The War of Terror on Syria Through Forensic Medicine 2 – GRAPHIC

April 2, 2020 Arabi Souri

Syria - War of Terror through Forensic Eyes

This is Part 2 of a documentary series by investigative reporter Ugarit Dandash, the documentary is part of Ms. Dandash’s From the Ground documentary series where she reports from Syria the horrors the Syrian people lived inflicted on them by the USA and all its cronies, lackeys, and stooges combined efforts over the past 9 years.

From the Ground – The Syrian War through the Eyes of Forensic Medicine was made exclusively for the Lebanese Al Mayadeen news station in Arabic. It was aired on Thursday night 26 March 2020.

All countries which supported the ‘freedom fighters’, ‘armed opposition’, ‘moderate rebels’, call them whatever Orwellian name that suits you, are an accomplice in each crime committed against the Syrian people, needless to say, that each taxpayer and each citizen of those countries has much blood on their hands especially those who keep quiet hiding behind the ‘democracy elections’ delusion while their governments kill in their names, murder using their money, destroy families and hide behind the ‘democracy’ slogan, and not being held by those citizens for the crimes they committed all over the world. If you didn’t know for over 9 years what your government did in Syria, this will leave you with no excuse.

The video file size is beyond the capacity of our site, our YouTube channel was long deleted by YouTube, so we had to split it into two parts embedded below, followed by the transcript in English of the full video for history. Please excuse any typos, it was definitely unintentional.

Part 1 of 2, Episode 2:

For Episode 1:

The War of Terror on Syria Through Forensic Medicine – GRAPHIC

English translation transcript:

The War in the Eyes of Forensic Medicine – 1

Report by Ugarit Dandash

A story that took a huge media sensation was that of journalist Marie Colvin, the forensic medical report proved that what happened was the opposite and that the state did not kill her, but the gunmen themselves who were using her were the ones who got rid of her.

The shape of the distribution of shrapnel and the nail, this is proof that it is not a shell but an improvised primitive handmade grenade.

Ochlik (Remi Ochlik) and Marie Colvin died instantly, the injuries were not survivable.

There was the story of the photojournalist Remi Ochlik, on March 2, 2012, a body buried in the Baba Amr neighborhood was examined, by a forensic examination, we saw extensive wounds with extensive material loss and stable shrapnel in the body. There was talk of negotiations to transfer him for treatment with renowned journalist Marie Colvin. The forensic report concluded that the death was direct and immediate, and that all the negotiations were fictitious and false.

At that time, it was said in the media that the Syrian government had been asked to agree to evacuate injured foreign journalists in the Baba Amr neighborhood in cooperation with the Red Crescent for treatment, I say that the nature of the injuries that exist does not allow for life.

Question: Was it an immediate death?

A: It was an immediate death, so there was an attempt to smuggle bodies or smuggle other journalists into a particular convoy.

The role of forensic medicine in identifying unidentified bodies is the essential and important role, as the ring begins with forensics. We study any unknown remains and conduct photographs in coordination with the Criminal Security Branch and the Burial Office, where the same number given by the forensic doctor is circulated through the Criminal Security Branch and the Burial Office and then burial as soon as the studies are completed.

There were bodies that were re-examined in the countries to which it was sent to, it caught my attention in one of the reports I read the word “hand-made” means in English Hand Made, this phrase was translated from Arabic to Local Made, a phrase that if translated in good faith it is not true, because the local bomb It may be made and it may be made by the gunman in Syria, but when you say Hand Made, it means that it is often made by a terrorist, not by an army.

We were able to identify the injuries in decomposing bodies, there were injuries of explosive nature.

In Aleppo city, there are many unidentified remains, with the number so far reaching 3,225 unidentified remains, more than 1,000 have been identified so far.

As a forensic pathologist, there is always a high risk, and the main danger was like any citizen of Aleppo at the time who was liable to die, the missiles did not exclude a meter. If I draw you a masterplan for Aleppo, I can show you where the shells landed, I memorize them.

All those I have examined, especially the children, have been ghosts following me until now, and this crisis can be added to the forensic doctor’s crises.

The external looks of the forensic doctor or his personality may be solid, but that does not reflect what happens inside the forensic doctor, how many scars have left a pain? Sometimes I see cases where I hold my tears and leave a lot of pain in me, there are situations I can’t forget.

War through the Eyes of Forensics 2

Investigation by Ugarit Dandesh

The high temperature, the large number of corpses, and the decay that has occurred is a hotbed of sepsis. We were putting the bodies near the campus of the university hospital and the patients and their families up to the seventh floor complained about the smell, sometimes the bodies were stretching over an area of 100 meters, the view was very harmful, so we expedited the forensic examination, and we were exposed to dangers, for example, one time I was examining the body of a foreign fighter and was surprised to find the explosive belt and some bombs with him. We immediately asked the competent authorities to come and deal with the matter.

We, as forensic doctors, like everyone else, heard about foreign journalists in Syria and then we heard that a journalist, Marie Colvin, was killed in Syria and the media claimed that she was hit by a regime-guided missile and targeted in Baba Amr. We received information after a while that a group of bodies were buried in a place in Baba Amr and there is a suspicion that foreign journalists are among them. A specialized team under the supervision of the Civil Defense dug up these graves and was brought to the military hospital in Homs, I had moved at that time to the military hospital building because the National Hospital was directly targeted and blown up and there was no possibility to continue working there and we needed protection.

When we identified Marie Colvin’s body, at this time we collected information about Marie Colvin so that we could identify her, Marie Colvin found that her left eye was covered and that she had been injured while working as a journalist, and also we found that she had 26 dental implants and that she had a silicon ring behind the eye ball. This information is from the Internet.

Upon examination of the bodies, it was found that she was wearing a man’s clothes, which may have been for cold reasons or for field reasons, and only the upper clothes and underneath were wearing a woman’s clothes. Immediately the autopsy was carried out in the appropriate places we saw the silicon ring under the left eye and it is well documented we have, dental implants have been documented, a radial scan of Marie Colvin’s body has been performed and the important thing in this matter and what we are distinguished in documentation is the presence of irregular polymorphic fragments inside the body, including a nail. This needs to be analyzed and read:

First, we learned that this body belonged to Marie Colvin, but we had to read what happened. The bottom line is that Marie Colvin was not killed by a guided missile, but killed by a home-made bomb, because when you find irregular shrapnel in a body, nails, or shots, it’s a homemade bomb because regular armies use regular missiles, regular bullets, while the average person when he makes a package fills them with anything, like iron scatters or something, the presence of such objects on the x-ray indicates that they were killed by a homemade bomb.

She was killed on February 22, 2012, and the body was found on March 2, 2012, almost 10 or 12 days later.

The other thing that we were able to analyze as forensic doctors, at that time it was said in the media that the Syrian government was asked to agree to evacuate the injured foreign journalists who are in the Baba Amr in cooperation with the Red Crescent for treatment, I say that the nature of the injuries that exist does not allow life, death was immediate, so there was an attempt to smuggle bodies or smuggle other journalists into a particular convoy. Because Oshlik and Marie Colvin were killed instantly, when they were injured, they were killed instantly.

Q: You mean the same type of injury for both?

A: I mean the injury is not viable, when you see Marie Colvin’s body and you see the injuries on it and the shrapnel and it’s documented you will see that this person is unviable, he was injured and lost life immediately within minutes, so Marie Colvin did not go through the stage of an injured journalist, she was killed immediately…

Q: Means it can’t be negotiated as an injured?

A: There was something else out of this. I remember when we exhumed the bodies from the grave it the names were written on the shroud, which helped us to identify, it was written in French, Oshlik and Marie Colvin on the shroud.

Question: But forensics can’t be based solely on writing?

A: Certainly not, we did research and saw dental implants that are also documented by photocopies and the silicon ring is also documented by photocopiers.

Q: Was writing in French, not English?

Answer: In French.

Q: Is it possible that there are other French people?

A: Either other people are French or people who are fluent in French, this is a theory only this thought occurred to me because it helped me with the process of identification because the main task for which I came out is to find the bodies of Marie Colvin and Oschlik. The quick scanning of the bodies that I brought and noticing the presence of writing on the shroud at that time helped me get my job done more quickly.

Q: Do you think, by examining the bodies and according to medical data, that they were killed in the same place and time, or that there is a difference between them?

A: Marie Colvin’s body had glass scatters on it, either killed in a car or killed in a house with glass, which is unlikely because no one sits in a room with glass in a war. So, I think she was killed in a car and this is a personal conclusion that I cannot defend scientifically, but this is my observation.

Q: What did you do with the bodies of foreign fighters?

A: We are certainly examining all the bodies that we receive professionally and write their reports, those of them who have special status are fully examined and properly buried, we are a state of institutions, but about their numbers that is in the custody of the competent authorities, we do not interfere with this subject, we end our work when we hand over the body and bury it in a decent manner. In our field, we never interfere with politics, we are a medical authority that respects the oath we have sworn. Indeed, I assure you that all opposition or foreign fighters are systematically screened and properly buried, this is an institutional state.

Dr. Manal Jada, Head of the Forensic Medical Center in Latakia: At this time I remember the first massacre (in Latakia province) that was the Massacre of Slanfah, the massacres in the villages of the northern countryside in Slanfah, in which large numbers of martyrs of all age groups were killed, children, elders and women. Events began on August 4, 2011, injuries began to come to the National Hospital and all government hospitals and others in the Latakia area, and the numbers were large and the injuries were enormous, and the death toll is large more than 80 deaths arrived on August 4.

Two weeks later mass graves were discovered…

Question: After the army liberated the villages?

Answer: Yes, on August 19 and August 20, I will mention the large graves, in the first grave we discovered 67 martyr victims, in the grave that followed the number reached 128, and the number in three graves on 19 and 20 August reached 152 martyrs.

Then we began to discover individual graves, such as a grave in the village of Beit Shikohi, other than the one in Nabbata and Baluta, and graves where there were large numbers, we discovered six or seven graves in each area, in Al-Kashba, Beit Shikohi, for example… The total numbers with us have reached 262.

The bodies were at an advanced degree of decay and the main task on our shoulders was to identify the victims, there were entire families buried, I do not like to remember these incidents because it was repeated, another massacre in Jableh on 23 May 2015, this date is etched in my memory, May 23, 2015, I remember how I was during my shift and it was a Monday, suddenly we started receiving severe injuries diverted from the Jableh area. There were three terrorist bombings in the Jableh area, the Jableh Bus Garage area and the electricity area, and in the garages there a large number of citizens gathered, and the third most horrible massacre at the same time was inside the National Hospital in Jableh.

Q: When the booby-trapped ambulance went in and exploded?

A: The car got in and exploded, and the whole hospital was blown out, the entire medical staff was killed, our colleagues were doctors we examined their bodies, nurses, children, patients, we had 132 martyrs.

Dr. Hashim Shalash, Head of the Forensic Medical Center in Aleppo: There are many graves in the gardens in most of Aleppo, especially in areas previously controlled by armed terrorist groups, and there are graves in areas that were controlled by the state because the Burial Office was unable to carry the deaths to the cemeteries, because of the cordon imposed by the militants on the outskirts of Aleppo city completely.

The number is expected to be around 5,700 bodies buried in the parks, moved in 2018 and 2019 by the Burial Office. This statistic is according to the Burial Office: Some 1,700 identified bodies have been moved, and the remaining approximately 4,000 unidentified bodies we are working to identify, and the identified bodies have been moved in well-thought-out organizational plans by the Burial Office and the City Council and moving them to the modern cemetery. For the unidentified bodies, photographing and coordinating with the CID, DNA samples are taken to better study and identify them.

One evening I left the forensics office in the University Hospital late and the mortars started pouring on us from all sides, I thought that if I died, there would be no forensic doctor to examine the cases, and it’s a disaster that there’s no forensic doctor left, I’ve stayed alone, and if I die, there won’t be another forensic doctor in the city. . We were suffering a lot. Then the army started intervening and the situation improved, but we had suffered as a forensic sit-in a lot. I’m saying this so you know how much the forensic doctor has suffered as a human being. Forensic doctors were killed from us, forensic doctors were kidnapped from us, forensic doctors from us were subjected to massive torture by the gunmen, and a number of forensic doctors emigrated. I used to come out of my house and look around and say to myself that it is very possible that I will not go home, this is a time when I was in Aleppo and before it in Idlib, today could be my last day.

I go into the morgue and look and think when is my turn between these bodies from the number of shells that were coming down on us. As a forensic doctor we were in high risk, the main risk like any citizen of Aleppo city at the time is liable to die, the missiles did not exclude a meter, I can draw you the plan of Aleppo and explain to you where the missiles came down, I save their place because all those who examined them and especially the children remained until now ghosts haunt me, and this crisis adds to the crises The coroner, especially the children I have examined, the cries of their parents is following me. If I tell you some stories, dozens of episodes won’t be enough of how much tragedies we’ve witnessed.

Q: Did any international body or media outlet that Marie Colvin was working for ask you, because of the great controversy that occurred at the time, to send your reports to them or contact you? Because at that time, the Syrian state was held responsible, which was giving the data at the time. Have you dealt with this issue directly?

A: For me as a forensic doctor, I am accompanied by a judicial disclosure body, which is headed by a judge with the CID. I duly handed over all these documents to the courts, like for any body that is examined, we documented everything according to the official channels and handed over to the official authorities and no one asked us about this subject, and we did not talk about it, we did not talk we were a period that we do not dare to talk about, and more than one media outlet asked me for an interview and I refused because we did not have confidence in any of them to give them the information which they would misuse. We had no doubt that the media in the whole world was like that, and that was the reality.

But it was documented in accordance with the judicial principles in which we operate in accordance with Syrian law and the body was handed over. When the bodies were re-examined in the countries to which it went to, But it caught my attention in one of their reports written in English they wrote that Marie Colvin was killed by a ‘local-made’ bomb, and this is a phrase that if translated in good faith it is not true, because the local bomb may be manufactured by the Syrian army and may be manufactured by the gunman in Syria, but when you say ‘hand-made’ it means it was mostly made by a terrorist and not made by armies, this translation was wrong, this is how the reading of things was done, this is one of the notes that I noticed in one of the translations and you can search you will find the word Local Made and you will not find the word Hand Made although in my report in Arabic the word Hand Made is written.

The bodies are decaying, we were able to identify the injuries, there were injuries of an explosive nature, and we had injuries of multiple gunshot wounds i.e. conventional fire weapons such as Kalashnikovs or others, we had injuries though it seemed as of gunshot fire, its head was explosive, because the injuries are wide at the time we see damage in the head, for example, and limited to this injury, we had various injuries with all the weapons, whether explosive or military, we saw burned bodies, we saw burned bodies of children, burned, completely charred.

Q: Was the burn done before death? Have they been burned alive?

A: It was difficult because we did the examination after two weeks, i.e. after digging, there are also weapons that cause burns, I can’t say exactly if they are during life or not, we can confirm if it happens during life if there is not that much decomposition, if it is not long since the time of the accident, the discovery of the graves started rolling after September, the bodies were largely decomposed.

Q: Was there dismembering or slaughter?

A: We saw severed and buried heads; we saw an entire family buried inside a well.

Q: Can the forensics in this case determine whether the bodies were thrown alive (inside the well) or killed and then thrown?

A: Biomarkers are the specialty of forensic medicine, but the way I will explain is a difficult scientific method, we can determine, and it is our job to determine whether he drowned before or after.

Q: Is it possible to mention even a little because the subject of drowning in particular is repeated frequently during the war, some were still alive when they were thrown into the river and others elsewhere?

Answer: Of course there are vital signs when the body is recovered shows whether it inhaled water or killed and dumped after death with water, and of course the sooner we examine the bodies in cases of drowning the more accurate the result, because after the recovery of the body and within two hours there decomposing accelerates, once recovered from the water the rapid decomposing occurs more than a week or two more than if the body is in the open.

After the break:

I have examined many mass graves, the bodies and the remains piled up on top of each other, the remains mingle, and of course if the exhumation is not correct, we will never reach results.

Journalist Jacquier was moving in the neighborhoods of Homs, a mortar shell landed, during which time more than one person was injured in the same incident, it is not possible to say that Jacquier was targeted.

In all honesty, forensics was not ready for such a war and such consequences, and there is a very important problem that most of the forensic facilities were destroyed, for example in Aleppo there was a very large and civilized building that was occupied and destroyed by the militants in a barbaric manner.

What we could notice on the body of Jacquier that there were 3 craters. when we examined them, it was possible to read that each fragment of them had a different axis, when you see three fragments of different axes that often gave the impression that it was caused by an explosion rather than a sniper.

At first the forensic doctors suffered because of the existence of specific cases that we haven’t seen of its kind, types of weapons we do not know what they are, and then the forensic doctors practiced and had sufficient experience and knowledge of how to deal with all cases.

The cases I remember are children, severe injuries to children. What is the psychological state of a child who suffered pre-death, I reveal a dead body but I always put myself (in that place): during the child’s period of torture, was death a mercy for him?

The whole of Syria is suffering from the sanctions on (lab) material, imagine there are sanctions on importing DNA lab testing kits, what humanity is the West is preaching? These DNA testing kits are only used to identify corpses, what does it have to do with politics?

We have periodic courses more than one course a year in cooperation with the International Red Cross and supervised by the General Authority for Forensic Medicine, and we have the problem that there are very few forensic doctors in Syria.

My ambition is to make a file for all the missing under the supervision of the General Authority for Forensic Medicine, to have data on nation level, not only to depend on cross-examining data, it’s a costly project, it will take time but let’s start it.

There was a crossing between us and the gunmen in Bustan Al-Qasr, the people use it to cross from one side (of Aleppo) to the other, the gunmen’s sniper was always targeting the civilian citizens, civilians crossing to buy their items, there was a siege on us and the materials in the eastern areas were cheaper as the people risked their lives and enter the eastern areas to buy their stuff and then come back. There were people who wanted to come to the western areas under state control for the sake of medicine because it was much better, to go to university and others, and they were sniped.

On average, at some point in 2014 and 2015, each day we received between two and three martyrs and six or seven were injured, the opposition were always lying to the people saying that the sniper targeting these civilians going through the crossing was from the state. As forensics, our role was essential and important, we have proven with conclusive evidence that sniping is from east to west and not from the west to the east, which means that the sniper who targets civilians is from the opposition. We always photograph the martyrs and record a precise report and we are prepared to prove conclusively to any UN body that comes to investigate that the sniper was from the gunmen and not from the state side. Here is an important point in how forensics can establish the truth and refute the allegations.

We have long patience with the relatives (of the martyrs), there are many of them who come to us and we explain to them where the entry nozzle and the exit nozzle, we explain the difference between them, so that there is no doubt about it.

Journalist Jacquier was traveling in the neighborhoods of Homs and filming and he entered legitimately and had a license to go in and move around, at that time a mortar shell fell in the area where he was and some people were injured and then a second shell fell, and I think he lost life with the second shell because people ran in this direction, I do not recall the circumstances but there was more than one mortar shell, in that period there were more than one person injured in this same incident, it cannot be said that Jacquier was targeted, in theory, and I have a large number of names who were injured in that period with Jacquier.

Jacquier was transferred to one of the charitable hospitals in Wadi Al-Dhahab, the Nahda hospital, and we were taken to him for examination, and the French ambassador was present at the time, a doctor, and the governor was also present and the official authorities of the importance of the subject. We moved to examine a body in a hospital that was not equipped (for forensics), and simple tools were used to examine the body because there was a risk of going to the military hospital, which became the headquarters of forensic medicine.

It was noted that there are 3 entry craters of fragments on the body of Jacquier, by studying the entry nozzles with their location (in the body) it can be read that each fragment of them had a different axis, when there are 3 fragments of different axes, 3 traces of fire from different axes, it often gives the impression in principle that it is caused by an explosion and not a sniper.

The second thing is that their radial shape seemed irregular, and I told the French ambassador at the time, a doctor, that Syrian law requires us to exhume the body and remove the existing fragments, but I will not do that because we feel that everyone will not believe us and accuse us of tampering with the body, and I added that the extraction of fragments is different from extraction of bullets, because the fragment does not play any role in determining the type of weapon while the gunshot plays a role in identifying the type of weapon so since the lack of this importance I told him that I will leave the body with its evidence because I know that it will be re-examined in France.

We know that it was reexamined, reports came out and calls for prosecution, and then all gone.

Q: The French state didn’t file a case?

A: The French state did not claim because I think someone read things correctly and we are well documented, and in addition, international investigators have to investigate on the ground at the crime scene, there were martyrs with Jacquier in the same incident, and there were large numbers of injuries, all of them can’t be sniped, but as a result of a mortar shell, even the crater of the mortar shell was on the ground and photographed and documented.

Q: Did the French ambassador examine it?

A: It was examined by the CID who photographed it and documented it.

Q: The French ambassador was still in Syria?

A: We don’t have to, as a Syrian judiciary with independent sovereignty, to bring the (French) ambassador to defend ourselves, I’m doing our proper documentation and we brought a French translator who was communicating with us through him.

Q: Could he have obtained approvals and worked through legal frameworks; the Syrian state may have given him approvals?

A: The French ambassador was informed and since he was a doctor, I explained everything to him in detail, even I told him that there was a friend of ours, Henry Kudan, a doctor friend of ours in Syria who we know through conferences and we have confidence in him to examine to Jacquier, and as I told you some noise appeared and then disappeared and we no longer hear about it.

I don’t like to remember the massacres, but I met the people and they were around us. The stench of the bodies of the martyrs we uncovered it was strong, but the cases I remember were the children, the deep injuries in children, I remember the reaction of the relatives standing next to us and around us, and we were interested in identifying the bodies through clothing or personal identity, and these humanitarian cases that catch my eye with this massacre that when I was starting to strip the bodies I was looking for someone who had some paper money and hid them, for example, under the armpit, as well as personal identity the elderly on the run are thinking to take light-loaded thing that can help them. I’ve seen more human cases than the injuries I’ve seen, God bless them all, but the horror they’ve experienced before such cases of violence on the dead and torture affects me a lot, affects any forensic doctor and affects any human being.

What was the psychological state of the child who was tortured before death, I am examining a dead body but I always put myself (in that place): during the period of torture the child went through, was death a mercy for him?

Q: Was the forensic medicine with its equipment and medical staff prepared to deal with such cases? In the end there are scientific things and there are things that need possibilities, we are today when you talk about such a volume of work in a country that has lived in peace for so long, how did the medical staff cope?

Answer: In all honesty, forensics was not ready for such a war and such consequences, and there is a very important problem that most of the forensic facilities were destroyed, for example in Aleppo there was a very large and civilized building that was occupied and destroyed by the militants in a barbaric manner, the forensics was initially not ready but adapted quickly and was able to readjust with the conditions of war. There are some scientific things for example we were sending them to Damascus, we took samples and sent them to Damascus, we have nothing to analyze with, for example, we were doing the autopsy, I sometimes dissected bodies with a scalpel, there was no other option, the headquarters was destroyed and we have to continue working, we need to extract the gunshot and prove many facts, so in Aleppo I sometimes carried out the autopsy with a scalpel, the second weapon is the camera that we needed to document the cases, the things that needed sophisticated equipment we sent it to Damascus, such as with chemicals and other wise.

Q: Did scientific knowledge exist?

A: Scientific knowledge was there and excellent.

Question: The subject of wars is a different subject, at least from our follow-up, even if it is simple, that there are some countries that have suffered from wars and had a great need for forensic medicine to identify the bodies and even to identify the causes of murder, which entered the field of international courts and war crimes, this subject needs committees, doctors and studies (specialized), how did this specialized knowledge of this type of circumstance work?

A: Hopefully the war will be over, as possible this year or next year at the latest, and thank God things are almost settled, but there are repercussions and consequences of war that are the huge number of missing and disappeared. A qualitative and generous legislative decree was issued in 2014 to establish the General Authority for Forensic Medicine, and real life began in the centres that function as a body and entity in 2017 when forensic doctors were attached to the authority. We had developed a plan as a general forensic body to keep up with the war and to precede it. We sent doctors to Somalia, Pakistan and Cyprus, these countries have experienced wars and we have shared experiences with them, the method of detecting mass graves trained by our doctors, we have trained our doctors tremendously. Currently as a forensic medicine we are adding anthropology, and this is very great science, we know that the subject of DNA is a costly subject and takes time with the presence of this massive number of victims so we are developing sciences and knowledge that we can keep up with the war and precede it, as I told you, including anthropology and forensic dentistry which through it we can discover the identity of the victim through its teeth and through the study of bones, we can take almost complete information about the victim, before we reach the DNA stage, if we have to do a DNA test for sure the state is bound and committed to do so, but this is the last option because it is expensive and takes time.

Q: It also needs the cooperation of the relatives?

A: Of course, because we are taking a sample from the victim and a sample for comparison (from relatives), I will not say that we will do our best, we have gone beyond this, but we will certainly do more than our best.

Moderate Armed Oppositionist: A gift to all the martyrs of the Ahrar al-Sham Brigades in Idlib countryside, In the name of God, Most Merciful and Most Gracious; a number of Grad rockets are fired at the city of Slanfah by the Ansar al-Sham Brigades in conjunction with the (Ottoman Sultan) Murad I and Murad IV Brigades.

I met with a delegation from Human Rights, and the result of the report was a documentation of the massacres of the villages of Slanfah completely and at the beginning, and even I had spontaneously at the level of data, we were at the beginning of our work counting the numbers, all of which presented and the title of the report was (massacres of Slanfah – their blood is still here). I think this is the only organization that has visited for the massacres of Slanfah.

Q: The Human Rights Watch report chose this title?

A: It has been translated into more than one language such as English and French and the report has been circulated. I don’t have a copy of it now, but the report was very clear and there was an acknowledgement massacres committed.

In every forensic medical center we have documentation of all the deaths, natural and abnormal, whether caused by explosions or murders, all documented by date and all documented in pictures, with abnormal deaths we always accompany the CID and we do the photography and have numbers and names, there are investigation records to detect it is reliable. When I move to the crime scene, I am not alone, I move with a judicial disclosure panel composed of a judge, a forensic pathologist and a forensic clerk, and there are all lecturers in the bench, we have nothing undocumented.

Forensic medicine depends mainly on the human staff and the material possibilities, such as any branch of medicine, the material possibilities include various equipment and different devices. At the beginning of the war the situation was acceptable to good, when the war began the material and human personnel capabilities were drained, I told you that we were at the beginning of the war about 150 forensic doctors and now we are only 56 doctors, the facilities are mostly destroyed, there are doctors who emigrated and others killed and others kidnapped, yet the 56 doctors examined all these cases thoroughly and there was not a single case that came to us without examination and had an exact forensic medical report was written.

At first the forensic doctors suffered because there were many qualitative cases that we have not seen like it before, types of weapons we do not know what they are, at first, and then the forensic doctors practice and have sufficient experience and knowledge of how to deal with all cases, for example as one person I examined 13,800 bodies, examined more than 60,000 or 70,000 injury, and the colleagues certainly did the same. I told you the work of the coroner generally exposes him to health, psychological and physical problems and added to them security problems in the war. and added to them security problems in the war. The coroner always suffers but is always required to continue working, I say that 56 forensic doctors are very few but we have done our duty and always try to take a step forward, and we have been fully equipped for when Idlib and Raqqa are liberated to deal with the remains that exist. We have prepared the necessary teams and equipment.

The whole of Syria is suffering from the sanctions on (lab) material, imagine there are sanctions on importing DNA lab testing kits, what humanity is the West is preaching? These DNA testing kits are only used to identify corpses, what does it have to do with politics?

They’re imposing on a blockade on us even in this matter.

Q: If this report is presented anywhere in the world medically and scientifically, for example, the method of examination, the method of documentation and scientific explanation, does the report meet the standards wherever it is presented in the world will it be recognized?

A: Of course, anything documented in detail such as injury, photographs, dates and identity of the person meets international standards.

Q: Was forensics able during these years because it was not prepared at the beginning of the war for so much work that it faced, the number of victims or the types of the killing, did it have enough experience today? Was there a follow-up such as training abroad or conferences to keep up with or benefit from the experiences of countries that unfortunately had wars?

A: We have periodic courses, more than one course a year in cooperation with the International Red Cross under the supervision of the General Authority for Forensic Medicine, and we have the problem that the number of forensic doctors in Syria is very small not exceeding 55 doctors, in all of Latakia province we have 5 doctors, 3 of them in Latakia area and 2 in Jableh, we cover the areas of Qardaha and Haffeh, the number is very little.

My ambition is to make a file for all the missing under the supervision of the General Authority for Forensic Medicine, to have data on nation level, not only to depend on cross-examining data, it’s a costly project, it will take time but let’s start it.

Q: In mass graves, what prevents the gunmen from burying soldiers with civilians, how will they be separated here?

A: What is preventing them from burying their dead with our martyrs? Don’t make a difference with them. We’re very suffering from these things. Also, there are people who think that DNA is a magical solution, once you examine the DNA the name appears, no, the subject is too meticulous. I have examined many mass graves, the bodies and the remains piled up on top of each other, when they kill them, they stack them on top of each other, and the remains are mixed.

We’re strengthening Anthropology and we take a step forward so that we can distinguish and sort out the remains of each victim from the other. This topic is very important, thorny and sensitive.

Q: And this is also about the method of exhuming?

A: Of course, if the exhumation is not proper, we will never reach results.

I feel that there are many files in Syria the time has come to talk about so that we can reconcile with ourselves and to know that we were victims of manipulation by others, including files such as Hamza al-Khatib file, you know, you know, or Zainab al-Husni or the file of the electrician in the area of al-Hirak, there are files that played a fundamental and sensitive role in which positions have been built on them, now the truth about them came to light.

I believe that forensics can be a witness and reader of the past through its experience, because I am not a political analyst, as I told you, but I am a reader of what has occured, so when I study the body and examine it I can analyze what happened at the moments of death.

Q: Does this affect our present and our future?

A: Exactly.

If the focus since the beginning of the war was on forensic medicine, its explanation of the facts, its detailing of what is happening and its refutation of tendentious narratives, could have solved many things, and many martyrs and many victims we did not need to examine.

We would have been able to lessen a large number of victims and martyrs only if we had been listened to, if there were at that time those who would listen. Unfortunately, I repeat, at the beginning of the war, there was a group that refused to listen, which did not want to be convinced. I will tell you a story when we were in Aleppo I had a colleague, a doctor who emigrated later, I was explaining to him that there are bodies of dead strangers, including Arabs and foreigners, and he told me that this thing is impossible, after a while and we were together I got a call about a body of a dead Turk at the police headquarters, a lawyer who was defending al-Qaeda and was famous, killed, and I was asked to examine him and take DNA samples, so I asked this doctor to accompany me so that I could prove to him accurately and everything will be in front of him, he told me that even if I saw, I would not believe it. At that time there were people who refused to believe.

End of the English translation transcript.

IDLIB MILITANTS ATTACK SYRIAN ARMY NEAR SARAQIB FOLLOWING ISRAELI STRIKE ON SHAYRAT AIRBASE

South Front

Late on March 31, the Israeli Air Force carried out a new round of airstrikes on Syria. Israeli warplanes launched over 12 missiles from Lebanese airspace targeting Shayrat Airbase in the Syrian province of Homs. At least 8 of them were intercepted by the Syrian Air Defense Forces. The damage caused to the airbase by the Israeli strike remains unclear.

Pro-Israeli sources claimed that the attack was aimed at weapon depots and positions of Iranian and Hezbollah forces.

Shayrat Airbase is well known as the point used by the Syrian Air Force to provide air cover for the government forces’ operations against al-Qaeda terrorists in Idlib. Russian attack helicopters also use it as a prestrike staging base. Over the past years, Israeli forces have repeatedly assisted al-Qaeda-linked militants in Syria by striking the country’s armed forces during ongoing important military developments. Syrian sources say that the timing of the new attack indicates an imminent escalation in Greater Idlib, where the Turkish-Russian de-escalation agreement is slowly crumbling.

Early on April 1, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (formerly the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda) and its supposedly moderate counterparts shelled positions of the Syrian Army near the town of Saraqib, which is located on the crossroad of the M4 and M5 highways. In response, Syrian artillery delivered several strikes on militants’ positions near Afis and Sarmin.

Emboldened by the ceasefire regime and the increasing Turkish military presence in the region, Idlib armed groups are now regularly attacking Syrian Army units in eastern Idlib. Last week, they claimed that they destroyed 3 pieces of military equipment, including a battle tank, with anti-tank guided missiles. Such actions highlight apparent gains from the current format of de-escalation efforts in the region.

ISIS released a video report on its campaign against government forces in the Homs-Deir Ezzor desert during 2019-2020. According to the video, ISIS units continue ambushes of civilian and military vehicles, as well as separate army units, moving along the Palmyra-Deir Ezzor road. Terrorists stage fake check points, loot civilian properties and kill those that they capture. ISIS members demonstrate the mindset of common criminals. The video also shows a few pieces of destroyed military equipment belonging to  the Syrian Army.

While the video is designed to serve as a promotion piece of supposed ‘successes’ of the terrorist group, it in fact reveals the current poor state of ISIS cells, which are barely surviving in the Homs-Deir Ezzor desert. If there is no more US-occupied al-Tanf zone where they can hide from Syrian Army security operations, they will have little chance of surviving in this part of Syria for another year.

Also read: Erdogan’s terrorists violate the cessation of hostilities agreement and target Saraqib with several artillery shells

Syrian Air Defence Systems Intercept ‘Hostile Targets’ Over Homs

Posted by INTERNATIONALIST 360° on 

Tim Korso

Syria often reports violations of its airspace, which it frequently attributes to the Israeli Air Force. Tel Aviv occasionally admits to carrying out some of these air raids, claiming that it targets Iranian military forces allegedly stationed in the country, despite both Tehran and Damascus denying their presence.

Syrian air defences have intercepted Israeli missiles flying through the airspace above the city of Homs, Syria’s SANA news agency reported. The agency added that none of the missiles succeeded in reaching their targets as a result.

Damascus has not officially commented on SANA’s report.

Prior to the attack, Lebanon’s Sham FM reported that Israeli jets were spotted flying low above the country’s Kesrouan province, which lies on the way between the territory of Israel and the Syrian city of Homs. Alleged witnesses claim that the jets fired missiles while travelling through Lebanese airspace.

The Israeli Air Force has admitted on multiple occasions in the past that they have conducted air raids on Syrian territory, but claim to have targeted Iranian military forces allegedly present there. Tel Aviv alleges that these forces intend to attack Israel from the territory of the Arab Republic.

Damascus and Tehran both deny that Iranian troops are deployed there, with the Islamic Republic noting that it has only sent military advisers to the country. Both states have harshly condemned the Israeli actions as violations of Syrian sovereignty, calling on the international community to prevent further strikes.

ISIS Threat Revives In Eastern Syria. Idlib Militants Kill Each Other Over Security Zone Deal Contradictions

South Front

ISIS cells are once again active in eastern Syria. Late on March 17, the Syrian Army and the National Defense Forces epelled an ISIS attack in the area between the town of al-Sukhna and the T3 station. The attack involved over two dozen ISIS members supported by at least 6 vehicles equipped with heavy weapons. Pro-opposition sources claim that at least 20 Syrian soldiers were killed in the clashes. Pro-government sources deny casualties and say that terrorists were forced to retreat after they had been targeted by artillery and mortar fire.

The ISIS presence in the desert area of eastern Syria had been slowly decreasing over the past year. Additionally, government forces carried out several security operations cracking down on the remaining ISIS cells in southeastern Deir Ezzor and eastern Homs. However, the terrorist threat was not removed. Syria and Russia say that ISIS members use the US-controlled zone of al-Tanf as a safe haven to hide from Syrian Army operations.

Five civilians were reportedly killed and 15 others injured in a rocket strike on the city of Afrin on March 18. Pro-Turkish sources say that the rockets were launched by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) or affiliated rebels. The YPG created the brand of the Afrin Liberation Forces in December 2018 in order to distance themselves from regular attacks on the Turkish-controlled part of northwestern Syria. In this way, the YPG, which is the core of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, was seeking to distance itself from operations against Turkish forces. The goal was to continue receiving military and financial support from the United States, while simultaneously using the same resources to carry out attacks on the formal ally of the US under another brandname.

Alaa al-Omar, a commander of one of the largest units in the Turkish-backed Ahrar al-Sham Movement, was assassinated near Jisr al-Shughur in the southwestern part of Greater Idlib. Al-Omar was among commanders of Turkish proxy groups involved in sabotaging joint Russian-Turkish patrols along the M4 highway. Pro-government sources claim that his assassination is a result of the contradiction between al-Omar’s unit and the al-Qaeda-affiliated Turkistan Islamic Party, which controls Jisr al-Shughur. According to this theory, al-Omar was not active enough in organizing protests against the safe zone deal.

Regardless of the contradictions among the Idlib armed groups, the M4 highway remains closed and the Turkish-Russian agreement on the safe zone in the area is not being implemented.

Israeli Army Launches Airstrikes In Central, Southern Syria (Videos)

Source

Early on March 5, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) launched a series of airstrikes on the central Syrian governorate of Homs.

According to the Ministry of Defense of Syria, Israels warplanes launched several missiles from Lebanese airspace on targets in Homs. The Syrian Arab Air Defense Forces (SyAADF) intercepted all the missiles.

“At 00:30 on Thursday, 5-3-2020, our air-defense means detected the movement of Israeli warplane coming from the northern part of occupied Palestine towards Sidon [in southern Lebanon], several missiles were fired from Lebanese airspace towards the central region, and immediately the hostile missiles were dealt with successfully and professionally, none of them reached our targeted positions,” the Syrian MoD said in a statement.

Local sources in Homs recorded heavy air-defense fire over the governorate, while no explosions were reported on the ground. This supports the Syrian MoD’s claims.

The Israeli attack on Homs endangered two civilian flights of Qatar Airways. The airliners were flying near Homs when the attack began.



При этом израильская авиация применила уже ставшую традиционной тактику прикрытия за гражданскими авиалайнерами (в данном случае за двумя бортами авиакомпании “Qatar Airways”).
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The Israeli military also carried out several strikes on Syrian military positions in al-Quneitra. Unlike Homs, explosions were heard in the southern governorate. The exact results of the strikes are yet to be revealed.

In the last two months, Israel stepped up its attacks on Syria. The most recent strikes, which occurred on February 23, targeted positions of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) in the capital, Damascus.

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SYRIAN WAR DIARY – DECEMBER 2015

Dear friends, SouthFront is now offering a new video product: “Syrian War Diary“. Over the past several years, the Syrian conflict has passed through several turning points. Now the military and diplomatic situation is quite different to what we observed before the start of the Russian military operation in 2015. “Syrian War Diary” videos unite SouthFront’s War Reports produced during this period and provide a retrospective of these developments.

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SYRIAN WAR REPORT – SEPTEMBER 5, 2019: SYRIAN ARMY PREPARES SECURITY OPERATION IN WESTERN ALEPPO

South Front

Late on September 3, Idlib militants carried out an attack on Russia’s Hmeimim Airbase with armed unmanned aerial vehicles. According to the Russian Defense Ministry, the airbase’s air-defense forces intercepted all the UAVs. The attack caused no casualties or damage at the airbase.

The attack took place just a few days after the start of the ceasefire in the Idlib zone on August 31. It demonstrates that despite diplomatic efforts by the Syrian-Iranian-Russian alliance, Idlib militant groups are not very interested in a real de-escalation in the region.

On September 4, the Suqour al-Sham Brigades accused Russian special forces of attacking positions of its fighters near Ejaz in southern Idlib. The militant group said that two its members were killed and seven others were injured.

Last week, at least sixteen militants of the Ahrar al-Sham Movement were killed in southern Idlib in a similar mysterious development. That militant groups also blamed the Russians.

The Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and its allies are preparing to launch a military operation to secure Aleppo’s city center, according to reported in local media. Several units of the SAA and 1,500 Iranian-backed fighters will reportedly take part in the operation that would target militants’ positions in the districts of al-Zahra and al-Rashidin, north and northwest of the city.

Over the past year, militants in al-Zahra and al-Rashidin have fired hundreds of rockets and mortars on Aleppo’s city center, killing and injuring dozens of civilians. They even attacked the city with chlorine gas last November.

The SAA is expanding its infrastructure at the T4 airbase in the province of Homs, according to reports and satellite images appearing online. The images show that the length of the airbase’s southern runway is being expanded from 3,200 m to 3,750 m. A third runway is also apparently being built.

Pro-Israeli sources link this development with the growing Iranian presence in the country. Iran uses the T4 airbase as one of the sites involved in drone operations across Syria.

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US-led War of Terror Against Syria, Attrition Terrorism Phase

SN

July 22, 2019

phosphate train attack

US/EU supported terrorists attacked phosphate train in Homs, latest crime in terrorist attrition. Credit: SANA

The US-led war of terror against Syria continues its most recent attacks via attrition terrorism, the brutal form of slow genocide against the Syrian citizenry. Yesterday, NATO countries beloved ‘armed moderates’ attacked a phosphate freight train in eastern Homs.

The phosphate freight train in the eastern Homs countryside was attacked 21 July by a sabotage terrorist, which led to the towing of the locomotive, the passenger car, the calibration truck, the phosphate tanks, the fire in the locomotive, the train crew were injured and the necessary treatment and treatment provided. The Ministry of Transport said in a statement received by SANA copy that terrorists infiltrated the site of the railway between the positions of the gap and insight and planted an explosive device on the train line next to the phosphate mines in the region of Khnevis in the eastern Homs. The ministry indicated that its technical workshops have begun work to remove the damage caused by the terrorist attack, repair the railway and resume transport operations.

As the sons and daughters of Syrians — the Syrian Arab Army — continue to make military gains to cleanse every inch of the Republic from foreign-owned savages, attrition terrorism has seen a massive spike, in recent weeks.

In less than one month, oil and gas pipelines have been sabotaged around the country:

  • 22 June, undersea pipelines from tankers to the Baniyas Refinery were cut. Though Syrian engineers and technicians were able to quickly make repairs, oil pollution traveled 26km. It is noteworthy that MSM, UN, and ecology activists were all mute over this near disaster, but that NATO-media came to life to cheer the English royal thugs piracy against an Iranian tanker that was suspected of carrying crude to the SAR (warmongering media now screeching that the EU is screeching about a Brit tanker boarded by the government of Iran, in compliance with international law). Empire media also remains mute over the economic terrorism euphemistically called ‘sanctions‘ imposed against the Syrian people.
  • 14 July, NATO and Gulfie armed savages engaged in attrition terrorism, sabotaging the al Shaer Gas pipeline in Homs, which was almost immediately repaired.

Though the warmonger media of NATO countries have ignored the recent spike in attrition terrorism against Syria’s essential infrastructure, they have continued to pimp out emotional war porn, breaching Nuremberg Principle VI, crimes against humanity: On 11 July, Channel 4 ran a report that could fit into an insanity screenwriting genre.

AFP again is demanding its readers engage in Hollywood suspension of disbelief; while ignoring the atrocities against Syria, today it shamelessly runs another photo, one of an ongoing series of miracles in the lives of the stethoscope-less, CPR-less, spinal precautions-less death squad fake paramedics.

Here we have yet another photo of man ‘rescued from the rubble.’ As with every other similar photograph, this man has no crushing injuries — which would be expected if a bombed building fell on him. He is fully ambulatory and is able to move all extremities. He has nicely painted the shade of Helmets Gray Rubble, and his hair was coiffed before having been painted.

Another miraculous Zombie Man rescue. No crushing injuries. Fully ambulatory.
This absurdity — or another in ongoing miracles — is not quite as ludicrous as other Helmets Productions, shown here.

Attrition terrorism is not limited to the wanton, criminal destruction of essential infrastructure. Attrition terrorism includes ‘brain drain’ assassinations; in the early days, when all of al Qaeda in Syria was FSA, these ‘moderates’ murdered professors, physicians, and heads of hospitals, while NATO media remained silent. Attrition terrorism includes trying to destroy joy, as was attempted with the terror bombing of the Damascus Fair in 2017, and more recently, in the mortar attacks on Aleppo, as the city celebrates its rebuilding, creation of a mini-renaissance.

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Syria’s President, Dr. Bashar al Assad, #EveryInch

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From January, Syria to Provide Crimea with Phosphate & Other Goods

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Iran’s battle strategy in Syria and its impact

BEIRUT, LEBANON (5:30 A.M.) – At the start of 2013, the Syrian War was looking unfavorable for the Syrian Arab Army (SAA), as a militant offensive in Aleppo cutoff the city from all government supply lines and the strategic East Ghouta region had all but fallen to Jaysh Al-Islam and the Free Syrian Army (FSA).

Making matters worse, the government had lost most of Syria’s northern border with Turkey and their western border with Lebanon. This would later prove to be a major issue for the military as foreign militants were pouring into the country from these regions.

Enter Hezbollah and Iran

The Spring of 2013 would prove to be an important period in the Syrian War. Both Hezbollah and Iran would enter the conflict on the side of the government and help the Syrian military regain the initiative in Homs, Aleppo, and Damascus.

Hezbollah’s deployment to Syria helped the government regain the Lebanese border by capturing the strategic crossing at Al-Qusayr, followed by Tal Kalakh and the majority of the Qalamoun Mountains.

The Lebanese group also provided reinforcements to several areas across the country in order to help stabilize these fronts.

While Hezbollah’s entry into the Syrian conflict is often viewed as the first time foreign fighters had entered the war, this is indeed false. Militants from several countries across the world had already entered Syria and began fighting alongside the rebel forces.

Several of these foreign fighters would later join jihadist groups like Jabhat Al-Nusra and the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL/IS/Daesh).

However, unlike Hezbollah, Iran would play a pivotal role behind the scenes in 2013, offering their military advisers to help Damascus concoct a new battle plan.

The plan would focus on a four-corners strategy that would see the Syrian military maintain a presence in four corners of the country, giving the government an area of influence despite the absence of supply routes.

Four Corners Strategy

From 2013 to 2017, the Syrian government maintained a presence in several parts of the country. Since it was difficult to maintain control over the vast desert and mountainous regions, the strategy was to focus on the major cities and spreading out the militants so that the army could regain critical areas around the capital city.

It may appear a bit unorthodox, but the strategy ultimately helped the Syrian military maintain a presence in eastern Syria, where the U.S. and its allies attempted to expand across during the war with ISIS.

For example, the Syrian military kept a presence in the Al-Hasakah Governorate, despite the fact they were surrounded by the Kurdish-led People’s Protection Units (YPG)

While the Syrian military and the YPG were not fighting each other and their presence in Al-Hasakah was only threatened by ISIS, the army’s decision to stay inside Deir Ezzor city after losing their supply lines from Homs raised a few questions at the time.

Thousands of Syrian troops were besieged in Deir Ezzor and ordered to continue fighting ISIS from 2015 to 2017 when the siege was finally lifted. Prior to the arrival of the Russian Armed Forces in September of 2015, the Deir Ezzor front was under daily attacks by the Islamic State, leaving many to fear for the lives of the people and troops inside the city.

Had the army made the decision to retreat from Deir Ezzor city, ISIS could have sent their forces to other fronts and expanded their presence inside of Syria. Furthermore, it allowed the Syrian Army to maintain control of the city once the U.S.-led Coalition began expanding south of Al-Hasakah.

Finally, the entry of the Russian Armed Forces would play a decisive role in the conflict, as the Syrian Arab Army was able to finally launch multiple offensives to regain most of the country.

Present Day

Iran still desires a complete military victory in Syria, but with the continued Israeli attacks on their positions in the country and U.S. economic pressure through sanctions, the Islamic Republic has been forced to take a more defensive role in the region.

This defensive role has allowed Russia to champion the recent Syrian military operations, while they concentrate on other matters, including the proxy war in the eastern part of the country.

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Resistance report: Syrian Army offensive stalls as both sides trade blows

June 08, 2019

by Aram Mirzaei for The Saker Blog

Resistance report: Syrian Army offensive stalls as both sides trade blows
It’s been over a month now since the Syrian Army launched it’s long awaited Idlib offensive. The Syrian Arab Army and the jihadist rebels of Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham are involved in the deadliest battle of the month in northwestern Hama. What began as a successful month for the Syrian Army has since turned in a blood bath with all warring parties trading heavy offensives along the Hama-Idlib axis. This week alone has resulted in well over 100 casualties for the jihadists while the Syrian Army has suffered almost 40 casualties. It is quite noticeable that Ankara has a hand in this since Turkish made weapons have been found on several frontlines in the hands of these terrorists. On top of that, Ankara manages to yet again negotiate a short lived ceasefire which Moscow agreed to, yet as per usual, the dishonourable jihadists used this opportunity to regroup and rearm in preparation for their massive counter offensive.

It has to be said, Moscow keeps getting fooled for some reason to agree on these damned ceasefires, that keep prolonging the inevitable doom of the monsters occupying the Idlib province. This time Moscow, Damascus and Tehran have had a golden opportunity to finish the jihadists off as Washington seems rather uninterested in getting involved with this offensive. I say this because Washington has been unusually quiet this time around, save for some Sunday evening Trump tweet claiming that he was “hearing word” that Russia, Syria, and to a lesser extent, Iran, were indiscriminately bombing the Idlib province. Even the western media that usually gets all fired up about their beloved terrorists in Idlib have been relatively quiet, could it be that they are losing interest now that Washington has its hands full with a coup attempt in Caracas and building up for a full scale war in the Middle East?

Washington seems to have other things in mind as Bolton and Pompeo seem hell bent on starting wars with the Islamic Republic and Venezuela, while Europe seems too busy fumbling in the dark over the JCPOA.

This leaves the jihadists with few allies except for Ankara which I am convinced is playing a double side game with Moscow and Washington. The opportunists in Ankara have for long played both sides in Syria as they claim they are allied with Moscow and Tehran yet keep supporting terrorist forces against Damascus and her allies. It is deeply frustrating to hear Ankara strike a deal with Moscow over Syria’s survival and preservation only to hear the Turkish president or foreign minister the very next day claim that “the Assad regime has killed 1 million people”. At some point Moscow must force Ankara to stop with this insane approach and choose sides once and for all, or this war will continue for another decade as Ankara will only get bolder by the day.

Elsewhere, ISIS terrorists hiding in caves in eastern Homs are taking advantage of the massive Syrian Army build up near the Idlib-Hama axis to launch hit and run attacks and kidnapping operations on inexperienced garrison units near the Palmyra front. I really never could understand why Moscow and Damascus always allows a few of these terrorists to remain after every major operation they launch on their territories. It always comes to bite them back later on as these terrorists never seem to back down or capitulate anyways. Meanwhile, terrorist benefactor Israel has been active over Syrian skies once more after claiming that shells were fired into the occupies Golan Heights from the Syrian side. Not that I ever believed in what the Zionist state has ever claimed as an excuse for attacking Syria, but there has been no fighting in the Quneitra province for almost a full year now since the jihadist militants were expelled from the entire southern parts of the country last year. Of course the Zionist state doesn’t ever bother to provide any evidence for their claims so it can be concluded that the pretext was totally made up to cover their true intentions, to target any advanced weaponry Syria might possess. The attack targeted Syria’s strategic T4 airbase, known for being used by both Russian and Iranian military personnel. Israel very likely informed Russia before the attack, which is why they were able to avoid the latter at the T4 airbase.

Since the start of June, the Israeli military has conducted at least two attacks on Syrian military installations, resulting in the death of at least a half dozen soldiers. Fighting in Syria intensifies while Washington is targeting any oil shipments coming into Syria in its campaign to cripple Syria financially. Pressure on Tehran and Hezbollah is also intensifying as the threat of war still looms in the region with Washington and Tel Aviv’s continued posturing and Saudi Arabia’s pathetic false flag attacks in the Persian Gulf region which they as per usual try to blame on Iran.

It looks like it’s going to be a very hot summer this year for the Resistance Axis. It will take much effort and strategic planning to counter these foul plans hatched by the Zionist Empire.

Syrian Army takes complete control over northern Homs for first time since 2011 (map)

BEIRUT, LEBANON (1:50 A.M.) – The Syrian Arab Army (SAA) has imposed full control over the northern Homs and southeastern Hama after years of war with the Islamist rebels.

According to a military report from this front, the Syrian government evacuated the last group of militants and their family members from northern Homs, Wednesday, marking the end of their presence in this area.

All-in-all, the Syrian Army has retaken over 65 towns within a 1,200 square kilometer area between northern Homs and southeastern Hama.

The last rebel forces were transported from this once large pocket in central Syria to the northern province of Idlib.

Perhaps the most important thing to come from this is the Syrian Arab Army’s full control over the Damascus-Homs Highway for the first time in years.

 

SYRIAN SECURITY FORCES ENTER OVER DOZEN OF VILLAGES IN RASTAN POCKET (MAP UPDATE)

Syrian security forces have entered a high number of villages in the Rastan pocket in northern Homs following an evacuation of militants from the area.

The SANA said that government forces had entered the villages of Ezz-Eddin, Salim, al-Hamrat, al-Qneitrat, al-Hamis and Hemimeh. According to pro-government sources, security forces have entered more points, including an area close to the strategic Homs-Hama highway, which is one of the vital supply lines in the area.

It should be noted that the evacuation of militants is still ongoing. Currently, a new batch of militants and their families are preparing to leave the Rastan pocket to militant-held areas in western and northern Syria.

As soon as the evacuation is finished, government forces will establish full control of the Rastan area.

Syrian Security Forces Enter Over Dozen Of Villages In Rastan Pocket (Map Update)

Click to see the full-size image

Syrian War Report – May 16, 2018: Syrian Army Liberates Dozens Of Villages In Rastan Pocket

Syrian forces have re-established control of the area east of the M5 highway in the Rastan pocket in northern Homs now that militants have withdrawn from the area. According to pro-government sources, the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and its allies are now in control of over 30 settlements located there.

At the same time, the evacuation of militants from the pocket is still ongoing. On May 15, 73 buses left the area.

As soon as the evacuation deal is fully implemented, the SAA will establish full control of the Rastan area. This will allow the Syrian government to start to use more actively the M5 highway, which is a vital supply line linking southern and northern Syria. However, a part of the highway heading through the province of Idlib is still in the hands of militants. According to pro-government sources, this area is one of the targets of upcoming military operations by the SAA and its allies.

In southern Damascus, the SAA and its allies have liberated a number of points near the Quds Mosque in the Yarmouk refugee camp area from ISIS. Government troops have also advanced on ISIS positions in the ​​northern part of the district of al-Hajar al-Aswad.

According to the Syrian media, the SAA has recently captured a workshop for producing IEDs and mortars and a network of tunnels in the recently liberated areas.

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have slowed down their anti-ISIS operation in the Euphrates Valley in eastern Syria. According to local sources, the SDF is currently re-supplying its striking force in the area and preparing for a new attempt to capture the village of Hajin from ISIS.

A new round of talks involving Iran, Turkey, Russia, Syria and the Syrian opposition was held in Astana on May 15 and May 16. The Astana talks’  guarantor states – Russia, Iran and Turkey – once again affirmed their commitment to Syria’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity and  to combating terrorist groups like ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra (currently known as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham). The sides also stressed the importance of the implementation of de-escalation zones as a temporary measure to limit the violence.

According to experts, one of the key topics of the ongoing negotiations between the sides is the fate of the wide areas controlled by militants in the province of Idlib where Hayat Tahrir al-Sham is deeply integrated with the so-called moderate opposition.

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Syrian War Report – May 15, 2018: Palestinian-Israeli Conflict Fuels Syria Crisis

South Front

15.05.2018

At least 59 Palestinian protesters were killed and 2,771 were injured by Israeli forces near the so-called security fence in the Gaza Strip during the May 14 demonstrations denouncing the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem.

Various sources provide conflicting numbers of people involved in the protests, but all of them agrees that there were at least 35,000-40,000 people at the security fence and in the nearby area.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the Israeli actions as self-defense against the Palestinian movement Hamas, which “intends to destroy Israel and sends thousands to breach the border fence in order to achieve this goal,” according to his remarks.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett told Israel Radio that the Israeli government will treat any person approaching the fence as a “terrorist”.

US President Donald Trump called May 14 a “big day” for Israel while White House spokesperson Raj Shah claimed that Hamas had provoked the Israeli actions.

It should be noted that there has been an ongoing wave of protests since President Trump’s official decision on December 6, 2017 to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Since then, the already complicated Palestinian-Israeli relations have deteriorated further.

The Palestinian government denounced the May 14 violence as a “terrible massacre” perpetrated “by the forces of the Israeli occupation” and called on the international community to intervene to stop the violence.

The US-Israeli actions faced a cold response on the international level. For example, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan once again described Israel as a “terrorist state” while Iran’s parliament speaker Ali Larijani said that Israeli actions will not go unanswered.

On May 15, a new round of protests erupted across the Palestinian areas. The protests mark the 70th anniversary of Nakba Day (Day of Catastrophe), when Israel was created.

On May 14, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said the May 10 missile attack on military targets in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights had marked the start of a “completely new stage” of the conflict.

Nasrallah said that 55 missiles had been launched from Syrian territory at Israeli targets and advised Israel to stop its acts of aggression or it will face stinging retaliation. He also dismissed Israeli claims about the number of casualties and extent of damage in the aftermath of the May 10 encounter saying that Israel attempts to conceal its failures through such lies.

In Syria itself, government forces have continued their operations across the country. In the Rastan pocket in northern Homs, an evacuation of militants is still ongoing. On May 14, 122 buses transporting militants and their families left the area. On May 15, a new batch will be leaving.

In the Yarmouk refugee camp area in southern Damascus, the Syrian Arab Army and its allies have liberated Quds Mosque and nearby buildings.

This advance is part of a wider push by government forces to re-capture the western part of the Yarmouk refugee camp from the terrorist group and to shorten the frontline in the western and southern parts of the pocket.

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Agreement Reached to Evacuate Terrorists from Homs, Hama countryside

Source

Militants evacuation

An agreement to evacuate terrorists from Homs and Hamad countryside was reportedly reached on Tuesday.

SANA news agency reported that there were “information that an agreement has been reached to evacuate the terrorist groups from the northern countryside of Homs and the southern countryside of Hama.”

According to the agreement, all terrorists will hand over their heavy and medium weapons to the Syrian Army within two days as of the date of agreement signature. The legal status of militants who agree with the settlement will be settled, and those who reject it will be evacuated along with their families to Jarablus and Idlib, SANA reported.

The agreement also provides the entry of the Syrian Arab army into the region, the return of all state institutions and departments to the area in addition to opening the international highway that connects Homs and Hama during three days as of the signature of the agreement, according to SANA.

Terrorist groups also pledge to hand over maps of tunnels, landmines and ammunition depots, according to the agreement.

 

RASTAN POCKET MILITANTS REACH RECOSILIATION DEAL WITH GOVERNMENT FORCES

02.05.2018

A recosiliation deal between the Syrian government and militants operating in the Rastan pocket has been reached, according to pro-government sources.

According to the Syrian state-run media, militants and their families will be able to evaucate from the Rastan pocket in northern Homs towards the militant-held parts of Idlib or Aleppo provinces.

The militants have to hand over their heavy and medium weapons to government forces within 2 days from the start of the agreement’s implementation.

“The agreement also provides for settling the status of militants who are willing to settle their cases, , the entry of the Syrian Arab army into the region, the return of all state institutions and departments to the area in addition to opening the international highway that connects Homs and Hama during three days as of the signature of the agreement.

According to the agreement, terrorist groups pledge to hand over maps of tunnels, landmines and ammunition depots,” the SANA reports.

The strategic Homs-Hama highway will also be reopened.

The negotiations between the government and militants in the Rastan pocket were relaunched earlier this week after the Syrian military had deployed its offensive units preparing for a launch of a military operation in the area.

Rastan Pocket Militants Reach Recosiliation Deal With Government Forces

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EASTERN QALAMUN MILITANTS SURRENDER THEIR AREAS TO SYRIAN ARMY, PREPARE TO WITHDRAW TO NORTHERN SYRIA

Eastern Qalamun Militants Surrender Their Areas To Syrian Army, Prepare To Withdraw To Northern Syria

Click to see the full-size image

On April 19, US-backed Free Syrian Army (SAA) groups in the Eastern Qalamun region surrendered and accepted the evacuation deal that had been proposed by the Damascus government and Russia during a previous negotiation round, the Hezbollah media wing in Syria reported.

The source said that FSA fighters will be allowed to withdraw towards the the militant-held parts of the provinces of Aleppo and Idlib  under the evacuation deal. The evacuation process is set to begin on April 20.

Syrian pro-government and opposition sources reported that FSA fighters had begun handing over their heavy weapons, including several battle tanks, to the SAA. Some FSA fighters even surrendered to avoid being sent to northern Syria, according to the sources.

Eastern Qalamun Militants Surrender Their Areas To Syrian Army, Prepare To Withdraw To Northern Syria

Click to see a full-size image

Eastern Qalamun Militants Surrender Their Areas To Syrian Army, Prepare To Withdraw To Northern Syria

Click to see a full-size image

A day earlier, the SAA and its allies launched a large-scale military operation against the FSA in the eastern Qalamun region. The quick collapse of the FSA’s defense suggests that most fighters had refused to fight the SAA, although they had been well-armed.

According to local observers, the Eastern Qalamun region is among the most strategic areas in central Syria as it overlooks the Damascus-Homs highway, the US-led coalition base in al-Tanaf and three key airbases of the Syrian Arab Air Force (SyAAF). The high mountains of Eastern Qalamun also used to host early warning radars of the Syrian Arab Air Defense Forces (SyAADF). This makes the liberation of this area an importnat step in improving the security situation in the country.

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SYRIAN WAR REPORT – APRIL 17, 2018: SYRIAN FORCES REPEL MORE MISSILE STRIKES

Source

Last night, the Syrian Air Defense Forces (SADF) repelled another missile attack allegedly carried out by the Israeli military. Missiles were intercepted in two areas:

  1. Near Shayrat military airfield in the Homs countryside – 6 missiles were intercepted (according to some sources, 9 missiles)
  2. Near Dumair military airfield in the Damascus countryside – 3 missiles were intercepted.

According to reports, the SADF also used its S-200 air defense system to launch a surface-to-air missile at aircraft that had attacked Syria.

However, the Israeli military told the Russsian news agency TASS that it has no info about any strikes on Syria.

Interestingly, the alleged attack came a day after Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman claimed that his country will not accept limitations on its “actions” in Syria from any powers including Russia.

Previously, Israel had carried out a missile attack on Syria’s T4 airbase on April 9. Then, the SADF intercepted 5 missiles, but 3 missiles did reach the base.

The Pentagon and the Russian Defense Ministry continue to make mutually contradictory statements over the April 14 missile strike. On April 16, Defense Ministry Spokesman Major-General Igor Konashenkov once again rejected the Pentagon’s statements that all the missiles launched by the US, the UK and France had hit their targets.

Konashenkov said that 71 US-led bloc missiles had been shot down by the SADF providing details on the defense systems used by the Syrian military:

  • Buk: 29 missiles fired – 24 targets hit;
  • Osa: 11 missiles fired – 5 targets hit;
  • S-125: 13 missiles fired – 5 targets hit;
  • Strela-10: 5 missiles fired – 3 targets hit;
  • Kvadrat: 21 missiles fired – 11 targets hit;
  • S-200: 8 missiles fired – no targets hit;
  • Pantsir-S1: 25 missiles fired – 23 targets hit;

SF recalls that the Pentagon says that 105 missiles were launched at only three targets. At the same time, the Russian and Syrian militaries say that the targets included Syrian airfields.

Meanwhile, according to the Russian envoy to the OPCW Aleksandr Shulgin said that Russia has “irrefutable proof” that the so-called Douma chemical attack was a “false-flag” orchestrated by British intelligence services with support from the US. The goal of the false flag was to justify the aggression against Syria.

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SYRIAN WAR REPORT – FEBRUARY 16, 2018: TURKISH FORCES CAPTURE LARGE AREA IN AFRIN

South Front

On February 15, the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) achieved a major breakthrough in their battle against Kurdish YPG/YPJ forces in the area of Afrin. The TAF and the FSA captured the villages of Karri, Sharbanli, Kamrash, Shadia, Khara Suluq, Jaqla Tahtani, Durakili and Diwan al-Fawqani. The YPG counter-attacked in Sirinjak and Duraqli but failed to achieve any progress.

Pro-Turkish sources say that over 40 YPG members were killed in the recent clashes. The total number of so-called ‘neutralized terrorists’ claimed by the Turkish General Staff since the start of Operation Olive Branch is over 1,500.

On February 16, clashes between Turkish forces and the YPG continued across Afrin as the TAF and the FSA further developed momentum.

Amid the Tukrish success, the Lebanese al-Mayadin TV reported that the Damascus government and the YPG had allegedly reached an agreement over Afrin. The agreement will reportedly allow units of the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) to enter the area. However, this report is still not confirmed by official sources. Previous media reports about the alleged Damascus-YPG agreement were dismissed by the YPG.

Another Turkish military convoy entered the province of Idlib and is now establishing an observation point in the village of Sarman, according to pro-opposition sources. The TAF already has observation points in al-Eis and Tell Tuqan. If it establishes the next one somewhere near Khan Shaykhun, any SAA offensive operation in Idlib will be blocked by Turkish forces.

Militant groups operating in northern Homs announced on February 15 that they had withdrawn from a de-escalation agreement with the SAA and said that they will not conduct any direct talks with the Damascus government. They also called on Ankara to help them to combat what they called the Assad regime.

Breaking: Syrian Army unleashes major offensive against militants in Rastan pocket on Homs-Hama border

BEIRUT, LEBANON (3:48 P.M.) – The Syrian Arab Army and allied paramilitaries have launched a new offensive operation against armed rebel groups in a large militant enclave straddling the provincial border of Homs and Hama.

Moments ago, military-affiliated sources reported that that the Syrian Army and its allies kick-off a new offensive against militant forces in the Rastan pocket – located in parts of northern Homs and southern Hama province.

At the present time, Syrian pro-government forces are storming the Rastan pocket from southeast Hama and have entered into and captured most of the town of Maqsam al-Hamrat amid intense clashes with rebel fighters.

The new offensive by the Syrian Army comes following the decisive conclusion of operations in Idlib for the time being.

Russia has made multiple attempts since 2017 to implement an effective ceasefire in the militant-held Rastan region.

However, multiple violations of the deescalation agreement by rebel forces, who shell and raid nearby government-held towns (almost on a daily basis), has pushed the Syrian Army to now undertake a full-scale military operation to neutralize the threat emanating from Rastan and its surrounding area.

ALSO READ US ‘engaged’ with Turkey on operation in Syria’s Afrin – Tillerson
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TALKING SYRIA & MEDIA LIES, ON SPUTNIK ORBITING THE WORLD

In Gaza

With hosts George & Gayatri Galloway. Photo via Sputnik on RT Twitter account.

While in the UK giving talks on Syria (and the DPRK/North Korea) last week, I was invited to speak on Sputnik Orbiting the World, the program hosted by George & Gayatri Galloway.

The program description:

Speaking truth to power ought to be the duty of journalism but it is not. Speaking the power’s “truth” is the way to get and keep the gig in today’s media – and if you do so, you’ll be richly rewarded with money and flattery. One of our frequent guests, Patrick Cockburn, had a great journalist father, Claud Cockburn, who said that the relationship of the journalist to power should be that of the dog to the lamp-post. Nothing is true, he’d say, until it has been officially denied. Fortunately, every now and then a journalist emerges who goes where few dare, who speaks what few will speak, without fear or favor. One such journalist is Eva Bartlett, so we invited her into the Sputnik studio to speak truth to power.

Clip:

Extended Interview:

Related Links:

How I startedAbout Me

Writings and videos from/on SyriaIn Gaza

A Personal Reply to the Fact-Challenged Smears of Terrorist-Whitewashing Channel 4, Snopes and La Presse, Jan 20, 2018, In Gaza, *republished at: The Indicter, (in Spanish)

Exploitation of Bana al-Abed: Parents use child to whitewash terrorists in Aleppo, Jul 24, 2017, RT.com

Absurdities of Syrian war propaganda, Nov 2, 2017, RT.com

The REAL Syria Civil Defence, Saving Real Syrians, Not Oscar Winning White Helmets, Saving Al Qaeda, Vanessa Beeley, Apr 2, 2017, 21st Century Wire

Aleppo: How US & Saudi-Backed Rebels Target ‘Every Syrian’, Nov 29, 2016, MintPress News[Excerpt: On the afternoon of Nov. 3, after meeting with Dr. Mohammed Batikh, director of Al-Razi Hospital, the victims of terror attacks which had begun a few hours prior began to arrive one after another, maimed and critically injured. The vehicle bombings and bombardment of Grad missiles, among other attacks, left 18 people dead and more than 200 injured, according to Dr. Zaher Hajo, the head of forensic medicine at Al-Razi Hospital. …According to the hospital’s head forensic medicine, Dr. Hajo, in the last five years, 10,750 civilians have been killed in Aleppo, 40 percent of whom were women and children. In the past year alone, 328 children have been killed by terrorist shelling in Aleppo, and 45 children were killed by terrorist snipers.]

US-Backed Terrorism in Syria: A First-Hand Account of the Use of Mortars Against Civilians, Sep 12, 2014, Global Research

Western corporate media ‘disappears’ over 1.5 million Syrians and 4,000 doctors (Aleppo), Aug 14, 2016, SOTT.net

Syria Dispatch: Most Syrians Support Assad, Reject Phony Foreign ‘Revolution’, Mar 7, 2016, SOTT.net

Syrians Flock to Vote in Lebanon… But Not in The West, May 30, 2014, Inter Press Services

Liberated Homs Residents Challenge Notion of “Revolution”, Jul 8, 2014, Inter Press Services

“Freedom”: Homs resident speaks of the early days of the “crisis”(with video), Jun 24, 2014, In Gaza

Homs: “We wanted to protect our house”, Jun 13, 2014, In Gaza

Morning conversation with a Sunni Damascene woman, Apr 19, 2014, In Gaza [Excerpt: One of my relatives lived in Hama. The “rebels” would knock on the doors of homes there and force them to participate in demonstrations against the “regime.” My relative is an old woman, she said “I don’t want to participate. My legs are weak, I’m an old woman” but the “rebels” said she had to join the demonstration. They would threaten her, “we’ll kill your son, your husband.” They fled Hama soon after, to Lebanon.

Our former housekeeper was from Zamalka, near Jobar (one area where the “rebels” are, and from where they fire mortar shells towards Damascus). Just before the “rebels” took over Zamalka, she fled, but her husband and 30 year old son stayed, to protect their home. Two months after fleeing, she saw on the news that the “rebels” had killed her husband and son by cutting their heads off.

My cousin had a car accident, two of his children died. This was on a Friday. One child died immediately, the second the following day. While they were praying in the mosque, “rebels” came and filmed the caskets and produced a video with the title, “Damascus prayer on the field of freedom of the child martyr Abdul Salam Musa”. My aunt in Germany saw the video and commented “This is a lie, these kids are my relatives and they died in a car accident.”  Here is the video she referred to. As we sit and watch it, she points out her relatives.]

Syrians from Hassaka Speak of the Peaceful Life They Knew, Nov 9, 2014, In Gaza [Excerpt: “We never thought we’d leave Syria, life was good. Everything was cheap, we had security. But we eventually had to…. not because of the government or the Syrian Army, because of the terrorists, mostly al-Nusra then. Now Daesh are there too, but they’re the same anyway.

Before we left, it had gotten to the point where we scarcely had access to water, had little electricity… The terrorists destroyed the power lines. The municipality would repair things and the terrorists would return and destroy them.

Two weeks before we left, they blew up a car belonging to an important person in the government in our area. He lived down the street, between our house and the school. My daughter was at school, I was so afraid that she had been hurt.

When we left, we thought it would would only be temporarily, but every day since it has gotten worse.

We went back six months ago, to see if it was possible to return for good. Everything different, many shops were closed down and the water and electricity were even worse. Everything was worse than ever. As soon as it got dark, the streets were empty. Those of our neighbours who had remained were different too, gaunt, faces drawn.”

He spoke of the faux-revolution. “’We want freedom,’ they said. What freedom do they want? We had education, health care, security. This is the ‘freedom’ they want, these terrorists destroying our towns, our culture?”

Even though they have left and feel that they cannot go back, they are patriots, are proud of their country and culture, and its voices like theirs we need to be hearing: the people who know what’s happening on the ground, who are not being fed soundbites by corporate media or funded by the various thinktank incarnations of Soros’ foundations but who live/lived in Syria and suffered the draconian takeover of foreign terrorists; the people who support the Syrian army and President Assad because they choose to, who enacted the democracy they choose, not that which the death squads of the west attempt to deliver.”]

Meeting Syrians in Lebanon, May 27, 2014, In Gaza [Excerpts: “At breakfast one morning, still waiting for my visa application to be processed, I sit working on my laptop.  A man keeps glancing my way, and finally comes over to say he likes the Syrian bracelet I wear. We get talking. He’s Syrian, from Aleppo. At the end of our talk, he says again how happy it made him to see me wearing this bracelet… and adds, “I can’t wear my Syrian flag here because there are so many stupid people, they might kidnap me or worse. I’m not afraid of my government, but I am afraid of these thugs.” (Listen to his testimony on witnessing video being staged in Syria, and more.)

*

I visit Jeita Grotto, Jbeil (Byblos), and the cable-car leading up to the hilltop where –in the Middle East–the largest statue of Mary resides. I’m more interested in the scenery, and lovely scenery it is. Coming down from the hill, a thin older man with a pleasant face stops my car and opens the door. We chat a bit. He is also from Haleb (Aleppo), has been working here for years, not because of the manufactured war. But because of the situation, he’s recently brought his wife and kids here. I ask my usual simple questions: “What’s the problem? What do you think of the President?”

He replies–noting that he is speaking his mind, isn’t afraid to do so–that he will vote for President Assad . “I’m with him. Before all of this we were safe and had few problems.”  I ask the taboo question again, for the sake of clarity, and he replies “I’m Sunni Muslim, but in Syria it’s not important what religion you are.”

He’s Sunni. Bashar al-Assad is Alawi. The Western media has made MUCH of the so-called Alawi devotees to President Assad. But in my experience, in Syria and out, Syrians across the board support Assad.  It just depends if they’ve been corrupted by NED/Soros or other funds or whether they’ve been seduced by the Wahabi, Takfiri notion of raping, desecrating, destroying Syria for greater pleasures in a promised hereafter.

*

In a village near the Chouf Cedar Reserve, I come across another Syrian who has left because of the armed gangs in Aleppo. He’s a talented woodworker, and one evening stops by the hotel to have a cup of warm milk. I’ve already had a coffee (he saw me in the street earlier and invited me to his employer’s house for coffee), and a instant-coffee-milk mixture (everyone calls it Nescafe, whether its Nestle or not) with the guesthouse manager while talking Syria, but “Ibrahim” keeps insisting he buy me a coffee, something.

He shows me photos of his handiwork–lovely wood furniture, cupboards, intricate ceiling decor. I ask if this is what he did for work in Syria. “I had my own shop, but its been destroyed. Our house was destroyed, too.”  I ask when he’ll go back. “I can’t go back, the ‘rebels’ are there, I can’t get back.”

Haleb helua, ahlan mekkan. Aleppo is beautiful, the most beautiful place,” he says.

We look at online photos of Aleppo.

“See how beautiful it is!” He points out the landmarks, repeating himself, Haleb helua.

The Umayyad mosque, a castle, a hotel which he says is one of the oldest in the world…

Bas kharaboo.  But they’ve destroyed it all. Here, our house is here…. but it’s destroyed. The most beautiful place n the world.”

All this is said in the same soft voice, not a trace of anger or bitterness, just sadness, longing.”]

*

 

JABHAT AL-NUSRA: HISTORY, CAPABILITIES, ROLE IN SYRIAN WAR

South Front

History

Jabhat al-Nusra, originally Jabhat an-Nuṣrah li-ahli ash-Sham min Mujahideen ash-Shām fi Sahat al-Jihad or “Victory Front for the People of the Levant by the Mujahideen of the Levant on the Fields of Jihad”, was founded in January 2012, when military operations between the government forces and groups of armed Syrian opposition were in full force. Jabhat al-Nusra arose with the direct support of the Iraqi cell of al-Qaeda, the “Islamic State in Iraq”, which was at that time led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. At the outset, the leaders of al-Qaeda tried, with the help of their Iraqi ally, to strengthen friendly Jihadist groups in Syria and to unite them into one militant organization.

Abu Muhammad al-Julani, a member of the al-Qaeda branch in Iraq – “the Islamic State in Iraq”, was chosen by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to establish an al-Qaeda branch in Syria under the name of the “Al-Nusra Front for the People of Al-Sham.” Abu Muhammed al-Julani entered Syria from Iraq and began a series of meetings in Homs, Ghouta of Damascus, and Deir-ez-Zor. The first cells of Jabhat al-Nusra were established in the northern Homs countryside, western Ghouta of Damascus, and in al-Bukamal on the Iraqi-Syrian border.

On January 23, 2012, Abu Muhammad al-Julani officially announced the establishment of the “Al-Nusra Front for the People of Al-Sham” and small groups began to carry out terrorist acts against civilians, attacked the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and later began conducting clashes along with the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and ISIS.

In a short time, Jabhat al-Nusra under the leadership of Abu Muhammad al-Julani achieved a number of military successes and gained fame as one of the most efficient units in the north, north-west and northeast of Syria. A pivotal moment occurred at the end of 2012, when Jabhat al-Nusra seized many military facilities, arms and military equipment in western part of Aleppo. After the movement’s detachments were thus strengthened in the western and eastern parts of the province, the main routes of communication between the economic capital of Syria and the Syrian-Turkish border fell under Jabhat al-Nusra’s control, which forced other detachments fighting in opposition to Bashar Assad to establish relations and coordinate their actions with the organization.

Main operations and spheres of influence

In the Homs province, Jabhat al-Nusra, along with the al-Qaeda branch in Lebanon, Fatah al-Islam, was one of the most powerful fighting factions alongside the Al-Farouq battalion of the FSA, most of whose militants publicly or secretly joined al-Nusra or Fatah al-Islam.

Jabhat al-Nusra led many attacks in the old Homs area, Khalidiya and Baba Amro between 2011 and 2012, and led a large-scale attack on January 29, 2012 to capture the towns of Rastan and Talbisah in the northern Homs and succeeded in that operation.

In the south of Syria, especially in the Daraa province, Al-Nusra managed to form large forces rapidly, and led the attack on Daraa city on March 14, 2012. Within months, it managed to capture most areas within the city of Daraa.

On July 15, 2012, Jabhat al-Nusra participated in their first attack on the capital city of Damascus along with the FSA and Jaish al-Islam. Within days, they managed to capture most areas of eastern and Western Ghouta along with several districts close to the center of the capital Damascus, such as the districts of Jubar and Al-Maydan. Later the SAA managed to recapture most of these areas.

On July 19, 2012, Jabhat al-Nusra participated in the attack on Aleppo city along with groups of the FSA, the most important of which was the “Northern Storm Regiment”. Within days they managed to capture the eastern area of Aleppo. Later, Jabhat Al-Nusra’s influence expanded. At one point al-Nusra became the sole ruler of opposition-controlled Aleppo, especially after large numbers of the FSA jointed its ranks by the end of 2012 and after it took ISIS out of the city in 2014.

Since 2013, Idlib has become the main center of Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria, and the headquarters of its leadership. Jabhat al-Nusra managed to strengthen its influence further in the beginning of 2014 after the departure of ISIS from the province as a result of a number of disagreements between the groups.

Jabhat al-Nusra participated alongside Ahrar al-Sham in the attack on Raqqa city and managed to capture it on March 6, 2013, 3 days after the attack began. Later, in July 2014, ISIS took over control of Raqqa city. Some members of Jabhat al-Nusra decided to join ISIS while the rest refused to fight it. As a result, al-Nusra withdrew from the city.

From the beginning, Jabhat al-Nusra lead battles against the SAA in the Deir-ez-Zor countryside and in Deir-ez-Zor city. By 2013 al-Nusra seized most of the oil fields in the city’s countryside and along with the FSA, started an illegal oil trade with Turkey.

At the beginning of 2014 with the escalation of ISIS influence in Iraq, al-Nusra began to reduce its presence in Deir-ez-Zor city. After some minor clashes, most of al-Nusra’s fighters withdrew from Deir-Ez-Zour to Aleppo and Idlib, while large numbers of al-Nusra foreign militants joined ISIS.

It is believed that on April 6, 2014, the remnants of the FSA detonated a VBIED in the old Homs area with the aim of killing the commanders of Jabhat al-Nusra. The suicide attack was a success, and after the death of the commanders of Jabhat al-Nusra, an evacuation agreement was reached on 2 May 2014.

On March 24, 2015, Jabhat al-Nusra led an attack alongside the US-backed Free Syrian Army factions to capture Idlib city and were able to do so within 4 days. This operation was successful largely due to US support through intelligence and advanced weapons such as the TOW missiles, which reached the hands of al-Nusra militants.

By 14 June 2015, Jabhat al-Nusra and its allies from the FSA had managed to capture the entire western Idlib countryside, including the strategic town of Jisr al-Shughour, and carried out a series of massacres against the pro-government population, expelled even the pro-opposition population from the city, and blew up and demolished most of its buildings.

With Russian military intervention in Syria and the bombing of the positions of Jabhat al-Nusra in Aleppo, Idlib and the northern Homs countryside, both the “moderate” and radical Islamist opposition began to lose strategic initiative in the civil war in Syria. There was a lot of pressure from supporters of Jabhat al-Nusra, Turkey and Qatar, on the leadership of the movement, to disengage from and disavow Al-Qaeda.

After the great advance of the SAA in Aleppo and its success in besieging the eastern districts, Abu Muhammad al-Julani announced on July 28, 2016, the official disengagement of al-Nusra from al-Qaeda and announced the formation of the Jabhat Fatah al-Sham. He stressed that the objectives of the al-Sham Front are the same as those of Jabhat al-Nusra, which is the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate in Syria. In an ironic twist, al-Qaeda leader “Ayman al-Zawahiri” praised al-Julani’s decision and declared his support for the Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, prompting everyone, including the United States, to consider the move as a formality. The Jabhat Fatah al-Sham maintained its terrorist classification in all countries, including the United States, Saudi Arabia and Russia.

On October 28, 2016, Jabhat al-Nusra with its allies from the Free Syrian Army launched a large counterattack south and west of Aleppo city to break the siege of the SAA in the eastern districts; however, the attack failed two weeks later when Jabhat Fatah al-Sham could not hold the points it had taken over.

On 28 January 2017, Jabhat al-Nusra changed its name once again, this time to Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). On March 21, 2017, it launched the offensive of the northern Hama countryside along with the FSA factions supported by the CIA, most notably are Jaish al-Izza, Jaish al-Nasr and the Idlib Free Army. These were considered the most important allies of Jabhat al-Nusra in Idlib and a major source of its weapons. The aim of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham’s advance was to recapture the settlements it lost in 2016. The active phase of fighting continued until the end of April 2017. For more than a month, neither side had a decisive advantage, and in fact, prolonged fights began, during which a number of settlements repeatedly changed hands.

Having accumulated enough reserves in the area and with the support of the Russian Aerospace Forces, the SAA launched a counter-offensive against the positions of the Islamists in mid-April and recaptured the territories it had lost at the beginning of the month.

On September 19, 2017 HTS, along with the units of the Turkestan Islamic Party and the FSA, once again made an attempt to advance on the position of the SAA in the northern part of the province of Hama.. The aim of HTS was to take revenge for their defeat in the April 2017 offensive. While fighting went back and forth, with settlements being occupied by both sides several times, the struggle continued until the end of September and ended in a stalemate, with neither side able of winning a convincing victory, with each side remaining in their original positions. As time went on, the situation in the province was further complicated by the appearance of the IS militants in early October 2017, as a result of which armed conflict erupted between all opposition groups in the region, which continues at varying degrees of intensity to this day.

In late November and early December, the SAA carried out a number of operations against HTS in northern Hama and southern Aleppo and achieved some success creating the prerequisites for a push towards the Abu al-Duhur air base. Taking the air base under control will allow government troops to expand the buffer zone adjacent to the road going to Aleppo and cut the front line to the west of Khanaser.

The intensification of the activities of the Russian Air Force in the region in the first half of December 2017 gives grounds to conclude that the preparation of the SAA for an attack on the position of radical Islamists is underway. This offensive is likely to have the goal of delivering a decisive blow to HTS, since it currently presents a greater threat than the IS.

In January 2018, the SAA liberated a large area from HTS in southern Idlib advancing towards the Abu al-Duhur air base.

At the present time (January 2018) the main area of ​​deployment of the armed units of HTS is in the province of Idlib. In addition, the units of Jabhat al-Nusra partially occupy the north-eastern part of the province of Hama, and the western and south-western part of the province of Aleppo. After al-Nusra finally broke off relations with Ahrar al-Sham, one of the most battle-worthy movements in Syria, they gained control of practically the entirety of the province of Idlib.

Structure

The movement avoids publications concerning the structure of the organization, the real names of commanders of its large units and the work of its main bodies. It is known that the advisory body Majlis al-Shura, consisting of 12 people, is at the head of the movement. Based on information surveyed and interviews, HTS operates through eight divisions, namely military, security, services, religious law, courts, media, finances, and politics. For each of these divisions, there is an office for the Shura Council.

In fact, since its inception, Jabhat al-Nusra / HTS was a coalition of armed formations.As a result of the rebranding conducted in January 2017, HTS includes such groups as “Jabhat Ansar al-Din”, “Nur al-Din al-Zenki”, “Liwa al-Haqq”, and “Jaysh al-Sunna” . According to information from the organization’s website, the new formation also includes groups: Tawhid Wal-Jihad, Ar-Rashid, Ibn Taimiyya, Liva Abbas, Sukur al-Izz, Al-Sahabat, Kuwafal Shuhada, Usud al-Harb, Liva Ahrar al-Jabal and others. Several large groups withdrew from the Ahrar al-Sham and swore allegiance to Hayat Tahrir al-Sham : Surya al-Aqsa, Liva Ahrar al-Jabal, Ansar Homs, and Kurdish paramilitary groups which together comprised of more than five thousand soldiers. The process of breaking and mending relations is constant and there is an alternate structure of the movement as of April 2017.

The auxiliary functions are performed by Qism al-Ighatha (Department of Relief), Idarat al-Khidarat al-Ammah (Public Services Administration), Idarat al-Manateq and al-Muharara (Liberated Districts Administration). In the so-called “liberated areas” where Jabhat al-Nusra has filled the power vacuum, it has created, along with other jihadist organizations, a system of justice and law enforcement called the Shari’ah Authority (Al-Hay’ah al-Shar’iyyah). The Shari’ah Authority operates its own police force called the Shari’ah Authority Police (Shurtat al-Hay’ah al-Shar’iyyah).

The military structure of the groups varies depending on the geographical location of the fighters in Syria. In Damascus, where the partisan tactics of fighting were employed, the divisions were divided into separate detachments, while in Aleppo, military operations were conducted by full-fledged military formations, consolidated into brigades, regiments and battalions.

The movement actively recruits groups of militants, formed on the basis of national and religious grounds.  There are units of militants from Ajnadal-Kavkaz, Caucasus Emirate (natives of Chechnya), and the Turkistan Islamic Party in Syria (Uyghurs and natives of the Central Asian countries of the former USSR). From a military point of view, this is convenient for management and interaction, since there is no language barrier between the fighters and the commanders. Upon returning to their host country, such a detachment is practically a ready-made cell with combat experience, in which each member knows one another, trusts his commander and is ready to act in the interests of the parent organization. Western experts estimate that in less than 2 years of its existence, there were almost 5,000 people from 60 countries who fought for the movement.

The core military formations varied in their numbers and at times amounted to up to 30,000 people. Together with the added paramilitary groups of like-minded people, the total number reached 70,000. At present, the number of formations is smaller and the core of the grouping, according to the estimates of the General Staff of the RF Armed Forces as of August 2017, consists of up to 15,000 men. Together with units of radical Islamists from other groups, it amounts to a total of 25,000.

The armament of the movement consists of small arms, artillery and tanks seized from the SAA, from various anti-Assad forces, and equipment received from foreign sponsors from the Gulf countries through the jihadist movements with direct or indirect US assistance. In addition, according to reports, the movement has chemical weapon reserves. In December 2012, at the SYSACCO chemical production plant (30 km east of Aleppo), the al-Nusra units captured about 200 tons of chlorine. In May 2013, Turkish special services arrested insurgents of al-Nusra on the border with Syria for attempting to acquire sarin components.

An indicative example of direct or indirect U.S. support is the use of the American ATGM BGM-71 TOW by the al-Nusra forces. These units were transferred to the armed formations by the “moderate” opposition, for example, FSA units (Harakat Hazzm). Subsequently, the ATGM systems were either voluntarily supplied, or forcibly taken from other groups by HTS. At the end of September 2015, the “30th division” of the opposition, supported by the US government, surrendered to the units of al-Nusra and handed over a large number of ammunition, small arms and artillery weapons and a number of light vehicles. The same happened with the FSA’s “13 Division” in March 2016, which directly received American weapons.

Rebranding

At the end of June 2016, the leaders of the Syrian opposition (primarily from Ahrar al-Sham) conducted negotiations and consultations in light of Russia’s actions against al-Nusra, which also threatened other groups. As a result of such meetings in the western part of the province of Aleppo and in Idlib, it proposed to either dissolve al-Nusra into a new association, which would be headed by Ahram al-Sham or to tear it away from al-Qaeda. The situation was such that a third of al-Nusra, first of all the ethnic Syrians, were ready to break with al-Qaeda and join a new group.

Then the leadership of al-Nusra undertook a rebranding, which, on the one hand, was to save it from a split, and on the other, in the eyes of the Syrians, to root it in the Syrian revolutionary movement. As a result, al-Nusra became known as Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (Front of the Conquest of Syria) and proclaimed its formal departure from al-Qaeda. After this, the leadership of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham attempted to unite with Ahrar al- Sham and other factions; however, this would have led to the inclusion of all participants of this union on the list of internationally recognized terrorist groups. As a result, the attempt to create a “Syrian Islamic Commission” at the end of 2016, in which A. Giulani wanted to play a key role, failed.

There are other reasons why al-Nusra began to act under a new name.

First, it allows sponsors and leaders of the movement to avoid sanctions, since al-Nusra periodically gets on the “Consolidated List of Legal Entities Affiliated with or Associated with al-Qaeda Organization”, compiled by the UN Security Council. Updating the list, in light of objective reasons, is not keeping up with the evolution and expansion of al-Qaeda and its subsidiaries.

Second, it is more convenient for Western special services to deal with groups not listed on the list of the UN Security Council and/or on the American or European list of terrorist organizations. Instead, they prefer to deal with “rebels” who declared their secession from al-Qaeda.

On January 28, 2017, Jabhat Fatah al-Sham conducted another rebranding and was named Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (Organization for the Liberation of the Levant). This coincided with increased pressure on opposition groups in Syria and with a turning point in the Syrian war – the liberation of Aleppo. The military defeat near Aleppo, where Jabhat al-Nusra lost the bulk of its most trained fighters and much of its technology, was a turning point in reducing its influence.

Relations and relationships with other groups

Military successes in the first years of the civil war declined to the point where, starting from 2014, the movement started to systematically weaken and accept “moderate” groups, which represented secular and national opposition.

In November 2014, Jabhat al-Nusra attacked the “Syrian Revolutionary Front”, a large association that fought under the banner of the FSA and the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces and received assistance from the United States and its allies. Its leader, Jamal Ma’ruf, was forced to flee to Turkey. Then the jihadists attacked the camps of the movement “Harakat Hazzm”, which the US planned to thoroughly train and supply with weapons and which many American analysts viewed as the most acceptable variant of the moderate opposition.

As a result, Jabhat al-Nusra at the end of October 2014, seized the base of the Hazzm Movement in Idlib, and in January 2015 displaced it from Aleppo, effectively forcing it to dissolve and merge with other militant groups. At the end of September 2015, al-Nusra attacked the 30th division of the FSA, forcing some of the fighters along with their arms to cross over to their side. The jihadists particularly intensified the fighting against the “moderate opposition” after the US and its allies began to conduct air strikes at the end of September 2014, not only directed against the positions of the IS, but also targeting “Jabhat al-Nusra.” Thus, the movement played an important role in the failure of the US project to create a “secular military opposition” in Syria.

Since 2012, the FSA’s relations with Jabhat al-Nusra have been excellent. The FSA and the US-backed factions supported Jabhat al-Nusra financially and most importantly with the weapons supplied to them by the CIA and Turkey. However, al-Nusra did not hesitate to turn its weapons against the FSA or hesitate to eliminate any group that opposed its will, especially in the province of Idlib and in Aleppo countryside.

As for the relationship of Jabhat al-Nusra with Ahrar al-Sham, one of the largest groups in the north of Syria, while Ahrar al-Sham obey the orders of Jabhat al-Nusra and treat its leadership with respect, Jabhat al-Nusra takes firm action with Ahrar al-Sham and has not hesitated to use its weapons against it in 2017. It has even issued a statement calling the militants of the Ahrar al-Sham “infidels” after clashes with the 46th regiment in the northwest Aleppo countryside. However, the militants of Ahrar al-Sham, despite a number of them being killed or wounded by al-Nusra tanks, refused to return fire on the al-Nusra militants.

It is also believed that Jabhat al-Nusra pushed Ahrar al-Sham into a losing battle in Aleppo in order to weaken it. The final gulf between the two-armed movements formed in July 2017. The reason for the conflict, in addition to purely ideological differences, was the fact that the Ahrar al-Sham group controlled the Bab al-Hawa border crossing on the Syrian-Turkish border, which was an important transport corridor, as well as a source of finance and the replenishment of the military formations of the “moderate” opposition. Perhaps the most important reason for the conflict was the issue of control over the “civil administration” of the province of Idlib.

The disagreement of Jabhat al-Nusra with ISIS began at the end of 2013, when al-Nusra separated its link to the Islamic State in Iraq – now ISIS – and the controversy increased in 2014 when Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced the formation of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the separation from al-Qaeda and the establishment of the Islamic Caliphate. Al-Julani rejected Abu Bakr’s allegiance to the Caliphate. The basis of the controversy is that Jabhat al-Nusra believes that the Caliphate should be established after capturing the whole of Syria and Iraq, while ISIS believes that the Caliphate should be established in any area under its control. Although there was a great deal of talk about clashes between the two parties, clashes were rare, short-lived. Jabhat al-Nusra withdrew from Deir-Ez-zour and Raqqa, while ISIS withdrew from Aleppo and Idlib, with large numbers of militants from Al-Nusra changing their allegiance to ISIS.

Al-Nusra developed a difficult relationship with the movement of Nour al-Din al-Zenki (numbering 7,000 militants in 2017). In 2015 and 2016, both sides participated in clashes against each other; however, in January 2017, the Nour al-Din al-Zenki group in Idlib joined with al-Nusra. In the second half of July 2017, there was a conflict between the leadership of Nour al-Din al-Zenki and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham  because of a statement, made by an authority figure from Nour al-Din al-Zenki, saying that there is no Sharia rule in the territory controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham.

Since HTS strategy is aimed at cooperating with local Islamist organizations that recognize the main goal of establishing an Islamic state and Sharia in Syria, such an approach does not allow Syrian Islamist groups, including Jaysh al-Islam, to oppose Al Qaeda in Syria in the face of Jabhat al-Nusrah / HTS. Both groups profess Salafi Islam and both groups raise the issue of overthrowing the existing power.

According to a former leader of Jaysh al-Islam, Muhammad Zahran Allush, there was a fraternal relationship between his organization and Jabhat al-Nusra, and the existing insignificant ideological differences could be resolved through the discussion and application of Shariah norms. In his interview, Zahran Allush said that he personally met with one of the leaders of “Jabhat al-Nusra” Abu al-Qahtani, and found no difference between the Shari’ah of Jabhat al-Nusra and the Shari’ah of “Jash al-Islam”.

In 2013, Jaysh al-Islam, together with Jabhat al- Nusra, organized a bloody massacre in the city of Adra, directed mainly against minorities, most notably the Alawites. After the death of Muhammad Zahran Allush as the result of an airstrike conducted on December 25, 2015, the new leadership of Jaysh al-Islam soon began to disagree with the leadership of Jabhat al-Nusra. This took place in light of the fact that the Islam Army has taken a strong stance in favor of negotiations, with Zahran Alloush’s cousin and close companion, Mohammed Alloush, heading the opposition diplomats in Geneva.

Participation of various groups of “moderate opposition” in the Syrian settlement under the patronage of Turkey, Iran and Russia led to a “split” in the ranks of these groups, which significantly weakened their position in the country.  In this respect, the case of the Jaysh al-Islam movement can serve as a prime example. Since the movement formally participates as a group and represents the “moderate opposition”, it had to sever its ties with HTS. In practice, the situation is quite different.

Jaysh al-Islam has several regional branches: Eastern Ghouta, Eastern Qalamoun, Daraa, and Idlib.

Eastern Ghouta – Jaysh al-Islam, HTS, Ahrar al-Sham and al-Rahman Corps are the most influential groups in this area near Damascus. All of them, in spite of some tensions, actively cooperate against the SAA. The peak of Jaysh al-Islam’s participation in the fight against HTS was when the group allegedly did not come to the aid of HTS during the battles in the area of ​​Jobar (Guta district). However, the truce in the region is very controversial. Not long ago, Ahrar al-Sham conducted a series of major attacks against the army in the area south of the Duma – the area of the Army Armored Vehicles Base.

Eastern Qalamoun – the militants did not show much activity here and before negotiations in Astana, there was a truce.  In fact, Jaysh al-Islam is forced to share resources and interact with HTS in this region.

As a result, it turns out that the leaders of this “moderate” opposition did not actually do anything of substance in constructively participating in the Astana process and limited themselves exclusively to vague formal gestures (such as sending delegations and making loud statements in the media).

Therefore, one can make the disappointing conclusion that the real influence of the Astana format on the situation in Syria is of much significance than originally thought, and the format is not very effective. Statements of the high-ranking officials of the Russian Foreign Ministry about successful negotiations are not accurate. To date, the moderate opposition does not want peace. It continues fighting, repeatedly delays negotiations, and awaits the intervention of other countries.

The Idlib de-escalation zone

Separately, it is necessary to focus on 4 zones of de-escalation in Syria, the boundaries of which were determined by the agreements in Astana on September 16, 2017. The agreement established the boundaries of de-escalation zones, where, as agreed, military operations between government forces and forces of the armed opposition groups which have already joined the truce or will join it in the future, are to be halted. To prevent incidents and clashes between various sides along the borders of zones, security bands were created. They include observation posts and checkpoints for the movement of unarmed civilians, delivery of humanitarian aid and facilitation of economic activities. The work of the checkpoints and observation posts, as well as the management of the security zones, is carried out by personnel from Russia, Turkey and Iran. This begs many questions, chief among them: Why is there is no mention of withdrawal of heavy weaponry nor the surrender of weapons inside the zones?

The most extensive zone of de-escalation is located in northern Syria. It contains the province of Idlib, as well as the bordering northeastern parts of the province of Latakia, the western provinces of Aleppo and the northern regions of the province of Hama. It is worth noting that the province of Idlib is one of the most problematic. It is here that the main forces of the terrorist organization Jabhat al-Nusra / HTS are based, and it was here that the Syrian authorities brought militants and members of their families from Aleppo.

According to Turkish President Recep Erdogan, Russia will provide security outside of Idlib while Turkey will ensure security inside of Idlib. Turkey had the right to deploy in Idlib, via a small group of troops, whose task is to organize observation posts, but they are not to form a full-fledged army group. However, by October 13, 2017, about 50 units of armored vehicles and 200 servicemen crossed the Turkish-Syrian border. The pro-government Turkish newspaper Yeni Safak claimed that 25,000 Turkish soldiers were mobilized to carry out military operations in Syria.

Thus, in the northern part of the Idlib province, the so-called free zone from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham  is created under the auspices of Turkish forces. The area will host the forces of the “moderate” opposition and Turkish troops. In the south, the province of Hama will host Russian observers. The forces of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham will be moved to a zone located in the middle. This way HTS will be deprived of any possibility of reaching the border.

Meanwhile, in the zones controlled by radical Islamists, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham  blames the “moderate” opposition, for abandoning the war against the Assad government and entering into peace agreements. At the same time, the movement, aside from fighting battles against the SAA, is actively engaged in attacks against factions of the “moderate” opposition.

Financing and communication with external sponsors

“Jabhat al-Nusra” is considered to be one of the most well-equipped and well-armed formations fighting against government troops. According to some estimates, before the conflict with the Islamic State (January 2012-April 2013), half of ISIS’ budget was sent to Jabhat al-Nusra. At the same time, the group received significant funds from Syrians with sympathies for radical Islam. From April, 2013 to the end of 2014, the budget of the movement was largely replenished by the illegal trade of oil acquired from the east and northeast of Syria. When the oil prices dropped, IS exerted control over these oil fields, and the movement lost this source of financing.

From the end of 2014 until the present, al-Nusra’s main source of financing comes from external sources. Most of the funding comes from the charitable Salafi foundations in Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and from high-ranking clerics and wealthy businessmen who sympathize with the ideas of Salafi Islam of Jordan and Turkey. Hamid bin Abdallah al-Ali is an example of a person who sympathizes with the ideas of the movement. He is an influential Salafi cleric in Kuwait. He has facilitated the transfer of funds, weapons, supplies and fighters to and from Syria for Jabhat al-Nusra,

Shafi Sultan Mohammed al-Ajmi is a native of Kuwait. He is included by the UN Security Council in the list of persons sponsoring al-Qaeda and related organizations. Together with his assistants, he raised funds and gathered weapons under the pretext of charity. He personally delivered the collected funds to various groups, including Jabhat al-Nusra.

Abd al-Rahman al-Nuaimi is a Qatar-based terrorist financier and a facilitator who has provided money, material support and conveyed communications to al-Qaeda and its affiliates in Syria. In 2013, Naimi ordered the transfer of nearly $600,000 to al-Qaeda via al-Qaeda’s representative in Syria, Abu-Khalid al-Suri.

Ali bin Abdallah al-Suwaidi is the general manager of Mu’assasat ‘Eid bin Muhammad Aal Thani al-Khayriyya (the Eid bin Muhammad al Thani Charitable Society). In this role, Ali al-Suwaidi manages the budget and directs the activities of the charity, including its work with organizations that have been tied to al-Qaeda. According to media reports, Ali al-Suwaidi worked with US sanctioned al-Qaeda financier Abd al-Rahman al-Nuaimi to transfer funds to jihadist militants in Syria, including al-Nusra.

Social networks are another important source of financing. Recruiters in social networks are urging a transfer of money for the aid of militants fighting in Syria. Given that financing terrorism is prosecuted in many countries, the fee is made in disguise to a bank account of an intermediary. The sponsors transfer sums not large enough to attract the attention of bank employees and law enforcement officials. The intermediary then sends money to a foreign bank – to the owner of a money transfer office in Turkey or Jordan for example. He informs his colleague in Syria that the money has come, provides the name of the recipient and gives a password. Money is given from a cash register. Such transactions leave no traces and are hidden from those who are fighting to interdict and disrupt the funding of terrorism.

In addition, the group continues to actively engage in kidnapping, extortion, and collection of taxes from citizens and businesses in controlled areas.

The group also developed a scheme to collect funds from small and medium-sized businesses in territories which are not directly controlled by HTS, but territories that host enough HTS emissaries and combat groups to the extent that those groups can facilitate racketeering.

Al-Qaeda, as the lead organization which promotes the idea of ​​ultra-radical Islam, is in financial crisis. It receives less and less financing from sympathetic individuals and from so called charitable foundations, to carry out its terrorist activities. This necessitated some optimization of costs. The movement had to change its tactics and constructed a new model, aimed at interacting with self-sufficient extremist organizations which do not require support from the lead organization. In this format, al-Qaeda plays a dual rule. First, it acts as a military adviser and mediator for radical Islamist groups. Secondly, it sends authoritative clergymen to various war zones. Al-Qaeda also provides local groups with their own schemes for the transfer of funds, facilitates the creation of enterprises, and provides information to support local organizations.

Loss of influence after the battle for Aleppo and the role in Syria after ISIS

When Aleppo was captured by government troops in late 2016, the appearance of HTS signaled a new phase of restructuring of the radical opposition in Syria. Yet another attempt to rebrand was nothing more than a formal effort by al-Qaeda to dissociate itself from its supporters in Syria, as well as its desire to withdraw moderate Islamists from the negotiation process on the future of Syria in Astana. The leadership of HST wanted to overpower and if that failed, to destroy the entities that are part of Ahrar al-Sham. They sought to become the single center of Sunni militarism in Syria. This caused a split among the opposition, and the most radical of its representatives moved to the newly created Hayat Tahrir al Sham, which marked the beginning of a conflict between the two largest groups in Idlib.

To support its strategy, HTS operates through four main bureaus: General Administration of Services; Military and security operations wing; Dawah and Guidance Office; and Sharia courts.

There are 156 Local Councils operating in the Idlib province with the following administrative divisions: 9% City Councils, 30% Town Councils, and 61% Municipal Councils. Of these Local Councils, 86 operate in HTS-controlled areas—14% City Councils, 39% Town Councils, and 47% Municipal Councils.

In August 2017 a conflict arose between the local city council of Idlib and the General Administration for Services, which is connected with HTS. The latter began the process of making unilateral decisions. The General Administration for Services issued circulars for local councils, informing them that it was the only body with the authority to monitor their work and required the transfer of the relevant council departments to the specialized agencies of the movement. In particular, this affected services which supply water and bread as well as transport. The city council rejected the request and on August 28, 2017, HTS units stormed the city council building of Idlib and ordered all those who disagreed with the policy to leave the building. In this way radical Islamists gained control over administrative services of the city.

The process where smaller formations join or leave the grouping is not static. On November 14, 2017, representatives of the group “Ajnad al-Sham” announced through twitter that they are joining Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. Ajnad al-Sham militants participated in earlier clashes with the Syrian Arab Army in western Aleppo, in the north part of the province of Ham and in the province of Idlib. In late October, there was information that the central division of the FSA, Faylaq al-Sham, and Jaysh al-Izza also joined Hayat Tahrir al-Sham.

Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham also conducted operations against smaller militant groups, who then sought support from Ahrar al-Sham. For instance, the group “Jash Mujahideen” was attacked by terrorists of Hayat Tahrir al- Sham in January 2017. At this time the radical Islamists seized warehouses with weapons. After that, part of Jash Mujahideen’s forces were forced to join Ahrar al-Sham, while the other part joined HTS.

Be that as it may, year after year HTS leadership adamantly follows its goal – the unification of all jihadist organizations in Syria under its leadership and the construction of the emirate. Radical Islamists are strongly established in the province of Idlib, and will do all they can to prevent the creation of a de-escalation zone.

Conclusion

The following conclusions and analysis can be drawn from all the information presented thus far. After the defeat of the IS in Iraq and Syria, the most effective group that stands to oppose Assad’s regime remains Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. This movement has the necessary number of trained militants in its ranks to confront the government army, it has a rather positive image when compared with the IS, and advocates the idea of opposing “the betrayal of the interests of the people of Syria.” Meanwhile, the conflict between the factions within the movement itself, the conflicts with other armed groups, the reduction of logistical support, and problems with financing, all lead to a gradual degradation of HTS. We can conclude that to overcome these problems, the leadership of the movement may hold another re-branding. This conclusion is based on the fact that, at a turning point in its existence, al-Nusra / HTS is able, in words, to abandon the ideas of radical Islam in order to preserve their ability for an armed struggle, and to establish itself as a legitimate and independent force in the ongoing war . It seems that there is a desire on the part of HTS to become a Sunni version of Hezbollah. In this effort, the group could receive support from some concerned foreign parties.

The clashes and reluctance to compromise with the moderate opposition, continued conflict with the increasingly capable government army, and the never ending struggle for resources – have all reaped poor results for the group, and highlight the poor choice of strategies adopted by HTS thus far. Without external help, HTS will not be able to confront, for any extended periods of time, the SAA and the Russian Aerospace Forces.

Elite Syrian Hezbollah (Al-Rida) force deployed in Deir Ezzor for battles against ISIS

 

BEIRUT, LEBANON (5:55 P.M.) – Among the many high-end formations deployed by the Syrian Arab Army and allied paramilitary groups in the province of Deir Ezzor to defend recently retaken cities, towns and villages along the western bank of the Euphrates River from ISIS is a powerful Syrian Hezbollah force with countless years of experience on the battlefield.

Yesterday it was confirmed that the Syrian Hezbollah paramilitary group known as the Al-Rida Force is currently deployed along the western Euphrates shore south of Deir Ezzor city.

In its most recent assignment, the battle group has been tasked with carrying out defensive operations – namely, detecting and neutralizing ISIS infiltration attempts in the southwestern countryside of Deir Ezzor province.

The paramilitary formation is made up of native Syrian Hezbollah fighters who are mostly from the province of Homs. Throughout the Syrian conflict they have been trained and advised by the (original) Lebanese arm of Hezbollah.

Just yesterday, the Al-Rida Force – in conjunction with army units – rolled back a multi-pronged ISIS offensive against a number of towns along the western Euphrates shore.

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