A SYRIAN LEADER TELLS HIS COUNTRY’S STORY: AN INTERVIEW WITH SAA GENERAL HASSAN HASSAN

In Gaza

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Eva Bartlett sits down for an exclusive interview with the head of the Syrian Arab Army’s Political Administration, General Hassan Hassan.

August 5, 2019, Mint Press News

For years, international headlines spotlighting Syria have claimed that the Syrian government, army, and its allies were guilty of a variety of atrocities. Yet as time has passed, many of the accusations levied at government and its allies have been shown to have been either falsified, staged (as in the case of allegations of chemical attacks in eastern Ghouta), or actually committed by the myriad terrorist groups operating in the country.

For their part, Syrian leadership has maintained from the start that the demonstrations in their country were not peaceful, from 2011 and on. Media in the West and the Gulf vilified Syria’s leadership, featuring story after story of government-imposed violence while ignoring or whitewashing the violence of the burgeoning armed groups flooding into Syria.

From as early as 2011, armed groups were throwing civilians from rooftops and committing beheadings, kidnappings, and massacres. The year 2011 alone saw multiple massacres of civilians and security forces committed by what the media called “unarmed protesters” and later by the “Free Syrian Army.” This was the same year that many in the media were insisting that a “peaceful revolution” was underway.

Since that time, those same armed groups, as well as the many iterations they spawned, have starved, tortured, imprisoned, murdered, maimed and even harvested the organs of Syrian civilians, in addition to killing Syrian and allied soldiers and journalists and destroying much of the country’s infrastructure.

To give a voice to the often ignored “other side” — those Syrians that have been working to defend their country since 2011 —  Eva Bartlett interviewed the Syrian Arab Army’s Head of Political Administration, General Hassan Hassan. General Hassan’s shelves and large wooden desk are covered with stacks of books, family photos, and various homages to the country he serves — the general holds a Ph.D. in geopolitical studies. The following is a transcript of Bartlett’s interview with Hassan following the 74th anniversary of the founding of the Syrian Arab Army.

 

Eva Bartlett (EB) | I would like to begin by asking you your thoughts on how honest Western and Gulf media’s reporting on Syria has been, especially regarding their choice of lexicon — for example, regarding the Syrian Army, the Syrian Government, what they call rebels — and the events in Syria in general.

General Hassan (GH) | Media has been one of the weapons of mass destruction used in this war on Syria. The biased media, in addition to the takfiri [Salafi] fatwas — especially the fatwas — have been the weapons that contributed most to the destruction taking place in Syria, including the destruction of human beings, vegetation, civilization,…everything.

President Bashar al-Assad emphasized more than once the necessity of countering the rhetoric used. I can elaborate for two or more hours on the terms used. However, I will limit myself to some examples.

The Free [Syrian] Army is among the lexicons used. What “army” and what “freedom” are they talking about? Every army is known for its discipline, hierarchy, fighting strategies in both defense and attack, and the cause it fights for.

The so-called Free Syrian Army has none of these qualities, except for the ability to kill. The media tried to put into circulation the term Assad’s Brigades or Assad’s Forces. Our army is the Syrian Arab Army, which includes in each of its formations soldiers from all Syrian governorates, with no exception.

I’ll give you an example. Almost three months ago, the militants supported by Turkey targeted a Syrian army position to the north of Latakia. Twelve soldiers were martyred as a result. Each soldier is from a different governorate. This is the Syrian Arab Army.

They used the term “defection.” There is no defection in the Syrian Arab Army; defection did not really occur in the Syrian Arab Army but there are some cases of soldiers running away. The term “defection” is used when a brigade or a squad defect from a certain army. Until now, the Syrian Arab Army has not witnessed what might be called defection even within its smallest units.

In order to spread the idea of defection they resorted to unsophisticated lies. In 2012 they said that General Mohammad al-Rifa’i, commander of the Fifth Squad, had defected from the army. This lie was circulated through the media. Yet, Syrian TV interviewed the general, who had retired in 2001, 11 years prior.

Gangs would stop civilian or military vehicles on highways, hold soldiers hostages, film them and force them at gunpoint to declare that they had defected [from the army].

I’ll give an example available from the internet of their lies regarding the term the Free Syrian Army. Anyone can check the Free Syrian Army term through Google. We type Abu Saqr al-Asadi — right here, I have typed Abu Saqr al-Souri [the Syrian]. We now find [the result] “face to face with the fighter Abu Saqr al-Asadi who ate the heart of a soldier.” (Abu Saqr is also transliterated as Abu Sakkar, as per the BBC article referred to by General Hassan).

That was in 2013 when he was filmed cutting into the chest of the soldier and eating his heart. It is here on Google from the BBC Arabic website. This is not a Syrian media outlet. It is a Western outlet. It is not a pleasant sight to watch him chewing the soldier’s heart.

Abu Saqr al-Asadi was a fighter in the Al-Farouq Brigades, which was an armed rebel organization formed by the Free Syrian Army. When he died he was a member of the Nusra Front. So, he was a member of the Free Syrian Army, used to be with the Farouq Brigades, and then joined the Nusra Front.

I could speak for hours about the issue of lexicon. For instance, they talked about what is called the armed opposition. How could opposition be armed?! Opposition is a political term. Opposition is a political party that did not win elections. Such a party plays the role of opposition in the parliament. These militant groups want to govern the country, the people and everything by armed force. Does this sound normal? Never was there a term called “armed opposition,” except when they spoke about these terrorist gangs.

 

EB | So in the article you’ve just shown, the English version, the BBC did not report it as an act of carnage. They humanized Abu Saqr and asked him what drove him to do such a desperate act?

GH | This is the media war. Either they say he is violent or they say he is an angel; hasn’t he demonstrated how he cut out an organ and ate a piece of it? When the BBC describes a man who ate the heart of a dead soldier as a peaceful man, how then would they describe beasts?

 

EB | Regarding events in Syria in 2011, both Western and Gulf media called it a peaceful unarmed uprising for many months, even for up to a year. Do you have an example of attacks by what the West called unarmed protesters against the Syrian army, police or security forces in 2011?

GH | In 2011 they said the reason behind the first spark was that the army, or another security body, pulled out the nails of some children in Dara`a. Over the past eight years, it has become clear that all of the armed groups are equipped with video cameras and live-streaming devices. Can any of them provide us with a video of one child whose nails were pulled out? Where are these children? Why couldn’t the media that fabricated such lies film the pulled-out nails?

Let’s go back to the peaceful uprising. On April 10, 2011, less than a month after the beginning of the so-called uprising, an army convoy transporting soldiers back to their homes was intercepted on the highway from Tartous to Banias. Nine people were martyred: two officers, five warrant officers, and two civilians. They also fired at the ambulances that tried to reach the wounded.

Other examples are the Nawa massacre in Dara`a, the Jisr al-Shoghur massacre, and the Asi River massacre — where they live-streamed the dumping of people into the river. All these massacres were perpetrated before the end of June 2011.

That is the peaceful [Arab] spring the Western and Gulf media talked about.

Are these examples enough, or should I cite more? It’s important to me that Western readers know how many lies and how much deception there has been, especially by the media.

I’ll give you another minor example. Usually, the BBCAl-Jazeera and France 24, etc. would broadcast that an explosion took place in a certain area. However, there was no explosion. But 15 to 30 minutes later an explosion would take place in the same area. It was like a code to the armed groups to carry out the explosion.

I’ll provide you with a more comprehensive example. When the area of Ma`raba [near al-Tal, a suburb of Damascus] was targeted by the Israeli enemy, cameras were focused on the targeted area even before the missiles hit.

 

EB | So, they were ready?

GH | The cameras were aimed at the area where the missiles were supposed to hit. At the moment that the missiles hit the targeted area, members of armed groups began cheering “Allahu Akbar… Allahu Akbar.” This was documented by their cameras; definitely not Syrian media cameras. At the same time, armed groups in eastern Ghouta attacked Damascus from seven fronts.

As an ordinary person — not as a military figure– I could tell it was a role carried out by three. First, the one who carried out the aggression, and that is the Zionist entity [Israel].

Second, the media outlets that were assigned to broadcast the aggression before it was carried out.  And third, the armed groups who attacked Damascus. Therefore, the cameraman and those militants are substitute recruits of the Israeli enemy. I cannot call them but the substitute army of Israel and the United States.

According to confessions by Israeli and American officials, including previous U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, ISIS was made by America. Later on, ISIS was classified as a terrorist organization.

Thus, those terrorists made in the U.S. are the rebels of the peaceful [Arab] spring later circulated in the region by means of the foreign media outlets.

 

EB | According to Israeli media, Israel is fighting terrorism, Muslim extremists. However, there are reports of Israel treating militants or terrorists in Israeli hospitals. Can you please outline Israel’s role in the war on Syria?

GH | Everything that has taken place in Syria and in the region — all the blaze erupting in the region,  under what they falsely called the Arab Spring — serves the interests of Israel. These are not my own conclusions; rather, it is the Israeli media who talk about this. The Israeli prime minister appeared on television when he visited wounded terrorists, injured while fighting the Syrian army, being treated in Israeli hospitals. This is number one.

The other issue is that every time the Syrian Arab Army is making an apparent advance, Israel conducts an aggression [airstrike]. When Israel is unable to achieve its objective, it seeks the help of the United States, just as it did when the U.S. Air Force targeted the Tharda Mountains in Deir ez-Zor as the Syrian army was en route to clear Deir ez-Zor of terrorists.

I hope that you underscore the following statement: Those who sponsor terrorism don’t fight it.Israel is an entity based on both killing and falsehood. When Palestine was already inhabited, they claimed that Palestine was a land without people and wanted to give it to people without a land. Thus, the United Kingdom’s Foreign Secretary, Arthur Balfour, gave what the U.K. didn’t own to those who didn’t deserve it.

In 2019, Trump did the same and gave the Golan to Israel as if Trump inherited it from his own father. Who gave Trump the right to give other people’s property to others? The issue here is that international law needs power to protect it. Unfortunately, the United States is still the superpower of the world and the financial and economic despot of the world. U.S. officials are indifferent to falsehood, humanity, law or human rights. All this means nothing to them.

I would like to remind foreign readers that Iraq was destroyed under the pretext of having weapons of mass destruction. The whole world still recalls Colin Powell when he presented what he called a satellite image as evidence of Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction. When Powell left office, he admitted to U.S. media outlets that that moment was the darkest in his lifetime. The question is: When did he admit it? How many innocent victims were killed as a result?

How come a sovereign state was occupied without international legitimacy? American officials don’t care about this. Wherever the U.S. has interfered around the world, the result has been more killing, destruction, and suffering and successive U.S. administrations are competing to serve Israel.

 

EB | Syria has been accused of using chemical weapons against civilians. Does the Syrian army use chemical weapons against civilians?

GH |  An official mission came to Syria and demanded that the Syrian government carry out an official investigation. They delayed for years before the mission arrived. And those who came submitted an untruthful report.

Syria signed the agreement and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) visited Syria and checked all places and the existing stockpile [of chemical weapons] was destroyed on a U.S. vessel. Accordingly, The OPCW announced that Syria was chemical weapons-free.ve

The Syrian Government has been accused of using chemical weapons many times, in eastern Ghouta and in other areas. Under this pretext, [th U.S. and its allies] launched their aggression on Syria. Syria affirmed many times through statements by Syrian officials, both before and after the agreement was signed, that Syria does not in any way intend to use chemical weapons and that Syria has not used nor will it use chemical weapons.

After the declaration of this organization [OPCW] that Syria is free from chemical weapons, how could Syria use something that it does not have? Despite evidence that chemical substances and weapons entered into areas under the control of militant groups in Syria through Turkish borders, investigations were not resumed.

There are a number of videos showing how the armed groups were the ones using chemical weapons themselves. Each time Syria was accused of using chemical weapons, the Syrian army was on the verge of finishing a military operation. Is it logical they’d use chemical weapons — which would prevent the declaration of victory?

With regard to their claim of using chemicals in Ghouta, the areas there are interconnected. Those who use chemical weapons cannot protect themselves. When those terrorists used chemicals there, both the civilians and the military were hit, as was the case in Khan al-Asal and elsewhere. This was exposed in the [UN] Security Council by Bashar al-Ja’afari.

Syria does not possess chemical weapons. Syria has never used chemical weapons before. Syria cannot use a chemical weapon for a simple reason, or for two reasons in fact: Ethically, Syria does not believe in using chemicals [weapons]. This is number one. Second, Syria does not own chemical weapons.

 

EB | The Rukban Camp is near the U.S. base of al-Tanf. One question is about the U.S. relationship with ISIS in that area and whether or not America has been fighting ISIS in the area. Also, according to Western media, refugees evacuated from Rukban to centers in Homs, for example, are taken and thrown in prison.

For example, the Canadian Globe & Mail, citing a Qatari-based organization, said that from 2017 to 2019 around 2,000 Syrians who returned to government-controlled areas (in general and not from Rukban specifically) were detained and 784 are still in prison. How would you reply to accusations that people returning home were detained or forced to serve in the Syrian army?

GH | In relation to ISIS and the U.S., I can say that a mother does not eat her own son. ISIS is a U.S. product, according to American confessions. However, America sometimes becomes a cat and eats some of its own kittens when they become a burden.

America uses ISIS, fights with ISIS, not against ISIS. Whenever the role of some armed ISIS fighters comes to an end, the U.S. abandons or gets rid of them. The U.S. does not care whether those members get killed or not.

However, when the U.S. needs them, it sends helicopters to evacuate them, just like what happened when Deir ez-Zor was liberated. American helicopters would land and evacuate ISIS leaders together with their families and fly them somewhere else.

Rukban Camp is within the sight of the Americans in the Tanf base. U.S. surveillance can distinguish a hen from a rooster on a street anywhere in the world. How is it that ISIS members are able to move at the Tanf border without being observed by the U.S. military there? How can the U.S. convince the world that it is fighting ISIS when the latter’s members move freely under U.S. observation?

Four months ago, I was working with the Head of the Russian Reconciliation Centre, General Victor Kopcheshen. He told me that the Russian government received an official reply from the Americans that they would not allow any Syrian or Russian to come close to the 55-kilometer line around Rukban Camp to help evacuate people from the camp.

Less than four months ago we first began evacuating a few hundred [people] from Rukban. Now, the number of people who returned from Rukban Camp has exceeded 15,000 (As of July 31, that number has reached 17,458 according to Russia’s Ministry of Defense). Can anyone provide me with the name of even one person who left Rukban and got detained? These claims are flagrant lies.


Author’s note | 

I asked officials at the UN about the accusation that the Syrian government was imprisoning former residents of Rukban, I detailed their reply in a separate article for MintPress:

“David Swanson, Public Information Officer Regional Office for the Syria Crisis UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs based in Amman, Jordan, told me regarding claims of substandard conditions and of Syrians being forcefully held or mistreated in the centers that:

‘People leaving Rukban are taken to temporary collective shelters in Homs for a 24-hour stay. While there, the receive basic assistance, including shelter, blankets, mattresses, solar lamps, sleeping mats, plastic sheets, food parcels and nutrition supplies before proceeding to their areas of choice, mostly towards southern and eastern Homs, with smaller small numbers going to rural Damascus or Deir-ez-Zor.

The United Nations has been granted access to the shelters on three occasions and has found the situation there adequate. The United Nations continues to advocate and call for safe, sustained and unimpeded humanitarian assistance and access to Rukban as well as to all those in need throughout Syria. The United Nations also seeks the support of all concerned parties in ensuring the humanitarian and voluntary character of departures from Rukban.’

Hedinn Halldorsson, the Spokesperson and Public Information Officer for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) based in Damascus, told me:

‘We looked into this when the rumours started, end of April, and concluded they were unfounded – and communicated that externally via press briefings in both Geneva and NY. The conditions in the shelters in Homs are also adequate and in compliance with standards; the UN has access and has done three monitoring visits so far.’”


GH | I would like to stress a point concerning military service in the army. Several presidential decrees have been issued. Any Syrian citizen [living] abroad who wishes to settle his status and return to Syria can benefit from those decrees, which invalidate any other verdict issued against that Syrian citizen.

These decrees do not nullify a Syrian citizen’s rights nor their duties. Syrian citizens who return to Syria are still Syrian citizens and therefore still have the duties of Syrian citizens. The decrees granted them a grace period of six months to settle their legal status.

For example, a person who lost their official ID, or army service registry or anything, can settle their legal status during this period. It is a normal official procedure to call for duty those who are subject to mandatory or reserve military service. This procedure has been applied to all Syrian citizens in all provinces, not only those who return.

I cannot say just respect the rights and ignore the duties. Everyone is equal before the law. They have to obey what Syrian law states and the majority of them are loyal and doing their duties enthusiastically.

But the people who have their status settled do not have the right to commit a crime. If I had a son living abroad who returned and settled his status, does it give him the right to commit an offense against his neighbors or to kill somebody or commit a crime? The law is the law and must be adhered to.

 

EB | Western media say that Iran and Russia’s presence in Syria is an attempt to occupy Syria and control it. What are the roles of Iran and Russia in Syria?

GH | Before I answer your question, let us decide what logic we’re using. Are we using the logic of international law or the law of the jungle? Who has the right to speak in the name of the Syrian people? It is only the Syrian state that has the right to speak in the name of the Syrian people. No other side has the right to speak for them. Surely, those who are speaking in the name of the Syrian people do not know the Syrian people. It is really strange that the governments of those who kill the Syrian people are acting as if they were advocates of the Syrian people.

According to international law, it is the right of any state to defend itself when such a country faces hazards endangering its own existence. Such a country has the right to defend its existence and sovereignty by using all means possible. In this respect, this country has the right to rely on its relations with friends and allies as well, no matter whether those allies are Russian, Iranian or any other ally. Neither the U.S., Israel nor the Gulf states have anything to do with this. It is a matter of Syrian sovereignty.

The other thing has to do with the military presence of any country on the territory of another state. Such a presence can be legal in one of the following two cases: when invited by the state concerned, or through a resolution issued by the [UN] Security Council. Otherwise, such a presence is an occupation.

Therefore, there is no reason for the Syrian state to be ashamed of its stance on the presence of Iran or Russia in Syria. The Syrian State declares its stances clearly and explicitly: that the presence of Iran, Russia and Hezbollah is based upon an official invitation by the Syrian government. Thus, their presence is legal according to international law. Can anyone in the West — or the media outlets who claim to be neutral — convince any Syrian citizen that the U.S. presence or the Turkish presence is legal?

The Syrian State says they are forces of occupation. There is no [UN] Security Council resolution allowing them to be present in Syria. So what is the meaning behind their presence? They are using the law of force, rather than the force of law. Thus, they are referring back to the law of the jungle and not to the force of international law.

Those occupiers support terrorism, created terrorism, and are still financing it according to a confession made by the former Qatari prime minister that his country spent $37 billion to arm and finance armed groups in Syria. The Qatari PM confessed that his country and the armed groups had agreed to destroy Syria. Yet, they disputed when things went out of their control. They paid the armed groups to hunt the prey. However, they disputed among themselves when the prey escaped.

 

EB | Syria welcomed Palestinian refugees and has supported the Palestinian resistance. Could you please explain the role of some Palestinians in the events in Syria within the past few years, whether in fighting terrorism or supporting it.

Will Hamas Challenge Fatah in the West Bank?

GH | The Syrian State does not deal with people and does not take stances based on reactions. The Syrian state has its own constants and principles, and it [continues to] adhere to these constants and principles even in its ninth year of war. Syria still believes that the cause of Palestine is the central cause of the Arab world.

So, when some Palestinian groups choose to affiliate themselves with the Muslim Brotherhood rather than being loyal to the Palestinian cause and to Syria, it makes Syria [even] more committed to its principles. Especially as these days, the world knows well that the Muslim Brotherhood [has become] the basis of evil since they’ve adopted terrorism.

The Palestinian cause remains the central cause. Syria will always take interest in the Palestinian cause, in spite of the fact that some [Palestinians] were eager to be part of the war on the Syrian State. Even though weapons that were supposed to be used to fight Israel were used in the war on Syrian citizens.

The Syrian State is now recovering and history will remember those [Palestinians] as traitors. History will show that Syria has been, and will be, loyal to the Palestinian cause.

The Yarmouk Camp is back under Syrian sovereignty. The camp is now free from those who carried weapons and used them against Syrian citizens, whatever names they used — ISIS, Nusra or otherwise — and regardless of their nationality, Palestinian or otherwise. All of them are now gone, thanks to the sacrifices made by the Syrian people the heroism of the Syrian Arab Army and the wisdom of our leader, President Bashar al-Assad.

 

EB | Some Palestinians remained loyal to Syria, including in fighting terrorism, like the Quds Brigade…

GH | Yes, of course. Surely. There are loyal people even inside occupied Palestine. Not all people are ungrateful to those who help them. Not all people bite the hand that is stretched out to help them. Only traitors bite that hand.

 

EB | When eastern Aleppo and eastern Ghouta were being liberated, Western and international media said that the Syrian army was massacring and raping civilians there and that both the Syrian and the Russian militaries were bombing hospitals. Now, they are saying that 29 hospitals in Idlib have been targeted. What would you say about these accusations?

GH | We have liberated eastern Ghouta. We have also liberated eastern Aleppo. In both locations, a number of field hospitals were shown on television with piles of medicine. This implies that these hospitals were not bombed. This is very briefly.

The other point is that when a building is selected as a command center for armed groups under the pretext of its being a hospital, does this mean we should let those positioned in eastern Ghouta target Damascus on a daily basis with their shells?

Didn’t the world watch those angels of mercy, when they entered Adra industrial town, burning people alive in ovens and throwing civilians off fourth and fifth floors?

We’re talking about war here, we’re talking here about armies of terrorists equipped with light, medium and heavy weapons and empires of media around the world, in addition to the regional and world powers supporting them.

It is the duty of the Syrian State, before being its own right, to provide the Syrian people with protection against terrorism. The problem with the national Syrian media is that it does not reach the West.

Crossing points are identified as corridors for the exit of civilians before any military operation gets started in a populated area. Such corridors are then equipped with ambulances, medical services and every other need. Who targeted the nurses, doctors and civilians on their way out when citizens were evacuated from eastern Ghouta?

Has anybody seen the photo of the Syrian soldier carrying an old woman on his back and a child on his arm? That soldier knew he could drop as a martyr carrying this heavy load. Other soldiers fell as martyrs while they were helping civilians escape.

That number, 29 hospitals, is a lie in itself. It is more than the number of [national] hospitals available all over Syria. Do they allocate a hospital for every twenty or thirty people? This is illogical.

There is also something strange about all the field hospitals that we discovered. Saudi, Israeli and U.S. medicine was found in these hospitals. How did such medicine reach the terrorists? Did it come from underneath the ground?

And those who had been targeting Damascus and Aleppo are all of sudden depicted as angels of mercy, peace and freedom advocates calling for democracy?

It’s worth pointing out to people in the West that it has been proven that only a limited number of the fighters in armed groups came from western Europe and North America, while tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands, came from other countries.

The Turkish president declares that such terrorists are free to leave Syrian territory whenever he gets upset with Europe or the U.S. Subsequently, EU countries and the U.S. get so horrified at the possibility of those terrorists returning home.

The EU countries and the U.S. do not want any of those terrorists to return. Why is it that they do not want them to come back? Are they not their own citizens? They say that such terrorists will spread terrorism, so they spread terrorism there while they plant roses and flowers here? Is it okay for terrorists to spread terror here while they’re forbidden to return to their own countries?

Briefly, these are the types of lies spread by the West.

I’m calling on each and every citizen of Western countries, as I am absolutely sure that they have pure human emotion, not to believe the Western media. I want them to be certain that their governments have participated in the killing of the Syrian people and in the killing of Syrian children. Their governments participated in the killing of Syrian women and the killing of the Syrian elderly and convinced them [Western citizens] that they were promoting something else [freedom].

 

EB | Recently, journalists from CBS and Sky News were in Idlib. I believe one of the two groups, Sky News, claimed that it was targeted by the Syrian army. Could they be reporting independently of al-Qaeda or any of the other terrorist groups in Idlib? They claim they are not [embedded] with al-Qaeda. Is this feasible? Is this realistic? 

GH | It’s a funny question. You’re a journalist. Surely, this is not the first time you have visited Syria. Have you faced any obstacles while entering Syria as a journalist? Do any Western or European countries accept the entry of foreign journalists illegally into their countries?

Sky News, the BBC, and Al Jazeera teams conduct live transmissions while embedded with armed groups — the terrorists. I wish that the mental power of the Syrian soldiers could become super advanced so that they can order shells to avoid foreign correspondents who are side by side with terrorists. The army is responding to attacks launched by terrorists — soldiers and officers of the Syrian army cannot give orders to an exploding shell to avoid this or that.

The most important question is this: What are they doing there? How did they enter? Who is in control in Idlib? Isn’t it the Nusra Front? How are they [the journalists] allowed to be there? They are there under the protection of the Nusra Front. They are under the protection of an internationally-designated terrorist organization. Their countries should hold them accountable for communicating with terrorist groups before asking why the army is targeting them.

 

EB | How can Idlib be liberated when Turkish forces occupy northern Syria and there are civilians in Idlib, in addition to the 70,000 al-Qaeda and other terrorist fighters?

GH | There were civilians and armed groups in Homs. There were civilians and armed groups in Ghouta as well. There were civilians and armed groups all over Dara`a.  All these regions have been liberated. The majority of citizens remained there while the terrorists were wiped out. Idlib is no exception. Eastern parts of the Euphrates are no exception either.

Each square centimeter of Syrian land is part and parcel of Syria as a whole. It is the duty and the right of the Syrian State to eradicate terrorism.

Unless under an invitation by the Syrian government, any foreign military presence on the Syrian territory is a force of occupation. The Syrian State is entitled to face such an occupation with every possible means.

The Syrian State has opened the door wide for reconciliation. The Syrian State trusts the wisdom of Russian and Iranian friends and relies on its relations with Turkey.

Surely each Syrian citizen, civilian or military, wishes that not even one drop of blood be spilled. This does not mean to yield to occupation in any way.

Idlib will be freed either through reconciliations or a political agreement. Otherwise, the Syrian State will find the means to liberate Idlib in the same way it liberated all other regions. I am absolutely certain — not as an officer but rather as a citizen — I know how Syrian citizens think; they believe that Idlib will be freed, as will each and every inch of the Syrian territory.

The presence of U.S., Turkish, or any other occupation force does not mean such a force is a destiny that cannot be faced. As long as we [the Syrian State] spare no effort or means — whether military, political, economic or diplomatic —  to win this war [against terrorism] by God’s will, and I hope it is not going to be through military action. But if things reach a dead-end, Idlib will not remain under occupation.

 

EB | Can you speak to the importance of liberating Idlib, not only for Syria’s territorial integrity but also for the villages in Northern Hama that are affected by terrorists in Idlib? The media is not talking about Mahardeh, Sqailbiyeh and other places being attacked by terrorists.

GH | When Mhardeh and Sqailbiyeh are targeted, as a Syrian citizen, I do not see these two towns as less important than Damascus. Likewise when the neighborhoods of Homs were targeted.

All areas inhabited by Syrian citizens under the control of the Syrian State have been targets for those armed terrorist groups that are supported by the West, which claims it is standing by human rights and cares about the interests of the Syrian people.

For Syrian citizens, the liberation of each centimeter, or rather each grain of sand, is as important as the liberation of Idlib. Of course, the existence of armed groups in Idlib leads to abnormal circumstances that cause dysfunction in citizens’ daily lives. Thus, it is important to liberate Idlib to guarantee the return of normal life in Mahardeh, Sqailbiyeh and other areas.

At the same time, it is important to end the occupation by the U.S. and its allies.

I hope that each European or American citizen will ask: Why do Syrian citizens return to areas that have been liberated? Why do citizens welcome the army? Why do citizens — except those who are held hostage by terrorists — flee from areas under the control of terrorist groups?

The civilians residing in terrorist-held areas are helpless hostages. A year ago all of the neighborhoods in eastern Ghouta were populated by terrorists. If the Syrian army had been shelling civilians in the past, why not do now? Why are people now living in peace there?

These are questions that I put forward to people living in the West. I hope they are human enough to ask [themselves] these questions.

 

EB | Regarding misinformation from international media on the Syrian Arab Army, portraying them as murderers and rapists. Can you speak about the sacrifices of the Syrian Arab Army throughout these eight years of war?

GH | I will answer your question with a question. Syria is an area of 185,000 square kilometers. According to United Nations documents, 360,000 armed terrorists infiltrated Syrian territory.

I would like to draw an example other than Syria. I’ll give the U.S., the superpower of the world, as an example. Let’s suppose that 36,000, rather than 360,000, terrorists infiltrate any state of the United States. That’s 10 percent of the number of terrorists who made their way into Syria. Let’s also suppose that such terrorists are supported by world powers. What would have happened to the U.S.?

The achievements of the Syrian Arab Army are not ordinary; these achievements are miraculous accomplishments.

The two greatest armies in modern history have failed to achieve what the Syrian Army has accomplished. In Afghanistan, fewer than 10 percent of the number of terrorists in Syria were able to defeat two armies: the Red Soviet Army and the U.S. Army.

But, the Syrian Army defeated such terrorism. According to military theory, any fight between an army and terrorist militia of armed gangs will end with the armed gangs winning. This has been evident throughout military history.

For the first time in the history of humankind, a traditional army has defeated armies of militant groups. The Syrian Army fought battles that can be classified as new in military science. The Syrian Army fought above ground and underground battles in addition to their battles against the media war, intelligence war, information war, economic war, gang and street-to-street wars. Despite all of that, the Syrian Army achieved victory. Therefore, can we imagine the magnitude of the sacrifices made in this respect by the Syrian Army?

In the first months of this war, the Syrian leadership realized that the terrorists wanted Syrians to be used to seeing blood everywhere. So, soldiers were forbidden from carrying weapons, even handguns, when they went to areas of so-called demonstrations to prevent demonstrators from destroying infrastructure.

For months the soldiers confronted the militants knowing that they could be martyred. However, the discipline of the Syrian army pushed the soldiers to do their missions without carrying a weapon.

Let any Western citizen imagine how it would be for a soldier with no weapons facing armed militants to stop them from destroying infrastructure and targeting civilians.

This is the Syrian army. The Syrian army cleared most of the Syrian regions occupied by the fiercest types of terrorism ever witnessed in the history of mankind.

 

EB |  Thank you very much for your time and for the interview in general.

GH |  I also would like to thank you all for what you’ve done so far and for all of the questions you raised. I kindly request that you share my replies with foreign readers.

Personally, I think your role as an objective journalist transcends the traditional role of journalism. It reflects an ethical responsibility of telling the truth about what you’ve seen. If you want to help the Syrian people, the greatest help you can offer the Syrian people is to tell the truth you have seen with your own eyes, not just what is said all over the internet.

Again, anyone can look up Abu Saqr al-Souri and see how he ate the heart of a dead soldier. He was a member of the so-called peaceful group of the Free Syrian Army, when he was killed — he was with the Nusra Front. This can be enough to convey the message.

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Voices from Syria’s Rukban Refugee Camp Belie Corporate Media Reporting

Global Research, July 05, 2019
MintPress News 4 July 2019

Eva Bartlett visited refugees in Syria escaping the horrid conditions in the Rukban Refugee Camp, a desolate outpost in the US administered deconfliction zone. What she found was very different than the ‘reality’ depicted by the Western press.

***

A little over a year ago — just after the Syrian army and its allies liberated the towns and villages around eastern Ghouta from the myriad armed jihadist groups that had waged a brutal campaign of torture and executions in the area — I interviewed a number of the civilians that had endured life under jihadist rule in Douma, Kafr Batna and the Horjilleh Center for Displaced People just south of Damascus.

A common theme emerged from the testimonies of those civilians: starvation as a result of jihadist control over aid and food supplies, and the public execution of civilians.

Their testimonies echoed those of civilians in other areas of Syria formerly occupied by armed anti-government groups, from Madaya and al-Waer to eastern Aleppo and elsewhere.

Despite those testimonies and the reality on the ground, Western politicians and media alike have placed the blame for the starvation and suffering of Syrian civilians squarely on the shoulders of Russia and Syria, ignoring the culpability of terrorist groups.

In reality, terrorist groups operating within areas of Syria that they occupy have had full control over food and aid, and ample documentation shows that they have hoarded food and medicines for themselves. Even under better circumstances, terrorist groups charged hungry civilians grotesquely inflated prices for basic foods, sometimes demanding up to 8,000 Syrian pounds (US $16) for a kilogram of salt, and 3,000 pounds (US $6) for a bag of bread.

Given the Western press’ obsessive coverage of the starvation and lack of medical care endured by Syrian civilians, its silence has been deafening in the case of Rukban — a desolate refugee camp in Syria’s southeast where conditions are appalling to such an extent that civilians have been dying as a result. Coverage has been scant of the successful evacuations of nearly 15,000 of the 40,000 to 60,000 now-former residents of Rukban (numbers vary according to source) to safe havens where they are provided food, shelter and medical care.

Silence about the civilian evacuations from Rukban is likely a result of the fact that those doing the rescuing are the governments of Syria and Russia — and the fact that they have been doing so in the face of increasing levels of opposition from the U.S. government.

A harsh, abusive environment

Rukban lies on Syria’s desolate desert border with Jordan, surrounded by a 55-km deconfliction zone, unilaterally established and enforced by the United States, and little else aside from the American base at al-Tanf, only 25 km away — a base whose presence is illegal under international law.

It is, by all reports, an unbearably harsh environment year-round and residents of the camp have endured abuse by terrorist groups and merchants within the camp, deprived of the very basics of life for many years now.

In February, the UNHCR reported that young girls and women in Rukban have been forced into marriage, some more than once. Their briefing noted:

Many women are terrified to leave their mud homes or tents and to be outside, as there are serious risks of sexual abuse and harassment. Our staff met mothers who keep their daughters indoors, as they are too afraid to let them go to improvised schools.”

The Jordanian government, home to 664,330 registered Syrian refugees, has adamantly refused any responsibility in providing humanitarian assistance to Rukban, arguing that it is a Syrian issue and that keeping its border with Syria closed is a matter of Jordan’s security — this after a number of terrorist attacks on the border near Rukban, some of which were attributed to ISIS and one that killed six Jordanian soldiers.

According to U.S. think-tank The Century Foundation, armed groups in Rukban have up to 4,000 men in their ranks and include:

Maghawir al-Thawra, the Free Tribes Army, the remnants of a formerly Pentagon-backed group called the Qaryatein Martyr Battalions and three factions formerly linked to the CIA’s covert war in Syria: the Army of the Eastern Lions, the Martyr Ahmed al-Abdo Forces, and the Shaam Liberation Army.”

Those armed groups, according to Russia, include several hundred ISIS and al-Qaeda recruits. Even the Atlantic Council — a NATO- and U.S. State Department-funded think-tank consistent in its anti-Syrian government stance — reported in November 2017 that the Jordanian government acknowledged an ISIS presence in Rukban.

The Century Foundation also notes the presence of ISIS in Rukban and concedes that the U.S. military “controls the area but won’t guarantee the safety of aid workers seeking access to the camp.”

Rukban

The Rukban camp, sandwiched between Jordan, Syria borders and Iraq, Feb. 14, 2017. Raad Adayleh | AP

Syria and Russia have sought out diplomatic means to resolve the issue of Rukban, arguing repeatedly at the United Nations Security Council for the need to dismantle the camp and return refugees to areas once plagued by terrorism but that have now been secured.

As I wrote recently:

The U.S. stymied aid to Rukban, and was then only willing to provide security for aid convoys to a point 10 kilometres (6.2 miles) away from the camp, according to the UN’s own Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock. So, by U.S. administration logic, convoys should have dropped their Rukban-specific aid in areas controlled by terrorist groups and just hoped for the best.”

The U.S., for its part, has both refused the evacuation of refugees from the camp and obstructed aid deliveries on at least two occasions. In February, Russia and Syria opened two humanitarian corridors to Rukban and began delivering much-needed aid to its residents.

Syria’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Bashar al-Ja’afari, noted in May 2019 that Syria agreed to facilitate the first aid convoy to Rukban earlier this year, but the convoy was ultimately delayed by the United States for 40 days. A second convoy was then delayed for four months. Al-Ja’afari also noted that the U.S., as an occupying power in Syria, is obliged under the Geneva Conventions to provide food, medicine and humanitarian assistance to those under its occupation.

Then, in early March, the Russian Center for Reconciliation reported that U.S. authorities had refused entry to a convoy of buses intending to enter the deconfliction zone to evacuate refugees from Rukban.

According to a March 2019 article from Public Radio International:

[W]hen Syrian and Iranian forces have entered the 34-mile perimeter around the base, American warplanes have responded with strikes — effectively putting Rukban and its residents under American protection from Assad’s forces.”

Despite the abundance of obstacles they faced, Syria and Russia were ultimately able to evacuate over 14,000 of the camp’s residents to safety. In a joint statement on June 19, representatives of the two countries noted that some of the camp’s residents were forced to pay “militants” between $400 to $1000 in order to leave Rukban.

Media reports on Rukban … from abroad

While Rukban — unlike Madaya or Aleppo in 2016 — generally isn’t making headlines, there are some pro-regime-change media reporting on it, although even those reports tend to omit the fact that civilians have been evacuated to safety and provided with food and medical care.

Instead, articles relieve America and armed Jihadist groups of their role in the suffering of displaced Syrians in Rukban, reserving blame for Syria and Russia and claiming internal refugees are being forced to leave against their will only to be imprisoned by the Syrian government.

Emad Ghali, a “media activist,” has been at the center of many of these claims. Ghali has been cited as a credible source in most of the mainstream Western press’ reporting on Rukban, from the New York Times, to Al Jazeera, to the Middle East Eye. Cited since at least 2018 in media reporting on Rukban, Ghali has an allegiance to the Free Syrian Army, a fact easily gleaned by simply browsing his Facebook profile. He recently posted multiple times on Facebook mourning the passing of jihadist commander and footballer Abdul Baset al-Sarout. As it turns out, Sarout not only held extremist and sectarian views, but pledged allegiance to ISIS, among other less-than-noble acts ignored by most media reports that cite him.

Ghali ISIS

Ghali paid homage to ISIS commander Abdul Baset al-Sarout on his Facebook page

Citing Ghali as merely a “media activist” is not an unusual practice for many covering the Syrian conflict. In fact, Ghali holds the same level of extremist-minded views as the “sources” cited by the New York Times in articles that I reported on around the time Ghouta was being liberated from jihadist groups in 2018.

Four sources used in those articles had affiliations to, and/or reverence for the al-Qaeda-linked Jaysh al-Islam — including the former leader Zahran Alloush who has been known to confine civilians in cages, including women and children, for use as human shields in Ghouta — Faylaq al-Rahman, and even to al-Qaeda, not to mention the so-called Emir of al-Qaeda in Syria, the applauded Abu Muhammad Al-Julani.

Claims in a Reuters article of forced internment, being held at gunpoint in refugee centers, come from sources not named in Rukban — instead generically referred to as “residents of Rukban say”…

An article in the UAE-based The National also pushed fear-mongering over the “fate that awaits” evacuees, saying:

[T]here is talk of Syrian government guards separating women and children from men in holding centres in Homs city.There are also accusations of a shooting last month, with two men who had attempted an escape from one of the holding centres allegedly killed. The stories are unconfirmed, but they are enough to make Rukban’s men wary of taking the government’s route out.”

Yet reports from those who have actually visited the centers paint a different picture.

An April 2019 report by Russia-based Vesti News shows calm scenes of Rukban evacuees receiving medical exams by the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, who according to Vesti, have doctors there every day; and of food and clean, if not simple, rooms in a former school housing displaced refugees from Rukban. Notably, the Vesti journalist states: “There aren’t any checkpoints or barriers at the centre. The entrance and exit are free.”

The Russian Reconciliation Center reported on May 23 of the refugee centers:

In early May, these shelters were visited by officials from the respective UN agencies, in particular, the UNHCR, who could personally see that the Syrian government provided the required level of accommodation for the refugees in Homs. It is remarkable that most of the former Rukban residents have already relocated from temporary shelters in Homs to permanent residencies in government-controlled areas.”

Likewise, in the Horjilleh Center which I visited in 2018 families were living in modest but sanitary shelters, cooked food was provided, a school was running, and authorities were working to replace identity papers lost during the years under the rule of jihadist groups.

Calling on the U.S. to close the camp

David Swanson, Public Information Officer Regional Office for the Syria Crisis UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs based in Amman, Jordan, told me regarding claims of substandard conditions and of Syrians being forcefully held or mistreated in the centers that,

People leaving Rukban are taken to temporary collective shelters in Homs for a 24-hour stay. While there, they receive basic assistance, including shelter, blankets, mattresses, solar lamps, sleeping mats, plastic sheets, food parcels and nutrition supplies before proceeding to their areas of choice, mostly towards southern and eastern Homs, with small numbers going to rural Damascus or Deir-ez-Zor.

The United Nations has been granted access to the shelters on three occasions and has found the situation there adequate. The United Nations continues to advocate and call for safe, sustained and unimpeded humanitarian assistance and access to Rukban as well as to all those in need throughout Syria. The United Nations also seeks the support of all concerned parties in ensuring the humanitarian and voluntary character of departures from Rukban.”

Hedinn Halldorsson, the Spokesperson and Public Information Officer for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) based in Damascus, told me:

We looked into this when the rumours started, end of April, and concluded they were unfounded – and communicated that externally via press briefings in both Geneva and NY. The conditions in the shelters in Homs are also adequate and in compliance with standards; the UN has access and has done three monitoring visits so far.”

Syria Rukban

Syrian Arab Red Crescent members unload food and water for Rukban’s evacuees. Photo | Eva Bartlett

Halldorsson noted official UN statements, including:

“Alleged mistreatment of Rukban returnees

  • The United Nations is aware of media reports about people leaving Rukban having been killed or subject to mistreatment upon arrival in shelters in Homs.
  • The United Nations has not been able to confirm any of the allegations.

Regarding the issue of shelters, Halldorsson noted that as of July 1st:

  • Nearly 15,600 people have left Rukban since March – or nearly 40 per cent of the estimated total population of 41,700.
  • The United Nations has been granted access to the shelters in Homs on three occasions and found conditions in these shelters to be adequate.”

Confirming both UN officials’ statements about the Syrian government’s role in Rukban, the Syrian Mission to the United Nations in New York City told me:

The Syrian Government has spared no effort in recent years to provide every form of humanitarian assistance and support to all Syrians affected by the crisis, regardless of their locations throughout Syria. The Syrian Government has therefore collaborated and cooperated with the United Nations and other international organizations working in Syria to that end, in accordance with General Assembly resolution 46/182.

There must be an end to the suffering of tens of thousands of civilians who live in Al-Rukban, an area which is controlled by illegitimate foreign forces and armed terrorist groups affiliated with them. The continued suffering of those Syrian civilians demonstrates the indifference of the United States Administration to their suffering and disastrous situation.

We stress once again that there is a need to put an end to the suffering of these civilians and to close this camp definitively. The detained people in the camp must be allowed to leave it and return to their homes, which have been liberated by the Syrian Arab Army from terrorism. We note that the Syrian Government has taken all necessary measures to evacuate the detainees from the Rukban camp and end their suffering. What is needed today is for the American occupation forces to allow the camp to be dismantled and to ensure safe transportation in the occupied Al-Tanf area.”

Given that the United States has clearly demonstrated not only a lack of will to aid and or resettle Rukban’s residents but a callousness that flies in the face of their purported concern for Syrians in Rukban, the words of Syrian and Russian authorities on how to solve the crisis in Rukban could not ring truer.

Very little actual coverage

The sparse coverage Rukban has received has mostly revolved around accusations that the camp’s civilians fear returning to government-secured areas of Syria for fear of being imprisoned or tortured. This, in spite of the fact that areas brought back under government control over the years have seen hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians return to live in peace and of a confirmation by the United Nations that they had “positively assessed the conditions created by the Syrian authorities for returning refugees.”

The accusations also come in spite of the fact that, for years now, millions of internally displaced Syrians have taken shelter in government areas, often housed and given medical care by Syrian authorities.

Over the years I’ve found myself waiting for well over a month for my journalist visa at the Syrian embassy in Beirut to clear. During these times I traveled around Lebanon where I’ve encountered Syrians who left their country either for work, the main reason, or because their neighborhoods were occupied by terrorist groups. All expressed a longing for Syria and a desire to return home.

In March, journalist Sharmine Narwani tweeted in part that,

the head of UNDP in Lebanon told me during an interview: ‘I have not met a single Syrian refugee who does not want to go home.’”

Of the authors who penned articles claiming that Syrians in Rukban are afraid to return to government-secured areas of Syria, few that I’m aware of actually traveled to Syria to speak with evacuees, instead reporting from Istanbul or even further abroad.

On June 12, I did just that, hiring a taxi to take me to a dusty stretch of road roughly 60 km east of ad-Dumayr, Syria, where I was able to intercept a convoy of buses ferrying exhausted refugees out of Rukban.

Merchants, armed groups and Americans

Five hundred meters from a fork in the highway connecting a road heading northeast to Tadmur (Palmyra) to another heading southeast towards Iraq — I waited at a nondescript stopping point called al-Waha, where buses stopped for water and food to be distributed to starving refugees. In Arabic, al-Waha means the oasis and, although only a makeshift Red Crescent distribution center, and compared to Rukban it might as well have been an oasis.

A convoy of 18 buses carrying nearly 900 tormented Syrians followed by a line of trucks carrying their belongings were transferred to refugee reception centers in Homs. Members of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent distributed boxes containing beans, chickpeas and canned meat — the latter a scarcity among the displaced.

Rukban evacuation

Buses transported nearly 900 refugees from Rukban Camp to temporary shelters in Homs on June 12. Photo | Eva Bartlett

As food and water were handed out, I moved from bus to bus speaking with people who endured years-long shortages of food, medicine, clean water, work and education … the basic essentials of life. Most people I spoke to said they were starving because they couldn’t afford the hefty prices of food in the camp, which they blamed on Rukban’s merchants. Some blamed the terrorist groups operating in the camp and still others blamed the Americans. A few women I spoke to blamed the Syrian government, saying no aid had entered Rukban at all, a claim that would later be refuted by reports from both the UN and Red Crescent.

Image on the right: An elderly woman recounted enduring hunger in Rukban. Photo | Eva Bartlett

Syria Rukban

An old woman slumped on the floor of one bus recounted:

We were dying of hunger, life was hell there. Traders [merchants] sold everything at high prices, very expensive; we couldn’t afford to buy things. We tried to leave before today but we didn’t have money to pay for a car out. There were no doctors; it was horrible there.”

Aboard another bus, an older woman sat on the floor, two young women and several babies around her. She had spent four years in the camp:

“Everything was expensive, we were hungry all the time. We ate bread, za’atar, yogurt… We didn’t know meat, fruit…”

Merchants charged 1,000 Syrian pounds (US $2) for five potatoes, she said, exemplifying the absurdly high prices.

I asked whether she’d been prevented from leaving before. “Yes,” she responded.

She didn’t get a chance to elaborate as a younger woman further back on the bus shouted at her that no one had been preventing anyone from leaving. When I asked the younger woman how the armed groups had treated her, she replied, “All respect to them.”

But others that I spoke to were explicit in their blame for both the terrorist groups operating in the camp and the U.S. occupation forces in al-Tanf.

An older man from Palmyra who spent four years in the camp spoke of “armed gangs” paid in U.S. dollars being the only ones able to eat properly:

The armed gangs were living while the rest of the people were dead. No one here had fruit for several years. Those who wanted fruit have to pay in U.S. dollars. The armed groups were the only ones who could do so. They were spreading propaganda: ‘don’t go, the aid is coming.’ We do not want aid. We want to go back to our towns.”

Mahmoud Saleh, a young man from Homs, told me he’d fled home five years ago. According to Saleh, the Americans were in control of Rukban. He also put blame on the armed groups operating in the camp, especially for controlling who was permitted to leave. He said,

“There are two other convoys trying to leave but the armed groups are preventing them.”

Image below: Mahmoud Saleh from Homs said the Americans control Rukban and blamed armed groups in the camp for controlling who could leave. Photo | Eva Bartlett

Syria Rukban

A shepherd who had spent three years in Rukban blamed “terrorists” for not being able to leave. He also blamed the United States:

“Those controlling Tanf wouldn’t let us leave, the Americans wouldn’t let us leave.”

Many others I spoke to said they had wanted to leave before but were fear-mongered by terrorists into staying, told they would be “slaughtered by the regime,” a claim parroted by many in the Western press when Aleppo and other areas of Syria were being liberated from armed groups.

The testimonies I heard when speaking to Rukban evacuees radically differed from the claims made in most of the Western press’ reporting about Syria’s treatment of refugees. These testimonies are not only corroborated by Syrian and Russian authorities, but also by the United Nations itself.

*

Note to readers: please click the share buttons above or below. Forward this article to your email lists. Crosspost on your blog site, internet forums. etc.

Eva Bartlett is a Canadian independent journalist and activist. She has spent years on the ground covering conflict zones in the Middle East, especially in Syria and occupied Palestine, where she lived for nearly four years. She is a recipient of the 2017 International Journalism Award for International Reporting, granted by the Mexican Journalists’ Press Club (founded in 1951), was the first recipient of the Serena Shim Award for Uncompromised Integrity in Journalism, and was short-listed in 2017 for the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism. See her extended bio on her blog In Gaza. She tweets at @EvaKBartlett

Featured image:  An elderly women evacuated from Rukban complained of hunger due to extremely high food prices. Photo | Eva Bartlett

HIGHLIGHTING THE PEACE DAMASCUS MISSED FOR YEARS WHEN UNDER TERRORISTS’ MORTARS

In Gaza

As I mentioned at the beginning of this clip, when in Syria as a journalist it usually takes 3 or so days to acquire the necessary permissions to go to areas outside Damascus (or rather, areas outside of Damascus where there is a risk due to presence of terrorists, terrorists bombings, or their landmines).

During this time, instead of loitering I try to interview average Syrian civilians, sometimes artisans, and otherwise love walking alone in the meandering back lanes, absorbing the atmosphere–whether daytime or evening.

People ask me about safety: I feel completely safe walking alone in these lanes. In contrast from my first visit in 2014 to the liberation of eastern Ghouta in 2018, I did not feel safe, nor did Syrian civilians, because at any moment a terrorist-fired mortar might strike, as they did incessantly over the years.

As I noted a few weeks ago when I was here, the mood on the streets is completely difference than in previous years. Yes, people remained steadfast and defiant in the face of the terrorism, but now streets are busier than before, late into the night. That doesn’t make a good “story”, so Western media are not, to my knowledge, reporting on this. Instead, I see new stories invented to yet again attempt to demonize Syria or Russia, instead of just allowing Syrians to get back to life. It’s for the hell Syrians have endured and the silence of the media on this hell that I continue to post positive updates while in Damascus.

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So-called “White Helmets” Preparing to Film Staged Chemical Attacks in Idlib Hospitals: Zakharova

The Russian Foreign Ministry said on Thursday that Moscow is concerned over the fact that terrorists have not abandoned their attempts to stage chemical attacks against Syrian civilians.

The White Helmets have deployed equipment in several hospitals in the Syrian province of Idlib to film false flag chemical attacks and blame it on Damascus, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova stated on Thursday, according to Sputnik.

“There are also serious concerns about reports that terrorists are not abandoning attempts to fake the use of chemical weapons against civilians. According to available information, a group of activists, the notorious pseudo-humanitarian organization, the White Helmets, have prepared the necessary equipment in several hospitals of Idlib to film such provocations”, Zakharova said at a briefing.

The spokeswoman elaborated that tensions were running high in the Idlib de-escalation zone, saying that Tahrir al-Sham militants are carrying out daily shelling of nearby areas and actively building up their forces near the contact line with Syrian government forces, Sputnik said.

Moscow and Damascus have on a multitude of occasions pointed out that the White Helmets have staged a number of provocations in Syria involving the use of chemical weapons in order to blame them on the Syrian government and provide Western countries with justification for intervention in the Arab Republic.

The notorious NGO has repeatedly been busted staging and filming false-flag attacks: last April, the group published footage featuring doctors in Douma hospitals treating patients that had suffered from an alleged chemical attack by the Syrian Arab Army.

Reports of the purported use of chemical agents in Eastern Ghouta surfaced on 7 April 2018 in some media, citing militants on the ground. A number of Western countries, including France, the US and the UK, quickly picked up the claims, and instantly accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of having dropped a chlorine bomb on civilians.

Damascus vehemently denied the allegations, denouncing the attack as a staged provocation to justify potential foreign intervention. Immediately after the purported incident, Moscow dispatched its chemical corps commission to inspect the site and determine whether there had been an actual chemical attack; the expert group, however, found no traces of chemical agents in Ghouta.

US Troop Pullout From al-Tanf

Speaking of the envisaged US withdrawal from Syria, Zakharova said that Moscow had urged Washington to immediately pull its troops out of the al-Tanf zone and transfer the area to Damascus’s control.

“We urge Washington to immediately withdraw its troops from At Tanf are and transfer control over this territory to the Syrian government, which could take care of its citizens as we see it can do”.

Zakharova also drew attention to the “plight of the inhabitants of Rukban camp for internally displaced persons”, which is located within the 55-kilometre security zone set by the Pentagon.

“The full responsibility for the depressing situation in the camp is borne, of course, by the United States, which illegally occupies this zone, and secondly, deploys its military base there, regularly providing material and technical support, while not contributing to the delivery of food and medicine to the residents of Rukban. It is necessary to immediately take measures to resettle the camp”, she noted.

H.M

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NETANYAHU THREATENS LEBANON WITH INVASION. SYRIAN, RUSSIAN FORCES RESCUE CIVILIANS IN EUPHRATES VALLEY

South Front

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that there is a “reasonable possibility” that the Israeli military may have to conduct operations inside Lebanon territory. This move will go in the framework of the ongoing Operation Northern Shield, which is aimed at discovering and neutralizing Hezbollah cross-border tunnels.

Netanyahu also revealed that Israel will call for a U.N. Security Council meeting soon to demand a condemnation of the alleged Hezbollah actions.

“Israel expects an unequivocal condemnation of Hezbollah, the imposition of additional sanctions on Iran, a condemnation from the Lebanese government and a demand that it stops giving its approval for the use of its territory for these attacks against Israel,” Netanyahu said.

So far, Operation Northern Shield has been carried out on the Israeli side of the contact line only. However, Hezbollah already put its forces on high alert and warned Israel that it’s ready to respond to any aggression.

Meanwhile, in Syria, the Syrian-Iranian-Russian alliance continued its efforts to restore stability in the government-held part of the country.

In the region of Western Ghouta, government troops discovered a large number of weapons and equipment abandoned by militants. The weapons included a Soviet-made RPG-29 anti-tank weapon, several rounds of the US-made SMAW shoulder-launched rocket weapon, a Yugoslav-made M79 Osa anti-tank weapon with several rounds, assault rifles, heavy machine guns and loads of ammunition of different calibers.

In the province of Quneitra, local reconciliation committees handed over a number of US and Israeli-supplied medical equipment and other supplies to government forces. Most of these supplies had been provided by Tel Aviv and Washington to the White Helmets organization, members of which fled the area after its liberation from terrorists.

In the Euphrates Valley, Syrian and Russian forces evacuated hundreds of civilians, mostly women and children, from the ISIS-held pocket of Hajin where US-backed forces are conducting their own operation against ISIS. The humanitarian operation was reportedly carried out through the al-Salihiyah crossing on the Euphrates River.

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DAMASCUS TRADE FAIR AND FESTIVAL OF THE CROSS MARK THE RETURN OF PEACE TO MUCH OF SYRIA

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A Maaloula fire spinner during the annual September Festival of the Holy Cross in Maaloula, Syria. Eva Bartlett | In Gaza

Eva Bartlett attends the Damascus International Trade fair and the annual Maaloula Festival of the Cross to see how Syrians in areas liberated from jihadi rule are defiantly celebrating their new found freedoms.

September 24, 2018, Mint Press News

DAMASCUS and MAALOULA, SYRIA — (Report) In April 2018 I returned to Syria, visiting recently-liberated areas in eastern Ghouta and also travelling to the southern village of Hadar — which at the time was under continual bombardment by terrorists just to the south, with the assistance of Israel and its observation towers over the region.

My focus last April and May was highlighting this media-neglected issue, but also going to the site of the concocted and yet-unproven allegations of a chemical weapons attack. Indeed, as I wrote, no one at the hospital in question, nor the people of Douma I spoke with on the street, believed a chemical attack had occurred. Instead, they were more concerned with detailing the horrors and starvation they had lived under the rule of Jaysh al-Islam and other terrorist factions.

So, the focus of my last visit to Syria, which has been warred upon for the last seven years, was in highlighting the crimes of the terrorist factions against civilians, but also the crimes of the Western and regional nations promoting war propaganda and baseless accusations against Syria and its allies.

In early September, I returned to Syria for more uplifting reasons: to attend two important annual events that in recent years were interrupted due to terrorism: The annual Damascus International Trade Fair and Maaloula’s annual Holy Cross Festival. 

A Crowded, Peaceful Damascus International Trade Fair and Revival

This year, both went on in a cheerful climate, and the only blasts were celebratory ones. The resumption and successful holding of these events is a clear indication that Syria is returning to peace, and is closer than ever to ending the war that the NATO-Gulf-Israeli alliance plotted years before 2011.

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At the Damascus International Trade Fair Ground, Opening Night. Eva Bartlett | In Gaza

In 2017 the trade fair, in its first year resumed since 2012, was attacked by terrorists who were then occupying eastern Ghouta. Six people were killed. On September 6, the opening night of the 2018 fair, I encountered Fares Shehabi, a Syrian MP who elaborated on the murders:

“Those in eastern Ghouta, the so-called ‘rebels’, al-Qaeda gangs, they targeted the entry of this fair and killed some people — visitors and participants. One lady from old Damascus was killed. She was participating in this fair — she had a clothing garment factory — and she was killed at the door.”

Watch | Aleppo MP Fares Shehabi on the re-opening of the Damascus International Fair

This year, with Damascus’ Yarmouk district (formerly occupied by ISIS and al-Qaeda) liberated, and with the liberation of eastern Ghouta — the source of most of the missiles and mortars that killed over 10,000 civilians in Damascus alone — there was no concern that the deadly attack of 2017 would be repeated.

The official opening ceremony included a year-by-year overview of the six decades of fairs past — minus the years 2012-16 — and various stunning musical and dance performances.

I revisited the fairgrounds just south of Damascus after the opening events and while walking around I saw the diversity that is Syrian culture, including young women dressed how they chose — something unthinkable under the rule of the fanatical extremists who occupied the now-liberated areas. In fact, under their rule, women wouldn’t be out strolling period, much less doing so with male friends.

The atmosphere was in that regard less that of a trade fair and more of a public park with people sprawled on lawns, picnicking and children playing. Elsewhere, music blasted from fair booths and from stages set up to entertain the crowds, including a children’s concert where a young boy impressively crooned a song by legendary Syrian singer George Wassouf.

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A crowd watches a children’s singing competition at the Damascus International Trade Fair. Eva Bartlett | In Gaza

A novelty at this year’s fair was the Sahab 73 two-seater plane, designed and built by Syrian engineers — the “first nationally-made aircraft,” as SANA reported.

Fares al-Kartally, the fair’s General Director, told me that of the 48 countries participating, 27 of them were officially participating through their embassies and 21 through companies and agents. The latter included companies from France, Britain, Spain, and some Arab countries, including Jordan and the United Arab Emirates.

In fact, 1,722 companies participated in the trade fair, the main participants being Russian, Indian and Iranian. That said, walking around the exhibits, I also saw South Korean, Cuban, and countries neighbouring Syria participating, offering services and goods from textiles, medicines, cosmetics, and food products to products and skills for Syria’s much-needed reconstruction. Of that reconstruction phase, al-Kartally noted it is Syria that will decide who will participate in its reconstruction.

A representative of a Russian company specializing in metal and steel production for warehouses and agricultural use told me:

“It’s just this year that you will be able to foresee the next steps for Syria. Last year, it was very hard to tell when this will be over. This year, we thought it was the right time to participate. We believe this is the right time to come and help the government of Syria, through Russian cooperation, to rebuild Syria, the infrastructure and food security.”

Corporate media has spun this as being a bidding ground for exclusively Russian and Iranian companies. But in reality, while Russia and Iran definitely have a strong presence here, many other nations are present.

In any case, Russia and Iran have not imposed criminal sanctions on Syria, nor have they supported terrorists there. To the contrary, they have been a vital part of the defeat of terrorism in Syria, and a return to peace and stability in liberated areas, providing the peace that allowed the fair to take place.

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Flags of countries participating in the Damascus International Trade Fair fly outside of the fairgrounds in Damascus, Syria. Eva Bartlett | In Gaza

In our conversation on the opening night, Fares Shehabi said:

We expect high participation from many countries and local firms. It’s about a political statement, an economic statement, that we won this war and we will win also the reconstruction war, and this is just one proof of it.”

Notably absent were companies from Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

As al-Kartally reflected:

In 2007, I took a course in strategic planning in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The instructor was American. He was talking about countries witnessing rapid economic growth, so I mentioned Syria. He looked at me and laughed, and said, ‘These countries will create problems for you,’ referring to Saudi Arabia and its allies.”

And indeed, they did.

However — after seven years of war, untold tragic loss of life, and immense destruction in areas occupied or targeted by terrorists — the tide is turning for Syria. Rebuilding will be a challenging process, to put it mildly, but more importantly, in my experience, most Syrians first and foremost want an end to terrorism. That wish has been widely granted — thanks to the Syrian army, government, and Syria’s political and military allies.

Yet Idlib remains occupied by al-Qaeda and other fanatics. And eastern Syria remains occupied by the U.S., its allied forces and other fanatics — including ISIS — who seem to flourish wherever an American presence has a hand.

According to al-Kartally, the 2017 trade fair saw over 2.2 million visitors attend over the course of 10 days:

Last year’s Fair was the first held in many years during the crisis and for people it was a chance to get out and breathe after feeling suffocated for so long.”

On September 7, its first day open to the public, this year’s fair saw 112,000 visitors. On the fifth day, nearly 220,000 visitors attended. By September 14, the eighth day of the fair, a reported half million visitors went to the fairgrounds.

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Fair-goers walk through the fairgrounds at the Damascus International Trade Fair in Damascus , Syria. Eva Bartlett | In Gaza

One night at around 8 p.m., I walked out of the fairgrounds to hail down a taxi on the airport road. I walked past a parking lot filled with buses providing free transportation to and from the fair. Adding to the masses already at the fair, people streamed in to spend their night out with family or friends.

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On September 15, the fair’s final day, Israel again illegally targeted Syria, firing missiles — which were intercepted by Syrian air defenses — towards the Damascus International Airport, not far from the fairgrounds.

The response of the fairgoers was to dance defiantly.

As Fares Shehabi wrote, “This is how Syrians attending Damascus International Fair reacted to the Israeli assault on the adjacent airport..! Defiance..! With people like that we cannot be defeated.”

As Syrian comedian Treka reported, the fair captures the sentiments many visitors were feeling: impressed that, so soon after the liberation of eastern Ghouta and Damascus, there had been so much change for the better in and around Damascus; encouraged that the war on Syria is drawing to an end and peace will prevail; and immense admiration for the Syrian people for remaining steadfast for their country, and with their army — which has, with Syria’s allies, nearly eradicated terrorism in Syria.

Life, Love, Peace: The Maaloula Festival of the Cross

From September 2013 to April 2014, the ancient mountainside village of Maaloula, which lies in the Damascus countryside, was subject to terror attacks, snipers, and occupation by armed groups that Western leadership and some members of the media wanted us to believe were bringing democracy and freedom to Syria. These groups systematically destroyed the town’s heritage, stealing or burning ancient relics and breaking ancient altars and tombs in their plundering for valuables.

In June 2014, two months after it was liberated, I visited Maaloula. The destruction was fresh — historic holy places burned, looted, destroyed.

As I wrote then:

There was the expected destruction from battles waged by and on the terrorists. There was further—clearly-intentional—destruction meted out systematically by the al-Qaeda death squads—particularly on Christian, cultural, and heritage sites. …

In Maaloula, terrorists likewise took great apparent pleasure in destroying and desecrating Christian relics, to the extent of gouging out the eyes from icons and mosaics and shooting down the large clifftop Jesus and Mary statues which had overlooked the village. They likewise burned, robbed and vandalized churches and homes. …

Outside of the early fourth century A.D. Monastery of Sts. Sergius et Bacchus, NDF volunteers and other locals swept rubble, and prepared for the long process of restoration. Inside the ancient church, light poured through mortar holes in the unadorned white dome smashed by terrorist-fired mortars. According to the General, when the SAA had pushed the invaders back beyond the monastery, the terrorists fired mortars towards the monastery and village. They later occupied the monastery, then looted and vandalized it. …

‘They stole many idols from here, including the oldest one in the church,’ the volunteer said. The smashed altar with its unique ridged rim is said to be from between 330 and 325 A.D. ‘In other churches, the altar is rectangular and flat. And only here the altar is a half-circle and rimmed, like the altars of pagans for their animal sacrifice,’ she explained. …

The arson at the tenth-century Convent of St. Thekla was visible from the street, the top two floors utterly blackened by fires set by the invaders. …

In the convent’s Church of St. John the Baptist they likewise set fires, black soot reaching the painted dome high above. They completely destroyed the altar, as well as the pews—which presumably fueled the fire. Throughout the halls of the convent and inside the church itself, NATO’s mercenaries tore, stabbed, burned, or stole Christian iconography, looting what they could, meticulously destroying what was unmovable. Since none of that was possible for the images painted directly on stone walls, they instead machine-gunned the eyes and faces of Mary and Jesus, as well as a stone cross.”

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A Maaloula local defence soldier traces the 2013/14 battles on a map of the town. Eva Bartlett | In Gaza

When I revisited in the summer of 2016, much had changed. The area was cleaned and stores had reopened. In September of 2013, I wrote about the point-blank assassinations of unarmed Maaloula citizens and of the defenders of Maaloula — locals who left their trades to take up arms in defense of their historic town and people. Not long after, invading terrorists, under the guise of anti-government rebels, assassinated an elderly man who had refused to leave his town.

wrote at the time:

On a street below, near the main square, a man and some children collected water from a spring. It was at that spring on September 17, 2013, that 65-year-old farmer Zaki Tabib was shot in his head by a terrorist sniper. Tabib was one of about fifteen mostly-elderly villagers who had refused to evacuate a week earlier.

Abdo Haddad, also one of Tabib’s nephews, commented on the stoicness of his uncle and men like him: ‘These old men are so pure in their heart that they don’t believe someone in their village would kill them.’”

Left bleeding on the street, Tabib was dead by the time his two courageous nephews braved a torrent of sniper fire to retrieve his body, in order to give him a proper burial.

On that 2016 visit, I also wrote about the destruction that still plagued the town:

Piles of rubble lay at many corners, and gaping holes in some walls remained evidence of the near total damage to the old part of the village. Although official estimates were that 80 percent of the homes were damaged, Abdo Haddad pointed out that “damage” in most cases means missing entire walls, and that in fact every house in the old quarter suffered damage, from mild to entire.

Many homes were boobytrapped by terrorists, to further kill and destroy. ‘They rigged houses so that when someone opened the door, an electrical trigger with a small charge would detonate and explode a gas canister,’ Haddad explained, saying that they could not count the number of rigged houses, maybe tens, maybe more: ‘The whole village was on fire. For the safety of the soldiers, in many cases the army had to blow the booby trap instead of defusing it.”

The church walls and dome roof of St. Thekla convent remained blackened with soot from the fires terrorists lit within. Local stonemasons stood on scaffolding, patiently rebuilding the thick walls in the traditional manner. Up the long staircase above the convent, the tomb in the cliffside grotto remained sooty black but was tidied up, with a few of the icons returned until complete restoration is possible. Other icons will never be returned — destroyed or stolen by the terrorist bandits, which occupied the convent.”

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Mikhael Taalab, Anton Taalab, and Serkis Zakhen, assassinated by terrorists on September 7, 2013. Eva Bartlett | In Gaza

Upon my return to Maaloula on September 13, 2018, I stood on Abdo Haddad’s balcony looking out upon one of the town’s historic mountains. It was from these mountaintops that terrorists rolled explosive-stuffed tires onto the simple homes below. It was from these mountaintops that terrorist snipers killed Zaki Tabib.

On September 13, those mountaintops were adorned with the traditional brightly-lit crosses of the Festival of the Cross.

I attended mass in Maaloula’s Catholic church. The rituals of countless years continue, as do the devotion of Maaloula’s residents, with both clergy and congregation singing the mournful lyrics sung for centuries. This is the culture that Western-backed fanatics attempted to destroy.

Watch | Mass during Maaloula’s Festival of the Cross

From devotion to celebration

Immediately following the mass, the congregation quickly exited into the church square. By the time I arrived at the door, the exit was nearly impassable as so many people had amassed in the square. Pushing through, I saw the cause of the crowd: raised on the shoulders of residents, two men sang songs traditional to the Festival of the Cross, swigging frequently from plastic bottles of Arak in their hands. The crowd periodically cheered at their words, and eventually moved — cheering, singing — to the main square.

By the time I made it to the main square, it was likewise completely full of celebrants, many swigging Arak, cheering, singing traditional songs, and praising their army and president. Mini-Syrian flags abounded, as did people on balconies to watch the festive chaos. This went on for over an hour before crowds started moving up the mountains. Later, down in the town square, they were dancing.

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Crowds gather to in Maaloula Syria’s town square to celebrating the Festival of the Holy Cross. Eva Bartlett | In Gaza

When I later made this arduous hike up often-challenging mountainside, it was nearing sunset. Strong, young Maaloula men were stationed at more difficult points of the mountain trail, pulling people up when necessary.

One such young man joined me to help me navigate the path, sometimes leading me down steep inclines on shortcuts to the top.

Reaching the top in darkness, the glare of multiple crosses and the blazing bonfire was enough illumination to see masses of people, mostly young but also elderly and families, standing and sitting perilously close to the mountain edge, overlooking the glowing village below.

Periodically, a burst of whirling light burst out, as people in the town square far below spun fire. Throughout the night, crowds sat drumming, singing, and watching the bonfire.

Watch | Devotees attend Maaloula’s Festival of the Holy Cross

I asked Abdo Haddad to summarize the importance of the Festival of the Cross. He said (video):

“Tonight we are celebrating the finding of the cross that happened 1700 years ago. This celebration is represented by putting fire on top of the mountains, from Jerusalem to Constantinople, to tell the people in Constantinople that the cross was found.

Maaloula is the only place in the world that is still celebrating this custom.

The only time that this custom stopped is when the so-called rebels and other “revolution” people in Syria invaded Maaloula, and instead of putting fire on top of the mountain, they put our houses on fire. But since we are sons and daughters of life, we kept on celebrating it since Maaloula was liberated by the Syrian army in 2014.

So we celebrate life now, and we celebrate the cross.

We were born here 3,000 years ago and we’ll keep existing until the end of time.”

In 2016, Syria’s First Lady, Mrs. Asma al-Assad, was interviewed by Russia 24. During that interview, she spoke of the struggles Syria has faced during its ancient existence. Particularly poignant, and fitting to end with, were these words:

“Syria comprises of land that has been continuously inhabited for a very long time. Over thousands of years, this soil has been exposed to dozens of wars and invasions. Some areas were completely destroyed. I know that Syria can and will rebuild itself. … As Syrians, we’ve always prevailed and this period in our history is no different. It is known or often said that Syria means ‘rising sun.’ And Syrians will rise again, that I can assure you.”

PULSE OF LIFE, SYRIA: DAMASCUS INTERNATIONAL FAIR, SYRIAN HERO WAR PHOTOGRAPHER

In Gaza

Back in Syria since late evening September 5, following are some updates, more in depth articles to follow.

At the fairgrounds for the 60th Damascus International Fair
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Last year’s fair was bombed by the “moderate” terrorists Western media  and talking heads support and whitewash. This year, with eastern Ghouta  and areas around Damascus liberated, the fair can go on, without worry  of bombings.
Regarding the mortar and missile terrorism Syrian  civilians were subject to for years, my 2014 article: The Terrorism We  Support in Syria: A First-hand Account of the Use of Mortars against  Civilians
At Damascus International Fair media centre, a display dedicated to remembering the brave, heroic, martyrs of Syrian media:
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While at the Fairgrounds on the evening of the opening events, I stopped into the media centre where I saw, in a flashback to what I saw in 2015, a memorial for martyred Syrian media workers/journalists.In October 2014, I wrote about martyred Syrian and allied journalists, noting:

“Why didn’t the August 2012 execution (which some reported as a beheading) of TV presenter Mohamed alSaeed, claimed by the Nusra gang, create the same outrage? Or the December 2013 kidnapping and point blank execution in Idlib by ISIS of Iraqi journalist Yasser al-Jumaili?

Why wasn’t the murder of Yara Abbas—a  journalist with al-Ikhbariaya, whose crew’s car was attacked by an  insurgent sniper—broadcast on Western television stations? Or that of  Lebanese cameraman for al-Mayadeen, Omar Abdel Qader, shot dead by an insurgent sniper on March 8, 2014 in eastern Syria.

Maya NaserAli AbbasHamza Hajj Hassan (Lebanese), MohamadMuntish(Lebanese), Halim Alou (Lebanese)…all  were media workers killed by the Western-backed insurgents in Syria.  Their deaths were reported by local media, some even got a passing  notice in corporate media, but none resulted in a media frenzy of horror  and condemnations as came with the alleged killings of Westerners.  Another at least 20 Arab journalists have been killed by NATO’s death  squads in Syria in the past few years.

The killing of 16 Palestinian journalists in  Gaza, at least 7 targeted while working, during the July/August 2014  Zionist Genocide of Gaza, also fell on deaf ears. Nor were the previous  years of murdering Palestinian journalists noted, let alone whipped into  a media frenzy. [see also: Silencing the PressSixteenth ReportDocumentation ofIsraeli Attacksagainst Media Personnel in the opt ]

In Syria, there are countless  civilians and Syrian soldiers who have been beheaded—and  in far more brutal and realistic manner than the SITE videos  insinuate—by the so-called “moderate” Free Syrian Army (FSA), al-Nusra,  Da’esh (ISIS), and hoards of other Western-backed mercenaries. At the  hands of the various NATO-gangs, tens of thousands more civilians have  been assassinated and subjected to various sadistic practices—torture,  mutilation, crucifixion, burning in ovens, throwing into wells, and a  sick lot more. Thousands more, including children and women, remain  missing after being kidnapped during mercenary raids and massacres…”

Thoughts on Damascus International Fair:

With my dear friend Vanessa Beeley and journalist Musa our thoughts at opening night of 60th Damascus International Fair, free of the terrorism which killed 6 people at last year’s fair.

Syrian MP Fares Shehabi on Damascus International Fair:

On September 6, the day of the opening of the 60th Damascus International Fair, I met Aleppo MP Fares Shehabi,  who spoke of the fair and fairs prior, noting that last year’s fair was  bombed by what the West dubs “moderate” terrorists, and that for 6  years the fair was not held at all, again due to the terrorists who were  surrounding Damascus.Fares Shehabi:

“The 59th fair,  last year, was in August. Those in eastern Ghouta, the so-called  ‘rebels’, al-Qaeda gangs, they targeted the entry of this fair and  killed some people, visitors and participants. One lady from old  Damascus, was killed, she was participating in this fair—she had a  clothing garment factory—and she was killed at the door, along with  three or four people.

Thank God the Syrian army liberated  eastern Ghouta and we don’t have any more terrorists there, and  everybody’s free now, and safe—that’s most important.”

“We expect  high participation from many countries and local firms. It’s about a  political statement, an economic statement, that we won this war and we  will win also the reconstruction war, and this is just one proof of it.”

This year, with eastern Ghouta and areas around Damascus liberated of terrorists, the fair can proceed in peace.

Syria continues to show the world what strength, resilience, humanity and love remain as ever in this beautiful nation.

60th Damascus International Fair: glimpses:

A compilation of a few visits to the fair, to give a taste of the pulse of life that thrives after the liberation of areas in and around Damascus of terrorists’ savage and brutal rule.

Syrian Hero: Wassim Issa:
Last May, after he was injured, I met a remarkable man whose work I had been following and sharing for a while: Wassim Issa (وسيم عيسى),  an inspiring and brave Syrian photographer whose photography and video  footage has moved many as he humanizes the soldiers of the Syrian Arab  Army as the heroic individuals and defenders of Syria that they are.
Yesterday, I saw Wassim again. Words can’t describe  the respect I have for his mind, his character, his strength, his  genuine and brave work for peace in Syria, his love for humanity.
Initially we just talked in general, but conversation drifted towards  his work as a photographer in the Syrian army. At one point, Wassim  mentioned last year’s fair, showing me a video of himself and 11  colleagues, going to the fair, a break from their position in Ain Tarma,  eastern Ghouta. The video shows them interacting with civilians, civilians praising them, thanking them for defending Syria.

Of the 12 soldiers, three have since been martyred and two have been seriously injured, losing their legs.

This year’s fair could not have happened without soldiers like Wassim Issa.
Like all Syrian soldiers, Wassim put his life on the line, for his country, he put his whole being into his work.

He talked about how he became a war photographer–his initiative, he  began with a small camera and began selling personal items to get better  equipment–and how his camera was lost the day he lost the lower parts  of his legs.
He told me: “I don’t need money, I don’t need a house, I just need peace for my country.”
I truly believe that thanks to Wassim and soldiers like him, and Syrian  civilians who support their country and their army, that peace will  return in the very near future.

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