Can Lebanon Side Step being Pulled into the Caliphate?

Can Lebanon Side Step being Pulled into the Caliphate?

Bedawi Palestinian camp, North Lebanon
The answer to that question is—perhaps. But for a number of reasons, some suggested below, it’s not a happy picture, and it won’t be a walk in the park.
The recent “victories” by DAASH (IS, or Islamic State) in Syria and Iraq have not taken long to begin reverberating through the ground in Lebanon. A gauntlet of sorts stands before this country, one that it must negotiate successfully if it is to avoid an all-out war, dismemberment or its substantial subjection to elements of extreme Islam.
ISILOne ISIS leader, Abu Sayyaf al-Ansari, recently announced the expansion of the IS to include Lebanon, declaring, “Our war will no longer be confined to Syria and Iraq. Soon, Lebanon will ignite.” Meanwhile, Lebanon’s branch of al-Nusra Front posted on its Twitter feed its fourth official statement to date, entitled “Urgent appeal to Sunnis in Lebanon.” The statement reads in part:
Our war will no longer be confined to Syria. Soon, Lebanon will ignite.
Lebanese security sources have reported that the terrorist cells intercepted at the Napoleon and Duroy hotels in Beirut had been dispatched by DAASH as part of its strategy to overwhelm Lebanon with a formidable wave of suicide bombings. The security services apparently base this reading on the previous modus operandi and strategy of the terrorist cells, and also on information relayed by U.S. and European sources, indicating that the many suicide bombers had been dispatched by ISIS/Nusra Front to Lebanon.
It is fairly clear as of 7/12/14 that jihadi factions are racing to declare war on Lebanon, this occurring simultaneous to a Lebanese Army crackdown on individuals suspected of involvement with these groups. Analysts in Washington and Europe suggest that the jihadi expansion into Lebanon will be a developing new phase, ushering in a paradigm shift in terror attacks in the country. Some even suggest that halting this forward progress will require the Lebanese Resistance taking a lead role along with the Lebanese Army and security agencies.

The Lebanese Resistance may agree with Washington, at least on the latter point. Loyalty to the Resistance bloc MP Walid Sukkarieh, from the Bekaa Valley, called this week for cooperation between the armies of Lebanon and Syria to control the flow of gunmen through the border—but he pointed out that the presence of Lebanese security forces along the border in the eastern town of Arsal aren’t enough to do the job.

“The fanatic groups will try to take control over a big geographical area in Akkar and the Palestinian camps,” he said. “I have information from Akkar about ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra training camps. They’re trying to move toward Tripoli, and their plan is to get closer to Beirut.”
Reports are also mounting of sleeper cells in different Lebanese regions such as Beirut, the Beqaa Valley, and North Lebanon, and according to Sukkarieh, “Thousands are flocking from around the world to join the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.”
Two quick cases in point. The lovely British twin sisters, 16-year-old Salma and Zahra Halane, are bubbly, exceptionally bright, and hold amazing 28 GCSEs (GSCE, or General Certificate of Secondary Education, is an academic qualification awarded in a specified subject in the British education system). Both girls were planning to train as doctors. Now, however, they are in Syria, where they reportedly have joined DAASH, and may soon be headed for Lebanon. Reports suggest the sisters were normal teenagers, doing what teens do everywhere these days—pouting for selfies, shopping, participating in school activities, etc.—and they apparently did not discuss politics much with friends, although they were known to support the Palestinian cause. Their parents believe they followed their older jihadi brother, who left for Syria last year, suspending his higher education, at which he also had excelled. At any rate, the teenagers’ parents speculate that Salma and Zahra became radicalized while viewing extremist Islamist material online, though really no one knows for certain.
American terroristAn other example is the British DAASH recruit, Muthanna, by all reports a sweet, polite, and very considerate young man. Muthanna is now an IS spokesman, urging all people of good will to join him in the new Caliphate in making jihad for the betterment of mankind. The kid is barely out of high school. The family immigrated to Britain from Yemen, and before deciding to join DAASH, Muthanna had been accepted by four medical schools in Britain, according to the UK Daily Mail.
“Send us; we are your sharp arrows,” he has pledged to IS “Amir” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. “Throw us at your enemies wherever they may be.”
On another video, the young man can be seen saying, “We’ll go to Jordan and Lebanon with no problem.”
BaghdadiAbu Bakr al-Baghdadi, by the way, shares the same forename-by-deed-poll with the first Caliph of Islam, Abu Bakr al-Siddiq (the Truthful), but what’s in a name? More importantly, why are some our best and brightest young Muslims joining extremist jihadists? Can they be reasoned with and stopped? How many more youngsters at this hour are preparing something similar?
Recent developments in Iraq and Syria should be worrisome. DAASH’s goals of creating an Islamic state across the Sunni Arab world and erasing the borders drawn by colonial powers have energized jihadist factions across the region and even the world. In a video released last week, a group of jihadist fighters from several countries showed their support for ISIS. “We have participated in battles in Al-Sham (Syria) and we will go to Iraq in a few days, and then we’ll come back and move to Lebanon,” they aver.
Foreign militantsIn point of fact, DAASH has already come to Lebanon, and more jihadists arrive every day. This country’s extremely politicized and sectarian local media have been accused of frightening the public by overstating the matter, and these days “news” accounts of DAASH agents flooding across the Syrian border have been a bit weak on substantive details. Moreover, every “confession” from a “takfiri” is widely suspected to be the result of torture. But be that as it may, on 7/9/14 Beirut’s Daily Star, citing security sources, announced that “Nusra Front and IS (DAASH)-affiliated cells are regularly making their way into Beirut, readying themselves to conduct more suicide bombings in Lebanon…some of these cells have received intensive trainings in secret locations in Arsal’s Wadi Hamayed.”
Suspected also, it seems, is that several members of fundamentalist groups may be laying low in various apartments and hotels across the Lebanese capital, as well as in Palestinian refugee camps. What appears fairly certain is that Lebanon is being nominated to join the IS—and that DAASH is here. We also hear reports of 28 rigged cars, vehicles purportedly being kept in secret locations in Arsal, Western Beqaa, Tripoli, and the Beirut neighborhood of Tariq al-Jadideh. The autos are said to be hidden in camouflaged garages, while security forces are working to determine the identity of their owners.
DAASH’s ability to inspire such intense support, such as from the young people noted above, worries Lebanese and U.S. officials. Their fighters seemingly will go anywhere and do anything for the cause, combining an intense passion for “justice” with an unusual degree of organization, technical skill and tactical planning. Some in Lebanon are beginning to refer to “Amir” Bakr Baghdadi as “the Nasrallah of DAASH.” Both leaders exhibit personal charisma, intelligence and ability to gather and inspire followers. Some have even gone so far as to suggest organizational acumen and self-sacrifice similarities between the two men and their organizations, despite profound ideological/religious/sectarian differences.
An IS invasion of Lebanon, along the lines of what it achieved in northwest Iraq, is thus looking increasingly likely. Most of the expected tactics are well known in Lebanon, and include bringing suicide bombers to target politicians, the use of ISIS sleeper cells, and exploiting some specific areas in some Palestinian or Syrian refugee camps. Lebanese journalist Jean Aziz, for one, feels the threat is quite significant. Aziz discusses a recent intelligence report making the rounds that concludes that DAASH will invade Lebanon from Al-Qalamoun Mountains, more specifically from the western slope of the eastern mountain range between Lebanon and Syria. The expected massive DAASH ground incursion will include a large force comprised of various nationalities, a force well known to be gathering in the mountainous regions and consisting of veterans from nearby battles, including at al-Qusayr, villages around Homs, Yabroud, Nabak Nasab, and west to Qalamoun, as well as hardened fighters from secret camps near the Lebanon border.
The report cited by Aziz estimates that as many as 5,000 DAASH fighters will be mobilized by offering cash, spoils, “victory” and enlargement of the Islamic State. Many are believed currently residing in caves and tunnels dug in the mountains over the past three years, reportedly with a huge arsenal of weapons and ammunition, and once the battle begins, thousands of fighters from across Lebanon may pledge allegiance to DAASH. What is disturbing security services in Beirut, Washington and elsewhere, is Lebanon’s seemingly vast geography of fertile sectarian soil for IS to plant its creed, grow recruits and harvest territory for the expanding Caliphate.
Some in Washington also feel an attack could be launched from Arsal, possibly under cover of several simultaneous attacks around the country from sleeper cells. Such attacks most likely would target key Lebanese military and security sites, and could be carried out with the assistance of many in Lebanon who are sympathetic to DAASH. This would include residents in some Palestinian camps as well Syrian refugees in certain sensitive areas.
Another development, one being downplayed by Washington but which is said to be causing private worry in the Pentagon, is this week’s Iraqi warning to the UN that Sunni militants have seized nuclear materials used for scientific research at a university in Mosul. In a letter reported by Reuters, Iraq’s envoy to the UN is claiming that DAASH has taken possession of nearly 40kg (88lb) of uranium compounds.
Washington and Tehran, along with their allies, view threats from DAASH similarly in some respects. Islamist militants that have swept across Iraq and parts of Syria pose a clear and “imminent danger,” as Defense Secretary Chuck. Hegel put it.
“Make no mistake—and this country should not make any mistake on this, nor anyone in Congress—this is a threat to our country,” Hagel said. “This is a force that is sophisticated, it’s dynamic, it’s strong, it’s organized, it’s well-financed, it’s competent.”
IranSimilarly, Tehran has made it clear Iran will not tolerate an IS caliphate on its borders, nor will it allow the formation of a Sunni mini-state in Iraq’s Anbar province backed by Turkey or one of the Gulf States. Meanwhile progressive forces are closely following the political, security and field developments in Iraq, and is reportedly conducting intensive meetings with military officials.
One question frequently asked by this observer in the Palestinian camps and in Hamra is why are Sunni Muslims, who in the main, like their Shia brothers and sisters, are distinctively moderate—why are they suddenly and seemingly in great numbers taking such an interest in DAASH’s military achievements? And why are so many insisting that the Umma will modify and tame the DAASH jihadist tiger, once the Caliphate returns, as happened to a great extent under the Ottomans?
This observer, like many in this region, has been struck by the Sunni-Shia mutual mistrust and growing antagonism, a rupture that will deeply affect Lebanon’s coming war with DAASH. During the spate of bombings over the past year in my largely Shia Hezbollah neighborhood of South Beirut—bombings which left many dead and wounded, including two lovely youngsters, Ali and Marie, from my building on Abbas Mousawi Street—I took strong personal umbrage when a few Sunni friends made outrageous comments like, “They (their countrymen and fellow Muslims in Dahiyeh) deserved it, and let’s hope there are many more bombings of the party of Satan by the rebels!”
Despite this appalling hate speech, which appears to be growing these days in Lebanon, does the Resistance in Lebanon hold the keys to ending the Sunni-Shia conflict in this country and defeating DAASH? This observer believes that it does, and that in in partnership with Lebanese security forces, can and will stop DAASH, and that it will do this by employing some of the elements of a Sunni-Shia strategy currently being outlined by both Muslim communities.
Franklin Lamb is doing research in Syria and Lebanon and volunteers with the Palestine Civil Rights Campaign (PCRC) and the Sabra-Shatila Scholarship Program (SSSP) (  He is reachable c/
Source: Al-Manar Website
15-07-2014 – 10:08 Last updated 15-07-2014 – 10:08
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EU Sanctions Target Humanitarian Aid and Hinder Restoration of Global Heritage in Syria



Today, a civilization that used to lead the world and for centuries was the beacon of learning, tolerance and trade, and that still protects our global cultural heritage, is damaged—and only the Syrian people can rebuild it for all of us. We need to help them.


 Last month, half-heartedly and without unanimity among its 28 member states, the European Union levied yet more sanctions on Syrian officials. Passed under pressure from the usual suspects (the US, France, Britain, and the international Zionist lobby), the EU measure targets 12 government ministers, none of whom wields or holds police authority of any type. Not a single one of these individuals has any capacity or wherewithal—or even any interest—in committing “serious human rights violations,” as the measure accuses them of having carried out.

It is a charge that amounts to defamation of character and which the EU made without offering a scintilla of evidence. Widely seen as EU frustration over failed western policy in Syria, the action is also thought to have been motivated by a sense that the EU ought to keep itself relevant by…well…doing something, given that there is a deep split within its ranks over military aid to Syrian rebels. Coming three weeks after the Syrian presidential election (generally viewed as a significant victory for the Assad government), the measure puts the officials under an EU travel ban and asset freeze, and it also raises to 191 the number of Syrian government employees, along with 53 companies, now being targeted by EU sanctions.

The impact of EU and western sanctions on the Syrian economy has been severe—this is well known. Heavy fighting has damaged or destroyed economic infrastructure, significantly impeding normal access to sources of income for average Syrians. In addition, internal distribution and supply networks have been disrupted if not destroyed; currency depreciation has devastated purchasing power; and the heavy US, EU and Arab League sanctions have hampered imports and exports. Even the import of items not subject to the sanctions has been restricted by the sanctions on financial transactions, while tourism revenue, for example, has all but disappeared.

The EU’s ill-considered action simply adds to the multitude of woes faced by Syrian citizens, woes which have forced many of them to leave their country and become refugees. The ministers targeted tend to be technocrats, specialists in their field of work; they are not major government policy makers. Some are involved in humanitarian work, and some of them are ministers whose efforts in this regard have made them quite popular with Syrian people, both at home and abroad. One of these is Kinda al-Shammat, who heads Syria’s Ministry of Social Affairs.

Dr. Kinda al-Shammat, human rights advocate-capriciously targeted with EU political sanctions on 6/23/14

 Minister  Shammat works closely with the U.N. and other aid agencies operating on the ground in Syria, her efforts facilitating the delivery of assistance to millions of internally displaced Syrians. The UN has hundreds of aid workers working with the Syrian government through her. She has never been involved in “serious human rights violations,” but she is a well-known human rights advocate. Ms. Shammat holds a PhD in Private Law from the University of Damascus, where she teaches, and she has also worked with the Syrian Commission for Family Affairs, the General Union of Syrian Women, and the UN Development Fund. In the latter capacity she served as a legal expert in family affairs and violence against women, and in 2012 she was also a member of the committee that amended the Syrian constitution.

Ms. Shammat first came to this observer’s attention for her continued dedication to getting aid to Palestinian refugees trapped inside Yarmouk camp during the current crisis. She survived an assassination attempt by rebels opposed to her views on women rights, and some suggest that she became a target for al-Qaeda types last year when Damascus University banned the wearing of total full face veils. It was a decision she openly welcomed at the time, saying that it was in line with the Syrian belief in moderation.

“We in Syria have never gone to the extreme left or the extreme right,” she told Al-Arabiya TV.

Kinda al-Shammat is surely one of the last officials, in Syria or anywhere else, who would warrant EU sanctions against her, and it is deeply egregious that she should be targeted, along with her colleagues, without any proof of wrongdoing. Most of the other ministers added to the sanctions list also have stellar records of public service; they would doubtless be applauded by the people, and probably, under different circumstances, would even be esteemed and well received in all 28 EU member states as well. These include Finance Minister Ismael Ismael, Economy and Foreign Trade Minister Khodr Orfali, Oil Minister Suleiman Al Abbas, Industry Minister Kamal Eddin Tu’ma, Labor Minister Hassan Hijazi, and Minister of Tourism, Bishr Riad Yaziji. None of these individuals has ever been accused of any conduct that could be construed as anything other than humanitarian. Of these it is perhaps Yaziji who most embodies the “new breed” of Syrian officials.


Yaziji was appointed as Minister of Tourism on 8/22/13, and he appears beholden to no person or thing other than his own vision of restoring Syria’s vital tourist industry. Born in Aleppo in 1972, Yaziji is a businessman, and he is currently the youngest member of the Assad Cabinet. With a Bachelor’s degree in Informatics Engineering from Aleppo University (1995), he is possessed with distinctively Kennedyesque good looks, voices progressive ideas, and exerts a charm and charisma that instantly connects with ordinary citizens and foreigners alike. Not affiliated with the Baath Party, Yaziji is an independent and was elected as such to the People’s Assembly, or the Syrian parliament. This observer has closely followed his work, both in the media and from direct personal experience.

Prior to the conflict, tourism brought in more than $8 billion annually, and as one admirer of Yaziji, who also works in government, put it, “The Tourism Ministry is working to reconnect to the world the way we Syrians used to reach out.” The official added:

“Syria’s treasures, from the cradle of civilization that we are, fundamentally belong to all of humanity, and please accept our promise—that we will do our best to repair all damage to the antiquities and will welcome assistance, as we shall welcome every visitor again, before long, enshallah (God willing).”

Minister of Tourism…HE  Bashr Yaziji..Another target of EU political sanctions last week

Minister Yaziji appears to thrive on the broad scope and depth of his work, which in fact includes visiting Syrian archaeological sites and drawing international focus on the need to protect and restore humanity’s collective cultural heritage, of which the people of Syria are the custodians. He also spends his time participating in youth festivals, visiting wounded citizens in hospitals, and recently attended a “Loyalty to Syria” gathering, where he stressed the importance of NGOs in conveying the reality of events in Syria to the global public. At that gathering he also discussed the unparalleled richness of the country’s historical and religious monuments, and spoke of “boosting the social values and developing national capacity to serve the best interest of Syria.”

This new generation of Syrian officials is dedicated to ameliorating the country’s humanitarian crisis as well as preserving our global heritage. They have been indefatigable in their around-the- clock projects, and they need to be encouraged, not hindered. In an interview with Reuters on 6/28/14, Yaziji said the sanctions will not interfere with his work—and he also said he has never been involved with any “human rights violations” of any sort. Some have pointed to the curious timing of this latest round of sanctions, so soon after the presidential election, and have suggested that in reality it is a form of collective punishment of the Syrian people—for daring to vote the wrong way, or in a way disapproved of by the EU and the rest of the West.

The EU has spoken piously of  “Cultural Heritage—our debt to the past, our promise to the future,” and claims that it seeks to “promote culture as a catalyst for creativity,” but its actions last month belie this. If it truly seeks to implement its claimed humanitarian values, the EU should work to open the paths of these Syrian officials, not close them. At the very least it should desist from layering more “show sanctions” upon those in Syria who are striving to salvage their country. Yaziji and al-Shammat are Syrian patriots whose invaluable work the EU should be encouraging rather than hindering with politically motivated sanctions and silly, gratuitous defamations of character.

Few in the Syrian Arab Republic these days question the urgency and enormity of the task of reconstructing their ancient country from war-caused destruction, the fall-out from a conflict already more than half as long as World War I and approaching two-thirds as long as World War II. For this ten-millennium civilization, emergency measures are needed to protect its thousands of priceless archaeological treasures, both from the ravages of war as well as plunder and illegal excavation wrought by thieves. The Syrian government has given high priority to the preservation of cultural heritage, a policy that presumably not many in the EU would openly disagree with. Yet the EU’s ill-considered sanctions are harming multi-faceted restoration efforts—by intimidating members of the international public who want to help and by attempting to isolate Syrian officials whose full schedules these days are consumed by humanitarian undertakings as well as projects aimed at restoring cultural heritage sites and preserving our link to the past. And by the way, some of these sites they are working to protect are included on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites. These include the Ancient City of Aleppo , the Ancient City of Bosra Ancient City of Damascus Ancient Villages of Northern Syria , Crac des Chevaliers and Qal’at Salah El-Din and the Site of Palmyra .

Syria and her hardworking public servants will survive these gratuitous political sanctions, but the sanctions likely will remain an indelible stain on the EU and its claimed humanitarian principles for a long time to come.

Franklin Lamb is a visiting Professor of International Law at the Faculty of Law, Damascus University and volunteers with the Sabra-Shatila Scholarship Program (

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The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Blog!

ISIS (DAASH) Now Recruiting in Palestinian Camps in Lebanon—who are these guys?

Franklin Lamb

Ain Al-Hilweh camp


With Washington and London affirming over the past few days their intentions to continue arming “moderate rebel factions” in Syria, Tel Aviv has now stepped up and announced it would like to be helpful as well…by joining with “moderate Arab nations” to battle their mutual Muslim enemies.


Lieberman, Kerry

The Israeli offer of “help” was extended on 6/26/14, presumably to provide peace of mind to “moderate” Arab nations who may feel threatened by the lightning, land-grabbing offensive unleashed by Islamic militants in Iraq. In his meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry in Paris, the Zionist state’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, who by the way is an arch Islamophobe and Arabphobe, reportedly talked sweet about some Arabs, informing Kerry that “the extremists currently operating in Iraq and Syria will try to challenge the stability in the entire Gulf region, first of all in Kuwait.” A statement from Lieberman’s office added that “Israel could provide effective and reliable assistance to moderate Arab states who are dealing with extremists.”

Just a few days after visiting Iraq and being briefed on the pathetic situation, Kerry seems intrigued by the Israeli idea, and has noted, according to one senior U.S. official, that it is “important that countries in the region (including Israel) stand together against the (ISIS) threat.”

Basically “Israel wants to do what Shite Iran has started doing,” the official continued—which according to the New York Times is flying surveillance drones over Iraq and sending military equipment to help Baghdad fight the Sunni insurgents—but with one exception: Israel wants to arm the Sunni tribes in league with the West and the Gulf monarchies, and not arm the Shia.

Israeli officials and AIPAC are arguing to Washington that Israeli interests are converging with moderate Arab nations and that “both sides should be dealing with the threat of Iran, world jihad and al-Qaida, as well as the spill-over of conflicts in Syria and Iraq into neighboring countries.” The Israeli embassy issued a statement saying, “Today, (6/26/14) there is a basis for the creation of a new diplomatic-political structure in the Middle East.”

Yet another “new Middle East,” one wonders?

This week on NBC’s Meet the Press, the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, restated the decades-old Zionist project of permanently dividing and controlling the Middle East. On the subject of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS, or DAASH) Netanyahu rather unabashedly and overtly expressed his regime’s intentions to promote internal strife in neighboring states.

“We must weaken both [Sunni and Shia Muslims],” he said, restating his government’s preferred policy to have Muslims fighting among themselves: “When your enemies are fighting each other, don’t strengthen either one of them, weaken both,” he told the American public.

Of course, it would not be the first time the Zionist regime has worked with preferred members of the Arab League to advance its own interests—and a strong incentive to ratchet up its “split the Arabs” policy is the spillover effect DAASH’s advances in Iraq and Syria have had in Lebanon. Briefly put, the confessional state is awash with rumors of a “Sunni uprising,” purportedly to regain political and economic losses befallen the Sunni population since the 2003 Bush-Blair invasion of Iraq.

Ain El-Hilweh

If the Gulf Kingdoms and the West agree to share information and leverage with respect to Iraq and Syria with Netanyahu & Co., it will be with the knowledge that Israel has another motive in wanting to join the coalescing forces against ISIS. Presumably it is also what their Lebanon-based agents are reporting from the Palestinian camps in Lebanon. Palestinian camps such as Ein Al-Hilweh in southern Lebanon are beginning to experience what Nahr el Bared camp, near Tripoli, did in 2007.

“Who are these guys?” camp residents in those days would ask from time to time as they began noticing the arrival of “strangers.”

The work is over
“A Good Muslim”

At first the newcomers appeared rather self-effacing, very polite, and seemingly deeply religious. They tended to keep to themselves, but soon their families arrived as well. More than one sheik in Nahr al Bared assured residents at the camp that these strangers were “good Muslims,” and some of them even began teaching lessons from the Koran at the Mosque.

But over a period of six months or so people began noticing changes, observing what in effect were affiliates or members of a new group calling itself “Fatah el Islam (FEI).” The Islamists began to accost women on the street, demanding they wear full-length hijabs, stop smoking, and generally change their ways so as to become “better Muslims.”

Today FEI is relatively strong and growing—but secretively—in Ain Al Hilweh, and they are not alone. Unemployed youth, increasingly angry and disenchanted, are reportedly attending secret meetings with DAASH, Al Nusra and other recruiters, meetings at which and they are being promised immediate material benefits and a soon-to-be-granted full right to work. Also held out is the hope of a deepening resistance to the occupation of their country, Palestine. There are takers naturally, but numbers so far are difficult to ascertain. Militias are growing in the camps, but it’s hard to calculate the extent of their ambit, and camp residents also know of many intelligence agents living among them, including Lebanese Internal Security, Zionist agents, and others, so naturally there is a great deal of secrecy.

But according to analysts in Lebanon, as well as a recent report in Now Lebanon, some previously small cells—based primarily in rural northern Lebanon, the eastern Bekaa, and the Palestinian camps, where law enforcement remains difficult—are now expanding, this due to the ISIS surge in Iraq and its apparent success in securing popular support from Sunni tribes and former Baathist groups. And as this transpires, fears continue to mount that the Sunni-Shiite sectarian struggle will explode in Lebanon as well.

The threat doesn’t only come from outside Lebanon’s borders. According to a security source in Ain al-Hilweh, jihadist factions are not only mobilizing in Palestinian camps but virtually across the entire country. This has been especially so since the second Qalamoun battle. Fanatic Muslims and takfiris are spreading very fast.

“What is happening in Iraq and Qalamoun shows that the situation will soon be very dangerous in the region, including Lebanon,” the source said. “It will all become a jihad battlefield.”

Two other very active and knowledgeable Palestinians from Ain al-Hilweh seem to be equally fatalistic:

“Of course all the camps are affected just like everyone else around here by what has been happening in Iraq and Syria. Palestinians always want to avoid local fights but we always seem to be pulled in. Look what happened in the Lebanese civil war. Our leadership tried everything it could do stay out of the sectarian fight but we were pulled in and paid a huge price.”

A recent unscientific poll found that more than 96% of camp residents in Lebanon want to continue their resistance to reclaim their stolen land. The survey actually corresponds rather closely to a June 15-17 poll commissioned by the Zionist Washington Institute. Based upon a sampling of 1200 adult Palestinians, that poll found that only 22 percent of Gazans would give up the ‘by-whatever-means-necessary’ resistance to the occupation in favor of a two-state solution. Even fewer, only 10 percent, pick the ‘one-state solution’ allowing for Arabs and Jews having equal rights in one country. For the majority, the goal is the return of their country from the river to the sea. In the West Bank, a mere 9 percent support the two-state solution, while nearly two-thirds said that“resistance should continue until all of historic Palestine is liberated.”

Both the Zionist poll as well as the informal one done in the Palestinian camps in Lebanon found broad support for popular resistance against the Zionist occupation, with preferred forms of resistance being stepped up demonstrations, support for the BDS campaign, strikes, marches, and mass refusals to cooperate. Increased activism of this type is viewed positively by 62 percent in the West Bank, 73 percent in Gaza, and close to 90 percent in Ain Al-Hilweh.

Meanwhile, a Twitter account with 21,000 followers, dubbed the “League of Supporters,” called this week for DAASH sympathizers to post messages warning America not to carry out airstrikes against the rebel group. It is also urging followers to be prepared to follow DAASH and to confront the Zionists across Palestine—and it is not the only Twitter account of its kind.

In summation, the Zionist regime is very aware that the camps are likely to explode and that one of the contributing factors is the lack of civil rights and the banning of Palestinians from most jobs in Lebanon. It is also the case that the Zionists realize that the future looks bleak, internationally speaking, for its continued occupation of Palestine; and that joining with Arab regimes to help stamp out extremist jihadists, while weakening Iran in the process, is its most advantageous path.

As Canadian freelance writer and journalist Brandon Martinez reminds us:

Fragmenting, weakening and Balkanizing the Middle East has been part and parcel of the Zionist impulse from the very beginnings of the Jewish state. Israeli strategist Oded Yinon candidly outlined this imperialist line of thought in his 1982 paper “A Strategy for Israel in the 1980s.” A strong, unified Iraq is Israel’s primary military concern, Yinon stressed.

Yinon went on to push for the slicing up of Iraq into three separate colonies or state-lets, arranged along ethnic and confessional lines, and we may well witness these developments come to pass in Iraq. The Israeli strategist also promoted much the same scenario for Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Iran and other Arab/Muslim states in the region.

“The Zionists have used deception, subterfuge and cunning to con the world into entering conflicts and conflagrations that have expedited their ominous aims,” Martinez further observes. “But Israel’s insatiable avarice for more land and resources will eventually be its downfall, just as every empire in history has sooner or later collapsed under its own weight.”

Reminding this observer of a quote a valued friend from New Mexico recently sent to me:

“Look back over the past, with its changing empires that rose and fell, and you can foresee the future, too” (Marcus Aurelius).

Franklin Lamb is doing research in Syria and Lebanon and volunteers with the Palestine Civil Rights Campaign (PCRC) and the Sabra-Shatila Scholarship Program (SSSP) (  He is reachable c/

Source: Al-Manar Website
01-07-2014 – 11:03 Last updated 01-07-2014 – 11:03

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Syrian Students Restore our Global Cultural Heritage, Tesserae by Tesserae


at the citadel
(Students and their instructors, briefing a guest about their reconstruction 
of the Berhalia Mosaic inside the Damascus Citadel and how they feel about
the current crisis engulfing their country. 6/6/14)

Franklin Lamb

The Damascus Citadel, Syria

During mid-July, 2013, the General Directorate of Antiquities and Museums (DGAM) of the Ministry of Culture in Damascus received an urgent message from  citizens of Berhalia, a village about 30 kilometers West of Damascus. Berhalia is located in an area that has seen much fighting and from which the central government has lacked easy access and no control. The simple message was that it might be possible to recover a severely damaged Syria archaeological treasure from militants who took possession of it.

The piles of thousands of small colored Byzantium tiles called tesserae, according to someone involved in the case,  were initially impossible to identify  because the archaeological context had been substantially demolished as had the building which housed the antiquity.   The mosaic chips were discovered to depict elaborate scenes from deep in Syrian history and once finally able to be measured it was determined that the mosaic had been approximately 60 square meters in size. The antiquity is decorated with geometrical ornaments and consists of two rectangular panels, one being an orthogonal pattern of perpendicular intersecting tangent four- pointed star, forming lozenges alternately recumbent and upright. The second, which was only partially conserved, is decorated with a large star of two interlaced squares inscribed in a circle.

The heaps of tesserae predated the second half of the 4th century, according to D. Komait Abdallah, Director of DGAM’s scientific laboratories located in the Damascus Citadel. The massive Citadel was first fortified in 1076 by the Turkman warlord Atsiz bin Uvak and is part of the Old City of Damascus, which was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.

Eventually, a local citizen of Berhalia, who had apparently been a former militants sympathizer of some sort and who had been a student of an archaeologist at Damascus University, took an interest in the mosaic which was not far from his home, which his family had fled months earlier.  Contact was then made with Syrian army units in the area and a meeting took place between a delegation of local citizens and some of the militiamen, who some of them had known before the crisis erupted. It was the latter who had possession of the small pieces of the at least fifteen century old irreplaceable Mosaic. The citizens, like so many Syrians this observers has met feel deeply connected with Patrimoine Syrien. They plead their case to fighters on both sides of the current conflict. They beseeched them to put their beloved Syria first and urged that their country’s cultural heritage be spared the ravages of war and that the destruction of archaeological sites stop. An eyewitness reported that the hardened fighters appeared somehow moved the unusual spectacle.  Soon a delegation of specialists in Mosaic and artifacts preservation left Damascus for Berhalia village to investigate.

Some locals hint that an envelope may have changed hands containing approximately one million Syrian pounds ($ 1,200 USD).  But not wanting to encourage even more entrepreneurs getting rich quick by selling Syria’s history, no one is admitting a role in buying or selling Syria’s history-even on such a small scale. Others take more of an attitude of “who really cares much, one way or another, given the continuing maelstrom here, as long as a part of Syrian cultural heritage remains under its citizen’s protective care?”  This expressed attitude has been heard a few times by this observer from the Syrian public who desperately want an end the violence and the soonest possible return to normal life.  Almost immediately, more than one thousand pounds of ¾ inch by ¾ inch Mosiac chips (tesserae) were brought by a military-style vehicle to Damascus for safe keeping.

It was around this time that the Director of Antiquities and Museums (DGAM), Professor Maamoun Abdulkarim, and some colleagues made it their personal mission not just to preserve but also to restore the ancient irreplaceable antiquity. The tesserae were then moved to the antiquities restoration laboratory in the midlevel fortified palace known as the Ancient Citadel of Damascus.

The mosaic of Berhalia is one of  several of the rare mosaics discovered in the Damascus region and is today being  restored by a team of 15 students under the tutelage  of  Syrian Directorate of Archaeological Scientific and Reconstructive Laboratories, and specifically, Instructors Mouhamed Kayd and Borhan Al Zarra. When their work is completed the restored mosaic will be exhibited in the Damascus citadel, first fortified in 1076 by the Turkman warlord Atsiz bin Uvak and which is part of the Ancient City of Damascus, which was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.

In the course of visiting damaged archaeological sites in Syria, this observer  spent time with this remarkable and skilled team of  artifact restoration students.


Students working at the ancient Citadel restore our global

cultural heritage one Tesserae at a time ( 5/16/14)


As four of the students took a break from their work one day, and offered their guest tea and a local pastry, I  felt comfortable posing a few questions that they quite spontaneously answered.

Fortunately, I had the needed assistance of a brilliant Damascus University student of Arabic and English Translation and Interpretation,  named Nuhad.  She is from a village near Homs but spends her time these days in Damascus due to  many  security problems in her area. Below are excerpts from our conversation with names changed at the students request.

Q : How does it make you feel, as you go about this work you are doing, knowing there are people in Syria committing atrocities of the sort seen in some of the videos that have been uploaded to You Tube? Are you afraid? Do you worry about getting kidnapped?

Hanan, a twenties something student of pharmacology from Latakia who since last winter has volunteered to work on restoring or repairing whatever she was judged competent to do, answered first.

A : Like most of the world, and I believe like  just about everyone in Syria, certainly among my friends and fellow students,  we are horrified by what is happening. Especially by groups such as ISIS  and al Nursa front, in eastern Syria.  This has never happened in our country and it certainly is not and never has been any part of  our secular culture. But what can we do about it ?  Our army is making big sacrifices to stop it so we can return to a normal life.  Yes, i am afraid and so are most of our friends.  We take care and we go to classes and return to our homes before dark.  Our restoration work is done in the center of Damascus which so far has been mainly safe although last year 17 students were killed or wounded by a militant mortar at Damascus University School of Architecture.  We usually stay home at night but here in Damascus  security is better than in the villages and countryside so if it has been quiet for a few days we might go to a cafe and meet with friends. It is true that there are many kidnappings but usually those held for payment or ransom are known to be from rich families or an important political personality. I am not part of these groups.  Unfortunately, like more than half of the Syrian people who used to work, my father and uncles have no job.

Q : “How does it make you feel knowing that the US has begun arming Syrian militants with anti-tank weapons and other heavy weaponry? Does that increase your level of fear?”

Abed, who is studying engineering at Baath University  in Homs offered his view

A : It’s very scary because when will this end ?  Most of my friends believe that outsiders are keeping the war going because they  believe that they can win it. Does the USA really know or understand who they are arming and what the fighters will do after you give them training ?  Do you think these terrorists love you because you helped them against a nationalist Arab regime which rejects the Zionist occupation of Palestine ?

We worry about when will it end.  Who can stop it if other countries  keep feeding the killing.  You know very well what has happened to us.  More than one half of our families have been displaced.  How can we  ever rebuild our country that we love ? When will the war end ?  What will be left ? Sure we are scared.  My mother is sick from worrying. She cries everyday.  We have no idea what became of many of our relatives across Syria. And what about ISIL ?  They control Raqqa Governorate and now parts of Iraq and they plan to create a proto caliphate of some kind with part of Syria included.  We have relatives in Raqqa. Will Syria become like Iraq or Somalia ?  Or worse ?  This is what me and all my friends worry about and we feel powerless to stop or even influence what is happening out there. Like all Syrians we are exhausted from these years of war.  We are so tired and just want it all to end.  Are we mistaken ?  What do you think ?

Q : The media speculates a lot these days about ISIL or DAASH type groups because they appear to be the most extreme off-shoot of Al Qeada and are killing Shia Muslims and Christians more  or  less where they find them.  How do you and your friends view ISIL ?

Zeina, whose family in Yarmouk camp lost their home and business to terrorist militia in 2012, is a Palestinien business student at Yarmouk Private University. She offered  her view of  militia groups that have invaded her country :

A : Ok, this is what happened. Most of these groups we never heard of but a few years ago there were a few reports about extremist militant groups in Afghanistan, Iraq and  Libya. We just assumed they were crasy or joking. I never dreamed they could get support and operate here because Syria is and has historically been very secular, and we have always respected others political opinion, ethnic backgrounds and religions. We have never experienced this kind of hatred. It is true that in Syria we share festivities with all religions and traditions  and we like to do so because we learn  from them and we all enjoy other peoples backgrounds and culture. We are not religious fanatics in Syria and never have been.  Hopefully we never will be. This is natural and normal isn’t it to share our neighbors traditions ?  You do it in your country i am sure. I know you do because we have family in America and also in Europe.

So we in Syria were as surprised as anyone when ISIL came here and started imposing crazy rules on us—especially on women. Women are being treated like slaves. What is wrong with these gangs ?.  They are not Muslims at all in my opinion. They are perverted in my opinion. I am religious.  I am Muslim. I am Sunni like they claim to be and i have studied the Holy Koran all my life.  I try to follow its teachings but I have never found the kind of nonsense they claim to be true Islam. Have they ever studied the Koran ?  For sure some Sheikhs incite them.

Q : With all that is happening outside of Syria’s Ancient Citadel located here in the Old City of Damascus how do you feel about being here and doing this work nearly every day ?

Jilan, who is studying English Literature at Damascus University quickly answered :

A : Oh my God ! Are you a psychiatrist ?  (laughing).  I need one for sure and I  sometimes wonder myself. My mother asked me this same question not long ago. Some of the many reasons you might find strange but please allow me to give you a couple.

With Allah as my witness, I feel secure somehow being deep inside these ancient walls and I wish my family was here with me.  I worry about them all the time.  I feel safe here also because many people have told me that these walls can withstand mortars, which is what we usually receive randomly from militants based in East Ghouta and areas south of Damascus. Even artillery shells or many bombs cannot reach us. As you see it is so quiet and peaceful in here.  You hear no shelling or rockets or jet planes in the sky.

Another thing i like about working on restoring antiquities is that it’s as though I am honoring those who came before me in our history and culture. I like to think about what their lives must have been like compared to ours.   I feel that I am doing something useful during this terrible time and that I am showing confidence in my beloved country that we will somehow get through this and eventually rebuild what has been damaged. What we are doing here in our simple restoration laboratory.  Plus i love the friends I have made here.  As we work we have plenty of time to talk and get to know each other.  Finally, we sometimes, but not very often these days, meet foreigners  who come to see our work and express support for what we are doing here.  Thank  you for visiting us.  I wish American and other international students could come and join us. They would like this work i am sure.

Franklin Lamb is doing research in Syria and Lebanon and volunteers with the Palestine Civil Rights Campaign (PCRC) and the Sabra-Shatila Scholarship Program (SSSP) (  He is reachable c/o

Source: Al-Manar Website
13-06-2014 – 13:20 Last updated 13-06-2014 – 13:21


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The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Blog!

A Hard Won Victory..The Story of 68 Palestinian Families in Lebanon

A Hard Won Victory..
The Story of 68 Palestinian Families in Lebanon
Masnaa border crossing (Syria/Lebanon)
Predictions about the likely course of events in this region, including occasional ones by this observer, have a way of not panning out as expected. But one prediction I offered recently to Palestinian friends in Syria—namely that Lebanon’s “media” would fail to inform the world about an important Palestinian victory achieved in late May—has so far turned out to be accurate.
The confrontation which took place recently in a small office at Lebanon’s General Security (GS) Information Branch headquarters was for the most part civil in tone—an over-the-hill American in handcuffs refusing to answer questions from a fat guy in uniform, who kept making a racket by striking his desk with a small metal rod, this as the Yankee began a hunger strike: it has been kept quiet. No coverage in the media. And frankly, that’s fine, because arguably it wasn’t that newsworthy in any event. But the problem which had given rise to the incident surely was.
It evolved around critically important Baccalaureate exams, whose dates, between the first and seventeenth of June, were fixed months ago by the Syrian Ministry of Education. More than 364,000 students in Syria, including thousands of Palestinian refugees, are scheduled to take the exams, required for the General Secondary Certificate for 2014. Some 28,000 additional students will be taking the Technical Secondary Certificate exams. Graduating seniors in Syria must pass these exams before receiving their diplomas and enrolling in university.
The saga, briefly told, has to do with the fact that the war in Syria over the past 33 months has forced into Lebanon between 1.2 million and 2 million Syrian refugees, including approximately 80,000 Palestinians, from Yarmouk refugee camp and elsewhere, and last week’s important victory on their behalf managed to go unreported in the sectarian-poisoned, highly politicized Lebanese media.
With a population of around 3.4 million, (eleven million emigrated during and since the 1975-1990 civil war that killed more than 170,000 Lebanese) Lebanon has been impacted fairly dramatically by the refugee influx in terms of housing, jobs, water and electricity. Some of these were already in weak circumstances even before the events of March 2011, and since the war began, clashes between pro and anti-Assad forces have spilled over the border, making the situation ever more precarious. Many of those bombed or shelled out of Syria’s 10 official Palestinian refugee camps have been squeezed into sardine-canned slums that were established between 1948 and 1951 and which were originally designed as temporary, short-term housing. Residing in an area intended to house one-sixth of its current population, these refugees, 90% of who have no jobs according to UNHCR, due to 88% of all jobs being outlawed for Palestinians in Lebanon are experiencing skyrocketing costs in healthcare, electricity and water, and they are also undergoing massive social problems. One of the latter is a marked decline in access to education, particularly among post-Baccalaureate Palestinian teenagers.
With Lebanese elections, both presidential and parliamentary, currently creating a host of political vote-harvesting opportunities, politicians have wasted no time in snatching the low-hanging fruit of six decades of refugee bashing, seizing the moment to blame refugees for all this confessional failed-state’s maladies. Vicious anti-refugee campaigns have been launched by some electoral contestants, much to the chagrin of those hoping to find haven here as well as portions of the international community, including campaigns seeking not only to expel those already here but which also press to bar those still coming in (and often arriving at the rate of thousands each day). 
Japanese Relocation During World WII
Among the proposals being put forth are for internment camps, to be set up somewhere in a no-man’s land, which presumably would make US internment camps created for Japanese-Americans in World War II appear almost civilized by comparison.
Various measures and proposed measures, all of them inhumane and many illegal, have rained down from government ministries and party headquarters by candidates offering themselves as leaders of a state that many now claim to be a lost cause. One action, clearly illegal, taken by the present government is a proclamation by the Lebanese Interior Ministry, currently headed by Nihad al-Mashnouq, a member of the anti-Syria Future Movement.
Al-Mashnoup arbitrarily issued an order banning refugees who journey to Syria to vote or take Baccalaureates—or to check on family members or see what’s left of their homes—from regaining entry to Lebanon. The decision was put into effect on June 1, the first day of the BACC exams. 
A fireman sprays water on Syrian expatriates living in Lebanon to keep them cool, as they arrive to cast their ballots 
It was issued just a few days after thousands of Syrians flocked to their country’s embassy in Beirut to vote in the recent election. In response, letters of protest were sent by both the Syrian and Palestinian embassies, with Syrian Ambassador Ali Abdul-Karim branding the action a “retaliatory measure” aimed at the Assad government for purpose of impeding the vote process.
“It goes against the simplest rules of human rights as it contravenes the work of the International Commission on Human Rights, as international assistance is intended to reach the Syrians at home as well as those abroad,” Ambassador Ali declared.
Others argued that al-Mashnoup’s motive was obvious, and that the clumsily-pushed plan would actually increase refugee support for the Syrian regime. Omran Zoubi, the articulate Syrian Minister of Information, claimed that the decision would affect about 500,000 Syrians, while Human Rights Watch pointed out, accurately, that the capricious restriction would be a fundamental violation of international law.
Lebanon is tightening restrictions for Palestinians fleeing there from Syria after the Lebanese interior ministry declared that improving conditions justify a return to pre-war entry regulations. “As the situation in Syria is improving, especially in Yarmouk, the exceptional circumstances cited as their reason for entry into Lebanon are no longer relevant,” a source from the Interior Ministry told some media outlets in Beirut a couple of weeks ago. “The red alert has been switched to green” he enthused.
This claim is patently false and it is reveals deep ignorance of what is going on in Yarmouk—as well as unattractive malevolence. 283 refugees have died inside Yarmouk just from starvation and two more died due to the camp siege last week despite a few aid parcels entering. As often as not, militia inside Yarmouk follow those who are handed a food parcel and rob them of it at gunpoint. And sell them at exorbitant prices which most Palestinians in Yarmouk do not have. Lebanon’s government errs with its claim. In point of fact, “the exceptional circumstances cited as their reason for entry” are as relevant as ever-if not more so today.
Palestinian-Syrians have become refugees twice over as a result of the Syrian war. They face greater hurdles even than Syrian nationals as they try to flee to neighboring countries with longstanding Palestinian populations of their own that governments do not want to see grow. Some 70,000 Palestinian-Syrians are in Lebanon, on top of a pre-war UNWRA registered Palestinian population of 455,000 many of whom have fled Lebanon due to its ‘cold war’ against this population which be the hour that some in the PLO leadership in late July of 1982, while trapped under the Israeli siege, seriously erred and bought into Reagan-Habib fake promises of protection for the camps in Lebanon and recognition of a State of Palestine within 6 months.
“How can Lebanon turn its back on desperate people who have lost their homes, relatives and livelihoods and are running for their lives from a war zone?” asked HRW Middle East Director Joe Stark. “It is unconscionable and illegal that Lebanon (would) push them back to a place where their safety and very lives could be in danger.”
The reason HRW is right is that the international refugee protection system, based firmly on the 1951 Refugee Convention, stipulates (in Article 33) that states have a duty of non-refoulement, and the duty to grant to refugees in their territory a range of legal rights (outlined in articles 2 to 32).
While there is no obligation under international law to grant asylum to refugees, states are still bound by the principle of non-refoulement. That principle, basically stated, is that no refugee shall be returned to any country “where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.” So basic and universally accepted is this premise that it is now generally considered to be part of customary international law and binding upon Lebanon, even though its government has to date not ratified the Refugee Convention. Additionally, the principle is not limited to those formally recognized as refugees, but also applies to asylum-seekers. Such persons must not be returned to any country where they would face persecution. Furthermore, the rule remains in effect until they are declared not to be refugees. Several times Lebanese officials have sought to avoid this international humanitarian obligation by arguing to local media outlets that those who have fled into Lebanon are not ‘refugees’ but rather ‘displaced persons.’ But no UN agency accepts such a bald-faced attempt at evading the non-refoulement obligations, and perhaps especially not by a country whose own citizens have so often benefited from the very same legal principle it now seeks to sidestep.
Many Palestinian refugees, without any money left from their many travails, are forced to walk from the Masnaa border crossing near the Syrian/Lebanese to the Jilil Palestinian Refugee camp near Baalbec, August 5, 2013 (Photo: Franklin Lamb)
Many Palestinian refugees, without any money left from their many travails, are forced to walk from the Masnaa border crossing near the Syrian/Lebanese to the Jilil Palestinian Refugee camp near Baalbec, August 5, 2013 (Photo courtesy of the author)
For the past year at the Masnaa border crossing between Syria and Lebanon the Lebanese government has acted in an arbitrary and illegal manner. On August 8, 2013, GS abruptly changed its entry policies for Palestinians living in Syria, and began turning away all Palestinian asylum seekers. Entire families, children, the elderly and the sick were stranded at the border, fearing to return to Syria. A Palestinian spoke with this observer at the time.
“Lebanese border guards told this observer, in the company of about a dozen Palestinian asylum seekers waiting to enter Lebanon that they had “received a call from the Lebanese General Security office telling him and his immigration colleagues managing who gets in our out of Lebanon, not to allow any more Palestinians to enter the country,” he said. Word quickly spread to Beirut and Damascus and to taxi driver who make the daily run not to pick up Palestinians or you will lose a fare.
As the saga intensified, a partial solution was eventually agreed to by GS after the UN, EU, and several human rights organizations expressed condemnation of this exhibition of inhumanity.
Likewise, concerns similarly were expressed over Lebanon’s callous new imperative in regards to Palestinians from Syria wanting to return to take the crucial Baccalaureate exams. Time was getting short as the first of June drew near and the students had to make arrangements for travel, housing, food, etc. The toughest decision for most was the risk of leaving Lebanon for Syria and possibly not being allowed back in to rejoin their families. Hurried meetings were held in Damascus by volunteers from the Palestine Civil Rights Campaign and the Sabra-Shatila Scholarship Program (, with a few similar meetings also occurring in Lebanon.
Appeals for help from international activists and some NGO’s in Lebanon began to be offered. What the PCRC and SSSP as well as the Palestine embassy were trying to bring about was a one-time exemption, for 18 days, so Palestinian students could take the BACC in Syria and return to their families in Lebanon. To this end, Palestinian Ambassador to Lebanon Ashraf Dabbour repeatedly contacted GS, working to convince them to do the right thing by the students. Additional urgent appeals to GS were made by a few NGO’s, but usually without so much as a returned phone call.
Finally, it was in this context that an American, as noted above, ran afoul of GS, finding himself placed in handcuffs while being told he would be immediately deported. Fairly clear was it to the no account fellow, however, that GS would not follow through on its threats, and as friends of the detained, including a couple of well-known journalists from mainstream media, began making inquiries on the matter, a solution was worked out—sort of on the spot.
Even sort of amiably.
GS relented and agreed to allow Palestinian students in Lebanon a one-time 19-day visa to take their BACC exams and return to Lebanon. The handcuffs came off. Apologies. Handshakes. Smiles all around and a few kisses on foreheads by the grateful American. And there are no hard feelings. One hopes.
At that point, less than 72 hours remained before the first exam on Sunday June 1, which necessitated the next somewhat frantic project: passing word of the exemption to the more than 6,000 Palestinian students who wanted to take the exam. Many had already resigned to putting it off a year, and no doubt some dropped out completely. But as the word spread, it soon came about that 68 Palestinian students were committed to going at the last minute so to speak.
And with respect to the thousands of Syrians who wanted to return to Syria to vote but were barred, they also got a reprieve. Soon al-Manar reported that GS was issuing badges for refugees headed to Syria to vote and that the badges were for a specific duration. “That means that the Syrians in Lebanon can vote without losing their status as refugees,” the reporter said.
For its own part, the Lebanese National News Agency reported that “the Syrian border is currently witnessing a traffic jam because the Syrian refugees are heading to Syria to participate in the Presidential elections,” providing also the additional information that GS was “implementing security measures in accordance with the Syrian elections along the border to organize their entry to Syria and their return to Lebanon.”
What went unmentioned, of course, is that among those crossing the border would be 68 Palestinian students traveling to take their BACC exams—or that much of the credit for securing the exemption, and thus making the massive egress possible, rightfully goes to the Palestinian embassy.
Unperturbed, Mr.Maher Moshail, Cultural Counselor for the embassy, accompanied the students to the Masnaa crossing and waved goodbye, shouting good luck to them as they headed off to sit their BACC exams in Damascus.
Admittedly for Palestinian students and their families from Syria it was only a modest victory, but maybe it will turn out to be a watershed event along a resistance path, one that sooner rather than later leads to the obtainment of the most elementary civil rights, to work and to own a home, for Palestinians in Lebanon—the only country on the planet that bars these birthrights.
This drama demonstrates that the government of Lebanon can be encouraged; using right reason and common sense, to grant some civil rights if there are advocates willing to press them. There is so much talent, but also frustration, growing despair, and security threats in the teeming Palestinian camps here. A broad-based, internationally supported, peaceful civil rights campaign is much needed in Lebanon and long overdue.
Abed, a bright, young Palestinian student from Ain al-Hilwel, has asked this observer more than once recently, “Where are all the pro-Palestinian activists and bloggers?” He goes on to comment:

“It’s great to write countless and often repetitive articles on the Internet and demonstrations in the west are good and very much appreciated. But if our international supporters want to make history, and achieve more for we students and our families and community, and for Lebanon’s economy, than anything since the Nakba, then help us get the right to work. Come to Lebanon. It will only require a few committed experienced organizers, and we in the camps will join this international campaign by the tens of thousands for sit-in and demonstration and (to) convince our Lebanese brothers and sisters to let us work and help to rebuild their economy.”

Franklin Lamb is a visiting Professor of International Law at the Faculty of Law, Damascus University and volunteers with the Sabra-Shatila Scholarship Program (

River to Sea Uprooted Palestinian   

The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Blog!

Syrians Working to Preserve Jewish Cultural Heritage

Franklin Lamb


Jewish Quarter, the Old City, Damascus

Synagogue in Jobar

It’s always encouraging when one comes upon some inspiring human enterprise, here in Syria or elsewhere, that refutes the worn shibboleths and clichés about how this or that group, or this or that religion, hates others and won’t cease targeting them until they are destroyed and burning in Hell.

In Syria today there is much evidence to refute the claims, often politically motivated, that Jewish cultural heritage sites are being singled out for destruction by rabid anti-Semites. One example of this is the Eliyahu Hanabi Synagogue in the neighborhood of Jobar, on the outskirts of Damascus. For centuries, Jobar has been inhabited by a peaceful, mixed community of Muslims, Christians, and Jews, many of whom often attended events together at the synagogue.

Reports this week in Zionist media about the destruction of the 400-year-old (not 2000-year-old, as claimed, erroneously, by one report in Israeli media) synagogue, along with the loss of all its contents, are similar to reports over the past three years which turned out to be patently false. This observer has been waiting for clearance to visit the site, to learn exactly what happened there this week, to assess its current condition and inventory its religious artifacts, which comprise part of Syria’s, and humanity’s, collective heritage.

One of the more virulent charges to come forth this week, particularly from the colonial Zionist regime occupying Palestine, is the mantra of ‘see what the hatred of those Arabs for the Jewish people has done.’ Admittedly it’s an effective fund-raising mechanism—as well as a handy intimidation tool—for the Zionist lobby, as it scrabbles to retain control of the US government and American public sentiment, a public which seems to be growing increasingly vexed by the lobby’s actions and which are finally pulling back from rubber-stamping the crimes of the apartheid regime.

Jobar is a suburb of Damascus, and location-wise the Eliyahu Hanabi Synagogue (measuring approximately 17 meters long by 15.7 meters wide) sits undeniably at a crossroads, in an area that has been occupied by rebel forces since the beginning of the Syrian conflict—which means it was sure to get damaged. With each shelling of the district over the past three years, claims were made that the synagogue had been destroyed by government forces. One such report, published on April fool’s day in 2013 by the Times of Israel and widely circulated by Zionist media outlets, claimed that, “The 2,000-year-old Jobar Synagogue in the Syrian capital of Damascus—the country’s holiest Jewish site—was looted and burned to the ground by government forces.” The report was patently false but got spread far and wide, despite the fact that there have been no government forces in Jobar since the conflict began. Two copy-cat reports followed later in 2013, but they were equally false. Nearly a year later, however, in March of 2014, media reports conceded that the synagogue was still standing, with only minor damage, and that its contents appeared to be in good condition.

This observer has received credible reports about certain stolen artifacts, including gold chandeliers, from the Eliyahu Hanabi Synagogue being offered for sale. It is well known in Syria that certain militia and other opportunists have been financing themselves by selling this country’s cultural heritage whenever and wherever they get the opportunity. There is in fact a multi-million-dollar black market in this type of illicit trade. Security agencies in Syria, in coordination with INTERPOL, have been alerted to the thefts of Jewish property, just as with thefts of other antiquities, and they periodically issue what are referred to as “watch for and confiscate” lists of stolen artifacts.

It is not true…based upon this observer’s many personal experiences in Syria…that Arabs hate Jews, although they would have plenty of reasons to, or that animosities between the two peoples are irreversible and irretrievable, and the reason I say this is that increasingly, in the Middle East as well as globally, people are beginning to distinguish between Jews as individuals (as “people of the book” and basically more or less like the rest of us) and fascist Zionism—an ideology being exposed as the greatest enemy and threat to Jews everywhere.

The latest, but so far unverified, information received by this observer from rebel sources claiming to have “contacts” in the Jobar Synagogue indicate that some early 20th century artifacts, including gold chandeliers and icons, were stolen early on in the conflict, and also that the area surrounding the synagogue has been shelled sporadically over the past nearly two years, resulting in modest damage to the exterior walls. This information was obtained as of last month. Conditions may well have changed this week. Other Syrian sources indicate that there has been interior damage with some scattered rubble in the nave and prayer rooms of the temple. But there has been no confirmation to claims of thousands of manuscripts, including Bibles, being looted from Jobar. On the contrary, many documents, including Bibles and other artifacts, were transferred by the local Jobar Council, with the full cooperation of the Syrian government, to an Ottoman-era synagogue in the Old City of Damascus for safe keeping. The location, which this observer has visited and where many Jobar Synagogue artifacts are today in storage, is one of six areas in Syria currently listed on the World Heritage List of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The site currently has round-the-clock government security that continues to guard the Old City of Damascus. It is also one of the 11 synagogues that President Assad had promised in 2011 to repair and restore, but alas that’s a project that the rebellion has put on hold.

In light of all the unverified claims about the synagogue in Jobar, one is reminded again of the decade-long US/UK War against Iraq and the false reporting about what happened at certain archaeological sites in that country. Specifically we might recall the Iraqi Jewish artifacts that Ahmad Chalabi claimed he was able to ‘rescue’ for the Coalition Provisional Authority. Chalabi, of the ill-fated Iraqi National Congress, along with the Bush administration’s Coalition Provisional Authority, sought to gain some much needed good press for himself and pals Richard Perle, Nathan Sharansky, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, this after April 2003 reports of thousands of priceless ancient artifacts being looted from Iraqi museums. The war planners were being castigated for their failure to protect Iraq’s cultural treasures, and it soon became clear that some of Chalabi’s pronouncements regarding the fate of Jewish artifacts were false and politically self-serving. Discredited, Chalabi’s party did not win any seats in the December 2005 election.

Some suspect similar political grandstanding motives in the current reports about Jobar, and it may be a while before credible eyewitness accounts from the scene are gathered. At that point we will we know the truth about the fate of the Eliyahu Hanabi Synagogue and the whole of Jobar. A delegation, including a Jewish representative from Damascus as well as this observer, has been trying to visit the area, but armed conflict and the continued occupation of the synagogue by rebels has prevented us so far from gaining entry.

What’s important to note, though, is that the people of Syria and their government have made herculean efforts to avoid what happened in Iraq, and to assure the preservation of their global cultural heritage, of which Jewish antiquities is an important pillar. One example of these efforts is the fascinating case of the Dura-Europos Synagogue, discovered in 1932.

The synagogue in Dura Europos had survived in such good condition because of its location, near a small Roman garrison on the Euphrates River. Parts of the building, which abutted the main city wall, were requisitioned by the Roman army and filled with sand as a defensive measure against northern and eastern marauders. The city was abandoned after Rome’s fall, never to be resettled, and the lower walls of the rooms remained buried and largely intact until excavated. The archaeological dig discovered many Jewish wall-paintings and also Christian texts written in Hebrew. Especially interesting perhaps was the discovery of paintings in the synagogue depicting limited aspects of Mithraism, a religion practiced in the Roman Empire between the first and 4th centuries and that was especially popular within the ranks of the Roman legions. Named for the Persian god Mithra, many Syrians followed the cult, as did some Roman senators who resisted the ‘new’ Christianity.

Itemized in the list below are specific Jewish-Syrian antiquities, including Old-Testament-themed paintings, this observer has verified as being under protection. Keep in mind, these are only a few examples, among many thousands, that I have been advised appear to be in excellent condition as of late May 2014:

  • The Torah niche from the ancient Synagogue of Dura Europos on which are drawings of the Prophet Abraham, including the scene of his offering his son. Also beside them a drawing of the candle stick and the temple façade.
  • A drawing featuring the Prophet Ezra reading a papyrus, Prophet Moses in the flames of boxthorn, the Ark of the Covenant in the hands of Philistines, and David anointed as a king by Samuel.
  • A number of paintings with themes from the Old Testament
  • A drawing of the pharaoh and Moses as a child, and a beautiful painting of Abraham between the two symbols of the sun and the moon.
  • A drawing representing the story of Mordechai and Esther and Elijah bringing life back to a baby.

Despite the current and legitimate focus on Jobar, the record of the Syrian people on preserving their cultural heritage, especially during the current crisis, is admirable. Two weeks ago this observer visited the old city of Homs, and spent a fair bit of time at the Um Al-Zenar Church of Saint Mary, Church of the Holy Belt, which dates from 52 AD. Tradition has it that this seat of the Syriac Orthodox archbishopric contains a venerated relic, and indeed the Bishop spoke to me about it one day as he shoveled rubble from around the altar. The relic is claimed to be a section of the belt of St. Mary, the mother of Jesus, and is said to be hidden near a below-ground spring. One arrives at the spring by walking down a long, very narrow, pitch black set of stone steps. The Holy Water that can be found there, a small pond in essence, is filled with fragments of stone and wood chunks from the fighting, yet supposedly this water has curative powers. I scooped up a couple of handfuls, and it was indeed very refreshing, but did nothing, so far, to cure my leg problem.

Be that as it may, this observer was struck by the number of parishioners, along with volunteers from the neighborhood, mostly Muslims, covered in dust and soot as they worked at cleaning out the rubble. In the courtyard in front of the church this observer stoked a still smoldering heap of burned bibles and other church documents and icons which I was told rebels had torched as they prepared to vacate the compound earlier this month. Two days after I departed Homs, the Um Al-Zenar Church, though a partially burned out shell devoid of pews and religious artifacts, held its first Holy Communion since the conflict began.

From my experience, Syrians, without exception, are deeply connected with their cultural heritage and do not distinguish all that much among its origins. Many Syrians are proud to help others protect and rebuild their damaged religious and cultural sites, and in fact it seems to be a unifying factor among this besieged population. People this observer speaks with as he travels around Syria to visit archeological sites seem to blame both sides for the damage, but they tend to focus more on the task of restoring their heritage sites. Space does not allow me to enumerate the countless examples of this, but I will mention one.

This observer was served tea one day by some members of the Jewish community in the old City of Damascus, including my friend Saul, who claims to be the last Jewish tailor in Syria, as well as the lovely elderly ladies known as ‘the Jewish sisters’ and whose apartment is near where St. Paul, according to tradition, converted to Christianity. The view expressed by my hosts that day—and I believe them—is that Jewish cultural heritage in Syria is being respected, protected and preserved with the same care as Muslim, Christian, and pagan antiquities.

A volunteer with the Sabra-Shatila Scholarship Program (, Franklin Lamb is in Syria doing research. He is author of the book, Syrian’s Endangered Heritage, scheduled for publication later this year.

Source: Al-Manar Website

04-06-2014 – 19:48 Last updated 04-06-2014 – 19:4

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Liberating Syria: One Archeological site at a Time by Franklin Lamb

Krac des Chevaliers, Between Homs and the Lebanese border
Krac des Chevaliers, Between Homs and the Lebanese border – Visiting archeological sites in Syria over the past several months I seem to keep crossing some of the paths traveled by the field archeologist and later Colonel in the British Army T.E. Lawrence. There are plenty of still visible footprints of ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ around Damascus and deep into Syria’s countryside, including at the majestic 18th century residence of the Ottoman governor of Damascus Ad’a Pasha al-Azem. The Palace now houses the Museum of Arts and Popular Traditions. Most foreigners like to spend time at Azem and Lawrence was frequently there a guest of Emir Faisal, a son of Sharif Hussein of Mecca whose irregular troops Lawrence fought alongside while sabotaging the railway supply lines of the overstretched Ottoman forces and significantly contributing to their defeat.

Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Edward Lawrence, a.k.a. "Lawrence of Arabia" (Lowell Thomas/Wikimedia Commons)

Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Edward Lawrence, a.k.a. “Lawrence of Arabia” (Lowell Thomas/Wikimedia Commons)
As the Ottoman domination crumbled, in no small measure due to the Arabs revolt around Damascus, Lawrence tried in vain to salvage something for the Arabs whom he loved and admired, even if he sometimes expressed his affection for them in an elitist English-orientalist turn of phrase. By the summer of 1917, it had become clear to Lawrence and Faisal that the four century rule over Arabia by the Ottoman Turks was about to collapse thanks in no small part to the Arab revolt and their great bravery and massive sacrifices. It also became clear to him if not to his friend Faisal, who was a bit naive history records, that his country England, a pillar of the “Big Four” at the Versailles Peace conference which included the President Woodrow Wilson, British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, France’s Georges Clemenceau and Italian Prime Minister Vittorio Orlando, was planning once again-and not for the last time- to stab the Arabs in the back and renege on the promises that Lawrence was commanded to deliver.
Photos of Lawrence and Faisal hang today on the walls of Lawrence’s bedroom and office at the Azem Palace, and it’s clear from his facial expressions that Lawrence sensed what was coming to Syria and Palestine. Before he died at age 46 in a motorcycle accident, having recently returned to England, Lawrence increasingly expressed what he considered his personal failure during the closing years of the war when told friends and family that he failed to convince his superiors in the British government that Arab independence was in their interests. The secret Sykes-Picot Agreement between France and Britain, according to Lawrence, was an abject betrayal of the promises of independence he had made to the Arabs and for which he felt personally responsible.
I crossed paths again with Lawrence, in a manner of speaking, a few weeks ago at Palmyra archeological and UNESCO World Heritage site across the Syrian desert to the northeast of Damascus, recently liberated from Islamist jihadists. It was there that I read his words on a plaque: “Nothing in this scorching, desolate land could look so refreshing…Moslem story-tellers ascribe the building of Palmyra to the Jinn commandeered by Solomon…” Frankly, I am reluctant to demure from Lawrence’s description, but since he spoke those words it has become clear that the “Tadmor” (Arabic and Hebrew name for Palmyra) referred to in the Torah is not the Tadmor of Syria but of another site now lost to the sands of Palestine if it ever existed at all. So Lawrence might be alarmed to learn that his words linking Palmyra to Soloman are being misused by Zionist cheap land seeking interests who now claim Palmyra in Syria as part of Gods claimed gift and to lend legitimacy for acquiring more Arab land for the ever expanding Eretz Israel. But the misuse of Lawrence’s quote at Palmyra for political purposes is a subject for another Syrian update.
Lawrence and I crossed paths again in a manner of speaking on May 15 during a six hour hiking and climbing tour of the medieval fortress known as Krac des Chevaliers (Castle of the Kurds- who reportedly first inhabited the area in the 11th century). The Syrian Arab Army recaptured the castle and the village of al-Hosn from rebel forces on March 20, 2014 after rebels (aka ‘takfiri terrorists’) had occupied both the nearby 10,000 inhabitant’s village and the fortress over the preceding more than18 months. The “Krac” was widely damaged by the military conflict including in August 2012, July 2013 and again on August 18, 2013. My excellent companion and government guide during my day at Krac was “Mohammad” a Syrian army security commander with 40 troops under his command and stationed inside the fortress to keep anyone from trying to retake it “by a nighttime sneak attack” I was told.
Apparently an history buff, Mohammad’s first comment as we starting to ascend the very steep three floors of medieval steps, often gazing at the marvelous Gothic ceilings as we made our way, was to quote, who else, but Lawrence: “We are walking in the footsteps of Lawrence who called this fortress “perhaps the best preserved and most wholly admirable castle in the world, and a castle which forms a fitting commentary on any account of the Crusading buildings of Syria”, Mohammad recited to my great surprise.
Many historians have agreed with Lawrence including Hugh Kennedy who wrote that “the defenses of the outer wall were the most elaborate and developed anywhere in the Latin east … the whole structure is a brilliantly designed and superbly built fighting machine.” Crak des Chevaliers is considered one of the greatest and best preserved castles in the world due to its unique architecture in terms of the defense facilities, building materials and decorations. In 2006, it was inscribed on the UNESCO List of World Heritage sites along with the Citadel of Saladin, its” sister fort” further north in Lattakia.
Among the more than 400 well documented damaged or destroyed antiquity sites in Syria that are more or less now under government control and so more or less available to researchers, Krac des Chevaliers is viewed by locals as a sort of ‘success story’ because for sure it is still standing and a major restoration project was launched in April following the forts liberation and well underway. This observer spoke with some of the fifteen full-time restoration specialists plus some volunteers who are doing the work as government officials including the Ministers of Culture and of Tourism drop by from time to time to encourage them and praise their work. Indeed, on June 1, a “Krak des Chevaliers reopening to the public’ event is scheduled at the fortress and the amazing site will soon be available to international tourists. Whether many tourists will be available by that time is problematical.
But hopefully conditions will allow for their return soon. One of my traveling companions the day of my visit was a Syrian tour operator and he’s more than willing to help rebuild Syria’s second largest foreign exchange earner, tourism, which brought to Syria more than 1.5 billion dollars in 2010. Less fortunate than Krak is the former picturesque village of Hosn just down the road. It too was packed with rebels and was completely flattened such that its current conditions rival the old city of Aleppo and Homs for complete and total destruction. This observer did not see one bird, feral cat or fly in what the locals call, “the village of death.” Two weeks ago a four man unit from Mohammed’s battalion at Krak did discover two hold over rebels hiding out in the rubble and killed them on the spot.
After 12 centuries of invaders trying to conquer it-and a number succeeding- such as when the Muslims took it from the Christians in the seventh century employing the time tested ‘surrender or starve’ tactic, the damage is widespread but will be repaired. This observer’s purpose in visiting Krak was to detail the damage caused by 18 months of fighting over the fortress. My notes on the widespread but relatively modest damage to Krak des Chevaliers noted by this observer on May 15 includes, but is not limited to the following:
  • The complete destruction of the staircase and halls in front of the internal building of the fort.
  • Partial damage to the facade of the Hall of the Knights including some damage to the decorations and arches inside the Hall.
  • Traces of fire behind the church and damage to the library hall opposite the leader’s tower and a part of the staircase leading to the roof of the library hall.
  • Damage in the façade of the king’s daughter tower and partial destruction in the wall between the king’s daughter tower and the roof of the church.
  • Partial destruction in the entrance to the stairs in front of Qalawun tower; damage and destruction in some parts of the tower.
  • Damage to one wall of the warehouse adjacent to the main offices of the castles overlooking the courtyard.
  • The destruction of a part of the pillar supporting the ceiling of the library tower opposite the tower of the knights.
  • Severe damage in the office of the Ottoman House as well as the administration offices.
  • Partial damage and destruction of some walls in several places of the castle including minor damage in the outer wall of the castle.
  • Surface damage caused by domestic fires built by rebels for heating & cooking by the dozens of rebel families that occupied different areas of the vast fortress.
It is clear to me that the Syrian public and their officials are committed in each of this country’s 14 Governorates to the complete restoration of its unmatched archeological sites, just as soon as world heritage sites are liberated and security conditions permit.

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Republic 2014: A must watch Interview with Shaikh Naim Kassem

الجمهورية 2014 | الشيخ نعيم قاسم 16-5-2014
River to Sea Uprooted Palestinian   
The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Blog!

Syria’s Palestinian Refugees to Lebanon

Franklin Lamb

Homs Palestinian camp, Syria


The screws continue to tighten on Palestinian and Syrian refugees fleeing for their lives and seeking safety in Lebanon. As the seemingly eternal governmental crisis in Lebanon escalates and various “warlord” veterans from the Lebanese civil war, who thanks to their auto- arranged general amnesty in 1989 designed to thwart justice for an assortment of war crimes, have appointed themselves Lebanon “political lords” seek again to choose a President. Certain anti-Palestinian and pro-Zionist parties who continue Lebanon’s “cold civil war” do not miss an opportunity, for political purposes, to bash the Palestinian refugees still stuck in Lebanon.

The old bromide of “the Palestinians are seeking Lebanese naturalization and the sky is falling” is being trotted out again this month to incite sectarian fears in order to gain political leverage for various parties. One anti-Palestinian Lebanese President wannebe, just had his former office staffer and now son-in-law, appointed Foreign Minister. And the gentleman wasted no time blurting out with his family’s frequent anti-Palestinian mantras, the latest being “The Lebanese Constitutional forbids nationalization and naturalizing Palestinians would damage the country’s demography!” This headline seeking red herring statement is completely off the wall and aimed solely at getting Christian votes for one right-wing faction as a knee-jerk reaction to last week’s political boom-let of attention snatched by his family’s Christian nemesis, militia leader Samir Geagea.

The Lebanese Forces leader shockingly got 48 out of the 86 votes needed to win in the first round of Parliamentary votes for President. The well-known truth is that, by design, Palestinian refugees who are treated here worse than anywhere in the world, including occupied Palestine, and allowed virtually no elementary civil rights, do not, never have, and likely never will, seek naturalization. Their focus continues to be Full Return to their country, Palestine. Claiming otherwise during this electoral season is what certain local “leaders” do, but its gibberish.

But the new Lebanese Foreign Minister is not alone in targeting Palestinian refugees this spring for political benefit. Lebanese General Security and the Ministry of Interior among others are joining the chorus and are actively playing their rabbit eared ‘Palestinian card.”

For example, last week’s amended Lebanese General Security measures deny entry to Palestinians fleeing for their lives, unless three new Kafkaesque conditions are met. As of now, Palestinians arriving at Masnaa crossing must have a” pre-authorization” from the Lebanese government, hold a residency permit in Lebanon, or be in transit, in which case they could be allowed 24 hours inside Lebanon and they must quickly travel onward. The first two conditions are virtually impossible to meet and no one is likely to be able to overcome these barriers.

Two days ago, the Lebanese government informed UNRWA that the measures might be “temporary and exceptions will be considered in due course if yet to be formulated humanitarian requirements are met.” But this is more nonsense. Last week a survey by this observer of more than 30 randomly selected Palestinians seeking to enter Lebanon from Syria at the Masnaa border crossing found that all were barred. Exactly two were allowed to travel to Beirut airport to catch their flight to Europe or elsewhere.

So what do these most recent Palestinian refugee bashing antics have to do with Rasha Halabi, a just turned 18 year old student who grew up in Homs Palestinian refugee camp?

A fair bit, as it turns out.

Rasha and thousands of Syrian and Palestinians students have been preparing for months for a tough and fast approaching June. This is the month of the vital Syrian Baccalaureate exams required on all Syrian and Palestinian high school students in order to enter university. Rasha’s first “BACC” exam will be administered on Sunday June I and her last one is on June 17.

Historically, Syria has had a strong education system which from kindergarten through university is free and internationally respected. Like everything in Syria these days, the “situation” has taken a heavy toll. Syria still has one of the highest literacy rates (90 + %) among the 197 UN member states according to UNICEF. Before March 2011, 4.8 million Syrian children – or 97% of primary school-age children and 67% of secondary school-age children – attended classes regularly; a UNICEF staffer informed this observer last month. But with more than 4,000 destroyed or damaged schools, half a million Syrian and Palestinian students who have had to flee Syria are not in school.

Despite all the problems facing Palestinian and Syrian students, examples of which include lack of security, mortars hitting Damascus and elsewhere, serious gaps in electricity, inflation, fear of what might happen at any moment, losing their homes, generally unemployed family members, some are claiming that the current crisis does not allow for the luxury of students taking the BACC this year. But Rasha and thousands of other students are studying hard and are determined to get good grades on next month’s BACC. Rasha’s mother Noor laid down some serious rules for her daughter’s exam preparation five months ago as a sort of New Year’s resolution. Until the exams are over she does not allow Rasha to go online, no Facebook stuff or email is allowed, Rasha’s mobile is in her mom’s purse, so consequently no “whatups”, sms or chatting stuff , plus zero TV. Also Rasha is not allowed to hang out with friends. When Rassha is not in class she is to be in her room preparing for the BACC at her desk stacked with exam prep books and papers. As her mom explained to this observer, “This exam is Rasha’s future. It will determine what she becomes in life. She must do well!”

Unfortunately, after spending the past nearly six month preparing for her BACC and gaining some confidence about her prospects, as thousands of other Palestinians and Syria students have been doing, it does not appear that Rasha will be able to take her exam.

The reason is that four months ago her family was forced to flee to Lebanon to escape the shelling very near her home in Homs Palestinian camp. Her plan, as with thousands of other Palestinian students in Lebanon from Syria, was to return to Syria for the BACC and then to rejoin their families in Lebanon’s Ein el Helwe camp.

Early this month, Palestinian students studying for the Syrian BACC have been told by Lebanese General Security and Masnaa border crossing staff, that when they cross the border to take their BACC exams they will not be allowed back into Lebanon. So these students’ options are limited. They can take the BACC and be stuck in Syria without their families or they can forgo the BACC and once more put their future on hold.

Some fairly intense meetings in Damascus this past week in between a volunteer with the Sabra-Shatila Scholarship Program ( and UNWRA’s department of education as well as the Syrian Ministry of Education has failed so far to negotiate a solution. An obvious one that is being advocated by the SSSP is to simply have Syrian officials administer the Syrian BACC in Lebanon to Palestinian and Syrian students stuck there. UNWRA is overwhelmed with many other problems and does not appear to be willing to get involved with this one despite many entreaties that it does so. The Syrian Ministry of Education promised to look into what could be done but time is getting very short and this observers’ calls this week are being answered with statements like “We are looking into the situation.” Understandably, Rasha and thousands of other students are feeling tremendous pressures to add to their many others. Rasha and her mom are sort of panicked at the moment.

The simplest solution to this latest humanitarian crisis would be for Lebanese General Security to issue a one-time exemption for Palestinian and Syrian students who fled for their lives to Lebanon allowing the students to return to Syria to take next month’s BACC and then return to Lebanon until conditions allow them to return to Syria and eventually to Palestine.

Source: Al-Manar Website

17-05-2014 – 13:08 Last updated
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“Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently”


by Franklin Lamb 

The National Museum, Damascus



The following is a transcript of an interview conducted by the author at the National Museum of Syria with an employee of the Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums (DGAM). The gentleman had been working in the governorate of Raqqa, in eastern Syria, when armed groups arrived and began  looting museums and conducting illegal excavations of Global Cultural Heritage sites. Since 2013, the area has principally been under the control of one armed group in particular, ISIL. The name is an acronym for “the Islamic state in Iraq and the Levant,” and is sometimes also referred to as “ISIL.” The two names are interchangeable.

The author has also been given several  eye-witness accounts of events surrounding late April-early May, 2014 from persons who escaped from Raqqa, some of whom now reside in Palestinian refugee camps and elsewhere in Lebanon.  Included were many details of the current nature and quality of life in Raqqa. They include, but are not limited to the following:

  • All shop owners in Raqqa must close their stores immediately upon the announcement of prayer and go to the mosque, a decree posted by ISIL on 4/27/14 read, “Any violators after the issuance of this announcement will face consequences.”
  • New laws by ISIS have been posted around Raqqa with leaflets directed to Raqqa’s Christian community. Christians forced to pay a special tax to ISIL and are strictly forbidden to wear or exhibited crosses in any way.  Christians are forbidden to repair or maintain war-damaged churches. Christians are not allowed to recite any prayer in the presence of Muslims, and are subject to conservative dress codes as imposed by ISIL.
  • On May 1, 2014, ISIL militiamen dragged a man across a public square and tied him to a pole his arms tied outstretched along a wooden plank as blood flowed from a head wound.  A sign in Arabic was taped to his shirt. “It read, “This man fought Muslims and detonated an IED here.”

One member of a recently formed anti-ISIS activist group in Eastern Syria, called, “Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently”  which claims 12,000 follows on its Facebook site,  reported recently that on May I, 2014, ISIL executed seven prisoners with five victims being an 11 year old boy. Another witness took photographs to document the story of bodies strung up to look like a crucifixion. This practice is being used more frequently these days in order to send a message that as a ISIL spokesman announced,  the public crucifixions are  warnings to anyone who challenges Islamic rule because they are the enemies of Allah.

According to Abbas Barzegar, assistant professor of Islamic studies at Georgia State University, USA, “These violent acts are part of a fundamentalist revival campaign, but these forms of ancient punishment were rarely if ever seen in the Muslim world in recent centuries. Yet they have now become a common practice of fringe Islamist groups to revive these outdated practices in an effort to bring back what they believe is authentic.” The United Nations, the Syrian opposition and human rights groups have corroborated the scenes of horror in Raqqa. Earlier this year, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights stated the obvious which is that these mass executions and mistreatment, including repeated beatings, of prisoners at schools and hospitals are war crimes.

Franklin Lamb: What was your job and where were you working before the armed groups took control of the Al Raqqa Museum? When was it, and what events alerted you to the take over? Who was the armed group and where did they come from?

DGAM Employee: Just before the armed group took control of Al Raqqa city, I had relocated to Damascus to work on another related documentation project at the Directorate (DGAM). My job as director of our project was to document exactly what happened regarding Al Raqqa. On March 3, 2013, the same day the rebels occupied the city, I was on the scene to retrieve some articles and books from the museum library. When I entered the museum, I was shocked to see armed men, including some local people from Al Raqqa city, occupying the museum, its hall and its offices, after they seized the guards’ weapons.

FL: What precautions had been taken by DGAM before the armed groups took control of the museum?

DE: The Director of Al Raqqa museum had been requested by DGAM in Damascus to remove the most valuable and precious antiquity pieces—gold, tablets, and coins—and take them to the central bank of Al Raqqa. We did this, and we also installed iron gates for the storage areas upstairs, and hired more guards to secure them. Similar measures, I think, were taken in most other museums.

FL: A multiple-part question, if you please—who are the militants who were at the museum and what were their attitudes? Did they appear intent on destroying “idols” and images, such as carvings and statues of human figures? Have you received eye-witness accounts from reliable local people who saw what was done, and if so could you give us a couple of examples? Were you able to speak directly with any of the rebels or their leaders, and finally is the museum currently occupied?

DE: At the beginning of the occupation, some of them were fighting under the authority and banner of “the Syrian Free Army” and some of them were armed civilians from Al Raqqa city. I could recognize some faces of men who were known to previously have worked in smuggling antiquities (onto) the international market. But before long they seemed to be replaced with others.

Today the Raqqa museum is occupied by (the) Islamic extremist group called ISIL. As for their attitudes toward destroying, I am not sure about this point, but I am sure that they are stealing and selling items, in spite of their claims about saving and protecting the museum.

I have received reports about this from some of the rebels who told us that some of them had stolen many artifacts. Later, the manager of the museum and I reached one of the ISIL leaders, and we urged him to take care of the museum and its antiquities, and he promised to do so.

FL: Does the process of looting the museum and the warehouse happen during the presence of militants? Did you see this activity yourself, and if so, when was it?

DE: Yes they were at the museum, but I was not there at the precise time, and I did not witness them carrying out antiquities. They worked basically when no one was around, mainly at night, and we are told that they did so.

FL: How did you know about the thefts from the warehouse or the museum, and how much of the museum’s and the warehouse’s contents had been smuggled out? Did you write a report at the time or at any time subsequently, and if so is the report available to us?

DE: The director of the museum discovered this while checking the gates of the warehouse and its locks, and the member of the rebels, whom I referred to before, told us that in June of 2013 one of the armed groups, ISIL, opened the warehouse and stole eight boxes full of antiquities. Immediately we telephoned DGAM and told them about (the) looting, and they ordered us to make an inventory of the stolen pieces and send them a report. To date the report is not publicly available.

FL: How did you find the stolen boxes at Tabaqqa city and what did they contain? Are they now secured?

DE: When we learned about the robbery, we immediately communicated with the same ISIL leader whom we met before, and he told us that the boxes are in Al Tabaqqa city. For this he went with us to the leader in Al Tabaqqa. We saw only three boxes out of eight, and they contained pottery, tablets and glazed ceramic. As of today we still do not know anything about the other stolen boxes because they are still in Al Tabaqqa, and it’s under ISIL control.

FL: Who is believed to have stolen the artifacts from the central bank and where did they hide them?

DE: An armed group called Ahrar Al Sham stole artifacts from the central bank, and we were given information that they are hidden in one of the Idlib villages.

FL: To date have you had an opportunity to enter the museum and review the artifact lists? If so, how long were you allowed to stay?

DE: After an armed group called Thwar Al Raqqa, whose members were local people, took control of the museum, we communicated with them and met their leader, “Abo Issa,” and asked him to grant permission (for us) to enter the museum and make inventory. He agreed and guaranteed our safety, especially after we had been threatened by militia gunmen many times not to make public any information about the museum and its stolen antiquities. We worked for 16 days until we finished our inventory.

FL: How much of the museum contents still remain to the best of your knowledge? Can you give us an estimate of the percentage of the original collection?

DE: I think the number of stolen artifacts is around 900 from the Raqqa museum. There are still about 4,500 artifacts remaining inside. But at the warehouse in Herqla, the militias stole everything, but they left one mosaic panel because it was too heavy to move.

FL: What happened in the warehouse at the Herqla site, and what steps did you take before and after the looting?

DE: Herqla is an archaeological site 7 kilometers east of Al Raqqa, and it contained warehouses (belonging) to DGAM and to foreign missions. The warehouses were targets for robbery and looting by unknown gangs on several occasions, but guards and local people of the village prevented them and defended the site as best they could.

We immediately communicated with the DGAM, and they asked us to pile the doors of (the) warehouses with sandbags, take all the important and precious pieces from the warehouses, and hide them in a safe place. And the guard’s house in Herqla village was the best choice.

However in mid-November in 2013, an armed group, estimated to be about 100 armed fighters from ISIL, broke in the museum and also the guard’s house. They stole all the boxes except mosaic panels and took them to unknown destinations. After that happened, we closed all doors and windows with iron bars.

FL: Which hills and ancient buildings in Al Raqqa governorate have been illegally excavated and smuggled?

DE: We could not get into the hill of “Al Sabee Al Abead,” but the guards told us that it was excavated by simple tools. The hill of “Shaheen” was massively excavated using heavy machines and earth moving equipment. The sides of (the) hill of “Hamam Al Turkmen” were also excavated by heavy machines. Most of (the) hill of “East Dammer” was excavated, while the slopes of “West Dammer” were not excavated. The hills of “Almafsh,” of “Alsawan” and of “Alsheikh Hassan” were not excavated too widely. And here I should mention that I personally visited all of these sites.

الجــامع العتيق في الرقة

While there are many archeological sites around Al Raqqa, due to their location and security problems and difficulties of traveling to them, we still have no knowledge of the extent of excavations that have been done. It appears from reports when we were last in contact with guards at the hill of “Khwera” and “Ghanem Al Ali” that as of that time they had not been excavated. This may also be the case in areas like the hill of “Al Swehat” and the hill of “Moumbaqa.” But guards at the square of the ancient mosque, Al Masjed al Jamee, which is located inside Al Raqqa city, reported that it was excavated and then filled in again. After ISIL occupied Al Raqqa, they totally destroyed the Shia shrine of Wabesa bin Maabd al asdi, which is located in the square of the mosque.

FL: To which country do you think most of the looted artifacts were sent? What have you heard about the methods of transport, and also what have you heard about the gangs doing the stealing and who they are working for?

DE: Because the Syria-Turkey border in the area of Raqqa is completely open, I think that most of the stolen antiquities were sent to Turkey, using cars and trucks by gangs and armed groups. Some gangs are widely known in the area to be working for international mafia groups, and some appear to be working on their own.

FL: Based on the latest information coming in to DGAM in late April, 2014, what is the situation with regard to the museum and the archaeological sites in Al Raqqa now?

DE: Well, there is some good news partly due to publicity about what is happening, and also some resistance from the local population, who deeply value Syria’s cultural heritage and want it preserved. Two weeks ago, the Raqqa museum re-opened to the public, after the director of museum got permission from ISIL. I have learned from the museum director that all the iron gates which we installed are still (in place), so this means that no more robbery, looting or smuggling has taken place from the Raqqa Archeological Museum. As for the other sites, we do not know anything recent or anything more about them than what I reported to you.

FL:  Thank you sir for your time and insights.

Source: Al-Manar Website

River to Sea Uprooted Palestinian   

The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Blog!

Syria Victory at London Auction House to Accelerate Global Cultural Protections?

Franklin Lamb

National Museum, Damascus


Over the past three years not many victories in Syria have been witnessed by this observer. Indeed some developments have even brought to mind Plutarch’s description of the Greek King Pyrrhus’ defeat of the Roman legions some while back. But an achievement by the Syrian government and its people on 4/3/14 in an auction house in London is neither Pyrrhic, nor of the ‘Another such victory and I am undone’ variety.

The case involves an ancient black basalt stele (a stone or wooden slab, generally taller than it is wide, erected as a monument, very often for funerary or commemorative purposes). The artifact is of the Assyrian king Adad-Nerari III, who ruled Syria 2,800 years ago. With a weight of 830 kg, it measures 137.5 cm high, by 75 cm wide by 27 cm in depth. Many Syrian and international antiquities specialists believe it was stolen from Syria in 2000 after standing for nearly three thousand years in the temple of the god Sulmanu, in the ancient city of Dur Katlimmu, now known as Tell Sheikh Hamad. The tell is situated near the historic Khabour River between Hasaka and Deir al-Zour in eastern Syria, not far from Palmyra which this observer has visited recently.

Recently the object appeared in the possession of the British auction house, Bonhoms, a development that caused angst among archeologists in Syria and internationally. Exactly what happened next is a bit unclear, but the legal/political case was encapsulated in an urgent letter addressed to Dr. Maamooun Abkulkarem, the indefatigable Director-General of Antiquities and Museums (DGAM) in Syria’s Ministry of Culture, from a correspondent in Berlin. The letter arrived at DGAM on March 23, 2014.

“Dear Dr. Maamoun,

In the attachment I send you documentation on the stele of Tell Sheikh Hamad which is being offered for sale at Bonhams Auction house in London for April 3, 2014. According to my information UNESCO has already informed your government about this case. The only way to prohibit it from being sold is that your government responds to UNESCO, addresses Interpol, and request an investigation by the London police.

May I urge you Sir to inform your government quickly and act respectively before April 3!

Please note also this:

Yours sincerely,”

(Privacy of signer respected)

Dr. Maamoun and his dedicated Syrian nationalist team have been working nonstop (and some without pay for more than two years) to preserve, protect and plan for reconstruction of Syria’s, and by extension the world’s, cultural heritage. They and others are committed to stopping archeological theft, a phenomenon which has become more rampant since the current crisis erupted. The thefts have not been restricted solely to the rebel-held north or other areas not always under government control; they have also been a problem near Syria’s borders with Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon, and to a lesser extent Iraq, and in some cases, stolen treasures have also been smuggled out of Syria by aircraft.Preserve Syria heritage

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An international campaign is being launched to save our Global Culture Heritage in the custody of the people of the Syrian Arab Republic

Despite these crimes, the past few weeks have seen commendable cooperation between Lebanon and Syria leading to hundreds of Syrian antiquities being returned to Syria. On Syrian and Lebanese roads these days, soldiers at the frequent checkpoints not only look for explosives, wanted persons, and weapons, but they have orders at Syrian-Lebanon borders to search for more than 4000 stolen Syrian antiquities. A few hundred objects were returned to Syria this past year, and some are back on display in the garden of the National Museum in Damascus, where this observer photographed them.

Unfortunately there has been little, if any, help in stopping the flow of stolen Syrian antiquities into Jordan or Turkey, whose governments reportedly continue to turn a blind eye, ignoring their international obligations for reasons of politics and profit. In the case of Jordan, it has been widely alleged that King Abdullah’s government is condoning shipments of stolen Syrian artifacts, via Israeli drug and antiquities mafia operations. These international criminal enterprises then forward the global cultural treasures from Israeli ports and Tel Aviv airport to lucrative international markets—museums, auction houses, or private collectors in New York, London, Switzerland, Germany, Spain and elsewhere. With respect to Turkey, much of the 500 mile border is open to excavation teams sent in to strip Syria of her archeological treasures, again with widespread charges of Turkish government involvement.

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Two DGAM staff members and scholars, Khaled and Iyam,  explaining to a Damascus National Museum visitor  details of a dozen  recently returned  (3/2014) Syrian antiquities with the sisterly cooperation of the government of Lebanon

Franklin Lamb in Syrian museum

The lower part of the stele of Adad-Nerari III is now at Bonhams auction house, where it was scheduled to be sold on 4/3/14, though initially the artifact came to public notice in 2000 at Christie’s auction house. The two houses are often competitors, but increasingly have become collaborators, as they witness a flood of stolen Syrian antiquities available to them and their clients. They and other auction houses, museums and dealers sometimes employ means to deceive prospective private purchasers, other museums, governments, and police agencies. One tactic is to obfuscate provenance and source of the particular Syrian antiquity.

The evidence for the date of removal from Syria of the stele of Adad-Nerari III is not flimsy. The report of 19th century archaeologist Hormuzd Rassam admits that he was not able to find it during his investigations in 1879. He reported that the upper part, which he sent to the British Museum, had been removed by local villagers from the area of a “venerated grave on top of the mound,” so that its pagan presence would not defile the grave. Rassam, quite correctly as it turned out, believed that the lower part of the King’s statue was still buried on top of the mound near the grave but the gentleman died before he could return to excavate it.

Both Bonhams and Christies sale notices state that the lower part of the stele was in the possession of the seller’s father by the 1960’s. This was a patently false representation by both houses.

For the 2014 Bonham’s sale, provenance is listed as “Private collection, Geneva, Switzerland, given as a gift from father to son in the 1960s.” This is also false, and neither auction house provided any documentation for the ownership history. In point of fact, the stele is not mentioned in any publication prior to its listing by Christies in 2000. The complete publication, by A. K. Grayson, of the royal inscriptions of King Adad-Nerari III appeared in 1996, and all Grayson does is list the upper (British Museum) part of the stele. He makes no mention of the lower part. Publications in this series include every known inscription of each Syrian king.

This observer submits that if any scholar had seen the stele prior to 1996, it would have been listed in the 1996 publication. Furthermore, it is extremely unlikely that an inscription of this importance would not have become known to scholars, since it is well known even among the general public that owners of inscribed monuments, especially ones of this value and size, quite naturally seek scholarly opinions about their property.

Moreover, probative and material evidence in found in a report from the current director of excavations at Tell Sheikh Hamad, Prof. Dr. Hartmut Kühne, of the Freie Universität, Berlin. Dr. Huhne  has directed survey and excavations at the site of Tell Sheikh Hamad in cooperation with DGAM since 1978. According to the professor, his is the only excavation at this site that has been authorized by the Syrian government. On 25 September 1999, Prof. Kühne sent a report to DGAM stating that some unknown person excavated illegally on top of the mound, near the venerated grave, during the night of 14 September 1999. Prof. Kühne provided photos of the looter excavations and he opined that the looter pit is just large enough to have contained the lower part of the stele. Prof. Kühne notes that the German mission was not excavating on the mound in 1999, and in fact had not worked there since 1988.

Last but not least, the location of the 1999 looter pits on top of the mound is precisely where Rassam, back in the 19th century, wrote that the lower part was buried. The first announcement of the existence of the stele, as noted above, was at the 2000 Christie’s sale—less than a year after the reported looting incident at Tell Sheikh Hamad!

This observer submits that there is adequate Syrian law and international law and British law on the books, if applied, to makes things a bit tough legally for the auction houses of Bonhom and Christie and many others. Their lawyers apparently agree. It’s as though the Assyrian King might yet exact some sort of revenge on them from his grave. Or wherever the gentleman might be these days given local lore from the Tell Sheikh Hamad area.

Public awareness was raised with respect to this archeological criminal case by the people and government of Syria and others, and an international campaign mobilizing public opinion has ensued. The Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums  (DGAM) of the Syrian Ministry of Culture urged their colleagues at the Syrian Ministry of Interior, the Syrian Department of Criminal Security, and Interpol to “work to stop the sale of the piece and return it to Syria.” As reported by Nadine Kaanan, the Saade Institute created a video entitled “Stop the theft and sale of Syrian antiquities,” in which it urges that “all necessary legal measures be taken to return this important monument to Syria when security conditions permit.” The institute said it had decided to raise its voice to “preserve our countries’ artifacts and the story of human history, and also out of respect for the laws of the United Nations and for the sake of Lebanon, Syria and Iraq.”

Long story made short, King Adad-Nerari III’s rare stele, prominently displayed in Bonhams auction house-with more than a few museums and investors interested in buying it, suddenly was stamped in Bonhoms to be sold catalog: “Withdrawn.” Some in attendance were not happy, and Bonhams administrative office is ‘holding consultations’ this week in light of expected public and trade journal reactions. Bonhams had planned to net around 1.3 million USD had the sale taken place.

Protecting the memory of King Adad-Nerari and preserving his place in the world’s cultural heritage may appear a modest victory given the nearly unimaginable suffering imposed daily on the people of the proud Syrian Arab Republic. But what happened to stop one auction house—from selling one stolen Syrian antiquity—was made possible by the people of Syria and others of good will who greatly value our Global Cultural Heritage. Hopefully, as international public awareness continues to increase about this aspect of the conflict in Syria, this case will enter the law books; maybe also it will result in legal statues and, consequently, a major advance toward preserving our Global Cultural Heritage.

May the people of Syria achieve many more such victories while ending this painful chapter in this ten millennia old Cradle of Civilization.

Franklin Lamb volunteers with the Sabra-Shatila Scholarship Program ( and is reachable c/o

Palmyrenes: Risking Their Lives to Preserve our Global Cultural Heritage

Palmyra – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – located 215 km northeast of Damascus, Syria on Nov 9, 2011. Palmyra was a renowned city in the ancient Silk Road and once played a crucial role as the trade center between the East and the West. With a period of prosperity lasting more than three centuries, Palmyra is often regarded as the “Bride of the Desert”.[Photo/Xinhua]
Video about Palmyra


Franklin Lamb
Palmyra, Homs Governorate, Syria

Even if one takes a public passenger van (the fare is just $ 7.50) and the driver is pro-Resistance, which he usually is, the trip takes only a bit more than half the time than with a more “normal” Lebanese van driver.
This observer, seemingly ever miscalculates life’s realities.   For example, he deluded himself recently into believing that Hezbollah guys were about the wildest, luckiest and fastest drivers from the archeological sites in Baalbek in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, or for a fast trip from the charming village of Britel, to Beirut’s southern suburbs.
But these “H guys” as Americans living in Dahiyeh, often refer to them; remind one of some of the more snail-paced rural southern Iowan Sunday drivers compared to how some Syrian taxis drive these days, particularly at night, on the main highways of Syria, as I was just reminded.
During another 20-hour day (3/28/14) at certain critical moments dominated by my border-line insane, but disarmingly charming, taxi driver who I hired.  The day began OK as we set out from Damascus at dawn for Palmyra, designated in 1980, as one of six UNESCO World Heritage sites in Syria and located deep in the Syrian Desert.

We were advised to take the M-5 Damascus to Homs highway and then head west toward Iraq even though it is more than 100 kilometers longer than the normal Damascus route to the archeological site. For many centuries, Palmyra (oasis with Palms) was a vital caravan stop for travelers crossing the Syrian Desert and it earned the title, Bride of the Desert for its beauty.

Inscription of Queen Zenobia at Palmyra

In pre-crisis days when there were actually real tourists around here, hundreds a day would visit Palmyra’s archeological sites and tour buses used to take my preferred route. But nowadays Daish and Jabhat al Nusra types have cut the road and no way would this observer’s driver (or the Syrian army) agree to this shorter more direct route so I kept quiet.

Honored to be allowed to visit Syria’s damaged archeological sites during the current crisis, as part of a fascinating research project and often accompanied by Syrian army security,  spending time touring Palmyra, founded during the 2nd millennium  BC,  with its Bronze Age to Ottoman Period antiquities,  and its Greek, Roman and Arabic cultural artifacts is deeply inspiring.But no less inspiring, on a human level, in this cradle of civilization, is the dedication, painstaking and sometimes dangerous work, of the Syrian people to preserve, protect, and reconstruct, where possible, Patrimoine Syrient.  The latter is also our Global Heritage of which the Syrian people are the custodians.
As is being increasingly well documented to the great credit of Syria’s Directorate General of Antiquities & Museums (DGAM) of the Ministry of Culture, hundreds of Syrian World Heritage sites, including those listed by the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as warranting international protections, are being  threatened, damaged and in some cases substantially destroyed.
In Homs Governorate, one of 14 Administrative Districts  in Syria, there is extensive damage ranging from the Old City of Homs to  the recently liberated Roman fortress,  Crac des Chevaliers, 100 km west to Homs, and on to Palmyra, 200 km to east of Homs toward the Iraqi border.

For  ten months occupied by Islamist rebels but now it’s pretty much under Syrian army control. Even further east is Raqaa in the eastern Syria, near Iraq and reported to be under harsh, often drug fueled, Daish rule. Many other damaged antiquity sites still cannot be visited by representatives of the Ministry of Cultures Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums (DGAM) due to rebel control.

A main reason for this catastrophe is the short-term (and sometimes longer) loss of Government control over key areas, a predicament that leaves heritage sites vulnerable to vandals, thieves, and heavy equipment excavators, while also opening them up for militias to use as camps or firing ranges.Complicating preservation efforts further is despoilment by forgers and looters, smugglers of antiquities and black market operators, as well as extremist ideologues bent on the extirpation of priceless monuments.

Temple of Bel
Some of the most destructive and anguishing damages this observer was briefed on at Palmyra are to the Temple consecrated in CE 32 to the Semetic god, Bel. He was worshipped at Palmyra with the lunar god Agilibol and the sun god Yarhibol and this triad formed the center of religious life in Palmyra and the widespread Palmyrrene culture.

This observer took notes as he was shown the hole in the southern wall of the Temple (1x2m approx.) as well as another in the eastern wall of the wood warehouse adjacent to the guesthouse, to its southern side (1.5×1.5m approx.).

In addition, several columns of the southern portico of the Temple were hit, and two of them collapsed. The southern wall of the Temple was hit by hundreds of bullets and many shells in several places; the western wall was hit on the inside and outside; the northern wall was struck by two limited hits and the eastern wall of the Temple endured two large holes.

The column in the northeastern corner of the portico of the fence of the Temple was hit and one can see traces of burning the lintel of the eastern portico of the Temple. More burning was done to the northern wall and eastern wall as well as to the southern window of the Temple.

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Tower tomb at Palmyra
Also shown by a guide from the Palmyra Museum and allowed to photograph, were the damaged and illegal excavations in the SE and SW tombs area, damage and illegal excavations of the Camp of Diocletian, damage to the walls of the Palmyra Museum, and antiquities thefts in the Oasis, Theater and Guest house.

The latter was occupied by Daish and/or Jablat al Nusra for ten months and they stole and stripped basically everything including the electrical wiring.
Several forty foot high columns adjacent the Guest House were also targeted in the summer of 2013 and parts of them were knocked off their foundations. Many shell cuts and bullet scares cover large areas of the ancient ruins.
The Director of Palmyra’s very impressive Museum, Dr. Khalil al Hariri, showed this observer more than one hundred priceless artifacts that had been stolen by rebels and recovered over the past two years from hiding places. This was mainly accomplished with the help of the local Syrian Nationalist population who refer to themselves as Palmyrenes.
Sometimes risking sniper fire or revenge attacks, local citizens continue to collect and report to authorities the stolen treasures. These and many other antiquities are now secured due to their efforts.  As a result partly of citizens vigilance and the far-sightedness of the Syrian government, and the lessons learned from Iraq and the Baghdad Museum, all of Syria’s 32 Museums, as well as 80% of all antiquities housed inside the local Palmyra Museum were buried secretly early in the conflict and as of today, none of the storage vaults have been discovered or damaged, with locals keeping secret what they know.
Heavy metal doors have also been installed at the entrances of Syria’s Museums with security augmented by government forces and volunteer local ‘neighborhood watch’ committees comprised of ordinary citizens.
This observer left Palmyra at dusk. En route back to Damascus, the more than two-dozen army checkpoints we were stopped at, as my driver raced like a bat out of hell the more than 200 miles, were remarkably understanding given that it was pitch black in the desert and they had earlier warned us more than once not to stay on the road after dark due to ‘terrorists’ sometimes appearing along the desert highway.
Early morning panorama of Palmyra

Rather than preparing for a crash, I was actually wistful during our dark return trip to Damascus and was thinking about all what I experienced at Palmyra and the sadness that came across the face of Palmyrene, Dr. Kahlil Hariri, and Director of the Palmyra Museum during parts of our time together.
I will never forget the look on the gentleman’s face as he discussed how archeologists painstakingly shift the soil of archaeological sites teaspoon by teaspoon wearing nylon gloves to protect their finds, maybe a team working weeks or more on one square meter of earth.And as he explained how today, international mafia operations backed by investors in Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and even by certain Western Museums and famous antiquity auction houses, are using massive heavy equipment to scoop thousands of square meters  from deep into our past in just minutes, as they violently and brutally gouge out our culture heritage to cash in by selling our treasures . And all the while these and many of governments are turning a blind eye or fail to enforce current municipal and international laws.
Syria’s Cultural Heritage, the cultural heritage of every one of us is also protected by a legal penumbra that emanates from and extends the 1949 Geneva Convention (IV) on the Protection of Civilians. Attacks on cultural heritage are also outlawed by post WW II bilateral and multilateral international treaties as well as international customary law.
The international community is obligated to act without further delay on its moral and legal responsibility to preserve and protect, and also, where necessary and where possible to reconstruct the damaged archeological sites, sites that for millennia have been in the custody of the Syrian people. It is to them who today all people of good will honor for their sacrifices and humanity.
Franklin Lamb is a visiting Professor of International Law at the Faculty of Law, Damascus University and volunteers with the Sabra-Shatila Scholarship Program ( He is reachable c/o

President Assad and Supreme Leader Khamenei are Keeping Their Word. Will President Obama Keep His?

Latakia, Syria
Recent reports from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the accuracy of which have been admitted by the White House but denied in Tel Aviv, have it that around half of Syria’s chemical weapons have left the country. One hundred percent are believed to have been neutralized, which would make Syria well along the path to meeting the agreed June 30 discard date.
Both Iran and Russia have been credited with helping persuade the Syrian government that it was in the interest of the global community, as well as Syria itself, to discard its 1970s-era stockpiles. A total of 11 consignments have been shipped, the latest from Latakia, including all of Syria’s sulphur mustard gas, a blister agent that was first widely used in WWI.
Captain Clyde Chester Lamb, the father of this observer, was a victim of the deadly gas while fighting the Germans in frontline trenches in eastern France. Capt. Lamb survived that ordeal, and later, upon one of those rare occasions when he opened up and spoke about his wartime experiences, told his horrified children, at story-time one night, that he and his fellow soldiers had not been supplied with gas makes; instead they had improvised, he said, by urinating on scraps of uniforms that he would pass out to his men with instructions that they hold them tightly over nose and mouth. Somehow their pee seemed to reduce the effects of the poisonous gas.
Despite some delays due to security and logistical issues, few besides the Zionist lobby in the US Congress doubt the work of removing Syria’s chemical stockpile will be completed. Across the Syrian countryside, according to information made available to this observer, specialists have speeded up the packing and transporting of the weapons, sometimes thru rebel territory, to the port of Latakia, where Russia has supplied large-capacity armored vehicles. Russia, in cooperation with Iran, is providing security for loading operations at the port, while the US is furnishing loading, transportation and decontamination equipment. China has sent 10 ambulances and surveillance cameras, and Finland has brought to the enterprise an emergency response team in case of accidents. Denmark and Norway are providing cargo ships and military escorts to take the chemicals to the container port of Gioia Tauro in Italy. Russia and China are also providing naval escorts.
Despite Iranian cooperation with this major humanitarian project, and despite progress on the Iranian “nuclear issue,” the White House to date is waffling on its own commitments. It has extended no more than a paltry, largely symbolic, lifting of sanctions, sanctions which, it should be remembered, are targeting not only the people of Iran, but also imposing nearly unfathomable suffering upon the Syrian people.
Though the White House has yet to explain its inaction, Washington sources report that President Obama is still being pressured by Israel and its Congressional agents, and that he does not want to do more than a cosmetic lifting of any sanctions at this point. Unfortunately, this applies to medicine and medical equipment as well. The same sources also claim the White House is signaling Tehran to be patient for now.
This week, US Secretary of State Kerry assured Iran’s leadership that the US appreciates the fatwa (religious decree) issued by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei last month. That fatwa proscribes the production and use of nuclear weapons. Iran is entitled to a peaceful nuclear program, Kerry granted, and he also credited an earlier statement by Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehman-Parast to the effect that Khamenei’s declaration is binding for the nation.
“There is nothing more important in defining the framework for our nuclear activities than the Leader’s fatwa,” Mehman-Parast said.
But a recent prosecution of an American citizen by the Zionist-dominated Office of Financial Assets Control (OFAC), an office within the Treasury Department, illustrates the weak knees of the Obama White House. At the time of his arrest, Mohamad Nazemzadeh was a research fellow in the Neurology Department of the University of Michigan. He is accused of violating the sanctions by seeking to ship a medical device to Iran which his lawyers argue was legal under the humanitarian exceptions specified in Obama’s executive orders—orders which, by the way, were drafted by AIPAC and OFAC.
There are many cases similar to Nazemzadeh’s, and Obama is aware of them, or should be. In the view of Cliff Burns, a Washington lawyer and law professor, what is at issue in the Nazemzadeh case is a coil for a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine. The coil is the assembly of wires that generates the necessary radio signals, when electricity flows through them, to permit imaging the part of the body within the coil. Mr. Nazemzadeh is currently doing research at the Henry Ford hospital in Detroit, and his area of specialty is, not surprisingly, magnetic resonance imaging.
“A part for an MRI machine would, under the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000, be eligible for an export license notwithstanding the embargo on Iran,” Burns explained. “Nazemzadeh’s failure to obtain a license would, of course, be a violation of the embargo.”
Even assuming that it was, technically speaking, a violation, one has to wonder why, as Burns does, the Obama Administration’s prosecutorial resources are being consumed to indict a researcher for nothing more than trying to send life-saving medical equipment to Iran. As one of Nazemzadeh’s lawyers put it, “Aren’t there dangerous people out there with guns and bombs who might warrant the attention instead?”
An affidavit in support of a search warrant for Nazemzadeh’s mobile phone casts doubt on whether the medical researcher actually had the criminal intent necessary to justify an OFAC-driven prosecution in the first place. According to the affidavit, Nazemzadeh was negotiating with an undercover federal agent, sent in by OFAC, on the achievability of shipping the MRI coil to Iran via a company in the Netherlands. It is not uncommon for people to believe (incorrectly) that if it’s legal to ship an item to a particular country, no laws are broken if the item is then re-exported to a prohibited destination. Here, according to the affidavit, Mr. Nazemzadeh continued to say to the undercover agent that he believed the transaction was legal, that he believed this because the export from the United States was to the Netherlands, not Iran. Mr. Nazemzadeh’s good faith legal mistake is not a criminal act. Instead, this is precisely the sort of case that would have been handled as an administrative matter were OFAC anywhere near fair-minded or objective. At maximum, the Treasury enforcers should have issued a fine in the case.
If the White House truly wants to normalize relations with Iran and Syria it has got to do a lot better than this. It has to call off its attack dogs—the OFAC enforcers who are servicing interests other than those of the American people. Otherwise America’s relentless pitching of presumed “humanitarian sanctions against Iran and Syria that exempt medicines and medical equipment” is fraudulent—fraudulent because this benevolent, so-called “humanitarian” aspect has never truly been implemented, and to claim otherwise misleads the global community as to the true nature of what, in reality, are civilian-targeting sanctions imposed for political purposes.
This weekend’s White House greetings to the people of the Islamic Republic—for Nowruz, the Iranian New Year, in the Solar Hijri calendar—are no doubt appreciated. But now it’s time to give substantive meaning to America’s New Year’s greetings, one that her citizens can be proud of and that is accordant and consistent with their values.
Franklin Lamb is a visiting Professor of International Law at the Faculty of Law, Damascus University and volunteers with the Sabra-Shatila Scholarship Program (

Return to Sayyeda (Lady) Zeinab—Now Secured and in Protective Hands

Franklin Lamb
Sayyeda Zainab. Syria

During a meeting at the Dama Rose hotel in Damascus the other morning this observer was being briefed by ‘Abu Modar” a reputedly battle honed field commander of the “Death Brigade” which is based in the northern Syria Eskanderoun region north of  Latakia. Abu Modar explained that he personally had chosen the rather peculiar name for his brigade

“Death” to symbolize his militia’s willingness to die for their cause which is protecting Syria. “Before each battle or each mission I ask my God to let me die defending Syria”.

As the gentleman was explaining the history of his militia, one of thousands reportedly operating in Syria these troubled days, which included his predecessors fighting with the PLO in Beirut during the summer of 1982, his phone rang. He advised this observer that his ‘contact’ called to tell him that certain  intelligence sources had received information overnight that an individual had been observed in the vicinity of  Zeinab’s shrine placing a parcel of explosives into a vehicle presumably with the intention to detonate it near her resting place. This riveted my attention, partly because by chance this observer was scheduled to join an army escort the next day and visit the historic site located about 40 minutes south of Damascus.

Nearly two months ago, the government regained control of the sight but there are still some snipers around I was advised by friends.  Abu Modars specific mission was to take some of his commandos and kick in the door of the suspect’s house sometime during the night and arrest him and turn him over to someone for interrogation.  His mission struck me as simple enough and he was matter of fact in outlining his plan.

“We do this sort of mission often. This is part of our expertise and we do it whenever we are asked by friends. It spares the army for their normal work on battlefields and our unit is specialized and from long experience we have acquired certain useful skills.:

I demurred when Abu Modar invited me to join him, explaining that I was a bit out of shape and did not want to get in the way of his men’s work or in any way mess up their operation. But he insisted saying that I could stay in his jeep and just observe the mission and he doubted that I would be in any serious danger. I was tempted to accept his invitation and agreed to his proposal to meet after lunch to finalize our plans for that nights outing.  I called a trusted and knowledgeable Syrian friend who knows a lot about these matters and she seemed exasperated with me that I would even consider tagging along with the Death Brigade’:

“Absolutely not Franklin! Khalas! (finish!) You are visiting Seyeda Zeinab bokra with the army and you are not going with anyone else!”

Frankly, I was a bit relieved but my mentor and friends unequivocal counsel, and my new pals from the “Death” militia, who knows her, understood. My interpreter said that Abu Modor laughed and claimed a badge of honor when he was recently shown U-tube videos about his macho George Patton style exploits in Qusayr and villages around Qalamoun and rebel claims that he and his brigade were “the number one pro-regime murderers in Syria.”

It should be noted that Abu Modor’s unit, “Death” is part of the, not well known in the West, Popular Front for the Liberation of Iskanderun (PFLI) which is currently fighting rebels north of Latakia in the mountains bordering Turkey and whose forces have also periodically been among units that have spent time  guarding the resting place of Zeinab.

Sayyeda Zainab ShrineReferences to the geographical place name, “Seyeda Zeinab”, normally a 40 minute drive south from Damascus using the airport road, can be confusing for an untutored foreigner.  The reason is that “Seyeda Zeinab” refers both to a group of five small cities, in the Governate of  Damascus including, Al Zeyabeya, Hujayr, Husseiniya, Akraba and Babila, and at the same time  Sayeda Zeinab refers to the sacred burial place and shrine for Zeinab bint Ali, the  daughter of the first Shia Imam, Ali, and his first wife Fatima and the sister of Hussein and Abass of Karbla as well as the granddaughter of  Prophet Mohammad  (PBUH). Her shrine and pilgrimage destination is located in the small town of Seyeda Zeinab but given its fame, the name also refers to a wider area.  As a holy shrine and place of prayer and scholarship, one imagines this place to be in the category of perhaps Qoms in Iran and Najaf in Iraq.  All three attract thousands of pilgrims,  and tourists and since the area surrounding Seyeda Zeinab was liberated and essentially pacified by the Syria army recently and is being protected by its soldiers, visitors are again arriving daily from countries including Yemen, Bahrain, Iraq, Iran, India, Pakistan and Lebanon, among others.

The Mayor of Seyeda Zeinab, this observer’s gracious host, is Mohammad Barakat, a Sunni engineer from Homs seemingly in his early 50’s.  His staff is of mixed religious backgrounds, and as with most Syrian citizens I have met over the past three years, were essentially blind and uninterested in sectarian differences before the current crisis.  All the Mayors staff members are working long hours receiving numerous requests for post liberation help which they try their best to accommodate with their limited available resources.  During a three hour discussion with Mayor Barakat, perhaps a couple of  dozen times an aid would appear to secure his signature or mayoral  stamp on citizen petitions that might range from an urgent request for food stuffs, problems with housing or seeking employment with a municipal project now getting started.


In his bee hive of an office, Mayor Barakat used a pointer to highlight locations on a large wall map hanging next to his desk, illustrating area repair and construction projects being readied.  Mr. Barakat enthusiastically proclaimed “2014 is the year we intend to start and finish area restoration work and we take pride in the prospect that what we achieve here in Seyeda Zeinab can be a model for restoration work all over Syria that hopefully can begin soon.”

The mayor and three staff members accompanied this observer on an informative and inspiring tour of the Mosque and Shrine of Saeyda Zeinab.

The shrine, our hosts informed us, is an example of Shia architecture and the dome is made of pure gold. The grave of Zeinab is enclosed within a raised crypt like structure, centered directly beneath the massive golden dome. The doors of the shrine are apparently also made of pure gold with mirror works on the roof and walls. The minarets and the entrance gate of the holy shrine are covered with Iranian Moarrahg tile designed by the most famous Iranian traditional tile work and architect named Ali Panjehpour. My colleague from the Mayor’s office allowed me to finger one and explained that each 4 x 4 inch, of which there were hundreds of thousands in the complex, cost more than $ 100 USD. There is also a large mosque adjoining the shrine which this observer was advised can accommodate more than 1,300 people and a further 150 in the attached courtyards.  The two tall minarets, one of which was damaged by a rebel mortar, dominate the architecture and the  large souk on the other side of a newly built security wall.

In the cavernous nave of the Seyeda Zeinab and just next to the  beautifully inlaid elevated crypt holding her remains, approximately 50 men were performing mid-day Salat al Duhr  prayers. Some were in camouflage uniforms and appeared to be on military leave or from the security units guarding the inside and perimeter of Zeinab’s Shrine.

 This observer did not want to awkwardly press his hosts for details about who are who among the armed men guarding Seyeda Zeinab. Some Western media sources have speculated that Shia fighters from Iraq and Lebanon came to Syria to protect Sayeda Zeinab following the desecration in Syria of the tomb of Hajar Bin Aday. Several sites on the Internet, published reports claiming that a takfiri group exhumed the tomb of Bin Aday, who was one of the most prominent Muslim leaders at the time of the Prophet Muhammad and loyal to Imam Ali bin Abi Talib. His remains were reportedly taken to an unknown location.

At the entrance to the women’s area, several women were praying and others appeared to be part of  the shrine’s  Women’s Auxiliary or Guild as they directed visitors while graciously assisting and providing female visitors with black chadors upon entering this sanctuary.  One charming middle age woman who appeared to be Iranian, was smiling knowingly at me and with a twinkle in her eyes, jokingly offered this visiting American a chador as “a gift and souvenir from our Holy Shrine and from our community to take back to your country in appreciation of you not bombing us…yet!” And she laughed at her own joke, as all who heard it did, including the Mayor and some nearby soldiers and teen-aged visiting students.

Update on the capture of the bad person sought by Abu Modar

Well, did Abu Modar and his “Death Brigade” get their man?

They did indeed, and it was the night before this observer’s arrival at Seyeda Zeinab. Abu Modar  detailed to this observer and a few of this militia guys the evenings events as we made plans to leave the next morning for the Iskandroun region and an interview the PFLI President, Ali Kyali.  But not by kicking in the alleged bad guys door American SWAT TEAM, style.   Rather the suspect was stealthily followed and during the early morning of 2/25/14 he was apprehended at one of the Syrian army checkpoints that surround the village of Seyeda Zeinab.

Such incidents make plain that Seyeda Zeinab is still of target of some jihadist types given its great importance to Syria and the region and among Muslims globally. But across sectarian divides here, where there are growing signs of the great majority of the exhausted populations being ready to a degree, to forgive and forget at least some of the events of the past nearly 36 months.

Visiting Seyada Zeinab, this observers, second visit, is a wonderful, solemn, exhilarating and inspiring ecumenical experience. It is highly recommended to all tourists planning to come to the Syrian Arab Republic as improving security conditions begin to allow for the return of international visitors.

May the Sainted Martyr, Zeinab bint Ali, whose life was devoted to charity and to nursing others, and who is a model for all humanity of Resistance and defiance against oppression and all forms of injustice, forever rest in peace.

–Franklin Lamb is a visiting Professor of International Law at the Faculty of Law, Damascus University and volunteers with the Sabra-Shatila Scholarship Program (

Source: Al-Manar Website
01-03-2014 – 16:12 Last updated 01-03-2014

Franklin Lamb: Introducing the Syria Resistance (PFLI) and it’s Leader

ED NOTE: Thanks to our friend Dr. Franklin Lamb for introducing the Syrian resistance and its Leader Ali Kayali fighting in all fronts, shoulder to shoulder with the Syrian Arab Army,  the takfirs sponsored by the zionists world order and its tools Saudia, Qatar, Turkey and the So-called March 14 movement. The resistance will continue until full liberation of Syrian Land, including south Syria (Palestine) and every inch of Syrian Land occupied by Turkey.
I added some pictures and the videos
North of Latakia, Syria Posted on
Every school kid here in Syria learns at an early age about the various colonial land grabs that have lopped off key parts of their ancient country, and they receive instruction about their national duty to recover this sacred territory. The concept applies equally to still-occupied Palestine, or at least it did before the 2011 uprising got started, albeit since then a degree of resentment has arisen over participation by some Palestinians with rebel groups seeking to topple the Syrian government.
Be that as it may, one such land grab historically remembered, and which is currently galvanizing resistance on behalf of Syria, is that of Iskenderun, north of Latakia, in a disputed Syria-Turkish border area. As Turkish, Saudi, and Qatari-sponsored jihadists continue to enter the country, well worth remembering is it that Iskenderun is rich in natural resources and that for thousands of years it was part of Syria. But that status changed more than half a century ago when France cut it off from Syria and grafted it onto Turkey—and now some pro-government militias are fighting to get it back.
The name derives from Alexander the Great, who around 333 BC encamped in the area and ordered a city be built, although the exact site of the historic city is subject to dispute. At any rate, the strategic importance of Iskenderun comes from its geographical relation to Syrian Gates, the easiest approach to the open ground of Hatay Province and Aleppo, and the dispute over it has been heating up recently, partly as a result of the current crisis.
It all started on July 5, 1938, when Turkish forces under Colonel Sukril Kanath launched an aggression, with French approval, and ethnically cleansed the local Armenian Christian and Allawi populations. The Turkish invasion was enabled by the French, partners with Britain in Sykes-Picot, who had remained as illegal occupiers of Syria, a holdover from the League of Nations mandate. The French were complicit in a rigged referendum, essentially ceding to Turkey this Syrian territory, which by then was referred to as the Republic of Hatay. It was a land grab. Pure and simple. And it was part of a secret deal to secure Turkey’s help with the fast approaching war with Germany. Paris and Ankara struck a deal: Turkey, while not joining the allies against Germany, declared neutrality and essentially sat out World War II.


Commander Ali Kayali, of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Iskenderun
Syria, rather than being expansionist, as it is sometimes accused of by Turkey and the Zionist regime, has actually been losing territory, not gaining it. “We lost northern Palestine in 1918, Lebanon in 1920, and the Iskenderun area through French duplicity,” said a retired diplomat here. “Surely Lebanon must also be returned to Syria. It was never a real country and it never will be as far as I am concerned. It is part of Syria!”Indeed, as Robert Fisk points out, after the First World War, most Lebanese wished their land to remain part of Syria (see the results of the King-Crane Commission) rather than live in a separate “nation” under French domination. As we parted, the gentleman shook my hand and declared: “Of course Iskendurun is part of Syria. No honest person can deny this!”
Enter one remarkable Syrian nationalist, Ali Kayali, aka “Abu Zaki”. So how did a polite gentleman from this region of Turkish-occupied Syria end up leading one of the most effective resistance militias in the northern theater in the current Syrian crisis? Basically he did it the same way as untold numbers of Palestinians supporting young Syrian men during the early 1980’s.
Ali went to Beirut to resist the 1982 Zionist aggression. There he was baptized by fire, so to speak, carrying the banner of his new group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Iskenderun (PFLI) under the tutelage of Dr. George Habash and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).
Ali fought in a number of south Lebanon fronts, and also inside West Beirut, but then after the PLO withdrawal (on 8/20/82), he returned to Syria, to Tartous, joining the rebellion against PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat. Near Bedwari camp he fought, as part of the Fatah Intifada uprising, this following the PLO split along -pro-Arafat and pro-Hafez Assad cleavages.

Later, Ali undertook study on his own in Tartous (Tripoli, Syria), and at one point escaped from prison in Turkey where he had been jailed for demonstrating against the fascist regime in Ankara. Returning to Syria, he joined Syrian Army battles against the Bilal Shaaban-led Al Tawhid Islamic (Muslim Brotherhood ), following which he and the PFLI moved to the area of Halba in Akkar, Lebanon, and organized a resistance training camp. Eventually, however, he returned to Syria to continue the fight to liberate the Syrian territory of Iskenderun, and while supported by Syrian citizens, the Kayali-led group was not formally part of the Syrian security/resistance apparatus.

Commander Ali discussing PFLI positions
Speaking with non-government analysts in Latkia, this observer was repeatedly told that the PFLI has the reputation of understanding the geography and politics of the Syrian coast area where its fighters are currently active, including Aleppo, Banias, between Tartous and the countryside around Latakia, as well as the Idlib, Homs and Damascus areas.

As PFLI fighters and officials put it, “Syria will not kneel to the Zionist-Arab project to destroy the unity and independence of the Syrian Arab Republic.” According to one PFLI spokesperson, the group “supports and stands in the same trench, hand in hand with the state, confronting two foreign projects—the first being to destroy the achievements of the Syrian people and Syria’s social fabric and multi-cultural heritage, and the second being to infiltrate foreign intruders.”

One place the PFLI is currently fighting is the strategic rebel bastion of Yabrud, in the Qalamoun Mountains, north of Damascus, near the Lebanese border. On 3/3/14, during a meeting with this observer and some of his associates, Ali Kyali received a phone call relaying information that Sahel village, about four miles from Yabrud, had come under control of Syrian and pro-Syrian forces, including the PFLI. Remarkably open with battlefield details, Ali explained that pro-Syria forces do not want to occupy Yabrud, but rather the strategy is to control the villages surrounding it in order to trap al Nursa and other rebel militia inside. Asked about the trapped local population and reminded of the fate of the inner city populations of Aleppo, Homs and a dozen other locations, Ali shrugged and turned up his palms.

Today (3/7/14) the PFLI is fighting to try to cut off the road linking Yabrud to Arsal in eastern Lebanon, whose majority population supports the Syrian revolt. PFIL fighters were involved last week with the fall of Al-Sahl, a town a little over a mile south of Yabrud, and now are fighting in and around Yaboud, preparing for the anticipated final assault. According to Ali’s personal bodyguards, they are facing Al-Qaida’s Syria affiliate, al-Nusra Front. Some of PFLI’s 3000 troops are also fighting this week in Douma, Jobar, Aleppo, the countryside around Lattakia, and Deralcia near Nubek on the main Damascus-Homs highway. They also played a key role earlier in Baniyas, in the battle between Tartous and Latakia. One YouTube clip being given to visitors to the PFLI HQ in Latakia shows the group’s participation, including women, in a recent important battle against the ISIS:

The PFLI organization receives a variety of random and sporadic support from the local community, according to Mr. Kayali and his staff, but they, like most militia, need money and weapons and regular supplies of food. Also needed are places for the fighters to sleep, as well as more uniforms to accommodate a sharp influx of applicants seeking to join their ranks. Additionally there is the matter of funding death benefit payments for the families of PFLI men and women killed during resistance.

PFLI fighters are not paid salaries, which sets them apart financially from many Gulf-backed and Western-trained militia, who can garner monthly salaries from $500-$1,000. By contrast, pro-government popular committees, numbering approximately 5,000, and National Defense units, whose fighters number around 25,000, receive approximately 20,000 Syrian Pounds, or $126 a month. Footing much of this bill are Syrian businessmen such as Rami Mahlouf, cousin of President Bashar Assad. Regular Syrian army recruits get only 3000 Syrian pounds, or about $20 monthly, but they also receive food and lodging and health and travel benefits. Syrian army reservists are said to receive approximately $10.50 per month.


“Joan of Arc” with part of her resistance family
For Ali Kayali, the PFLI is also a family matter. His wife and daughter and two sons are deeply connected with its resistance goals. His sons are fighters, as are his wife and daughter when called upon, though in-between time they do other resistance projects. Nicked-named “Joan of Arc,” his 22-year-old daughter attends medical school, but reportedly is also a ferocious fighter and adept battlefield tactician, with dramatic results in a number of battles against rebels over the past nearly two years. She is a strong, no-nonsense feminist and told me she loves to shock takfiris, who sometimes appear amazed to see her and her female unit chasing them up the side of some mountain.
It is said that an army (or a militia, for that matter) travels on its stomach. This observer was treated to an impromptu roadside lunch with half a dozen PFLI fighters last week. Their favorite cook, Mahmoud, a small guy who always seems to wear the same blue shirt, invited us. Within minutes, Mahmoud gathered some twigs and small chunks of wood, lit a small fire, covered it with a metal grate, grabbed a bag of flour, mixed in water, kneaded it a bit, and shaped and roasted some small, irregular round loaves. On these he sprinkled, from another plastic bag, some handfuls of spices. His fast and hot food was delicious, constituting Mhamra manouche (roasted pita bread with spicy red pepper sauce), Zaatar  manouche (oregano, thyme, & sesame seeds), and Jibneh (cheese) manouche.
Captagon Jihad?
Sitting in the lobby of a run-down, less-than-one-star, dockside hotel opposite the Mediterranean, a lodging establishment occasionally used as quarters by various militia, this observer and his companion spoke leisurely one early morning with one of Ali Kyali’s sons and a companion. When not fighting jihadists (in “Have AK-47, Will Travel”-mode), they are among his father’s bodyguards. I have for a while been interested in claims by Western governments that they are supplying “humanitarian non-lethal aid” to rebel groups, including night goggles, telecommunication equipment, and GPS devices. This observer views all such equipment as misnamed and indeed lethal inasmuch as they facilitate one side killing the other via night snipers or through expedition of troop movements. I was a bit surprised to learn what PFLI fighters thought of this kind of equipment being given to their adversaries and labeled ‘humanitarian aid.’
“Not having night goggles, except for some we take off the enemy, is not much of a problem for us because we can sense where al Nusra fighters are, and they tend not to fight at night,” Ali’s son told me.
I asked why the reluctance to fight at night, thinking maybe it had something to do with a religious edict of some sort, but once more I was mistaken.
“No it’s not that, it’s because they are too paranoid and exhausted, from taking captagon and even stronger drugs, to fight at night.”
According the guys I was sitting with, some with more than two years fighting experience with the PFLI, many, if not most, of the Gulf-sponsored jihadists are given bags of pills to enhance their battlefield courage. And it works to a degree. At dawn each day, jihadists take drugs, including large doses of captagon and other widely available drugs. There also are some particularly potent drugs, known locally as “baltcon,” “afoun,” and ”zolm,” as well as opium, heroin, cocaine, and hashish. The main drug routes into the Syrian battle zones, I was advised, run from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Lebanon, with lesser amounts coming via Turkey, Iraq and Jordan. Lebanon’s Bekaa valley apparently produces large amounts of captagon pills for shipment to the Gulf, and now to Syria. Jihadists high on drugs apparently feel invincible, and hostile, and do not fear death. Many are indeed ferocious and fearless fighters during the day, as many media sources have reported. But by nightfall, when the drug wears off, the fighters become exhausted and sometimes are found asleep on the very scene of battle they were fighting from.

“Many of the ‘Gulfies’ are in fact heavily addicted to strong heroin-like drugs. They crave them, and sometimes they even fight with their fellow militiamen to get their ‘fixes.’ We are told by some we capture that sometimes, when one of their comrades is killed, the fallen fighter’s ‘friends’ will descend on his body, not particularly to pray over it, but to rummage his pockets for his drugs.”

In point of fact, in 2011 alone, Lebanese authorities confiscated three amphetamine production labs, in addition to two Captagon-producing labs, which they claim were responsible for sending hundreds of thousands of the pills to the Gulf. The seizure of trucks with captagon in their chassis in Lebanon, and at Beirut airport, shows a growing demand for these products in the Syrian militia market. The UN recently reported that the Middle and Near East are experiencing the majority of drug busts globally.
Al Nusra Front and ISIS—being some of the more extreme “imported jihadists,” as some here call them—claim to be better fighters than Hezbollah, whose units set the fighting skill bar fairly high these days. Some of them claim they have not really started their battle to defeat Hezbollah on its own territory, but will do so when they are ready. But as one PFLI fighter explained, and some of his buddies nodded agreement, only when high on drugs do Qatari/Saudi jihadists exhibit bravery and bravado. Only then do they pose a serious threat, because they ignore normal defensive fighting tactics.
“We know many of these guys quite well. Lots of them were never even religious. There are many who are drug addicts, who get high and lose their fear of dying, so they are dangerous to confront, and they often use strange tactics.”
According to another PFLI source, the “imported Jihadists” die in high numbers because they ignore the battlefield realities. Their average number of dead in any given firefight over the past two years is estimated to be approximately five times the number of Hezbollah casualties, three times the number of PFLI fighters, and twice the number of casualties than the regular Syrian army.
As the Syrian crisis enters its fourth year, with more jihadists arriving and more militia being formed across the political and religious spectrum, the US intelligence community and congressional sources are now predicting the war will continue for another decade or more. It’s anyone’s guess what the post-Syrian crisis period will bring to this region given the rise of ethno-nationalism along with demands for the return of Sykes-Picot land grabs. There are also growing signs of a cataclysmic intifada in Palestine. When you add to all that US intelligence predictions of the overthrow of two, and possibly three, Gulf monarchies, another Hezbollah-Zionist war, plus the deterioration of the social and religious fabric across the region, the future looks bleak indeed.
Franklin Lamb is a visiting Professor of International Law at the Faculty of Law, Damascus University and volunteers with the Sabra-Shatila Scholarship Program (

Coalition of the Willing’ Promotes No Fly Zone

Syrian Regime Solidifies Recent Gains
Feb 23, 2014,
Syrian Army-Valentine

Franklin Lamb


Since around Valentine Day and aided by truly magnificent warm weather for this time of year, the dozens of parks in Damascus have been receiving unusually large numbers of visitors, not least of whom are Syrian soldiers on leave, enjoying the green space with girlfriends, families and friends. At the large garden with dozen of benches and sculptures, called Al-Manshia (Presidents Bridge) public park, and located between two five-star hotels, the Dama Rose and the 4-Seasons, some soldiers, presumably from out of town and with many appearing utterly exhausted, can be seen simply laying on the grass fast asleep under the warm healing sunshine.

Soldiers joke, laugh and seem pleased when citizens approach them to offer their thanks for the army’s service to the Syrian Arab Republic and to inquire about how things are going personally and if there is some help the citizen might offer the soldier. Such is the nature of Syrian nationalism and connection with Mother Syria that this observer has remarked about before and is strikingly rare from his experience. I love my country but frankly do not feel the pride and deep connection that Syrians appear to exhibit about their country’s 10,000 year history as the cradle of civilization. I would defend my country and fight for it if there were to be a legitimate war which frankly has not been the case in my lifetime.

Over the past 30 months of frequent visits to Damascus, the city has never appeared more ‘normal’. Last night this observer was up all night reading and there was not one bombing run or mortar or artillery fire to he heard, a first for more than two years. For many months, I used to avoid the historic Al-Hamidiyah Souk, the largest and the central souk in Syria located inside the old walled city of Damascus next to the Umayyad Mosque, despite its hundreds of interesting shops. The reason I tended to stay away was because I was one of very few people meandering among the warren of stalls and felt self-conscious when shopkeepers would plead with me to buy something-anything to help feed their families many of whom lived near the labyrinth.

Today, Al-Hamidiyah Souk, if not frequented with the numbers of shoppers and visitors as it was before March 2011, it is nonetheless very crowded such that foreigners can pass unnoticed…well, sometimes for at least the first hundred yards or so. In Damascene neighborhoods, no longer do citizens quickly disappear into their homes at the first sign of dusk but the streets and many cafes are crowded well past 9 p.m.

“Quo Vadis Syrie”, (‘where is Syria heading’) one Damascus University classics major, turned international law student, asked this visitor as we both sat on the steps of the Law Faculty while enjoying a bit of sun yesterday afternoon. “Is our crisis nearly over so we can start re-building Mother Syria or do our enemies have other plans to destroy us? I worry that today’s calm will soon disappear with an arriving hurricane.” His comment was perhaps triggered by a certain sense here and more widely elsewhere that a forming “coalition of the willing” appears to be pressing for a ‘humanitarian’ No Fly Zone. Some American allies envisage and are making plans to implement, a NFZ stretching up to 25 miles into Syria which would be enforced using aircraft flown from Jordanian bases and flying inside the kingdom, according to Congressional sources.

Any NFZ would be very different from what is currently being promoted and advertised by certain war-mongers in Washington, Tel Aviv and several European capitals as well as among elements of the Gulf Cooperation Council and the League of Arab States. Post Round Two of Geneva II, the White House and the usual “bomb the bastards” coterie  in Congress and among the US Zionist lobby, are said to be re-thinking the idea of a No Fly Zone (NFZ) for Syria. It would be planned and executed with US and a yet to be specified, “Coalition of the willing” using aircraft now at the ready in Jordan and Turkey to begin with.

Ranking with the fake “non-lethal aid” concept, in terms of cynical deception (virtually all “non-lethal” aid is indeed lethal for its facilitates certain forces killing others including night goggles, telecommunication equipment, GPS equipment, salaries, fake IDs and much else), a limited, ‘humanitarian’ NFZ would almost certainly became a bomb anything/person that moves ‘turkey shoot’ as was the case in Libya in 2011 as was studied and witnessed first-hand by this an many other observers. What we observed in the then, but no more, Al Jamahiriya (state of the masses), was that the misnomer ‘limited humanitarian Responsibility to Protect’ (R2P) promoted by Obama Administration UN Ambassador Susan Rice for Libya and now by her predecessor Samatha Power for Syria, was that a NFZ means essentially an all-out war for regime change at all costs in terms of expendable lives and treasury.

The Libya experience, conceding many differences between the two countries and their governments and quality of each country’s military, may be prologue for Syria. Backed by a U.N. Security Council mandate, NATO charged into Libya citing its urgent “responsibility to protect” civilians threatened by claimed bloody rampages occurring across the country. Within days, we witnessed the ‘limited carefully vetted’ targets bank turn from a promoted ‘several dozen purely military targets” into more than 10,000 bomb runs using over 7,700 ‘precision guided bombs” and from the ground and what we learned during weeks in Libya by victims and eye-witnesses it seemed at times that the targets were basically anything that moved or looked like it might have a conceivable military purpose of some sort.

Human Rights Watch documented nearly 100 cases of civilians being bombed and killed as part of the R2P campaign. Other estimates are several times the HRW published figures. To this day Libyan civilians and demanding to know from NATO, “Why did you destroy my home and kill my family?” No answer has to date been provided to the Libyan victims’ families despite investigations that showed NATO pilots frequently disregarded instructions and “we essentially bombed at if we were playing video games” according to post-conflict contrite  British airman.

Susan Rice, now Obama’s national security adviser, met with Saudi officials last week to discuss a NFZ and related strategy despite White House claims that it is still skeptical. Rice told the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee late last month that the U.S. and Saudi Arabia are working together again on Syria policy after a year of occasional bitter disagreement.

Among those currently petitioning the Obama Administration for a NFZ, which would quickly devolve into thousands of bomb runs across Syria that would likely decimate its air force and tank corps are the so-called ‘rebels.’  They tend to agree with France that problems lay ahead for them given April’s fast approaching Presidential election, in which the incumbent President, Bashar Assad, is likely to seek and win re-election.

In addition, Israel, according to a Congressional source, has offered to help ‘behind the scenes” with airbases if needed and certain activities along the southern Syrian border with occupied Palestine. A majority of Arab League countries, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) plus Turkey, France, the UK and some members of the EU also support the NFZ idea. Saudi Arabia has already approved large quantities of Chinese man-portable air defense systems or Manpads as well as antitank guided missiles from Russia and more cash to help rebels oust the Assad regime, according to an Arab diplomat. Meanwhile, the US has upped its contribution to pay the salaries of preferred rebel fighters.

Ominously, the U.S. has already positioned Patriot air defense batteries and F-16 fighter aircraft in Jordan, which would be integral to any no-fly zone.  The U.S. planes have air-to-air missiles that could destroy Syrian planes from long ranges. But officials have advised Congress that aircraft may be required to enter deep into Syrian air space if threatened by advancing Syrian planes. This could easily lead to all-out war with Syria and if Russia decides to provide advanced, long-range S-300 air defense weapons to Syria, it would make such a limited no-fly zone far more risky for U.S. pilots and it’s anyone’s guess what would happen next.

President Obama so far is keeping his own counsel as his Secretaries of Defense and State, current and former, and many other officials and politicians offer their advice for the White House ordering a NFZ. Hilary Clinton and General David Petraeus reportedly both favor a NFZ to ‘end this mess” in the words of the retired CIA Director.

To his great credit, Barack Obama appears so far  to many on Capitol Hill to be reluctant to give formal approval to another NFZ as he was last summer when he resisted calls to launch a war against Syria as well as Congressional war-monger demands to go to war with Iran on behalf of the Netanyahu government. This week Mr. Obama acknowledged that diplomatic efforts to resolve the Syrian conflict are far from achieving their goals. “But the situation is fluid and we are continuing to explore every possible avenue including diplomacy.”

If President Obama extends his record of putting American interests first to three key decisions over the past six months, and if he sticks with diplomacy rather than launch all-out war with Syria, and potentially the allies of Damascus, via a NFZ, he just may be on his way to earning his prematurely awarded Nobel Prize.

–Franklin Lamb is a visiting Professor of International Law at the Faculty of Law, Damascus University and volunteers with the Sabra-Shatila Scholarship Program (

Source: Al-Manar Website
23-02-2014 – 09:45 Last updated 23-02-2014 – 09:48

How Not to Get Aid Into Homs, Yarmouk, and 9.3 Million Syrians via a UN Resolution

Hunger As A Weapon

By Franklin Lamb
Al Nebek, Syria
Who authored the seemingly designed-to-fail UN Security Council Draft Resolution on delivering urgent humanitarian aid into the Old City of Homs and other besieged areas of conflict-torn Syria? When we know this, much may become clearer with respect to the cynical politicization of the continuing civilian suffering.
The draft resolution was put forward by Australia, Luxembourg, and Jordan, and according to a UN/US congressional source—one who actually worked on rounding up the three countries to front for the US and its allies—none was pleased with the decidedly raw and undiplomatic pressure they received from the office of US UN Ambassador Samantha Power.
When this observer inquired how such a poorly drafted, one-sided, adversary-bashing draft resolution could actually have seen the light of day and been submitted to the UN Security Council, the reply he received was terse: “Ask Samantha.”
Suspicions are being raised in Geneva, in Syria, and among certain UN aid agencies, in Homs and elsewhere, that efforts on behalf of those they are trying to save from starvation were ‘set-up’ to fail as a result of power politics and influences emanating from Washington and Tel Aviv.
This observer is not a big fan of conspiracy theories. No doubt it’s a personal congenital defect of some sort that makes him want to hear at least a modicum of relevant, prohibitive, material, non-hearsay evidence to support some of the wilder and internet-fueled claims ricocheting around the globe. However, some things are becoming clear as to what happened at the UNSC last week and why certain specific language was included in the resolution.
Ms. Power, it has been claimed by two Hill staffers who monitor AIPAC, owes her position as UN Ambassador to Israeli PM Netanyahu, who views her and her husband, AIPAC fund raiser, Cass Sunstein, as Israel-first stalwarts. Congressional sources claim the White House went along with her appointment so as not to provoke yet another battle—either with AIPAC’s congressional agents or the wider US Zionist lobby. As part of her continuing gratitude for her “dream job,” as she told an American Jewish Committee convention on 2/10/14 in New York, Ms. Power assured the AJC that the United States “strongly supports Israel’s candidacy for a seat on the UN Security Council, and we have pushed relentlessly for the full inclusion of Israel across the UN system.” Ms. Power is said to have assured AIPAC officials in private that evening that “one of Israel’s few survival reeds may be to grasp, in the face of rising anti-Semitism, a seat on the council.” Insisting that “there is growing and rampant hostility towards Israel within the UN, where a large number of member states are not democratic,” Ms. Power, continued” “I will never give up and nor should you.”
Following the standing ovation from her adoring audience, she repeated, according to one eye witness: “We have also pushed relentlessly for the full inclusion of Israel across the UN system.” What the Zionist regime still occupying Palestine knows, as does no doubt Ms. Power, is that the American public and increasingly even the US Congress is finally pulling back from the regime in favor of justice for Palestine. Thus the lobby’s strange reasoning that the UN system, where the American public is essentially absent, is increasingly important.
So what’s the problem with the US-mission-spawned Security Council draft resolution on Syria so dutifully submitted by three chummy and faithful allies?
Well, for starters, the resolution is DOA, as presumably every sophomore poli-sci, civics, or governance student would have recognized from the outset. The aggressive language—demanding the UNSC immediately take action by targeting only one claimed violator with yet more international sanctions—would have caused chaff and cringing among many, probably most. But even beyond that, Moscow, with a UNSC veto ready to use, sees the US-initiated draft as a bid to lay the groundwork for military strikes against the Syrian government, interpreting the language as an ultimatum: that if all this isn’t solved in two weeks then the Security Council will automatically follow with sanctions against the Syrian government.
As Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov told the media on 2/10/14, “Instead of engaging in everyday, meticulous work to resolve problems that block deliveries of humanitarian aid, they see a new resolution as some kind of simplistic solution detached from reality.”
The draft text, obtained by this observer from Reuters, expresses the intent to impose sanctions—on individuals and entities obstructing aid—if certain demands are not met within the next two weeks.
“It is unacceptable to us in the form in which it is now being prepared, and we, of course, will not let it through,” said Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov.
One diplomat in Syria, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s permanent representative to the UN, had told the Security Council on 2/11/14 that Moscow opposes some 30 percent of the original draft, but did not specify what which parts. He added, “We’re not aiming for a Russian veto, we’re aiming for a resolution that everybody can agree. That is what we want.”
For his part, President Obama, speaking at a joint news conference in Washington with French President Francois Hollande, kept up the pressure for the Security Council to accept the US resolution. He insisted that there is “great unanimity among most of the Security Council” in favor of the resolution and “Russia is a holdout.” Secretary of State John Kerry and others have “delivered a very direct message” pressuring the Russians to drop their opposition.
“It is not just the Syrians that are responsible” for the plight of civilians, but “the Russians as well if they are blocking this kind of resolution,” Kerry claimed. “How you can object to humanitarian corridors? Why would you prevent the vote of a resolution if, in good faith, it is all about saving human lives?”
Among international observers, the draft resolution is widely viewed as one-sided, condemning rights abuses by Syrian authorities, demanding Syrian forces stop all aerial bombardment of cities and towns as well as indiscriminate use of bombs, rockets and related weapons. It also, parenthetically and somewhat obliquely, condemns “increased terrorist attacks,” and calls for the withdrawal of all foreign fighters from Syria, but the latter language is believed to be aimed mainly at Hezbollah. Sources in Syria claim that the draft heaps all the blame on the Syrian government without devoting the necessary attention to the humanitarian problems created by the actions of the rebels.
These gratuitous draft elements are not only aggressive, but frankly appear calculated to end serious discussion and to undermine a solution of the problem.
Being new on the job is one thing for Ms. Power (she has served as UN ambassador only since August of last year), but politicizing relief from starvation for a besieged civilian population is quite another. Likewise for promoting a draft resolution focusing all blame on one side. Such things violate a broad range of applicable and mandatory international norms, and if Ms. Power is hazy on this subject, the State Department’s Office of International Organization Affairs is not—or at least was not when this observer interned there following law school years ago.
Language that would have stood a much better chance of ending the siege of Homs, Yarmouk and other areas under siege was drafted this week by a Syrian law student at the Damascus University Faculty of Law. The widely esteemed university witnessed the death of 17 of its students, along with the serious injuring of more than 20 others, when rebel mortar bombs, on 3/28/13, targeted the canteen of the College of Architecture. Those responsible for the shelling later admitted they were trained and armed by agents of the US government.
The DU law student’s draft resolution on unfettered humanitarian aid into besieged areas of Syria will hopefully be widely discussed over the weekend at a news conference tentatively scheduled on campus. Perhaps the next UN draft resolution will reflect the student’s homework assignment.
The starving victims besieged in Syria, and all people of goodwill, are demanding immediate, non-politicized humanitarian aid without further delay. Virtually every American voter is in a position to pressure his or her congressional representative, and would possibly achieve much good by making the White House aware of their demands to end playing international ‘gotcha’ politics, and to cooperate to end the needless deaths by starvation that continue today.

Lifting The Siege of Yarmouk One food Parcel & One Polio Vaccination at a Time

Franklin Lamb

Yarmouk Palestinian camp, Damascus

As of 2/6/14 it’s been seven days since the first humanitarian aid, generally in the form of 56 lb. food parcels packed by UNWRA, the World Food Program, the ICRC or European aid organizations have been able to enter Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp following half a dozen aborted attempts the past few months by various militia and political groups to achieve consensus to deliver aid.  The aid parcels, including two kilos of rice, two kilos sugar, three kilos lentils, three kilos dry macaroni, plus flour, jam, tea, oil, and sweet Halawi spread are intended to feed a family of five to eight for ten days. The boxes have been trickling into the South side of the Yarmouk Palestinian camp and up along Rima Street where this observer has seen crowds this past week tensely waiting and hoping for food and clean water. For some camp residents the wait for relief began in June of 2013 when all entrances and exits to Yarmouk camp were cut.

A large yellow flat-bed truck arrived on the morning of 2/5/14 and this observer watched as food parcels were off-loaded and neatly stacked into sixYarmouk aids  white pick-up trucks that were then driven into Yarmouk under the watchful gaze of pro and anti-regime forces and security agents.   According to one source from South Beirut who this observer had met earlier, Nusra Front, Islamic Front, ISIL (the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Levant) and Jund al Sham snipers could be observed on rooftops monitoring the distribution activity with their eyes pressed against their rifle scopes. One SARCS volunteer who this observer has known for two years advised that she feared there might be a shootout between these fighters and nearby Palestinian forces allied with the government (Ahmad Jibril’s PFLP-GC) who standing nearby with hand radio phones  watching and seemingly discussing the events. Frankly, for this observer, it is increasingly difficult to distinguish which group which around here is given the proliferation of fighters with beards and essentially indistinguishable attire.

For many food parcel recipients, their first act is to open the jar of jam inside the cardboard box and scoop the confections into the mouths of their children or the nearby infirm refugees, usually elderly.  On 2/6/14, UNWRA also started a polio vaccination program, its first in Yarmouk and which is urgently needed by thousands of trapped camp residents. Ten thousand dosages of polio vaccines are being allowed into the camp with vaccinations currently underway for the second day running.

In addition to the so far paltry amount of food allowed into the camp, approximately 1,600 people have been allowed to leave Yarmouk for medical treatment.  Young Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) volunteers, wearing shirts with large Red Crosses can be seen trickling out from the besieged camp this Yarmouk aidsmorning. Invariably holding the hands, arms, or shoulders of those who could walk the 50 yards to waiting ambulances that will evacuate and transport these patients, suffering the effects of starvation including muscle atrophy and dehydration. Most will be taken to the PCRS Jaffa hospital two kilometers away. Others are being transferred to Syrian government hospitals in Mazah, in central Damascus, including al-Mujtahed, al-Muwasat, al-Tawleed and children hospital.

This observer mingled for a couple of hours among the approximately 250 family members of trapped refugees, many of whom appear daily outside the only exit from Yarmouk camp, hoping that a relative might be allowed to leave. One elderly lady, maybe in her late sixties, explained to this observer that every day for the past seven months, i.e. since the tight siege of Yarmouk began last June, she has stood in the same location waiting for her son Mahmoud to come to her from inside besieged Yarmouk. She has no idea if he is alive but she explained to me that she believes that God will deliver him safely to her.

Given the 18,000 in need of  urgent aid  this cold winter morning inside Yarmouk camp, what has been allowed in so far has been a  mere trickle, rather minor in a sense.  But major for those getting the live saving food parcels and urgently required medical treatment.

As this observer waits to return to Yarmouk this morning, and for a promised and expensive taxi to hopefully arrive, for few cabs want to go anywhere near Yarmouk camp these days and charge five times the normal fare if they do, ones imagines that as has been the case this past week, there will be large crowds and long lines of people waiting and sometimes jostling for food. This attests to the enormous humanitarian need and to the desperation of thousands of civilians, Palestinian and Syrian, being starved and used as a weapon of war and as human shields.

After months of false starts toward reaching an agreement among fourteen Palestinian factions here in Damascus, as well as a green light from the Syrian government, and more than a dozen rebel militias, each with disparate agendas, this week’s agreement, and the 8th since early December, may or may not hold. And it may not end the carnage that criminally took 6000 more lives just last month.

If it does succeed, it will be one more half-step, to use UN Envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi Geneva II term, toward lifting the siege of Yarmouk camp which achievement might then augur well for more widespread humanitarian efforts to achieve a nationwide ceasefire  as a full step toward serious reconciliation work in order to save this great country.

Franklin Lamb is a visiting Professor of International Law at the Faculty of Law, Damascus University and volunteers with the Sabra-Shatila Scholarship Program (

Source: Al-Manar Website
07-02-2014 – 09:45 Last updated 07-02-2014 – 09:45
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Long Odds to Save Their Country: The Syrian Team in Geneva

 photo syrdelegation_zps2dbb246b.jpg


As we begin a new week here in Damascus, many citizens, across a fairly broad spectrum, appear to be backing, and even exhibiting a kind of pride for, their diplomatic team at the Geneva II conference. It might sound flippant for this observer to suggest that returning to Damascus, after recent events in his neighborhood of Haret Hriek in Dahiyeh, South Beirut, sort of feels like arriving at last in a relatively peaceful, stress-free locale. But others have described the crossover from Lebanon in similar terms. Damascus is currently more quiet and ‘normal’ appearing than I have found it for more than two years.

It appears that Damascenes, to a person, despite differing political views, are hoping for breakthroughs that just might bring an end to the carnage that has left virtually no one untouched in a conflict that has driven 9.5 million people from their homes, killed close to 140,000, and has resulted in more than 18,000 being missing. It is a major humanitarian crisis in the birthplace of civilization, and it has been felt both within Syria and among its neighbors.

At the Set al Cham (Grandmother of Damascus), a home-style-cooking small restaurant that sits around the corner from the Dama Rose Hotel, animated conversations about the Geneva II conference can be heard drifting through the dining room. The hopeful prospect for a ceasefire is the major question on most peoples’ minds, but all agree it is the essential first step to ending the carnage ravaging the country. The apparent imminent release of women and children from the more than 500 families who have for many months been trapped in the old city of Homs, Syria’s third largest city, has created some inchoate hope. UN Mediator Lakhdar Brahimi says men also will be allowed to leave once their names are vetted to prevent ‘terrorists’ from slipping out. It is a common security measure in this region during siege lifts and mass evacuations. The population leaving Homs will be received immediately by volunteers from the courageous and deeply humanitarian Syrian Arab Red Crescent Society (SARCS) and other humanitarian organizations that have stockpiled necessities close by. As in the case with Yarmouk Palestinian camp in south Damascus—itself still under tight siege this evening with snipers on rooftops scanning the streets and alleys below—baby formula is one of the foodstuffs most in demand due to the fact that malnourished mothers generally are no longer able to produce milk.

With respect to Yarmouk camp—of grave concern here in Syria as it is internationally—this observer had an informative three hour meeting today at UNWRA HQ on Mezzeh Autostrda. UNRWA Field Education Program Director, Mohammad Ammouri, and Abdullah Al Laham, Deputy Director of UNWRA in Syria, devote their full schedules these days trying to get aid into Yarmouk, and to bringing those under siege out. Both gentlemen gave this observer some reason to believe that finally an agreement, after more than half a dozen failed ones, might just stick tonight so that tomorrow, UNWRA trucks, waiting nearby with more than 40,000 aid parcels, can finally enter. Each aid box contains rice, sugar, flour, dried milk, cooking oil and other basics, and is designed to feed a family of five for two weeks. Families up to eight in number will get one and one-half UNWRA boxes every two weeks. Syrians trapped in Yarmouk, who number more than 2000, will also receive the emergency parcels from UNWRA with no questions asked. When this observer asked him if UNRWA, like SARCS, distributes the well-known World Food Program parcels, Mr. Al Laham raised his eyebrow a bit and did a sort of double-take “No! No. My dear. You see, we at UNWRA have our own aid parcels, in fact ours are bigger and better,” he said, and then smiled a bit sheepishly.

Three days ago UNWRA believed it would finally be allowed to enter Yarmouk with aid, but it turned out that only about 3% of the aid parcels could be distributed. This is because most aid is still being blocked by various militia, who themselves appear to be rather well fed, financed, and armed. We should know by tomorrow, January 28, if substantial aid will be allowed in and whether dying residents can be evacuated. UNWRA literally has the engines of its trucks idling nearby tonight and ready to move into the besieged camp on less than a minute’s notice if they get a green light, this observer has been advised.

In Damascus one senses that much of the population believes that what is happening at Geneva is admittedly a series of “half-steps,” to use UN envoy Brahimi’s description for the progress so far. But there is the feeling that it just might result in a breakthrough in the desperate effort to save Syria and move the nation toward a cease-fire and the opening up of humanitarian aid corridors. A few hours ago, Syrian delegation member Dr. Bouthania Shaaban commented that today’s talks had been ‘professional’—a modest achievement, at least, even though both sides speak only to Envoy Brahimi and tend to avoid eye contact with their “negotiating partners,” this while entering and exiting the meeting room from doors at opposite ends.

Syria’s delegation in Geneva is led by a seasoned, smart, deeply knowledgeable and formidable delegation. It is a group that includes the power-house Foreign Minister Walid Muallum, a former Syrian Ambassador to Washington, who has a reputation in the West, and also here, as intelligent and wily, and whose negotiating style is tough at times, and no-nonsense. “If no serious work sessions are held by [Saturday], the official Syrian delegation will leave Geneva due to the other side’s lack of seriousness or preparedness,” state television quoted Muallum telling UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi last Friday. Mr. Muallum is credited with brokering the deal with Russia to remove Syria’s chemical weapons, enabling Assad to present his government as a partner in the project and thus to strengthen its claim to legitimacy.

Another delegation member is Syria’s Minister of Information, Omran al- Zoubi. The indefatigable Mr al-Zoubi is well known to the international media for his personal warmth, direct talk, and incisive articulations of his government’s interpretations of the crisis. During literally hundreds of media interviews, Zoubi has earned a reputation, both internationally and in Syria, as an insightful political analyst and a skilled lawyer, one who does not mince words or sugar the realities, though who is respectful of his audience. From Derra, next to the Jordanian border where the crisis began, Zoubi, a Sunni Muslim, commented late this afternoon: “We will stay here until we do the job. We will not be provoked. We will not retreat and we will be wise and flexible.” He added also that anyone at Geneva II expecting the removal of President Assad was living “in a mythical world, and let them stay in Alice in Wonderland.”

Also a member of the delegation is Muallum’s Deputy, Feisal Makdad. In a conversation with this observer earlier today, one of Makdad’s colleagues described him as a deeply knowledgeable and unflappable career diplomat with a vast command of the foreign policy issues facing Syria. Speaking in Geneva, Makdad himself explained that his government has tried to send essential supplies to beleaguered residents, but that not as much as they would have liked has successfully gotten through, a problem he attributed to two factors: “The armed groups had kept firing at those who tried to take in the aid, and the weather has not been conducive to making the movement.” He pledges that his government will continue its efforts nonetheless.

Makdad also insisted that “we don’t hold any children prisoners at all. We categorically deny that,” and claimed that the list of prisoners, supplied by the opposition, was full of errors. “I have studied this list; 60 to 70 per cent of the names are not in prison, 20 per cent have already been freed. About the rest, we don’t know anything.”

In one sense, Syria’s diplomatic team in Geneva is anchored by Dr. Shaaban. Officially President Assad’s Media Adviser, she is a former Minister of Expatriates, as well as a mother, and recently a grandmother. Distinguished as a writer and professor at Damascus University, Dr. Shaaban earned her Ph.D. in English Literature from Warwick University in the UK, and is the author of several well-received books, including Both Right and Left Handed: Arab Women Talk About Their Lives. Many media critics concede that, as the New York Times wrote, she is stellar when explaining the Syrian government’s views on foreign policy. Perhaps because of her quality of humanizing the conflict and her obvious love of her country, she is the most sought-after delegation member from either side for interviews.

It would not be shocking were the Syrian delegation to feel a bit on the defensive given the lineup of those who want them to falter. So far, however, we have seen no sign of temerity on their part. Its members insist they have come to represent Syria, bringing with them goals that include struggling through a cumbersome and slow diplomatic process to achieve a ceasefire, opening up humanitarian aid, participating in prisoner exchanges with various militia, holding a presidential election in the spring, and beginning the reconstruction of massive war damage.

We will likely learn soon if they can work through a myriad of opposing deeply antagonistic negotiating adversaries to achieve a sustainable cease-fire, reconciliation, and reconstruction. Syria’s long suffering people demand and deserve no less.

Franklin Lamb is currently a visiting Professor at the Faculty of Law, Damascus University and volunteers with the Sabra-Shatila Scholarship Program ( He can be reached at

Doubts Emerging among Zionist Occupiers of Palestine and its US Lobby

Franklin Lamb


Across a broad spectrum of recent regional developments, a number of Zionist leaders and agents of the US Zionist lobby are beginning to argue among themselves as questions and doubts surface concerning the future viability of their colony still occupying Palestinian soil.

Nuclear facilityAt the core of what some in Washington are describing as near panic, is  Zionist dismay at the ascendancy of the Islamic Republic of Iran across this region and internationally. As of 1/20/14, Iran has begun curbing uranium enrichment under a deal which will also see international sanctions eased. The government is working with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN nuclear watchdog. Earlier, centrifuges used for enrichment were disconnected at the Natanz plant as part of a six-month nuclear deal reached with the US, Russia, China and European powers last November.

The US and the EU have now responded by lifting some sanctions on Iran. The suspension of sanctions for six months clears the way for Iran to resume export of petrochemicals and these developments, while encouraging to much of the global community are anathema to the Zionist regime. Zionist leaders and their US lobby agents, in anticipation of these developments are reacting as they do virtually every time the US and the P-5 plus one appear to make progress on a variety of regional and international issues including the so-called “nuclear file” and this sets off alarm bells in Tel Aviv and AIPAC headquarters in Washington, DC.

When AIPAC undertakes a campaign on behalf of Israel and putting its interests above America’s, which is to say every time it is ordered to do so as it now tries to destroy any chances for Iran-US rapprochement it uses  tried and tested campaign techniques that as MJ Rosenburg, himself a former Executive with AIPAC explained a few weeks ago. He pointed to a similar campaign by the US Zionist lobby to get the US to bomb Syria, claiming that “never in its history has the US Zionist lobby gone all out to achieve passage or defeat for anything not directly related to Israel. And, because Congress is snugly in its pocket on Israel issues, it rarely needs to fight.”  AIPAC unexpectedly lost the battle for the US military to attack Syria and have not recovered from their humiliation.

AIPAC’s top strategist, Steve Rosen (later indicted under the US Espionage Act) once summarized for the New Yorker magazine, the power of AIPAC: “You see this napkin? In twenty-four hours, we could have the signatures of seventy senators on this napkin.”  The power Rosen was bragging about accounts for the recent number of Senators who signed the latest Congressional campaign to torpedo Obama hopes for peace with Iran.

How AIPAC’s latest campaign to control how Congress votes is basically the same it has employed for the past quarter century.  It begins with phone calls from constituents who are AIPAC members. They know the Congressman and are nice and friendly and just tell him, or whichever staffer the constituent knows, just how important this vote is to him and his friends back in the district.  Then the donors call. The folks who have hosted fundraisers. They are usually not only from the district but from New York or LA or Chicago. They repeat the message: this vote is very important.

Contrary to what you might expect, they do not mention campaign money. They don’t have to. Because these callers are people who only know the Congressman through their checks, the threat not to write any more of them is implicit. Like the constituents, the donors are using AIPAC talking points which are simple and forceful. You can argue with them but they keep going back to the script. Did I mention the rabbis? We only have a few in our district but we get calls from all of them and from other rabbis from around the state.

Then there are the AIPAC lobbyists, the professional staffers. They come in, with or without appointments. If the Congressman is in, they expect to see him immediately. If not, they will see a staffer. If they don’t like what they hear, they will keep coming back. They are very aggressive, no other lobby comes close, They expect to see the Member, not mere staffers.

Rosenberg continues with his report of a mutual friend who works on the Hill: “Then there are the emails driven by the AIPAC website, the editorials in the one Jewish newspaper we have in our state. And then the “Dear Colleague” letters from Jewish House members saying how important the vote is for Israel and America. They also will buttonhole the Members on the House floor. Because my boss is not Jewish, he tends to defer to his Jewish colleagues. It is like they are the experts on this. And, truth be told, all the senior Jewish Members of the House are tight with AIPAC. Also, the two biggest AIPAC enforcers, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and his Democratic counterpart, Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, are fierce AIPAC partisans, and they make sure to seek out Members on the floor to tell them how they must vote. On anything related to Israel, they speak in one voice: AIPAC’s.”

As it has done since it first occupied Palestine more than six decades, the Zionist regime has tried, with remarkable degrees of success, to intimidate the Arab “League” countries and much of the international community with calumnies and unconvincing boasting of its invincible military power while all the time demanding, as Simon Wiesenthal did again this week, that “America and its allies keep their promises to protect Israel.”

Recent projects designed to pressure particularly Europe and North America include the vicious campaign targeting President Obama over his policy to give diplomacy a chance as he seeks to improve and indeed normalize relations between the two countries. Recent polls show that 2/3 of the Israeli public believe that  Barack Obama is increasingly not trusted not to do a deal with Iran while Obama is seen as a traitor in Israeli government circles and within the international Zionist lobby. Hence the recent unleashing of Israeli agents in congress to push for war with Iran above all else and it spills over into Syria.

As the chaos escalates in Syria, publicly Zionist officials are claiming that they have no firm plans to intervene. Instead, they have embraced what has been labeled  “a castle mentality”, hoping the moat they have dug — in the form of  supposed high-tech border fences, intensified military deployments and sophisticated intelligence will buy them time in face of vows among many of the jihadists now fighting in Syria to liberate Palestine.

Michael Herzog, a retired Israeli general said this week: “The U.S. accepts the basic Israeli argument that given what’s happening in the region — suddenly jihadists are taking over Syria, and there’s no telling what will happen elsewhere or when they will come here. There is a legitimate cause for concern.”  The intensified fighting has convinced many Israelis that the region will be unstable or even anarchic for some time, upending decades of strategic positioning and military planning.

Israeli security and political officials have been unsettled by the rapid developments on the ground and in the diplomatic arena in recent weeks. Washington’s gestures toward Iran, not only on the nuclear issue but also with regard to Syria and Iraq, underscore a divergence in how the United States and Israel, close allies, view the region. At the same time, Saudi Arabia, which shares Israel’s concern about an emboldened Iran, is financing Sunni groups that view Israel as the ultimate enemy.

Dore Gold of “Let’s put Gaza on a diet” infamy is Israel’s former ambassador to the United Nations, and currently a foreign policy adviser to PM Netanyahu told the New York Times recently that “The region is full of bad choices. What that requires you to do is take your security very seriously. And you shouldn’t be intimidated by people saying, ‘Well, that’s a worst-case analysis,’ because lately, the worst is coming through.”

Indeed, the “worst may be coming through” for the Zionists illegally occupying Palestine and their international supporters are faced not just with the fact that in dozens of forms these days, the Resistance is growing and advancing, as history is rejecting the sustainability of their occupation, but increasingly doubts are growing among the Zionist as well.

Source: Al-Manar Website
25-01-2014 – 12:55 Last updated 25-01-2014 – 14:39
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