US Imposed Syria Sanctions Hit Children’s Cancer Treatment at Damascus Children’s Hospital

Six years of conflict have brought the Syrian health service, once one of the best in the Middle East, close to collapse

Global Research, March 25, 2017
Gulf News 25 March 2017
syrian children cancer

Damascus: In the cancer ward at Damascus Children’s Hospital, doctors are struggling with a critical shortage of specialist drugs to treat their young patients — and it’s not just due to the general chaos of the Syrian civil war.

Local and World Health Organisation (WHO) officials also blame Western sanctions for severely restricting pharmaceutical imports, even though medical supplies are largely exempt from measures imposed by the United States and European Union.

Six years of conflict have brought the Syrian health service, once one of the best in the Middle East, close to collapse. Fewer than half of the country’s hospitals are fully functioning and numbers of doctors have dived.

The result is tumbling life expectancy — even after accounting for the hundreds of thousands directly killed in the fighting — and soaring deaths in pregnancy and childbirth.

On top of this, cuts in health spending by the government that is fighting a hugely expensive war, a drastic fall in the Syrian currency and indirect effects of the sanctions are all deepening the misery of patients who need foreign-made drugs.

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Children suffering from cancer at Damascus Children’s Hospital. Image credit: Reuters

For families with sick children, the situation is dire.

At the children’s hospital in government-held Damascus, the waiting room outside the cancer ward was crowded with relatives, many of whom had brought clothes, mattresses and blankets in case they had to spend long periods far from their homes outside the city.

One of them was Naim Der Moussa, 55, who has been living in Damascus for a year to secure regular treatment for his 10-year-old daughter Wa’ad. They left his wife and six other children behind in the eastern city of Deir Al Zor, where government forces are besieged by Daesh.

“My daughter was first diagnosed with kidney cancer and treated,” he said. “Now cancer has been found also in her lungs.”

Before the conflict, Syria produced 90 per cent of the medicines it needed but anti-cancer drugs were among those where it traditionally relied on imports.

Elizabeth Hoff, the WHO representative in Syria, said medicine imports have been hit by significant cuts in the government’s health budget since the war began in 2011 plus a 90 per cent drop in the value of the Syrian pound, which has made some pharmaceuticals prohibitively expensive.

However, a lack of cash is not the only reason why supplies of cancer drugs are falling far short of increasing demand.

“The impact of economic sanctions imposed on Syria heavily affected the procurement of some specific medicine including anti-cancer medicines,” said Hoff. The sanctions were preventing many international pharmaceutical companies from dealing with the Syrian authorities as well as hindering foreign banks in handling payments for imported drugs, she added.

The United States and EU have imposed a range of measures targeted both at the government and some of the many armed groups operating in the country.

Washington has banned the export or sale of goods and services to Syria from the United States or by US citizens.

The EU has imposed travel bans, asset freezes and an arms embargo, with sanctions also targeting financial ties with Syrian institutions, buying oil and gas from the country or investing in its energy industry.

President Bashar Al Assad has partly blamed the sanctions for turning many Syrians into refugees, often heading to Europe.

Both the US and EU regimes include exemptions for medicines and other humanitarian supplies. However, by clamping down on financial transactions and barring much business with the Syrian government, the sanctions are indirectly affecting trade in pharmaceuticals.

Many drugs companies have erred on the side of caution, avoiding any business with Syria for fear of inadvertently falling foul of the sanctions.

The US State Department said the Treasury had authorised services in support of humanitarian activities in Syria, adding that there were legal ways to bring medicine into the country.

The EU also rejected criticism of its sanctions.

“Such measures are not aimed at the civilian population,” an EU spokeswoman said. “EU sanctions do not apply to key sectors of the Syrian economy such as food and medicine.”

She acknowledged firms had increasingly pulled out of business with Syria but said this was also due to other reasons, including “security, reputation, commercial motivation, anti-money laundering measures” and the presence of militant groups.

The WHO brings essential medicines and medical supplies into Syria, procuring generic drugs from approved sources in Europe, North Africa and Asia. Branded US products cannot be imported due to the sanctions situation, Hoff said.

With funds from Kuwait, the WHO has delivered life-saving medicine to more than 16,000 cancer patients, of whom thousands are children with leukaemia.

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Syrian girl Rahma sits on a bed as she receives treatment for cancer at Damascus Children’s Hospital. Image Credit:Reuters

But this does not meet demand. Besides cancer medication, there are critical shortages of insulin, anaesthetics, specific antibiotics needed for intensive care, serums, intravenous fluids and other blood products and vaccines, Hoff said.

The overall collapse in Syrian health care has contributed to a drop in life expectancy to 60 years for men and 70 for women in 2014, from 72 and 75 respectively in 2009. Only 44 per cent of hospitals are now fully functioning and more than a quarter aren’t working at all, the WHO said.

By 2014, the number of doctors in Syria had dropped to 1.3 per 1,000 people, less than half the level in neighbouring Jordan and Lebanon.

Against this deterioration, Damascus Children’s Hospital has also come under increasing pressure. Cancer units in the provincial cities of Aleppo and Latakia were both put out of service in fighting earlier in the war.

Now about 200 children visit the Damascus hospital every week, with more than 70 per cent from outside the capital, according to its head, Maher Haddad.

The weight of demand has delayed treatment for dozens of sick children by 15-20 days, affecting their prospects, overall health and response to medication, he added.

Haddad also singled out the sanctions. Pharmex, the state-owned company that buys drugs for government-funded hospitals across Syria, was able to provide only 5-10 per cent of the cancer medication that is required, he told Reuters.

“Most of the cancer medicines are imported. Pharmex used to import the stock of medicines that public hospitals need. But it has not been able to do so largely because of the economic sanctions, I believe,” he said.

His hospital has only 36 free beds, with 17 of those allocated to children with cancer.

In the waiting room, a woman who identified herself only by her first name Nawal, said she travels from the Qalamoun area north of Damascus every fortnight with her 14-year-old daughter who requires chemotherapy treatment for leukaemia.

“We don’t have hospitals or charities in Qalamoun. Free treatment is offered only at the Children’s Hospital in Damascus,” Nawal said.

One private charity, Basma, is trying to help out by funding cancer drugs for poor families. The proportion of patients who need assistance has risen from about 30 per cent to nearly 80 per cent since the war began, executive manager Rima Salem said.

Salem finds the delays in treatment worrying.

“A child with cancer might die waiting for his turn to get treatment,” she said.

Saudi Arabia, member of UNHRC blocks Yemen’s largest port to stop humanitarian aid

Saudi Arabia’s Blockade Of Yemen’s Largest Port Expected To Worsen Humanitarian Crisis

UN elects Saudi Arabia to Human Rights Council

Despite a warning from the UN to end its existing blockades of Yemeni ports, a Saudi-led coalition is planning another major assault on the nation’s largest port city of Al Hudaydah, a move that threatens to worsen Yemen’s already unprecedented humanitarian crisis.

 

A Yemeni man looks at a World Food Program ship at the port of Aden, Yemen

A Yemeni man looks at a World Food Program ship at the port of Aden, Yemen, Tuesday, July 21, 2015.

MINNEAPOLIS – While the Syrian conflict has long dominated international coverage of Middle Eastern crises, the humanitarian crisis in Yemen has been continually overlooked by the mainstream media. Since March 2015, the nation has been in a state of chaos following the overthrow of former Yemeni President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, who was installed by the United States and Saudi governments, by a grassroots political movement led by the Houthis.

Following the Houthi-led coup, Saudi Arabia essentially invaded Yemen, eager to maintain control over the strategic Bab al-Mandab strait, a critical area for the region’s oil trade. The Saudis’ efforts to maintain their undue influence in Yemeni politics and maintain hegemony over a key oil route has now manifested as a war effort bordering on genocide — one that has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people, most of them civilians. In addition, more than a third of Saudi airstrikes in the nation are believed to have destroyed civilian targets.

Despite the severity of the crisis, as well as Saudi Arabia’s apparent penchant for bombing hospitals and civilian infrastructure, the U.S. has remained unusually silent, essentially turning a blind eye in the face of repeated war crimes committed by its ally. The U.S. has involved itself militarily in Yemen to aid in the Saudis’ destruction of their southern neighbor, launching missiles and – more recently – botched raids that claimed the lives of numerous civilians, including an eight-year-old U.S. citizen.


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The U.S. has also enabled the Saudis to commit war crimes in Yemen by continuing to sell them millions of dollars in weapons, despite their documented tendency to attack and bomb civilians. While the U.S. has been quick to accuse other nations of similar atrocities in Syria, it has been eerily silent, as well as complicit in, the crimes committed by Saudi Arabia.

The combination of minimal media attention, as well as tacit U.S. support for the Saudi war effort, has Yemen on the verge of collapse. According to the NGO Save the Children, tens of thousands of children in the embattled nation are dying due to the collapse of the country’s health care system. Since Saudi Arabia first invaded, more than 270 health facilities have been damaged or destroyed, many directly by the Saudis.

In addition, more than half of Yemen’s estimated 3,500 health facilities are closed or barely functioning, leaving nearly eight million Yemeni children without access to adequate health care, resulting in the deaths of nearly a thousand children every week, according to estimates.

But the health crisis is only part of the suffering that has become a daily reality for Yemenis. Famine is also taking its toll, with an estimated 19 million people – two-thirds of Yemen’s entire population – in desperate need of humanitarian assistance. More than half of the nation is suffering from a lack of adequate nutrition, according to UN estimates, with more than 370,000 children under the age of five suffering from severe malnutrition.

Much of the famine is preventable, as it has largely manifested as a direct result of the Saudis’ naval blockade of key Yemeni ports. Recent changes to Yemen’s central bank also threaten to rob many Yemenis of their capacity to purchase what little food is still available in the country.

In this Tuesday, March 22, 2016 photo, infant Udai Faisal, who is suffering from acute malnutrition, is hospitalized at Al-Sabeen Hospital in Sanaa, Yemen. Udai died on March 24. Hunger has been the most horrific consequence of Yemen’s conflict and has spiraled since Saudi Arabia and its allies, backed by the U.S., launched a campaign of airstrikes and a naval blockade a year ago. (AP Photo/Maad al-Zikry)

In this Tuesday, March 22, 2016 photo, infant Udai Faisal, who is suffering from acute malnutrition, is hospitalized at Al-Sabeen Hospital in Sanaa, Yemen. Udai died on March 24th. Hunger has been the most horrific consequence of Yemen’s conflict and has spiraled since Saudi Arabia and its allies, backed by the U.S., launched a campaign of airstrikes and a naval blockade two year ago. (AP/Maad al-Zikry)

Despite UN pleas to the Saudis to end their blockades, the Saudis and their anti-Houthi coalition have announced plans to assault Al Hudaydah, Yemen’s largest port city. Catherine Shakdam, associate director of the Beirut Center for Middle Eastern Studies and an expert on Yemen, told MintPress that “government officials in Hodeida have already confirmed an increase in attacks in Yemeni waters” as a result of the latest Saudi-led assault. She added that “fishermen have been shot at for trying to feed their families and drones have been spotted doing what is believed to be reconnaissance work.”

Shakdam added that this assault is only the most recent effort by the Saudis to cripple the strategic port city, remarking that the Saudis are “determined to punish civilians in the hope they will rise against the resistance movement and defeat its forces from the inside.”

Russia’s foreign ministry condemned the Saudis’ latest plan to cripple the Houthi movement, saying that the operation “would not only inevitably lead to a mass exodus of the [local] population but would also de facto cut the [Yemeni] capital of Sanaa from… food and humanitarian aid supplies.” The U.S. has yet to comment on the plan, but its silence thus far already speaks volumes

West Sanctions Hitting Syrian Kids’ Cancer Treatment: WHO

Created on Thursday, 16 March 2017 00:28

Western sanctions on Syria are seriously impacting the treatment of children with cancer, say local and World Health Organization (WHO) officials, according to Press TV.

“The impact of economic sanctions imposed on Syria heavily affected the procurement of some specific medicine, including anti-cancer medicines,” said the WHO representative in Syria, Elizabeth Hoff.

Before the terrorist war, Syria produced 90 percent of the medicines it needed but anti-cancer drugs were among those where it traditionally relied on imports.

Syria has been under an array of sanctions imposed by the US and the European Union, which claim they have included exemptions for medicines and other humanitarian supplies for Syria, rejecting criticisms of sanctions.

“Such measures are not aimed at the civilian population,” an EU spokeswoman claimed. “EU sanctions do not apply to key sectors of the Syrian economy such as food and medicine.”

However, the sanctions are affecting trade in pharmaceuticals due to restrictions on financial transactions and business with the Syrian government.

The sanctions are preventing many international pharmaceutical companies from dealing with the Syrian authorities as well as hindering foreign banks’ handling of payments for imported drugs, Hoff said.

The WHO official added that in addition to cancer medication, there were critical shortages of insulin, anesthetics, specific antibiotics needed for intensive care, serums, intravenous fluids and other blood products and vaccines.

Meanwhile, the head of the Damascus hospital, Maher Haddad, also blamed sanctions for the lack of much-needed medication.

“Most of the cancer medicines are imported. Pharmex (the company that buys drugs for hospitals across Syria) used to import medicines that public hospitals need. But it has not been able to do so largely because of the economic sanctions, I believe,” he said.

This comes as six years of foreign-backed militancy has heavily affected the Syrian health service, once one of the best in the Middle East.

According to WHO, only 44 percent of hospitals are now fully functioning across Syria and more than a quarter are not working at all as a result of the war.

H.M

Save the Children: Saudi Delaying Yemen Aid is «Killing Children»

Samuel Osborne

Children have died as a result of Saudi Arabia delaying aid for Yemen by months, a children’s rights group have warned.

Yemeni children

Save the Children said shipments of aid are being delayed for months, denying hundreds of thousands of people access to urgently-needed medical aid.

In the first two months of the year, the Saudi-led coalition has prevented three of the charity’s shipments of medical supplies from landing at the country’s main group of Hodeida, the group said, forcing them to be rerouted and delaying their arrival by up to three months.

The shipments were carrying enough aid to help around 300,000 people, including antibiotics, surgical equipment, medicine to treat diseases like malaria and cholera, and supplies to support malnourished children.

In the latest example, a two-ton shipment of Save the Children’s medical supplies and equipment held off the coast of Hodeida then forced to reroute by the Saudi-led coalition.

The ship, carrying supplies for 40,000 people including 14,000 children under the age of five, arrived in the smaller port of Aden 83 days later.

Supplies often have to cross active conflict zones from Aden, putting both the supplies and humanitarian staff at risk.

Grant Pritchard, interim country director for Save the Children in Yemen, said: “These delays are killing children. Our teams are dealing with outbreaks of cholera, and children suffering from diarrhea, measles, malaria and malnutrition.

“With the right medicines these are all completely treatable – but the Saudi-led coalition is stopping them getting in. They are turning aid and commercial supplies into weapons of war.

He added: “The British public has generously donated millions of pounds to a DEC appeal for Yemen, quite understandably expecting aid would reach people in need as quickly as possible.

“To see the Saudi-led coalition blocking shipments of humanitarian supplies is simply unforgivable. The UK Government must do more to make sure aid for Yemen gets where it needs to go.”

A United Nations official visiting both sides in Yemen’s war urged them to guarantee more access to the country’s ports to let in food, fuel and medicine imports.

At least 10,000 people have been killed in the fighting that has unleashed a humanitarian crisis on the impoverished country. Fighting in or near ports hampers access for aid coming from outside.

Earlier this month, the UN said Saudi-led coalition air strikes on the Yemeni port of Hodeidah, … had hampered humanitarian operations to import vital food and fuel supplies.

Five cranes at the port have been destroyed, forcing dozens of ships to line up offshore because they cannot be unloaded.

Nearly 3.3 million people in Yemen – including 2.1 million children – are acutely malnourished, the UN says. They include 460,000 children under age of five with the worst form of malnutrition, who risk dying of pneumonia or diarrhea.

The Saudi embassy in London could not be reached for comment.

Source: The Independent, Edited by website team

02-03-2017 | 08:43

UNICEF: 1.4 Million Children Could Die from Famine in Africa, Yemen

Yemeni child

Local Editor

Nearly 1.4 million children are at imminent risk of death from hunger in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen, the UN children’s agency warned.

Yemeni child

In Yemen, with war tearing the country apart for two years, some 462,000 children are suffering from severe acute malnutrition, UNICEF said.

The Saudi-led strikes on Yemen don’t make the situation any better: in January, the UN warned that over 7,000 people had died in the attacks and about two-thirds of the population is in need of humanitarian aid.

At the same time, 450,000 children are malnourished in northeast Nigeria, and the famine early warning group Fews Net expressed concern that some remote areas of the Nigerian state of Borno are already in famine.

Fews Net also warned that should the disaster go on, aid agencies wouldn’t be able to get to the remote area.

In Somalia, the drought saw 185,000 children malnourished, and these numbers look set to skyrocket to 270,000 over the next few months, according to UNICEF.

Some 270,000 children are currently malnourished in South Sudan and a famine has just been declared in the north of the country.

UNICEF urged the world for prompt response, with Executive Director Anthony Lake saying “we can still save many lives.”

“Time is running out for more than a million children,” Lake added. “The severe malnutrition and looming famine are largely man-made. Our common humanity demands faster action. We must not repeat the tragedy of the 2011 famine in the Horn of Africa.”

Source: News Agencies, Edited by Website Team

22-02-2017 | 09:22

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Video: “Saving Syria’s Children”: The Worst Case Of Fake News?

Global Research, February 17, 2017

Mike Robinson, Patrick Henningsen and campaigner Robert Stuart take a look at what is quite possibly the worst example of mainstream media fake news in history – the BBC Panorama documentary Saving Syria’s Children.

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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