The liberation of Aleppo and the withdrawal of radical militants from this Syrian city provoked a storm of responses and comments across various Middle Eastern media sources.
While trying to downplay this major Damascus’ success, media sources from the anti-Syrian camp have been trying to raise arguments. They perceive the fall of Aleppo as the direct result of various intrigues and conspiracies, while admitting that there were serious miscalculations made by the so-called “opposition”. At the same time those media sources curse the West for it allegedly turning its back on the Syrian “revolutionary fighters” and Turkey for the “betrayal of their cause”, etc.
The Pro-Saudi newspaper Al-Sharq al-Awsat, however, was forced to recognize the liberation of Aleppo as a major victory of Damascus that was achieved with an extensive amount of support provided by Russia.
At the same time it’s getting clear that the sponsors of the so-called opposition, especially those of the Persian Gulf, are determined to deny any responsibility for the failure of their militants. One of the most influential Saudi newspaper Okaz is critisizing the anti-Assad camp for living in luxury hotels outside Syria. It is outraged that, in the light of the recent events in Aleppo these “ungrateful salon revolutionaries” have started criticizing Persian Gulf monarchies for not providing enough support for them. They look at the kingdom as a “cash machine”, the newspaper argues, the only purpose of which is to refill their pockets with golden coins by taking advantage of the bloodshed and suffering of their fellow citizens.
Other media sources from the anti-Assad camp are cheerfully noting that they’ve lost a battle, but they didn’t lose a war.
The Lebanese newspaper As-Safir believes that the fall of Aleppo is the direct result of the failure of the pro-Western forces in Syria. Even though the so-called opposition had the control of large Syrian cities for years, they have already shown that they are unable to govern effectively even in those territories that they were occupying. In fact, what they’ve done resulted in a complete paralysis of all government structures, that may soon result in the complete Somaliazation of the whole country. The opposition could only achieve success in a certain area, but haven’t had any comprehensive strategy worth mentioning. In contrast, government forces are aiming at liberating the territories of their country and at rebuilding them.
Against this background, we’ve witnessed an intensified media war, with at least 60 different major TV stations purposefully trying to distort the events in Syria. This propaganda machine is being fueled by the petrodollars provided by the Persian Gulf monarchies, and the latter aren’t going to stop.
It seems that we’ve heard it all already, Damascus being accused of the use of chemical weapons against the population, Syrian and Russian troops being involved in the nonexistent “atrocities” against the civilian population, the alleged destruction of schools and hospitals; the assertion that Russia’s policy in Syria and throughout the region is one-sided.
Today in the ranks of the anti-Assad propagandists one can spot signs of massive confusion. According to the newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi, four “media activists” of a number of jihadist groups in Aleppo surrendered to authorities long before the fall of the city. This got the opposition puzzled since those who escaped were involved in covert operations and fund raising.
The liberation of Aleppo, says the Iraqi Sawt al-Iraq news site, means that millions of dollars have been thrown to the wind, wasted on the financing of anti-government groups and supplying them with information from different sources. It’s clear at this point that back in 2011 when President Obama announced that Assad’s days were numbered he made a serious mistake. It’s the days of Barack Obama that are numbered now, argues the newspaper, since the former doesn’t have much time in power left.
The Western world is engulfed in hysteria over Aleppo. But they remained silent all the time that the city was occupied by ISIS, al-Nusra and other terrorist organizations, so why start bothering now?
Yury Zinin is a Leading Research Fellow at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations.
RT | December 21, 2016
Moscow says that Saudi Arabia should join efforts to find peace in Syria undertaken by Russia, Iran and Turkey, Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s UN envoy, said.
The Foreign Ministers of Russia, Iran and Turkey met in Moscow on Tuesday to draft a joint statement aimed at resolving the long term conflict in Syria.
According to Churkin, the document was “an extra effort by our three countries” to, among other things, prepare opposition forces “to negotiate with the government, and put them at the same table with the government, so they can develop between themselves some arrangements that would advance the political process.”
It is “very important” that the statement by Moscow, Tehran and Ankara “contained an invitation to other countries that have influence ‘on the ground’ to join such efforts,” he said.
“It seems to me it would be very important for Saudi Arabia to take a similar stance and work in the same direction,” the envoy told Rossiya 24 channel.
The Russia-US talks on resolving the Syrian crisis have stalled, but Churkin says that the situation may change when Donald Trump replaces Barack Obama in the White House.
“I’m going to share my personal interpretation of the things I’ve heard recently,” he said.
According to Churkin’s information, the UN special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, said he planned to convene a new round of talks about Syria on February 8, 2017.
“I’m sure he (de Mistura) did it only after he had found an opportunity to contact the people on Donald Trump’s team and to coordinate the date with them,” the Russian UN ambassador said.
“That’s good enough a sign because it could be indicative of the ability of the Trump Administration to steer the situation towards a rapid enough unfolding of the political process (in Syria),” Churkin said, again stressing that it was just his “personal interpretation of events.”
He said that Russia is ready to cooperate with Nikki Haley, who Trump plans to propose for the next US envoy at the United Nations.
“She’s a quite young governor of South Carolina, lacking international experience, but I heard some good comments about her,” the Russian envoy said.
However, he stressed that he doesn’t know Haley in person, which makes it hard to predict how the US delegation will act under her in the UN and with the Security Council.
“Anyway, I think it’s early to relax and expect that we’re going to have some kind of nirvana in our work at the UN. It’s going to be a bit more complicated in real life,” Churkin said.
The pullout of militants from the Syrian city of Aleppo “is being completed,” Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said Wednesday.
Aleppo was the last major city being held by the rebels in the country, with their withdrawal being agreed though Russian and Turkish mediation.
According to estimates by Russian officials, the evacuation of civilians from eastern Aleppo, which has been under rebel control since 2012, is expected to conclude in a few days.
The UN Security Council has unanimously passed a resolution requiring the monitoring of evacuations from Aleppo.
The resolution, initially drafted by France, was originally called a “disaster” by Russia’s UN envoy Vitaly Churkin.
However, Moscow and Paris came to an agreement on the text after more than three hours of closed-door consultations by the Council on Sunday.
The resolution asked UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon “to take urgent steps to make arrangements, including security arrangements in consultation with interested parties, to allow the observation by the United Nations and other relevant institutions of the well-being of civilians… inside the eastern districts of the city of Aleppo.”
It asked for “adequate, neutral monitoring and direct observation” of the evacuations to take place, as well as for all parties to provide monitors with “safe, immediate, and unimpeded access.”
The evacuations are part of a Russia- and Turkey-brokered deal between the Syrian government and opposition. It allows for the evacuations of militants and their families from eastern Aleppo, in exchange for the departure of civilians from the northern rebel-held villages of al-Foua and Kefraya, Idlib province.
Syria’s UN ambassador, Bashar Jaafari, said the final evacuations of militants are currently taking place in Aleppo, and the city will be “clean” by Monday evening.
“The last terrorists… are evacuating their strongholds and Aleppo this evening will be clean,” he said, as quoted by Reuters.
Bashar Al-Jaafari: Protecting civilians in Aleppo and other cities is the Syrian government’s constitutional duty
NEW YORK – Syria’s Permanent Representative to the UN Bashar al-Jaafari stressed that the Syrian government is innocent of the U.S. and western accusations that it has committed crimes in Aleppo.
Addressing an emergency session of the UN Security Council on the situation in Aleppo on Tuesday, called for by France and Britain, al-Jaafari said some of the Security Council member states are used, since the beginning of the terrorist war against Syria, to call for urgent sessions based on misleading information and false reports and testimonies whenever the Syrian army and its allies achieve advance against the terrorist organizations.
al-Jaafari categorically dismissed all the “fabricated reports” used by the representatives of the US, France and Britain that the Syrian government has targeted citizens in Aleppo city, affirming that what the Syrian government, along with its allies, is doing in Aleppo city and other Syrian cities is “practicing the constitutional and legal duty of every government; that is to protect its citizens against terrorism.”
He made it clear that the Syrian government’s first and foremost aim of opening safe corridors (including for the militants), providing makeshift centers, issuing amnesty decisions and delivering food and medical aid in Aleppo is protecting civilians and keeping them safe.
Al-Jaafari criticized the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon for being in a hurry to issue statements based on reports he could not verify just to the effect of “defaming the Syrian government and its allies that are fighting terrorism.”
He dismissed that some sides, in their attempts to help the terrorists, deny the Syrian government its duty to examine and verify the identity of some of those who are leaving neighborhoods in Aleppo along with the civilians, especially that many reports issued by the Security Council speak of tens of thousands of foreign terrorists from more than a 100 countries operating in Syria, noting that this examination aims at preventing those terrorists from infiltrating other areas, and probably the territories of other countries, and resuming their acts there.
He cited tens of photos which show terrorists, who had committed acts of “beheading innocent people and eating livers”, trying to escape from East Aleppo infiltrating among civilians in women’s clothes, but they were captured by the Syrian Army.
Al-Jaafari said it is utmost hypocrisy that the envoys of some countries insist on accusing the Syrian government of besieging its people and blocking access to food and medicine while they continue to deny the fact that tens of depots which were controlled by the terrorist organizations in Aleppo have been full of all kinds of medical and food supplies from which the civilians were deprived.
He stressed that it is not possible that tens of thousands of terrorists fighting the Syrian Army in Aleppo would have been able to survive and remain there for more than four years, was it not for some states at this Council continually providing them with all kinds of weapons and protection.
He categorically denied “as groundless” all “fabrications, allegations and hallucinations” issued by some member states’ representatives about the government allegedly committing acts of “reprisal, intimidation and field executions against civilians,” reaffirming that hunting and targeting terrorists is at the heart of the Syrian government’s constitutional powers “just like what u did in Nice, Paris, London, Boston, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Cairo, Sinai, Bombay, Tunisia, Nigeria, Kenya and Tanzania.”
For his part, Russia’s Representative to the UN Vitaly Churkin stressed that the Syrian Arab Army has reestablished control over the eastern neighborhoods of Aleppo, reiterating that the allegations that the Syrian Army has committed violations in Aleppo are baseless.
Meanwhile, China’s Representative to the UN Liu Jieyi said fighting terrorism is an integral part of finding a solution to the crisis in Syria, stressing that the international community should give top priority to fighting ISIS and other terrorist organizations.
President Obama has ordered US spy agencies to prepare “a full review” of election-linked cyberattacks, but the public may never see it. The report should be ready before Obama vacates office and it is likely to be disclosed only to “a range of stakeholders.”
“The president has directed the intelligence community to conduct a full review of what happened during the 2016 election process,” presidential aide Lisa Monaco told reporters at a breakfast hosted by The Christian Science Monitor. She said the review’s aim is “to capture lessons learned from that.”
“That’s going to be first and foremost a determination that’s made by the intelligence community,” she said.
Despite the headline-capturing hacking, which the US intelligence authorities blamed on Russia, the public may never have a chance to review the findings.
According to Monaco, the results will be only available “to a range of stakeholders to include Congress.”
“We want to do so very attentive to not disclosing sources and methods that may impede our ability to identify and attribute malicious actors in the future,” she explained.
Monaco has also admitted that the Obama administration is determined to “impose costs” on those behind cyberattacks and use “all elements of national power against the cyber threat.”
In a possible attempt to head-off a public outcry, Deputy White House Press Secretary Eric Schultz has also assured that the review is “not an effort to challenge the outcome of the election,” but rather “a major priority for the president of the United States.” The latter being a reason for the agencies to finish their work before President Obama hands over the White House keys to President-elect Donald Trump on January 20.
Schultz said that the US intelligence agencies will go as far as 2008 to examine patterns of “malicious cyber-activity timed to election cycles.”
In October, the US officially accused Russia of the hacks that targeted emails of Hillary Clinton, her team and members of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). However, since than, Washington has presented no proof of Moscow’s involvement in hack attacks.
Moscow has consistently denied allegations about its possible role, with President Vladimir Putin accusing the US government of dragging Moscow into the presidential election to manipulate American voters.
As the race between Trump and Clinton, heated up, the former Secretary of State directly accused Russia of meddling with the process.
The accusations, however, fell flat both with her rival and his supporters.
In a recent interview with Time magazine, Trump again said that he does not “believe they interfered.”
“I don’t believe it. I don’t believe they interfered,” he told the magazine that just named him “the person of the year.”
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As the Obama administration applies a series of tough new sanctions against Iran, contravening prior agreements, Iranians have no choice but to hope for the best from Donald Trump, Professor Seyed Mohammad Marandi from the University of Tehran told RT.
The US Senate has voted unanimously to renew sanctions against Iran for another decade.
It’s been described as a symbolic move, but it allows the president to impose new restrictions on Tehran if it violates the 2015 nuclear accord.
The vote was 99 to 0 and follows a similar ballot in the House of Representatives last month when only one person voted against the extension of the Iran Sanctions Act.
RT: Washington says the vote is only symbolic and won’t change anything…. but it gives President-elect Donald Trump an opportunity to break the nuclear accord if he wishes. What are the implications of that?
Mohammad Marandi: The most important thing right now for Tehran is that we have not even entered the Trump era. Obama, who was supposed to implement the agreement between Iran and the “P5+1” has not abided by his side of the bargain. In the past, we saw visa restrictions that were implemented and signed by Obama after the agreement which was a violation. The US confiscated Iranian money. The US put pressure on banks, as well as other financial institutions, insurance companies, shipping companies not to work with Iran. That was a violation of the agreement. And this particular law is a violation, and we see that Obama has not put pressure on the Democrats to vote against it because not a single person stood up against the law. This is a new law because the old law was to run out, it would run out very shortly, and now a new law is being passed. That is in direct violation. The law is both adding sanctions, and it is against third parties, in other third world countries, who want to do business with Iran. All of these are violations of the agreement. So, this is Obama who is actually breaking the agreement.
RT: Trump has called the deal “the stupidest of all time” and Tehran, the world’s largest sponsor of terrorism. Should we expect even harsher rhetoric from the new president?
MM: At the moment the Iranians have decided to wait and see. Because Trump has said many things and he is already backing away from some of the statements that he said before. There are a host of issues that are important for Iran, one is, of course, the “P5+1” agreement with Iran. We have to see where Trump goes on that. Also with regards to ISIS and other extremists, Trump has promised to shift American policy away from supporting terrorism and extremism in this region. We don’t know if he is going to enact on those statements. For the time being the Iranians are looking to the current administration to see what they are doing. Obama has violated the agreement…
The idea of conducting a referendum on exiting the European Union has become more popular in EU countries, including Italy, Poland and Spain ever since the Brexit vote, while large numbers of people in other states of the bloc would support holding such a referendum, IFop pollster revealed in a survey for Sputnik.
According to the poll, the number of people who would support such a referendum has increased by 7 percent in Italy since July and now stands at 53 percent. The number of supporters of a vote on EU membership has also increased in Spain and Poland by 5 percent, to 39 percent and 38 percent, respectively.
The Brexit-style referendum is also popular in other European countries. Almost half, or 47 percent, of French nationals polled backed such an idea. The number of supporters of holding a referendum on exiting the European Union in Germany stands at 43 percent. The survey was carried out by France’s IFop pollster on October 22-26. As many as 5,019 people took part in the poll. The maximum sample error stands at 3.1 percent.
On June 23, the United Kingdom voted on referendum to leave the European Union. UK Prime Minister Theresa May said the country would trigger Article 50 by the end of March 2017, thus kick-starting withdrawal negotiations.
The Financial Times provides confirmation that as claimed by The Duran in early November Turkey is brokering talks between Russia and the Jihadis in eastern Aleppo for them to surrender the eastern districts of the city.
Back on 2nd November 2016 I wrote a piece for The Duran in which I said that all diplomatic contacts with the US over Syria having completely failed, the Russians were trying to negotiate the surrender of eastern Aleppo with Turkey.
This is what I said:
“Having despaired of getting the US to separate Al-Qaeda/Jabhat Al-Nusra from the other Jihadis in Aleppo, and getting them to withdraw, it is likely the Russians are trying to agree the same thing with the Turks. Indeed [General] Gerasimov’s [Russia’s Chief of General Staff] comments today essentially say as much.”
Today there is confirmation from the Financial Times that such talks in Ankara are indeed underway. Here is what it reports:
“Syrian rebels are in secret talks with Russia to end the fighting in Aleppo, according to opposition figures, a development that shows how the US could become sidelined in some of the Middle East’s most pivotal conflicts.
Four opposition members from rebel-held northern Syria told the Financial Times that Turkey has been brokering talks in Ankara with Moscow, whose military intervention last year on the side of President Bashar al-Assad helped turn the five-year civil war in the regime’s favour. Russia is now backing regime efforts to recapture the rebel’s last urban stronghold in Syria’s second city of Aleppo.
“The Russians and Turks are talking without the US now. It [Washington] is completely shut out of these talks, and doesn’t even know what’s going on in Ankara,” said one opposition figure, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the negotiations.”
Importantly the Russians are not denying the talks. Maria Zakharova, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s formidable spokeswoman, responded to questions by the Financial Times about the talks as follows
“Washington isolated itself. We’ve been negotiating with the [Syrian] opposition in Turkey for years — it’s not news.”
The Financial Times misunderstands the negotiations which are underway. It quotes Charles Lister, a Syria expert at the Middle East Institute in Washington, as explaining Russia’s intentions in this way
“Russia is hedging its bets. It would prefer to make a deal with the opposition. If Aleppo were to fall, the Syrian regime would need so many troops to hold the city that its forces would be left thin elsewhere in the country — or dependent on Iranian help, which Moscow would prefer to avoid.”
This is certainly wrong. As The Duran has been reporting ever since September, the consistent Russian demand, and the key provision of the unsuccessful Kerry-Lavrov agreement of September, is that all the Jihadis fighters must quit eastern Aleppo, which must be surrendered to the government.
It should hardly need saying that Aleppo would be far more defensible without any Jihadi fighters there, rather than with Jihadi fighters owing allegiance to terrorist organisations like Al-Qaeda and ISIS still in control of some of the eastern districts of the city.
Charles Lister’s analysis is I am sorry to say just another example of the wishful thinking and failure to assess realities in Syria objectively which has beset Western understanding of the conflict in Syria since its start. … Full article
Buses carrying militants in Homs
Twenty buses carrying militants left Khan El-Sheikh area in western Ghouta of Damascus toward Idlib city on Monday after they handed over their weapons, Hezbollah Military Media Bureau said in a statement.
“300 Kalashnikov guns were handed over to the Syrian army as another five buses transferred families from the same area toward Zakiya region,” the statement read.
The Military Media said that all gunmen will be gradually transferred by Tuesday in accordance with the deal between the national military and allied forces, and the armed groups operating in Khan El-Sheikh, Zakiya, Moqailabiyah and Taibeh.
US Secretary of State John Kerry has significantly intensified contacts with Russia on Syria, the Kremlin confirmed, substantiating a report that Kerry wants to seal a deal with Moscow before Donald Trump assumes the US presidency in January.
The report, by Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin, says Kerry is taking a last-ditch effort to stop the Syrian operation in eastern Aleppo, because the Trump administration may be “squarely on the side of dictator [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad.”
Russian presidential aide Yury Ushakov confirmed that Kerry has lately intensified contacts with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov on Syria.
“This [effort] could be called unbelievable, in terms that there have never been so many phone calls between the Secretary of State and Russia’s FM which were focused on discussing a single issue – Syria,” he told journalists. Ushakov refrained from commenting on whether there was any progress on it.
According to the Post piece, which cites four unnamed US officials with the knowledge of the situation, Kerry hopes to seal a localized ceasefire in Aleppo by offering to separate members of the so-called moderate opposition from terrorist groups like Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (formerly Al-Nusra Front). The report says Kerry brought in other nations like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and at times Iran in a bid to seal the deal.
“Officials acknowledge that a frustrated Kerry still has not been given authority by the White House to bring any meaningful pressure to bear against Assad or Russia, placing him in a weak negotiating position. The prospect of Hillary Clinton being elected president gave Kerry some leverage, because she was expected to pursue a more hawkish Syria policy,” Rogin wrote.
A ceasefire in Aleppo on Kerry’s terms may be a hard bargain to sell. For once, Russia insists that US failure to separate moderates from terrorists, which was a key point of the truce negotiated by Moscow and Washington in September, was the reason that ceasefire collapsed.
The Syrian government operation to retake eastern Aleppo from armed groups also appears to be progressing, with latest reports saying that the militants lost a third of their territories to the advancing army. Stopping the siege now may give those fighters time to regroup, rearm and mount a counteroffensive.
Moscow appears to be reluctant to strike any significant deal with the outgoing administration and is waiting for Trump to present all the key figures in his future government.
“We will patiently wait for that team to take their seats and then we are interested in having intensive dialogue with them,” Ushakov said.
President-elect Donald Trump will nominate Michigan philanthropist and chair of the education organization American Federation of Children Elisabeth ‘Betsy’ DeVos to be his secretary of education.
Trump called his pick “a brilliant and passionate education advocate.”
“Under her leadership we will reform the U.S. education system and break the bureaucracy that is holding our children back so that we can deliver world-class education and school choice to all families,” the president-elect said in a statement.
DeVos is a former chair of the Michigan Republican Party who has never worked in public education. Her children attended private Christian schools. As the chairwoman of American Federation of Children, she is a proponent of the school choice movement, which calls for vouchers that allow families to use federal funds to cover the cost of education at private schools. She is also in favor of charter schools, but not of state regulation of them. Michigan’s charter schools are among the least regulated in the country, thanks to the DeVos family influence, Chalkbeat reported.
“There are a lot of schools that are doing poorly and charter authorizers do not seem to be taking the necessary actions to either improve performance or close those underperforming charters,” current US Secretary of Education John King told Chalkbeat about Michigan in October.
If confirmed, DeVos would replace King, who was confirmed in March 2016.
Although Trump has vocally stated his opposition to the Common Core curriculum ‒ shared learning standards adopted by most states ‒ DeVos says she supports “high standards, strong accountability, and local control,” but is opposed to how the curriculum got turned into “a federalized boondoggle.” However, she is on the board of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, a group founded by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush that promotes both school choice and Common Core.
DeVos met with Trump on Saturday in New Jersey, and the president-elect’s team said that the conversation “focused on the Common Core mission, and setting higher national standards and promoting the growth of school choice across the nation,” according to Education Week.
Her brother is Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater, a notorious mercenary company. Her father-in-law, Richard DeVos, co-founded Amway ‒ a multi-level marketing company that mainly sells health, beauty and home care products ‒ and also owns the Orlando Magic basketball team in Florida.
In 1980, the Department of Education was spun off from the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, which was created in 1953. Its mission is “to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access.”
Agencies under its purview include Federal Student Aid, the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, and several White House initiatives. Notable secretaries of education include William Bennett (1985-1988), now Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee; 1991-1993) and Arne Duncan (2009-2016). The secretary of education is 16th in the presidential line of succession.
The National Education Association decried the nomination, arguing that DeVos “has consistently pushed a corporate agenda.”
DeVos’ “efforts over the years have done more to undermine public education than support students,” NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia said in a statement. “She has consistently pushed a corporate agenda to privatize, de-professionalize and impose cookie-cutter solutions to public education. By nominating Betsy DeVos, the Trump administration has demonstrated just how out of touch it is with what works best for students, parents, educators and communities.”