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Thread: Syria News

  1. #101
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    Lebanese Shia Caught Pretending to be Syrian Army

    Leaked video of Lebanese Shia militia Hezbollah staging a video pretending to be Syrian Army (Assad's forces) on the fighting fronts.

    The presenter is frustrated as their Lebanese accents give themselves away.

    Assad's regime are now dominated by non-Syrian foreign militia, paid for by Iran, many of whom are fighting in #Syria.

  2. #102
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    The United States Used Depleted Uranium in Syria

    The airstrikes on oil trucks in Islamic State-controlled areas employed the toxic material, which has been accused of causing cancer and birth defects.


    Officials have confirmed that the U.S. military, despite vowing not to use depleted uranium weapons on the battlefield in Iraq and Syria, fired thousands of rounds of the munitions during two high-profile raids on oil trucks in Islamic State-controlled Syria in late 2015. The air assaults mark the first confirmed use of this armament since the 2003 Iraq invasion, when it was used hundreds of thousands of times, setting off outrage among local communities, which alleged that its toxic material caused cancer and birth defects.

    U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) spokesman Maj. Josh Jacques told Airwars and Foreign Policy that 5,265 armor-piercing 30 mm rounds containing depleted uranium (DU) were shot from Air Force A-10 fixed-wing aircraft on Nov. 16 and Nov. 22, 2015, destroying about 350 vehicles* in the country’s eastern desert.
    Earlier in the campaign, both coalition and U.S. officials said the ammunition had not and would not be used in anti-Islamic State operations. In March 2015, coalition spokesman John Moore said, “U.S. and coalition aircraft have not been and will not be using depleted uranium munitions in Iraq or Syria during Operation Inherent Resolve.” Later that month, a Pentagon representative told War is Boring that A-10s deployed in the region would not have access to armor-piercing ammunition containing DU because the Islamic State didn’t possess the tanks it is designed to penetrate.

    It remains unclear if the November 2015 strikes occurred near populated areas. In 2003, hundreds of thousands of rounds were shot in densely settled areas during the American invasion, leading to deep resentment and fear among Iraqi civilians and anger at the highest levels of government in Baghdad. In 2014, in a U.N. report on DU, the Iraqi government expressed “its deep concern over the harmful effects” of the material. DU weapons, it said, “constitute a danger to human beings and the environment” and urged the United Nations to conduct in-depth studies on their effects. Such studies of DU have not yet been completed, and scientists and doctors say as a result there is still very limited credible “direct epidemiological evidence” connecting DU to negative health effects.

    The potential popular blowback from using DU, however, is very real. While the United States insists it has the right to use the weapon, experts call the decision to use the weapon in such quantities against targets it wasn’t designed for — such as tanks — peculiar at best.

    The U.S. raids were part of “Tidal Wave II” — an operation aimed at crippling infrastructure that the Islamic State relied on to sell millions of dollars’ worth of oil. The Pentagon said the Nov. 16 attacks happened in the early morning near Al-Bukamal, a city in the governorate of Deir Ezzor near the border with Iraq, and destroyed 116 tanker trucks. Though the coalition said that the strikes occurred entirely in Syrian territory, both sides of the frontier were completely under the control of the militant group at the time. Any firing of DU in Iraqi territory would have far greater political repercussions, given the anger over its previous use there. The Nov. 16 video below shows tankers hit first by larger ordnances, before others are engulfed in sparks and ripped apart by fire from 30 mm cannons.

    The use of DU in Syria was first reported by this author in IRIN News last October. CENTCOM and the U.S. Air Force at first denied it was fired, then offered differing accounts of what happened, including an admission in October that the weapon had been used. However, the dates confirmed by CENTCOM at that point were off by several days. It is now clear that the munitions were used in the most publicized of the Tidal Wave II attacks.

    Depleted uranium is left over from the enrichment of uranium 235. It is exceptionally hard, and has been employed by militaries both to penetrate armored targets and to reinforce their potential targets like tanks against enemy fire. Though less radioactive than the original uranium, DU is toxic and is considered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to be a “radiation health hazard when inside the body.”

    The most likely way for such intake to occur is through the inhalation of small particles near where a weapon is used. But doctors and anti-nuclear activists alike say there hasn’t been enough research done to prove the precise health effects and exposure thresholds for humans. Most important, the lack of comprehensive research on illnesses and health outcomes in post-conflict areas where DU was used has led to a proliferation of assumptions and theories about DU’s potential to cause birth defects and cancer. Firing rounds near civilian populations has a powerful psychological effect, causing distress and severe anxiety, as the International Atomic Energy Agency noted in 2014

    Internationally, DU exists in a legal gray area. It is not explicitly banned by U.N. conventions like those that restrict land mines or chemical weapons. And although the United States applies restrictions on the weapon’s handling domestically, it does not regulate its use overseas in civilian areas with nearly the same caution.

    “I think this is an area of international humanitarian law that needs a lot more attention,” said Cymie Payne, a legal scholar and professor of ecology at Rutgers University who has researched DU. “As we’ve been focusing more in recent years on the post-conflict period and thinking about peace building …we need a clean environment so people can use the environment.”

    Jacques, the CENTCOM spokesman, says the ammunition was fired that November because of a “higher probability of destruction for targets.” Shortly after both attacks, the U.S.-led coalition released the videos showing multiple vehicles lit up by bombs, missiles, and prolonged fire from the 30 mm cannons of Air Force A-10s — but did not specify that the flight crews had loaded those cannons with DU. Those videos — along with dozens of other strike recordings — have been removed from official coalition channels in recent months.

    When DU rounds are loaded in A-10s, they are combined with a lesser amount of non-DU high-explosive incendiary (HEI) rounds, amounting to a “combat mix.” In November 2015, a total of 6,320 rounds of the mix were used in Syria: According to CENTCOM, 1,790 30 mm rounds — including 1,490 with DU — were fired on Nov. 16; on Nov. 22, 4,530 rounds of combat mix were fired containing 3,775 DU armor-piercing munitions. Though DU rounds have been fired in other theaters — including the Balkans — much of the attention centers on Iraq, where an estimated 1 million rounds were shot during the first Gulf War and the 2003 invasion.

    A recent analysis of previously undisclosed firing data from the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq showed that most DU rounds were fired at so-called soft targets, such as vehicles or troop positions, instead of targeting the tanks and armored vehicles according to Pentagon guidelines that date back at least to a 1975 review by the U.S. Air Force. The Pentagon’s current Law of War Manual states, “Depleted uranium (DU) is used in some munitions because its density and physical properties create a particularly effective penetrating combination to defeat enemy armored vehicles, including tanks.”

    The oil trucks hit in November 2015 were also unarmored and would qualify as soft targets, the researchers who performed the analysis of the 2003 targeting cache contend. The trucks, in fact, were most likely manned by civilians rather than Islamic State members, according to U.S. officials. A Pentagon representative said the United States had dropped leaflets warning of an imminent attack before the Nov. 16 strike, in an effort to minimize casualties.

    “The use of DU ammunition against oil tankers seems difficult to justify militarily on the basis of the arguments used by the U.S. to support its use — that it is for destroying armored targets,” said Doug Weir, head of the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons. “Tankers are clearly not armored, and the alternative non-DU HEI [high-explosive incendiary] rounds would likely have been sufficient for the task.”

    The spent ammunition littering eastern Syria after the attack, along with the wreckage of the trucks, was almost surely not handled appropriately by the occupying authority — that is, the Islamic State. Even if civilians driving the trucks were not initially exposed to the toxic remnants of DU, scavengers and other local residents will likely be placed at risk for years to come.

    “What will happen with the destroyed vehicles? Usually they end up in scrapyards, are stripped of valuable parts and components, and dumped,” said Wim Zwijnenburg, senior researcher at the Dutch NGO Pax. “This puts scrap-metal workers, most likely local civilians, at risk of exposure.”

    If there are few ideas for what post-Islamic State governance will resemble in eastern Syria, there are none at all about how to safely handle the depleted uranium that the U.S.-led coalition has placed into the environment.

    This article was published in conjunction with Airwars.


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    Hungary to detain refugees in container camps on border

    Tough new measure adopted after prime minister said country needed to protect itself from 'terror' threat.


    Hungary's government plans to hold refugees and asylum seekers in border camps built with shipping containers, completely restricting their freedom of movement.

    The measure will also apply to people in already existing facilities, who will be moved to the camps
    and kept there until their asylum claims are processed.

    Prime Minister Viktor Orban's right wing government said it had taken the tough new measure to deal with the thousands of people who have fled to Europe in the last two years. Orban's chief of staff described it as a protective measure.

    "We need a legal system that protects us. This is a very serious change," Janos Lazar said, adding the measure would be enacted only when the government was in a state of emergency over migration. The government has declared the country to be in such a state since March of last year.

    "Containers suitable for accommodating 200-300 people will be erected. Migrants will have to wait there for a legally binding decision on their claims," Lazar said.

    Asylum seekers will be able to take part in court proceedings via telecommunications equipment that will be provided in the camps, he added.

    Lazar also said Hungary was ready to build a second, stronger fence on its southern border with Serbia and Croatia, and that the government was prepared to increase aid to charities working on the border.

    Hungary built a previous border fence in September 2015 and introduced legislation making it a crime to climb or damage it. According to police, more than 2,200 arrests were made on the border between March 1 and March 22 of last year.

    The border camp plan is part of a package of proposals to go before parliament, including one that would reintroduce automatic detention for asylum seekers, a measure suspended in 2013 after pressure from human rights groups.

    Familes and children detained

    Orban - who professes himself an admirer of US President Donald Trump - said last month that automatic detention was needed again in response to "terror" attacks in Europe, citing the November 2015 attacks in Paris.

    Hungary's immigration policies have been roundly condemned by rights groups and refugee advocates, who say large numbers of people were already being held in closed camps.

    "Automatic detention of all asylum seekers from the start until the end of the asylum procedure is a flagrant and clear breach of EU law and human rights standards,
    " the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, a Budapest-based refugee rights group, told the AFP news agency, vowing to sue Hungary at the European Court of Justice in every case where refugees were illegally kept in custody.

    "In addition, the indefinite detention of many vulnerable migrants, including families with small children, is cruel and inhuman."

    Hungary is also building four small military bases along the border to house some 3,000 soldiers who now patrol it alongside police. The barracks are also being built with shipping containers.

    Orban said he was aware his plans went against the policies of the European Union, of which Hungary is a member, putting the country in "open conflict" with the 28-nation bloc.

    In October last year, the majority of Hungarians voted against an EU referendum aimed at sharing 160,000 refugees around the 28-member bloc through mandatory quotas.

    Hungary has since not accepted any asylum seekers allocated under the scheme.

    In 2016, Hungary granted asylum, or some form of protection, to 425 people out of 29,432 applications.


    European Refugees Fleeing To Muslim Countries

    This is how Syrians helped the Europeans fleeing their own wars, yet now we can see how these same people are treating the people who saved their grandparents.

    video 1: https://safeshare.tv/x/xJR8_sHERa4

    video 2: https://safeshare.tv/x/CLpmozyuKBs

    pictures: http://share.pho.to/AbSNZ

  4. #104
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    Newly Declassified CIA Report Exposes Over 25 Years Of U.S. Plans To Destabilize Syria

    A CIA report, drafted in 1986, details the agency’s “purposely provocative” analysis of the regime’s vulnerabilities and the potential to destabilize and oust then-President Hafez al-Assad.

    SYRIA — While the nearly seven-year-long sectarian “civil war” in Syria is widely believed to have started in 2011, revelations in recent years have shown that the sectarian war that has sunk Syria into chaos actually precedes the “official” start of the conflict.

    In 2010, Wikileaks published hundreds of thousands of classified State Department cables, including a 2006 cable showing that destabilizing the Syrian government was a primary goal of U.S. policy in the Middle East. The ultimate intention was to topple Iran, one of Syria’s closest allies. The cable revealed that the U.S.’ goal at the time was to undermine the Syrian government by any means available.

    In addition, retired United States Army General Wesley Clark’s bombshell interview with Democracy Now exposed the existence of plans for regime change in Syria that date as far back as 2001. Now, a newly declassified document from the Central Intelligence Agency has shown that these regime change efforts date back even further to the late 1980s – and potentially even earlier.

    The declassified document was written in July, 1986 by the Foreign Subversion and Instability Center, a part of the CIA’s Mission Center for Global Issues, and is titled “Syria: Scenarios of Dramatic Political Change.” As the document itself states, its purpose is to analyze – in a “purposely provocative” manner – “a number of possible scenarios that could lead to the ouster of President Assad [Bashar al-Assad’s father, Hafez] or other dramatic change in Syria.”

    The report’s meager distribution list suggest it was considered by top officials in the Reagan administration, specifically because it was distributed to national security chiefs, not entire agencies. It was also distributed to a handful of key players in U.S.-Syria relations, such as former Ambassador to Syria William Eagleton.

    Though the document itself officially predates the current Syrian conflict by nearly 25 years, much of its analysis brings to mind recent events in Syria, particularly those that led to the outbreak of war in 2011. Chief among these is the rise of factionalism between Sunni Muslim elements against the ruling Alawi minority (a Shi’ite sect), as well as the potential to counter Russian influence in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East. These similarities suggest that U.S. regime change efforts in Syria date back to well over 30 years ago – proof of the persistent imperialist elements that consistently guide U.S. foreign policy.

    The Rise of Factionalism and Sectarian Conflict in Syria

    Of all the named “individuals and groups that might impel or impede takeover attempts” that are recognized by the CIA, Syria’s Sunni population ranks highest among them. The CIA notes that “factionalism plagues the political and military elite” as the ruling Alawi minority “is deeply resented by the Sunni majority it dislodged from power two decades ago.” The document also states that “a renewal of communal violence between Alawis and Sunnis could inspire Sunnis in the military to turn against the regime.”

    At the time, the document continues, Sunnis “made up 60 percent of the Syrian officer corps but [were] concentrated in junior officer ranks,” with the majority of enlisted men being primarily Sunni conscripts. Furthermore, the document notes that if the Syrian government were to overreact to “minor outbreaks of Sunni dissidence,” large-scale unrest could be triggered – “setting the stage for civil war.”

    The CIA also makes its strong preference for a Sunni-led government in Syria quite clear, stating that “U.S. interests in Syria probably would be best served by a Sunni regime,” particularly one led by Sunni “business-moderates” who would “see a strong need for Western aid and investment.”

    This assessment, as the Libertarian Institute has pointed out, is “remarkably consistent” with more recent events, particularly those that have defined Syria’s current conflict, which is often misleadingly described by many media outlets as a “civil war.” For instance, opposition forces who have been fighting to overthrow the Assad regime for the better part of seven years are almost entirely composed of Sunnis.

    According to the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, “the Syrian opposition, especially its armed current, is a Sunni enterprise.” Sunni factionalism, the CTC further notes, is “driving large segments of the opposition to the [Assad] regime.” In 2014, the Guardian noted that the opposition forces were “almost exclusively Sunni.”

    In addition, Bashar al-Assad’s crackdown on protests in 2011, particularly initial protests in the city of Daara, are often credited with inspiring opposition supporters to take up arms to “oust loyalist [pro-government] forces from their areas.” According to the BBC, Assad’s crackdown on protests between March and May of 2011 left over 1,000 dead, though “unnamed human rights activists” were often the sources for such figures, suggesting that such statistics may be inaccurate.

    The document also notes that factionalism among the Alawis could also be a destabilizing force in the country. It says the Alawi-dominated Syrian military could play a role in Assad’s ouster, stating that the Syrian “military’s strong tradition of coup plotting – dormant since Assad took control in 1970 – could re-assert itself.” Military discontent, the CIA asserts, could arise if Assad were to suffer a major defeat at the hands of Israel, particularly if Assad attempted to reclaim the Syrian Golan Heights.

    Syria and Israel have been in a continuous state of conflict since 1967, when Israel first occupied the Golan Heights during the Six-Day War. In addition, the CIA notes the potential for in-fighting among the Alawi elite, particularly over Hafez al-Assad’s brother Rifaat – a controversial figure in Syrian politics.

    These conflicts within the Alawite ruling class were mentioned extensively in a 2006 State Department cable, where “some long-standing vulnerabilities and looming issues that may provide opportunities to up the pressure on Bashar and his inner circle” were discussed at length.

    Some intra-elite conflicts among the Alawis mentioned in the 1986 document are also explicitly mentioned in the 2006 cable, such as the numerous controversies surrounding Bashar al-Assad’s uncle, Rifaat al-Assad. However, despite likely attempts to exploit these vulnerabilities in the current conflict, the rise of Sunni opposition forces has kept the Alawi faction largely united out of necessity – particularly as the Alawis have been forced to face down an old foe, the Muslim Brotherhood.

    The Muslim Brotherhood and U.S.-Backed Regime Change

    While the document devotes significant space to discussing the potential for induced sectarian violence, the faction identified as most likely to successfully destabilize the Assad-led Alawi regime is the Muslim Brotherhood. First founded in Egypt in 1928, the Muslim Brotherhood has spread throughout the Middle East, gaining influence in multiple countries.

    Several countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Russia, Syria, and the U.A.E., now classify the Brotherhood as a terrorist group. Despite its widespread recognition as such, the CIA’s relationship with the Brotherhood, which dates back to the 1950s, continues into the present.

    In the CIA’s 1986 report, the Muslim Brotherhood is explicitly identified as having the strongest capacity for leading any Sunni opposition against the Alawis and its associated Ba’ath political party. The report notes that “the Brotherhood’s role was to exploit and orchestrate opposition activity by other organized groups […] These groups still exist, and under proper leadership they could coalesce into a large movement.” Later on, it notes that “remnants of the Muslim Brotherhood – some returning from exile in Iraq – could provide a core of leadership” for a potential Sunni dissident movement.

    Also interesting is the fact that the 1986 document mentions the Brotherhood as being part of a long-term future scenario, as the crushing of a Brotherhood-led revolt in the early 1980s led most of its Syrian members to be exiled or forced underground. Nearly three decades later, it should come as no surprise that the Brotherhood has held a leading role in the creation and militarization of the Syrian opposition throughout the current conflict.

    When the Syrian opposition began to militarize in 2011 after receiving arms from the CIA and other NATO-allied intelligence agencies, the Syrian National Council emerged as the face of what was essentially Western-backed “rebel” forces working to overthrow Assad. The Carnegie Middle East Center, in its article on the Brotherhood, stated that it was “the most influential Islamist component within the council.” From 2011 to 2015, the CIA funneled over $1 billion per year training and arming opposition “rebels” in Syria. The program still continues, though it was reduced by 20% in 2015.

    In 2012, when the Supreme Military Command of the opposition was established in Syria, Reuters noted that the Muslim Brotherhood dominated its leadership: “The unified command includes many with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and to Salafists … it excludes the most senior officers who have defected from Assad’s military.” The decision to give the Brotherhood a major role in the command was realized at talks attended by security officials from the U.S., UK, France, the Gulf Monarchies and Jordan.

    Also in 2012, Brotherhood spokesperson Mahmoud Ghozlan called on “Arab, Islamic and international governments” to intervene in Syria “to bring down the [Assad] regime. “The Carnegie Middle East Center said “since the beginning of the revolution, the Brotherhood has maintained that foreign intervention is the only possible solution to the crisis in Syria,” suggesting that the Brotherhood is actively seeking foreign military intervention to oust Assad, a goal it shares in common with the CIA.

    Incidentally, 2012 also saw direct cooperation between the Brotherhood and the CIA. The New York Times reported:

    “CIA officers are operating secretly in Southern Turkey helping allies decide which Syrian opposition fighters across the border will receive arms…by way of a shadowy network of intermediaries including Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood.”

    This, of course, allowed the Brotherhood to choose which of Syria’s many rebel groups to arm, likely favoring Islamist counterparts who were ideologically similar to the Brotherhood.

    But despite the fact that the Syrian opposition is chiefly composed of fundamentalist Sunnis and has elements of the Muslim Brotherhood in key leadership roles, the expected consequences of fomenting Sunni dissent against the Assads have not gone exactly as the 1986 report anticipated.

    For instance, key segments of Syria’s Sunni majority have remained supportive of Assad, particularly middle and upper-class Sunnis, as well as the Sunni business and merchant classes. In addition, many Sunnis – from the U.S. military’s perspective – likely feel more threatened by the armed opposition than the Assad regime, despite any misgivings they may have with the current ruling party. Sunnis have also been well-represented in pro-government militias, such as the National Defense Force.

    Countering Russia through Syria

    Though Syria is the focus of this newly declassified report, the role of the Soviet Union – i.e. Russia – figures prominently in its discussion of Syria’s political landscape and potential vulnerabilities. The report notes that “Syria is the centerpiece of Moscow’s influence in the Middle East.”

    The report also explicitly mentions several key points regarding Russia and Syria’s strategic relationship, saying the “continuation of Alawi dominance would be most beneficial to Soviet interests,” adding that “if the Sunnis gained power, Moscow’s position would be weaker.”

    Also mentioned was the fact that almost all of Syria’s arms come from Moscow and Eastern Europe and that “the Soviets deliver more weapons to Syria than to any third world client.” This “vested interest in major policy shifts or changes in Syrian leadership” would prompt Russia to intervene in Syria, the report added.

    Of course, Russia – once Assad’s regime was under threat from opposition forces – did intervene to protect its interests in Syria. Starting an aerial bombing campaign against “moderate” and terrorist-linked rebels in 2015, Russia soon became a central part of the conflict and Assad’s greatest ally in his fight to retain power. Incidentally, Russia’s role in Syria has become the launching pad for U.S. obsession with Russian “interference” and “aggression” in recent years, which has led the U.S. and Russia to have their worst diplomatic relations since the height of the Cold War.

    The CIA has been very eager to foment domestic anti-Russian hysteria. The mention of Moscow in the 1986 report on Syria suggests that the current U.S.-led effort to destabilize Bashar al-Assad’s regime is at least partially motivated by its long-standing goal of isolating Russia and mitigating its influence internationally.

    Looking Beyond Syria

    One of the most overlooked aspects of the report is its mention of nations other than Syria, particularly Russia. In addition, the document’s cover letter, penned by the Director of the Global Issues Mission Center, tells the individuals namedin its distribution list that they will “receive similar papers on other countries as they are completed.”

    The fact that the CIA has a center dedicated to “foreign subversion and instability” – as well as the CIA’s documented penchant for regime change – confirms that the decades-long effort to destabilize Syria parallels the agency’s efforts to destabilize other regimes throughout the world in order to replace them with governments they believe to be more sympathetic to U.S. interests.

    These destabilization efforts are often carried out with little, if any, regard to their impact on civilians who are often caught in the crossfire. As the 1986 report and the 2006 cable both note, the Assads brought periods of “unprecedented stability” to Syria.

    The CIA and U.S. government have nevertheless chosen to pursue an agenda of destabilization. Nearly seven years later, the death toll in the West’s efforts to oust Assad is set to top half a million and has helped to create the largest refugee crisis since World War II.


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    Pentagon Admits It Used Depleted Uranium Munitions in Syria


    The Pentagon has admitted that U.S. warplanes fired depleted uranium munitions during air raids in Syria, despite a vow not to use the toxic and radioactive weapons in the battlefield. Foreign Policy magazine reported this week that Air Force A-10 attack planes fired more than 5,000 rounds of 30mm depleted uranium rounds during a pair of assaults on convoys in an ISIS-controlled part of eastern Syria in November 2015. Depleted uranium is both toxic and highly radioactive, and many medical experts have linked its use to cancer and birth defects.


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    Syrian Government Blocks Lifesaving Aid For Hundreds Of Thousands Of People

    A new report lays out why many are still not getting crucial humanitarian assistance.

    As the war in Syria drags into its seventh year, civilians remain stuck in the crosshairs. President Bashar Assad harms his own people in ways that are sometimes overt and brutish, such as barrel-bombing entire neighborhoods in large cities like Aleppo. Other tactics are less violent, but they are just as destructive.

    A Physicians for Human Rights study, released on Tuesday, found that Syrian authorities arbitrarily restrict vital United Nations humanitarian access to suffering civilians.

    “Millions of Syrians are trapped in besieged and hard-to-reach areas, often surrounded by landmines and snipers, with no access to food, medical supplies, or services ― the vast majority imprisoned by Syrian government forces,” said the report titled “Access Denied.”

    The government not only systematically blocks entrance to areas that it controls, but also arbitrarily places limits on the amount of aid that can be delivered, according to the study. As a result, people are dying from starvation and lack of medical care.

    Physicians for Human Rights combed through U.N. reports from 2016 to determine how many people actually received aid each month compared to how many people the various humanitarian agencies requested access to, researcher Elise Baker told The Huffington Post.

    “We wanted to add a narrative around the data the U.N. is already providing. It’s still so clear that this aid is not sufficient,” said Baker, the author of the report.

    Take the Ezzadine family from Madaya, Syria. Their 11-year-old son, Yaman, was dying from meningitis, a curable disease, because he had zero access to medical care in the city under siege by the Assad regime. Several other family members also contracted the illness. They survived only because they were finally evacuated to Damascus.

    The conditions in Madaya drew international outrage early last year after photos emerged of emaciated residents suffering from malnutrition and starvation.

    The Assad government finally agreed to a new two-step approval process for U.N. aid deliveries in April 2016, the report said. And that helped. Last year, 131 U.N. convoys provided aid to more than 1 million people in besieged and hard-to-reach areas across Syria, according to the report.

    But there are still major gaps in aid delivery, the study said. From May through December 2016, the Syrian government was refusing the U.N. access to one-third of the people in those areas on average.

    “That left, on average, nearly 340,000 people without any hope of humanitarian aid each month, many for months on end,” the report said.

    “You might have access approved but it’s not actually being completed,” Baker explained. “We really need to change the conversation and stop pretending like this new process is sufficient.”

    Yaman Ezzadine is but one example of how the Assad government’s actions are harming children. Last year was the deadliest year on record for Syrian children since the war began in 2011, according to a UNICEF report released Monday. Almost 6 million children now depend on humanitarian aid, a twelve-fold increase from 2012.


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    Syria war: 'Worst man-made disaster since World War II'

    On sixth war anniversary, Syria headed towards 'perverted version' of what has been happening in Iraq or Afghanistan.

    Six years to the day since protesters poured into the streets of Daraa, Damascus and Aleppo in a "day of rage" against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad, Syria's uprising turned global war is far from over.

    Six years of violence have killed close to half a million people, according to the Syrian Centre for Policy Research, displaced half of the country's prewar population, allowed the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) to seize huge swaths of territory, and created the worst humanitarian crisis in recent memory.

    International diplomatic efforts have repeatedly failed to bring the protracted conflict closer to an end and the growing role of outside actors has changed the nature and trajectory of the war.

    The UN estimates the war has pushed close to five million people to flee the country, many of whom have risked their lives seeking sanctuary in Europe. Hundreds of thousands of others exist precariously in tents and tin shelters in Syria's neighbouring countries.

    An entire generation of Syrian children has either been pushed out of school or forced to cope with interrupted curriculums, makeshift classrooms, or unqualified teachers. According to UNICEF, 2016 was the worst year yet for Syrian children. Nearly three million children - the UN estimated amount of Syrians born since the crisis began - know nothing but war.

    The country's healthcare system, particularly in places like Aleppo, is decimated. More than four-fifths of the country live in poverty.

    Basic infrastructure, such as the electricity grid, water lines and roads, is in shambles. As of 2015, 83 percent of Syria's electric grid was out of service, according to a coalition of 130 non-governmental organisations.

    On Monday, in an address to the UN Human Rights Council, UN human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein described the war in Syria as "the worst man-made disaster since World War II".

    Zeid added that his office had been refused access to the country and that no international human rights observers had been admitted to places where "very probably tens of thousands of people are currently held. They are places of torture".

    "Indeed, the entire conflict, this immense tidal wave of bloodshed and atrocity, began with torture," he said, citing as an example the torture of a group of children by security officials over anti-government graffiti in the southern city of Daraa six years ago. "Today, in a sense, the entire country has become a torture chamber, a place of savage horror and absolute injustice," he said.

    UN investigators have accusedthe government of "extermination" in its jails and detention centres.

    Global watchdog Amnesty International said in a report last August that an estimated 17,700 people had died from torture or harsh conditions while in government custody since the beginning of the conflict. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) put the number at 60,000.

    Many others have been executed, and far more have simply disappeared. Thousands more have died in prisons run by rebel groups and hardliners like ISIL and groups affiliated with al-Qaeda.

    Intervention by regional and global players into what started as an uprising of the people against a repressive government has transformed the conflict into a proxy war as international efforts repeatedly stall.

    Russia's October 2015 military intervention helped prop-up a gutted Syrian army and, with the assistance of thousands of Iranian-backed fighters, has helped put Damascus firmly back in control on the battlefield.

    The Russian-backed push on the battlefield culminated in the government takeover of rebel-held east Aleppo late last year, dealing the opposition its biggest defeat of the conflict.

    As pro-government forces steadily captured rebel territory over the past year, a series of "local truces" in areas crippled by years of government siege saw the transfer of thousands of fighters and civilians to Idlib, the last opposition-held province in the north. The UN has said the deals amount to forced displacement and are thus war crimes.

    Earlier this week, increased bombing in the government-besieged district of al-Waer in Homs, the city's last rebel-held bastion, pushed rebels and their families to sign on to a similar evacuation deal.

    Recently renewed diplomatic efforts to bring an end to war have all but stalled, as a nationwide ceasefire agreed upon by Russia and Turkey at the end of last year falls apart.

    Since the start of the year, aid deliveries have slowed to a trickle for hundreds of thousands living under siege, according to a recent report by Physicians for Human Rights. Heavy fighting has increased in recent weeks in strategic areas near Damascus, as government forces push to slice off territories from the last rebel-held stronghold close to the capital.

    Rebels boycotted a third round of Russian-led talks in Kazakh capital of Astana, ostensibly aimed at consolidating the shaky truce, over continued violence. And although Astana talks succeeded in paving the way for a fifth round of UN-led intra-Syrian talks late last year, little was agreed upon other than a basic format for future negotiations.

    The internationalisation of the war in Syria has left it beholden to outside interests, according to associate professor of international studies at Arcadia University Samer Abboud. "Any form of solution is basically out of the hands of Syrians," he told Al Jazeera.

    "Ultimately, what's on offer is some kind of containment of the violence, but no effort to really eliminate it," he said. "But talk about a revolution or a political transition … it’s beyond that now."

    Key rebel backers like Turkey and the United States have narrowed their agendas in Syria over the past year, as government gains on the battlefield erase the prospect of regime change and domestic priorities take precedent.

    Ankara, whose troops now occupy a large section of territory in Syria's northeast, has given up on removing Assad in favour of preventing an armed Kurdish autonomous region on its border

    The US, who ,along with Turkey and the Gulf states, was central to facilitating the armament of what started as a peaceful uprising, has remained a political voyeur since Donald Trump's administration came to power.

    Instead, it has remained hyper-focused on making shortsighted, tactical gains against ISIL.

    Just last week, the Pentagon deployed another 500 marines to Syria and spoke of the possibility of a long-term US presence in the country.

    Infighting and a lack of international support have left rebel forces increasingly dependent on groups with hardline religious agendas. And as the government, Turkey and the US, along with their respective allied forces, race to push ISIL out of its self-declared capital in Raqqa, the international agenda in Syria is shifting the narrative of the conflict.

    "Syria is headed towards some sort of perverted version of what has been happening in Iraq or Afghanistan… where reconstruction efforts will be forced to exist alongside low levels of violence," said Abboud.

    "The war economy is entrenched … and outside players are reserving their right to do exactly what they want in Syria under the appearance of international consensus."


    Almost half-a-million killed in six years of Syria fighting, reveals rights group

    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Monday that more than 465,000 people have been killed or forcibly disappeared during the six years of fighting in the Syrian civil war. The group said that it has documented the deaths of more than 321,000 people, including 96,000 civilians, since the start of the war, and the disappearance of 145,000 others.

    According to the UK-based organisation, government forces and their allies have killed more than 83,500 civilians, with more than 27,500 killed in air raids and 14,600 killed during torture in the regime’s prisons. Shelling by armed opposition groups has killed 7,000 civilians. Daesh is known to have killed over 3,700 civilians while air strikes launched by the US-led coalition have killed 920 civilians. Turkey, which supports the armed opposition groups in northern Syria, has apparently killed more than 500 civilians.

    The Syrian government and its Russian ally deny targeting civilians and the use torture and extrajudicial killings. Most of the armed opposition groups and Turkey also deny targeting civilians. The coalition led by the US insists that it tries to avoid civilian casualties and always investigates reports of their occurrence.

    The observatory said that half-a-million people have been arrested and held in regime prisons since the start of the conflict in 2011. Thousands of others have been killed during the same period in prisons operated by armed opposition groups or Daesh.


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    Assad's torturers raping and torturting females

    The prison guard stood in front of Maryam Khleif. She was shaking with fear.

    "I swear to god, I will hang you by your fingernails," he said.

    "I haven't done anything," Maryam pleaded. "What have I done?"

    The officer held up photos of men from Maryam's neighbourhood. She recalled providing first aid to some of them after they were injured in a demonstration against Bashar al-Assad.

    "You treated these terrorists," he said, throwing the photos on the floor.

    "If you saw a wounded bird, what would you do?" Maryam asked him.

    "I'd step on it," the officer sneered.

    "Well, I would treat it," Maryam said. "What if you saw a man bleeding? What if it was your brother? What would you do then?"

    The officer reached out and slapped her across the face.

    "If my brother was against Assad, I would crush him under my boot," the officer said, before stepping away from her and moving to the next prisoner.
    Maryam Khleif is a 30-year-old mother of four now living in Reyhanli, Turkey. She is one of tens of thousands since 2011 to have been incarcerated in one of the Assad regime's prisons. While The New Arab cannot verify details of her testimony, the abuses she describes are very much in line with accounts of former prisoners that have been published in UN and Amnesty International reports.

    At the start of Syria's revolution, Maryam was a young mother working at a government agricultural office in Hama. Her husband was a veterinarian. Maryam was happy with her life:

    "I was a rich girl. I was living in luxury. But I was not happy with the abuses of Bashar al-Assad. When the demonstrations started, I had to do something."

    Maryam volunteered at makeshift field hospitals in Hama, helping treat injured protesters.

    "At first, I couldn't do much, so I helped the doctors, handing them gauze and needles."

    In the spring of 2012, a neighbour informed State Security about Maryam. With the regime searching for her, she went into hiding. She found a safe haven at Dar al-Shifa Hospital in Hama, where a pro-revolution doctor agreed to train and employ her as a surgical nurse. To avoid detection, she moved to a new hospital every few weeks.

    But Maryam missed her children, and her longing for her family overcame her. She visited her parents' home in Hama to see them. At 6:00am on the morning of September 27, 2012, Maryam stepped into her parents' home, and was greeted by her children and her mother's cooking.

    The joyous reunion ended less than two hours later, when plain-clothes officers broke down the front door.

    Regime officers tore her parents' house apart, looking for evidence that could tie Maryam to anti-government activity. Officers beat her 17-year-old brother and began to interrogate her four-year-old son, Mouaz.

    "The boy has stuttered since that day," Maryam told The New Arab. Finally, they led Maryam off to a waiting vehicle where several women sat, blindfolded, and drove them to a prison 15 minutes away.

    "I will never forget arriving at that prison. When we got out of the car, the officers were yelling 'the terrorists are here! The terrorists are here!' I looked around, and just saw other women from my neighbourhood. And we had done nothing wrong."

    Soon after arriving at the prison, Maryam and the other female prisoners were brought in front of a lieutenant. "He was eating pistachios, and as we stood before him, he threw the shells at us while calling us whores and sluts."

    Maryam and the other prisoners were assigned numbers. Prison officers then tried to take Maryam's photo, and she resisted.

    "A guard yelled, 'take her', and they took me to a room where I spent the next three days suspended by my hands. There were three men suspended in the room, as well. The guards beat all of us. The men begged the guards to hit them more instead of me, but they didn't listen.

    "They beat me mercilessly. They broke most of my teeth and kept kicking me in one of my kidneys. I later learned I'd lost 90 percent of function in that kidney."

    After three days, they moved Maryam to a tiny cell with six other women. There was one small vent allowing air to enter from the outside, but the cell itself was nearly pitch dark.

    "There was no toilet," she said. "They would take us to the toilet once per day."

    The women would also be fed just once a day; usually a boiled potato and a piece of bread. Almost every day at mealtime, guards would torture men near the women's cell.

    "I can't have boiled potatoes in my house to this day. It makes me remember their screams."

    Maryam says the women were routinely brought up to the lieutenant's office to be interrogated and beaten.

    It was here that she met her fingernail-threatening torturer. As he moved on to the next woman, she shouted.

    "Against Assad?" Maryam called out. "It's not like we are going against the word of Allah. We just want justice." The officer returned and beat her some more.

    After the interrogations, the women would be returned to their cell. Some beatings were so intense the women would be covered in blood. But as bad as the beatings became, there was something the women came to fear even more.

    "The lieutenant had an office with a bed and a small table for alcohol. He would bring us up there while he drank. Then he would invite officers from outside into his office and tell them to choose a woman. And that's when we would get raped.

    "To the girls who screamed and begged in the name of Allah and the Prophet, he would say 'Allah is on vacation'. If the girl resisted too much, he forced her to drink arak until she was too drunk to fight.

    "I watched them take the virginity of one of my friends… she was a fourth-year medical student who had done nothing wrong. One of my other friends bled severely every time she was raped. A man called Ahmad from Aleppo would come to our cell and bring her injections to stop the bleeding. He would sneak them in, and pretend he was yelling at us in our cell. He has since defected from the regime."

    Maryam recounts countless more horrors. She remembered a young male prisoner who'd been starved for weeks and then forced to eat from a toilet. One of the women in her cell was tortured with electric wires and suffered lasting nerve damage as a result. A male prisoner was forced to walk around the torture and interrogation rooms with a bucket. "He swore that he would pick up ears, hands, and feet," Maryam said.

    Eventually, Maryam was released in a prisoner exchange deal.

    "I thought the world would embrace me, but that wasn't the case."

    Her husband divorced her immediately. Her parents disowned her and her four children.

    Maryam took her children and fled to Jabal Zawiya, near Idlib, where opposition fighters helped to house and feed them. Eventually, she met and married an officer in the opposition. They had a child, a boy.

    "I thought my suffering had ended," she said. "But then my husband was captured [by the regime]… and now, if he is alive, he is facing the same treatment I did as a prisoner."

    When her husband was captured, Maryam took her children to Turkey, expecting an easier time. "It is so hard here. So many times my children and I have gone to sleep hungry."

    Maryam's children, traumatised by her ordeal and years in war-torn Syria, are receiving psychological treatment in Turkey. Despite everything, Maryam is hopeful.

    "I looked around, and I had nothing in the world but my children. I will raise them and educate them, and pray that they become doctors or engineers. I want to show Bashar, and my parents, and the whole world, that these are the children of the prisoner.

    "And I don't want my children to be embarrassed. I want them to be proud that their mother sacrificed, and left an impact as a political prisoner."


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    Safe Zones As Soft Military Occupation: Trump’s Plan For Syria, Iraq Is Taking Shape

    The Trump administration is moving closer to its goal of creating “safe zones” within Syria. Though this strategy may be described as a humanitarian effort, the sizable increase in military presence that it will bring looks more like an invasion in disguise.

    MINNEAPOLIS– Soon after his inauguration, President Trump stoked concerns regarding of U.S. intervention in Syria after announcing his plan to create so-called “safe zones” within Syria. At the time, Trump had ordered Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, along with Secretary of Defense James Mattis, to create a plan within 90 days to create such “zones” within Syria in order to allow refugees in the war-torn nation to “await firm settlement, such as repatriation or potential third-country resettlement.”

    Trump stated that this approach was preferable to the strategy adopted by European Union nations that resulted in the controversial influx of millions of refugees from Syria and other countries. As analysts noted at the time, the move, despite its allegedly humanitarian motivations, risked sparking something much more grave: the escalation of U.S. military involvement in Syria, which would greatly heighten the risk of conflict between the US. and the Syrian government, along with its Russian allies.

    Now, it appears that Tillerson and Mattis are quickly approaching the completion of their strategy for the establishment of Syrian “safe zones” after Tillerson recently confirmed the administration’s commitment to the measure in both Syria and Iraq at a summit held for a 68-member U.S.-led coalition that is targeting Daesh.

    Though the details of the plan have yet to be released, many members of the coalition and members of previous U.S. presidential administrations have voiced their concerns that “safe zones” would be ineffective, concerns that Trump himself once echoed in criticizing Hillary Clinton’s advocacy for such zones in the 2016 election. For example, Portuguese Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva stated that his government was “never close to favoring this solution,” arguing that forcing refugees “to stay in their country when you cannot ensure that they won’t be attacked by some of the warring factions” fails to comply with international law.

    Indeed, the U.S.-led coalition seems quite unqualified to oversee civilian safety, as bombing campaigns in recent months have claimed more innocent Syrian and Iraqi lives than military actions taken by Daesh or any other faction currently active in those countries.

    In addition, tensions between coalition members and some U.S. allies in the region threaten even the feasibility of establishing the zones in the first place. Any plan to establish the zones would require cooperation with Russia and Syria, who are likely to oppose any such measure, as the zones would necessitate a massive increase in the U.S. military presence in Syria. Furthermore, the zones are set to be held by a still undetermined mix of Turkish, Kurdish and Western forces – an unlikely combination due to the often explosive antagonism between the Turks and the Kurds.

    Brian McKeon, former undersecretary of defense for policy in the Obama-era Pentagon, echoed such concerns, stating that safe zones would be counter-productive in the fight against Daesh in an interview with Foreign Policy:

    “A safe zone in theory assumes some agreement on the part of the Russians, Turks and possibly Syrians to yield sovereignty, or you don’t have agreement. The number of assets it would take to defend against potential attacks would likely be to the detriment of the counter-ISIL campaign.”

    Safe Or Subterfuge? Zones Will Bring Large And Enduring Military Presence

    Considering that such “safe zones” will in no way guarantee safety of any kind and may be entirely impossible to implement due to Turkish-Kurdish tensions, the Trump administration’s commitment to such measures – along with other actions they have recently taken in the region – suggest that their real motivation is something else entirely.

    Most telling of all is the fact that the debate over safe zones has coincided with the increased movement of U.S. troops and military assets into Syria and Iraq, such as the U.S.’ recent deployment of 2,500 soldiers to both Iraq and Syria. In addition, the U.S. government has signaled that these troops will remain in those nations long after Daesh is no longer deemed a threat.

    For instance, hidden within the announcement of U.S. troop deployment in the Syrian city of Raqqa was the admission that the troops will be “required” to stabilize the region after Daesh’s defeat, as U.S. officials anticipate that “America’s allies” will need assistance in establishing “Syrian-led peacekeeping efforts” in the region for the foreseeable future. As for the forces to be deployed to Iraq, Tillerson confirmed that they would remain in Iraq after the defeat of Daesh in Mosul, despite his promise that no “nation-building” would take place afterwards.

    Any additional forces deployed in Syria and Iraq for the establishment of “safe zones” would also ostensibly form part of an indefinite military presence within nations that have not authorized their operations within their borders – making these troop movements tantamount to an invasion. Moreover, the recent announcement from the Pentagon that they would no longer be publicly announcing subsequent troop deployments suggests that the U.S. government is seeking to obfuscate what is set to be a drastic increase in U.S. military presence in both Syria and Iraq – an increase set to spark geopolitical tensions in the region and beyond.

    Ultimately, these safe zones – despite their humanitarian function – seem to be nothing more than an excuse to justify an increased U.S. military presence within Syrian and Iraqi borders – forces which, by the military’s own admission, have no intention of leaving anytime soon.

    Watch A US armored convoy enter the city of Manbij, Syria:


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    U.S.-Led Coalition Already Using Idlib Chemical Attack As Pretext For War In Syria

    A deadly chemical attack was carried out in northwestern Syria’s Idlib Province early Tuesday, killing at least 58 people. The United States and its allies have been quick to blame Syria’s government for orchestrating the attack, despite a significant lack of proof.

    April 4, 2017

    MINNEAPOLIS — After an unsuccessful attempt to blame the Syrian government for a 2013 gas attack in Ghouta that was most likely carried out by al-Qaeda’s Al-Nusra Front, the U.S.-led coalition’s pretext for a military intervention in Syria to oust President Bashar al-Assad has largely crumbled as Russian diplomats were able to negotiate a deal with the United Nations on behalf of their Syrian allies.

    Nearly four years later, history seems to be repeating itself, with Syria’s government being accused, once again by NATO allies, of carrying out yet another chemical weapons attack in al-Qaeda-held Idlib Province. The attack has left at least 58 dead.

    But this time the stakes are higher, as the U.S.-led coalition has recently deployed thousands of troops in Syria that are set to remain long after Daesh and other terrorist groups are eradicated. To make matters worse, Vitaly Churkin, the Russian UN envoy who helped negotiate the 2013 agreement and prevent U.S.-led military intervention, lies dead under still -undisclosed circumstances. With coalition members already accusing the Syrian government of violating the 2013 agreement, it appears that the specter of foreign military intervention in the embattled nation may again be on the table, threatening the peace conference regarding Syria set to begin today in Brussels.

    For the U.S. and its allies, the timing couldn’t be better to finalize their regime change operation in Syria – an operation that has been documented for over 25 years.

    News broke early Tuesday morning of yet another tragedy in the nearly six-year-long “civil war” in Syria, this time in the northwestern province of Idlib, where a chemical gas attack is estimated to have killed 58 people, including 11 children, according to multiple media reports. Two groups – the White Helmets and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights – have blamed the Syrian government for the attack.

    The Syrian Army has flatly denied the charges, stating that the army “has not and does not use [chemical weapons], not in the past and not in the future, because it does not have them in the first place” – a reference to the 2013 agreement whereby the Syrian government dismantled its chemical weapon stores as part of the accord that avoided U.S.-led military intervention.

    However, mainstream media reports along with Western nations are already adopting the accusations against the Syrian government as fact. In a near-repeat of 2013, these nations seem unwilling to confirm such grave accusations before taking action, seemingly content to take the words of these two groups as sound despite significant evidence pointing to their disrepute.

    Both of the groups who have blamed Assad’s forces for the attack have come under fire repeatedly for their ties to pro-intervention institutions, NATO-allied governments and even al-Qaeda – all of whom who have a stake in regime change.

    The White Helmets, for instance, were founded by a former British army officer turned mercenary and frequently worked with Purpose, Inc. – a George Soros-funded PR firm that has been pushing for Western intervention in Syria for years. They also receive millions in funding from Western governments, including 23 million dollars from the U.S., and operate almost exclusively in areas held by al-Nusra Front, a Syrian al-Qaeda affiliate, with whom they have collaborated with on a regular basis. They have been caught on camera facilitating public executions of civilians in Aleppo and elsewhere.

    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) is equally dubious, but for different reasons. Unlike the White Helmets, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights consists of just one man, an anti-Assad Syrian national by the name of Rami Abdul-Rahman who lives in the United Kingdom. Abdul-Rahman’s “sources” in Syria, from which he receives his information regarding the war, are anonymous and never recorded – thus making them completely unverifiable.

    It was these same two groups who provided much of the “intelligence” that was used to blame the Syrian government for the 2013 attack in Ghouta. But once the media frenzy and manufactured outrage in the West had died down, it emerged that the Syrian army was not the likely culprit behind the attack and that it had instead been carried out by al-Qaeda-linked rebels in the area.

    A year later in 2014, former UN weapons inspector Richard Lloyd and Professor Theodore Postol of MIT published a report that found that the intelligence used to blame Assad’s forces for the attack was grossly inaccurate. A few months later, Pulitzer Prize award-winning journalist Seymour Hersch confirmed that the al-Nusra rebels in Ghouta had the means, motive and opportunity to carry out the attack themselves. On separate occasions, al-Nusra was confirmed to have used chemical weapons against civilians.

    Just like Ghouta, Idlib is dominated by al-Nusra. Earlier this year, even the Washington Post admitted that Idlib’s “moderate” rebels had all but been replaced by al-Nusra and other terrorist factions in Syria. Aron Lund of the Century Foundation told the Post that “Idlib is now basically being abandoned to the jihadis. This might be the end of the opposition as understood by the opposition’s backers abroad. They won’t have any reason to support it.”

    If Western governments and media outlets repeat the mistakes of 2013 by not verifying the claims made by the White Helmets or the one-man show at SOHR, they may very well end up offering these extremist groups support if they prematurely choose to retaliate against Assad before the dust can settle.

    However, the U.S.-led coalition and NATO nations seem less interested in the veracity of the information than in the opportunity these accusations – however baseless and dubious they may be – offer for their long-standing goals of regime change in Syria. Immediately after news of the attack broke, with only the White Helmets and SOHR testimony as sources, France – a U.S. coalition member – called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss how to respond to the “disgusting” attack, a meeting now set to take place Wednesday morning. Hours later, EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini said that Assad bears “primary responsibility” for the attack. If more countries choose to lay the blame on Assad for the attack, the 2013 agreement could easily crumble – making Syria once again vulnerable to foreign military intervention.

    The Associated Press reported that the U.S. envoy to the UN Nikki Haley condemned the attack as “terrible” but stopped short of blaming Assad directly. However, Haley said just yesterday that the Syrian people no longer wanted Assad as leader after telling ABC News on Sunday that “Assad is always a priority” and that the U.S. planned to bring him to justice. These comments stray far from the rhetoric recently used by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who said last Thursday that the long-term status of “President Assad will be decided by the Syrian people.”

    Haley’s recent statements suggest that the Trump administration’s approach is quickly shifting and will likely shift even more due to these latest accusations targeting the Syrian government. While some in the Trump administration, such as Tillerson, have publicly called for a non-interventionist approach in Syria – something which Trump himself has long promised – recent U.S. military actions in Syria suggest that the real strategy is something else entirely.

    As MintPress previously reported, Trump’s recent deployment of 2,500 troops to the Middle East – which are to be divided between Syria and Iraq – suggests that the U.S. is preparing for more than just a “final assault” against Daesh, especially considering that the Army even admitted that troops would stay in Syria long after Daesh’s defeat to “stabilize” the region for its “allies.”

    In addition, recent moves by the administration to create “safe zones” in Syria would also require the U.S. to significantly increase its troop deployments in Syria – troops that would remain in the country indefinitely. Indeed, the Pentagon has suggested that future troop deployments in Syria will be significant, as it is no longer publicly announcing future deployments or troop movements. All of this despite the fact that Assad has stated that U.S. forces were not invited into the country and that they are essentially “invaders.”

    Given that this latest gas attack is already being used politically in a similar fashion to the Ghouta attack of 2013, it seems likely that Assad will once again become a target of this quickly-growing standing army of foreign soldiers within its borders – one that has amassed under the cover of offering humanitarian assistance and “fighting terrorism.”


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    The Syrian Opposition’s NATO-Sponsored Apocalyptic Vision For Syria


    In the first episode of MintPress News’ “Behind the Headline,” MPN editor-in-chief and host Mnar Muhawesh starts by breaking down the supposedly “moderate” Syrian opposition slated to lead peace talks to put an end to the years-long Syrian crisis.

    When peace talks were arranged to put an end to the years-long Syrian crisis, there were some questionable parties slated to sit at the negotiating table in Geneva.

    Before those talks were postponed in February as fighting escalated in Syria, media buzzed, describing the Syrian opposition leading the talks as “moderate.” Yet there was little mention of who these groups really are, who’s behind them, and their agenda beyond “get rid of Assad.”
    So here’s what you need to know about these so-called “moderates”:

    The Syrian opposition leading the talks is known as the Syrian High Negotiations Committee — a carefully crafted, non-descript banner, for sure.

    That coalition is more complex than its name indicates: It aims to unite the thousands of opposition fighters. But those following the situation in Syria know very well that the Syrian opposition is now mostly made up of armed jihadists vying for power and who have been acting as proxies to Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar since 2011 to overthrow the Syrian government.

    Many of these “moderate” rebels have ripped Syria apart through sectarianism and violence. And they’ve done it all with weaponry and financial support from competing proxy nations. Further, intelligence officials from NATO member states like the US., Britain, France and Turkey were on the ground, training so-called “moderate” rebels months before the Syrian revolt erupted.

    And to top it all off, this coalition to unite these foreign-supplied rebels is Saudi-backed and -sponsored. It wasn’t born in Syria; it was assembled in Riyadh.

    The chief negotiator and the spokesperson for the High Negotiations Committee and the groups they represent should raise even more concern:
    Salem Muslet, who worked as deputy director for the Gulf Research Center in United Arab Emirates from 1998-2011 (the year the Syrian revolt started), is the vice president of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces, which receives weapons and funding from a list of nations including U.S., Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates.

    The group was formed in Doha, Qatar, not Syria, to provide its “international donors with a legitimate, unified channel for all aid to the rebellion by acting as a moderate umbrella group… to govern Syria after Assad is ousted.”

    The group’s first president, Sunni Cleric Moaz al-Khatib, described that as meaning they are beholden to their foreign backers.

    Al-Khatib resigned in March 2013, lamenting that, foreign powers were placing too many conditions on aid to opposition and armed rebel groups, and were trying to manipulate events for their own interests.

    Meanwhile, Mohammed Alloush ,the chief negotiator, represents Jaysh al-Islam. An open ally of al-Qaida’s arm in Syria, the Nusra Front, Jaysh al-Islam is one of the most brutal Sunni Salafist rebel groups operating inside Syria. And it receives funding, arms and other support from Saudi Arabia.

    Jaysh al-Islam, also known as the Islamic Front, is known for mass executions, use of starvation as a war tool (as seen in Madaya), kidnappings, pillaging and alleged rapings. They’ve publicly stated that once they oust Assad, they’ll proceed to cleanse the nation of Shiites, Alawites, Kurds, Zoroastrians and Arab Christians as they establish a Salafist Islamic state. It’s no wonder the group has been compared to ISIS.

    With the talks postponed, it doesn’t even matter whether they proceed as long as negotiators are working with violent armed groups and rebels like those under the umbrella of the High Negotiations Committee. Besides being counterproductive, it’s the same policy NATO members and the U.N. have adopted in Libya, Somalia, and Afghanistan, among others. And in each of those cases, those efforts sunk these nations further into civil war and chaos.
    The High Negotiations Committee, and the groups it represents, work in the interests of foreign nations, not in the interests or the will of the Syrian people.

    Don’t misunderstand — Syria is in desperate need for peace talks.

    The ongoing crisis has led to the deaths of over 250,000 people and 11 million refugees. Syrians are in the impossible position of having to choose between living in a warzone, being targeted by groups like ISIS and competing rebels groups and the Syrian government’s brutal crackdown, or whether to fare dangerous waters to reach safety.

    But anything resembling “peace” talks simply cannot proceed with jihadists and representatives of foreign nations with a blatantly genocidal, apocalyptic vision for the future of the country.

    If our leaders truly care about ending terrorism maybe they should start by not participating in it.

    And if our leaders truly care about democracy and freedom, then they’d allow the Syrian people choose their own fate without supplying weapons and meddling in their affairs. Maybe, for once, they’d even put people before profits.

    Like most peace talks, the goal isn’t ultimately peace. These talks represent little more than political theater to subdue the masses against the tragic situation that we — Western governments and the Gulf Arab nations — allowed to unfold.

    This segment of the Behind the Headlines is part of the first episode of the show. The episode can be viewed in it’s entirety below:

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    ‘The hospitals were slaughterhouses’: A journey into Syria’s secret torture wards

    BEIRUT — One evening in the early days of Syria’s uprising, Mohsen al-Masri’s band of activists slipped through the Damascus streets and waited for the coast to clear. Then they crouched, opened their bags and let out a stream of color.

    Thousands of ping-pong balls, painted green, pink, blue and yellow, bounced past policemen, who scrambled to stop them. Residents would find balls tucked in nooks and crannies for months. Each was marked with a single word: “Freedom.”

    The punishment for Masri’s acts of peaceful protest would begin a journey into hell, unusual not because of what he saw, but because he survived.

    In a series of interviews, he described how he was tortured and interrogated over a two-year period in four detention facilities before arriving in a hospital at the heart of a nationwide system of brutality.

    The hospital, known as 601, is not the only site of torture in Syria. But after it was seen in a cache of photographs showing thousands of skeletal corpses, it became one of the most notorious.

    Inside the facility, about a half-mile from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s palace, sick prisoners are tortured as they lie shackled to beds crammed with dying men, according to Masri and former detainees and military personnel who worked there. Corpses have been piled in bathrooms, outhouses and anywhere else they will fit, then meticulously documented and trucked away for mass burial.

    In interviews across Lebanon, Turkey and Europe, more than a dozen survivors and army defectors described horrors in Syrian military hospitals across the country for which war crimes lawyers say they have struggled to find a modern parallel.

    The former detainees come from all walks of life. Elite, *working-class, leftist and Islamist, their only connection to one another was involvement in Syria’s 2011 uprising. Some were its instigators. Others said they had simply commented on the Facebook statuses of friends who supported protests.

    Investigators say that testimony and documentation from Syria’s military hospitals offer some of the most concrete evidence to date of crimes against humanity that could one day see senior government figures tried in court.

    “We were swept into a system that was ready for us. Even the hospitals were slaughterhouses,” Masri said in an interview last month.

    Medicine has been used as a weapon of war since the earliest days of the uprising, when pro-government doctors performed amputations on protesters for minor injuries.

    Military hospitals across Syria have long set aside wards for prisoners. But since 2011, these have been packed with men left starving and broken by the conditions they have already endured.

    More than 100,000 people have been arrested or forcibly disappeared in Syria since the country’s revolt began, according to a list compiled by the Syrian Network for Human Rights, a monitoring group. During that time, international aid groups have gotten access to only a handful of prisons with the government’s permission, none of which the detainees interviewed by The Washington Post spent time in.

    Masri’s ordeal began in the spring of 2012 when he was arrested on his way to a conference in Turkey. Repeatedly tortured as he was transferred from jail to jail, he arrived at Sednaya, one of the most feared.

    In a report published in February, Amnesty International said torture and forced starvation are systematic at the prison. But Masri said that prisoners learned to stay silent when guards asked who needed to go to the hospital.

    “It didn’t matter what they did to us; we had to pretend we were fine. People rarely came back from those trips,” he said.

    After months of starvation, Masri’s name was added to the weekly transfer list. As darkness fell on an evening in May 2012, he was chained to another man and taken to trucks outside. Attaching a number to Masri’s body, a guard told him to forget his name. Then he was blindfolded.

    Everyone gets the “welcome” party, Masri said — a savage beating involving guards and medical staffers wearing white coats over military uniforms.

    In Hospital 601, the weakest man was pushed to the floor and brutalized first. In the nearby Tishreen Military Hospital, a former technician at the facility, Mohammed al-Hammoud, said he had seen prisoners dragged down steps by the hair.

    “Everything was about control,” said Somar Mustafa, a physics student from Damascus who was sent to Hospital 601 at the end of 2012. Inside, he saw detainees chained to their beds and packed so tightly that they sat with their knees jutting into their rib cages.

    Bathroom breaks were so rare that prisoners would defecate where they sat, remaining in the same spot for days. “We were blindfolded with that smell all around us. You can’t shake the memory of it, even when you leave,” Mustafa said.

    At least five branches of the Syrian security forces have operated wards inside Hospital 601 since 2011, according to the U.N. Commission of Inquiry, a body set up to monitor the conflict. “Detainees, including children, have been beaten, burned with cigarettes, and subjected to torture that exploits preexisting injuries,” it said in a 2013 report. The commission concluded that many patients had been tortured to death inside the facility.

    The Harasta Military Hospital, also in Damascus, moved its ward from the first floor to the seventh to prevent detainees from escaping, a defector said. “It was the only floor without an elevator, and we knew they couldn’t jump out the window.”

    Investigators say the abuses could become central pillars in any eventual case for prosecution of the hospitals’ doctors, as well as senior figures in the Syrian government.

    In 601, Masri and Mustafa said, they saw high-ranking officers from the security branches accompanying doctors on their rounds. Sometimes the teams would pause by a prisoner to discuss his treatment. Other times the men would beat him.

    The doctors were helped by service staffers in blue uniforms, many of them former supporters of the revolt who had been co-
    opted by their jailers. “Our best men had been broken by torture. If they didn’t beat us, they risked a worse fate themselves,” Masri said.

    The guards went by nicknames to avoid identification. Four survivors said the most famous was known as Azrael, or the Angel of Death. They described him as a thickset man from Assad’s coastal stronghold of Latakia who carried a stick laced with razor blades. They said he selected prisoners, most of them deathly ill, for a fate he called “justice.” The detainees called it execution.

    Masri recalled Azrael taking a lighter to a plastic bag and melting it drop by drop onto a prisoner’s face until he died, apparently of a heart attack. Other prisoners said he used an iron rod to smash their bedmates’ skulls.

    Many died where they lay, slumped against their bedmates until morning came. For Mustafa in the winter of 2012, that meant sharing a bed until sunrise the next day with three corpses.

    As the uprising outside morphed into a war, former prisoners say, their interrogators became obsessed with the notion of accomplices, torturing prisoners to extract the names of new suspects to arrest.

    Documents signed by senior government and security officials acknowledged the upsurge in deaths, at times complaining that the bodies were building up.

    “It’s impossible to interrogate, torture and kill tens of thousands of detainees without a system in place,” said Scott Gilmore, a staff attorney at the Center for Justice and Accountability. “Before the revolution, the regime was not generating thousands of dead bodies. Then all of a sudden it was. So what did you do with them?”

    A December 2012 order signed by the head of Syria’s military intelligence department instructed every security branch to send their dead to a military hospital’s morgue. The document, obtained by the Commission for International Justice and Accountability, a Europe-based investigative unit, said that each body should be examined and logged.

    A trove of these photographs was published around the world in 2014, after being smuggled out of Syria by a military police defector known only by his code-name, Caesar. Most were taken inside Hospital 601. Skeletal bodies of children as young as 11 bore signs of torture, with eyes gouged out and limbs drilled through and burned. Following Syrian government protocol, Caesar had methodically documented the deaths of some 11,000 people.

    “You have to realize that these were just the photographs taken by a single man during a single period, and even then, they were only a fraction of what he’d actually recorded,” said Nadim Houry, who examined the photographs for Human Rights Watch.

    Assad recently described the images as “fake news,” suggesting they had been doctored to suit the aims of human rights groups.

    But defectors describe hauling numbered bodies into transparent bags in Hospital 601 and nearby military hospitals in Tishreen and Harasta. Investigators from the United Nations and private law firms have collected similar testimony from the cities of Homs, Aleppo and Daraa.

    By late 2012, the system had buckled, and the December order berated individual military departments for failing to register their dead on time.

    Those who survive are funneled back to nearby jails, Masri said. Others, like Mustafa, are released to a Damascus court packed with prisoners and dismissed from custody on the spot, after a judge acknowledges that they had been forced to make false confessions under torture. The young man said he remembers falling into the arms of his sobbing parents.

    Masri’s discharge from 601 sent him back to Sednaya. Another year of torture followed, with nights spent packed next to other men in the darkness. He felt forgotten.

    In the winter of 2014, he dreamed he was taking a hot shower, its stream stripping back two years of dirt and leaving him clean. He woke to find a guard in his cell. “He told me it was time to go,” Masri said. “I cannot describe that feeling. It was too much, too big. Indescribable.”

    Back home in Damascus, he said, he remembers closing the bathroom door to stand alone for a moment, shutting his eyes to finally feel at peace. When he opened them, he saw a sheet-white, rawboned man staring back from the mirror.
    “I started screaming,” Masri said. He did not recognize himself.


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    US Strikes Again in Syria — This Time Hitting a Coffee Shop Full of People

    At least 15 Syrians killed in US airstrike in western Raqqa

    Apr 8, 2017

    A US airstrike in western Raqqa has killed at least 15 and injured dozens, according to multiple reports.

    "The airstrike devastated an internet coffee shop in Hanedah town in western Raqqa countryside. The airstrike killed more than 20 civilians and injured dozens more," according to Al Masdar News.

    Time to convene another emergency Security Council meeting?

    Will Donald Trump now launch 60 Tomahawk missiles at the US air base in Kobani? Think of the children.

    We look forward to your melodramatic speech, Nikki.

    video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TLuo4iC2V1g


    North Korea says US air strikes on Syria prove it is 'the right choice' to have nuclear weapons

    'The reality of today proves our decision to strengthen our military power to stand against force with force was the right choice a million times over,' spokesperson says


    US missile strikes targeting a Syrian air base were “an unforgivable act of aggression against a sovereign state”, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry has said.

    A spokesperson for the government also said the strike vindicated the country’s decision to develop its own nuclear weapons programme.

    "The reality of today proves our decision to strengthen our military power to stand against force with force was the right choice a million times over," the spokesperson said.

    Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad is a key diplomatic ally of North Korea. On Thursday, the country’s state media reported that Korean leader Kim Jong-Un wrote to President Assad on the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Ba’ath Arab Socialist Party.

    “The Ba'ath Arab Socialist Party has achieved great successes in their struggle for building an independent and prosperous country”, the letter reportedly said.

    Mr Al-Assad in return thanked Kim for recognising the Syrian struggle to "meet such challenges as sinister actions of the world's terrorists”, said Korean state media (KCNA).

    The messages were exchanged on Thursday, before the United States launched an attack on a Syrian airbase, in retaliation for an assault which killed at least 70 people in rebel-held Idlib.

    It was the first direct assault on President Assad's forces by the United States since the outbreak of civil war six years ago.

    US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has recently suggested the Trump administration was considering tougher action against North Korea, including possible military action.

    However, the isolated nation has remained defiant. A spokesperson for the North Korean Foreign Ministry said early this month the nation was “ready for war” with the United States.

    "The nuclear force of [North Korea] is the treasured sword of justice and the most reliable war deterrence to defend the socialist motherland and the life of its people," KCNA quoted the spokesman as saying.

    Mr Trump has discussed North Korea during a series talks with Xi Jinping, the Chinese President at his Mar A Lago resort this weekend.

    China is North Korea’s largest trade partner, and maintains diplomatic ties with the country - although these have become increasingly strained in recent years.

    Speaking after the two-day summit on Sunday, Mr Tillerson said China had agreed to increased cooperation in reining in North Korea's missile and nuclear programmes.


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    52 leaked photos of Muslim children tortured to death by the Assad regime


    Zaman al-Wasl has obtained leaked images of mass torture photos of Syrian children, showing systematic killing and maimings by Bashar al-Assad’s security services.

    The atrocious photos of mass torture had been taken between 2011 and mid 2013 in the well-known 601 military hospital in Mezzah neighborhood of Damascus.

    Children in Syria have been tortured, maimed and sexually abused by al-Assad’s forces and recruited for combat by the rebels fighting to topple him during the country’s conflict of almost three years, UN report said in 2014.

    The Syrian conflict has hit the country’s children hard. The UN said government forces had been responsible for the arrest, arbitrary detention, ill treatment and torture of children. Children as young as 11 have been detained by the authorities on suspicion of having links with armed groups, the Guardian reported.

    In mid 2013, 55,000 photos smuggled out of Syria by a former Syrian military police photographer gave a glimpse of some of the abuses being committed in Syrian jails.

    The digital images of 11,000 dead detainees showed emaciated bodies and the defector, identified only as Ceasar, described seeing corpses with “deep wounds and burns and strangulations.

    Children in government custody have reportedly been beaten with metal cables, whips and wooden and metal batons, and suffered electric shock, mock executions, cigarette burns, sleep deprivation and solitary confinement, and sexual violence, including rape and threats of rape, the report says.

    During the first two years of the conflict most killings and maimings of children were attributed to government forces, the UN report says.

    The Syrian Network for Human Rights, in report issued last September, said at least 215,000 people were arrested by Syrian security since the revolution erupted in March 2011. (4,500 of them are women and 9,000 are less than 18).

    According to the report, 2630 detainees were tortured to death, and 70,000 cases documented as enforced disappearance.

    More than 220,000 people have been killed in Syria since the revolt against Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011, the United Nations says.


    Last edited by islamirama; Apr-7-2018 at 02:23 PM.

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    Syria chemical attack 'fabricated' - Assad

    13 April 2017

    Syria's President Bashar al-Assad says reports of a chemical attack by his forces were "100% fabrication".
    In an exclusive video interview with AFP news agency, he said "there was no order to make any attack".

    More than 80 people were killed in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun on 4 April, and hundreds suffered symptoms consistent with a nerve agent.

    Witnesses said they saw warplanes attack the town but Russia says a rebel depot of chemical munitions was hit.

    Shocking footage showed victims - many of them children - convulsing and foaming at the mouth. Sufferers were taken to hospitals across the border in Turkey.

    The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said on Thursday that allegations of a chemical attack were "credible" based on a preliminary examination of the evidence.

    Mr Assad accused the West of making up events in Khan Sheikhoun so it had an excuse to carry out missile strikes on the government's Shayrat airbase, which took place a few days after the alleged attack.

    "It's stage one, the play [they staged] that we saw on social network and TVs, then propaganda and then stage two, the military attack," he told the AFP, questioning the authenticity of the video footage.

    Mr Assad also said the Syrian government had given up its chemical arsenal in 2013, adding "even if we have them, we wouldn't use them".

    Since 2013, there have been continued allegations that chemicals such as chlorine and ammonia have been used against civilians, by both the Syrian government and rebel groups.

    Turkey and the UK say tests show Sarin or a Sarin-like substance was used in Khan Sheikhoun, which would be the first time since 2013 that a prohibited chemical had been used on such a scale.

    President Assad's flat denial that his country has used chemical weapons and that last week's incident was a fabrication concocted by al-Qaeda and Washington does not square with the "case for the prosecution".

    Indeed it sits uneasily with the Russian version of events which says that a rebel warehouse was hit by a bomb from a Syrian warplane thus releasing the chemical agent.

    President Assad's denials must contend with the fact that samples from some of the victims were analysed in Turkey and the results indicated a Sarin-like agent was used.

    Then there is the detailed narrative, provided by the Americans who tracked the aircraft they say launched the attack, from its base, to the target location, and then home again.

    There are too the many videos that were released immediately after the attack showing the victims. Their timing and location have been verified by independent researchers.

    video: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-39588876

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    U.S. Bombed a Mosque in Syria, Killing Dozens of Civilians, Investigators Conclude

    April 19 2017

    As my colleague Alex Emmons reported last month, Syrian activists and first responders accused the United States of killing dozens of civilians in an airstrike that mistakenly targeted a mosque in the rebel-held village of al-Jinah on the evening of March 16.

    Confronted with these claims, a Pentagon spokesman, Navy Captain Jeff Davis, told The Intercept that they were mistaken. “The area was extensively surveilled prior to the strike in order to minimize civilian casualties,” Davis said. “We deliberately did not target the mosque.”

    As evidence, Davis provided an aerial photograph of the building destroyed in the attack, identified by U.S. officials as a “partially constructed community meeting hall.”

    “The mosque in the left edge of the photo was not targeted,” Davis stressed in a briefing for reporters the next day. “Military officials believe dozens of al-Qaida terrorist leaders were killed in the strike.”

    But, as Human Rights Watch reported this week, witnesses in al-Jinah said that the building destroyed by two armed, Reaper drones firing Hellfire missiles was the newly built Omar Ibn al-Khatab mosque, where about 300 civilians had gathered for the Muslim night prayer. At least 38 people were killed in the attack, which included the dropping of a 500-pound bomb.

    The rights group’s report was one of three parallel investigations into the U.S. strike on al-Jinah released this week by investigators who specialize in the painstaking analysis of social media evidence of potential war crimes.

    In addition to the testimony of 14 witnesses who spoke to Human Rights Watch, video and photographs shared online, compiled by open-source analysts at Bellingcat, provide compelling evidence that the building was indeed a mosque.

    The Bellingcat researchers point out that video, “recorded during the construction of the mosque and published on YouTube in November 2014,” appears to confirm that the rooms destroyed in the attack included the mosque’s ritual wash room, toilets, Winter prayer hall and the kitchen.

    But perhaps the most convincing case that the U.S. bombing was a deadly error is a richly detailed video report on the strike produced by Forensic Architecture, a research agency, based at Goldsmiths, University of London, led by the Israeli architect Eyal Weizman.

    Weizman’s architectural detectives, who have previously investigated potential war crimes in Syria — as well as in Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, Pakistan and Guatemala — produced a model of the building based on images of it before and after the strike, combined with interviews with survivors, first responders and the building’s contractor.

    Images of the building featured in the Forensic Architecture report show distinctive features, like a megaphone for the call to prayer, prayer rugs, and a clearly defined mihrab — a semicircular niche in the wall of a mosque that indicates the direction of Mecca — indicating that it was a mosque.

    “The architectural reconstruction has also allowed us to understand the sequence of events that took place in and around the mosque following the strike,” the Forensic Architecture investigators explained on their website.

    The strike began when two bombs completely demolished the northern part of the building. The layout of the rubble in the deep craters is consistent with ground penetrating bombs. In order to escape, worshippers in the main prayer hall in the south part of the building had to climb over the rubble that partially blocked the doorways and passageways and destroyed the stairs. While people exited the building and immediately afterwards they were targeted by further missile strikes.

    Examining images of munitions remains, Chris Cobb-Smith (who assists Forensic Architecture on weapon analysis), Bellingcat, and HRW’s experts identified the munitions fired outside the mosque as likely to be Hellfire missiles. This is consistent with an anonymous US official who, when speaking to the Washington Post, confirmed that “the attack involved two Reaper drones, which fired more than four Hellfire missiles and dropped at least one 500-pound guided bomb in a follow-up strike.”

    To U.S. drone operators, the fleeing survivors cut down as they rushed from the mosque perhaps looked identical to the Qaeda militants they thought they were attacking. But, as Human Rights Watch observed, that mistaken impression suggests that their intelligence on the targeted area was woefully inadequate.

    “While the U.S. authorities appear to have fundamentally misunderstood the nature of the building they attacked, they also appear to have inadequately understood the pattern of life in the area,” the rights group argued.

    A U.S. official said that the attack happened after evening prayer had concluded, implying that civilians had left the area. While it is not clear which prayer the official referred to, U.S. statements about when the attack happened and information from those present at the mosque show that the attack happened at about 6:55 p.m., just 15 minutes before night prayer on that day. The fact that the night time prayer was about to begin is relevant even if U.S. authorities believed that the targeted building was a community hall since they knew that a mosque was nearby. Information about prayer times is easily accessible online and should have been well known by US authorities.

    Local residents also said that it was well known in the area that the religious group in charge of the mosque was holding religious lectures in the targeted building every Thursday between sunset prayer and evening prayer, around the time of the attack. Any attempt to gather pattern of life information about the targeted building from people with local knowledge might also have alerted US authorities to this fact.

    “The U.S. seems to have gotten several things fundamentally wrong in this attack, and dozens of civilians paid the price,” Ole Solvang, the deputy emergencies director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

    According to the Pentagon’s own data, the U.S.-led coalition bombing Syria and Iraq has killed between 102 and 396 civilians in 18,645 strikes from August 2014 to the end of February. The three new reports on the bombing of al-Jinah suggest that the actual number of civilians killed in American bombing could be far higher.


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    The Syrian People Have Been Betrayed By All Sides

    Where do you stand on the conflict in Syria? This question has become perhaps the ultimate political and sectarian Rorschach test of our time.

    Are you a leftist or libertarian who opposes U.S. air strikes and waxes lyrical about the paramountcy of Syrian sovereignty and international law? Or are you a very mainstream liberal or conservative who backs military action to remove the Syrian dictator from power — or, at least, to protect his people from barrel bombs and chemical attacks?

    Are you a Shia Muslim who supports Assad against genocidal Salafist rebels backed by Sunni-led Saudi Arabia? Or a Sunni Muslim who supports the rebels against a genocidal Alawite regime backed by Shia-led Iran?

    Every side has its own self-serving narrative; its own set of “alternative” facts. Every side engages in selective outrage: last week, backers of Assad were decrying the massacre of more than 120 people at the hands of a suicide bomber; the week before that, opponents of Assad were denouncing the gruesome killing, with poison gas, of at least 74 people in a rebel-held town.

    Dead Syrians have became political props, cynically used to bolster this or that stance on the conflict. Myths and lies abound. Defenders of Assad on the far left and far right claim he is a secular bulwark against ISIS while omitting to mention that this supposedly secular dictator was helping funnel “jihadists” into Iraq, to attack U.S. forces and Iraqi civilians, less than a decade ago. They also ignore the fact that the vast majority of civilian casualties in Syria have been caused by the Assad regime, not by ISIS or by the rebels.

    Both liberal and conservative opponents of Assad, meanwhile, tend to minimize the well-documented war crimes and other grotesque atrocities committed by U.S.-backed rebel groups, not to mention the dominance of Al Qaeda and its affiliates within the Syrian opposition. Many of them falsely claim that the West has “stood by” and “done nothing” to support that opposition — despite the CIA, according to the Washington Post, “spending roughly $100,000 per year for every anti-Assad rebel” who went through the agency’s training program, and despite the fact that arming and funding Syria’s rebels, both “secular” and “Islamist,” has helped exacerbate this horrific conflict and render a diplomatic solution near impossible.

    Kofi Annan’s August 2012 resignation statement as UN special envoy for Syria, in which he laid the blame for the continuing violence both on Assad and on “the escalating military campaign of the opposition,” has disappeared down the Syrian memory hole. So too has Joe Biden’s 2014 speech at Harvard in which he outlined how U.S. allies in the region “were so determined to take down Assad and essentially have a proxy Sunni-Shia war… [that] they poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens, thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad.”

    Pity the poor people of Syria. They continue to be ruled by a war criminal whose main opponents also engage in war crimes; their country has become a battlefield for Americans and Russians, Turks and Iranians, rebel fighters from Chechnya and pro-regime militias from Iraq. Rather than focus their energies on a diplomatic solution, or at least a durable ceasefire, all of these outside powers have spent the past six years ratcheting up, rather than down, the level of violence while failing to adhere to any consistent or principled positions whatsoever.

    The Russian and Iranian governments constantly complain that foreign fighters (or “terrorists”) have violated Syria’s sovereignty. But does anyone really think that Vladimir Putin, who has gleefully violated Ukraine’s sovereignty and borders since 2014, gives a **** about Syria’s sovereignty and borders? Or that the Islamic Republic of Iran, which asked Lebanon’s Hezbollah to intervene on the ground on behalf of the Assad regime and has also rounded up Shia fighters from as far afield as Afghanistan to fight against the rebels, is committed to preventing “foreign fighters” from entering Syria?

    The Turkish and Saudi governments, meanwhile, loudly demand that the Syrian people be able to choose their own leaders. But are we supposed to accept that President Erdogan’s Turkey, which now jails more journalists than any other country on earth, or the absolute monarchy in Saudi Arabia, which still beheads people, want to see a secular, liberal democracy replace the Assad dictatorship in Damascus?

    Then there is Donald Trump, who claims to have launched 59 missiles against an Assad airfield on April 6 because he was pained and moved by images of children choking to death in the aftermath of the chemical attack on Khan Sheikhun. Please. Are we really expected to believe that a trigger-happy narcissist who banned Syrian refugee children from entering the United States, and has compared them to “snakes,” cares in the slightest about those same children when they’re being gassed inside Syria?

    Why would you want to back any of these mendacious and opportunistic leaders, all of whom have dipped their hands in Syrian blood? Why would you want to traduce your own favored political ideology — be it conservatism, liberalism, socialism, whatever — by insisting it inform or even decide your views on a complex conflict like Syria’s? Why would you want to taint your own sect of Islam — be it Sunni or Shia — by lazily conflating it with either the regime or the rebels? (There are plenty of Sunnis, incidentally, who have supported Assad and plenty of Alawites and Shias who haven’t.)

    The reality is that there are “no good guys in the Syrian tragedy,” as former UN special envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, reminded me last year. The veteran Algerian diplomat, who served as Annan’s successor between August 2012 and May 2014 before also quitting in frustration, said he placed “a lot of blame on the outside forces, the governments, and others who were supporting one side or the other” but who never had “the interest of the Syrian people as their first priority.”

    Indeed. Assad may be the biggest monster but he is far from the only monster. Some of us, therefore, refuse to pick a side; refuse to glorify regime over rebels, or Americans over Russians, or Iranians over Arabs. Brahimi had it right: a plague on all their houses. The Syrian people deserve better than Assad but they’ve been betrayed on all sides, and suffered as a result, for six long years.

    A political solution based on a negotiated, power-sharing deal is now as much a chimera as a military solution in which Assad is forced from power. Syria will continue to bleed. Rather than picking between the various bad guys, and further prolonging the fighting, our time and energy would be better spent on pressuring hypocritical governments in the West and the Arab world to open their borders to Syrian refugees and also to uphold and deliver on their much-vaunted pledges of humanitarian aid. There are, in fact, many ways to help ordinary Syrians without dropping more bombs on them.


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    Civilian casualties from airstrikes grow in Iraq and Syria. But few are ever investigated

    A recent airstrike by the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq is believed to have caused more than 270 civilian deaths, a tragedy that provoked an international outpouring of grief and outrage.

    But the uproar over the March 17 deaths in the Jadidah neighborhood of Mosul masks a grim reality: Hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of other civilians have died in hundreds of airstrikes in Iraq and Syria during the war against Islamic State, and it appears likely that the vast majority of those deaths were never investigated by the U.S. military or its coalition partners.

    It also appears that the number of civilian casualties has risen in recent months as combat has shifted to densely populated west Mosul and the coalition has undertaken the heaviest bombing since the war began almost three years ago.

    The Pentagon insists the written rules of engagement in Iraq and Syria have not changed, but there are signs that military commanders on the ground are more empowered under President Trump.

    Raed Mohammed Hasan, 30, said he lost neighbors and relatives, including his 11-month-old daughter, Rania, in an airstrike in east Mosul on Jan. 21. He and other residents say 11 civilians died in that strike, which occurred during the months-long battle to oust Islamic State from Iraq’s second-largest city. Coalition records show a strike was carried out in Mosul that day, but officials say it is not being investigated for civilian deaths.

    “They told us it was a mistake by the coalition, and after the war we will talk about it,” Hasan said of Iraqi officials whom he contacted for help. “Why would they make a mistake like this? They have all the technology. This is not a small mistake.”

    Another east Mosul resident, Jasim Mohammed Ali, said his son and six grandsons were killed by what he believes was a coalition airstrike that destroyed his home on Nov. 17.

    The coalition is still investigating the strike based on a complaint by Human Rights Watch, which — along with other experts The Times consulted — identified munition parts in the wreckage of Ali’s house as a GBU-39 small-diameter bomb, a guided munition used by coalition forces.

    Ali said that during the attack in the modest Aden neighborhood, his grandsons were crushed by rubble in their bedroom as he cowered next door with his 17-year-old son, who was also killed. His pregnant daughter-in-law lost her baby, a girl who had yet to be named. His wife suffered scarring burns to her head and back. His daughter’s legs were crushed as she tried to hold her 6-year-old son, buried beneath the concrete. Although surgeons inserted metal pins in her legs, she still can’t walk.

    Unable to reach the cemetery because of fighting, the family buried the bodies in a nearby schoolyard, marking the graves with cinder blocks.

    “Why did they hit us?” Ali asked.

    One possible explanation: Neighbors said they saw Islamic State militants lurking outside the house before the strike, but they survived it and fled.

    As a practice, the U.S. military refuses to release details about civilian casualties under review. But comprehensive, hands-on investigations are rare. Commanders have ordered only a handful since the campaign against Islamic State — also known by the acronyms ISIS and Daesh — began in Iraq and Syria in 2014.

    The coalition investigates civilian casualties based on reports from its staff, the news media, social media and independent monitoring groups such as the London-based Airwars, Human Rights Watch and Mosul Ateka, a volunteer network of current and former Mosul residents.

    The monitors say there have been more civilian casualties than the coalition has reported. The coalition has acknowledged that this is likely true.

    Coalition warplanes have carried out 20,205 strikes in Iraq and Syria since 2014, according to the latest published numbers, which the Pentagon says have aided in the killing of more than 70,000 militants. Yet Pentagon officials also claim to have killed just 229 civilians over that time.

    But Airwars, a nonprofit with a staff of journalists and researchers who keep detailed records and conduct independent research, said its figures showed at least 3,111 civilians have been killed in 552 strikes for which it has significant evidence: Either the coalition has specifically confirmed the strikes, or it has confirmed strikes in the area on that date and Airwars has two or more credible sources.

    Airwars has also tracked an additional 610 reports of strikes in which civilians were killed based on a single source or contested claims, which could mean that several thousand additional civilians have been killed.

    The coalition, which has confirmed civilian casualties in 102 airstrikes, said it is currently investigating an additional 42 strikes that may have caused civilian casualties in Iraq and Syria.

    Micah Zenko, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Council on Foreign Relations, said history suggests the Pentagon is drastically underreporting civilian casualties.

    “It’s an implausible number when compared to any other air campaign in history,” he said. “It just doesn’t add up when you look at the number of munitions being dropped.”

    U.S. Army Col. Joe Scrocca, a Baghdad-based spokesman for the coalition, conceded its civilian casualty counts are conservative, requiring multiple confirmations, and said the real total probably lies “somewhere in the middle” of the coalition tally and Airwars’.

    Military reports usually do not include accounts from the scene, he said, because many are in enemy territory. They don’t often include interviews with victims and other witnesses because they can be difficult to identify and find, he said.

    “We don’t have any means of going and searching out people and, honestly, we don’t have the manpower,” he said.

    Criticism is mounting, however, by those who say the coalition could do a much better job of avoiding civilian casualties.

    In past wars, U.S. troops on the ground helped provide targeting information and intelligence. But in the battle against Islamic State, commanders rely chiefly on airborne surveillance, captured communications chatter, signals intelligence and images captured by drones circling overhead. Information may also come from Iraqi forces, who are coming under fire and in desperate need of air cover.

    After the Jadidah strike, U.S. Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance), a former Air Force prosecutor, sent a letter to Defense Secretary James N. Mattis demanding details on military operations that have resulted in an uptick in civilian casualties.

    “The substantial increases in civilian deaths caused by U.S. military force in Syria and Iraq brings into question whether the Trump administration is violating the Law of War,” Lieu wrote. “The large number of civilian casualties also suggests a possible breakdown in target selection, intelligence gathering, or operational execution.”

    More @ http://www.latimes.com/projects/la-fg-iraq-airstrikes/

  19. #119
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    US-led coalition kills nearly 500 civilians in Syria during Ramadan

    24th June 2017

    The US-led coalition has killed nearly 500 civilians in Syria during the month of Ramadan in its military campaign against ISIS.

    Around 470 civilians, including 137 children, were killed in air strikes in ISIS-held cities of Deir Ezzor and Raqqa in eastern Syria between May 23 and June 23.

    The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said the period saw the highest civilian death toll in US bombing campaigns for a single month since they began on 23 September 2014.

    The figure has more than doubled from the previous 30-day toll.

    SOHR claim the number is higher than those killed by Russian airstrikes and President Bashar al-Assad’s forces during the same period.

    SOHR’s director, Rami Abdel Rahman, said that the new deaths brought the overall civilian toll from the US-coalition’s campaign in Syria to 1,953, including 333 women and 456 children.

    Human rights groups have warned for months of the increasing human cost of the US-coalition’s bombing campaign, particularly as the battle for ISIS’s capital of Raqqa intensifies.

    The US, Britain, France and other coalition members have provided air support for their allies Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on the ground.

    The coalition has stated on numerous occasions that it takes vigorous precautions to avoid killing civilians, but local residents say they have become collateral damage.

    In March, more than 200 mainly children and women were reported to have been killed while they sought refuge in a school in the village of Mansoura.

    Shockingly high civilian death tolls are also being reported in the Iraqi city of Mosul, where the battle to defeat ISIS is in its final stages.


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    Raqqa: US-led attacks 'kill 100 civilians' in 48 hours

    Women and children among the dead as a barrage of US-led coalition raids hit ISIL-held city.

    At least 100 civilians have been killed over the past 48 hours by US-led air attacks targeting fighters in Raqqa, the de-facto capital of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) in Syria.

    Residents told Al Jazeera on Tuesday that at least 100 civilians had been killed since Sunday, with 55 civilians killed in the eastern neighbourhoods of Bedou and al-Sukhani on Monday.

    Meanwhile, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) put Monday's death toll at 42, including 19 children and 12 women, and said 27 were killed on Sunday - a two-day total of 69 people.

    The deaths came on the second consecutive day of a ferocious bombing campaign in Raqqa, more than half of which has been captured by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) battling ISIL.

    "The tolls are high because the air strikes are hitting neighbourhoods in the city centre that are densely packed with civilians," SOHR director Rami Abdel Rahman told the AFP news agency.

    "There are buildings full of civilians that are trying to get away from the front lines.

    "Coalition air strikes are targeting any building where any kind of [ISIL] movements are being detected."

    Earlier this month, the aid group Doctors Without Borders (known by its French acronym, MSF) reported that food and medicine needed to treat the wounded were in short supply.

    "In Raqqa city, if you don't die from air strikes, you die by mortar fire; if not by mortars then by sniper shots; if not by snipers, then by an explosive device," MSF said, quoting a 41-year-old who fled Raqqa after losing seven family members in the fighting.

    "And if you get to live, you are besieged by hunger and thirst, as there is no food, no water, no electricity."
    Thousands trapped

    The US-led coalition, which operates in both Syria and neighbouring Iraq, says it takes all possible measures to avoid civilian casualties.

    In August, it acknowledged the deaths of 624 civilians in its attacks in Syria and Iraq since 2014, but rights groups say the number is much higher.

    The United Nations estimates there are up to 25,000 civilians trapped inside the city, with food and fuel supplies short and prohibitively expensive.

    The UN's humanitarian point man for Syria, Jan Egeland, has said ISIL-held territory in Raqqa city is now "the worst place" in the war-torn country.

    The Syrian conflict, which began with peaceful protests in March 2011 against President Bashar al-Assad, has spiralled into a multi-sided civil war.

    The death toll stands at more than 400,000 people killed, according to UN estimates.



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