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Thread: Syria News

  1. #121
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    'Raped below a picture of Assad': Women describe abuse at hands of Syrian forces


    Eight women have spoken for the first time about repeated rape, extreme sexual violence and brutal torture

    Ayda was first arrested by Syria’s elite Republic Guards at a check-point in Aleppo. She was taken to their local headquarters where, under a picture of Syria's president Bashar al-Assad, she was beaten, tied, and then raped.

    She was taken to a hospital to treat the bleeding stemming from the rape, but after seven days and against the better advice of doctors, security forces brought her to a prison where she was locked in a cell with 20 other women.

    Ayda endured three months of repeated rapes and a month of solitary confinement, where she shared a cell with a rotting corpse. She found a razor in the cell and tried to take her own life.

    She was twice put onto the notorious "flying carpet" (a wooden plank to which the detainee is attached and then bent backwards) and was made to watch a group of young male detainees sexually abused with bottles.

    By the time she was released, her husband had left her and married someone else. Authorities then forced her to sign an undertaking to leave Syria and never return.

    Ayda is one of eight women who have spoken about their treatment at the hands of Syrian authorities for the first time.

    Their stories were included in a new report by the NGO Lawyers and Doctors for Human Rights (LDHR) and include horrific details of repeated rapes, extreme sexual violence and torture.

    Their names have been changed to protect their and their family’s identities.

    Commenting on the case, Toby Cadman, head of chambers at Guernica 37 International Justice Chambers, which is offering legal support to LDHR on the cases, told Middle East Eye: "It is regrettable that there is presently no international accountability mechanism; that will come.

    “Everyone is working together towards justice - and we know from history, justice and accountability comes, even if it takes time. Pushing for accountability and ending impunity is absolutely essential for a future democratic Syria based on the rule of law.”

    The experiences - which have all taken place during the country’s civil war - have left the women with indelible psychological and physical scars and made them outcasts in their own communities.

    “Without exception, these women are still haunted by the terror of detention. They have become withdrawn, fearful and anxious,” the report said.

    Each of the women were medically evaluated by LDHR trained doctors. Medical experts then determined whether the findings were consistent with international standards of sexual violence and torture so that they could serve as evidence in court.

    While in detention, the women “in some cases were treated no differently from men”, the report said but there was “no regards to their differing health and personal needs.”

    “Against a background of forced nudity on arrival and the spectre of sexual harassment and insults in their cells, in bathrooms and in corridors, the women’s bodies were not their own,” it said.

    “There are many cultural, societal barriers to discussing detention and what happens there, particularly for women. Unfortunately, instead of care and support, women who have been detained face stigma and shame in their communities.”

    'Human slaughterhouse'

    The report is the latest in a string of revelations about the inner workings of Syria’s depraved prisons to emerge in recent years.

    Earlier this year, Amnesty International said that as many as 13,000 people had died from torture and starvation at Saydanya prison near Damascus which it described as a “human slaughterhouse”.

    The US administration has claimed that the dead bodies at the prison have then been incinerated in a giant crematorium to hide the scale of the mass killing and abuse.

    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) estimated that as many as 45,000 opponents of the Assad government have been killed inside prisons alone.

    However, justice for victims and their families remains elusive, human rights activists said.

    Russia - Assad’s key backer - has vetoed proposals at the UN Security Council to set up a court similar to those for the Rwanda and Yugoslavian conflicts.

    And Syria has yet to ratify the Rome Statute which allows for the International Criminal Court to prosecute core international crimes should the state not do so.

    In February, lawyers for Madrid-based Guernica 37, representing the sister of a Syrian man alleged to have been tortured to death in a Damascus prison in 2013, launched a criminal complaint against nine members of the Syrian security forces in Spain’s national court.

    The case was brought to light after a defector known as “Caesar” escaped from Syria in September 2013 with more than 50,000 photos documenting the deaths of more than 6,000 people.

    The case is thought to be the first in a western court brought against Syrian authorities.

    The case was made possible because the man’s sister is a Spanish citizen, and under international law, relatives of victims of crimes against humanity committed elsewhere are also considered victims.

    Last month Spanish courts reversed an earlier decision to hear the case. Guernica 37 have appealed.

    Cadman said that Guernica 37 was working on a number of investigations related to Syria and described the LDHR report as “highly credible and focuses on an issue of very real concern”.

    “We will continue to work with Syrian civil society and human rights organisations to document these crimes and bring cases before national courts and to work with Syrian civil society to develop the institutional framework for Syria that will one day bear the greatest burden of holding the perpetrators accountable.”


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    Day of the Disappeared: Don't forget the 80,000 who are still missing in Syria

    Human rights groups urged the world on Wednesday to not forget about the tens of thousands of Syrians who have been forcibly disappeared or abducted since 2011.

    On International Day of the Disappeared, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch called on the brutal regime of Bashar al-Assad, as well as armed rebel groups involved in the country’s conflict, to disclose the fate and whereabouts of almost 80,000 missing people.

    "Amid the brutality and bloodshed of the Syrian conflict, the plight of those who have vanished after being arrested by the authorities or detained by armed groups is a tragedy that has been largely ignored internationally," said Philip Luther, Amnesty's research and advocacy director for the Middle East and North Africa.

    "Russia and the United States, in particular, must use their influence to pressure respectively the Syrian government and armed opposition groups to grant independent monitors access to places of detention, disclose the names and whereabouts of those deprived of their liberty, and allow all detainees to communicate with their families."

    Even before the crisis began in 2011, Syrian authorities followed a policy of forcibly disappearing people for peaceful political opposition, critical reporting, and human rights activism. The use of enforced disappearances dramatically escalated since the uprising.

    According to the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR), 75,000 people have been subjected to enforced disappearance by the Syrian regime since 2011.

    Meanwhile more than 2,000 individuals have gone missing at the hands of armed opposition groups and the so-called Islamic State.

    Total impunity

    Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday that those nations involved in negotiations to end the conflict should ensure that any transitional process includes an independent body to investigate the fate of the disappeared.

    "Syria will not be able to move forward if negotiations fail to adequately address the horrors of detention and disappearance," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at HRW.

    "This should not be ignored. Without progress, each day that passes will likely see more of the disappeared tortured or executed."

    Russia and Iran, Assad's most prominent backers, should press the regime to immediately publish the names of all individuals who died in Syrian detention facilities, HRW said, and to inform families of the deceased and return the bodies to their relatives.

    They should also press the regime to provide information on the fate or whereabouts of all those forcibly disappeared, end the practice of enforced disappearance, and allow independent humanitarian agencies access to detention facilities.

    Backers of non-state armed groups, including Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the US, should compel groups they support to reveal the fate of detainees in their custody and allow humanitarian agencies access to their detention facilities.

    The UN mediator, Staffan de Mistura, should publicly address the reasons for lack of progress on Syria's disappeared and strengthen efforts to address this devastating problem, HRW added.

    "For any resolution to the conflict to be sustainable, the issue of the disappeared needs to be addressed in a manner that delivers both news of their fate and justice," Whitson said.

    "There has been total impunity for those responsible for disappearances in Syria," Amnesty's Philip Luther added.

    "This issue must be addressed by the international community at every opportunity, including peace talks in Geneva and Astana, or else its consequences will be felt for generations and the prospects for healing and reconciliation will be undermined."

    Living in hope and agony

    Fadwa Mahmoud has described the agony of not knowing the fate or whereabouts of either her husband Abdulaziz Al-Kheir or son Maher Tahan since September 20, 2012.

    They disappeared after being arrested by Air Force Intelligence at a checkpoint in Damascus, although the Syrian regime denies this.

    "The days pass by extremely heavily," she said. "I live on hope, which allows me to go on and pushes me to work hard for their release. I never lose hope that they will return. I always imagine that moment when I learn of their release."

    For some families, their quest for information ends in heartbreak. In March 2012, regime forces arrested Bassel Khartabil, a peaceful, free-speech advocate and founder of Creative Commons Syria, a non-profit organisation that helps people share artistic and other work using free legal tools.

    In October 2015, Syrian authorities transferred Khartabil from 'Adra prison, where his family could visit him, to an undisclosed location.

    On August 1, 2017, nearly two years after his disappearance, Khartabil's wife learned that regime forces had executed him.

    'Tens of Thousands'

    To mark the International Day of the Disappeared, Amnesty International has launched an art exhibition in Beirut entitled Tens of Thousands, which aims to raise awareness of Syria's disappeared and missing and give a voice to their families.

    The exhibition at the Station Beirut gallery features items left behind by individuals who have been forcibly disappeared or abducted, as well as poems written by formerly detained poets describing their experiences in Syrian detention facilities.

    There is also a collection of portraits of women detainees by Syrian artist Azza Abou Rebieh. The exhibition will run from August 30 to September 6.

    Amnesty International has also launched an online campaigning platform to shine a light on those who have faced enforced disappearance and abduction in Syria and help families in their efforts to find their loved ones.

    The Syrian conflict began when the Baath regime, in power since 1963 and led by President Bashar al-Assad, responded with military force to peaceful protests demanding democratic reforms during the Arab Spring wave of uprisings, triggering an armed rebellion fuelled by mass defections from the Syrian army.

    According to independent monitors, hundreds of thousands of civilians have been killed in the war, mostly by the regime and its powerful allies, and millions have been displaced both inside and outside of Syria.

    The brutal tactics pursued mainly by the regime, which have included the use of chemical weapons, sieges, mass executions and torture against civilians have led to war crimes investigations.


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    'Syria is our new testing ground,' says Russia military

    Russian arms and weaponry are being tried and tested on Syria, Moscow admitted this week, where the devastating six-year war has cost half-a-million lives - mostly victims of bombing.

    Lieutenant General Igor Makushev, chairman of the Military Science Committee, told Russia's TASS news agency that the country's military intervention has allowed it to test out recently developed munitions.

    "More than 200 weapons have been tested during the special operation, which demonstrated high combat effectiveness and proved to be mission-capable," Makushev told TASS at a military expo in Moscow.

    "Special attention is paid to new arms models - including those that are undergoing state tests - in order to timely detect and quickly remove possible manufacturing and design defects."

    Open Russian military intervention in Syria began in September 2015, with the air force carrying out punishing airstrikes on opposition forces in support of Bashar al-Assad.

    The devastating air campaign is believed to be responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians, most notably during the Aleppo offensive when the rebel-held east of the city was decimated by a Moscow-led blitz.

    Human rights groups, military analysts and NGOs - such as Doctors Without Borders (MSF) - have presented strong evidence to show that Russia has deliberately targeted homes, hospitals, schools and other vital civilian infrastructure.

    Russian bombing is also thought to be behind Assad's change in fortunes in the war with the Syrian president on the ropes in 2015 and now in command of most Syria's major urban centres.

    It has also given Russia huge clout over the Syrian regime, allowed mining and oil companies to cement lucrative deals, and gifted Moscow with a semi-permanent air base in Latakia province.

    After losing some of its clients following the 2011 Arab Spring, Russia has also extended its military influence elsewhere in the region, including the expansion of its only warm sea port in Tartous, west Syria.

    It appears that Russian is not only interested in propping up the Syrian dictator, but also using the bloodshed to market its bombs to other clients.

    They are also using the war to fix defects in recently developed weapons systems.

    "The revealed defects and certain breakdowns did not affect the performed battle missions," Makushev added.

    "Each problematic issue was analysed in the most thorough manner - including with the assistance of defence industry representatives - and comprehensive measures to eliminate the causes for abnormal operation of weapons and military equipment were hammered out."

    Russia has faced criticism from many Arab countries for its merciless military campaign in Syria. It is viewed as an ally of counter-revolutionary forces and regimes in the region - including Israel - looking to halt the advance of democratic movements following the 2011 Arab Spring.

    But Moscow has also won several key arms deals since it backed the Assad regime, including with Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Egypt and Qatar.


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    Russian airstrikes have killed thousands of civilians in Syria since 2015

    total of 5,233 civilians have been killed in Syria since Russia began airstrikes against opponents of the Syrian regime in 2015, according to a Syrian NGO.

    The fatalities included 1,417 children and 886 women, the London-based Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) said in a statement on Sunday.

    Syria fell into a civil war in 2011 after the regime of Bashar al-Assad put down pro-democracy protests with unexpected ferocity.

    In September 2015, Russia began airstrikes in support of the Assad regime on the ground of fighting the Daesh terrorist group in the war-torn country.

    The SNHR said most of the Russian airstrikes had targeted opposition-held areas in Syria.

    "Only 15% of the Russian attacks targeted Daesh-held areas in Syria," the NGO said.

    According to the SNHR, Russia used cluster munitions 212 times in Syria, citing that most of the attacks had taken place in the northwestern province of Idlib.

    The report said that Russian raids in Syria had forced 2.3 million civilians to flee their homes.

    A first round of peace talks between Syrian warring rivals was held in the Kazakh capital, Astana on Jan. 23-24 after a ceasefire was hammered out on Dec. 30.

    The Astana talks are being brokered by Turkey, which backs the Syrian opposition, along with Russia and Iran, both of which support the Assad regime.



    Syria has been a testing ground for both US and Russia with their new bombs and weapons of mass destruction. Who is the real terrorist in the world?

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    Rights group: 1,873 civilians killed in Syria’s Raqqa

    Some 1,873 civilians were killed and thousands were wounded in the Syrian city of Raqqa during the latest military operation carried out by the US-backed Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) against Daesh, a rights group revealed yesterday.

    The Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently network said on Facebook that the bombing and attacks carried out by the international coalition led by the US and PYD militants against Daesh have destroyed 90 per cent of the city.

    The group, which documents violations committed by the warring groups in Raqqa, pointed out that 450,000 civilians have been displaced since the start of the military operation on 6 June.

    The bombing of Raqqa has caused the destruction of eight hospitals, 29 mosques, 40 schools and five university colleges, it said, adding that the city was hit by 3,829 air raids during the recent military operation.

    Earlier this morning, the PYD announced that it had gained full control of the city of Raqqa after the last members of Daesh surrendered.

    Daesh controlled the city of Raqqa for more than three years, declaring it the capital of its alleged state.


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    Britain drops 3,400 bombs in Syria and Iraq - and says no civilians killed

    MEE analysis reveals extent of RAF attacks on IS, while British government maintains there is 'no evidence' a single civilian has died

    Royal Air Force drones and jets have dropped more than 3,400 bombs and missiles on Islamic State (IS) militants in Iraq and Syria, an investigation by Middle East Eye has revealed, yet the British government maintains that there is "no evidence" they have killed a single civilian.

    The vast quantities of ordnance dropped since the start of Operation Shader against IS in 2014 seriously undermines the claim by ministers that the RAF has not caused any civilian casualties in the three-year-long bombing campaign, and has prompted calls for an investigation.

    The Ministry of Defence does not routinely release statistics on the numbers of weapons used over Iraq and Syria, but an MEE analysis has combined weekly updates of operations in the region and information collated by campaign group Drone Wars.

    It shows that up to the end of September, UK forces had dropped at least 3,482 bombs and missiles in the battle against IS, including 2,089 Paveway IV bombs and 486 Brimstone missiles from Typhoon and Tornado jets.

    RAF Reaper drones have also fired 724 Hellfire missiles at IS targets.

    The figures are conservative as MoD updates sometimes do not specify the number of bombs or missiles used in a strike, and last night MoD officials admitted that a further 86 bombs and missiles had been dropped in recent weeks.

    The weapon of choice for RAF jets is the Paveway IV precision-guided bomb, but they have also fired large numbers of the more accurate Brimstone missile, which was originally designed as an anti-tank weapon but has been used extensively by the RAF to target IS snipers and vehicles.

    The government describes the Brimstone as the most accurate weapon available that can be fired by aircraft, and they are conservatively estimated to cost £100,000 each; heavier Paveway IV bombs are estimated to cost £30,000 each, and Hellfire, fired by the Reaper drone fleet, cost £71,300 each.

    IS is in retreat in Iraq and Syria after a US-led bombing campaign that saw the RAF fly more than 8,000 sorties and kill more than 3,000 IS militants. A spike in weapons releases came earlier this summer, when RAF Typhoons and Tornadoes joined the coalition and Kurdish effort to liberate Mosul.

    Islamic State regularly used "human shields" in built-up areas, but despite this and the scale of the ordnance dropped by the RAF, the MoD maintains it has "no evidence" that its strikes have caused any civilian casualties - a position now roundly rejected by defence analysts and opposition parties.

    "Our armed forces are among the best in the world, so they will be among the most discerning and accurate when it comes to targeting," Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable, told MEE.

    "However, it is, at the very best, implausible that our heavy involvement could not have caused civilian deaths. We must not knock our armed services, but, equally, the government has to be honest in its assessment of damage caused in conflict."

    The US Air Force, which leads the anti-Islamic State coalition, says it has caused 786 civilians deaths in the three-year air war, but despite saying the air war is the "most challenging fight in decades", the RAF has made so such assessment.

    Earlier this month, the minister of state for the British armed forces, Mark Lancaster, told parliament that the government "had been able to discount RAF involvement in any civilian casualties".

    The RAF says it takes all steps to minimise civilian casualties, but it has conducted more than 1,600 strikes in Iraq and Syria - more than any other coalition country except the US.

    Reacting to the figures, military aviation experts and campaigners have said that it is no longer credible for the MoD to maintain that has not killed any civilians.

    Samuel Oakford, a spokesperson for Airwars, a group that monitors civilian casualties from international air strikes in the region, told MEE: "The UK's claim that no British air strikes in Iraq or Syria have led to civilian deaths has always been difficult to believe.

    "Based on the coalition's own civilian casualty reporting, it is extremely unlikely that a coalition member as active as the UK would have not had a hand in a single civilian death.

    "As the campaign continues into its fourth year and more data about British involvement such as this is compiled, the MoD's claim is becoming increasingly absurd."

    Over the course of the last 12 months the focus of the air battle against IS, which the MoD calls Daesh, has shifted from the Iraqi city of Mosul, which fell in July, to Raqqa in Syria.

    But MEE analysis shows that the overwhelming majority of RAF weapons released took place against IS fighters in Iraq with 3,000 strikes, while a total of 482 bombs and missiles were dropped over Syria, prompting fears of blowback in the UK.

    "Turning a blind eye to the consequences of air strikes and pretending they are somehow now 'risk free' is naive in the extreme," said Chris Cole, director of campaign Drone Wars UK.

    "Unless we begin to understand and acknowledge the true cost of our ongoing wars in the Middle East, we are likely to pay a high price in the future."

    Zero casualties

    Airwars, which works with the RAF and US Air Force to report suspected civilian casualties, says that at least 5,600 civilians have been killed by coalition strikes.

    In July there were reports that Iraqi soldiers used bulldozers to hide the bodies of hundreds of civilians killed in the final days of the battle for Mosul.

    MEE's analysis shows that during the fight for the Iraqi city, RAF Typhoons and Tornadoes dropped dozens of Paveway IV bombs on IS fighters in the city.

    However, the MoD does not have troops on the ground in the region carrying out battle damage assessment of sites struck by RAF munitions.

    Instead it carries out the assessments from video evidence captured from the air, a technique that has been dismissed as ineffective by other coalition allies.

    The RAF says it takes "all possible precautions to avoid civilian casualties", but Amnesty International has previously expressed serious concerns about the air war's toll on civilians. In a report earlier this year, it found the battle for West Mosul had caused a "civilian catastrophe".

    Civilians were being ruthlessly exploited by IS, which had moved them into conflict zones, used them as human shields, and prevented escape. They were also being subjected to "relentless and unlawful attacks" by Iraqi forces and the US-led coalition.

    A source in the RAF told Middle East Eye: "Given the ruthless and inhuman behaviour of our adversary, including the deliberate use of human shields, we must accept that the risk of inadvertent civilian casualties is ever present, particularly in the complex and congested urban environment within which we operate."

    The source added that all missions were "meticulously planned" and there was no suggestion that UK forces have committed war crimes.

    However, there are fears that by failing to fully address the issue of civilian casualties, the MoD is not presenting the full picture of Britain's campaign against IS.

    Iain Overton, the executive director of Action on Armed Violence, said: "If the RAF can claim zero civilian casualties, then the argument for more air strikes stands.

    "They can justify such by pointing at the issue of proportionality and IHL [international humanitarian law], they can claim that their kills are 'clean'. Perhaps they are, but they don't present the evidence to prove they are - not meaningfully."

    The MoD said in a statement on Wednesday: "Only by defeating Daesh for good will we reduce the threat to us here at home. British forces have crippled Daesh since 2014 and the RAF will continue to strike the terrorists hard where they plan their campaign of hate in both Syria and Iraq.

    "We have no evidence that RAF strikes have caused civilian casualties.

    "We recognise the challenge faced by coalition pilots in close urban fighting against a ruthless terrorist enemy that uses civilians as human shields, but are clear that to do nothing would leave cities in the hands of Daesh brutality.

    "We do everything we can to minimise the risk through the rigorous targeting processes and the professionalism of our RAF crews."


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    Russian Mercenaries in Syria are Buying Virgin 'Wives' For £75

    Mercenaries from Russia 'buying Syrian virgins for £75 a year as sexual partners'

    By Will Stewart - 12 October 2017

    Mercenaries from Russia are 'buying' Syrian virgins for £75 as sexual partners
    as they fight a secret war against jihadists [Muslims] in support of Damascus dictator Bashar al-Assad, it has been reported.

    These clandestine Russian forces also decapitate captured jihadists [Muslims] receiving a bounty of £13 for each beheaded ISIS fighter, claimed a veteran hired gun.

    Moscow has denied deploying mercenaries in the country but in recent days two members of these unofficial private armies were seized by ISIS and are believed to have been beheaded.

    Now an ex-Russian army man serving as a mercenary has revealed secrets of the deployment, often at the frontline facing jihadists [Muslims] forces.

    Asked about rest and relaxation in war-ravaged Syria, he said the Russian fighters bought virgins to act as 'wives' either for a year for £75 or 'forever' at a cost of £1,130 to £1,500.

    A succession of Russian showbusiness stars have flown in to entertain Vladimir Putin's official troops stationed in the country.

    But the mercenary fighters are not even officially acknowledged as being there, and not permitted to attend or socialise with the regular armed forces, said Sergey from Donetsk, a former lawyer in his 30s, who has been a mercenary for four years first in eastern Ukraine - where Russia also denied deploying such forces - then Syria.

    'It is boring sometimes. But you can buy a wife,' he said. 'A virgin from a good family costs $100 for a year. If you take her forever, then it's $1,500-2,000.

    'It's easier to buy than to search for one. I know guys who got papers sorted for such brides and later took them back to Russia with them.

    'But it's mainly officers who can afford them.'

    He revealed that private army mercenaries like him receive no Russian medals - and if they are killed in action, their bodies will not be flown home.

    They call Syria the 'sandbox' and know that 'if something happens, no one will rescue them', revealed Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper.

    'Their contract states that freight-200 (corpses) are not returned. Too expensive.'

    Sergey said: 'We are not given awards.....Our trip's aim is salary. Without patriotism.'

    Many were fooled into thinking their tours would not be too dangerous, he said.

    'Our recruiters were telling us: "You'll be protecting communications, checkpoints, oil derricks, rebuilding plants. And when we arrived - surprise! - it's the assault battalion".'

    Contracts specify that mercenaries do not speak about their work, indeed they are urged not even to tell their families where they are going.

    'I signed an agreement,' he said. 'There is a list of thing that we need to do, responsibilities, but no rights.

    'If you violate some article, for example, drinks at the front, you are fined. The whole unit is fined. But [people] drink little, it's too hot. But vodka in Syria is good.'

    He is paid £1,960 a month - 'my wife is pregnant, I have two children, a son and daughter, my parents are old.

    'I wouldn't earn it even in a year. Even if I am fooled and paid less, it's still better than nothing.'

    Two such private armies are operating now in Syria
    , he said, one called Wagner, the other Turan, and officially 'they have no relation to Russia's official military institutions', although on the ground work in tandem are essential for the success of Putin's military operations.

    When they flew by charter plane to Lattakia they were told to say there were 'peacemakers'.

    'We had those with jail terms, those who couldn't find a job at home, had no money, former volunteers who came to military training in Rostov, militants, even ethnic Ukrainians, including those who were fighting against us in Donbas (eastern Ukraine),' he said.

    'When the very first combatants were sent there, selection was strict, some say there even was competition.

    'Now they are taking everyone. I personally have seen an amputee, a person with no arm, he is a machine gunner. How can he shoot?

    'It seems to me that recruiters are lately paid for a number of recruited, not for the quality. That's why there are so many stupid losses.'

    Recent reports highlighted how jihadists [Muslims] captured bearded father of two Roman Zabolotny, 39, and his comrade Grigory Tsurkanu, 38, - both are believed to have been executed by beheading in a town square as fanatics [locals] cheered.

    The pair were said to have refused to give up their Orthodox faith and become ISIS-backing Muslims.

    Wagner - or Vagner - is the nickname of an ex-Russian special forces officer called Dmitry Utkin (circled) who runs the private army

    Utkin is shown on the far right of a picture of Wagner chiefs with Putin (centre) at a Kremlin ceremony

    'They were from the group who came in May,' he said. '150 arrived here then, and in the first fight there were 19 freight-200s (killed). Numbers are simply hidden. 'The media are getting minimal information about what's happening. The latest who arrived... their training was such that it was clear, they'll be dead.'

    Asked if he saw the pair who died as heroes, he said: 'Don't make me swear. They got cold feet. Because normal guys wouldn't allow to be captured alive.'

    He claimed the Russian mercenaries are also beheading jihadists [Muslims].

    'Ours also cut them off. Why should I drag a whole body across the desert?
    At first their heads were paid at 5,000 roubles each (£65) for an ISIS man.

    'Our guys brought bunches of them. This is why the price was dropped - it was necessary to stop scaring locals. Lately they were paid 1,000 roubles (£13).

    'I don't know exactly because I am not doing it myself.'

    Families get compensation of around £39,000 for mercenaries killed in action, and £11,700 is paid for the wounded.

    'It is clear no-one will drag your corpse to the motherland because it's too expensive and there isn't much sense in it.

    'Three million roubles paid for the dead, a living person will only earn in two years.

    'But if you are injured while not wearing bulletproof vest or helmet, you might not be paid anything. And the vest weighs 18 kilograms. Who'll be dragging it on him in such heat? You are also fined for it. 'But the families of those two whose heads were cut off will receive all the payments for sure - because the media made a noise.'

    He complained that the mercenaries are issued dud weapons. 'Equipment is old, exhausted, produced long time ago,' he said. 'Chinese machine guns are given to us.'

    Earlier this year mercenary Ivan Slyshkin, 23, was fatally shot in the head after joining Wagner's private army to earn money for his wedding to girlfriend Kristina Gainutdinova, 20. His comrades raised money for his corpse to be returned to Russian for a funeral.

    Ruslan Leviev, founder of Conflict Intelligence independent investigation group, said: 'Our experience of watching this conflict tells us that Wagner private army mercenaries are the first to fight. 'We think it is a strategy of the Defence Ministry of Russia: sending mercenaries to the hottest places, we avoid losses among official soldiers and keep the image of a successful combat operation.' RBC news agency claimed earlier this year that the Wagner forces had cost Russia £145 million during the Syrian conflict.

    Wagner - or Vagner - is the nickname of an ex-Russian special forces officer called Dmitry Utkin who runs the private army. He is reported to be the ex commander of the famous Pskov special forces brigade.

    Other leaders include decorated former senior Russian army personnel. The force enabled Russia to deploy in Crimea, other areas of Ukraine and Syria, while denying its soldiers were on the ground.

    The funding for the secret army is believed to come from Russia's military budget.


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    British aid workers in Syria could be on drone 'kill list'

    Concerns for safety of aid workers deemed 'risk to national security' over past drone strikes targeting individuals stripped of British citizenship

    British aid workers stranded in Syria after having their citizenships revoked could be targets for British and American drone strikes even as they await the verdicts of their appeals, human rights campaigners have warned.

    Those fears are based on concerns that out-of-country citizenship deprivations have been a “prelude” to extra-judicial killings, and the willingness of the government to target British citizens in Syria deemed to pose a threat to national security despite questions over the legality of the policy.

    Middle East Eye has learnt of at least two cases in which aid workers based in northern Syria have been stripped of their citizenship on the grounds that they “present a risk to the national security of the United Kingdom,” according to letters sent to their families.

    Both say they are only involved in aid work and have never fought in Syria, nor had any links with militant groups. Both are appealing against the decision, but that process could take years.

    In the meantime, they are unable to leave Syria legally as their British passports have been cancelled and neither holds travel documentation from any other country.

    “We have seen a really dangerous ratcheting up of rhetoric by politicians and a certain section of the press over the past few weeks in regard of the use of British drones to kill those suspected of being terrorists,” Chris Cole of the Drone Watch UK monitoring group told MEE.

    “There is bound to be concern that these men may have been placed on a kill list and may be liable to be killed at any time.”

    The government’s use of citizenship-stripping powers has drawn scrutiny in the past because of the cases of Bilal al-Berjawi and Mohamed Sakr, two former British citizens who were killed in drone strikes in Somalia in 2012 and 2014 after both had been deprived of citizenship.

    In another case, Mahdi Hashi, a former British citizen who had been held by the US in Djibouti, was rendered to the US to face trial on terrorism charges for which he was jailed for nine years in 2016.

    All three were accused of links to Somalia’s al-Shabaab militant group, which is considered a terrorist organisation in the UK.
    A 'prelude to rendition and drone strikes'

    The cases prompted David Anderson, the UK’s then-terrorism legislation watchdog, to highlight concerns in a report in 2016 that out-of-country citizenship deprivation was alleged to “have been the prelude to rendition to the US and even to US drone strikes”.

    Asim Qureshi, research director at the human rights group Cage, told MEE that Berjawi had emailed him prior to his death to ask him to instruct a lawyer to bring an appeal against the citizenship revocation order.

    “Being in a war brings its own dangers anyway, but what there is is an increased danger that any due process rights that you may have will be rolled over roughshod because that scrutiny that comes with being a British citizen no longer exists,” said Qureshi.

    “Say you are an aid worker who is accidentally mistaken for a militant and killed; being a British citizen in that scenario makes a big difference in terms of due processes of accountability.”

    Several British citizens have been killed in British and American drone strikes in Syria since 2015 as part of a US-led coalition air campaign which has primarily targeted the Islamic State (IS) group.

    They include Sally Jones, an IS recruiter who was reported killed last month; Jones’ husband Junaid Hussain who was reported killed by a US drone strike in August 2015; Reyaad Khan, a British IS fighter reported killed in August 2015; and IS executioner Mohammed Emwazi, who was reported killed in November 2015.

    The British government has ratcheted up its rhetoric in recent days amid concerns about the threat posed by fighters seeking to return home following the collapse of IS, which attracted numerous fighters from Western nations to its cause.

    Speaking last week, Gavin Williamson, the UK’s new defence secretary, told the Sun newspaper that he would not hesitate to order drone strikes against British IS fighters.

    "They are going to inflict more and more harm on our country, so does that mean eliminating that threat completely? Yes it does,” said Williamson.

    “Do you want some of those foreign fighters potentially in this country? Do your readers? They certainly don't, so the job isn't done.”

    Williamson’s comment followed remarks last month by Rory Stewart, a foreign office minister, who said that the only way to deal with most IS fighters would be to kill them

    Neither of the aid workers is accused by the British government of having links to IS, but one of them is “assessed to be aligned with an al-Qaeda-aligned group,” an apparent reference to Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the militant group formerly known as the Nusra Front which formally broke away from al-Qaeda last year.

    HTS and its previous iterations has also been a target for coalition air strikes, including a US attack in March in the village of al-Jina in Aleppo province which killed at least 49 people and destroyed a mosque.

    Abu al-Khayr al-Masri, a senior al-Qaeda leader and the son-in-law of al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden, was also reported killed in a US drone strike in Idlib in February.

    The threat of drone strikes could further complicate the aid workers’ appeals by limiting their ability to speak safely to their lawyers because of concerns that mobile phone data has been used to locate and identify targets for drone strikes.

    In the case of Berjawi, the US drone strike that killed him occurred hours after he had phoned his wife in the UK, where she had just given birth to the couple’s son.
    Skynet 'kill list'

    Earlier this year, human rights groups Reprieve launched a campaign highlighting how a secret US surveillance programme known as Skynet was drawing on mobile phone metadata collected by the US and its allies to draw up a “kill list” of potential drone targets which included journalists, peace activists and community leaders.

    “It’s clearly vital that these people are able to seek proper legal help from their lawyers. But we know from previous cases that telephone communications are monitored and indeed used to track down the location of individuals in order to launch a strike,” Chris Cole of the Drone Wars UK monitoring group told MEE.

    “These people should be able to seek legal advice in order to answer the allegations made against them. And they should be able to do so free of fear that seeking to clear their names will merely bring a drone strike down on their heads.”

    The British government continues to face scrutiny over the targeted killings of British citizens in Syria with the parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights calling on it in May to clarify the legal basis for lethal drone strikes.

    In April, the Intelligence and Security Committee, which oversees the security services, said it had not been given evidence to a “key ministerial submission” on which the decision to carry out drone strikes in 2015 had been based.

    Yasmine Ahmed, director of Rights Watch (UK) told MEE it was “both morally and legally wrong for the UK government to employ blunt tactics in an arbitrary manner to deal with British citizens returning from Syria and elsewhere.

    Stripping people of their citizenship, in particular when they are abroad at the time, deprives people of key legal protections, limits their ability to effectively challenge any such decision and subjects them to the risk of further harms, including death and mistreatment.”

    Rights Watch (UK) earlier this year mounted a legal challenge to call on the government to disclose the legal basis for targeted killings in Syria

    That advice remains secret but attorney general Jeremy Wright, the government’s senior lawyer, said in a speech in January that “specific” evidence of a plot to attack the UK was not necessary to launch “pre-emptive” drone strikes against suspects overseas.

    "Piecemeal government comments, including Rory Stewart's recent sweeping statement, paint a picture that is deeply alarming,” said Ahmed.

    “Yet the government's failure to disclose the legal advice upon which it is carrying out lethal strikes in Syria, coupled with the government's failure to disclose critical information to the Parliamentary committees charged with overseeing their actions, mean the government's policy – which carries life and death consequences for British nationals in Syria – has been shielded from public scrutiny and marred by legal uncertainty."

    The dangers of involvement in aid work in Syria were highlighted this week by reports of an air strike targeting a medical facility backed by British charities in Idlib City in which two people were killed and six ambulances donated from the UK were destroyed.



    When their white Christians go join the ISIS , upon their return are treated some kind of victims where as these aid workers are stripped of their citizenship and targeted for drone killings. Such is the hypocrisy of these mass murderers.

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    Syria: Russian air strikes 'kill dozens of civilians'

    27 November 2017

    At least 53 civilians have been killed in Russian air strikes in the east Syrian village
    of Al-Shafah, a monitoring group says.

    The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said 21 of those reportedly killed on Sunday morning were children.

    The village is in Deir al-Zour, one of the last provinces where Islamic State [ISIS] still holds territory.

    Initially SOHR said 34 had been killed in strikes on residential buildings. But the monitoring group's head told the AFP news agency it now believed the figure was higher.

    "The toll increased after removing the debris in a long day of rescue operation," Rami Abdel Rahman said.

    Earlier Russia confirmed that six long-range bombers had carried out air strikes in the area, but said they had hit militants and their strongholds.

    Russia is a key ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad
    in the country's long-running civil war.

    UN-backed peace talks are expected to resume in Geneva next week, but several previous rounds of negotiations have failed.

    Separately on Sunday, there were reports of 23 people killed in a rebel-held enclave on the outskirts of Damascus. SOHR said several towns in Eastern Ghouta had been hit by air strikes and artillery fire.

    Neither of the reports have been independently verified.

    The monitoring group says 120 people have been killed since the Syrian army began its offensive there nearly two weeks ago.

    After years of siege, conditions for Eastern Ghouta's 400,000 residents are dire, with reports of people dying of starvation.

    In a report last week, the UN said food was so scarce some residents had been reduced to eating animal fodder and even garbage.

    Eastern Ghouta is one of several "de-escalation" zones in Syria announced by Russia, Iran and Turkey earlier this year.


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    Ex-prisoner recalls torture behind bars in Syria

    Samer Tlass share years of horrific memories from brutal regime prisons in his novel Escape from Prison Hell

    A lawyer who suffered three years of torture and beating inside Syria has now shared his harrowing experiences in a new book.

    Samer Tlass’ fictionalized account of those horrific days depicts what he calls -- in the book's title -- an Escape from Prison Hell.

    Tlass, 40, wrote the novel after taking refuge in the southern Turkish province of Hatay, which borders Syria.

    Of his prison days, Tlass told Anadolu Agency: “Those were the most fearful three years I have ever lived.”

    “Words fail to capture those days… but I wanted to write down my memories so people could know what happened there.”

    The 130-page novel has been translated into both Turkish and English.

    Tlass, a father of three, was arrested by regime forces in 2011 during anti-regime protests in Damascus, when the civil war started.

    For three years he was held in two different regime prisons and was subjected to brutal electric shocks, beatings, and severe hunger, he recounted.

    “I was arrested although I hadn’t done any harm to anybody’s life or property,” he said.

    “I struggled with hunger, electroshock, beatings, and diseases in a military prison.”

    But, he added, “I never lost hope.”

    Freedom, then nightmare

    In 2014, Tlass was freed in a prisoner exchange between the opposition and the regime.

    “After prison, it was literally a nightmare,” he recalled.

    “My apartment and the neighborhood I had lived in were completely destroyed. There was no place for us to live.

    “After a while I took refuge in Turkey.”

    Tlass has been living with his family in Hatay’s Reyhanli district for over three years now.

    His fondest hope is for an end to the violence inside Syria, including its prisons.

    “I hope no one will be left in my country’s prisons," he said.

    "Because what happens in those places is no different from hell.”

    Syria has been locked in a vicious civil war since early 2011, when the Bashar al-Assad regime cracked down on pro-democracy protests with unexpected ferocity.

    Hundreds of thousands of civilians have been killed in the conflict, mainly by regime airstrikes on opposition-held areas, while millions more were displaced.

    Turkey hosts more Syrian refugees than any other country in the world. The country has spent around $25 billion helping and sheltering refugees since the beginning of the Syrian civil war.


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    US generals turning into warlords in Syria, hijacking US foreign policy

    During his 2016 election campaign, U.S. President Donald Trump kept asking: "Why are we in Syria and Afghanistan?" He called for an end to entanglements abroad and a focus on domestic problems.

    President Barack Obama's Syria policy was based on little more than indifference and, the Trump administration just automatically adopted it.

    After all these years, the U.S. still does not have a good grasp on what its policies on Syria are. What does it want to achieve? What is its endgame? What kind of timeframe has it settled on to achieve its objectives? American politicians seem clueless about what they have gotten themselves into.

    No one knows who is in charge of the U.S.'s Syria policy.
    Chaos reigns. Who do we call to ask what the U.S. is doing in Syria?

    It seems that with no lead from the top, United States Central Command (CENTCOM) has decided it is the boss. While operationally, it is good that soldiers are in charge, it seems soldiers have also taken over the decision making that should be under the purview of elected officials. CENTCOM and its officers now make statements, formulate strategies and even conduct diplomacy. Turkey has a history of power-hungry generals seeing themselves as guardians of the country and the U.S. is well-advised not to repeat it.

    When politicians seem confused about what is happening, soldiers on the ground take over and start making irresponsible statements. U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Paul E. Funk spoke from Manbij in northern Syria the other day. What he said implied that U.S. soldiers there would protect People's Protection Units (YPG) terrorists from any sort of Turkish military incursion.

    Let that sink in.

    An American general says that if Turkey makes a move against the Syrian affiliate of the PKK, a group recognized as terrorist by the U.S. and EU, it would be met with U.S. firepower.

    National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster is expected to arrive in Turkey this weekend. Next week, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will come.

    Whose statements should Ankara take into account? Who stands for the U.S.? Do Trump's previous promises about the YPG carry any weight whatsoever? Will what McMaster or Tillerson say suffice?

    Trump's military-heavy cabinet seems to have silenced all the responsible civilians. Secretary of Defense James Mattis, a retired four-star general; McMaster, a three-star general; and White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, another retired four-star general, seem to be in charge, taking Trump's foreign policy hostage.

    If one has a hammer, all problems start to look like a nail. And these generals have weapons of enormous destructive potential and hundreds of thousands of troops under their command. They somehow persuaded Trump to order an arms buildup in northern Syria to support the YPG, which seems like the only Obama policy Trump decided was worth keeping.

    It should also be noted that Trump, in a telephone conversation with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, had promised to stop arms support to the YPG, which was subsequently denied by the Pentagon. Another point is that Turkey undertook its latest Operation Olive Branch only after another U.S. official said they were creating a border force, practically an army, out of a terrorist group.

    A rogue Pentagon ignoring its commander-in-chief seems to be pushing the U.S. deeper into the Syrian quagmire and destroying the country's ties with its NATO ally Turkey.

    Complete mayhem governs the upper echelons of U.S. foreign policymaking. Appointed soldiers are disregarding the orders of their civilian bosses.

    The day it was announced that U.S.'s top diplomat, Tillerson, was coming to Turkey, a buffoon of a soldier visits terrorist bases in Manbij and threatens Turkey.

    It is about time that the few sensible politicians in the U.S. intervene and do what they must to rescue the ties.What Obama did in Syria was reckless and inhumane. However, compared to what Trump is doing, Obama was a master strategist. Rot spreads from the head. Trump's cluelessness has allowed soldiers to fill the power vacuum.

    And then come American pundits wondering why anti-American sentiment is on the rise in Turkey. Let's clue you in. When irresponsible politicians constantly lie, soldiers arm terrorists and issue threats, there are going to be consequences.

    As long as generals are in charge of U.S. foreign policy, anti-Americanism will spread across the world like wildfire.


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    Syrian death mothers holding their children after Russian aircraft attack

    video: https://www.facebook.com/iKhabr/videos/1543107762472229

    Russia says it has 'tested' more than 200 new weapons in Syria

    22 February, 2018

    A Russian MP has claimed Moscow's forces have trialled more than 200 new weapons in Syria, making the war-torn country a testing ground for Russian weaponry.

    Syria towns and cities have become a testing ground for the latest Russian military technology, a lawmaker said Thursday.

    Former Russian commander, now MP, Vladimir Shamanov told parliament that
    more than 200 new weapons - developed by Moscow scientists - have been tried out in Syria during the country's seven-year war, which has cost over half-a-million lives.

    "As we helped the brotherly Syrian people, we tested over 200 new types of weapons," he told the Duma.

    Shamanov hinted that the weapons had been so "successful" that the Syrian regime had ordered stockpiles - no doubt to be used on their own people.

    The selling power of Russian firepower - which has been on display during the five-day slaughter in Eastern Ghouta this week - is something Moscow should be "proud of", Shamanov claimed.

    "It's not an accident that today they are coming to us from many directions to purchase our weapons, including countries that are not our allies," he said. "Today our military-industrial complex made our army look in a way we can be proud of," he said.

    Russia provides the bulk of the Syrian regime's arsenal, which has been used extensively during the war.

    Fighting was sparked in 2011 after peaceful protests were brutally suppressed by regime troops leading to mass defections from the Syrian army.

    Russia joined the war in 2015, after forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad suffered a series of military defeats against the rebels.

    Since Russian air strikes began, regime forces have managed to push the opposition back to a number of enclaves but the cost has be​en devastating for civilians.

    Hundreds of thousands of civilians have likely died from daily shelling, air strikes and barrel bomb attacks.

    In the latest regime offensive,
    400 civilians in Eastern Ghouta have been killed in just five days of heavy bombing.

    Russia has denied any role in the carnage but its jets have been spotted flying overhead the besieged opposition enclave during the bombardments.

    This week, new Russian military aircraft - including the country's first stealth jet fighter - were seen arriving in Syria's Latakia province.

    In addition to the semi-permanent airbase in the west of Syria, Russia also has access to a naval port in Tartous.

    In 2016, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu hailed the country's military technology, saying the Syria war was a good opportunity to test new weaponry.

    Other Russian officials and military commanders have echoed this claim.

    Russia has
    also tested cruise missiles fired from submarines in the Mediterranean.


    Everyday our brothers, sisters and children are dying in Syria, many due to starvation! Will you answer the cries of our Ummah? One Ummah is currently providing food packs, bread, medical aid, education and other essentials for families inside Syria! You can help support an entire Family in Ghouta with: Food Pack for £50 Bread Pack £5 Also in Northern...

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    Not only Russia, but all the other foreign countries there are testing their weapons and killing Muslims under the disguise of "fighting" ISIS.

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    Names of 10,000 women (mothers, sisters, daughters) killed in #Syria by Assad's regime and his allies.

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    Pentagon: US, allies launched 105 missiles in Syria, 'successfully' hit all three targets

    Once upon a time, when Barack Obama was US president and after the Assad regime gassed over 1,000 civilians to death in August 2013, Donald Trump tweeted, "Why do we keep broadcasting when we are going to attack Syria [sic]. Why can't we just be quiet and, if we attack at all, catch them by surprise?"

    Yet, when faced with a similar chemical weapons attack perpetrated by the regime and its allies this month, Trump took to Twitter once again, doing exactly what he warned against, this time tweeting, "Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and 'smart!' You shouldn't be partners with a Gas Killing Animal [sic] who kills his people and enjoys it!"

    So, just for the record, according to President Trump, foreign policy under Obama should have been masked in secrecy. But with Trump as president, foreign policy should be formed and announced on Twitter, giving Assad, Russia and Iran a heads up that a vague "something" was coming.

    Not unexpectedly, various commentators in the West again jumped at the opportunity to declare the start of World War III on social media. Interestingly enough, Kremlin-controlled media was also in a WWIII mood, instructing Russians on what supplies to buy before they hide in a bunker.
    Perhaps to the dismay of the scaremongers on both sides, the joke of an attack that Trump ordered and Theresa May and Emanuel Macron joined in on, will not change anything, whether in Syria or elsewhere. Nor will it result in an open confrontation between the US and Russia.

    These strikes, like the 2017 strike on Shayrat airbase, carefully avoided Russian presence in Syria and will do nothing to dislodge the Syrian regime from its place. Furthermore, they will not change US priorities in Syria, which are simply a continuation of the Obama administration's "war on terror" policy.

    Assad is 'bad' only when he's using chemicals

    It is positively ridiculous to hear grown men and women pontificating on the horror of gas attacks against Syrian civilians without the mere mention of the multitude of other ways Syrians are being killed by the regime, Russia and Iran.

    It is even more ridiculous for someone like Trump to be criticising Russia in one breath for allying with Assad, and then in the next breath claiming that the "fake and corrupt" Russia investigation is the primary cause of bad blood between the US and Russia.

    To be fair, the Obama administration is primarily responsible for this rhetoric of limiting the Syria red line to chemical weapons (and even then, not enforcing it), as well as for handing the Syrian "file" over to Russia and Iran.

    When it came to the removal of Assad (a primary demand of the Syrian revolution), Obama instead preferred to prioritise the US' rapprochement with Iran and the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

    Under Obama's command, the US formed the "Syrian Democratic Forces", comprised mainly of Kurdish fighters with links to the YPG (People's Protection Units), a group that has continued to receive US support under Trump, including several hundred marines sent to Syria early 2017 after Trump was sworn into office.

    US-led air strikes on so-called ISIL targets, which began in 2014 and number over 15,000 and counting, have killed thousands of Syrian civilians, including children, as well as contributed to the decimation of Syrian cities such as al-Raqqa and Deir Az Zor.

    The bottom line is that Trump's Syria policy hasn't deviated much from that of Obama's, and it isn't likely to do so now as a result of these strikes.

    Trump is not a friend of the Syrian people

    One of the biggest ramifications of Trump's empty promises on Twitter has been the false hope it gave to people who have lived atrocity after atrocity at the hands of Assad and his allies. Social media platforms were full of Syrians welcoming the strikes on regime-held targets. They were quickly disappointed when Secretary of Defense Mattis declared, "Right now, this is a one-time shot, and I believe this has sent a very strong message to dissuade [Assad], to deter him from [using chemical weapons] again".

    But just as a refresher, someone who bans Syrians from his country could not possibly care about them as they die thousands of miles away. It would do us all well to remember that Trump's administration is still fighting to make it much harder for Syrian (and other) refugees to come to the US, as well as to ban Syrians (along with citizens of several other nations) with valid visas to study and work in the US.

    Perhaps most importantly, it is prudent to remember Trump's Islamophobic 2013 tweets against US intervention in Syria, in which he described the people who rose up against Bashar al-Assad, "Remember, all these 'freedom fighters' in Syria want to fly planes into our buildings", claiming that, "Many of the Syrian rebels are radical jihadi Islamists who are murdering Christians. Why would we ever fight with them?"

    US-Russia coordination, not confrontation

    Most analysts are concentrating on what will happen now that the US and its allies conducted strikes on the Syrian regime, ignoring other significant political events which impact Syria policy on an international scale.

    Last week, Israel carried out several strikes on a Syrian airbase near Homs, killing at least threeIranian Revolutionary Guard members. On Friday, an Iranian-backed brigade in Syria announced it would begin operations against US forces in eastern Syria. It would be far more likely for the US to respond to such Iranian actions than it would for the US to pursue a policy of "regime change" at this point, as many of the regime's western-based supporters purport.

    At the same time, Russia has remained remarkably "neutral" during these and previous Israeli air strikes in Syria, limiting itself to fiery rhetoric rather than substantive action. It is also important to note that during the strikes, the US, the UK and France did not enter Syrian airspace that is currently controlled by Russia. That, along the fact that during this and the previous air strikes, there was coordination with the Russians should be enough to dissipate scaremongers' illusions of an imminent World War III.

    A US-Russia military confrontation is unlikely in Syria, as Washington and Moscow have coordinated militarily since the Russian intervention in 2015. And whatever happens in Syria in the future will surely involve a settlement between the US and Russia.

    Meanwhile, a public that believes the situation is escalating serves both sides.

    Domestically, Trump currently finds himself facing less than favourable conditions. While the Russia collusion investigation may not result in any actual consequences for Trump, it was quite uncomfortable for his administration when Trump's lawyer, Michael Cohen, was the target of an FBI raid earlier this week.

    The frenzy with which US media was covering the possibility of attacks on the Assad regime has served as a welcome distraction from this latest development in the case being built against Trump.
    And in Russia, the Kremlin is facing an economic crisis which is about to worsen as a result of Western sanctions. The narrative of Russia standing up to the US and regaining its superpower status comes at the perfect time to keep the population distracted from these problems at home and abroad.


    except its not some empty building. Everyone is testing their weapons on the people.

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    Dear Bashar al-Assad Apologists: Your Hero Is a War Criminal Even If He Didn’t Gas Syrians

    Mehdi Hasan |April 19 2018

    Dear Bashar al-Assad Apologists,

    Sorry to interrupt: I know you’re very busy right now trying to convince yourselves, and the rest of us, that your hero couldn’t possibly have used chemical weapons to kill up to 70 people in rebel-held Douma on April 7. Maybe Robert Fisk’s mysterious doctor has it right — and maybe the hundreds of survivors and eyewitnesses to the attack are all “crisis actors.”

    Maybe Assad didn’t use sarin to kill around 100 people in rebel-held Khan Sheikhoun a year ago either. A joint investigation by the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons found “unmistakable evidence” that he did. Human Rights Watch and Hans Blix also agree that Assad was probably to blame. But maybe they’re all wrong. Or, maybe they’re paid shills for the CIA.

    My point is this: Who cares? Seriously, who cares? Whether or not it was Assad who used chemical weapons in Syria earlier this month, or last year, might matter to the leaders of the U.S., the U.K., and France, who decided to launch brazenly illegal and rather pointless airstrikes against his regime, but it doesn’t change the fact that the Syrian president-for-life is a monster who has perpetrated a vast array of blatant human rights abuses, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.

    Now, I totally understand why those of you on the MAGA-supporting far right who cheer for barrel bombs don’t give a **** about any of this. But to those of you on the anti-war far left who have a soft spot for the dictator in Damascus: Have you lost your minds? Or have you no shame?

    Remember: Whether Assad used chemical weapons in Douma is irrelevant to the moral case against him. What about the rest of his crimes? Was Assad any less of a war criminal when his “indiscriminate bombardments,” according to the U.N., were destroying “homes, medical facilities, schools, water and electrical facilities, bakeries and crops,” without the aid of sarin or chlorine? When he was dropping barrel bombs (68,000 since 2012, according to one count) on defenseless civilians? Or cluster bombs? Or good ol’-fashioned shells?

    Was Assad any less of a war criminal when his troops “opened fire during protests in the southern part of Syria … and killed peaceful demonstrators” at the start of the Syrian uprising in March 2011, long before any jihadists had arrived in the country to fight against his regime? Or when his soldiers delivered the brutalized corpse of 25-year-old protester Ghiyath Matar — nicknamed “Little Gandhi” for his commitment to nonviolent activism — to his pregnant wife and parents in Deraya in September 2011?

    Was Assad any less of a war criminal when his barrel bombs were forcing hundreds of thousands of Syrians to flee from their homes? An October 2015 survey of Syrian refugees living in Germany found that seven in 10 of them blamed Assad for the violence in their country, compared to one in three who blamed the Islamic State.

    Was Assad any less of a war criminal when he was torturing tens of thousands of Syrians in his dungeons, many of whom ended up dead or disappeared? “The mass scale of deaths of detainees suggests that the government of Syria is responsible for acts that amount to extermination as a crime against humanity,” declared Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, chair of the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Syria, in February 2016.

    Was Assad any less of a war criminal when his security forces were literally starving the people of Madaya, an opposition-held town an hour’s drive from Damascus, in 2015 and 2016? Scores of residents died from malnutrition and starvation, according to Physicians for Human Rights; others were forced to survive on soup made from grass and rice. “Let me be clear,” declared then-U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in January 2016, referring to the situation in Madaya and other regime- and rebel-held towns, “the use of starvation as a weapon of war is a war crime.”

    Was Assad any less of a war criminal when he was bombarding and besieging stateless Palestinians at the Yarmouk refugee camp, a few miles from his presidential palace, in 2012, 2013, and 2014? “The harrowing accounts of [Palestinian] families having to resort to eating cats and dogs, and civilians attacked by [Syrian army] snipers as they forage for food, have become all too familiar details of the horror story that has materialized in Yarmouk,” noted Amnesty International in March 2014.

    Was Assad any less of a war criminal when members of his notorious mukhabarat were repeatedly whipping Maher Arar with electrical cables in 2003, at the behest of the U.S. government and long before the Arab Spring kicked off in 2011? The Syrian president was an eager accomplice in the Bush administration’s “extraordinary rendition” program, and Syria became one of the “most common” destinations for rendered suspects. To quote former CIA agent Robert Baer: “If you want a serious interrogation, you send a prisoner to Jordan. If you want them to be tortured, you send them to Syria.”

    Was Assad any less of a war criminal when he was funneling jihadists from Syria into Iraq to carry out suicide attacks — not just against American soldiers, but against Iraqi civilians, too? “Ninety percent of terrorists from different Arabic nationalities infiltrated Iraq through Syrian territory,” then-prime minister of Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki, claimed in 2009. “I went and met President Bashar al-Assad twice, and presented him with material evidence … that his security forces were involved in … transporting jihadists from Syria to Iraq,” the former Iraqi national security adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie revealed in 2015.

    Are you really going to tell me this is all “fake news”? All pro-rebel or pro-Gulf propaganda? That none of it happened? That none of the hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths, or the millions of refugees, are the fault of Assad? That none of the torture was real? Or that Palestinian refugees starved themselves? Maher Arar made it all up? Ghiyath al-Matar killed himself? Seriously?

    Is this atrocity denial really necessary? Is it the only way you know how to oppose rapacious U.S. foreign policy, or Saudi-inspired extremism, or Israeli opportunism? By absolving Assad of well-documented war crimes, while smearing all humanitarian rescuers as “Al Qaeda” and all of the civilian victims of his bombs and bullets as “terrorists“? By cozying up to Iran and Russia in order to give the finger to the U.S. and Saudi Arabia? Is this not the “anti-imperialism of fools“?

    Let me be clear, before you revert to the usual evasions and whataboutery, or try and smear me as a dupe of the CIA or an agent of the Zionists or the Qataris: Yes, Syrian rebel groups have committed their own fair share of murders, kidnappings, and torture. I’ve been a consistent critic of the rebels (see here, here, and here), and I need no lessons from any of you on their shameful role in prolonging and escalating the violence and chaos in Syria.

    But here’s the thing: You can condemn rebel atrocities and western meddling in Syria without heaping praise on, or making excuses for, the loathsome Assad. Have you forgotten the old adage about walking and chewing gum at the same time? Or the one about my enemy’s enemy not being my friend? Denouncing the rebels and their backers doesn’t require defending Assad and his backers. Compared to ISIS, the Syrian president may be, in your view, the lesser of two evils — but he’s still evil.

    And, look, we can argue over whether or not to support a “no-fly” zone (I didn’t); arming the rebels (I didn’t); U.S.-led airstrikes (I don’t); or regime change in Damascus (I don’t). What we can’t, and shouldn’t, argue over are the unspeakable war crimes committed by Assad against his own people; what we cannot afford to turn a blind eye to is the vile — and violent — nature of his regime.

    The truth is that Bashar al-Assad is not an anti-imperialist of any kind, nor is he a secular bulwark against jihadism; he is a mass murderer, plain and simple. In fact, the Syrian dictator long ago booked his place in the blood-stained pantheon of modern mass murderers, alongside the likes of Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Henry Kissinger, and George W. Bush. I can think of few human beings alive today who have more blood on their hands than he has.

    So, why defend him? Why indulge in conspiracy theories on his behalf? Why minimize his crimes and abuses? And isn’t it more than a little hypocritical of you to constantly call out the violence of the West or the Gulf states or the rebels, while ignoring or downplaying the violence of Assad?




  16. #136
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    Jan 2007


    Does it matter that strikes against Syria violate international law?

    The air strikes in Syria by the US, UK and France after suspected chemical weapon attacks on civilians violate the UN Charter and international law - but does it matter?

    By Dr William Partlett, University of Melbourne

    Leading legal experts and former US officials have almost universally stated that the recent airstrikes in Syria carried out by the United States, France, and the UK - three permanent members of the United Nations - were illegal under international law.

    This even includes a former top legal official in the Bush administration. Yet, these types of attacks have garnered strong support from governments around the world.

    Additionally, strikes like this appear likely to happen again: the United States has stated that it is “locked and loaded” to strike Syria again in response to further chemical attacks.

    This is nothing new.

    Countries have selectively ignored international law constraints on the use of force at different points in history. In fact, a famous 1970 article described the “demise” of international law norms against the use of force.

    But should we be concerned about this ongoing discrepancy between the use of force and international law? And what is at stake here?

    Blackletter international law on the use of force

    Article 2(4) of the United Nations Charter clearly states that “All members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.”

    There are only two limited circumstances when a state can lawfully use force: (1) with the permission of the UN Security Council or (2) in self-defense. In this case, the attack on Syria does not fit either circumstance.

    First, the United Nations Security Council did not approve the strike. Second, this was not clearly self defence. Instead, the most common justification for the strike has been an attempt to deter Syria’s use of chemical weapons in the future.
    Other arguments also fail.

    Attempts at grounding the attacks in the Chemical Weapons Convention fail immediately. Nowhere does the Convention provide for unilateral uses of force in response to a breach of the Convention. As some analysts have noted, if the Convention had provided such authorisation “there’s a good chance no state would ever have joined it.”

    Second, the United Kingdom’s justification - the “humanitarian use of force” - also fails. This justification relies on three prongs. First, there must be “convincing evidence, generally accepted by the international community as a whole” of extreme humanitarian distress. It must also be “objectively clear” that there is no practicable alternative to the use of force if lives are to be saved. And finally, proposed use of force must be necessary and proportionate to the aim of relief of humanitarian suffering and must be strictly limited in time and in scope to this aim.

    This argument also does not work. On its own terms, this justification does not seem to apply to the current situation.

    If we look at the first prong, it is not clear that the “international community as a whole” has accepted that there is convincing evidence of an attack since both Russia and China have argued that more investigation and dialogue are necessary before any action is taken.

    Regarding the second prong, the speed by which the strikes were carried out at least brings into question whether there is no other practicable way to save lives. In fact, the strikes were carried out on the morning of the day that inspectors were due to begin their investigation.

    Secondly, even if these prongs were satisfied, there are only two countries that have recognised a right of humanitarian intervention - the UK and Denmark. It therefore does not render any attack legal.

    Despite this clear illegality, many of the richest and most powerful countries in the world have supported the attack. This includes all members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), as well as Israel and Japan. Most have voiced this support by arguing that, with a deadlocked UN Security Council, the only effective way to deter the future use of chemical weapons is through the limited use of force that punishes a state for using such weapons against its citizens.

    Australian Prime Minster Malcolm Turnbull praised the attacks, stating that “the Assad regime must not be allowed to commit such crimes with impunity.” But this is not a legal argument, and according to some legal experts, the language has the flavour of armed reprisals which is clearly unlawful.

    All that is left really of this argument is that the attacks are “illegal but legitimate.” But if “illegal but legitimate” becomes an accepted principle, then the Charter’s limits, at least on the use of force, become meaningless.

    What should we do?

    So, how should we respond to this gap between the use of force and the international law regulating it?

    One option is to continue to disregard international law and justify the illegal use of force in the language of morality. This would essentially continue the status quo approach and further the slow degradation of Article 2(4)’s prohibition against the use of force in the international legal system. This approach might be well-intentioned but would come with considerable cost.

    International law - without a centralised institutional mechanism for enforcement - already faces significant problems of enforcement. The less respect countries pay to the letter of international law on the use of force - particularly Western countries - the more likely it is that other countries themselves will not choose to follow it.

    In fact, it becomes far harder - if not impossible - for the United States, the UK, and France to condemn the use of force by other countries when they themselves grossly flaunt it. So if we care at all about the “rules-based order”, we should worry about ignoring international law constraints on the use of force. Otherwise we are admitting that international legal regime on the use of force has completely broken down.
    The language of international legality

    A better way to respond is to recommit to international law by seeking to engage with and introduce changes in the use of force.

    Change like this requires two things. First, it requires Western states using force to make legal arguments about its basis outside the established exceptions. It would mean that States must abandon their extralegal moral arguments grounded in concepts of deterrence and more explicitly engage in the language of international legality.

    This is the only way to possibly begin to create a new rule of customary international law.

    Second, it requires the involvement (or at least acquiescence) of the two key permanent members of the UN Security Council: Russia and China. To get these countries on board would more than likely require a diplomatic approach meant to restore trust in the use of force.

    In the wake of recent interventions in Iraq, Yugoslavia, and Libya, this is an uphill battle.

    For Western states, it would require clear statements and qualifying language that any additional international law norm justifying the “humanitarian use of force” is not aimed at regime change (as these countries suspect).

    Instead, this additional exception would only legally authorise the highly limited and targeted use of force in response to gross violations of humanitarian law. Additionally, it would also require Russia and China to admit that some of their allies are engaged in heinous practices which deserve no defence.

    The fact that this kind of engagement seems unlikely says more about the attitude of leaders in Western capitals to international law and the difficulties (and potential compromises of) traditional diplomacy than it does about the possibility of reform.

    But to fail to attempt engagement like this would be to allow a key linchpin of the rule-based-order - its prohibitions on the use of force - to continue to weaken.

    These norms against the use of force were initially placed in the UN Charter in 1945 for good reason - “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind.”

    Surely, this is good enough of a reason to recommit to a policy of engagement with international law on the use of force?



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