Will Major Opposition Groups Face Off in Syria?

Will Major Opposition Groups Face Off in Syria?

EDITOR’S CHOICE | 21.02.2017

Will Major Opposition Groups Face Off in Syria?

Haytham MOUZAHEM

It didn’t take long for Syrian jihadist groups to react to the first round of the Astana talks on Syria that were held Jan. 23-24 in the capital city of Kazakhstan. Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra, a former al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, attacked the Syrian sites of the factions that participated in the talks under the sponsorship of Russia, Turkey and Iran in Astana.

Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, which is classified as a terrorist group by the United Nations and the United States, attacked on Jan. 24 the headquarters of Jaish al-Mujahideen and al-Jabhat al-Shamiya in the governorate of Idlib and the countryside of Aleppo.

Meanwhile, Jaish al-Mujahideen, along with other smaller factions, announced Jan. 26 their full allegiance to the Ahrar al-Sham movement — the biggest armed Syrian faction, classified as moderate by the West, Turkey and the Arab countries.

On Jan. 28, several jihadist groups announced their dissolution and the formation of a new armed group called the Organization for the Liberation of the Levant, commonly referred to as Hayyat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), which is a merger between Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement, Liwa al-Haqq, Ansar al-Din Front and Jaish al-Sunna.

In its statement, the HTS called all factions to join its ranks for unity and for achieving the goals of the Syrian revolution, mainly the toppling of the regime and the establishment of a Sharia state.

The new group is headed by Hashem al-Sheikh, known as Abu Jaber, former leader of the Ahrar al-Sham movement. Several prominent jihadist clerics, namely Saudi Abdullah al-Muhaysini, announced that they have joined the newly formed jihadist group.

The defection from the movement Sheikh (Abu Jaber) and of the former spokesman of Ahrar al-Sham, Abu Yusuf al-Muhajir, and the announcement of their full allegiance to the HTS came to end the division within the movement between two ideological currents — one close to the Muslim Brotherhood and another that adopts al-Qaeda’s vision. Sheikh (Abu Jaber), who was appointed head of the newly formed group, said in his first statement Feb. 9 that the group is independent and does not serve as an extension to any other organization or former factions. He added that it is rather a merger between different factions and groups to face the “serious turning point” and the challenges at the political, military and civil levels.

Sheikh (Abu Jaber) said the HTS is seeking to “unify the Syrian factions under a single unified command, leading the political and military work of the Syrian revolution in order to achieve its main goal, which is to topple the regime and liberate all Syrian territories, uphold territorial integrity and preserve the Islamic identity of the people.”

He added that military action against the regime is imminent.

Abdullah Suleiman Ali, a Syrian researcher and reporter specializing in jihadist movements, told Al-Monitor, “The formation of the HTS has caused sharp polarization between the armed factions in northern Syria, which almost led to a division between two main groups — the first led by Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, and the other by the Ahrar al-Sham movement”.

The new dispute between the two jihadist groups stresses the deep ideological and political gap between the two after many failed attempts to merge.

Commenting on whether this new formation was the result of the Astana talks, where opposition groups were sorted between moderates and hard-liners, Ali said it is too early to judge. He said that the Astana factions’ joining of the Ahrar al-Sham movement could mean that the factions may adopt the same conditions as Ahrar al-Sham for any political settlement, which could lead to the obstruction or failure of the Geneva talks.

Ali explained that with the formation of the HTS, Ahrar al-Sham could no longer show any flexibility vis-a-vis the political process, which could serve HTS propaganda and thus lead to a wave of defections within Ahrar al-Sham’s ranks.

Muhammad Alloush, a Lebanese researcher and analyst specializing in Islamic movements, told Al-Monitor that the HTS seeks to merge all factions upholding al-Qaeda ideology under one banner and secure as many weapons as possible.

The HTS was formed amid fears on behalf of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham that it would be marginalized from the political scene following regional and international agreements on a political settlement in Syria. Jabhat Fatah al-Sham also feared that “moderate” armed groups would confront it militarily should such agreements be reached. In this context, Alloush said, the HTS is trying to have more military and political influence on the ground in an attempt to curb any agreement resulting from the Astana or Geneva talks, repeating the Islamic State’s scenario in controlling large Syrian areas between 2013 and 2014.

Ali also expects the HTS to attack Syrian army positions, taking advantage of the current low-key approach of Ahrar al-Sham, in order to gain more allegiances under the pretext that it is the only faction fighting against the regime. He said that Abu Mohammed al-Golani, head of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, is well aware that he is wanted internationally and that Russia’s plan to sort between “hard-liners” and “moderates” in Astana is a prelude to the declaration of a fierce war against his organization.

According to Ali, Golani also fears the growing power of the group within his organization that is refusing to disengage from al-Qaeda and that objects to the merger with some of the factions within the HTS because of the lack of a clear ideology and political objectives of such a merger.

Golani was pressured at home and abroad to find a swift solution that would be satisfactory to the cadres within the organization, and to eliminate any international reason to target him by not adhering to the global jihad and not seeking to establish an Islamic state without relinquishing his grip over leadership positions with the HTS. Indeed, Golani kept his position as the general military commander in the HTS secret, Ali said.

The pertinent question, however, is whether the two groups will be dragged into infighting or maintain some kind of military coordination against the Syrian army — especially since several mediation efforts to this effect have yet to yield results.

For his part, Alloush expects the two groups to come face-to-face on the battlefield given the large overlapping areas of power and their attempt to integrate the biggest number of factions in their ranks.

Alloush said the HTS fears that Ahrar al-Sham might become the spearhead of the factions fighting against it should the Syrian opposition decide to kick al-Qaeda and foreign fighters out of the country. Therefore, the HTS is trying to inflame the situation with Ahrar al-Sham, especially through social networking sites, where prominent HTS figures are raising questions about the intentions of Ahrar al-Sham in Syria.

Alloush does not exclude a rapprochement between the Islamic State and the HTS in the future if all other groups unite against the latter.

In the same context, Ali said he does not expect the HTS to be supported regionally, as some regional parties — in light of the new international trends to fight against terrorism — had given up on some of the armed factions in Syria. However, some regional stakeholders might still be banking on turning some “terrorist-classified” groups into “moderate” factions.

According to previous statistics, the number of HTS fighters is expected to reach more than 25,000. They are deployed in Idlib, as well as in the countryside of Aleppo and the northern countryside of Hama.

Gallup: Americans’ Hostility to Russia Soared After Obama’s 2012 Re-Election

Gallup: Americans’ Hostility to Russia Soared After Obama’s 2012 Re-Election

ERIC ZUESSE | 21.02.2017 | OPINION

Gallup: Americans’ Hostility to Russia Soared After Obama’s 2012 Re-Election

The Gallup organization samples Americans’ approval-disapproval of Russia in February of each year, and the approval-figure for this year is only slightly more than half as high as it had been back in 2012 when Obama publicly mocked his Presidential-campaign opponent Mitt Romney’s famous statement that «Russia, this is, without question, our number one geopolitical foe».

Gallup poll released on 20 February 2017 showed that Americans’ favorability rating of Russia, immediately after U.S. President Barack Obama left office, is only 28%, which is just above Americans’ 24% favorability toward The Palestinian Authority, and just below the 31% favorability toward Saudi Arabia. Russia hasn’t always been rated down in that low league of American popularity.

Back in 2012, before Obama’s second term, that favorability rating toward Russia was 50%. The year before that, in 2011, it was 51%. It had been reasonably stable until Obama’s re-election (except during 1998-2004 when it gyrated wildly because of Americans’ uncertainty of what the post-Soviet, post-communist, Russian government was like).

The lowest-ever American approval-rating for Russia occurred in Gallup’s poll on 8-11 February 2015, almost a year after the overthrow of Ukraine’s government and the vote of Crimeans to abandon Ukraine’s government and rejoin Russia, when it was 24%. In Gallup’s immediate-prior poll, which was taken right before the 20-26 February 2014 overthrow of the Ukrainian government, the Gallup poll on 6-9 February 2014, 34% of Americans approved of Russia.

No other nation has plunged even nearly as steeply in Americans’ favorability as did Russia, during Obama’s second term. The plunge, from 50% to 28%, which is a 44% plunge in the rating, compares with, as the second-steepest such plunge, Saudi Arabia: it’s a plunge from 42% in 2012, to 31% now, which is a 26% plunge — far less than the 44% plunge for Russia.

The biggest rise during Obama’s second term was for Cuba: 37% favorability-rating in 2012, 51 % today, which is a 38 % rise, during the four years of Obama’s second term.

Cuba’s remarkable rise during Obama’s second term cannot reasonably be attributed to Obama’s having restored, on 20 July 2015, diplomatic relations with Cuba, which had been severed in 1961. The rise instead occurred gradually throughout Obama’s second term. And, prior to 2012, going all the way back to 1998, Americans’ approval-rating of Cuba had been rather stable, within the 25 % to 30 % range. So: apparently throughout Obama’s second term, the U.S. press were providing increasingly favorable ‘news’ coverage of Cuba.

Russia’s chart-topping plunge occurred fairly steadily throughout Obama’s second term. It wasn’t caused entirely by the events in February and March 2014 in Ukraine: the overthrow of President Yanukovych and the plebiscite in which over 90 % of Crimeans (who had voted overwhelmingly for Yanukovych) voted to no longer to be in Ukraine but instead to return to being citizens of Russia, which Crimeans had been until 1954, when the Soviet dictator arbitrarily transferred Crimea from Russia to Ukraine (he was a Ukrainian: Nikita Khrushchev). Obama’s policy on that was to insist that the people of Crimea had no right of self-determination of peoples (which right he agreed with when it pertained to Catalonians in Spain and to Scots in UK but not to Crimeans in Ukraine) but that instead Russia’s acceptance of Crimeans back into Russia is ‘conquest of land’ by Russia, and so Obama imposed economic sanctions against Russia, and NATO poured U.S. and other troops and missiles onto Russia’s borders, allegedly so that there would be no more such ‘conquests’ by Russia (as if there were anything like a plebiscite in Romania or Latvia or Poland etc. in which a majority of the residents there sought for their land to become a part of Russia).

What is especially important to note regarding the plunge in Americans’ approval-rating for Russia is that it didn’t occur only after, but started well before, those events in Ukraine in 2014; it started at the very end of Obama’s first term, in 2012.

Obama’s State Department started planning the overthrow of Ukraine’s government by no later than 2011, when they were probing Julian Assange for information about how to stir revolutions by drawing supporters into online resistance activities. Assange did not know, at that time, what use the U.S. State Department (assisted by Google’s chief, Eric Schmidt) were aiming to make of the information that he provided. However, by the time the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine started on 1 March 2013 its «tech camps» to implement the ‘revolution’, it became clear what use Obama’s people were making of Assange’s insights.

Apparently, the ‘news’ coverage of Russia during the years of the plunge, 2012-2016, was somehow becoming progressively more and more unfavorable, in preparation for the 2014 Ukrainian coup and its aftermath of economic sanctions and the positioning of increasing numbers of U.S. troops and missiles on and near Russia’s borders. The U.S. government even publicly celebrated its propaganda-success.

Manipulating the public in a ‘democracy’ has become so much of a science, so that a person can reasonably doubt whether democracy, in even the limited extents to which it has existed in the past, possesses any realistic meaning in today’s world — or (if so) what meaning.

The basic theories of politics and understandings of ideology — everything that employs the concept «democracy» — are false now, even if they weren’t false earlier, when ‘democracies’ routinely included societies such as ancient Athens, where the majority of citizens owned one or more slaves.

Where lies reign, what meaning has ‘democracy’? Has it become merely one more lie? This is a serious question.

Israeli Court Issues Administrative Detention Orders against Six Prisoners, Several Arrested Offshore Gaza

Israeli Court Issues Administrative Detention Orders against Six Prisoners, Several Arrested Offshore Gaza

TEHRAN (FNA)- Israeli military court issued administrative detention orders against six Palestinians prisoners over the past few days, revealed a report by the Palestinian Commission of Detainees and Ex-Detainees Affairs on Tuesday.

The Commission said that the Israeli High Court of Justice accepted the appeal filed by the Commission’s advocate Ashraf Abu Sneine for six Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons, WAFA reported.

It also said the detainees will be released sometime during 2017, after the appeal filed by the Commission.

According to statistics by the Commission, the number of Palestinian administrative detainees in Israeli prisons is 700. Statistics also show that the total number of Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli prisons is 7000 in total.

In a separate development, Israeli navy on Tuesday detained five Palestinian fishermen after opening fire at their fishing boats offshore the Gaza Strip, local sources said.

The fishermen, who were sailing within the authorized nautical zone, belong to the same family.

WAFA correspondent said the Israeli navy attacked several Palestinian fishing boats that were sailing within four nautical miles and opened fire at them, causing damage to the boats.

Five fishermen were detained and one fishing boat was confiscated.

Despit

Palestine news

Continuity of Agenda: Destroying Syria Since 1983

Global Research, February 20, 2017
New Eastern Outlook 20 February 2017
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Syria’s current conflict, beginning in 2011, was the culmination of decades of effort by the United States to subvert and overthrow the government in Damascus. From training leaders of opposition fronts years before “spontaneous” protests erupted across Syria, to covertly building a multinational mercenary force to both trigger and leverage violence thereafter, the United States engineered, executed, and perpetuated virtually every aspect of Syria’s destructive conflict.

Enlisting or coercing aid from regional allies, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Jordan, and Israel, Syria found itself surrounded at its borders and buried within them by chaos.

“Bringing Real Muscle to Bear Against Syria” 

But recently revealed CIA documents drawn from the US National Archives portrays recent efforts to undermine and overthrow the Syrian government and the Syrian conflict’s relationship with neighboring Lebanon and its ally Iran as merely the most recent leg in a decades-long campaign to destabilize and overturn regional governments obstructing US interests.

A 1983 document signed by former CIA officer Graham Fuller titled, “Bringing Real Muscle to Bear Against Syria” (PDF), states (their emphasis):

Syria at present has a hammerlock on US interests both in Lebanon and in the Gulf — through closure of Iraq’s pipeline thereby threatening Iraqi internationalization of the [Iran-Iraq] war. The US should consider sharply escalating the pressures against Assad [Sr.] through covertly orchestrating simultaneous military threats against Syria from three border states hostile to Syria: Iraq, Israel and Turkey. 

The report also states:

If Israel were to increase tensions against Syria simultaneously with an Iraqi initiative, the pressures on Assad would escalate rapidly. A Turkish move would psychologically press him further. 

The document exposes both then and now, the amount of influence the US exerts across the Middle East and North Africa. It also undermines the perceived agency of states including Israel and NATO-member Turkey, revealing their subordination to US interests and that actions taken by these states are often done on behalf of Wall Street and Washington rather than on behalf of their own national interests.

Also mentioned in the document are a variety of manufactured pretexts listed to justify a unilateral military strike on northern Syria by Turkey. The  document explains:

Turkey has considered undertaking a unilateral military strike against terrorist camps in northern Syria and would not hesitate from using menacing diplomatic language against Syria on these issues.

Comparing this signed and dated 1983 US CIA document to more recent US policy papers reveals a very overt continuity of agenda.

Decades-Spanning Continuity of Agenda 

The corporate-financier funded policy think tank, Brookings Institution, published a 2012 document titled, “Saving Syria: Assessing Options for Regime Change” (PDF), which stated:

Some voices in Washington and Jerusalem are exploring whether Israel could contribute to coercing Syrian elites to remove Asad. 

The report continues by explaining:

Israel could posture forces on or near the Golan Heights and, in so doing, might divert regime forces from suppressing the opposition. This posture may conjure fears in the Asad regime of a multi-front war, particularly if Turkey is willing to do the same on its border and if the Syrian opposition is being fed a steady diet of arms and training. Such a mobilization could perhaps persuade Syria’s military leadership to oust Asad in order to preserve itself. 

Just as the CIA sought to covertly apply pressure on Syria via Iraq, Israel, and Turkey in 1983, it seeks to do so today. Instead of to simply reopen a pipeline perceived as vital to the Iraqi war effort vis-a-vis Iran in the 1980s, the goal now is regime change altogether.

It should be noted that, in addition to the 1983 CIA document, US support for violent subversion in Syria during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War also included the 1982 Muslim Brotherhood uprising and its subsequent defeat by Syrian forces within Syria – an almost verbatim analogue to the 2011 unrest that led to the current Syrian conflict – also organized and carried out by US-backed elements of the Muslim Brotherhood.

It should also be noted that while the 2011 conflict in Syria began under the administration of US President Barack Obama – according to Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh’s article, “The Redirection: Is the Administration’s new policy benefitting our enemies in the war on terrorism?” – planning, training, and staging began at least as early as 2007 under the administration of US President George Bush.

A concerted, continuous conspiracy to manipulate events across the Middle East and North Africa and project American hegemony throughout the region spanning now seven US presidencies is perhaps the most telling evidence that deeply rooted special interests – a deep state – not America’s elected representatives, crafts and executes US policy at home and abroad.

Power is Held by Unelected Special Interests, Not Elected Representatives 

The notion that the recently elected US president, Donald Trump, can, is willing to, or is able to suddenly oppose the immense corporate-financier interests driving a concerted conspiracy spanning three decades lacks any basis in fact. In reality, those who President Trump surrounded himself with both during his campaign for the presidency and upon assembling his cabinet, are among the very conspirators behind this decades-long agenda.

For those who find themselves targets of US subversion and aggression, both overt and covert, understanding the deep state and the corporate-financier interests that comprise it driving these agendas is essential. Devising a means to expose, isolate, and otherwise disrupt the unwarranted power and influence they wield – rather than dealing with their political proxies in Washington – is the only way to balance the currently lopsided equation of global power.

For the American people and citizens of nations beholden to American interests, understanding that change will only come when the corporate-financier interests that constitute the deep state are confronted and decentralized, and not through elections involving proxies wholly beholden to the deep state, will be the first step toward taking back national institutions and resources hijacked by these special interests.

Tony Cartalucci, Bangkok-based geopolitical researcher and writer, especially for the online magazine New Eastern Outlook”.

Said Musa: Palestinian prime minister of Belize

Posted on

belize_flag1South Americans being victims of the US imperialism for centuries (Cuba, Bolivia, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Venezuela and Nicaragua) are more sympathetic toward Palestinian sufferings at the hands of Europe’s unwanted Jews.

Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega government is hosting an international conference on Occupied Palestine in Managua on February 4, 2017. The UN sponsored conference would focus on strengthening ties between Palestinians living in central America and the occupied Palestine.

Belize, formerly known as British Honduras, will be represented by its former prime minister Said W. Mousa, a Palestinian whose father Hamid Musa immigrated to British Honduras from Ramallah (British occupied Palestine) in 1930. He married a native woman and started a small business. His son Said went to Britain to study law and later entered politics.

Said visited the occupied Palestine in 1965 for the first time to discover his Palestinian roots while studying law in London. Since he couldn’t speak Arabic, he took an Arab friend along on the trip.

Said was one of the authors of Belize’s Declaration of Independence. After Belize gained independence from Britain in 1981, he was appointed foreign minister. In 1998, he led the Popular Union Party to victory in national elections, and became the first Muslim prime minister of the tiny country.

Prime minister Said Musa appointed Assad Shoman, the only Palestinian Jew in Belize as his ambassador to London. Listen to Musa’s interview below.

British Jewish oligarch Lord Michael Ashcroft has sued financially-battled government of Belize for $50 million in US court after prime minister Dean Borrow refused to pay the Shylock.

Two Israeli Soldiers Stabbed In Negev Detention Camp, As Army Continues Assault Against The Detainee

February 2, 2017 3:01 AM

The head of the Palestinian Detainees’ Committee, Issa Qaraqe, has reported that two Israeli soldiers have been stabbed in separate incidents, as the army, and special forces, continued the invasions into the detainees’ rooms, and the assaults against them.

Qaraqe’ said that one of the detainees slashed a soldier with a blade, in section 16 in the Negev detention camp, and that the army fired many gas bombs.

He also stated that the soldiers then cut the power supply, and started extensive searches for the detainee who stabbed the officer.

The army conducted extensive searches in Sections 13, 14, 15 and 16, and assaulted many detainees in the process.

Earlier Thursday, a detainee attacked a soldier with a sharp object, and wounded him, before other soldiers intervened, assaulted the detainee and placed him in solitary confinement.

The detainees in the Negev have lately been subject to extensive assaults by the soldiers, especially the Matzada special forces, causing mounting tension.

At least 400 Matzada officers invaded the detention camp, just hours before the stabbing, and violently searched the detainees and their belongings, in addition to spraying them with pepper spray.

In related news, dozens of soldiers and offices of the Israeli Prison Authority invaded, on Wednesday evening, sections 2 and 12 of Nafha prison, also in the Negev desert, and forced the detainees into the yards after cuffing them, and searched their beds.

The soldiers also assaulted many detainees and sprayed them with pepper-spray, while dragging them into the yard.

Palestine news

THOSE WHO TRANSMIT SYRIAN VOICES ARE RUSSIAN PROPAGANDISTS? MONITORS OF ‘FAKE NEWS’ NEGATE SYRIAN SUFFERING

In Gaza

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*In the old city of Homs, June 2014, speaking with Zeinat and Aymen al-Akhras who endured years of hell under the rule of militant factions. In May 2014, an agreement saw the reportedly 1,200 militants bussed out of Homs (as recently happened in Aleppo), bringing peace to the neighbourhoods they’d occupied and terrorized. Excerpt from my article on this visit and interviewing residents of the old city of Homs: “I dropped to 34 kilos. Aymen told me to weigh myself. I got on the scale and said, ‘What’s 34 kilos?’. A ten-year-old weighs more than that! And Aymen was 43 kilos. For a man, 43 kilos…”


“We were twelve siblings with eight houses in the area, and the family house. We all had stores of food.”


“Thirty-eight times they came to steal our food. The first couple of times, they knocked on the door, after that they just entered with guns. The last things they took were our dried peas, our cracked wheat, our olives, finally our za’atar (wild thyme). We started to eat grass and whatever greens we could find in February, 2014, and that’s all we had till Homs was liberated,”–Zeinat al-Akhras. Read: Liberated Homs Residents Challenge Notion of “Revolution”

Russian Propagandists?

Since it is a theme that those who report differently than the MSM war propaganda on Syria must therefore work for either/both Syria or Russia, I’ll address that in this brief post, drawing on some interviews and related material, since I continue to be incredibly busy.

Some excerpts from: ‘If I write in line with Russian media, it’s because we both tell the truth’ – Eva Bartlett to RT, 17 Dec, 2016, RT

Some people have taken issue with the things I said because I was basically criticizing much of the corporate media reporting on Syria, and instead of actually digesting what I said and criticizing the details of what I said, people have gone to the usual tactic of trying to smear who I am and imply that I am an agent of either or both Syria and Russia,” Bartlett said, adding that it’s been openly implied she is on the payroll of the Syrian and Russian governments. The fact that she is an active contributor to RT’s op-edge section has also been jumped all over.

The fact that I do contribute to the RT op-edge section apparently, in some people’s eyes, makes me compromised. I began contributing to the RT op-edge section when I lived in Gaza, and this was not an issue for people who then appreciated my writing,” she stated.

What I am writing, and what I’m reporting, and who I am citing are Syrian civilians whom I’ve encountered in Syria.

“If people do not wish to hear the voices of Syrian civilians and if they want to maintain their narrative which is in line with the NATO narrative – which is in line with destabilizing Syria and vilifying the government of Syria and ignoring the overwhelming wishes of the people of Syria – then they do this by accusing me of spreading propaganda,” the journalist stressed.

The fact that my writing is in line with the Syrian people… in some respect aligns with Russian media reports, does not mean that I’m reporting Russian propaganda, and it does not mean that what Russian media is reporting is propaganda. It happened to be that I report the truth as I see it on the ground, and some Russian media happen to report the truth as they see it on the ground.

“Why do we not see these accusations when a BBC journalist goes to Syria and reports what I often believe to be not the full story? Why are they not accused of working for the State of England? Why are Al Jazeera journalists not accused of working for Qatar?”

My Related Comments:

 

*Please note, I do not have ‘my own blog’ on RT, as written in the RT overview of an interview I gave to the site (and as also alleged by a factually-challenged ‘fact check’ by Channel 4 News, the debunking of which will be out soon). In fact, the RT disclaimer at the bottom of Op-Edge contributions is clear: “The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.” How did the fact checkers at Channel 4 miss that?

Since April 2013, I have contributed total of 8 opinion pieces to RT’s Op-Edge section (3 of which were from or on Gaza, Occupied Palestine), an RT section which contains writings from over 70 authors.

8 articles in a period of nearly 4 years, that’s not exactly “active” writing dedicated to RT. Take a look at some of the other authors who are indeed very active.  In fact, to the claims that any of my writing is opportunism, wouldn’t one expect me to thus direct most of my articles to RT and get paid something (nothing compared to BBC, NYTimes or other fake news journalists), rather than instead directing my articles to a variety of lesser or not at all paying sources? I have no qualms about my scant contribution of opinion pieces to RT, but to paint me as ‘working’ for RT is a fact-checking error, one which I believe to be intentional.

Further, Dr. Helen Caldicott and William Engdahl also contribute to RT Op-Edge. Will Channel 4 and other smear sites now claim they are working for Russia?

Thus, I am not ’employed by’ RT, I contribute sporadically to RT, as well as more regularly to a host of independent media (21st Century Wire, SOTT.net, MintPressNews, Dissident Voice, and formerly: Al Akhbar English, American Herald Tribune, Zero Anthropology, and others).

If not already glaringly clear, the intention of such ‘fact-check’ pieces is solely to discredit myself and others like me. And even though I strongly disagree with the lexicon of ‘civil war’ and ‘rebels’ frequently used in RT reports and commentaries,  RT has been one of the few English-language media outlets to consistently have journalists on the ground, risking their lives to report the realities MSM would not report. I would encourage people to follow RT’s reports on Syria.

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*From June 2014, old city of Homs, interviewing Nazim Kanawati, who knew and was a friend of Father Frans van der Lugt and who arrived moments after the 75-year-old priest had been shot in the back of the head. From my article on this visit: “Father Frans was a peace-maker and played an important role in arranging the evacuation of civilians from the Old City during the siege. He was trusted by both sides, and didn’t distinguish between Christians and Muslims. He was concerned with humanity.” Like Father Frans, Kanawati refused to leave Homs while others fled. “I didn’t want to leave, I’m a Syrian, I had the right to be there.”

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*Entering Damascus neighbourhood by shared taxi from Beirut, Oct 2016.

On Funding:

 

Addressing the smear-tactic accusations that I’m funded by either or both the Syrian and/or Russian governments, for the sake of time I’ll share excerpts from a social media post I wrote not long ago:

Writing truth doesn’t pay. Independent sites which are courageous enough to host the truth usually cannot afford to pay more than $50/article, or often nothing at all. But for those who have principles and are not writing about Syria and related issues for profit, this is irrelevant.

So the obvious question that hacks have assumed they know the answer to: how do people like myself and colleagues manage to exist, if not being paid ridiculously-well per article as some in corporate media, often writing lies, are.

In order to go to Syria many times, I have either saved money slowly and when able traveled to the country, or I have publicly fundraised. I travel the cheapest means, always with long layovers and inconvenient routes, but ensuring airfare that is far cheaper than those in corporate media traveling to Syria. Then again, that’s me making an assumption: perhaps they also flew economy from North America to Dubai (much further east than destination Beirut), slept on the airport floor, traveled back west to Beirut, stayed in the cheapest closet-sized rooms in the city or outside where it is cheaper, and took a shared taxi to Damascus.

I’m aware of many colleagues like myself who live on the edge, sometimes down to the last dollars in their pockets until a meagre payment comes in for an article many hours/days worked on. Many I know have had to borrow money, as have I, in order to travel to Syria, or fundraise, or wait until we accumulate enough through writings and also the kind donations to our work by people who value it.

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*Castello road, shelled on Nov 4, 2016 by militants 7 times on humanitarian corridor day, twice while I was there.

Independents Only Go To Safe Areas of Syria?

 

This is another charge levied at independent journalists and others who go in solidarity to Syria to speak directly with Syrian people instead of getting the story from the one man UK-based ‘observatory’, the SOHR, or from lying corporate media whose propaganda has been debunked and–with the case of the BBC–which portrayed a photo from Iraq alleging that the photo was in Houla, Syria.

Government-secured areas of Syria are not free of danger: many have been or continue to be subject to terrorism, whether in the form of car bombings (as with the many times terror-attacked district of al-Zahra’a, Homs, which I visited some days after a major series of car and suicide bombings in December 2015 or as with the Akrama school in Homs, Oct 2014, killing at least 41 children, to cite 2 of endless examples. Some more examples here), rocket and mortar attacks, and snipings.

On 6 visits to Syria, when back  in Damascus I’ve stayed in the Old City and was in the midst of mortar attacks which in 2014 and 2015 were near-daily and quite heavy. In 2016, there were still mortar attacks but less than prior. That said, a dear friend lost her sister and that woman’s infant son to such a mortar attack in July 2016. The “moderate” “rebels”‘ idea of “revolution” is to indiscriminately shell civilian areas. These maimed children were a sampling of the injured (some critically so) when I visited Damascus’ University Hospital in February 2015. These children were injured in April 2014, when militants mortared their school in Old Damascus.

Prior to its liberation, to enter Aleppo the sole route (with the exception of the August securing of Castello road) was via Ramouseh road, known for snipings and shelling from militant factions. I traveled that road 6 times (3 visits), in times when snipings had recently occurred. Traveling the Castello road even posed a danger, as I and colleague Vanessa Beeley learned in August 2016 when leaving Aleppo. The road was being mortared by militant factions and our simple taxi, while trying to speed along, was boxed in by other trucks also leaving.

While in Taaouna this summer, taking the testimonies of Syrians from the village of Aqrab where there was a massacre perpetrated by the ‘moderates’ of the Free Syrian Army, there was great risk of shelling or sniping by the terrorists still occupying Aqrab. Of that visit, I wrote:

“Yesterday, via a winding road through the Masyaf region hills, descending to the village of Ta’aouna, I met with residents of neighbouring Aqrab, which in December 2012 was attacked by the so-called “Free Syrian Army” who massacred between 120-150 Aqrab residents (more on their testimonies soon).

Standing on the roof of the home to which three Aqrab survivors had come to give their testimonies, the village of Aqrab, roughly 500 metres away, was distinctly visible—as are any people in Ta’aouna who go rooftop (for laundry, water or other reasons) to terrorist snipers in the hills near Aqrab. The home owner pointed out holes from such snipers’ bullets prior.

Two hundred metres down a lane, some fifteen houses remain inhabited by local Ta’aouna families (including children), in homes 300 metres from where terrorists and their snipers lie.

When terrorists massacred villagers in Aqrab in December 2012, they were then known as “Free Syrian Army” terrorists.

Now, occupied villages in the region comprise terrorists from Jabhat al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham, Jaysh al-Islam, and Da’esh (ISIS). As most Syrians I’ve met say, they are the same, with different names and financial backers, but commit the same heinous beheadings, assassinations, kidnappings and other western-sanctioned crimes in Syria.

Rooftop the home closest to the dirt embankment beyond (this particular house uninhabited, although only 5 metres from the next inhabited one), Abu Abdo, a local defense volunteer explains how he and others in the village take night shifts to watch for attempted terrorist infiltrations. The Syrian Arab Army has hilltop posts around Ta’aouna, but nonetheless the village defenders (including many who are family men and formerly served in the SAA) watch to see if/where terrorists are shooting from/at. “We organized ourselves, since 2011. We communicate with the army and give them targets, and they do the same with us,” he says of the watch for terrorist attacks.

We sit behind a wall of tires, some concrete blocks to one side serving as a defensive wall from behind which to watch for and shoot at terrorists. A second local defender appears, greets me with a friendly handshake, explains that in late 2013 terrorists managed to advance to the low hills to our right. But not since.

I ask Abu Abdo what he did prior to the war on Syria. A school principal, and he still is, he does the defense volunteering after hours….

They point to the land between Ta’aouna and the low hills flanking the village, and the start of Aqrab beyond.

“That small cement building on the land, right near there, about one month ago, a university student was shot in his head and killed, by a terrorist sniper. He was an engineering student.”

Earlier they’d told me about this, and about another university student who roughly 2 weeks ago was torn apart by shelling from terrorists in Aqrab. “He had just finished his exams,” they had said.

Descending from the roof, we walk past a nearby house, the children on the porch stoop. The second defense soldier tells me, with a proud smile, they are his kids. He takes me to the side of the house to show three creatively covered holes, “Dushkie” shots from the terrorists about 10 days ago.” READ MORE ABOUT THAT VISIT  HERE

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At the outskirts of al-Waer, Homs, I was urged not to remain standing at the checkpoint where I’d been watching civilians re-entering their district. I was told that some 2,000 + militants (this estimate may be too low) still remained in al-Waer, under a truce, but that they could violate it at any moment, hence sniping was a risk. READ MORE ABOUT THAT VISIT HERE.

On two occasions I’ve been sniped at by militants. In summer 2014 outside the walls of the Old City of Damascus, a sniper in Jobar fired my way, bullets whizzing past, startling a number of Syrian women and men sitting on the grass.  In summer 2016, passing through the Damascus district of Barzeh, the taxi I was in was sniped at by a militant in that district (it is under a truce since early 2014. FSA within still have light arms).

On Nov 4, I was at the Castello road humanitarian crossing, along which in theory civilians (and even militants) who wished to leave militant-occupied areas could do so. While there, the road was shelled 2 times by militant factions. This video captured the 2nd shelling.

These are just some examples to highlight that even when reporting and taking testimonies of Syrians living in government-protected areas, it is not without great risk. The smear tactic of implying otherwise completely negates the hell that Syrian civilians have been living for years under these various types of attacks.

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*Gas canister bombs litter the roads between Aleppo and the northern villages of Nubl and Zahra’a, which I visited in July 2016. It is such bombs, and larger water heater bomb variations (as well as Grad missiles, mortars and explosive bullets), which for years militant and terrorist factions were firing near-daily on the 1.5 million people of greater Aleppo, before liberation.

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*Aleppo University residences housing well over 10,000 internally displaced Syrians from militant-occupied areas of Aleppo and its countryside for around 4 or more years. One of the residences was hit by a terrorist missile days prior to my 2nd November visit, killing four from one family alone.

Related:

Aleppo: How US & Saudi-Backed Rebels Target ‘Every Syrian’, MintPressNews, Nov 29, 2016, Eva Bartlett.
Aleppo and nearby villages ravaged by the U.S.’s “moderate” terrorists (Photo Essay), SOTT.net, Sep 8, 2016, Eva Bartlett
Western corporate media ‘disappears’ over 1.5 million Syrians and 4,000 doctors, SOTT.net, Aug 14, 2016, Eva Bartlett

 

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