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Documenting Evil: Inside Assad’s Hospitals of Horror

Six former hospital staffers from Syria—photographed in shadow, out of concerns for their safety—pose together in Turkey. All claim to have witnessed war crimes, perpetrated by Syrian security forces, in their medical facilities. (Abu Odeh, mentioned in the text, appears third from the left.)
Photograph by Mathias Braschler and Monika Fischer.
When a photographer-archivist working for Syria’s military police defected with grisly evidence of the regime’s brutality, he became a war-crimes whistle-blower. Adam Ciralsky uncovers “Caesar’s” story.
On a stifling day in August 2013, a police photographer with chiseled features and a military bearing moved hurriedly about his office in Damascus. For two years, as Syria’s civil war became ever more deadly, he lived a double life: regime bureaucrat by day, opposition spy by night. Now he had to flee. Having downloaded thousands of high-resolution photographs[see second set of images below] onto flash drives, he snuck into the empty office of his boss and took cell-phone pictures of the papers on the man’s desk. Among them were execution orders and directives to falsify death certificates and dispose of bodies. Armed with as much evidence as he could safely carry, the photographer—code-named Caesar—fled the country.Since then, the images that Caesar secreted out of Syria have received wide circulation, having been touted by Western officials and others as clear evidence of war crimes. The pictures, most of them taken in Syrian military hospitals, show corpses photographed at close range—one at a time as well as in small groupings. Virtually all of the bodies—thousands of them—betray signs of torture: gouged eyes; mangled genitals; bruises and dried blood from beatings; acid and electric burns; emaciation; and marks from strangulation. Caesar took a number of these pictures, working with roughly a dozen other photographers assigned to the same military-police unit.But Caesar himself, like the intelligence operation of which he became a part, has remained in the shadows. He appeared only once in public, last summer, before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, where he wore a hood and spoke through a translator. He spoke briefly, and in a restricted setting, though I have been able to obtain a copy of his complete testimony. He sought and was granted asylum in a Western European country whose name Vanity Fair has agreed not to disclose, for his personal safety.

see full article here

Assad: Nobel Peace prize should have been mine

      bandannie : why not ? after all there was Obama and Begin and a few other deserving criminals….

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said in remarks published on Monday by Al-Akhbar newspaper that the Nobel Peace Prize should have been attributed to him.

Commenting on the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons’ winning the Nobel Peace Prize, Assad said “jokingly”: “This prize should have been [given] to me.”

Assad also reiterated that he did not regret handing over his country’s chemical weapons.

“Syria has stopped producing chemical weapons since 1997, and has replaced them with traditional weapons, which are the determining factor in the battlefield,” Assad said.

However, he said that handing over the chemical weapons was a “moral and political loss” for his regime.

Assad also tackled his regime’s alliance with Russia and said that the latter is not defending Syria, but it is rather defending itself.

“With what they are doing, the Russians are not defending Syria, its people, its regime or its president; they are defending themselves. Syria’s stability and security is protected by politics more than it is by a military arsenal,” he said.

The Syrian president also slammed Hamas and accused it of abandoning the resistance.

“Hamas decided to abandon the resistance and become a part of the Muslim Brotherhood. This is not the first time they betrayed us, they did it before in 2007 and 2009,” Assad said.

Asked about the possibility that he would receive Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal in his palace in Syria, Assad said jokingly: “Do not be surprised to see [Progressive Socialist Party leader MP] Walid Jumblatt here.”


Inside White House, a Head-Spinning Reversal on Chemical Weapons

How the U.S. Stumbled Into an International Crisis and Then Stumbled Out of It






When President  Barack Obama decided he wanted congressional approval to strike Syria, he received swift—and negative—responses from his staff. National Security Adviser  Susan Rice warned he risked undermining his powers as commander in chief. Senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer pegged the chances of Congress balking at 40%. His defense secretary also raised concerns.

Mr. Obama took the gamble anyway and set aside the impending strikes to try to build domestic and international support for such action.

He found little of either. Congress’s top leaders weren’t informed of the switch until just an hour or so before Mr. Obama’s Rose Garden announcement and weren’t asked whether lawmakers would support it. When the president’s chief of staff, Denis McDonough, announced the decision on a conference call with congressional committee leaders, some were so taken aback they seemed at first to misunderstand it.

Outside the U.S., Arab leaders privately urged the U.S. to bomb, but few backed Mr. Obama publicly. The United Kingdom pulled the plug on a joint operation two days after indicating to the White House it had the votes to proceed. Compounding the confusion, the same day a potential breakthrough emerged via a diplomatic opening provided by Russia, the administration sent a memo to lawmakers highlighting why Russia shouldn’t be trusted on Syria.

This account of an extraordinary 24 days in international diplomacy, capped by a deal this past weekend to dismantle Syria’s chemical-weapons stockpile, is based on more than two dozen interviews with senior White House, State Department, Pentagon and congressional officials and many of their counterparts in Europe and the Middle East. The events shed light on what could prove a pivotal moment for America’s role in the world.


  •                                                     Key Moments in the Syria Crisis                        

Through mixed messages, miscalculations and an 11th-hour break, the U.S. stumbled into an international crisis and then stumbled out of it. A president who made a goal of reducing the U.S.’s role as global cop lurched from the brink of launching strikes to seeking congressional approval to embracing a deal with his biggest international adversary on Syria, Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Mr. Obama saw the unintended outcome as better than the alternative: limited strikes that risked pulling the U.S. into a new conflict. It forestalled what could have been a crippling congressional defeat and put the onus on Russia to take responsibility for seeing the deal through. U.S. officials say the deal could diminish Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical stockpile more effectively than a strike, though it leaves Mr. Assad and his conventional arsenal in place.

“I’m not interested in style points,” Mr. Obama told his senior staff in a closed-door meeting Friday, according to a participant. “I’m interested in results.”

Not everyone is pleased. Mr. Obama infuriated allies who lined up against Mr. Assad and his regional backers Iran and Hezbollah. French officials, who were more aggressive than the U.S. in urging a strike, feel they have been left out on a limb. And Russia has been reestablished as a significant player on the world stage, potentially at the expense of the U.S.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R., Mich.) joined a chorus of Republican lawmakers critiquing the deal, calling it a “Russian plan for Russian interests” that leaves Mr. Assad in power. “Putin is playing chess, and we’re playing tick-tack-toe,” he told CNN.

Mr. Obama was first briefed on the chemical-weapons attack on the morning of Aug. 21. As intelligence agencies began tallying the dead and reviewing intercepted communications that they say made clear Mr. Assad’s forces were to blame, White House officials knew the incident was a game changer. Later, the U.S. would say the attack killed more than 1,400.

Key U.S. allies in the region, Israel and Saudi Arabia, started applying pressure. Saudi Arabia’s influential ambassador to the U.S., Adel al-Jubeir, and other diplomats raced back to Washington from their August vacations to advocate strikes, according to officials and diplomats.

Mr. Obama initially appeared to be receptive to arguments for acting forcefully. Meeting on Aug. 24 with his national security advisers, he made clear he leaned toward striking.

“When I raised the issue of chemical weapons last summer, this is what I was talking about,” Mr. Obama said, referring to his “red line” declaration in August 2012. The Navy positioned five destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean, each armed with about 40 Tomahawk cruise missiles.

House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) was in a car en route to a GOP fundraiser in Jackson Hole, Wyo., when he received his first high-level White House contact. His staff had earlier put up a blog post chiding the White House for not consulting Congress. A few hours later, White House Chief of Staff McDonough called to explain the options. No mention was made of asking Congress to vote.

The next day, Mr. Obama spoke to British Prime Minister David Cameron. Both leaders made clear they were ready to strike and agreed on an approach designed to deter Mr. Assad from using chemical weapons again, not bring down the regime. “They were ready to go,” said an official briefed on the call.

Mr. Cameron rushed politicians back from vacations. While parliamentary approval wasn’t legally required, he was conscious of the damage invading Iraq had done to one of his predecessors, Tony Blair. The U.S. military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff and British forces already had hammered out details of a “combined contingency operation,” a senior U.S. official said.

Late in the day before the parliamentary vote, Mr. Cameron was forced to change tack. Under pressure from politicians, he split the process in two: an initial vote on the principal of intervention, then a second on whether the U.K. should become directly involved.

At that point, Mr. Obama’s advisers concluded the U.K. would end up bowing out.

On the night of Wednesday, Aug. 28, Mr. Obama called House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi to talk through the options. Ms. Pelosi later told colleagues she didn’t ask Mr. Obama to put the question to a vote in Congress.

On Thursday, Aug. 29, the U.K. Parliament shot down Mr. Cameron, a major embarrassment to the British leader that raised pressure on the U.S. to seek other support. Opposition came from not only Labour but from Mr. Cameron’s own Conservative Party. Mr. Cameron threw in the towel, saying the British Parliament had spoken and the government would “act accordingly.”

The vote shocked Mr. Putin, who later told Russian state TV he thought legislatures in the West voted in lock-step, “just like the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.” Moscow’s alarm and frustration was growing as the move toward military action advanced, bypassing the U.N. Security Council where Moscow had veto power.

The U.K. parliamentary vote happened as National Security Adviser Rice, Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel were beginning a conference call with congressional leaders. During the call, Mr. Hagel, who was traveling in Asia, raised the question of U.S. credibility. He said South Korea was concerned U.S. inaction would make North Korea think it could get away with using chemical and biological weapons.

On Friday, Aug. 30, signs of congressional unease were mounting. Some 186 Democrats and Republicans signed letters asking the president to seek congressional authorization.

That day, Mr. Kerry made an impassioned speech defending the president’s decision to consult with Congress as the right way to approach “a decision of when and how and if to use military force.”

Five Navy destroyers were in the eastern Mediterranean, four poised to launch scores of Tomahawk cruise missiles into Syria, according to military officials. Officers said they expected launch orders from the president at between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. Eastern Time on Saturday. To make sure they were ready to answer reporters’ questions, Pentagon officials conducted a mock news conference.

Around 5 p.m., Mr. Obama went on a 45-minute walk with Chief of Staff McDonough. Mr. Obama summoned his top advisers to meet in the Oval Office at around 7 p.m.

“I have a big idea I want to run by you guys,” Mr. Obama started. He asked for opinions on seeking congressional authorization. Everyone was surprised, except Mr. McDonough, a consistent voice of caution on getting entangled in Syria.

Ms. Rice expressed reservations. From a national-security perspective, she said, it was important the president maintain his authority to take action, according to a senior administration official. Mr. Pfeiffer, the senior adviser, gave his assessment of the political odds and the consequences of failure.

Mr. Obama called Mr. Hagel, who, like Ms. Rice, raised concerns. He thought “the administration’s actions and words need to avoid the perception of swinging from vine to vine,” according to a senior administration official.

Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser, sent a draft of an announcement to the president at 1 a.m. Saturday, and it was reworked until shortly before being popped into the teleprompter. Mr. Obama also worked the phones to notify congressional leaders—but not to seek their advice.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) was preparing a turkey sandwich in his Louisville, Ky., home when he took the call. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was called in Nevada. Mrs. Pelosi was in San Francisco.

Mr. Boehner was in a hotel in Steamboat Springs, Colo., when the president called. According to an aide, they discussed the logistics of a House vote. Mr. Boehner told Mr. Obama it would be hard to call lawmakers back to Washington quickly, and that he would need time to sell it.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D., Calif.) was on a treadmill in a Los Angeles gym and watched the news on Fox television. When a friend asked what was going on, Mr. Waxman replied, “He’s going to Congress, and I’m sweating.”

Mr. Obama also alerted French President François Hollande, who had been waiting for Washington to launch strikes. Mr. Obama now told his French counterpart he needed to build support in Washington, from Congress, according to a senior French official.

It swiftly became clear the White House faced a fight. On Sunday, Sept. 1, members of both parties were questioning the White House proposal.

That day, the administration convened its first of several classified briefings for lawmakers. Dozens of House members and senators showed up in the middle of a congressional recess and on Labor Day weekend.

That night, the president called one of his closest friends in Congress, Sen. Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) at home in Springfield, Ill., and talked to him for more than a half-hour. Like many liberal Democrats, Mr. Durbin was torn. The situation had echoes of the war in Iraq, which he had opposed. He hung up still unsure what he would do. (He ended up approving the strikes in a Senate committee vote.)

In an effort to sway House Democrats, the administration held a conference call briefing the House Democratic Caucus. One Democrat on the call was openly critical: Rep. Rick Nolan, a freshman from Minnesota who said an isolated strike could escalate.

“Have we forgotten about the lessons of Southeast Asia and a president who said we need to have our boys fight there,” Mr. Nolan said, according to an official familiar with the exchange.

Mr. Kerry, a decorated Vietnam veteran, shot back: “No, I haven’t forgotten that. I know it pretty well. And I fought against that war. That’s not what anyone’s talking about.”

After the briefing, Mr. Nolan said he was more convinced that military strikes were a bad idea.

After a Sept. 3 meeting Mr. Boehner, Ms. Pelosi and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.) gave strong statements of support for the administration’s resolution. But both Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Boehner said they weren’t going to “whip” the vote—Congress-speak for making the vote a test of party loyalty.

Mr. Obama hoped to use the Group of 20 summit in St. Petersburg to shape international consensus for a military assault. He left the conference with half the members unconvinced.

While Saudi Arabia and Turkey voiced support for the U.S. position, other Arab allies were silent, reinforcing Mr. Obama’s worries about going it alone. Diplomats from Jordan and the United Arab Emirates told lawmakers they would like to help win votes in the House. But they made clear that they weren’t prepared to endorse the idea publicly because they feared for their security if the U.S. strikes sparked a backlash or reprisals.

By the time Mr. Obama got back to Washington, his aides thought the resolution could make it through the Senate, but felt the House was lost.

The way out of the impasse came by accident during a news conference in London on Sept. 9. Secretary of State Kerry, in response to a question, ad libbed that Syria could avert a U.S. attack if it gave up its chemical weapons.

Minutes later, his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, called him. “I’d like to talk to you about your initiative,” Mr. Lavrov said from Moscow, where he was hosting a delegation of Syrian diplomats.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” the American diplomat jokingly replied.

Even though both sides had previously discussed such an idea, State Department and White House officials were skeptical. How would inspectors do their work in the middle of a civil war? Also, working with the Russians seemed implausible. The same day Mr. Kerry made his fateful remark, the State Department sent Congress a memo detailing: “Russian Obstruction of Actions on Syria.”

Things changed quickly once the White House realized Mr. Kerry’s inadvertent remark may have provided a way around the political impasse.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and a supporter of the Syrian strikes, was lunching in the Senate Dining Room with the Russian ambassador to the U.S., who persuaded her the Russians were sincere. Other lawmakers also saw hope for a new diplomatic initiative—and for avoiding a vote they were dreading.

While prepping for a series of TV interviews, Mr. Obama told his senior aides of the proposal and said, “Let’s embrace this and test it.”

U.S. and French diplomats said there was an early push by the allies to seek a binding U.N. Security Council resolution that could authorize the use of force if Syria didn’t meet its obligations. French diplomats drafted a resolution with muscular language.

Russia rejected the language outright and U.S. diplomats worked behind the scenes to pull France into line with a compromise that Moscow could accept.

Hours after Messrs. Kerry and Lavrov’s London phone call, the American and Russian bureaucracies mobilized, say U.S. and Russia officials involved in the process.

Mr. Obama’s speech to the nation on Sept. 10, initially intended to sell lawmakers on supporting strikes, instead called for postponing action in Congress to explore the Russian proposal.

It infuriated Sen. Bob Corker (R., Tenn.), one of the few vocal GOP supporters of the Syria strikes, for not making the case about the risk to U.S. credibility. He snapped at Mr. McDonough in an email: “You guys are really hard to help, OK?”

On Sept. 11, Mr. Kerry spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said he believed Russia wasn’t bluffing and that a deal was possible, according to American and Middle Eastern officials briefed on the exchange. Israel shared U.S. concerns that strikes could strengthen rebels linked with al Qaeda and allow them to seize Mr. Assad’s weapons.

Rebel leaders based in Turkey and Jordan were angry about the unfolding diplomacy, but were told by U.S. and European diplomats not to publicly reject the plan. But several spoke out. “To hell with America,” said Brig. Gen. Adnan Selou, a Syrian defector who used to head a chemical-warfare program in Syria and now is based in Turkey. “We don’t recognize this plan.”

Messrs. Kerry and Lavrov arrived in Geneva Thursday afternoon without even a broad outline of a plan. Both sides agreed on the extent of Mr. Assad’s stockpiles and began discussing next steps.

Mr. Lavrov and his deputy surprised the Americans by sticking to their position that Syrian rebel forces, rather than Mr. Assad, were behind the chemical-weapons attack, and spinning conspiracies about how Saudi Arabia and other Arab states played a role in overseeing it.

In a blow to the French, Messrs. Lavrov and Kerry hashed out a framework agreement omitting any mention of who was to blame for the chemical attacks. The agreement also made military intervention an increasingly remote possibility.

Mr. Putin celebrated with an op-ed in the New York Times, lecturing Americans on the failings of their government’s policies.

A senior administration official said Mr. Obama felt—even more so after Mr. Putin’s op-ed—that “if Putin wants to put his credibility on the line in supporting this proposal,” then the White House would make sure he owns it.

Having given up on prospects of a U.N. Security Council resolution that threatened force for noncompliance, the U.S. told the Russians it reserved the right to take military action if Mr. Assad doesn’t meet the agreement’s terms.

On Sunday, Mr. Assad’s warplanes again bombed the Damascus suburbs after a short-lived lull in air attacks after Aug. 21.

—Jay Solomon, Cassell Bryan-Low, Gregory L. White, Nour Malas, Sam Dagher, Charles Levinson and Stacy Meichtry contributed to this article.

Write to                 Adam Entous at, Janet Hook at and Carol E. Lee at

A version of this article appeared September 15, 2013, on page A1 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Inside White House, a Head-Spinning Reversal on Chemical Weapons.


Terry Glavin: Cynical indifference to mass murder in Syria

Terry Glavin | 13/09/05 2:21 PM ET More from Terry Glavin

Protesters hold pictures of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and banners against a potential air strike against Syria in front of the U.S. embassy in Sofia on Wednesday.

NIKOLAY DOYCHINOV/AFP/Getty ImagesProtesters hold pictures of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and banners against a potential air strike against Syria in front of the U.S. embassy in Sofia on Wednesday.

“In just days, Prime Minister Harper could drag Canada into a war in Syria.” That’s the headline on a “campaigning community” robo-letter that will automatically be sent to the Prime Minister, the opposition party leaders and your very own member of Parliament, if you give the website your name and address, and click the “send message” button.

“Canadians overwhelmingly support peacekeeping, not war mongering,” the letter boasts, “and Prime Minister Harper does not have a mandate to get us into a messy war in the Middle East with unknown consequences.” As of Wednesday morning, 16,506 Canadians had clicked their way into this lala-land. It is a universe so morally depraved that atrocities on the scale of the Japanese Imperial Army’s 1937 Rape of Nanking merely served as the backdrop for a promenading and a primping about “Canada’s reputation as peacekeepers abroad.”

The letter raises a couple of difficult questions. The first is: How can it be squared with the facts of the real world? Prime Minister Stephen Harper had already made his position abundantly clear: Canada will not be dragged into U.S. President Barack Obama’s convoluted efforts to rebuild his broken street cred with a “punitive” action against the Baathist mass murderer Bashar al-Assad. Besides, Canada hasn’t even been asked to contribute so much as a bullet.

The second question is more difficult: Is it possible for the spoiled children of the Western world’s bourgeoisie to get any more repulsive than this?

The Leadnow letter had been “liked” 39,026 times on Facebook the last time I checked, and it can be situated in the same web-cloud vicinity as a gone-viral photograph of Obama in a classroom at a desk with an adorable little girl. Obama says: “We’re going to war on Syria cause they poison children.” The little girl responds: “So why don’t you bomb Monsanto, you prick?”

How clever. The frivolous complaints that organic-food enthusiasts raise against genetically-modified corn are thus substituted for the agonies of those hundreds of Syrian children in Ghouta two weeks ago, writhing in the death throes of sarin gas poisoning.

But wait. It actually can get more repulsive than this.

Across Canada last weekend, perhaps most noticeably in Toronto and Montreal, Obama’s ego tripping had roused the so-called “anti-war” movement from its lingering disinterest in Syrian affairs to stage demonstrations in collaboration with Canada’s nasty and violent little Baathist community. The T-shirts with the words “We love you” and Assad’s face on them were kind of a giveaway.

“These people are supporting one of the most fascist and criminal regimes, not only in the Middle East, but that the world has seen,” Faisal Alazem of the Syrian Canadian Council said to me during a conversation the other day. “This war has been going on for three years now, and all of a sudden these people are peace lovers? All this time, Syria is being destroyed by war. They should please stop their hypocrisy.”

There is just no way that the moral depravity Alazem so properly points out can be explained by resorting to the dodge of “war weariness,” especially not in Canada. Over 12 years in Afghanistan, Canada lost 158 soldiers. May they rest in peace, but this a low death toll for such a long armed conflict. It also happens to be almost exactly equal to the number of Syrians who are now getting killed, on average, every two days.

The Syrian death toll of 110,000 since February 2011 is roughly three times the number of Afghan civilians who have perished in that struggle since 2001. It is four times the number of Germans who perished in the February 1945 bombing of Dresden. Syrians who have been forced to flee their country now number two million, which is double the number of Irish people who emigrated to North America during the Great Famine of the late 1840s and also at least twice the number of Palestinians displaced by the first Arab-Israeli war of 1947-48.

As David Remnick put it in the New Yorker last month, the flooding of Syrian refugees into Jordan alone over the past year or so is an event comparable to the entire population of Canada suddenly uprooting itself and descending into the United States, en masse. Antonio Guterres, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, struggled with words Tuesday to describe the catastrophe. The Syrian crisis presents a risk to global peace as great as any “since the Vietnam War.”

And strangely, not a peep from the avant-garde, until now. It was all strangely quiet until Barack Obama was roused against his will to declare an intention to fire a “shot across the bow” of the Assad regime in a reluctant departure from his previous policy of deliberately prolonging Syria’s agony for want of something more intelligent to do.

This is what has become of contemporary post-socialist leftism. It counsels only stylishly cynical indifference in the face of mass terror and fascism. To paraphrase Diderot, such will affairs remain, one might suppose, until the last Leadnow slacktivist is strangled with the entrails of the last Canadian Peace Alliance apparatchik. It will remain the task of ruling-class leftism to serve as the culture’s primary bulwark around a global status quo that protects the prerogative of tinpot dictators to wage wars with chemical weapons against the masses of their own citizens, with impunity.

The Ottawa Citizen

Terry Glavin is an author and journalist whose latest book is Come From the Shadows.


Al-Assad No Longer an Acceptable Negotiator

Hassan Haidar
Thursday 29 August 2013

The size and targets of the imminent Western military strike against the Syrian regime forces are linked to the main political message it will address, i.e. that Bashar al-Assad is no longer an acceptable party to negotiate over his country’s future during the Geneva 2 meeting. This means that the anticipated settlement conference might never take place if Al-Assad remains in power and abstains from surrendering it to another person or side.

An international ruling was issued to condemn Al-Assad and hold him responsible for the killing of hundreds of civilians using chemical weapons, which clearly implies his classification as a war criminal, who should be prosecuted and not negotiated with, and whose opinion in regard to the new Syria should not be heard.

The Western and Arab states waited a long time to achieve consensus inside the Security Council over the containment of the Syrian regime and the halting of the daily killings committed by its military machine, and after numerous initiatives and mediations – all of which failed to convince Al-Assad there was a popular opposition with which he should negotiate to stop the destruction of Syria as a country. It has now become necessary to undertake a military action from outside the United Nations to achieve that goal, thus paving the way before a settlement after the use of Weapons of Mass Destruction.

The world previously witnessed similar sanctions, through which major states decided to punish tyrants without a UN mandate. This was seen for example in the raids launched by the United States against the Bab al-Aziziya compound in Libya in 1986, after it held Muammar Gaddafi’s regime responsible for the bombing of the La Belle discotheque in Germany and the killing of American soldiers. But after these raids, Gaddafi remained in power until he was toppled by a popular uprising in 2011, despite his famous 2003 political turn which he thought would save him.

The current situation in Syria is different than the one which prevailed in Libya at the time due to the presence of an armed political opposition controlling more than half the Syrian territories and threatening Damascus and other main cities. However, the Western political and military planners should take into account the fact that Al-Assad’s stay in power following the intended strike would practically mean its failure, despite the repeated statements saying it does not aim to topple the regime. This is due to the fact that the limited military operation will not be enough in itself, if it does not undermine the system upon which Al-Assad is currently relying to preserve the loyalty of most of the Syrian regular army.

In other words, the American, British and French missiles and aircrafts should address well targeted and truly painful blows, thus leading to the subsequent fall of Al-Assad’s regime which will be responsible before the senior army officers for the great harm caused to their troops and for the pretext it provided for these strikes after it decided to use chemical weapons.

But what if this does not happen? What if the Syrian army – although exhausted – remains attached to its command? At this point, there would be no choice but to go back to the demands of the Syrian opposition ever since the regime started using violence against the peaceful demonstrators, before moving to heavy artillery and the targeting of areas outside its control with aircrafts and rockets, i.e. impose no-fly zones, establish safe corridors for relief purposes, and most importantly, relinquish the exaggerated Western reservations and adopt a decision to provide the opposition with weapons allowing it to fix the flaw affecting the balance of powers and win the battle by itself.


آخر تحديث:
Thursday 29 August 2013

Syrian chemical attack spurs finger-pointing inside Assad regime

Antakya, Turkey // United Nations weapons inspectors will today examine the site of a chemical weapons attack in Damascus that killed hundreds, as the first signs of finger-pointing inside the Assad regime began to emerge.

The Syrian government agreed yesterday to cease hostilities in the area while the team goes in and the UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon said inspectors were “preparing to conduct on-site fact-finding activities” on the outskirts of the capital.

The attack on Wednesday has galvanised international calls for action against the government of President Bashar Al Assad. Rebels say as many as 1,300 people were killed. One aid agency says thousands were affected and 355 died.

Amid universal acceptance that a chemical nerve agent has been used but disagreement over who used it, there were indications from Damascus that some of the army officers involved had tried to distance themselves from what happened, and insisted they were not told the rockets they were firing were loaded with toxins.

“We have heard from people close to the regime that the chemical missiles were handed out a few hours before the attacks,” said a source from a well-connected family, who has contacts with both the opposition and regime loyalists.

“They didn’t come from the ministry of defence but from air force intelligence, under orders from Hafez Maklouf . The army officers are saying they did not know there were chemical weapons. Even some of the people transporting them are saying they had no idea what was in the rockets – they thought they were conventional explosives.”

Hafez Maklouf, Mr Al Assad’s cousin, commands Syria’s air force intelligence, the most feared of all its secret police branches.

Another account of what may have taken place has been put forward by the opposition Syrian National Coalition, based on a timeline from residents inside the affected areas and information collected from sources inside the regime who leak information to the rebels.

The SNC said rockets loaded with chemicals were delivered to Gen Tahir Hamid Khalil and launched from an army base housing the 155 Brigade, a unit of the 4th Division, in the Qalamoon mountains north of Damascus.

Mahar Al Assad, the Syrian president’s brother, commands the 4th Division, an ultra-loyalist force with a key role in repressing the uprising since it began in March 2011, and, more recently, heavily involved in combat with rebels around Damascus.

After a night of fierce fighting on Tuesday in an area on the edge of Damascus known as Eastern Ghouta – once known for its clean natural water and lush orchards – regime troops moved back, leaving only aircraft overhead, the SNC said.

At 2.30am on Wednesday, regime forces under the command of Gen Ghassan Abbas began launching the rockets, 16 of which were aimed at the eastern suburbs of Damascus, and hit Zamalka and Ain Tarma, densely populated areas in the Eastern Ghouta.

As opposition emergency services responded to those initial chemical attacks, rockets armed with high explosive warheads were fired into the same area, hitting ambulance teams as they tried to help victims of the chemical strikes.

At 4.21am, 18 more missiles were fired into eastern Damascus by troops loyal to Mr Al Assad, the SNC said. Another two missiles were aimed at Moadamiya, to the south-west of Damascus, an area known locally as the Western Ghouta.

By 6am, dozens of people from Moadamiya had been taken to a local field hospital suffering from the effects of exposure to a still unidentified poison gas.

At least five poison gas rockets were fired, according to the SNC, four landing in the Eastern Ghouta and one in Moadamiya. Strong winds pushed the gases out from their impact area in Zamalka across to Erbin, a neighbouring district, where more people died.

According to the SNC’s account, loyalist forces close to the attack area were issued orders from a “high level” to wear gas masks in anticipation of the attacks.

Syrian state media and the insurgents have continued to wage a war of words over the chemical attacks.

After initially denying chemical agents had been released by either side, the Syrian authorities are now vigorously blaming rebel forces.

The rebels have posted videos online of hollow rocket tubes found in the eastern suburbs where the attacks took place. The missile casings, about two metres long, appear to match those used in previous strikes by regime forces.

Russia, a close ally of Mr Al Assad, said it welcomed the decision by Damascus to allow the UN inspection. The Russian government, like Syria’s other close ally Iran, does not dispute that chemical weapons were used in the Damascus suburb. They blame anti-government insurgents for the attacks.

In Washington, a US official said “there is very little doubt” that a chemical weapon was used by the Syrian regime against civilians.

The Obama administration earlier accused the Assad government of delaying UN inspectors to allow the evidence to degrade.

The agreement by Syria to permit UN investigators to carry out a first-hand examination of a chemical weapons attack came as international pressure built for a retaliatory strike against the Assad regime. The US defence secretary, Chuck Hagel, said yesterday that the US military, which is repositioning its forces in the eastern Mediterranean to give President Obama the option for an armed strike, was ready to act if asked.

On Saturday, the humanitarian aid organisation Médecins Sans Frontières said 3,600 patients displaying “neurotoxic symptoms” had been admitted to Syrian hospitals it supports, and 355 of those patients had died.

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Voices from Damascus: ‘We Expect Nothing from the United Nations’

The photos and video circulating of yesterday’s alleged chemical gas attack in the east Damascus suburb of Ghouta are haunting. In some, dead bodies, including those of children, are lined up shoulder to shoulder on the floor. In others, volunteers go from victim to victim, pouring water onto the faces of those still alive.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and other watchdog groups have claimed the attack was carried out by Bashar al-Assad’s regime; the Observatory put the number of dead at 1,400 and climbing. If so, it will be the largest recorded chemical attack since a 1988 hit on Iraq’s Kurds by ousted dictator Saddam Hussein. The missiles containing the gas are believed to have been launched from areas of Damascus controlled by the regime.

“A huge number of people in Ghouta are dead, doctors and witnesses are describing horrific details that look like a chemical weapons attack, and the government claims it didn’t do it,” Joe Stork, acting Middle East director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), said in a statement. “The only way to find out what really happened in Ghouta is to let United Nations inspectors in.”

At the time of the attack, United Nations inspectors were in central Damascus, but have not been allowed access to the attack site. HRW said that “whether or not chemical weapons were used, the attack left a large number of civilians dead, and those responsible for unlawful killings should be held to account. The government should give the United Nations chemical weapons inspection team currently in Damascus immediate access.”

Syria Deeply spoke with witnesses in Ghouta about what they saw, and their low hopes that the attack will trigger international intervention in the conflict.

Ghazwan, 28, doctor:

We have previous experience dealing with chemical attacks, but not on this scale. It was shocking to see such a large number of children and women. It was the first time we have seen a chemical attack like this. We couldn’t deal with all these numbers – about 800 injured arrived here in [neighboring] Douma, and we only have a few medical stations and doctors. We gave mechanical ventilation for some who couldn’t breathe, and it is important to give atropine shots, which is the antidote for sarin.

People can help in this situation by washing the injured. We had a lot of volunteers. The situation in Douma was good in in the end, thank God. Only 17 dead from 800.

The main mission was to rescue people. If you want to go there you have to wear masks to protect yourself from chemical weapons, and we only have a few. We get them from the Free Syrian Army.

Yesterday there were a lot of people coming to Douma for treatment. Most have been discharged. A few were suffocating and are getting medical ventilation. The acute state of chemical injuries only lasts 24 hours. That is the critical period. Now most of them are being taken care of back in their homes. A lot of them were scared to go home, but they have no place else to go.

One of the survivors told us that he fainted and then found himself in Douma. They took him to the field hospital. Some survivors told us that they were walking in the streets and seeing bodies everywhere, before they fainted. Some were dead, others were choking.

I’ll be frank with you: Most people I’ve seen today and yesterday don’t expect anything from the international community. They’ve expected too much in the past, so they don’t care too much about this.

Abu Adel, a member of the Information Office in Jobar, the eastern district of Damascus that borders Ghouta:

The atmosphere is incredibly tense. People are wary of a repeat scenario. Now there is heavy shelling with all kinds of weapons, mortar fire and warplanes, and surface-to-surface missiles hit the district in the morning. Now the neighborhood is surrounded by tanks from several directions, and there have been attempts to storm it.

The rebels are doing a major escalation and responding by shelling regime military locations.

We expect nothing from the United Nations.

Abu Ahmed, Moadamiyet al-Sham media center:

Four days ago, the regime [started] to shell Moadamiyet al-Sham with rockets and mortars [launched from] from the Mezzeh military airport. [There were also] tanks and artillery fire [at] the Fourth Division headquarters in the mountains of Moadamiyet.

There was no shelling the night before the attack. Yesterday, when people were leaving the mosque after dawn prayers, they heard seven strange sounds like whistles. The sounds of the explosions were unusually soft.

The rockets had come from the direction of Mezzeh and targeted the area of Zeitouna mosque. Nearby, [there] is a kindergarten.

The worshippers went to the scene to find their families [in a state that looked like] sleeping. People were wounded. Among the wounded were paramedics and doctors. All were passed out.

The ambulance took people to the field hospital. There were 103 people killed, including 17 children, and 305 wounded. Some are still unconscious. One child died today.

People have severed all of their hopes [that] the world [will intervene]. We have nothing but God. But if the inspectors are serious, then they must go to Moadamiyet immediately. They must make serious decisions and not just issue condemnations.

The regime has used every weapon, and now it is [using] chemicals. It is taking its revenge on the cities that have remained steadfast [opposition strongholds] despite all of the bombing and destruction. This is the last resort of Assad, after exhausting every means of suppression. This is vengeance.


Another Halabja?



                            Horrifying reports of Assad’s biggest chemical attack

Bodies pile up following chemical attack.

In the early hours of August 21, a series of alleged chemical attacks struck various suburbs of Damascus, the bulk of them in neighborhoods that together make up an area east of the city center known as Eastern Ghouta. Among the neighborhoods targeted  just after 2 AM were Jobar (the site of a previous chemical disbursal), Zermalka, Ayn Tarma, Douma, Arbeen, Saqba and Harasta. Yet another hit, this one in the southwestern district of Moadamiya, which is close to the elite Fourth Division’s airbase in Mezze, was also reported.

The death toll varies from the high hundreds to over 1,500. But the scores of videos of civilian and rebel victims uploaded to the Internet give a gruesome indicator that the carnage may only increase as more and more sufferers languish without adequate medical care. Some of these videos show young children in a state of total shock, responding listlessly to treatment or marveling at the fact that they are still alive. Others videos show adults foaming at the mouth and convulsing, or corpses lying in neat rows on the ground, wrapped in shrouds.

By early Wednesday evening, a senior Obama administration official told the Wall Street Journal that Washington has “strong indications” that the Assad regime was behind these latest atrocities. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon was the first U.S. ally to state unequivocally that Damascus was indeed the culprit. (Israel’s intelligence on Syria is considered the best in the world.)

I spoke with two doctors from Douma yesterday. The first, Dr. Majed Abu Ali, the communications manager of Douma city medical office, which is part of the medical office of Eastern Ghouta, said that in his district alone, about 630 cases of exposed patients had been observed with symptoms including respiratory failure, muscle spasms, confused mental states, and pinpoint pupils. “Thirty-six of these cases needed ventilation and intubation, and 16 also had to be sent to the ICU.”

Because of how ill-equipped his team was for handling so large a casualty figure all at once, Dr. Abu Ali said that his own personnel did not take the necessary precautions before treating those possibly exposed to a deadly agent. For instance, they failed to remove the tainted clothing of patients and some of the medical staff became exposed secondarily and required their own treatment regimens as a result.

The Douma medical office fielded patients from around eight separate attacks. According to Dr. Abu Ali, the attacks were against rebel-held positions in Eastern Ghouta while the last two struck “civilian neighborhoods.” The latter attacks “were ten times more severe in terms of casualties than the previous ones. Injuries from [the rebel-held areas] numbered around 63. From the civilian areas, around 600,” Dr. Abu Ali reported.

More than 50 percent of those affected were women and children. Not all patients responded to atropine, a drug commonly administered to counteract nerve agent exposure, evidently due to the intense concentration of whatever was used. Thousands of atropine injections were given, and supplies of the medicine were running low.

I also spoke with Dr. Khaled Ad’doumi, director of Douma city medical office, and asked if his staff were able to determine the exact substance used. “We already know from [a] medical study we conducted that the symptoms of exposure to organophosphate compounds are similar to the ones we observed yesterday.” These compounds, alleged to have been used in prior chemical attacks in Syria, including the one in Khan al-Assal which the UN is meant to investigate, are the basis for many industrial pesticides. They are also used to make sarin and VX gas. Dr. Ad’doumi believes adamantly that sarin was used by no one other than the regime.

Gwyn Winfield, the editor of CRBNe, a journal which monitors unconventional weaponry, told Foreign Policy “No doubt it’s a chemical release of some variety — and a military release of some variety.” He thinks, though, that whatever substance was deployed was not in a purified form. In a subsequent appearance on CNN, Winfield said: “It may well be that this was some kind of an Assad homebrew where he has managed to get elements of an organophosphate, mix it with other chemicals, and then delivered it onto these people.” Winfield also noted that the perpetrator can only have come from the military. “This isn’t a small rogue element; this isn’t a small group. This is a concentrated, well-organized attack by a significant player.”

A chemical “cocktail” of varying agents might account for the reported contradictions in symptoms exhibited all over Damascus yesterday.

Dr. Ad’doumi said that most fatalities his office saw were caused by suffocation. “We had to make choices of who is going to die and who will survive because of the shortage of medical supplies and medical personnel.” At the time I spoke to him — around 3 PM EST — he estimated the death toll at 1,600 in Eastern Ghouta alone. (These figures cannot be independently verified.) And exact casualties, he said, could not yet be determined. But of the total number of Syrians affected by the attacks, he claimed that his facility only treated about a quarter.

A major factor Dr. Ad’doumi attributed to the high patient rate is that many Syrians in Damascus kept their windows open all night and were exposed while they slept. My colleague James Miller, who has analyzed much of the evidence emerging from these attacks, told me that a source of his in Damascus believes that so many children were affected because Eastern Ghouta is routinely shelled. He said, “a lot of the kids go to basements when the explosions happen, often to sleep. But the gas was heavy, and stayed low to the ground, traveling right into the basements and trapping them there.”

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), which reviewed satellite imagery of Eastern Ghouta, “the affected neighborhoods are predominantly residential with some warehouses, markets, and assorted commercial facilities on the periphery, adjacent to the main highways.”

HRW did not have any evidence to suggest that, whatever substance was used, this was the result of a conventional round accidentally striking a chemical or gas facility in the surrounding area. The New York-based NGO also spoke to one doctor working in the medical center at Arbeen who claimed that activists told him 18 missiles were fired “from the direction of the October War Panorama, a military museum in Damascus city, and of Mezzeh military airport, hit Zamalka, Ayn Tarma, Douma, and Moadamiya.”

The Syrian Support Group (SSG), a U.S.-licensed rebel aid provider, cited one very early report that preceded the HRW briefing that was relayed by Mohammed Salaheddine, a journalist with AlanTV and an eyewitness to the early-morning attacks. Salaheddine claimed that four rockets hit Eastern Ghouta, the first striking Zamalka, the second Ayn Tarma, the third Jobar, and the fourth Zamalka again. He said these were all Grad 122-mm rockets and came from the Damascus-Homs highway near the Baghdad Bridge (southern Damascus), and the other two came from Qabun (north of Jobar). (Note that the Baghdad Bridge is near the Nusariyeh chemical research facility, which the regime currently controls.)

These attacks appeared to have preceded a rapid buildup of conventional military forces around Easter Ghouta which, according to Salaheddine, included 30 tanks and “several thousand regime soldiers.” Non-chemical rocket attacks continued from the direction of Mezze Air Base in Moaddamiya, presumably launched by the Fourth Division. “Large explosions could be heard in the background during the call with Mohammad,” the SSG emailed.

Eastern Ghouta is a rebel-held area where the Free Syrian Army-affiliated units, as well as some Salafist-jihadist groups including al-Qaeda, have firmly established themselves to a degree few Syria watchers appreciate. The regime has thrown everything it has against this area, including chemical weapons, because it’s not only a strategic launchpad for further incursions into central Damascus, it is also home to one formidable rebel groups in the south:  Liwa al-Islam.

Last summer, this brigade was responsible for the assassination of several high-ranking members of Assad’s “crisis management cell,” including Bashar’s own brother-in-law and longtime Syrian security chief Assaf Shawkat. Any gains the regime may have made to flush out the rebels from Eastern Ghouta have been swiftly reversed. (One source told me a possible motive the regime may have had to strike so furiously today was that Saudi Arabian-purchased weapons, mainly anti-tank munitions, may have been recently delivered to FSA affiliates in this area. Rebels here have also raided regime stockpiles in recent days.)

Still, many will speculate as to why the regime would launch such a catastrophic chemical attack days after the arrival of a 13-man UN inspection team in Damascus tasked with investigating claims of prior chemical weapons uses. That team had to strenuously negotiate the remit of its mission and agree to only inspect three sites where the alleged attacks took places many months ago and where any soil or blood samples will have long since been degraded. It also agreed not to enter any area in Syria where regime military operations were underway. This of course would include Eastern Ghouta, and that inked stipulation may have been part of the regime’s logic in brazenly gassing so many within a few minutes drive from where the UN inspectors were being hosted. It appears unlikely in the extreme that they will gain access to any of Wednesday’s target sites.

The regime and its main European ally, Russia, also have not coordinated their responses to the latest accusation of war crimes. Damascus denies that any chemical agent was used. “These are lies that serve the propaganda of the terrorists,” one official said. “We would not use such weapons.” The Russian Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, first began by calling for a “professional” forensic investigation, then concluded that the rebels were responsible for a “premeditated provocation”. This made any UN Security Council consensus on reaching a resolution obviously impossible.

If these reports are confirmed, they will amount to the single deadliest deployment of chemical weapons since Saddam Hussein gassed Iraqi Kurds at Halabja in 1988. They will also undoubtedly embarrass whatever remains of the Obama administration’s policy on Syria. A year ago to the day, the president established his so-called “red line” against the Assad regime’s use or mass mobilization of chemical weapons. But since then, and as more evidence of such use (and such mobilization) has accrued and been corroborated by a host of Western and regional intelligence agencies, Washington’s position has been quietly “revised.” One unnamed U.S. intelligence official put it like this to Foreign Policy earlier in the week: “As long as they keep the body count at a certain level, we won’t do anything.”

Leaving aside what an official in even this White House might imaginatively characterize as the appropriate number of asphyxiated per day, it seems clear that a new benchmark has indeed been reached. The deaths of so many in so little time, whatever caused them, cannot have been faked.

“The White House is going to be hard pressed to construct an answer to this one,” Charles Duelfer, a former U.S. weapons inspector, told the Guardian. “It was easy to waffle a bit so long as alleged use was minor and didn’t happen again, but this is really putting the administration in a corner.”

I wish I shared Duelfer’s expectation of what it now takes to shame the United States into action in the Middle East. But perhaps the least that can be said of this latest dispatch from hell is that yesterday was not the best of all days for Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to write to Congress yet again reaffirming his boss’s opposition to military intervention in Syria.


Regime “chemical strikes” in preparation for Damascus offensive

Jobar smoke. (YouTube)

    The Bashar al-Assad regime conducted its reported chemical weapon strikes Wednesday on rebel-held suburbs of Damascus in preparation for a military campaign on the embattled areas, an activist told NOW amid reports of heavy shelling outside the Syrian capital.


    “The regime was unable to get into [Damascus’] eastern Ghouta [areas] for ten months, so it resorted to using chemical weapons as an introduction to a surge in the area,” Mohammad Salaheddine—an activist media figure in the Damascus suburbs—told NOW hours after reports emerged that over 700 civilians had been killed in sarin gas strikes outside Damascus.


    As the death toll for the attacks continued to mount, heavy artillery and missile fire rained downed on the eastern suburbs of Damascus, with Hezbollah’s Al-Manar television reporting that regime forces had begun a campaign outside the capital.


    The activist Shaam News Network said in the early afternoon that surface-to-surface missiles were striking the Jobar area of the Syrian capital, while Salaheddine warned that regime “convoys are mobilizing in Zabaltani and [Damascus’ nearby] Abbasid Square [area] to surround Jobar.”


    “Air Force Intelligence units are coming from Harasta to hit Zamalka and Ain Tarma and inner [areas of the eastern] Ghouta [suburbs],” the activist also said.


    However, Salaheddine added that “[regime] tanks have not been able to come into [rebel-held eastern Ghouta] yet. The Free Syrian Army destroyed one of them, and there are very strong clashes now.”


    “Now, Zamalka and Ain Tarma are almost completely empty. The residents have left to Ghouta proper, to Al-Basateen and other [areas]” in order to escape the affected areas, he also said.


    Meanwhile, an activist told NOW via Skype that regime forces were also pressing a military campaign in the Moadamiyeh area southwest of Damascus where he is based, but added that the outcome of the clashes remained unclear as heavy fighting continued to rage.


    Moadamiyeh had also reportedly been hit by chemical strike in the series of alleged pre-dawn regime chemical strikes, with the activist Local Coordination Committees saying over 76 civilians had died from exposure to poison gases in the area.


    According to the LCC, “over 755 martyrs fell due to poison gas [strikes] in the Ain Tarma and Zamalka areas [of the Eastern Ghouta suburbs of Damascus] as well as in Moadamiyeh.”


    The Syrian Support Group, a Washington-based organization that advocates for increased support for the Supreme Military Command of the FSA, told NOW that the women and children were sleeping when the attack occurred, and that most of the victims therefore suffocated to death.


    SSG also reported that the concentrated sarin gas was delivered to the suburbs via four Grad missiles.


    Saleheddine told NOW that the series of pre-dawn strikes in eastern Damascus occurred at 2:20 a.m. in the Jobar, Zamalka and Ain Tarma suburbs.


    Read this article in Arabic


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