The leader of Yemen’s Houthi fighters has heaped scorn on Saudi Arabia for conducting unjust and heinous attacks on Yemeni people, saying the Arab kingdom is serving as a puppet for the United States and the Israeli regime.
Abdul-Malik al-Houthi made the remarks in a televised address on Thursday in reaction to Saudi Arabia’s “unjustified” deadly attacks targeting Yemeni people in the capital, Sana’a.
Saudi Arabia is a puppet at the disposal of superpowers, the Houthi leader said, adding that Riyadh is putting in action the US-Israeli conspiracy in Yemen.
He noted that the US-Israeli plot in Yemen aims to break up the chaotic country and deprive people of security and freedom.
Al-Houthi said the Saudi invasion of Yemen came after their agents, including al-Qaeda terrorists and the ISIL Takfiri terrorists, failed to execute their plots in Yemen.
He said the “criminal” attacks uncovered the “tyrannical” nature of the Saudi regime.
Al-Houthi warned that Saudi Arabia would face consequences should it push ahead with its aggression against Yemen, saying, “We will confront the criminal forces and their tools in the country.”
“You think you can kill Yemeni people, but this is because of your stupidity,” he said. “This unjustified aggression shows the hostility and arrogance of this regime. The attacks are reflecting the inhumanity of the aggressor.”
Al-Houthi said the “aggressors” should keep in mind that the Yemeni people are “committed to defending their country and revolution” by relying on God.
On Thursday, Saudi warplanes carried out fresh airstrikes against Yemen, hitting the northern cities of Sa’ada and Ta’izz in the south.
Airstrikes also targeted arms depots in the Malaheez region in Sa’ada near the border with Saudi Arabia.
Saudi warplanes started bombing the positions of the Ansarullah fighters and launched attacks against the Sana’a International Airport and the Dulaimi airbase early on Thursday.
Despite Riyadh’s claims that it is attacking Ansarullah positions, Saudi warplanes have flattened a number of homes near the Sana’a airport. Based on early reports, the Saudi airstrikes on Yemen have so far claimed the lives of 18 civilians with more deaths feared, Yemeni sources said.
The Saudi invasion of Yemen has drawn condemnation from many countries such as Iran, Russia, Iraq and Syria, as well as the Lebanese resistance movement, Hezbollah.
The blatant invasion of Yemen’s sovereignty by the Saudi government comes against a backdrop of total silence on the part of international bodies, especially the United Nations. The world body has so far failed to show any reaction whatsoever to the violation of the sovereignty of one of its members by Riyadh.
This article examines and documents the Houla massacre of May 2012, a terrible incident in the Syrian Crisis which came closest to attracting UN intervention. The analysis here seeks to include all relevant evidence, both from witnesses and on the UN processes. A series of appalling civilian massacres during the conflict helped set the tone for another round of ‘humanitarian intervention’ or ‘responsibility to protect’ debates. The killings at Houla deserve close attention. However, because of NATO’s abuse of the ‘no fly zone’ authorisation for Libya and the wider geo-politics of Syria, Russia and China would not allow a similar UN Security Council authorisation of force. Big power intervention therefore remained indirect, through proxy militias. While the Syrian army attacked those militias and many Islamist groups carried out public executions, attempts to blame the Syrian Army for attacks on civilians remained hotly contested.
The context to this was two very different narratives. Western propaganda attacked Syrian President Bashar al Assad, claiming that he, through the Syrian Arab Army, was repeatedly ‘killing his own people’. From the Syrian side this was always a proxy war against Syria, with NATO and allied Gulf monarchies backing sectarian terrorist gangs, with the aim of ‘regime change’. The western line maintained that a peaceful protest movement, after many months of ‘regime brutality’, transformed into a secular (later ‘moderate Islamist’) ‘revolution’. The western popular media reinforced this line, with calls to arm the ‘civilian protestors’. One such article claimed ‘We will pay a high price if we do not arm Syria’s rebels’ (Slaughter 2012). In the first few months of western reports there is very little admission of an armed insurrection, except by suggested ‘civilian self-defence’ measures.
The Syrian Government, on the other hand, said the political reform movement and the sectarian Islamist attacks were quite distinct, the latter taking cover under the former. Armed sniping attacks on police and civilians began in March 2011. In fact, arms shipments were intercepted on the Syria-Iraq border a week before the first violence broke out (Reuters 2011) and former Saudi military official Anwar Al-Eshki would later confirm to the BBC that his country had armed Islamists at the al-Omari mosque in Daraa (Truth Syria 2012). Many Syrian citizens back their government’s explanation, saying that the early protests were not linked to the armed attacks, which made use of Islamist slogans. The protest movement was effectively driven off the streets by the armed conflict (Eva Pal 2014; Haidar 2012). It has emerged that both sides played down soldier deaths in the early weeks, as ‘the government did not want to show they are weak and the opposition did not want to show they are armed’. Yet 18-19 soldiers were massacred in Daraa in late March and another 88 were killed across Syria in April (Narwani 2014).
A similarly polarised view developed over how to characterise the violence in Homs over 2011-2012, when the first groups calling themselves Free Syrian Army (FSA) brigades attempted to hold parts of the old city. The Farouq and Khalid bin Walid brigades were the main occupying groups. Western sources characterised Farouq, if not exactly secular, then as ‘moderate’ Sunni Muslims. One US report, while recognising Islamist ‘jihadis’ amongst the fighters, claimed that ‘the vast majority of the [FSA] opposition fighters are legitimate nationalists … pious rather than Islamists and are not motivated by sectarianism’ (Benotman and Naseraldin 2012). The Washington-aligned International Crisis Group similarly noted ‘the presence of a strong Salafi strand among Syria’s rebels’, but spoke of ‘a moderate Islamic tradition’, suggesting that the Farouk and Khalid bin Walid brigades might be pious rather than Islamist (ICG 2012). The Wall Street Journal also called Farouk ‘pious Sunnis’ rather than Islamists (Malas 2013). The BBC called them ‘moderately Islamist’, suggesting they exaggerated their Islamism by dress and beards ‘to attract financial support from the Gulf’ (Marcus 2013).
Yet many Homs residents were terrified by the sectarian-genocidal slogans of ‘Christians to Beirut, Alawites to the tomb’ (Eretz Zen 2012; Adams 2012; Wakefield 2012). Reports of these slogans appeared in the US media as early as May 2011 (Blanford 2011). They did indeed drive Christians to Beirut. The Orthodox and Catholic churches blamed Farouq for the large scale ethnic cleansing of more than 50,000 Christians from Homs (CNA 2012). They began to impose an Islamic tax (Spencer 2012). A local analyst concluded most of Farouk were sectarian Salafis, armed and funded by Saudi Arabia; while ‘Khalid Ibn al-Walid remained loyal to and supported by the Muslim Brotherhood’ (Mortada 2012). Such ethnic cleansing would hardly have come from ‘moderate’ religious people, let alone a secular revolution.
The Houla massacre
After the Syrian Army had driven the FSA groups out of Homs, and on the eve of a UN Security Council meeting on Syria, a dreadful massacre of more than 100 civilians took place at the village of Houla, on the Taldou plains just north-west of Homs. The Houla massacre (25 May 2012) is important to ‘Responsibility to Protect’ discussions, because it formed the basis of a failed attempt to authorise UN intervention to protect civilians, based on the claim that the Syrian Government had massacred civilians. Evidence to back that claim, however, was hardly clear.
The governments of Britain, France and the USA immediately blamed the Syrian Government. In what has been called the ‘western and Arab media narrative’ the victims were killed by army artillery (Correggia, Embid, Hauben and Larson 2013). The Syrian Government, in turn, accused the foreign-backed terrorists, in particular the groups that had been driven out of Homs. Syria’s Foreign Ministry said the army clashed with ‘hundreds’ of armed men who committed Friday’s massacre. The killers used knives, which they said was a ‘signature’ of Islamist militant attacks (Reuters 2012). The Government told the UN ‘the victims were reportedly killed by terrorists numbering between 600–800, who had entered Al-Houla previously from the villages of Al-Rastan, Sa’an, Bourj Qaei and Samae’leen, among other locations’. The General Command of the armed forces held an inquiry (HRC 2012a: 6).
Allegations of Islamist ‘false flag’ provocations had been made before. Mother Agnes-Mariam de la Croix, the mother superior in charge of an ancient monastery in Qara, south of Homs, had observed the ethnic cleansing of Christians in Homs, and had grave suspicions about who was behind the killings at Houla. She had said publicly that Syrian Christians had been pressured to join FSA groups, had been used by the rebels as human shields and that Christian homes had been taken over by Sunnis. She denounced their ‘false flag’ crimes in 2011 (SANA 2011; AINA 2012), pointing out that the Catholic Media Centre had a list of names of hundreds of murder victims, many of whose images had been later used in [FSA] media setups (SANA 2011).
Western media reports, however, generally dismissed statements from Damascus. Several governments expelled Syrian diplomats, in moves designed to isolate the government. The UN Security Council said it:
‘condemned in the strongest possible terms the killings … in attacks that involved a series of Government artillery and tank shellings on a residential neighbourhood … [and] also condemned the killing of civilians by shooting at close range … [this] constitutes a violation of applicable international law and of the commitments of the Syrian Government’ (UNSC 2012). France’s representative at the UN, Martin Briens, said: ‘Tanks and artillery cannons from the government shelled residential areas killing civilians’ (RT 2012). Britain’s envoy Mark Lyall Grant said ‘there is not the slightest doubt that there was deliberate government shelling against a civilian neighbourhood’ (Cowan 2012).
These accusations were premature, betraying prejudice. Russia insisted on a UNSC briefing by UN Special Mission (UNSMIS) head, Norwegian General Robert Mood, who told them the victims included 49 children and 34 women, most of whom had been shot at close range or had their throats cut. Russian diplomat Aleksandr Pankin summarised: ‘very few of the people who died in Houla were killed by artillery shelling’ (RT 2012). From then, culprits in western media stories shifted to pro-government militia (shabiha). Britain’s Daily Telegraph blamed ‘Assad’s Death Squads’. The paper suggested a sectarian motive, from an opposition source: ‘They would fight for Bashar to the death. It is natural – they have to defend their sect’ (Alexander and Sherlock 2012).
The certainty of the British and French governments, and of the anti-government ‘activists’, was not evident in the statements of the head of UNSMIS. Mood’s group visited the massacre site and heard two distinct stories. The general’s public comments three weeks after the massacre deserve attention, given that the UN did not release the report to which he refers:
‘We have interviewed locals with one story and we have interviewed locals that have another story. The circumstances and … the facts related to the incident itself still remain unclear to us … we have sent [statements and witness interviews] as a report to UN headquarters New York … if we are asked [to assist] obviously we are on the ground and could help’ (Mood 2012).
This report was delivered to the UN Secretary General (UNSG 2012); yet it seems it was not received by the Security Council (Hauben 2012). Mood’s ambiguity may have been disconcerting for those wanting clear findings against the Syrian Government. On 1 June the Human Rights Council (three against and two abstentions) blamed the Houla killings on the Syrian Government (‘wanton killings … by pro-regime elements and a series of Government artillery and tank shellings’) before calling for a ‘comprehensive, independent and unfettered special inquiry’ (HRC 2012c). UNSMIS had its activities suspended and was disbanded in August.
Circumstances and timing were certainly important. As the Syrian Army drove Farouq from Homs and into surrounding towns, Syrians turned out for the 7 May National Assembly elections. Those sections of the opposition aligned to the FSA called for a boycott, and armed groups threatened to enforce this (al Akhbar 2012). In the event, the ruling Ba’ath party won 60% of the vote and their allied parties another 30%, though turnout was only 51% (Zarzar and al-Wahed 2012). There was reason to suspect enforcement of the threat, as reprisals against those who had participated and so lent legitimacy to the state and the government.
Yet that line of inquiry was not pursued by the second UN inquiry. With three of the UNSC permanent members openly backing regime change in Syria, the debate was heavily politicised. The Houla massacre inquiry was taken over by a Human Rights Council Commission of Inquiry, co-chaired by US diplomat Karen Koning AbuZayd (HRC 2012a; HRC 2012b). Appointing a US delegate was a mistake, on the part of the UN. Karen Koning Abu Zayd had worked for the UN for many years, but was explicitly listed as a USA delegate to the Commission. The US Government had, by this time, publicly blamed the Syrian Government for Houla, demanding that President Assad resign for ‘killing your fellow citizens’ (AP 2012) and, with Turkey, had ‘stepped up’ what it called ‘non-lethal aid’ to rebels in Syria (Barnard 2012). By any standard Washington was a belligerent party to the Syrian conflict. On principles of independence and avoiding conflicts of interest the Human Rights Council should not have incorporated a US representative.
Unlike UNSMIS, this Commission did not visit Syria. A review of evidence was carried out and eight additional interviews were conducted, at a distance from Syria. The interim report reflected some of the ambiguity of the UNSMIS team: ‘[We are] unable to determine the identity of the perpetrators at this time; nevertheless … forces loyal to the Government may have been responsible for many of the deaths’ (HRC 2012b: 10). This was an injudicious statement. The report blamed both government forces and anti-government groups for crimes of war, but came in more strongly against the Syrian government, relying on the formal duties of government to ‘prevent or punish’ violence, as well as not commit it (HRC 2012b: 23). That is, a ‘catch-all’ argument had it that the Government was ultimately responsible for all violence on its territory.
The Commission’s 15 August report firmed up against the Syrian Government, removing most of the earlier ambiguity, but without identifying perpetrators. They wrote:
‘The commission conducted eight additional interviews, including with six witnesses from the Taldou area, two of whom were survivors. They looked at a range of statements from ‘various sources’, including ‘international human rights NGOs’ (HRC 2012b: 64-65).
All statements, they said, were consistent with deaths being caused by government shelling and unidentified ‘shabiha’ forces. Even though they had heard evidence that the Al Sayed and Abdulrazzak families (the main groups of civilians killed) were government supporters, they concluded that the unidentified killers of those families ‘were aligned to the government’ (HRC 2012b: 67). They discounted evidence that FSA groups had committed the murders, claiming ‘apart from two witnesses in the Government report, no other account supported the Government’s version of events’ (HRC 2012b: 10). The Government ‘was responsible for the deaths of civilians as a result of shelling’, they said; while as regards the ‘deliberate killing of civilians, the Commission was unable to determine the identity of the perpetrators … [but] it considered that forces loyal to the Government were likely to have been responsible for many of the deaths’ (HRC 2012b: 10).
A prominent witness presented by the anti-government side was 11 year old boy Ali Al Sayed, who says many members of his family were murdered. In an online video little Ali says:
‘There were tanks in the street, they shot at us with machine guns … soldiers came out … they fired 5 bullets on the door lock … arrested my brother … [and] my uncle … then my mum screamed at them … they then shot her 5 times, they shot her in the head … then he went to my brother and shot him … some of them were dressed as military, some had regular clothes, had shaved heads and beards, shabiha’ (Marchfifteen 2012).
He pretended to be dead, and thus escaped being murdered. Later he saw news on state television of his uncles having been murdered. His story is not consistent in several respects (Larson in Correggia, Embid, Hauben and Larson 2013: 20-28) and, at the end, with the help of some leading questions, he gives what appears to be a tutored appeal for foreign military intervention:
‘I demand that the international community stop the killing in Syria and in Houla … we are being killed … the international community is sitting, just talking and not doing anything … the people must fight for us, do what they say and protect us’ (Marchfifteen 2012).
Whatever the strengths and weaknesses of the boy’s story, Ali’s was hardly the only eye-witness account of the massacre. Further, it was quite false for the UN Commission of Inquiry to suggest that only ‘two witnesses … supported the Government’s version of events’. By that time there was public evidence from at least fifteen witnesses, broadly consistent with the account by the Syrian Government. Russian journalists tried to present their interview material to the Commission and apparently met with a lack of interest (Janssen 2012). The Commission claimed that the Russian reports ‘relied primarily on the same two witnesses as the Government’s report’ (HRC 2012b: 66). Yet a simple reading of a summary of evidence from the latter’s witnesses shows this to be false. Below is a summary of evidence from witnesses the UN Commission ignored. These accounts of ‘rebel’ culprits are broadly consistent with the account of the Government and often quite specific. Several gunmen are named.
First, the Syrian news agency reported two unidentified people who feared for their safety. The first said the gunmen were locals plus a larger group from other areas. The locals assembled after noon prayers before attacking check-points. They then selected pro-government people, those who participated in elections or ‘didn’t give the gunmen money’. One was Haitham al-Housan. The bodies shown on television were of ‘people murdered by terrorists along with the bodies of the gunmen killed in the initial conflict’ (SANA 2012). The second witness, a woman, saw the larger group attacking a check-point. They heard of people from Tal Dahab, Aqrab and al-Rastan. A man called Saiid Fayes al-Okesh fired a mortar and police responded; he was shot in the leg. Another gunmen was Haitham al-Hallaq, who led a group of about 200. The victims belonged to the al Sayed family, with Muawiya al Sayed ‘a police officer who didn’t defect’ and others related to Meshleb al Sayed, who ‘recently became Secretary of the Peoples’ Assembly’. Other targeted groups included four households of the Abdelrazzaq family (SANA 2012).
Syrian television news showed interviews with two distressed male witnesses. The first man said:
‘The terrorists are from this area and all the areas around … a huge number of them, hundreds. They started to use shells and RPGs … hitting the houses with guns, machine guns … They killed people in their houses … some bodies have been burned’ (Syria News 2012: at 6.47). The second man said: ‘A man, his brother, and nephew were killed in front of my sister … [another] was able to run away and hide … the United Nations, those observers, what are they doing while shells are hitting us?’ (Syria News 2012: at 7.35).
German journalist, Rainer Hermann, who speaks Arabic, interviewed witnesses from Houla within days of the massacre. His sources included Syrian opposition members who had rejected violence, whose names he withheld. They said Islamist rebels had attacked three army checkpoints. His sources told him:
‘The massacre took place after Friday prayers … dozens of soldiers and rebels were killed … [in fighting of] about 90 minutes … those killed were almost exclusively families of the Alawite or Shia minorities … [including] several dozen members of a family which had converted to Shia Islam in recent years … and the family of a Sunni member of parliament, because he was considered a collaborator … after the massacre, the perpetrators filmed their victims, presented them as Sunni victims and spread their videos’ (Hermann 2012).
Hermann gave names to the gang leaders:
‘more than 700 gunmen under the leadership of Abdurrazzaq Tlass and Yahya Yusuf [Farooq leaders] came in three groups from Rastan, Kafr Laha and Akraba and attacked three army checkpoints around Taldou. The numerically superior rebels and the soldiers fought bloody battles … the rebels, supported by the residents of Taldou, snuffed out the families … [who] had refused to join the opposition’ (LRC 2012).
German journalist Alfred Hackensberger spoke with a man who had been given refuge in the Qara monastery headed by Mother Agnes Mariam. This man called ‘Jibril’ said:
‘The fighting began around noon, when the rebels, coming from Ar-Rastan and Saan, attacked the checkpoints … the rebels went to the hospital and killed patients there … several teams targeted and went in selected houses and started to shoot all of the inhabitants. He knew the Sajid’s personally. ‘They were Sunni Muslims, like all of us’, he says. ‘They were killed by them because they have refused to join the revolution. They’ve even murdered a Member of Parliament who … had refused the boycott of the FSA’.
Asked about the ‘regime loyalists’ claims, Jibril responded derisively:
‘Nonsense … Houla is in rebel hands since December 2011 … the Army would like to reclaim Taldu, but it has not been done … many people know what really happened … who’s there … can only replay the version of the rebels. Everything else is certain death’ (Hackensberger 2012).
The Arabic speaking Dutch writer Martin Janssen constructed his view from three sources: the Catholic Fides news agency, information from refugees at the Qara monastery and the accounts of Russian journalists Musin and Kulygina. He questioned the shabiha story because many victims were Alawi, who are almost all pro-government. Fides had reported that ‘large groups of Syrian Alawites and Christians were fleeing to Lebanon to escape the violence of armed gangs’, after the events at Houla (Janssen 2012). The Qara monastery told him witnesses said the army was absent in the region, with ‘Rastan and Saan … under full control of the Free Syrian Army’. The armed groups attacked the al-Watani hospital and killed the guards. ‘Then they invaded the hospital where armed rebels killed all present and … put the hospital on fire’ (Janssen 2012). At Tal Daw, near Houla, armed groups murdered all the Alawite families. The report from the monastery described the area around Qusayr as ‘in turmoil’ and wracked by sectarian violence (Janssen 2012).
Those Russian journalists, Marat Musin and Olga Kulygina from the Abkhazian Network News Agency (ANNA-News) had a camera crew in Houla on 25 May and took a number of witness interviews. Their sources make it very clear the murderers were Islamist ‘rebels’. An old woman called
‘The grandmother of Al-Hula’ said: ‘Checkpoint positions were attacked … All the soldiers were killed, then they attacked our villages, torched a hospital … Bandits killed our pharmacist … [because] he had treated a wounded soldier Nobody but the army will help us … They say there have been airstrikes! Lies, lies, lies. Liars, all of them come from Ar-Rastan’ (ANNA 2012).
Taldou resident Syed Abdul Wahab, said: ‘The terrorists want to come here … to take power. We have always lived in peace. We cannot leave the house’. A local woman from Al-Gaunt, next to Al-Houla, said ‘Nine terrorists killed my relatives in the field. The bandits set fire to our houses and we fled … we have a martyr, who was burned alive. Why, by what law did they die? Is this Islam? Is this justice?’ (ANNA 2012).
Another woman from Taldou they call Arifah told them she listened to the radio chatter from the ‘bandits’, before the massacre (Musin 2012a). They began by firing at the main checkpoint while a group from the al Hassan clan, led by Nidal Bakkur, attacked a ‘second checkpoint’ outside the village. The bandits lost about 25 people but after about two hours they had taken over both check-points. ‘They then proceeded to murder the Al-Sayed family which lived across the street from the police station’. Three families including about 20 children were murdered, along with another 10 from the Abdul Razaq family. That afternoon Abdul Razak Tlas, leader of the Farouq Brigade, arrived with 250 men from Ar-Rastan, Aqraba and Farlaha (Musin 2012a). The city of Ar-Rastan had been abandoned by most civilians for some time, taken over by Islamists from Lebanon (Musin 2012b). Arifah said that by 8pm the murdered civilians and dead bandits had been taken to the mosque. They then filmed for the Qatari and Saudi television stations. On Saturday morning, when the UNSMIS observers arrived, ‘The fallen rebels involved in the action were presented as civilians, while the conquering rebels dressed in army uniforms posed as defectors. They were surrounded by their family members who told the story of a government attack with heavy shelling and posed as victim’s relatives, while the relatives of the real victims were nowhere to be seen’ (Musin 2012a).
Violence continued after the UNSMIS visit. Musin and Kulygina later interviewed two wounded soldiers, a wounded policeman and another resident, who gave more detail of ‘rebel’ sniper attacks and murders, and of the ‘rebel’ escorts set up for the UN observers. They continued to identify attackers and victims. A group from the Al Aksh clan had been firing mortars and RPGs at the checkpoints. All checkpoint prisoners were executed: a Sunni conscript had his throat cut, while Abdullah Shaui of Deir-Zor was burned alive (Maramus 2012; Musin 2012b). The police officer said ‘the attackers were from Ar-Rastan and Al-Hula. Insurgents control Taldou. They burned houses and killed people by the families, because they were loyal to the government’ (Musin 2012b). The resident saw the clashes from the roof of the police station. ‘Al Jazeera aired pictures and said that the Army committed the massacre at Al Hula … in fact, they [the gunmen] killed the civilians and children in Al-Hula. The bandits … steal everything … most of the fighters are from the city of Ar Rastan’ (Maramus 2012; Musin 2012b). The second UN inquiry ignored these 15 witnesses, who told of specific perpetrators with clear political motives. An outline of major reports and their associated evidence is below.
|TABLE Houla massacre (May 2012): significant reports|
|Source/report||Method and conclusion|
|Mother Agnes Mariam||FSA had previously attacked Christians and was engaged in ‘false flag’ attacks, falsely blamed on the government|
|Most western media reports||Massacre by ‘Assad’s death squads’|
|British and French government||Massacre resulted from Government shelling of civilian areas; later changed this to ‘regime thug’ attacks|
|UN Special Mission on Syria (UNSMIS), Gen. Robert Mood||Went to massacre site, heard stories that blamed both sides. Could not resolve the two versions.|
|UN HRC Commission of Inquiry||Interviews in Geneva, co-chaired by US diplomat; witnesses selection assisted by anti-government groups; Commission blames pro-government ‘thugs’ (shabiha)|
|FSA video, on Al Jazeera and elsewhere||Show young boy Ali al Sayed, he blames ‘shabiha’ in army clothes with shaved heads and beards.|
|Syrian Government, state news agencies and television||Four direct witnesses say attacks were by armed gangs, who killed security and targeted pro-government families|
|German journalist Alfred HACKENSBERGER||Interviews refugee ‘Jibril’ at Qara monastery – massacre carried out by FSA gangs on pro-government families|
|German journalist Rainer HERMANN||Interviews anti-violence opposition people – they say local gangs and FSA killed pro-government families|
|Dutch Journalist Martin JANSSEN||Notes large outflow of Christian and Alawi refugees from Houla; refugees at Qara blame FSA gangs|
|Russian journalists Marat MUSIN and Olga KULYGINA||Eight witnesses blame FSA-linked anti-government gangs, victims pro-government families|
|Correggia, Embid, Hauben and Larson||Critical review of evidence and UN reports – say the Commission report is not credible.|
Dissent at the UN
The partisan report clearly influenced UN discussions. Although the HRC passed a motion with a strong majority, condemning the Syrian Government, the dissenting comments were significant. Russian representative Maria Khodynskaya-Golenischv (UNTV 2012: 7.00 to 8.10) said
‘We cannot agree with the one-sided conclusions put out in the resolution concerning the Commission on the Houla tragedy … We believe that the question of guilt is still open. An investigation should be carried out thoroughly … unfortunately some states are de facto encouraging terrorism in Syria therefore we have no doubt that the episode in Houla has definitely been whipped up in the media and has been used to carry out force against this country. The delegate from China (UNTV 2012: 13.25 to 15.50) also flagged that country’s intention to vote against the resolution, as there was a need ‘for a political solution … [and an] immediate end to violence … putting pressure on one party for the conflict will not help solve the problem’. The Cuban delegate (UNTV 2012: 16.05 to 18.50) said ‘there are parties that are interested in not fostering the path of dialogue and understanding … [some saying clearly they want] regime change, and even promoting the idea of military intervention with the use of force to impose on the Syrian people decisions that are being taken outside the country’. The Indian delegate (UNTV 2012: 19.00-21.30), who abstained, said India had given ‘unqualified support to the joint missions’ but urged the Human Rights Council to ‘always act with complete impartiality, in order to maintain its credibility and retain the trust and confidence of all … [there is a need for] a balanced and impartial resolution that can help start a meaningful political process in Syria’
The Syrian delegation (UNTC 2012: 24.33-35.30) came out hardest against the resolution, saying that the Commission of Inquiry ‘didn’t even visit Syria’ and had ignored the Syrian inquiry. Referring to some ‘Arab co-sponsors’ Syria said they had no right to ‘give advice’ because they were ‘directly involved in the killings of Syrian people, and criminals cannot be judges’, imposing sanctions and then ‘shedding tears about the humanitarian situation’. The refusal to condemn terrorism in Syrian reflected badly on the Council. Nevertheless, the big powers had the numbers, with 41 voting in favour, three against and three abstentions. The resolution was adopted but no UNSC action was possible because of opposition from two of the five permanent members of the Security Council, Russia and China.
The unsatisfactory UN process does not negate the fact that strong prima facie evidence emerged against particular groups and individuals. Witnesses identified as perpetrators four local gunmen (Haitham al-Housan, Saiid Fayes al-Okesh, Haitham al-Hallq and Nidal Bakkur) along with groups from two clans (the al Hassan and the al-Aksh), plus a large Farouq group led by Abdurrazzaq Tlass and Yahya Yusuf. Their motive was to punish pro-government villagers, in particular the al-Sayed and Abdulrazzak families, then to set up a scene to falsely blame the government for their own crimes. The Houla massacre did not result in a Libyan-styled intervention, but false accusations afforded temporary impunity to the killers and created a great risk that military intervention could have been set in play.
Houla set the tone for a series of similar ‘false flag’ massacres. When the August 2012 massacre of 245 people in Daraya (Damascus) came to light, western media reports quickly suggested that ‘Assad’s army has committed [another] massacre’ (Oweis 2012). However that story was contradicted by British journalist Robert Fisk, who observed that the FSA had slaughtered kidnapped civilian and off-duty soldier hostages after a failed prisoner swap (Fisk 2012). Similarly, the 10 December 2012 massacre of 120 to 150 villagers in Aqrab (less than 15 kilometres from Houla, and also at that time under ‘rebel’ control) was also blamed by ‘activists’ on the Syrian Government. The New York Times suggested ‘members of Assad’s sect’ were responsible (Stack and Mourtada 2012). In fact, as British journalist Alex Thompson (2012b) later reported, from the tightly corroborated evidence of survivors, the FSA (including foreign fighters) had held 500 Alawi villagers for nine days, murdering many of them as the army closed in and the FSA fled. In this case those of ‘Assad’s sect’ were the victims, just as the victims at Houla had been mostly government supporters and their families.
The Houla massacre illustrates great dangers in the practice of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ doctrine, when the big powers have proxy armies in the field. The idea that almost any sort of atrocity could be blamed on the Syrian Government, with little fear of contradiction in the western media, must have played heavily on the minds of Islamist armed groups. Farouq in particular was very media savvy, regularly producing videos for the television networks of Qatar (Al Jazeera) and Saudi Arabia (Al Arabiya). Up against a superior national army, which was not disintegrating along sectarian lines, Farouq and the others were in desperate need of military backing. Inflaming moral outrage against the Syrian Government just might bring in NATO air power, as it had in Libya. In the meantime, they could carry out major crimes with impunity.
The failure of UN processes to recognise the UN’s own role, in fomenting both impunity and escalation of the violence, further discredited the ‘no fly zone’ idea, which had been cynically exploited in the Libyan intervention. After Houla, while the propaganda war continued, there was no real hope of Security Council authorised intervention in Syria. The next major incident, involving the use of chemical weapons in ‘rebel’ occupied East Ghouta, more than a year later, would have as its reference point a unilateral ‘red line’ decree by Washington. Houla in many respects marked the collapse of UN-sanctioned ‘official truth’ in Syria.
Adams, Simon (2012) ‘The World’s Next Genocide’, New York Times, 15 November, online: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/16/opinion/the-worlds-next-genocide.html
AINA (2012) ‘Sunni Rebels Occupying Churches, Homes of Syrian Christians’, Assyrian International News Agency, 29 July, online: http://www.aina.org/news/2012072912019.htm
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Blanford, Nicholas (2011) ‘Assad regime may be gaining upper hand in Syria’, Christian Science Monitor, 13 May, online: http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/2011/0513/Assad-regime-may-be-gaining-upper-hand-in-Syria
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British state ‘involved in mass murder on British soil, colluded with loyalist paramilitaries in 80 deaths between 1972 and 1978′
The state was involved in mass murder on British soil, a lawyer has told a coroner’s court.
The security forces colluded with loyalist paramilitaries in 80 deaths between July 1972 and June 1978 in Northern Ireland’s “murder triangle” in counties Armagh and Tyrone, Leslie Thomas QC said.
He said many were carried out by the Glenanne Gang of gunmen with the alleged involvement of soldiers and police officers.
Mr Thomas said it could take a year to hear inquests and compared the task to that of investigating the Hillsborough football disaster.
“If what we say is right this is the biggest involvement of state agents in mass murder on British soil,” he said.
He added: “We say that what the families of the bereaved want, quite simply can be put in a few words: they want the truth, they want the truth to come out, they want justice.”
Mr Thomas was addressing a preliminary hearing in Belfast of two inquests involving a Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) bombing at the Step Inn in Keady in Co Armagh in 1976 during which Catholics Elizabeth McDonald, 38, and Gerard McGleenan, 22, died.
He said the same weapons were used in many of the Glenanne murders and the killers adopted the same modus operandi, accused the authorities of state-sponsored terrorism and claimed one individual involved in killing Ms McDonald should have been dealt with sooner.
He said: “The murder of Betty McDonald could have been avoided, could have been avoided had that individual been taken off the street earlier on or the weapons been taken off the street earlier on, or there had not been the collusion amongst state agents in covering up earlier murders then in terms of Betty McDonald’s right to life we say she may be still here today, living long into life with her husband.”
The UVF gang operated out of farms in Armagh and Tyrone in the mid 1970s when the Troubles were at their worst.
Lawyers for the victims have insisted only a public inquiry or an inquest covering all the deaths can get to the truth of the collusion claims. Senior coroner John Leckey said he was constrained by the resources available to his office.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland’s (PSNI) Historical Enquiries Team (HET) has found “indisputable evidence” of security force collusion in the group.
Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers has declined to be represented at the inquest. No submission has been made to her seeking a public inquiry but Mr Thomas said the McDonald family was not surprised she allegedly did not want to be involved.
He added: “This is the biggest case of state collusion in mass murder of innocent individuals. This is a state murdering its own, you cannot get bigger than that, and therefore while one sees and understands and looks at what is happening in Hillsborough, if what we say has occurred on, lets face it, British soil, why should that not be investigated?
“British security agents being involved in deaths of British citizens, it does not get worse than that.”
Mother-of-three Ms McDonald and Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) footballer Mr McGleenan were killed when a no-warning loyalist bomb detonated outside the Step Inn pub and nearby houses in August 1976. Twenty-five other people were injured.
Northern Ireland’s Attorney General John Larkin QC ordered the new inquest.
Mr Thomas acknowledged there had been convictions in some of the other killings he said were linked, but he added a narrow criminal investigation was not enough.
He said across the cases there had been a repetition of similar failings by the investigating authorities, a lack of criminal convictions, the killings happened in close proximity to each other, and created similar victims while pursuing similar modus operandi.
He added the deaths involved a similar group of individuals involved in a number of attacks.
“Many of those responsible were either serving or former members of the security forces. There were close ballistic links between the victims, the weapons used in many of the killings which originated within the Ulster Defence Regiment (a branch of the army recruited in Northern Ireland).”
He quoted the HET report: “Despite the obvious pattern and linkages between these offences, only cursory efforts have been made to investigate further.
“No determined efforts were made to investigate them in a meaningful fashion.
“This (Step Inn) bombing could have been prevented and should have been detected.”
Mr Thomas said precedents for a linked series of inquests were given by that into the deaths of Russian agent Alexander Litvinenko and Azelle Rodney, who was allegedly shot dead by Met Police.
He told Mr Leckey: “I can connect and join the dots in relation to various individuals who were named here to various atrocities, various bombings, various shootings, various matters and I can make the link on various weapons, various ballistics.
“This document enables me to tie up individuals.”
The US government has slapped oil services giant Schlumberger with a $232.7 million fine for “violating” its sanctions on Iran and Sudan.
The US Justice Department says the company had admitted “knowingly and willfully conspiring to violate” unilateral American sanctions.
The French-US services company is charged with secretly providing services to Iran and Sudan.
While Schlumberger Oilfield Holdings was allowed to work in both countries, the government says the fine involved the company’s US Drilling and Measurements unit which was not.
Schlumberger is incorporated in the British Virgin Islands.
“Over a period of years, Schlumberger Oilfield Holdings Ltd. conducted business with Iran and Sudan from the United States and took steps to disguise those business dealings,” John Carlin, US assistant attorney general for national security, was quoted as saying.
US companies have coveted Iran’s lucrative energy sector with utmost attention despite unilateral American sanctions which are in place since the Islamic Revolution.
They see the punishments a case of lost opportunities where European and Asian rivals have used the absence to their advantage.
According to the Economist, citing unnamed foreign businessmen, American enterprises are using local middlemen to seal initial deals in Iran.
“If there is a nuclear deal (with Iran), you will find overnight that the Americans have signed one-year options on the best projects,” the weekly newspaper recently quoted one middleman as saying.
“The Europeans will be queuing up, but they will end up negotiating with ExxonMobil and Chevron, just as happened in Libya,” he said.
By Robert Fantina | Aletho News | March 26, 2015
The genocidal methods employed by Israel against the Palestinians know no boundaries. The degree to which apartheid Israel works to erase Palestine, its people, history and culture is truly extraordinary. One method in use that may not be commonly known is referred to as ‘greenwashing’.
To fully understand this concept, it’s necessary first to understand and appreciate Palestinians’ devotion to, and reliance on, their lands in general, and olive trees in particular. For millennia, Palestinians have farmed the land and supported themselves and their families in this way. The olive tree has a central role in the lives and the very existence of Palestinians.
A newly-planted olive tree takes several years to bear fruit, but most will live for hundreds of years, producing fruit. It is not unusual for such trees to live for 2,000 years. The olives are used in a variety of ways, not only for oil, but in the making of soap, hair treatment and other products, and even to light their homes. Since many Palestinians live on lands that have been in their families for countless generations, there is a strong attachment to olive trees. Some families name their olive trees, indicating the importance the trees have to them.
Israel is not unaware of the significance of olive trees to the Palestinians. The Zionist Jewish National Fund (JNF) has long sponsored a program called ‘Plant a Tree in Israel’. For a small sum, they say, anyone in the world can have a European Pine tree planted in Israel, in memory of a loved one. Who can argue with such a thing? Can anything be more benign than planting a tree? However, there are multiple problems with this:
- The trees are planted in Palestine, not Israel;
- Olive trees are destroyed so that the new trees, European Pines, can be planted, and
- The new trees help to erase Palestinian history.
European Pines are, as the name indicates, common in European countries. They look far different than olive trees, and do not thrive in Palestine as olive trees do. These ‘memorial’ trees are planted not only on former olive tree orchards which have been destroyed to make way for them, but also on bulldozed villages. When orchards are destroyed, the owners are given no compensation; they have no opportunity to appeal the decision. They can only watch in despair as their livelihood, the same means that has sustained their family for generations untold, is destroyed.
Part of Israel’s genocidal practices involves obliterating Palestine history and culture; this is done, in part, by destroying entire villages, bulldozing every building in the village. Again, there is no compensation offered, and no opportunity to appeal. Palestinians must simply quickly remove whatever they can, before their homes, schools, mosques, hospitals, stores and farms are bulldozed. Once that is done, what better way to hide any remaining evidence that this area was once full of families, working, farming, going to school, etc., then to grow a forest on the site? European Pines grow quickly, hiding the tragedies on which they are planted.
In the past few decades, at least 280,000 olive trees have been intentionally destroyed in Palestine by Israel; an estimated 250,000,000 pine trees have been planted, some financed by well-meaning but uninformed people, but most by the Israeli government. It is likely that most of the people around the world who have sent money to have them planted are unaware of their real purpose; who is going to think of genocide, when planting a tree in memory of a loved one?
Israel has many methods of genocide against the Palestinians that are not generally known in the U.S.; reporting on these atrocities seems a bit better in much of the rest of the world. Greenwashing, like many others, is insidious, and must be stopped.
With the re-election of Israeli Prime Murderer Benjamin Netanyahu, the only change that can be expected in Israeli policy toward Palestine is an increase in illegal arrests, illegal settlement building, illegal land confiscation, and violence. However, a large crack in the fragile, glass jar of global support has appeared, put there by the campaign promises of Mr. Netanyahu. Even the United States, which for so long has been Israel’s willing puppet, is ‘reevaluating’ its policies toward that country, in view of Mr. Netanyahu’s assurance to Israelis that there will be no independent Palestine while he is Prime Murderer. Europe, long impatient with Israel’s continuing violation of international law, cannot be expected to sit quietly now.
What might this ‘reevaluation’ result in? The one aspect that is being whispered, almost in reverential awe, is the possibility that the U.S. may stop its blatantly unfair, constant and unjust defense of Israel at the United Nations. Any time that a resolution seeking to further the basic human rights of the Palestinians, rights that Israel deprives them of with the full support and financing of the United States, is proposed in the U.N., the U.S. vetoes it. Incredibly, it even vetoes it when it agrees with it! Consider then U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice’s astonishing comments when vetoing a resolution criticizing illegal settlements in 2011: She said that, while the U.S. sees “the folly and illegitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity, we think it unwise for this council to attempt to resolve the core issues that divide Israelis and Palestinians”. Now, perhaps, the handcuffs which the U.S. so firmly locked in place on the U.N.’s ability to do its job will be released.
What can Palestinians expect in the near term? Unfortunately, nothing good. The wheels of diplomacy turn far more slowly than those on the bulldozers that destroy Palestinian homes and olive trees. Yet there was a turning point with Israel’s savage genocide in the summer of 2014; now that Mr. Netanyahu has stated clearly his intentions regarding Palestine, the age of pretense is over. The U.S., which has never helped Palestine, can no longer hide behind the farce of negotiations. The time to act is now.
Robert Fantina’s latest book is Empire, Racism and Genocide: a History of US Foreign Policy (Red Pill Press).
Photo credit – International Solidarity Movement
Southampton University is hosting a conference next month which has stirred a whole raft of Zionist anger. “International Law and the State of Israel: Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism” is, say its detractors, “anti-Semitic” and will, according to one British MP, “de-legitimise the existence of a democratic state”. Ah, is that the same “democratic state” wherein one-fifth of its citizens face official discrimination on a daily basis and the de-legitimisation of their culture, identity and existence in their own land?
Without wishing to pre-empt what the speakers at the conference are likely to say, this issue of “de-legitimisation” of Israel is fascinating, not least because it presupposes that the state has legitimacy in the first place. Accusations that Southampton’s examination of this topic will actually “legitimise anti-Semitism” are part of the usual smokescreen put up by the pro-Israel lobby in order to kill any discussion of Israel’s contempt for international laws and conventions.
During World War One, the British authorities, through the High Commissioner in Cairo, Sir Henry McMahon, conveyed a number of messages to Sherif Husain of Makkah promising “the Arabs” a Caliphate and the protection of the Holy Places in Makkah, Madinah and Jerusalem. Post-1917 Britain’s promises began to look even less likely to be fulfilled, with the issue of the infamous Balfour Declaration promising support for a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine, “it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine…” That clause has been ignored completely ever since, with everything possible being done to expel the “non-Jewish communities” from their land in Palestine; the process continues to this day.
When Zionist leader Chaim Wiezmann arrived in Palestine in 1918, “he warned the British against the application of the democratic system as it ‘does not take into account the superiority of the Jew to the Arab…'” Wiezmann’s racism underpins the institutional racism of the “democratic state” whose existence is so beloved of the British MP noted above (and, it must be said, the prime minister, most of the British cabinet and far too many other MPs).
In the “recommendations of the King-Crane Commission with regard to Syria-Palestine and Iraq” presented to US President Woodrow Wilson in August 1919, it is stated that “a national home for the Jewish people is not equivalent to making Palestine into a Jewish State; nor can the erection of such a Jewish State be accomplished without the gravest trespass upon the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.” As such, “the extreme Zionist programme for Palestine of unlimited immigration of Jews… must be greatly modified”. A subsequent resolution of the US Congress in 1922 again reaffirmed the commitment for a “Jewish national home” not to damage the rights of the existing population of Palestine. This recurring theme has been ignored ever since.
The following year, King George V sent a message “To the people of Palestine” and, again, they were promised that the “national home for the Jewish People… will not in any way affect the civil or religious rights or diminish the prosperity of the general population of Palestine.” The man charged with passing on that message was Britain’s first High Commissioner for Palestine, Sir Herbert Samuel, “a British Jew sympathetic to the Zionist cause”. Samuel distributed public lands to Jews and fixed a quota of 16,500 Jewish immigrants to Palestine in the first year of his administration, “in addition to the flourishing illegal Jewish immigrants who poured into the country with forged documents and disappeared in the Jewish settlements”. The die was cast.
The League of Nations Mandate given to Britain more or less affirmed the intention to create this by now capitalised “National Home” for Jews in Palestine. It has been said that the British government sought this “legal and ‘constitutional’ cover” in order to be able to “plant and alien entity in the heart of the Arab World for its own strategic colonial plans and needs.” When the League’s successor, the United Nations, put forward a resolution to partition Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one Arab, it was overlooked that the UN Charter gives it no powers or right to create new countries.
“Israel is the only country in the world which was created by a ‘recommendation’ of the UN,” wrote Zafarul-Islam Khan in his book “Palestine Documents”. When, however, UN mediator Count Folke Bernadotte was sent to sort out the resultant “mess” he was assassinated by the Stern Gang, “a Jewish terrorist group whose leader went on to become prime minister of Israel.”
The UN Partition Plan was rejected by the Palestinians and Arab states, who argued that the League of Nations Mandate over Palestine came to an end when the organisation itself was dissolved in April 1946. On the basis of the UN Charter, the Palestinians, it was argued by Henry Cattan on their behalf, should have been granted independence; it was, he said, their “natural and alienable” right. This was rejected.
The partition plan gave most of historic Palestine to the Jewish state even though Jews owned just 6 per cent of the land; in the subsequent ethnic cleansing and so-called “war of independence”, the nascent state of Israel took even more land, having reneged on a deal that had been struck with Jordan’s King Abdullah, the present king’s grandfather.
Israel has never declared what its borders are, the only member state of the United Nations not to do so. Indeed, its membership of the UN was made conditional upon it allowing Palestinian refugees to return to their land. Not only has Israel ignored that condition (along with almost every other UN resolution ever since, despite being a creation of the international body) but it has also obliterated all trace of more than 530 towns and villages which once had a Palestinian population. A glance at the maps of “Palestine” from 1948 onwards show that it has virtually been subsumed by Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent disavowal of a two-state solution and the existence of a state of Palestine should not have been a surprise to anyone. Israel and its founding ideology of Zionism have a greed for more land in order to fulfil the aim of “Greater Israel”, from the Mediterranean to the River Jordan and even beyond. There never was any support for a state of Palestine and probably never will be, not in any meaningful sense, anyway. The people who said that the negotiations and “peace process” were a farce have been right all along.
The question remains therefore: what legitimacy does Israel have? It will be interesting to see what the conference in Southampton next month comes up with. That is, of course, if the Zionist lobby and its twisted views of free speech and democracy is unable to have it cancelled. Justice and freedom demand that they fail in their quest.
Press TV – March 26, 2015
Dozens of civilians are killed as Saudi Arabia and a coalition of regional allies launch a military operation in neighboring Yemen.
Yemeni media says warplanes have bombed residential areas including a hospital. Sana’a international airport has also been hit. Dozens of Yemeni civilians, including children and women, are killed in the attacks. Witnesses say the residential Bani Hawwat neighborhood has been the worst hit. The Saudi ambassador to the US says a group of ten countries have contributed to Yemen offensive.
Press TV has conducted an interview with Seif Da’na, professor at the University of Wisconsin from Chicago, for his take on the airstrikes by Saudi Arabia and its allies against Yemeni people.
Da’na warned that the assault might amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity in Yemen, because the attackers have no right to enter the Yemeni airspace in the first place, let alone kill innocent children and civilians.
At least 13 civilians, including women and children, were killed in the Saudi-led air raids overnight, a Yemeni source said.
“Just last month, a resolution that was proposed by the Saudis and other countries in the region to the Security Council failed to pass. So there is no international legitimacy,” the analyst maintains.
He further argued, “The only kind of legitimacy they claim to have is that they have consulted with the US and they have the US support and some sort of green light from the US, but such coordination with the US doesn’t give any legitimacy to such an act.”
Da’na also ruled out some media propaganda which say Yemenis welcome such attacks by the Saudis, noting that the Yemeni people would basically condemn such intervention as nobody wants other countries to invade their country.
Russia will continue to stay in contact with all parties involved in the conflict to quickly find a way to peacefully settle the conflict, the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
The Russian Foreign Ministry urged parties to the conflict in Yemen to cease any military activity, according to the ministry’s official website.
“We believe it is highly important that all parties to the conflict in Yemen and their foreign allies stop any military actions and abandon any efforts to achieve their goals in a military way. We believe that severe contradictions in Yemen can be settled only through a nationwide dialogue,” the ministry said.
Moscow also expressed serious concerns over the latest events in Yemen.
The Russian government will continue to stay in contact with all parties involved in the conflict, including using UN institutions, to quickly find a way to peacefully settle the conflict, the ministry underscored.
Saudi Arabia along with other Gulf states launched late Wednesday a military offensive against Yemen, claiming over 20 civilians.
The Iranian foreign minister has called on Saudi Arabia to immediately cease its military aggression against Yemen.
“We demand an immediate stop to the Saudi military operations in Yemen,” Mohammad Javad Zarif said in an interview with Iran’s Arabic-language al-Alam news network on Thursday.
Zarif said the military operations constitute a violation of Yemen’s sovereignty and will only lead to bloodshed.
“We will spare no effort to contain the crisis in Yemen,” Zarif said.
He pointed out that the act of aggression will benefit no country, adding that the military campaign will further escalate the tensions in the region.
The Iranian foreign minister also urged the regional and western countries to avoid playing into the hands of terrorists such as al-Qaeda and ISIL in Yemen.
Strikes will fuel flames
Earlier in the day, Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Marziyeh Afkham also strongly condemned the Saudi military campaign against members of the Ansarullah movement in neighboring Yemen, stressing that the move will create an insecure atmosphere in the Middle East.
“Resorting to military actions against Yemen, which is already engaged in internal conflict and fighting terrorism, will further complicate the situation, spread the extent of the crisis and squander opportunities to peacefully resolve internal disputes in Yemen,” Afkham said.
She also called for the immediate implementation of agreements struck between Yemeni factions, and a quick cessation of Saudi air strikes and operations against Yemen and its nation.
Afkham further noted that the ongoing onslaught against Yemen will have no outcome other than the spread of terrorism and extremism, and will undermine security in the Middle East.
Saudi strikes to backfire
Chairman of the National Security and Foreign Policy Committee of Iran’s Parliament Alaeddin Boroujerdi also denounced the Saudi attacks against Yemen, stating that such an action would eventually backfire.
“The fact that Saudi Arabia has waged a new war in the region attests to its disregard and irresponsibility towards issues in the Muslim world. The outcomes of this crisis will boomerang on Saudi Arabia as war is not confined to the borders of one particular region,” Boroujerdi pointed out.
He also criticized the United States for fomenting instability in the Middle East, stating that Saudi Arabia and its Persian Gulf allies have had Washington’s carte blanche in order to launch attacks against Yemen.
The ongoing Saudi air strikes on Yemen have so far claimed the lives of 13 civilians with more deaths feared, according to Yemeni sources.
“Thirteen civilians, including women and children, were killed in the Saudi raids overnight,” a civil defense source said on Thursday.
According to witnesses, residents are helping civil defense authorities in the search for any more victims under the rubble of houses damaged in the air raids.
Following the attacks, forces loyal to fugitive Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi seized control of the international airport in the southern port city of Aden.
Troops of the 39th Armored Brigade, who are allied to the Houthi Ansarullah movement, had earlier seized the facility.
The Al Arabiya News Channel reported on Thursday that Saudi Arabia has deployed “100 fighter jets, 150,000 soldiers and other navy units” for the military campaign in Yemen.
Meanwhile, Yemeni sources say parachutists of Saudi forces have already landed in Aden, located approximately 420 kilometers (260 miles) south of the capital, Sana’a.
The Washington Post has this dramatic headline: Global warming is now slowing down the circulation of the ocean with potentially dire consequences.
A new paper has been published that has the media talking about The Day After Tomorrow [link]. What is this new paper?
Exceptional twentieth-century slowdown in Atlantic Ocean overturning circulation
Stefan Rahmstorf, Jason E. Box, Georg Feulner, Michael E. Mann, Alexander Robinson, Scott Rutherford & Erik J. Schaffernicht
Abstract. Possible changes in Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) provide a key source of uncertainty regarding future climate change. Maps of temperature trends over the twentieth century show a conspicuous region of cooling in the northern Atlantic. Here we present multiple lines of evidence suggesting that this cooling may be due to a reduction in the AMOC over the twentieth century and particularly after 1970. Since 1990 the AMOC seems to have partly recovered. This time evolution is consistently suggested by an AMOC index based on sea surface temperatures, by the hemispheric temperature difference, by coral-based proxies and by oceanic measurements. We discuss a possible contribution of the melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet to the slowdown. Using a multi-proxy temperature reconstruction for the AMOC index suggests that the AMOC weakness after 1975 is an unprecedented event in the past millennium (p > 0.99). Further melting of Greenland in the coming decades could contribute to further weakening of the AMOC.
Stefan Rahmstorf has a post at RealClimate Whats going on in the North Atlantic? Excerpt:
The North Atlantic between Newfoundland and Ireland is practically the only region of the world that has defied global warming and even cooled. Last winter there even was the coldest on record – while globally it was the hottest on record. Our recent study (Rahmstorf et al. 2015) attributes this to a weakening of the Gulf Stream System, which is apparently unique in the last thousand years.
Climate models have long predicted such a slowdown – both the current 5th and the previous 4th IPCC report call a slowdown in this century “very likely”, which means at least 90% probability. When emissions continue unabated (RCP8.5 scenario), the IPCC expects 12% to 54% decline by 2100. But the actual past evolution of the flow is difficult to reconstruct owing to the scarcity of direct measurements.
What is new is that we have used proxy reconstructions of large-scale surface temperature (Mann et al, 2009) previously published by one of us that extend back to 900 AD to estimate the circulation (AMOC) intensity over the entire last 1100 years. This shows that despite the substantial uncertainties in the proxy reconstruction, the weakness of the flow after 1975 is unique in more than a thousand years, with at least 99 per cent probability. This strongly suggests that the weak overturning is not due to natural variability but rather a result of global warming.
Well, if there is anything I distrust more than climate model simulations of decadal to millennial scale ocean circulations and internal variability, it is Mannian proxy analysis of same. It seems like strip bark bristlecones and Tiljander sediments can tell us about Gulf Stream flow rates, as well as global temperatures. Remarkable.
So what do the actual ocean observations have to say? Anthony Watts has an extensive critique of the paper, pointing to a 2014 paper by oceanographer Thomas Rossby: On the long-term stability of Gulf Stream transport based on 20 years of direct measurements. The title pretty much speaks for itself, but Rossby had this to say in an interview:
“The ADCP measures currents at very high accuracy, and so through the repeat measurements we take year after year, we have a very powerful tool by which to monitor the strength of the current,” said Rossby. “There are variations of the current over time that are natural — and yes, we need to understand these better — but we find absolutely no evidence that suggests that the Gulf Stream is slowing down.”
In 2010, NASA issued a press release NASA Study Finds Atlantic Conveyor Belt Not Slowing, citing a paper published by Josh Willis of JPL using measurements from ocean-observing satellites and profiling floats. Punchline:
For now, however, there are no signs of a slowdown in the circulation. “The changes we’re seeing in overturning strength are probably part of a natural cycle,” said Willis. “The slight increase in overturning since 1993 coincides with a decades-long natural pattern of Atlantic heating and cooling.”
Pierre Gosselin cites additional critiques from German scientists. Notably:
Climate scientist Martin Visbeck of the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel sees Rahmstorf’s assertion of the results critically: ‘The study’s focus on the sub-polar part of the Atlantic and the spectral analysis are interesting,’ he says. But there are other AMOC assessments that point to a completely other development. The paper does not offer any strong indication of the development of the AMOC during the past fifty years.”
So, who you gonna believe? Climate models and Mannian proxies, or direct and satellite observations of ocean circulation?
Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation
What is going on the high latitudes of the North Atlantic can’t be understood without the context of the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation. If you are unfamiliar with the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO), see this summary. For reference, the AMO figures prominently in the stadium wave. While the method to define the AMO is still debated, here I show the canonical analyses from NOAA.
The monthly values of the AMO are shown below.
A blow up of the more recent data (through Dec 2014) is shown below:
While the AMO index shows substantial variability, there are multi-decadal periods when the index is predominantly positive (warm) and negative (cool). To the extend that past behavior is any guide to the future, the current warm phase is expected to transition to the cool phase sometime in the 2020’s. While the the 1995 transition was sharp, the transition to the next cool phase might be sharp, or it might ‘flicker’ for a few years or even a decade. We’ll have to see how this plays out.
There is some evidence that the warm phase of the AMO has peaked circa 2007, see the upper ocean heat content data shown below.
What we are seeing in the high latitudes of the North Atlantic is natural variability, predominantly associated with the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation. Based upon observational analyses, there is no sign of a slowdown in the Gulf Stream or the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation.
Now, I am very interested in the AMO, since it strongly influences Atlantic hurricanes, Arctic sea ice, and Greenland climate. We are already seeing a recovery of the Atlantic sector of the Arctic sea ice, and some hints of cooling in Greenland.
With regards to Atlantic hurricanes, Bill Gray and Phil Klotzbach are looking at a new definition of the AMO that they feel relates better to Atlantic hurricane activity [link], and they are seeing a transition to negative values.
And finally, the AMO does not act in isolation (e.g. the stadium wave); there are very interesting things going on in the Pacific also – perhaps a topic for a future post.
Still from Ruptly video
Whatever the outcome of the stand-off between President Petro Poroshenko and his subordinate Igor Kolomoysky may be, their conflict over Ukrainian oil giant Ukrnafta reveals realities about post-Maidan Ukraine which mainstream media manages to circumvent.
Firstly, the country is still ruled by oligarchs, not by the people, even though Igor Kolomoysky is formally governor of Dnepropetrovsk region. Kolomoysky’s private army simply took control first of Ukrtransnafta (Ukraine’s oil transportation monopoly) and later of Ukrnafta. What does this tell us about the Ukrainian state?
Secondly, Ukraine’s oligarchs are not at peace with each other; the country is bracing for a major ‘war for assets’ between the country’s richest men (Kolomoysky is worth $2.4 billion on the Forbes list and ‘The Chocolate King’ Poroshenko is worth $1.3 billion).
Thirdly, the Maidan revolution not only left the country without any meaningful legal opposition in the parliament or in the media – as Kost Bondarenko, director of the Kiev-based Foundation for Ukrainian Politics, put it in his article for the Moscow-based Nezavisimaya Gazeta – but the revolution also left Ukraine in a situation of complete lawlessness, when neither laws nor even the words of the president mean much before brutal force and big money (the main weapons of oligarchs).
Igor Kolomoysky, Head of the Dnepropetrovsk Region (RIA Novosti/Mikhail Markiv)
The story of the weekend conflict between Ukraine’s president and the governor of Ukraine’s most important industrial region is a perfect illustration of all these sad truths.
Kolomoysky’s men with submachine guns not only took control of Ukrtransgaz on Friday, but the governor of Dnepropetrovsk was apparently untroubled by President Poroshenko’s reprimand for his “unethical behavior” issued the next day.
Kolomoysky’s response to this “scolding” from Poroshenko was widely reported, along with an officially unconfirmed freeze on the accounts of Poroshenko’s companies in Kolomoysky’s bank (Privat-bank).
Adding armed insult to the financial injury, Kolomoysky’s men on Sunday took control of Ukrnafta, the country’s biggest oil company, presenting themselves as members of the “voluntary battalion Dnieper” (a Kolomoysky-sponsored paramilitary group known for its atrocities against civilians in the rebellious Donetsk Region). Despite Poroshenko’s order to disarm the gunmen and the president’s promise that “there will be no pocket armies in Ukraine,” Kolomoysky’s men did not leave the building on Monday; instead, they started to put up metal fences around it.
How could such things happen? The answer is simple: the traditional post-Soviet alliance of big money and political power (the fertile ground for oligarchs) failed to be destroyed, and has been strengthened by the Maidan revolution.
“Let’s face it: Yanukovich was removed by oligarchs. Some of them financed and supported Maidan. Others, more importantly, betrayed Yanukovich, removing the police guard from the building of his administration in February 2014 and switching the political allegiances of oligarch-controlled TV stations in favor of Maidan,” explained Mark Stolyar, former head of the Kiev-based radio station Stolichnye Novosti and a longtime analyst of the Ukrainian media scene. “After Maidan, these oligarchs demanded their part of the spoils, unleashing another redistribution of property.”
In that sense, Maidan’s sponsor, Poroshenko, was just one of the oligarchs who won the seemingly best prize: the formal position of head of state, adding power to money.
But Poroshenko never took his hands off his business assets after being elected president of war-torn Ukraine in spring 2014 – and this mere fact made him vulnerable. Poroshenko promised to strip himself of all assets, except his TV station – Channel 5 – but he never fulfilled his promise. Today, simply by having his assets and money in many regions, including Russian ones, Poroshenko becomes vulnerable to pressure from richer oligarchs, such as Kolomoysky. The reported freeze on Poroshenko’s capital in Privat-bank is a good illustration of what this pressure could look like. This puts Poroshenko in an awkward situation.
“If Poroshenko does not react to Kolomoysky’s challenge now, he will become a toy figure not only to Kolomoysky, but also to other regional strongmen. In this situation, the state will be badly weakened,” said Valentin Zemlyansky, a Ukrainian political analyst, formerly the chief spokesman for Ukraine’s oligarch-controlled company Ukrenergo.
Vladimir Sinelnikov, a Kiev-based correspondent for Russian radio Vesti-FM, is skeptical about Poroshenko’s resolve to cut Kolomoysky to size.
“It is still a big question, who is more powerful, Poroshenko or Kolomoysky. The whole controversy around Ukrnafta started after the Ukrainian parliament put in question Kolomoysky’s control over that company. Kolomoysky controls 42 percent of the stock of this formally state-owned asset. This allowed him to block the meetings of shareholders, which required a vote by 60 percent of the stock for a meeting’s convention. The parliament lowered this minimum to 50 percent, thus limiting Kolomoysky’s powers, but he quickly showed who the true master of the country was,” Sinelnikov said.
So much for Poroshenko’s promise to cut the oligarchs to size.
This story also tells us where all the Western loans to Ukraine went, and where they will most likely go.
The “democratically elected” billionaires ruling Ukraine after the “democratic” coup of February 2014 have not been able to conceal their rivalries for even two weeks since receiving the first $5 billion batch of the $40 billion loan package pledged to Ukraine by the IMF and other Western financial institutions.
Kolomoysky did not shy away from using his “Russia-stopping” battalions for shielding his assets from the state.
There is little doubt that Poroshenko and other Ukrainian officials will find a way to explain to their Western counterparts that their $40 billion was swallowed by the need to contain “Russia’s intervention” from the east. Some of these billions, however, may help Poroshenko and his allies move up the Forbes ratings of Ukraine’s richest men. And again, the State Department won’t see any link there.
Harrisburg, PA– Hummelstown police Officer, Lisa J. Mearkle was charged with criminal homicide on Tuesday in the shooting death of 59-year-old David Kassick on February 2nd.
Mearkle shot Kassick as he laid face down on the ground in the snow, unarmed, during a routine traffic stop gone awry.
Mearkle had attempted to pull Kassick over for an expired inspection sticker, but the situation escalated when Kassick attempted to flee from the officer.
Eventually Mearkle caught up to the motorist close to his sister’s home where he was staying, but Kassick got out of the vehicle and fled on foot. As he was attempting to run away, he was incapacitated by the officer’s taser which she held in her left hand. With her right hand, she unnecessarily pulled out her service gun and shot the unarmed man twice in the back as he lay face-down on the ground.
The 36-year-old officer claims that she shot the unarmed man because he would not show his hands and she was concerned he may have been reaching in his jacket for a weapon, but the recording from the deployed taser paints a different picture.
District Attorney Ed Marsico has stated that it appeared from the recording that Kassick was simply trying to remove the stun gun probes from his back before his life was taken.
“At the time Officer Mearkle fires both rounds from her pistol, the video clearly depicts Kassick lying on the snow covered lawn with his face toward the ground, furthermore, at the time the rounds are fired nothing can be seen in either of Kassick’s hands, nor does he point or direct anything toward Officer Mearkle,” the arrest affidavit reads.
A syringe was found near his body, and there were unspecified drugs as well as alcohol in his system when he died. His family has admitted that he has struggled with addiction, a personal problem which should not have cost him his life.
“Mr. Kassick is now dead as a result of a traffic stop, a routine traffic stop,” one of the family’s attorneys, Christopher Slusser, told the press. “He should not be dead. He should not have died as a result of that traffic stop. And the manner in which he was shot — you can infer from that what you will.”
Mearkle is currently free on $250,000 bail. She faces potential charges ranging from misdemeanor involuntary manslaughter to felony first-degree murder depending on what the prosecution decides when she is formally arraigned.