Odd Developments on the Deir Ez-Zor Front

30-09-2017 | 08:24

The breaking of the three-year-long Daesh [Arabic acronym for “ISIS” / “ISIL”] siege over the eastern Syrian city of Deir ez-Zor has been followed by a series of strange developments along the frontline.

DeirEzzor

The first of these was the appearance of American Humvees and Cougars in areas occupied by Daesh militants.

Last week, the Russian Ministry of Defense released a collection of aerial images showing equipment used by US special forces operating freely among Daesh formations.

The images also showed American troops enabling the smooth advance of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) through Daesh-held territory.

“Facing no resistance from Daesh militants, the SDF units are advancing along the left shore of the Euphrates towards Deir ez-Zor,” the ministry said in a statement.

According to Moscow’s interpretation, US military personnel “feel absolutely safe” in the area controlled by terrorists, demonstrated by the fact that they chose not to deploy a “screening patrol”.

Shortly after the images were released, the battlefield witnessed another odd occurrence, involving the death of a Russian Lieutenant-General.

Death of Russian general in Syria is result of US hypocrisy – Moscow

Death of Russian general in Syria is result of US hypocrisy – Moscow

Valery Asapov, who was assisting in the liberation of Deir ez-Zor, was killed during Daesh shelling on a Syrian army command outpost.

Highlighting the peculiar nature of the attack is the sheer precision of a single projectile – most likely guided from the air – that killed the Russian.

Russian media reported that an investigation into the incident revealed that Asapov’s death was the result of “leaked information on his location to the side that carried out the attack”.

Earlier, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov made it clear where he believes the blame lies. He described the demise of the senior officer as his country’s “payment in blood for the duplicity of US policy in Syria”.

Both the images showing American troops teaming up with terrorists and Asapov’s death are further proof of Washington’s reliance on Daesh for securing an unopposed advance for its Kurdish proxies in Syria, as well as occupying the strategic and oil-rich territory in Deir ez-Zor.

The gloves come off

Forced to abandon their objective of toppling the Damascus government, the Americans and their allies have long since been focused on capturing eastern chunks of Syria and its oil-laden regions.

It is now an open secret that oil resources in both Syria’s Deir ez-Zor and Iraq’s disputed Kirkuk region have been earmarked as an essential revenue stream for emerging Kurdish statelets.

American control over the area was meant to aid in the rise of a Greater Kurdistan, which would not only separate Damascus from its allies in Iran and Iraq, but would also serve as the new regional buffer against the Resistance Axis.

Although the Syrian army’s push eastward and the breaking of the Deir ez-Zor siege created unforeseen obstacles for Washington’s agenda, the Americans have refused to admit defeat.

Instead, the world is being treated to an American military that is a lot less shy about its collaboration with terrorists and a lot more openly hostile towards Damascus and its allies.

As such, the fact that Washington has abandoned the ‘Assad must go’ mantra, should not be expected to translate into a less hostile US military effort in Syria.

On the contrary, Syria, Hezbollah, Iran and Russia should expect more attacks similar to the one that killed Valery Asapov as the race for Deir ez-Zor heats up.

Growing fears over a direct superpower clash

Earlier this month, the mainly-Kurdish SDF reportedly occupied the Tabiyeh and al-Isba oil fields in the northwestern countryside of Deir ez-Zor. There is little doubt that the SDF were accompanied by US Special Forces, who likely provided the same sort of logistical and tactical support captured in the images released by Russia’s Ministry of Defense.

However, neither Damascus nor its allies can be expected to hand over Syria’s oil fields without a fight.

The developments on the ground have led some experts to conclude that the current phase of the six-year-long war may be its most dangerous.

The fear is that the battle for Syria’s crucial resources and strategically located territory could spark a direct confrontation between the world’s rival superpowers.

And although some steps have been taken to avoid such a scenario, the only way to guarantee that a clash is averted is if one side backs down. Thus far, there is little sign of compromise.

Source: Al-Ahed News

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Rallies Held in Jordan in Protest of Gas Deal with Zionist Entity

September 29, 2017

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Protest rallies were held on Friday in the Jordanian capital of Amman in rejection for the gas deal concluded with the Zionist entity.

The protestors demanded that the Jordanian authorities revoke the gas deal, rejecting all the forms of normalization with the Israeli enemy.

The deal’s opponents highlight that the Palestinian gas is being looted by the Zionist usurpers and that it confiscates the political will of the Jordanian authorities.

The Jordanian legislature Saleh Al-Armouti said the deal’s draft law is being examined by the power parliamentary committee in preparation for revoking it in the first legislative session to be held by the parliament.

Source: Al-Manar Website

israel doing nothing to stop attacks on churches and mosques

Source

Stained glass and a statue of the Virgin Mary were among the items destroyed in the latest attack on St. Stephen’s church at Beit Jamal, west of Jerusalem. (Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem)

Since 2009, at least 53 churches and mosques have been vandalized in present-day Israel and the occupied West Bank.

The vast majority of those cases – 45 – have been closed without any charges against perpetrators.

In all, there have been just nine indictments and seven convictions, according to Israeli government data reported by the newspaper Haaretz. Only eight of the cases remain under investigation.

They were usually dismissed on the grounds of unknown perpetrators.

A lawmaker raised the matter in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, at the request of Tag Meir, an organization that monitors racially motivated crimes.

According to Haaretz, public security minister Gilad Erdan wrote to the lawmaker that the attacks “were perpetrated from various motives, ranging from negligence through mental illness and, in extreme cases, incidents of arson that appear deliberate.”

The newspaper noted that Erdan’s assertion “seems to contradict the fact that most of the cases were closed on the grounds of ‘perpetrator unknown.’”

Moreover, according to Haaretz, all the cases involved arson.

The name of the organization Tag Meir is a play on the Hebrew words tag mehir – or price tag – the term Israeli settlers and extremists have adopted to describe their sometimes lethal attacks on non-Jews and their property, especially Palestinians.

Third attack

In the most recent attack, on 20 September, vandals shattered a statue of the Virgin Mary, broke stained glass and destroyed a cross in St. Stephen’s Church in the Beit Jamal Salesian Monastery west of Jerusalem.

“I was shocked,” the church’s caretaker Father Antonio Scudu told the Catholic News Service. “I didn’t expect to see something like this. The church is always open. If you see what happened, you feel they did it with hate. They smashed everything.”

Bishop Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo, the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem’s senior cleric in Palestine, said, “this is not only an act of vandalism but an action against the sacredness of the holy places and the faith of people.”

This was the third attack on Beit Jamal in the past four years, but no arrests have ever been made.

Wadie Abunassar, adviser to the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land, condemned the desecration in a post on Facebook .

“We are fed up with repeated attacks on holy places,” Abunassar stated, adding that “anger is not only directed at the aggressors,” but at Israeli authorities which have failed to deal with the phenomenon.

Abunassar told The Electronic Intifada that there was growing public frustration at how the police deal with the incidents, given the small number of cases that have been resolved.

Unchecked incitement

Israeli police spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld has claimed that the incidents are unconnected.

“There have been arrests in previous cases,” he said. “We are looking into this case to see if it was an individual or a group. These are all separate cases.”

While Abunassar does not know if the incidents are done by individuals connected to each other, he points to constant incitement by extremist rabbis inspiring such actions.

He added that these right-wing preachers are not “sufficiently deterred by Israeli law enforcement authorities.”

He recalled one of the more notorious cases, Torat Hamelech or The King’s Torah, a 2009 book by Rabbis Yitzhak Shapira and Yosef Elitzur.

The book argues that it is permissible in certain circumstances to kill the non-Jewish children and babies of Israel’s enemies since “it is clear that they will grow to harm us.”

As a result, the UK banned the entry of Elitzur.

Israeli authorities investigated the pair for incitement, but eventually decided not to charge them.

Amongst other figures who encourage these attacks is Bentzi Gopstein, the head of Lehava, a vigilante group that opposes miscegenation between Jews and Arabs.

In August 2015, Gopstein publicly called for the burning of churches and mosques.

The Vatican urged Israel to charge Gopstein with incitement to violence and terrorism.

Months later, Gopstein wrote an article branding Christians “blood-sucking vampires” and urging their expulsion from the country.

Although bishops have asked to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss these hate crimes, their request has been ignored

Lebanon and the region: Obtaining victories and the race to spend them لبنان والمنطقة: هضم الانتصارات والتسابق على صرفها

Lebanon and the region: Obtaining victories and the race to spend them

سبتمبر 28, 2017

Written by Nasser Kandil,

The parties give themselves some of the glamour of the victories of their allies, they use them to behave from a position of force, so this puts them in a state of emotions rashness, racing, competition, and then clash, so the glamour of this victory starts to fade, but the side problems resulted from the competitions and clashes have their effect and have become the main scene that makes politics. This is witnessed by Lebanon in the light of what is exposed to dangers regarding the series of positions and salaries and the law of the parliamentary elections along with the included accomplishments, and this is witnessed by the region in the light of the Kurdish referendum on secession and the threats of the loss of victories on ISIS during the side conflicts.

What is shown by the decision of the Constitutional Council in the veto on the tax law which is related to the law of the series of positions and salaries about the constitutional irregularities is not enough to disregard it by talking about the formal article which is how to vote, while the essence is related to the delay in the declaration of the general budget and the statement of account, where all the Government revenues according to the constitution must be in one box from where the spending will be, without linking the tax with the funding of spending. This is known by those who legalized, those who disregarded this constitutional principle, betting on the ability to provide the political protection by preventing the opportunities of appealing against the law by ten deputies, but the surprise was by the completion of the appealing conditions, and going on in the choice of the invalidation of the law, and the return from the beginning, so what can we do with the due series? and how to resume working in accordance to the budget which was denied in order to avoid the problems of statement of account?

The experience and the failure say that what the Speaker of the Parliament Nabih Berri said about the identity of the beneficiary from the invalidation of the tax law is true, but what is also true is that the weakness of the allies’ front has given the banks the opportunity to gather ten deputies and getting the invalidation of the law by virtue of the appealing against. It is not easy to say that the lobbies of the banks are behind the decision of the constitutional council. The weakness of the allies is an outcome of race and competition on how to draw the attention away from the victory on terrorism between Amal Movement and the Free Patriotic Movement and the weakness of the role of Hezbollah in managing the disputes inside this alliance. In case of its continuation it will threaten of more complications and at the same time it will be a relaxation in the front of the politicians and economists opponents who will propose their services. Thus the fate of the law of the parliamentary elections will be like the fate of the series “the abortion” but without the need to appeal against or to invalidate.

In the region, while the final victory over ISIS and Al Nusra is approaching, and the countries which implicated in the war on Syria are positioning on the banks of settlements, the Kurdish employing which hastens towards victory gets out and threatens to drive the whole region towards new background that threatens the opportunities of its victories. The American who presents himself as a partner in the war on ISIS along with Peshmarga have restricted their share outside the Iraqi equation in favor of creating negotiating deterrence about the future of the region. The equation becomes either the victory on ISIS as a beginning of the disintegration of the national entities and dividing them, or the region will get out of a war that failed to be turned into a sectarian or ethnical or racial war into a war that will take this feature surely and will replace the war on ISIS in exhausting the efforts of the region, its governments, nations, and resistance instead of directing them against Israel, the enemy which trembles out of fear from being on the lists of goals.

In Lebanon as in the region, the resistance axis needs to solidify its ranks and its front and to draw scenarios of employing its victories rationally without exaggerations, and including the contradictions in its ranks, or what the others do in order to draw the attention away from the original challenge in the region which is represented by Israel. The ceilings of what are granted by the victories are not high as long as the alternatives of the wars of attrition are still available at America The banking system in Lebanon does not differ from the leadership of the Iraqi Kurdistan, it is a plea behind which the American hide to wage alternative wars of attrition while he is indicating to gains, but this may affect it badly, but this must happen lest that the forces of the resistance be affected by the tension.

These words while we are moving from the bank of steadfastness-industry to the victory – industry and before getting involved in the wars of brotherhood and the wars of attrition.

Translated by Lina Shehadeh,

 

 

لبنان والمنطقة: هضم الانتصارات والتسابق على صرفها

سبتمبر 23, 2017

ناصر قنديل

– يمنح الفرقاء أنفسهم بعضاً من وهج انتصارات حلفائهم ويرسمون لها إطاراً للتصرف من موقع القوة، فتضعهم في حال الانفعال والتسرّع والتسابق والتنافس فالتصادم، فيبدأ وهج الانتصار المختلف على أبوته بالتبدّد، لكن المشاكل الجانبية الناتجة عن التنافسات والمصادمات تكون قد فعلت فعلها وصارت هي المشهد الرئيس الذي يصنع السياسة. وهذا ما يشهده لبنان في ضوء ما يطال سلسلة الرتب والرواتب وقانون الانتخابات النيابية من مخاطر، وما يهدّد الإنجازات المتضمّنة فيهما بالإجهاض. وهذا ما تشهده المنطقة مع الاستفتاء الكردي على الانفصال، ومخاطر ضياع الانتصارات على داعش في حمى الصراعات الجانبية.

– ما يقوله قرار المجلس الدستوري في نقض قانون الضرائب الملحقة بقانون سلسلة الرتب والرواتب عن مخالفات دستورية لا يكفي في الاستخفاف بها الحديث عن بند شكلي هو كيفية التصويت، بينما جوهر الأمر يتصل بالتأخر في إقرار الموازنة العامة وكشف الحساب، لتكون كلّ واردات الدولة وفقاً للدستور في صندوق واحد يتمّ الإنفاق منه، من دون ربط ضريبة بتمويل إنفاق بعينه، وهذا ما يعلمه المشرّعون الذين تهاونوا في هذا المبدأ الدستوري رهاناً على القدرة على توفير الحماية السياسية بعدم توفير فرص نيل الطعن بالقانون من عشرة نواب، لتأتي المفاجأة باكتمال عدة الطعن، والأخذ الحتمي بخيار إبطال القانون، والعودة بالقضية إلى المربع الأول، وهو ماذا نفعل بالسلسلة المستحقة، وكيف نعود للإقلاع بالموازنة التي نامت في الأدراج تفادياً لمعارك كشف الحساب؟

– التجربة والفشل، يقولان إنّ ما قاله رئيس مجلس النواب نبيه بري عن هوية المستفيد من الإبطال لقانون الضرائب صحيح، لكن الصحيح أيضاً هو أنّ ضعف جبهة الحلفاء قد منح المصارف فرصة تجميع عشرة نواب ونيل الإبطال للقانون بموجب الطعن، وليس سهلاً القول إنّ لوبيات المصارف تقف وراء قرار المجلس الدستوري. وضعف الحلفاء هنا هو نتاج التسابق والتنافس على كيفية صرف النصر على الإرهاب، بين ثنائي حركة أمل والتيار الوطني الحر، وضعف دور حزب الله في إدارة الخلافات داخل هذا التحالف، وهو ما يهدّد في حال استمراره بمزيد من التعقيد، ومزيد من التنافس في جبهة الخصوم السياسيين والاقتصاديين، الذين سيوزعون الابتسامات على الطرفين، ويعرضون خدماتهم، ليصير نصيب قانون الانتخابات النيابية شبيهاً بمصير قانون السلسلة، الإجهاض، ولكن من دون الحاجة للطعن والإبطال.

– في المنطقة، وبينما ملامح النصر النهائي على داعش والنصرة تبدو في الأفق، وتموضع الدول التي تورّطت في الحرب على سورية نحو ضفة التسويات، يخرج التوظيف الكردي المتسرّع للنصر، عن السياق ويهدّد بإخراج المنطقة كلها نحو مناخ جديد يهدّد فرص هضم انتصاراتها. فالأميركي الذي تقدّم كشريك في الحرب على داعش، ومعه البيشمركة، حصراً نصيبهما خارج معادلة الدولة العراقية لحساب، خلق ردع تفاوضي حول مستقبل المنطقة، فتصير المعادلة إما أن تكون نتيجة النصر على داعش بداية تفكك الكيانات الوطنية وتقسيمها، أو أن تخرج المنطقة من حرب فشلت في التحوّل لحرب مذهبية أو إتنية أو عرقية، إلى حرب ستتخذ حكماً هذا الطابع، وتحلّ حكماً بدلاً من الحرب على داعش في استنزاف جهود المنطقة وحكوماتها وشعوبها ومقاومتها بدلاً من توجيهها نحو «إسرائيل»، العدو الذي يرتجف خوفاً من أن يكون على لائحة الأهداف.

– في لبنان كما في المنطقة، يحتاج محور المقاومة إلى تصليب صفوفه وجبهته، ورسم سيناريوات توظيف انتصاراته بعقلانية بلا مبالغات، واحتواء التناقضات في صفوفه، أو تلك التي يفتعلها الآخرون لصرفه عن التحدّي الأصلي في المنطقة الذي تشكله «إسرائيل»، وسقوف ما تتيحه الانتصارات ليست مرتفعة، طالما بدائل حروب الاستنزاف لا تزال متاحة في الجعبة الأميركية، والنظام المصرفي في لبنان لا يختلف عن زعامة كردستان العراق، واجهة يقف الأميركي وراءها لخوض حروب استنزاف بديلة، وهو يلوّح لها بجزرة المكاسب، بينما قد تنزل عليها بسببه المصائب، لكن يجب أن يحدث ذلك ويتظهّر ببرود، وألا تقع قوى المقاومة بمرض الرؤوس الحامية.

– كلمات ونحن على ضفاف الانتقال من صناعة الصمود إلى صناعة النصر، وقبل التورّط في حروب الأخوة، وحروب الاستنزاف.

Trump’s ambassador to israel, David Friedman, a dangerous extremist who likes to go rogue

David Friedman, appearing in an interview with Walla! News, claims that Israel’s settlement enterprise is sanctioned by international law.

What is Donald Trump’s policy towards Israel and the Palestinians? No one from within the president’s administration seems able to say.

During an interview with an Israeli news site, David Friedman, Trump’s ambassador in Tel Aviv, advanced views contradicting decades of US policy, as well as the professed positions of the administration.

The State Department’s response to his comments further suggests a foreign policy in total disarray.

Asked about Israel’s settlements in the occupied West Bank, Friedman told Walla! News: “I think the settlements are part of Israel. I think that was always the expectation when Resolution 242 was adopted in 1967.”

Friedman, Trump’s longtime bankruptcy lawyer, was referring to a Security Council resolution which, in fact, emphasizes “the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war” and calls for Israel’s withdrawal from territory occupied in the 1967 War.

Friedman’s interpretation directly contradicts numerous subsequent resolutions that explicitly reaffirm the illegality of Israel’s settlements in the West Bank.

Israel’s transfer of its civilian population to territory it occupies is a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and is thus a war crime.

Friedman, incidentally, is a major bankroller of one such settlement.

Upheaval

The ambassador downplayed the settlements, stating, “I mean, they’re only occupying two percent of the West Bank.”

He was wildly off mark.

The reality is that Israel has a massive settlement colony infrastructure throughout the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. More than half of the West Bank has been confiscated for the settlements or otherwise prohibited to Palestinians.

For decades US policy has been to view the settlements as an obstacle to an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. And last December, the US allowed the Security Council to pass a resolution restating that all the settlements are illegal.

But US verbal opposition to the settlements has never been matched by deed: successive administrations kept writing blank checks to Israel while the settlements kept expanding.

Friedman’s comments represent a complete upheaval of that policy, however toothless it may have been.

Asked by Walla! whether he would ever bring himself to utter the words “two-state solution” out loud, Friedman said that the phrase has lost any meaning because “it means different things to different people.”

As to what it means to him, Friedman shrugged it off. “It doesn’t mean, I’m not sure. To me, I’m not focusing on labels, I’m focusing on solutions,” he said.

“Did he go rogue?”

During Thursday’s press briefing, State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert struggled to reconcile Friedman’s comments with the policy of the administration he represents.

Nauert’s exchange with journalists can be watched in the video above.

“His comments – and I want to be crystal clear about this – should not be read as a way to prejudge the outcome of any negotiations that the US would have with the Israelis and the Palestinians. It should also not indicate a shift in US policy,” Nauer states.

“Did he go rogue?” one reporter asks.

“This is at least the second time that from this podium you’ve had to sort of clean up Ambassador Friedman’s remarks when he had upped the ‘alleged occupation,’” another reporter says, referring to a comment Friedman recently made to the right-wing Jerusalem Post suggesting the US does not consider the West Bank and Gaza to be occupied by Israel.

“Even if it’s not a change of position, is the perception that the ambassador to Israel has his thumb on the scale in the view of this conflict creating problems for the US?” the reporter adds.

“We have some very effective leaders and representatives for the US government, including Jason Greenblatt [and] Mr. Kushner, who are spending an awful lot of time in the region,” Nauert replies, referring to two of Trump’s advisors.

Associated Press reporter Matt Lee points out that “The problem arises because [Friedman] is the Senate-confirmed ambassador. Neither Greenblatt nor Kushner are. … Ambassadors to every country are supposed to speak for and with the authority of the president of the United States. Do you not see that causing confusion?”

Another reporter presses the point: “Aren’t you a bit concerned that the ambassador’s comments are detracting or going to harm the efforts by the president’s appointed envoys on this issue?”

Whose ambassador?

They’re fair questions to ask. During the interview Friedman behaved as though he is Israel’s ambassador to the US, rather than the US ambassador to Israel.

Friedman insisted that the Trump administration will move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – another break from decades of US policy and international consensus.

That was a promise made during Trump’s campaign but later backtracked once he took office.

Asked whether the embassy will be moved during Trump’s presidency, Friedman replied, “I sure hope so. That was one of the commitments of the president and he’s a man who keeps his word. … It’s not a question of if, but a question of when.”

Friedman stated that a peace deal may be reached in months but would not share any details of the parameters of the supposed peace negotiations.

Asked about Palestinian distrust due to his financing of settlements, the ambassador boasted of meeting with Majid Faraj, the head of Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas’ secret police force, and chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat.

“I think they understand my views,” Friedman said, adding, “I don’t think it’s a matter of being suspicious, I think they have dealt with people who have those views before.”

Though he says that Trump is the one calling shots in his inner circle, Friedman’s reference to “my views” further suggests that the ambassador is operating on a long leash.

But he still behaves as Trump’s lawyer.

Asked by Walla! about Trump’s much maligned defense of a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville last month that left a counter-protester dead, Friedman replied:

“I have no doubt that he is not the slightest bit in any way, shape or form racist, misogynistic, anti-Semitic, homophobic or any other horrible adjective you can come up with. It’s not him.”

Syrian army and allies completely secure Palmyra – Deir Ezzor highway, Repel Major ISIL Attack in Eastern Badiya: Photos

S A, Allies Repel Major ISIL Attack in Eastern Badiya: Photos

September 29, 2017

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The Syrian army and allies managed on Friday to repel a major attack launched by ISIL terrorists on their posts in eastern Badiya, a desert that extends over some 90,000 square kilometers from central Syria to the Iraqi and Jordanian borders.

Scores of ISIl terrorists were killed by the Syrian army and allies during the confrontation on Deir Ezzor-Raqqa highway.

Heavy losses were inflicted upon the ISIL takfiri group as Hezbollah Military Media Center circulated photos that show the dead terrorists.

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Source: Al-Manar Website

SYRIAN ARMY REPELS ISIS ATTACK, SECURES PALMYRA-DEIR EZZOR HIGHWAY – REPORTS

Syrian Army Repels ISIS Attack, Secures Palmyra-Deir Ezzor Highway - Reports

A screenshot from the video

On Friday, the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and Hezbollah repelled an ISIS attack and fully secured the al-Sukhnah-Deir Ezzor highway, according to the Hezbollah media wing in Syria.

This report should mean that the SAA recaptured Bir Ghabaghib and al-Shula villages on the al-Sukhnah – Deir Ezzor highway, as it is impossible to secure the highway without capturing the two villages.

However, these claims still have to be confirmed.

The SAA and its allies also repelled ISIS attack on the T-3 station south of Palmyra city in the eastern Homs countryside. Pro-government sources said that ISIS attacked the station with 2 VBIEDs. However, the SAA managed to hold into the station and protected the ammo depot inside it.

اشتباكات عنيفة في محور المحطة الثالثة (T3) جنوب مدينة السخنة بريف تدمر الشرقي

ستعادة الجيش العربي السوري والحلفاء السيطرة الكاملة على المحطة الثالثة ومستودعات الذخائر بعد فشل عملية تسلل مجموعات إرهابيي داعش صباح اليوم pic.twitter.com/DIgu3LqdSY

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Earlier the SAA, backed by the Tiger Forces and Hezbollah, started its counter-attack to secure the al-Sukhnah-Deir Ezzor highway.

According to pro-government sources, the SAA attacked al Shula village from the direction of Deir Ezzor city, and Bir Ghabaghib village from the direction of al-Sukhnah town.

The ISIS attack on al-Sukhnah town was likely also repelled as the SAA launched its counter-attack from the town. However, no official source confirmed that the attack on al-Sukhnah town was repelled yet.

Pro-government sources claimed that ISIS attacked the SAA positions on the al-Sukhnah-Deir Ezzor highway with more than 12 VBIEDs on Thursday. The sources also claimed that ISIS redeployed large forces from Iraq to Syria to carry out the attack against the SAA.

MILITARY SITUATION IN CENTRAL SYRIA AFTER ARMY REPELLED ISIS ATTACK ON PALMYRA-DEIR EZZOR HIGHWAY (MAP)

The Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and its allies have repelled the large-scale ISIS attack in central Syria and restored control over all important points at the strategic Palmyra-Deir Ezzor highway, according to pro-government sources. Separately, the SAA repelled an ISIS attack in the T3 Pumping Station area.

 

Military Situation In Central Syria After Army Repelled ISIS Attack On Palmyra-Deir Ezzor Highway (Map)

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Tony Blair’s Ghoulish Last Decade

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By Branko Marcetic,

The Iraq War salesman may be getting into politics again. Here’s a nauseating look back at his appalling post–Downing Street years.

Say what you will about Tony Blair, but the man’s not a quitter.Not content with being repeatedly wrong in his reflexive advice for politicians to tack to the right, Blair doubled down in a recent interview with Politico, warning against the rise of left-wing populism. Free public services, he said, were “very attractive,” but “I’m not sure it would win an election” — though if it did, he noted, “it would worry me” because “a lot of these solutions aren’t really progressive” and “don’t correspond to what the problem of the modern world is.” Later in the same interview, Blair insisted that Democrats try to work with Trump.As the website noted, Blair “still punches hardest when he’s hitting to his left.”We’ve been hearing a lot about what’s progressive and what isn’t from Blair of late. Spooked by the Brexit result, Blair has embarked on a project to inject himself back into British and global politics after a ten-year leave of absence that was first made necessary by his toxic standing among the general public.

Ever the “radical centrist,” Blair has developed a “post-ideological” plan to educate the public about the merits of technological advances and globalization. He’s rebranded his firm, Tony Blair Associates, as the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change and oriented it towards this goal. He’s teamed up with Open Britain, an outgrowth of last year’s failed Remain campaign that’s working to halt Brexit, and was for a time working with centrist Labour MPs to break away from the party and form a new movement after what they (wrongly) predicted would be a Tory landslide.

This isn’t the first time Blair has waded back into British politics. Labour routinely trotted him out in election years to give his endorsement to the latest Labour prime-minister-to-be, while Blair himself has taken every opportunity to warn Labour against moving leftward (a piece of advice he also disastrously imparted to Hillary Clinton during her 2016 run).

But his new role is, by Blair’s own admission, a more fully committed dive back into politics than at any time in these intervening years.

Yet Blair is the last person anyone should listen to about politics in 2017. For of all the shady post-political careers that Western world leaders have embarked on in recent years, Blair’s is perhaps the shadiest.

Few have cashed out like Blair has since leaving 10 Downing Street, operating a dizzying, and often overlapping, web of charities, firms, and foundations that have catapulted him to the status of one of Britain’s wealthiest people. In the mere ten years he’s been out of office, he’s become the living, breathing symbol of the money-grubbing, self-serving political establishment that the public he now seeks to persuade, loathes.

He’s made the kind of money that Barack Obama can only dream of. He’s mixed private enrichment with public service in a way that would make the Clintons blush. And he’s racked up a list of unseemly clients that Henry Kissinger would drool over. What follows is an extremely condensed history of Tony Blair’s post-prime ministerial career.

Lifestyles of the Rich and Ministerial

Lately there’s been heightened scrutiny of the money-raking lives of politicians who’ve left public office. Hillary Clinton’s speaking fees and financial donations became a major issue in the 2016 presidential race. More recently, Barack Obama provoked entirely justified outrage for pocketing $400,000 from a Wall Street firm.

Tony Blair puts them all to shame.

Blair’s hostility to the likes of Jeremy Corbyn, or even any political movement marginally left of center, has to be understood in the context of the enormous wealth Blair has amassed since leaving Downing Street. For a long time, no one knew quite what he was worth, owing partly to the inscrutable nature of his businesses. In 2012, when one accountant guessed his wealth as somewhere in the range of £30-40 million, his spokesman denied it was “anything remotely approaching” that sum.

His spokesman was telling the truth. Blair was in fact worth substantially more — £60 million as of 2015, according to an analysis by the Telegraph (in 2010, his spokesman had called this sum “simply ludicrous”). This was due in part to a portfolio of ten properties worth £25 million in total (as well as twenty-seven flats), including several multi-million pound manors and townhouses, one of which — a £1.13 million house for their son — they paid for in cash.

Tony Blair’s home in South Pavilion, Wooton Underwood, Buckinghamshire.

Tony Blair’s home in Buckinghamshire.

Photograph: John O’Reilly/Rex/Shutterstock

Visitors report that the Blairs “live like royalty,” with up to twenty staff members waiting on them hand and foot. They spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on furniture for their £5.75 million country house and nearly £30,000 for a fitness pool. Neighbors are unimpressed: the constant presence of armed police and construction vehicles led some to move away.

As Blair ascended to the uppermost strata of global wealth, his socializing followed suit. He’s hung out on the superyacht of the world’s fourth-richest man, dines regularly with the billionaire media tycoon behind the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, and his contact details were in the “little black book”of pedophile billionaire Jeffrey Epstein, the man whose plane — dubbed the “Lolita Express — counted Donald Trump and Bill Clinton as passengers, among others.

Blair also forged a close friendship with conservative billionaire Rupert Murdochbecoming the godfather to one of his daughters. So friendly are Blair and Murdoch, in fact, that the former prime minister tried to get his successor, Gordon Brown, to stop the investigation into the phone hacking scandal that was consuming Murdoch’s company, and later unofficially advised the chief of Murdoch’s UK newspaper group a week before her arrest.

In 2012, Blair insisted that,

“This notion that I want to be a billionaire with a yacht; I don’t. I am never going to be part of the super-rich. I have no interest in that at all.”

Yet as one of his guests told the Telegraph,

“A lot of the people he socializes with are billionaires, and his lifestyle involves moving between five-star hotels and mansions around the world, always in private jets and helicopters.”

But then, in the words of one of his former underlings,

“he was always intrigued and fascinated by rich people and he has always liked to be surrounded by nice things.”

Charity Begins at Home

How has Blair achieved this extreme level of opulence? Immediately after leaving office — perhaps following the lead of his close friends the Clintons — Blair took advantage of every lucrative opportunity he could while setting up an intersecting network of private organizations that have helped further enrich him, and whose structure shields his earnings from public scrutiny.

In 2007, he started the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, a multi-million dollar charity that, along with its US branch, aims to “counter religious conflict and extremism in order to promote open-minded and stable societies.” The same year he established the Tony Blair Sports Foundation, which looks to encourage young people in the UK’s North East to play sports. The following year he set up another charity, the Africa Governance Initiative, whose goal was to promote development and fight poverty in African nations. And he set up Tony Blair Associates, an umbrella organization that encompasses these various projects. Blair’s wife also started the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, a charity that helps female entrepreneurs.

At the same time, Blair also embarked on a series of ventures meant to supplement his prime ministerial pension of £64,000 ($85,000) a year. In January 2008, he became an advisor to Zurich Financial Services and JP Morgan, receiving £500,000 and £2.5 million per year, respectively, for his troubles. In the latter case, Blair provided most of his services over the phone, or, as needed, jetting to parts of the world where the bank had interests. His work with JP Morgan was particularly controversial as the bank was set to profit from the war Blair had started in Iraq. The father of an Iraq veteran called it “almost akin to taking blood money.”

Blair received a £4.6 million advance for his memoirs from Bertelsmann-owned Random House, a lavish sum that was also criticized by family members of soldiers who died in the war. Blair eventually decided to donate the advanceand all royalties to a charity for injured soldiers. (Lest one think this was an act of contrition, Blair has always insisted the war was the right course of action, saying on two separate occasions that he still would have launched it knowing what he knows now).

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Hillary Clinton and Cherie Blair

(Source: Middle East Eye)

Following the example of Bill Clinton, Blair also hit the speaking circuit with gusto, in short order becoming the world’s highest paid public speaker (a title he’s since relinquished). Institutions lined up to book Blair, who charged anywhere between £157,000 and £180,000 per speech on average (around $200,000 to $230,000). The waiting list was two years long. By contrast, at the time, Bill Clinton was charging the equivalent of around £100,000 per speech.

Blair was paid £300,000 by Goldman Sachs to speak in 2008, and seven years later, plans to speak at the World Hunger Forum in Stockholm fell through when organizers couldn’t pay the £330,000 price tag Blair was asking for a twenty-minute speech — presumably on the subject of world hunger.

Why were companies and organizations clamoring to lavish Blair with money? Perhaps for such sage nuggets of wisdom as:

  • “Politics really matters, but a lot of what goes on is not great.”
  • “Religion [can be] a source of inspiration or an excuse for evil”
  • “Helping people is a noble profession, but not noble to pursue”

Despite making tens of millions of pounds over the years, it took until 2012 for Blair’s companies to stop the practice of hiring unpaid interns for months at a time, and that was only when the risk of investigation by the government reared its head (unpaid internships are technically illegal in the United Kingdom).

Blair insisted his pursuit of money was rooted in more worthy motives. His spokesman told the press that his “commercial interests provide important funding for his charitable work.” Yet Blair’s charitable work has also proven controversial.

For example, Blair’s religious foundation appeared to be swimming in money. In its first year, the foundation received $9.8 million worth of donations. A 2009 tax return for the foundation’s US branch showed that Blair had somehow raised $1.1 million by working an average of one hour a week. Only part of that was the $200,000 Blair was receiving from Yale University to lecture on religion and globalization. The donors’ identities were kept secret.

In 2014, a former employee of the foundation, Martin Bright, claimed that Blair used the charity as a think tank for his private office, and hired a team of five communications officers to work for the charity; their job was to defend Blair’s reputation. Bright, whose job was editing a website for the foundation about religious conflict, said “huge amounts” of its time “were spent in meetings to ensure the website didn’t embarrass Blair.”

Meanwhile, most of the staff of Blair’s sports foundation were loyalists carried over from his time as prime minister, and their compensation in the foundation’s first four months exceeded the total spent on actual charitable activities. Both of its two highest paid staff earned more than the chief executive of Oxfam.

Given Blair’s swift ascent to the highest tiers of the rich list, and his propensity for hiring bankers and mining executives, it’s not surprising that he thought a 50 percent tax bracket for those earning £150,000 or more was a “terrible mistake,” cautioned politicians not to “go too far on regulation” following the financial crisis, and warned: “Don’t take thirty years of liberalization, beginning under Mrs Thatcher, and say this is what caused the financial crisis.”

Blair received numerous awards for his philanthropic ventures. But not everyone was happy about it. When he won the Save the Children legacy award in 2014, two hundred of the charity’s staff signed a letter calling the award “morally reprehensible” and demanding it be withdrawn. The CEO of its UK branch, who was a former aide to Blair, was forced to apologize.

A Life of Service

At the same time Blair was financially entangling himself through his charities and private advisory roles, he was also engaging in high-profile work allegedly in the public interest. Blair’s first job out of office, which he kept until 2015, was as special envoy for the Quartet — the name given to the four entities involved in mediating an Israel-Palestine peace settlement, namely the United Nations, United States, European Union, and Russia.

Though some at the time suggested Blair may not be the best fit for the role of Middle East mediator — after all, he had helped orchestrate and launch a war in the Middle East on false premises that killed hundreds of thousands and destabilized the entire region — the Bush administration insisted on choosing him.

In its ceaseless jet-setting, its enormous expense, its blurring with Blair’s private business interests, and its almost total lack of tangible, positive results, this particular gig set a pattern that would recur throughout his post prime ministerial career.

Blair’s position wasn’t paid, but that doesn’t mean it came cheap. For office space, he and his staff rented out ten rooms, indefinitely, at the luxury American Colony Hotel in Jerusalem. They also slept at the hotel to the tune of £2,000 a night, despite the British Consulate-General being nearby. The total cost of came to around $1.34 million a year, not counting the money spent on security and equipment. Blair later relocated to a less expensive building in East Jerusalem.

Blair’s role was ostensibly to help mediate peace between Israelis and Palestinians, yet it took him a whole year to schedule his first visit to Gaza, and almost another year after that to actually visit. (His first scheduled trip was called off due to a security threat.)

When Israel launched its brutal war in Gaza in 2009, with a 107-to-1 ratio of Israelis to Palestinians killed, “peace negotiator” Blair said nothing. (A week after the bombing began, Brown told puzzled reporters that Blair was “on holiday at the moment” — though he was actually meeting Israel’s defense minister). With Gaza still in smoldering rubble, Blair received a $1 million prize from Tel Aviv University for “his exceptional leadership and steadfast determination in helping to engineer agreements and forge lasting solutions to areas in conflict.”

Aside from a few minor successes — namely, getting Israel to call off a few checkpoints in the West Bank, which one former Palestinian Authority cabinet member believes Israel was going to remove anyway — Blair’s tenure was largely free of accomplishments. Perhaps he was distracted: according to one UN official, “there is a general sense that he is not around.”

Unsurprisingly, when Blair did do something, it appeared to largely favor the Israeli position.

In February 2008, when Israel choked off the Gaza’s electricity supply in response to Hamas rocket attacks, even the British and US governments were critical. Blair, however, was more reticent.

“It’s incredibly difficult, this, and my worry all the time is that you alienate the people,” he said, upon being asked if he needed to tell Israel not to cut power to Palestinians. “But the reason why I have sympathized with the dilemma Israel has, and I’ve been criticized for doing so, is that if I was sitting in their seat . . . I mean, the truth of the matter is that it is difficult for them to be able to attack the extremists in isolation from the people.”

Years later, when the Palestinian Authority made a bid for UN statehood, Blair warned it would be “deeply confrontational,” and then worked with the Obama administration to tempt the Palestinians away from such a move. But the proposal he created — one that dropped calls for an end to illegal settlements while demanding Palestinians recognize Israel “as a Jewish state” — was a non-starter.

It was Blair’s move to halt the statehood bid that finally ruined his credibility in the Palestinians’ eyes.

“There is no one within the Palestinian leadership that supports or likes or trusts Tony Blair, particularly because of the very damaging role he played during our UN bid,” one official told the Telegraph, adding he was “persona non-grata” in Palestine.

One PLO official described him as “a junior employee of the Israeli government.” A Palestinian presidential aide said that, instead of a neutral entity, he “sounds like an Israeli diplomat sometimes.”

True to form, in 2013, Blair hired an ex-Israeli intelligence officer and former aide to Benjamin Netanyahu as a private consultant, further undermining his appearance of neutrality.

By 2014, individuals ranging from Noam Chomsky and Ken Livingstone to Labour MPs signed an open letter calling for Blair’s removal, labelling his achievements “negligible.” By May 2015, senior diplomats were calling him“ineffective” and saying his role was “no longer viable.” Later that month, he resigned.

Blair may have failed to achieve much of anything regarding Israel and Palestine, but his mediator role appeared a useful fulcrum for his business endeavors. In 2011, according to the British current affairs program Dispatches, Blair persuaded Israel to allow Wataniya Mobile to operate in the West Bank and promoted the development of a gas field off the coast of Gaza operated by the British Gas Group. Both companies happened to be clients of JP Morgan, which Blair was being paid millions to advise. Wataniya’s CEO gushed about the deal, calling it a “milestone” for a company that had once been “nothing” yet subsequently captured 23 percent of the market. (Wataniya was based in Kuwait, whose government was another client of Blair’s).

It turns out that while serving as envoy, Blair made two undisclosed trips to Libya on dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s private jet. (These travel arrangements were, in one case, negotiated on notepaper labelled “Office of the Quartet Representative.”) One of these visits took place just as JP Morgan was trying to negotiate a multibillion-pound loan from Libya. Blair claimed it wasn’t a business trip, but emails obtained by an anti-corruption group showed JP Morgan’s vice chairman urging that the deal be finalized “before Mr. Blair’s visit to Tripoli.”

At the same time, numerous other conflicts of interest reared their heads. Blair reportedly served as a personal adviser to the chairman of the Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessey Group at the same time the company was profiting from resources drawn from illegal Israeli settlements. He continued to advise Abu Dhabi’s sovereign wealth fund, Mubadala, even as observers pointed out that it could undermine his work with the Palestinians. In a deal that would have reportedly netted him £1 million, Blair was in talks with supermarket chain Tesco to bring its stores to the Middle East. He used his envoy position to try and benefit several of his other projects, including contacting the British ambassador in Lebanon about starting an education program in the country — before being told his unpopularity guaranteed its failure.

As the director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding told the Guardian,

“There is no clear division between Blair’s diplomatic dealings and business dealings in the Middle East.”

Tangled up in Green

Image result for tony blair associates

What made it especially difficult for Blair to separate his public and private business was the fact that, along with his charities, Blair was also running Tony Blair Associates, a for-profit consultancy firm that made up a significant source of Blair’s income.

What exactly did TBA do? For one, it was in the business of “providing introductions,” bringing corporate clients and governments together to set up business deals. For instance, it was alleged that Blair introduced a Chinese businessman wanted by Interpol for bribery to the Abu Dhabi royal family, for a deal worth $3 billion. In 2012, he tried to broker a deal between an Irish businessman and the Qatari royal family, something the businessman said TBA was doing “out of the good of their heart.”

Blair was also pitched to PetroSaudi, a privately owned oil firm co-founded by a Saudi prince, as someone who could “unlock situations which might otherwise be blocked by political factors.” He went onto promote the company in private meetings with Chinese officials — all for a $100,000 per month retainer.

To illustrate how tangled Blair’s various activities were at the time: he was, at this point, still serving as the Middle East peace envoy; many of his meetings with Chinese officials happened while he was visiting on behalf of his religious charity; and TBA’s director assured PetroSaudi that it made no difference if they paid money to the firm that owned TBA or the firm that owned his charities, “given where the cash ultimately ends up.”

(Blair’s deal with PetroSaudi came with an added scent of impropriety, given that as prime minister, Blair had pressured the UK’s Serious Fraud Office to quash an investigation into alleged corruption in arms deals between Saudi Arabia and British firm BAE Systems, which the British High Court later ruled had been illegal).

Friends in Authoritarian Places

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Tony Blair with Henry Kissinger (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 2015, Blair told Vanity Fair that Henry Kissinger was his role model. He said this was because Kissinger continued working even into his nineties — though one might wonder why he didn’t cite someone like, say, Jimmy Carter, an actual philanthropist, who isn’t a war criminal. But given Blair’s work, one might be forgiven for thinking he was referring to Kissinger’s history of enabling dictatorships.

Blair’s work at TBA often involved him dispensing political advice for pay to unsavory regimes around the world. The firm’s first client was the Kuwaiti government, which paid seven figures for Blair’s advice on “good governance.” He also flew to Azerbaijan to give a paid speech and meet with the country’s repressive president. Infuriating local activists, he didn’t mention the country’s poor human rights record.

He signed a deal said to be worth £8 million to advise the corrupt and repressive government of Kazakhstan, which Pavel Sheremet, a Russian journalist, called a sign “that Western politicians can do any work for money” and that Blair had “informally agreed to bring Kazakhstan’s viewpoint to the Western politicians and investors.” Kazakhstan paid for Blair’s travel and first-class hotel stays; in return, Blair did things like tell its president how to paper over his government’s murder of protesters in his speeches.

Blair did something similar for president Alpha Conde of Guinea in 2013 after Guinean government forces fired on protesters, leading Conde to seek Blair’s help. The former prime minister’s “independent, politically neutral organization,” the Africa Governance Initiative, sent over a document advising him how to win the “communications battle.”

Blair has long insisted that the Iraq War was justified by the need to end Saddam’s repression and violence. But he’s shown he has no problem with autocratic rule in other Middle Eastern countries. He became an adviser to murderous Egyptian dictator Abdel Fattah el-Sisi as part of a project financed by three Gulf states to bring foreign investment to Egypt’s economy (though Blair denied he was profiting from his role). In the midst of the Arab Spring, Blair called Egypt’s previous dictator, Hosni Mubarak, “immensely courageous and a force for good.” He called for Western countries to do more to help the “liberal and democratic” elements in Arab countries, but then praised the Egyptian army’s armed overthrow of its country’s democracy, viewing the formation of a democratic government by the Muslim Brotherhood as the greater threat.

Blair’s affection for autocrats isn’t limited to the Middle East and Central Asia. He became an unofficial adviser to Rwandan president Paul Kagame, whose government worked with Blair’s Africa Governance Initiative (AGI); the two are reportedly good friends. Kagame most recently won an election with 99 percent of the vote, has been accused of war crimes by the UN, and regularly silences his political opposition. Blair, however, insisted he was a “visionary leader,” and has constantly defended Kagame from criticism while keeping silent about human rights abuses, leading Human Rights Watch to accuse him of “helping to prop up” the government. It can’t hurt that Kagame pampers Blair with a private jet to fly him in and out of the country.

A Vision for the Few

What’s next for Tony Blair? The latest signs are that he’s now ready to devote himself more intensely to politics. As of 2016, he’s closed down his various commercial activities and put their “substantial reserves” into his nonprofit work (though he also said he’s retaining “a small number of personal consultancies for [his] income”). His latest initiative is the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, a “not-for-profit organisation dedicated to making globalization work for the many, not the few.” The Institute hopes to “articulate a vision of liberal democracy that can garner substantial support and to push back the destructive approach of populism,” thereby renewing the center. As part of this project, it will “inform and support those in the active front line of politics.”

But Blair’s whole post-prime ministerial career has been one big advertisement for the failure of his particular brand of globalization. He is precisely one of those “few” for whom the new hyperconnected, globalized world has paid handsome dividends, thanks to grotesque corruption and obscene private wealth. And far from advancing a vision of “liberal democracy,” he’s used his privileged position to bolster countless authoritarian regimes, all for a price.

When he left office ten years ago, Blair promised to use his global connections to heal the world. Instead, he worked to make himself fabulously wealthy. Now he’s making the same promise again. As a dear friend of his might say: fool me once, shame on you.

Branko Marcetic is an editorial assistant at Jacobin. He lives in Auckland, New Zealand.

Featured image is from Flickr.

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