizes “the game of nations” and “geopolitical analysis,” with stories of collision of interests and plans of the great powers and their dominance in our region, and does not want to view the revolution in Syria through anything other than through this lens, and neglects all that happens inside Syria and to Syria’s revolutionaries today, as well as ignoring all the reasons that led its people to a peaceful revolution, and later to taking up arms in the face of a “nationalist” tyranny that is allied with this kind of leftist.

In other words, this leftist has no problem with sacrificing Syria if it leads to a victory being handed to their international camp and “geopolitics” that wants a global victory in the “game of nations.” Their first priority is not Syria or its people in revolt to restore the republic, their freedom, and their dignity, but the game of nations at the global level of analysis and the side that they want to win.

The English translation of the interview is well worth a read here.

Posted by Maysaloon at 6:21 pm


The Two-faced Propaganda of the Damascus Regime

  • [An edited translation from the Azmi Bishara Arabic facebook page]

    The Syrian regime has been hosting American journalists as part of its propaganda campaign targeted at the West. It explains to its guests that Damascus’ is the only government capable of combatting global Islamic terrorism, and invites them to view the pictures of the “foreign fighters” who have come to Syria. Of course, they neglect to mention here how the Syrian regime is committed to the resistance, nor do they deign to mention the occupation of the Golan Heights. In its propaganda targeted at the Arab public, meanwhile, the same regime has deafened all of our ears with claims that it stands up for the resistance, and that this is what motivated the American-Arab conspiracy that is the Syrian revolution.

    In the regime’s propaganda directed to the Arab public, the foreign jihadists who have arrived in Syria are depicted as products of US intelligence and American-allied Arab governments. There’s no mention of that in what is said to the West, however. In the image the Syrian regime projects to the West, the emphasis is always on “terrorism” and “Islam”. Here, the Syrian regime presents itself as a victim of “Islamic terrorism”, in the same boat as the US in the wake of the Boston Bombings.

    The sordidness needed to carry out such a feat of duplicity is boundless. A separate fact is that, regardless of their motives, the presence of foreign fighters in Syria has harmed the Syrian people’s national revolution.

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