Syrian rebel commanders from the Islamic Front which seized control of bases belonging to Western-backed rebels last week are due to hold talks with US officials in Turkey in coming days, rebel and opposition sources said on Saturday.
The expected contacts between Washington and the jihadist fighters reflect the extent to which the Islamic Front alliance has eclipsed the more moderate Free Syrian Army brigades – which Western and Arab powers tried in vain to build into a force able to topple President Bashar al-Assad.
The talks could also decide the future direction of the Islamic Front, which is engaged in a standoff with yet more radical takfiri fighters from the al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
A rebel fighter with the Islamic Front said he expected the talks in Turkey to discuss whether the United States would help arm the front and assign to it responsibility for maintaining order in the rebel-held areas of northern Syria.
He declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the talks, and gave no further details. Diplomatic sources in Turkey said that America’s Syria envoy Robert Ford was expected in Istanbul soon but his schedule was not yet confirmed.
The Islamic Front, formed by the unification of six major Islamist groups last month, seized control a week ago of weapons stores nominally under the control of the Free Syrian Army’s Supreme Military Command (SMC).
It has since said it was asked to take over the base by the SMC to protect it from attack by ISIL fighters. Whether or not the move was requested, it demonstrated how little power the Western-backed SMC wields in rebel-held Syria.
An SMC rebel commander also said he had been told the Islamic Front would hold talks with US officials in Turkey in the coming days.
The infighting and rivalries among the rebels have undermined their fight against Assad in Syria’s 2-1/2 year civil war.
The conflict has also reduced whole city districts across Syria to rubble, causing tens of billions of dollars of damage, driven 2 million refugees to seek safety abroad and made millions more homeless and vulnerable to a winter storm which has covered the region in snow and biting rain.
The Islamic Front rebel told Reuters that rivalry with the ISIL had already led to a spate of hostage-taking between the two sides, and that the Front’s decision to talk to the Americans had further escalated tension.
Although he described the two Islamist forces as ideologically close, he said ISIL appeared set on confrontation, perhaps encouraged by some of their backers in Saudi Arabia.
“The front has to talk to ISIL via messengers because of the tense situation,” he said. “ISIL sees things in black and white. They are very stubborn.”
“So far the Islamic Front has been restraining itself, having some sort of dialogue with ISIL,” the rebel said. But he said that unless the hostages were released soon “there will be more discussions and a different decision will be taken.”
Contacts with the United States will not be undertaken lightly by the Islamic Front, which includes Salafi groups such as Ahrar al-Sham brigades which are mainly hostile to the West and have rejected US-Russian backed UN peace talks for Syria, due to be held in Switzerland next month.
But their leaders have compared engaging with Washington to the Prophet Mohammad’s temporary and tactical truces with enemy tribes as he built up his power.
The US State Department, asked earlier this month whether it was in contact with Islamist rebels in Syria, said it wanted to work with a range of groups to try to persuade them to be part of the peace negotiations.
Rebels control a large region of northern and eastern Syria but have failed to unite in a single military force, allowing Assad’s army to make some inroads around the northern city of Aleppo in recent weeks.
The army, backed by Lebanese Hezbollah fighters, has also recaptured towns and suburbs around Damascus and along the main highway north from the capital towards the central city of Homs.
Last week’s Islamic Front seizure of the SMC weapons bases led the United States and Britain to suspend non-lethal aid into northern Syria. But the opposition Syrian National Coalition said on Friday that more help, not less, was desperately needed.
“We know that we have a problem, we know that we don’t have the organized military institutions that we want. We know of the challenges of the loose organization of the Free Syrian Army,” Coalition chief of staff Monzer Abkik said in London.
Appealing for international support to restructure the rebel forces, he said the alternative to an overhaul of their military operations was “complete chaos.”
“There are many, many groups fighting the regime and fighting each other and fighting al-Qaeda. It is a complete mess on the ground,” he said.
The Nobel Peace Prize should be renamed the Nobel Propaganda Prize, after this year’s ever-so contrived award to the UN-approved chemical weapons team sent to disarm Syria.
Other dubious winners of the “illustrious” prize include the accused war criminal, former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who oversaw the genocidal carpet-bombing of Indochina during the 1970s.
More recently, another accused war criminal, US President Barack Obama, is among the honorees of the award despite his ongoing use of assassination and murderous aggression in multiple countries, including Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Yemen and Syria.
A Norwegian-based committee of seemingly Scandinavian neutrality makes the award every year as it has done for more than a century ever since 1901. The prize was the creation of Alfred Nobel, a major armaments manufacturer. That in itself speaks volumes on the institution’s contradictory nature.
Last year, the winner of the Nobel Prize was yet another disgrace to morals and commonsense in the form of the European Union. How can a bloc of governments be remotely considered peaceful when it is wiping out basic social welfare for millions of its citizens in the service of criminal banks and elite private wealth? Or when it is lifting a weapons embargo on extremists running amok in Syria? Or colluding in the enforcement of crippling economic sanctions on Iran – based on nuclear calumnies cooked up by Western military intelligence – sanctions that are killing women and children from the lack of basic imported medicines?
While there have been a few deserving winners of the Nobel Peace Prize down through the years, nevertheless it is best to treat this institution with skepticism, if not derision. The meritorious aspects of the award can serve to give credence to the dubious and deplorable associates. In that way, it is more Propaganda Prize than Peace Prize.
This year’s recipient, the inspection team belonging to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, have only begun their work last week to dismantle stockpiles in Syria. This is part of the arrangement that Russia proposed last month to avert an illegal war of aggression being planned by the Nobel Peace Laureate Barack Obama. The Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad has fully signed up to the disarmament process.
However, it is precocious, to say the least, to award the OPCW with the Nobel prize, just like it was for the Oslo-based committee to give the award to Obama in 2009, only within months of his first election and before he went on to prove himself one of America’s most warmongering presidents since World War II.
How do we know that the OPCW will be effective in disarming the chemical weapons of the Western-backed mercenary groups fighting to overthrow the Assad government? How do we know that the OPCW will not mischievously misuse its remit and Nobel Laureate status to advance the Western propaganda narrative against the Syrian government?
The awarding of a peace prize based on no track record conjures suspicion that the institution and its benign connotations are being used to inculcate a reprehensible political agenda.
The same insidious propaganda formula of supposed virtue concealing vice can also be seen in the report this week by the New York-based Human Rights Watch group on massacres carried out by foreign-backed militants in Syria.
That report accuses up to 20 Al Qaeda-linked groups, including Al Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and Shams, of killing scores of civilians in Syria’s western Latakia Province during early August.
Such apparently damning testimony from a Western human rights organization may seem like a positive development.
But, as with the Nobel Peace Prize, there is a very real danger that the HRW report is merely acting as a whitewash of Western government crimes.
For a start, the HRW report claims that it has found the “first evidence of crimes against humanity by opposition forces”. That infers that previous atrocities are attributable to the Syrian government forces. This is simply false. Many reliable sources have found that most, if not all, major massacres in villages and towns across Syria over the past two and half years have been committed by the anti-government mercenary groups.
Western media and human rights groups, including HRW and Amnesty International, have deliberately or incompetently misattributed those crimes to Syrian government forces, which then serve to bestow a false moral authority on Western governments for their illicit interference in Syria.
For example, both HRW and Britain’s state-run media outlet, the BBC, as well as the US government’s Voice of America, have run reports that Syrian state forces carried out napalm bombings of schools in Raqqa and Aleppo in the north of the country. These reports are based on unverified amateur video released by so-called opposition groups, such as Ahrar al-Sham, which themselves have been involved in carrying out atrocities, as in Latakia Province during August.
HRW and the Western media continue to blame the chemical weapons incident on 21 August near Damascus on the Syrian government. HRW has openly attacked other credible sources, which have reported that that incident was a heinous fabrication, very possibly perpetrated by Western-backed militants as a calculated provocation.
There is strong suspicion, backed up by circumstantial and testimonial evidence, that the children portrayed as poisoned in the opposition-released videos of the 21 August incident in East Ghouta near Damascus were kidnapped by militants during their terror raids on villages in Latakia during the previous weeks. Their deaths were therefore staged for vile propaganda purpose, with which the Western governments, media and human rights industry have subsequently lashed Bashar al-Assad, eventually leading to the appointment of the OPCW inspection team and, bizarrely, their Nobel award.
The latest report by HRW on the massacres in Latakia notes that there are still over 200 people, mainly women and children, missing from those attacks. But HRW does not address the glaring connection to the anonymous child victims filmed in the East Ghouta incident.
A further insidious propaganda effect of the HRW report into the massacres by militants in Latakia is that it reinforces the illusion that the militants in Syria are divided between the “bad extremists” and the “good moderates”, whom the Western governments support. HRW says that it found no evidence linking the supposedly Western-backed Free Syrian Army to the Latakia atrocities.
However, this is contradicted by earlier reports that the leader of the FSA, General Salim Idris, and the moderate “darling” of Western governments, was in Latakia during the murderous rampages. Not only was Idris present in Latakia, he was videoed celebrating “the success” of operations.
On 11 August, the New York Times reported: “The visit by the Free Syrian Army commander, Gen. Salim Idris, appeared intended to show that he and his fighters were also involved in the Latakia seizures [sic] as part of a new front in the civil war.” That report added that Idris crowed about “accomplishments” in a released video.
The Human Rights Watch group is therefore not a positive contribution to clear the fog of war that the West has been pumping out relentlessly over Syria – far from it. HRW is a deep and insidious part of the problem. In fact, it is whitewashing the very real criminal involvement of Western governments and media in the covert war of aggression against Syria.
Nobel Peace Prizes and Western human rights groups may sound innocuous. But they are a central part of the Western propaganda machine, as much as MI6, CIA, Mossad, the Pentagon, Whitehall and the panoply of Western news media outlets with august titles, such as BBC and New York Times.
Finian Cunningham, originally from Belfast, Ireland, was born in 1963. He is a prominent expert in international affairs. The author and media commentator was expelled from Bahrain in June 2011 for his critical journalism in which he highlighted human rights violations by the Western-backed regime.
Today, October 8, the Aleppo-Salamiyeh road will be opened to civilians and convoys carrying supplies and fuel, ending the weeks-long siege imposed by opposition militants on the city. According to sources on the ground, the move will usher in a new phase of military operations in the city and surrounding areas.
Aleppo – The city of Aleppo has breathed a sigh of relief. After weeks of the siege imposed by the militants, the Syrian army managed to reopen the road to the city of Salamiyeh, and from there, to Hama, Homs, Damascus, and the Syrian coast.
Starting today, the road will be opened officially to civilians and convoys carrying flour, food supplies, and fuel, according to a source in the governorate. Buses and supply convoys are traversing the road under military protection, led by units from the Engineer Corps to dismantle mines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) – which the militants often plant at night and detonate in the day, in order to slow down and then attack the convoys.
The Syrian army has regained control over the area extending from Syria’s economic capital to the southeast town of Khanasser, through the defense manufacturing facilities in Sfireh, allowing the army to secure a road more than 200-km long from Aleppo to Salamiyeh.
Official Syrian sources told Al-Akhbar, “This achievement was the result of cumulative gains from various military operations during the past weeks, and heralds a new phase in the city of Aleppo and its environs.” The sources likened what is happening in Aleppo to what the Syrian army had accomplished in east Ghouta between November 2012 and April 2013, culminating with the siege of opposition militants in the area, and the elimination of their immediate threat to the Syrian capital.
While the people of Aleppo are waiting for the reopening of the road to improve their daily lives, especially in terms of reducing the prices of goods and improving their availability in the markets, the Syrian army continues its efforts to secure the hills overlooking the Athraya-Khanasser and Khanasser-Aleppo roads. The army also tightened its grip on the villages of Rasm Okeiresh, Rasm al-Sheikh, Rasm al-Helou, Rasm Bakrou, al-Wawiyeh, Rasm al-Safa, Barzanieh, Jalagheem, Zarraa, and Kafar Akkad.
However, dozens of cars and buses heading from Aleppo to Hama, Homs, and Damascus along the international highway – which extends from Aleppo to the southwest – were forced to return to Aleppo after militants attacked the Souran army checkpoint north of Hama. The road was blocked for three hours, and buses were forced back to the town of Zarbeh, south of Aleppo.
The Syrian air force carried out a series of strikes against encampments belonging to radical Islamic groups in various areas of the Aleppo countryside, killing large numbers of militants from different nationalities, according to a military source. Air strikes and artillery shelling pounded areas in Ikarda, Barqoum, Tall Hadiyyeh, al-Zarieh, Azzan, Andan, Babis, Kafar Naha, Mennagh, Hraytan, Kaffin, Maarasta, and the vicinity of the Aleppo Central Prison.
In Afrin, northwest of Aleppo, thousands of local residents attended a funeral of seven members of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPD), who were killed while staving off an attack by militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The mourners chanted slogans against Turkey and takfiri groups.
A YPD source told Al-Akhbar that the seven men were stationed on the Qastal Jendo-Azaz front, where attacks by takfiri groups are frequent. The source indicated that the residents of the villages and farms nearby dug trenches to defend against a possible large-scale attack by ISIS, after large numbers of fighters and vehicles equipped with medium to heavy machine guns were seen flocking to the flashpoints there.
After fighting between the YPD and ISIS militants resumed, dozens of Kurds from Afrin were kidnapped while traveling along the Aleppo-Afrin road, near the village of Deir Jmal.
Adham Sheikho, a lawyer from Afrin, shared with Al-Akhbar his account of the incident. He said, “Militants from the opposition forced dozens of passengers to leave their small buses and cars, and took them to an unknown location, for the sole reason that they came from Afrin.”
In the meantime, the tragedy of 63 women and children who were kidnapped from the towns of Nbel and Zahraa on their way to Damascus continues. A source in Nbel said that the kidnappers have moved the hostages to a farm they had seized in the village of Bawabieh, southwest of Aleppo.
In the Damascus countryside, the Syrian army launched a series of attacks against militant concentrations and weapons caches in Qaboun, Jobar, and other villages and towns across the countryside, according to SANA. The operations killed dozens of militants from Liwaa Omar al-Mukhtar and al-Baraa Brigades.
In Deir al-Zour, Syrian army forces bombarded militant outposts in al-Mraiyyeh. According to al-Mayadeen TV, an explosion took place under the National Hospital building in Deir al-Zour, while militants from al-Nusra Front were attempting to dig new tunnels underneath it.
Clashes between the Free Syrian Army and ISIS continued in al-Raqqa, meanwhile, killing and injuring scores on both sides.
The Battle of Wadi al-Deif
In the Idlib countryside, 20 armed brigades, most notably Ahrar al-Sham, announced the start of a battle to “liberate” military bases in Wadi al-Deif and al-Hamdieh in Maarrat Numan. The Wadi al-Deif base is located east of the strategic city of Maarrat Numan. It is the largest military complex in the area, containing large quantities of military hardware and ammunition. The opposition fighters previously besieged the complex for eight consecutive months before the Syrian army managed to end their siege nearly four months ago.
In Homs, opposition forces issued a statement announcing that indirect negotiations with the regime had failed. The negotiations focused on trying to get a number of people out of the neighborhoods besieged by the Syrian army in the city. The statement’s authors pledged to begin a new offensive in Homs.
- FSA on verge of collapse in Syria: Analyst (presstv.ir)
Syrian opposition groups categorically rejected Thursday a Russian proposal for placing Syria’s chemical arms under international control, and called for government officials to be brought to justice.
Meanwhile, Washington called Thursday on the Syrian government to quickly declare the scope and size of its chemical weapons stockpile as Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Geneva for high-stakes talks.
“It’s doable, but difficult,” a US official told reporters accompanying the top US diplomat.
The Syrian National Coalition opposition group questioned the initiative, saying it is a “political maneuver aimed at buying time” for President Bashar al-Assad.
“The Free Syrian Army announces its categorical rejection of the Russian initiative that foresees placing chemical weapons under international control,” FSA military commander General Selim Idriss said in a video posted on YouTube.
Idriss told world powers they should not “be satisfied only by removing the chemical weapon, which is the tool of a crime, but judge the author of the crime before the International Criminal Court, who has clearly acknowledged possessing it and agreed to get rid of it.”
Questioning the motives for the initiative by Russia, the Coalition’s overnight statement also said it would be unacceptable unless it “called to account the crimes against the Syrian people.”
And any measures should be adopted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which allows for possible military measures.
Idriss also called on countries backing the 30-month uprising against Assad to increase the supply of arms to the rebels so that they can “continue to liberate the country.”
And he exhorted his fighters to “intensify operations in all regions of the country.”
The United States claims that the Syrian government carried out chemical weapons strikes on a number of Damascus suburbs on August 21, and threatened to carry out punitive strikes.
Assad’s government denies any responsibility in the chemical attack, saying rebels were behind it to garner international momentum against Assad.
Russia on Monday announced a proposal under which Syria would turn over its chemical weapons, and US President Barack Obama postponed any military action to consider the Russian initiative.
The four-point plan, details of which were disclosed on Wednesday, would see Syria becoming a member of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, according to a report in Moscow.
Syria would then have to declare the location of chemical weapons arsenals and, then allow OPCW inspectors to examine them and finally decide, in cooperation with the inspectors, how to destroy them.
UN inspectors have already visited the sites of the alleged attacks in Damascus, and France has said their report will probably be issued on Monday.
Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told French radio Thursday “it will say that there was a chemical massacre” and that “there will certainly be indications” of the origin of the attack.
Diplomats have said the report is unlikely to pin blame on either side in the conflict, but that it would contain enough detail to suggest which party was responsible.
Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are due to meet in Geneva on Thursday to try to agree on a strategy to eliminate the chemical arsenal.
The top Russian diplomat said on a visit to Kazakhstan before heading to Geneva that both Russia and the United States would be taking experts on chemical weapons to the talks.
Lavrov said he did not rule out UN-Arab League Syria envoy Lakhdar Brahimi joining the talks in Geneva to discuss a stalled US-Russian initiative for a peace conference in the Swiss city.
(AFP, Reuters, Al-Akhbar)
As the humanitarian crisis unfolds in the Syrian conflict, with suffering refugees reaching the two-million mark, RT’s contributor Afshin Rattansi says Obama actually destroyed the peace deal when it was on the table.
RT: First, let us just talk about where the countries are standing at the moment. France, for example, is saying “We won’t go ahead and strike unless US Congress sanctions military action”. And so, does that actually mean that this has got nothing to do with the UN Security Council; it all depends on what the US says?
Afshin Rattansi: That’s right. President Obama, that first African-American president in history, is presiding over what he presumably realizes is direct conflict with the UN, though it does have Ban-Ki Moon, a sanguine figure who doesn’t seem to care that much about the fact that it looks like it may suffer the same fate as the League of Nations. And President Francois Hollande cutting a suitably Napoleonic figure, saying “We feel very strongly about it, but we won’t do it, if President Obama doesn’t get his Congressional support”… I don’t know it’s not clear at the moment whether President Obama needs that Congressional support. But he has it anyway, if he gives away on Obama care maybe.
RT: It seems that he has got that support, because today the leaders have said they will support military intervention, and of course, this big vote is next week. But do you think there will be a definite vote in Congress for Obama to go ahead? The indications are there.
AR: I suppose when we first heard the Russian Defense Ministry talking about ballistic items being shot out of ships, it should drive home the point to people around the world that Obama can strike at any moment.
He has, after all, conducted joint strikes in the past 72 hours in Yemen and in Afghanistan. So, I don’t think he’ll wait for that approval; he is quite convinced he’ll get this approval definitely and there will be a few deals on things President Obama didn’t particularly want anyway, and was only doing to please his base. But no, I don’t think he needs Congressional approval, the exact vote, he was very clear to say he needed no timeline and there’s the fact that President Assad is threatening US national security, in which case there’s plenty of precedent for the United States President to act alone. The Congressional thing is a bit of window-dressing.
RT: Two million refugees now, a humanitarian crisis unfolding… What sort of repercussions does this have on neighboring countries?
AR: When one looks at those numbers of American destroyers, the number of missiles, and the cost of all of that… Historians in the future will be saying, “Why”, when there was a peace deal on the table to be discussed in Geneva, did Obama destroy and torpedo the peace deal and leave the plight of the refugees to get worse and worse?
One should add of course that while there are brilliant people working for NGO refugee agencies, they act as an arm of the American government. It might be incumbent on some of those refugee agency volunteers, and more so the people who are paid to work for them, to look at where their salaries are coming from – from the same people that are creating the refugee crisis. But, as you say, two million… When I was last in Syria, I was writing for CounterPunch and I was talking about the massive amount of care and concern President Assad’s government had for the results of the NATO invasion of Iraq, taking in the equivalent, proportionately, of twenty million refugees, if it was the United States.
RT: Just briefly, you’re there in London, Syria seems to be a long, long way away, but the refugee crisis, could it have some sort of impact on Europe?
AR: It was very recently that both parties here – Conservative and Labor – were ratcheting up pressure, saying “We don’t want asylum seekers”. The Labor party here often says, “We are swamped with asylum seekers”. I think they live on 7 dollars a day. Of course, the refugee crisis will lead to Syrians looking for succor. And I’m sure Britain and America will welcome all these refugees. Again, as you say, hundreds of thousands in that region, and there will be refugees on the streets of London, if Obama carries out his plans for war.
Defending themselves by all means available is the Kurdish Popular Defense Units’ (YPG) last resort in Syria, the group’s spokesperson Redor Khalil told RT.
Amid Western inaction and Russian condemnation of massacres against the Kurds, Redor Khalil said that evidence is readily available to support the injustice perpetrated against the Kurdish people by militants sponsored from abroad – if anybody were to listen.
RT: Tell us about the Popular Defense Units. Is it your objective to protect the Kurds, or to protect all the residents of this territory?
Redor Khalil: The Popular Defense Units were established to protect all the people – Kurds as well as Arabs. We formed the units in 2011 when the war began. You should know that Syria, including Western Kurdistan, has a mixed population of Kurds, Arabs, Armenians, Assyrians, Turkmens, Circassians and so on. Our units were intended to protect all these areas and their residents.
RT: But some are saying that your attacks on enemy positions in Arabic villages are impeding the relations between Kurds and Arabs. Armed clashes in these areas result in losses on both sides.
RK: We don’t believe that our actions will result in social disintegration. Kurds and Arabs have been living side-by-side in these territories for centuries, and they will keep it this way in the future.
We’ve said time and again that we strongly disapprove of ethnic, religious and sectarian wars. However, there are certain powers which have been trying to stir up confusion and to make it look like a fight between Kurds and Arabs for the sake of their own interests.
As you travel through these areas you may ask the local members of minorities and religious groups whether there is a sectarian war taking place here. I can assure you that it’s not the case.
Our traditions, moral values and principles prevent us from starting a war between different religious or ethnic groups. Neither Kurds nor Arabs want this war to happen. But some forces are working on instigating a conflict between us as a part of their plan.
RT: We’ve been around Qamishli, where the clashes take place. The YPG members told us that Jabhat Al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant are much better armed. With this in mind, can the YPG really ensure people’s security and extend it to other regions? And what is your opinion on some foreign states supplying weapons to these terrorist groups?
RK: The YPG units are made up of the local population. Our main strategy is defense, not offense. If there are no attacks on our territory, no threats to our towns and cities, we do not take any offensive action. We don’t attack anyone or provoke confrontation. But since our territories are under attack, we have to defend ourselves with all the means available. Our enemy gets support from the outside; they have heavy armaments and plenty of ammunition. I can state openly that the YPG units do not get any support from foreign countries. We employ a defensive strategy in all our operations, using only our own weapons and ammunition.
RT: Recently it was rumored that Kurdish political forces want to create a government of the so-called Western Kurdistan. It’s well-known that there are external Kurdish elements that support the idea. How would you comment on these rumors?
RK: Some parties and movements declare this project their main political objective. On behalf of the YPG members and based on the information we have, I can say that they don’t intend to set up a government for Western Kurdistan. This is just talk meant to drive a wedge between different ethnic groups living in the region. Syria is going through a very difficult and dangerous time right now. There are some places in Syria over which the current regime will never be able to regain control. People living there are in dire need of governing authorities, which the Free Syrian Army has already created in Idlib and Ar-Raqqah. There’s nothing surprising about that, and it’s the same thing the Kurdish people want – self-government over the areas where the Kurds live is an inherent part of our political project. Some political movements claim that it springs from our desire to separate from Syria and create our own state and government. They aim to sow seeds of discord among various ethnic and religious groups living in this area and exacerbate the already complicated state of affairs. They are just pursuing their own selfish goals.
RT: Some opposition groups say that the YPG leaders coordinate their operations with the Syrian government and its army forces. What kind of relations do you maintain with the Syrian government?
RK: We have vehemently denied these allegations before, and we will keep doing so. We don’t maintain any relations with the government. The Popular Protection Units have no connection to the regime. You have seen for yourselves that the government officials stay inside the city. The rest of the territory is under our control. Basically, the YPG is in charge there and responsible for ensuring security.
RT: Speaking of Jabhat al-Nusra’s massacre in Afrin and Qamishli, the Russian Foreign Ministry and several human rights organizations condemned it, but the US State Department said that they have no hard evidence of genocidal intent against the Kurdish people. How would you explain this US stance?
RK: I think that if the US truly wanted to get to the bottom of this, it would be very easy – it’s crystal clear what exactly is happening. The massacre of Kurdish civilians in places like Tal Hasil and Tal Aran is a dark but undeniable fact. There are eyewitnesses of these events, and we at the YPG, as well as several Kurdish civilians, have documentary proof of it. We are ready to give this proof to international organizations and mass media to show them the truth of this horrible war the radical Islamists are fighting on our soil. I think the main reason for this massacre is that the YPG defeated the militants at Ras al-Ayn where they were based, maintaining control over a border checkpoint. After they suffered defeat at Rumeylan the radical groups attacked civilians who are not involved in military action.
For 25 years now, Hezbollah has been engaged in a war with many powerful intelligence outfits from around the world. These intelligence agencies have devoted tremendous resources to collect information on the party, in addition to pursuing both its civilian and military activities, not to mention carrying out assassinations against its cadre and leadership.
Israel has played a key role in these efforts, but it is hardly alone. After the assassination of Rafik Hariri in 2005, Hezbollah was subjected to the most ferocious campaign against it, with former US ambassador to Lebanon Jeffrey Feltman admitting before Congress that Washington spent $500 million to undermine the party’s image.
After the outbreak of the Syrian uprising and Hezbollah’s open declaration of its involvement in the country’s fighting, the campaign intensified, with mounting threats to the party and its supporters that they may be subjected to revenge attacks.
First, the Resistance’s Dahiyeh stronghold was shelled with rockets. Similar attacks followed on many towns and villages in Baalbeck and Hermel. These were followed by roadside bombs targeting Hezbollah members on the main Lebanese highway to Syria, culminating in the massive Bir al-Abed blast in the heart of Dahiyeh.
Hezbollah is in a state of high alert due to the fact that it has been forced to fight simultaneously on two fronts. This has prompted Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah to tell the party’s cadre that they must be prepared for attacks that may involve both Syrian and Lebanese groups, without dropping their guard against their main enemy – Israel.
On the eve of Hezbollah’s engagement in the battle of Qusayr, it initiated a plan that involved:
– a series of practical steps to prevent the killing of Lebanese civilians held by the Syrian opposition in the north of the country;
– securing areas that may become targets of reprisals, including the border areas, Beirut, and South Lebanon.
The question today is: Who thought up an adventure of this kind against the Resistance? I wonder whether they thought about the party’s reaction.
Who are these people? Are they groups within the Free Syrian Army or the Salafi al-Nusra Front? Are they jihadi elements in Lebanon active in the North and Bekaa? Could they be Palestinians who have abandoned their cause to work as agents serving another agenda?
Who is helping them inside Lebanon? What are the Internal Security Forces (who take orders from the Future Party) doing about it? They seem to care little about people’s safety and are mainly concerned with collecting information on the Resistance.
In any case, Hezbollah has surprised friend and foe on more than one occasion in their intelligence capabilities. So, will the Resistance surprise us again by revealing who is behind these attacks?
A prominent U.S. senator has called on the administration of President Barack Obama to attack Syrian “airfields, airplanes and massed artillery.”
The influential chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin (D-Mich.) who has returned from a fact-finding trip to the Middle East, also expressed support for arming the militant groups fighting against the government of President Bashar al-Assad.
“Increased military pressure on Assad is the only way to achieve a negotiated settlement in Syria, which in turn is needed to restore stability to a region that certainly doesn’t need any more instability,” Levin said Wednesday during a speech at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Levin conceded that the U.S. public opposes an increased involvement in the Syrian conflict and that there is “no consensus” on the issue on Capitol Hill.
Senator Levin and Senator Angus King (I-Maine) spent five days in Jordan and Turkey, talking to government officials as well as U.S. diplomatic and military personnel about the conflict in Syria.
The two senators also met with militant leaders including Salim Idriss, the leader of the so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA), and visited refugee camps along the Syrian border.
In a joint statement on Tuesday, Levin and King said the U.S. and its allies should arm and train the militants and consider “options for limited, targeted strikes at airplanes, helicopters, missiles, tanks and artillery.”
However they said they were not calling for American troops on the ground in Syria.
The senators noted that “doing nothing may be the worst option of all,” potentially destabilizing U.S. allies in the region, including Turkey and Jordan, and threatening Israeli interests.
In a letter last month, Sen. Levin, Sen. John McCain, a Republican from Arizona and Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey called on President Obama to take “more decisive military actions” against Syria.
A recent opinion poll conducted by the Pew Research Center shows that the majority of Americans, 70 percent, are against U.S. involvement in Syria’s unrest.
Russia’s inquiry into the use of chemical weapons on Syrian territory was carried out in full accordance with international standards, unlike a similar evaluation by Western countries, says Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
On Tuesday, Russia submitted to the UN its analysis of the samples taken at the Syrian town where chemical weapons were used. Evidence studied by Russian scientists indicates that a projectile carrying the deadly nerve agent sarin was most likely fired at Khan al-Assal, west of Aleppo, by rebels, rather than government forces.
Russia “guarantees” the quality of the analysis, which fully complies with the requirements set by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Sergey Lavrov told a media conference on Wednesday, following talks with his Belarusian counterpart.
In response to US doubts regarding the results of the analysis, Lavrov underlined that the samples of the chemical weapons had been taken at the very place where they were used and were delivered by Russian experts rather than passed through third-party hands.
“We submitted a full set of documents [to the UN]. That’s over 80 pages, including photographs and precise geographic coordinates [of places where samples were taken], procedures and results,” Lavrov pointed out. “We also guarantee that the samples were taken by experts who did not let go of them till they were delivered to the laboratory,” Lavrov said.
The evidence of the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime – which was provided by the US, Britain and France – does not provide information on where and when the samples they used for analysis were taken, Lavrov noted.
Besides that, their samples passed through many hands and some of them, as those Western partners said, were received from journalists, he observed.
“All that totally contradicts the standards existing in the OPCW,” Lavrov stated.
Evidence studied by Russian experts indicates that on March 19 the rebels fired an unguided missile Bashair-3 at the northern Syrian town of Khan al-Assal, outside Aleppo, which has been under government control. According to the findings, the shell used in Khan al-Assal was not factory-made and contained sarin – a highly toxic nerve agent.
Russia believes that the manufacture of the ‘Bashair-3’ warheads started in February, and is the work of Bashair al-Nasr, a brigade with close ties to the Free Syrian Army.
Moscow has no objection to making the results of its probe public, Lavrov pointed out.
“[The conclusions of the inquiry] are quite convincing and I think that this should answer many questions,” he said.
Meanwhile, the opposition Syrian National Coalition denied Russian allegations that rebel forces used chemical weapon at the suburb of Aleppo. They insist that UN inspectors should be allowed to investigate the attack.
British Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn told RT that “it’s got to be a good thing that Russia is going to put its evidence in front of the UN.”
Responding to comments from the US, Britain, and France that they have unconfirmed reports that the Syrian regime used chemical weapons, Corbyn said “the reports are either confirmed and the evidence is there, or it’s not, and anyone who has any evidence should hand it straight over to the UN.”
“The usage of chemical weapons is inconsistent with the guiding principles and goals of the Syrian revolution,” Khalid Saleh, a spokesman for the coalition said on Wednesday, as cited by Reuters. “Targeting civilians indiscriminately to achieve political gains is a common characteristic of the Assad regime,” he added.
The Syrian government and rebels have blamed each other for the March incident outside Aleppo that killed 26 people as well as for other alleged chemical attacks in the conflict-torn country.
On Monday, the Syrian government invited two senior UN officials to Damascus to discuss allegations of the use of chemical weapons, adding that they discovered a rebels-linked storage site which contained piles of dangerous chemicals.
The UN Secretary General’s spokesperson described the offer as “a move in the right direction,” but did not say whether the organization would accept it. Martin Nesirky said the Syrian government needed to grant the UN team broad access across the country “without further delay and without conditions.”
Father Francois Murad was beheaded by US-backed rebels in Syria
Catholic Online today posted a story—if you could call it that—about the beheading of Father Francois Murad by rebels in Syria. Relying on a press release from the Vatican, the article refers to Murad, accurately, as a “martyr,” but makes no mention of the fact that the US is funding Syrian rebels. In fact, the issue of who is backing the rebels is not even addressed in the story. Nor is there any mention of the fact that under the secular government of President Bashar Assad, the Christian community in Syria has prospered and enjoyed freedom of worship. I can only conclude it’s either a shoddy piece of journalism or a deliberate attempt to obfuscate. Below is the full story. I’ll have some additional information to follow.
Warning Graphic Video—Syrian Jihadists Behead Catholic Priest
By Catholic Online (News Consortium)
Jihadists are Terrorizing Syrians and Persecuting Christians
Syrian terrorists have beheaded a Catholic priest who they accused of collaborating with the Assad regime. Those accusations have not yet been verified. Father Francois was summarily executed and the Vatican has confirmed the martyrdom.
VATICAN CITY (Catholic Online) – The Vatican is confirming the death by beheading of Franciscan Father, Francois Murad, who was martyred by Syrian jihadists on June 23.
Below is the news release from the Vatican, via news.va.
On Sunday, June 23 the Syrian priest François Murad was killed in Gassanieh, in northern Syria, in the convent of the Custody of the Holy Land where he had taken refuge. This is confirmed by a statement of the Custos of the Holy Land sent to Fides Agency. The circumstances of the death are not fully understood. According to local sources, the monastery where Fr. Murad was staying was attacked by militants linked to the jihadi group Jabhat al-Nusra.
Father François, 49, had taken the first steps in the religious life with the Franciscan Friars of the Custody of the Holy Land, and with them he continued to share close bonds of spiritual friendship. After being ordained a priest he had started the construction of a coenobitic monastery dedicated to St. Simon Stylites in the village of Gassanieh.After the start of the Civil War, the monastery of St. Simon had been bombed and Fr. Murad had moved to the convent of the Custody for safety reasons and to give support to the remaining few, along with another religious and nuns of the Rosary.
“Let us pray,” writes the Custos of the Holy Land Pierbattista Pizzaballa OFM ” so that this absurd and shameful war ends soon and that the people of Syria can go back to living a normal life.” Archbishop Jacques Behnan Hindo, titular of the Syrian Catholic archeparchy in Hassaké-Nisibis reports to Fides: “The whole story of Christians in the Middle East is marked and made fruitful by the blood of the martyrs of many persecutions. Lately, father Murad sent me some messages that clearly showed how conscious he was of living in a dangerous situation, and offered his life for peace in Syria and around the world.”
This should make it clear to Christians around the world what jihadists are about. Make no mistake. Catholics and Christians around the globe are under dire threat, particularly from the spread of militant Islam. Until the threat is recognized and taken seriously, martyrdoms like this will continue.
We have a link to video provided via LiveLeak. We must warn you, the video is extremely graphic. We believe the first victim is Father Francois, and the second victim that is depicted is another person said to be a collaborator with the Assad regime.
The video CLEARLY depicts the beheadings of these victims. DO NOT follow the link unless you are over the age of 18, and are prepared to view content of this nature.
Catholic Online believes it is very important the world knows that Christians are being murdered for their faith, and that martyrdom isn’t an ancient phenomenon.
You’ll notice also there is no mention in the above story about US and Israeli interests dovetailing in Syria, or that Israel is pushing for regime change in Syria as well. Why does the Catholic Online omit this information? The prayer by Pizzaballa, the custos of the Holy Land, is a bit ironic as well, is it not? “Let us pray so that this absurd and shameful war ends soon and that the people of Syria can go back to living a normal life.” With Obama intent on arming the rebels, the war, absent direct intervention from God, is not likely to end anytime soon. While the article does refer to al-Nusra, it fails to mention that the latter is linked to the Free Syrian Army or that the FSA is being backed by the US.
At least one mainstream media outlet has now also reported on the beheadings—the Unification Church-owned Washington Times. And you know something? Their report is considerably better than Catholic Online’s. It at least includes the information that many of the insurgent forces in Syria “are supported by the West” (support from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey is also mentioned), and that the beheading of the two men “comes about the same time America has started sending arms to rebel fighters.”
And yes, according to a report here, the Obama administration has indeed begun shipping its promised arms to the rebels.
Even the Japanese media are doing a better job than Catholic Online reporting on Father Murad’s death. “The Franciscan Father, Francois Murad, was killed by Takfiri Muslim fanatics belonging to either al-Nusra—or another fanatical terrorist group which takes pleasure in barbarity,” write Murad Makhmudov and Lee Jay Walker in an op-ed piece for Modern Tokyo Times.
The article goes on to cite other atrocities committed, and makes clear who is directly responsible:
In other sickening videos taken by al-Qaeda affiliated factions and FSA terrorist groups they show Muslims being beheaded, women being shot and thrown down holes and now they are taunting the families of captured soldiers by phoning them before beheading their sons. This barbaric reality which is glossed over by major Western and Gulf media agencies highlights the utter disgrace of the Obama government in America, the government in France under Hollande and the same applies to the United Kingdom under Cameron.
So why do we have a Catholic media organ doing such a poor job reporting on the atrocious murder of a priest? Why do we have a pope intent on pandering to Jewish favor? These are questions worth considering.
The following article from the website Syria Report features some revealing information, including a quote from Pizzaballa that didn’t make it into the Catholic Online article for some reason.
Catholic Priest Executed as Foreign Arms Flood into Syria
On Sunday, June 23, Syrian Catholic priest François Murad was murdered in the locality of Gassanieh, northern Syria, according to a statement from the Custody of the Holy Land sent to the Fides Agency.
Murad (49), having led a religious life and studied in Palestine, was ordained a priest and set about building a monastery in Gassanieh, Idlib.
Murad was targeted by armed militants, while he was residing at the monastery, which was dedicated to Saint Simon Stylite.
Citing the head of all Franciscans in the Holy Land, Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Vatican News Agency said that Father Murad recently chose a monastic way of life and resorted to the monastery, with Franciscan Friars, a few weeks earlier.
“The world must know that the support of gunmen by the west is helping extremists in killing Syrians”, Pizzaballa said, adding that, “with such stances, not a single Christian will remain in the East.”
According to local sources, the monastery was raided by gunmen, who proceeded to execute François Murad, loot and burn the building. Four-thousand people are reported to have since fled the area.
Christians in Syria are being increasing targeted by sectarian armed groups in Syria, of which there are between several hundred and over a thousand.
In May, a Christian village located in Homs countryside, was overrun by armed men and it’s entire population massacred.
Two Christian bishops who were kidnapped by Chechen gunmen in Aleppo earlier this year, are still missing.
In April, the remaining Christians in Deir el-Zour fled, the church having being blown up by militants. Last week, militants massacred dozens of villagers in the province’s town of Hatla. Since then, summary executions and sectarian house-to-house raids have taken place.
Sectarian bloodshed has increased following the Syrian army’s securing of the strategic Homs city of al-Qusayr earlier this month. Despite the overt sectarianism of armed groups in Syria, America and it’s allies have pledged to continue the transfer of weapons in an effort to turn the tide of the conflict. Advanced weapons have since been spotted in the hands of extremists militants.
Finally, here is the link to the video of the beheading, if you haven’t seen it yet. WARNING: it is extremely graphic. The video is a bit over nine and a half minutes. Go here to view.
Tension returns to the already unstable relationship between the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the Kurdish Popular Protection Units in the countryside of Aleppo, following attempts by the FSA to raid Kurdish-controlled villages in the Afrin region.
The clashes in the Afrin region – between units of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Tawhid Brigade and Islamist and Kurdish groups supported by Ankara – resulted in the displacement of some villagers and the closure of the Afrin-Aleppo road.
Kurdish sources confirmed to Al-Akhbar that 14 members of the opposition units and two Kurdish fighters were killed over the weekend. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the clashes caused the death of 11 rebel fighters and the injury of more than 20.
Reports on injuries and the clashes’ cause conflicted. In a statement, the Popular Protection Units (YPG) announced the deaths of 11 members of armed groups, including a battalion commander, and the injuring of 15 other fighters.
On the other hand, the Tawhid Brigade said that the “commander of Battalion 21″ was killed, as well as the commander of the Sayyid al-Shuhada al-Hamza, AKA Shamel. Dissident Kurdish captain Bioar Mustafa, commander of the Salaheddin Battalion fighting alongside the FSA against the YPG, was also injured.
The Tawhid Battalion accused one of the Kurdish checkpoints of “facilitating the passage of residents of Kfar Nebel,” which the FSA has put under siege.
The YPG, however, said in a statement that “FSA groups attacked the village of Aqiba in Nahiet Shirawa and the YPG responded to the attack.”
FSA units kidnapped two Kurdish citizens from the village of Bassila on the Aleppo-Afrin road. The Syrian army exploited the clashes between the two opposition groups. A source close to the FSA was reported saying that the regime’s forces sent military and logistical reinforcements to the besieged Ming Military Airport.
In the meantime, the Sheikh Said Piran battalions fighting alongside the FSA at the Ming Airport and some neighborhoods of Aleppo announced its “complete withdrawal from Aleppo and the beginning of a march to Afrin to defend it against the FSA.”
The Kurdish Front Brigade, which is close to the YPG despite fighting against the Syrian army alongside the FSA, announced that they are coordinating all their operations with the YPG. “They are with us in the same trench,” it said.
The YPG, however, maintained that the FSA’s attack “targets the entire Afrin region and was planned in advance.” Kurdish sources maintained that there is a plan by the FSA in the Aleppo countryside to attack the villages of Afrin and impose an economic siege.
However, this is not the first attempt by FSA groups in Aleppo to attack villages under the control of the Kurdish units. In this respect, a Kurdish source explained to Al-Akhbar that the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood “is a bigger threat to the Kurds from the entire Baathist doctrine.”
“But anytime the Brotherhood thinks about cleansing Aleppo or its countryside, they will find that the Kurds will be their biggest challenge,” he added.
“Despite the Brotherhood knowing that they are fighting a losing battle in Afrin, which will weaken and drain them, they seem to be pulled ideologically,” he said. “This cancels the pragmatic side.”
Qatar which has been a staunch supporter of the Free Syrian Army against President Bashar al-Assad in Syria is now looking to enroll Yemen’s military elite to fight alongside other Arab-backed militias in a bid to offset Assad’s recent advances against the opposition.
Yemen Republican Guards, Yemen’s best of the best, the very units which were meant to ward off former President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s foes are now being bid for by foreign powers in a regional effort to depose Syria’s regime.
Faced with the very possibility that Assad could after all outrun his enemies, strong of the support of Iran and the Hezbollah and restore his hold over the country, the Free Syrian Army has turned to his sponsors for support, awaiting more troops and more weapons.
While regional powers have committed money and military equipment, as well as allowed volunteers to cross over onto Syria to swell the resistance ranks, none has so far agreed to commit men to the conflict, a move which would equate to a declaration of war against the Syrian regime.
Qatar is now looking to by-pass the hurdle by sending Yemen Republican Guards to the front. Of course the men would go in their civilian capacity, hired as mercenaries by the State of Qatar.
According to local newspapers, Qatar would be looking to enroll 10,000 soldiers.
Military officials have warned that such a move would leave Yemen vulnerable, its defenses weakened.