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.
It is no coincidence that anti-Russian propaganda is being ramped up at the same moment the Syrian government is poised to retake its country from terrorists. Barack Obama and the rest of the war party are left to sputter nonsensical statements because their grand plan to realize the neocon Project for a New American Century is in very big trouble.
The American corporate media ignored the suffering of Syrians in the city of Aleppo until their captivity was broken by the Syrian Arab Army. Ever since 2012 ISIS and other terrorist groups sponsored by the United States, NATO, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar have held thousands of people hostage there. Turks picked the region apart, raiding Syrian factories and transporting them piece by piece back to their country.
Now that the Syrians are retaking the city with the help of their Russian and Hezbollah allies, there is a steady stream of news about Aleppo. All of it is meant to pull at the heart strings of uninformed people as the human rights industrial complex reliably goes about its dirty work. Human Rights Watch and other groups who work to promote United States foreign policy speak endlessly about war crimes. They didn’t say much when America’s allies were terrorizing Syrians but now they suddenly point fingers and always at the people who run afoul of regime change plans.
The five year-long effort to destroy the Syrian state has produced many victims in that country and it always threatened to spark a larger international conflict. The assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey could be such a moment. The gunman’s last words and obviously his actions were a call to jihad. Even one hundred years later the 1914 assassination in Sarajevo is not far from memory.
But the United States is the principal actor in this drama. None of the other nations involved in this crime would have acted absent American direction. All of the casualties, the sieges, the hunger and the frantic search for refuge can be placed at America’s feet. So too the death of the Russian ambassador. This international tangle is covered with American finger prints.
The Syrian government is determined to take back its country and the Americans and their allies are equally determined to thwart it. The recent successes of the Syrian army explain part of the desperation coming from Obama, the Democratic Party and corporate media. Blaming Russia kills several birds with one stone. It continues the propaganda war against a country that will not knuckle under and accept American hegemony. The hyper Russophobia was also an attempt to make the unpalatable and incompetent Hillary Clinton more appealing. And its continuation is being used by Democrats and Republicans to stop the incoming president from having any chance to improve relations with that country or curtail the regime change doctrine. The war party never sleeps.
Barack Obama’s last press conference was replete with lies and insults aimed at Russia and Vladimir Putin. He should have been embarrassed to say that Russia was “smaller,” “weaker” and “doesn’t produce anything that anybody wants to buy except oil and gas and arms.” He completed his bizarre rant by saying that Putin was “the former head of the KGB.” He was no such thing and of course Obama knows that. It isn’t clear if he expected anyone to believe him or if facing his failure carried him away to heights of rhetorical foolishness.
Obama thought that Hillary Clinton would win and complete his regime change plans. Not only did she lose and deprive him of his third term but the hollowness of his legacy is clear. Obviously “hope and change” was a marketing tag line meant to hide his commitment to the world wide neoliberal project.
Donald Trump will be president of the United States in just four weeks. That is a short period of time in which to pull off a soft coup. He will be inaugurated but team Obama want to make sure he cannot upend the status quo they work so hard to uphold.
While the Democratic Party rank and file are anxious about racism, immigration, Islamophobia, judicial appointees and voter suppression their leaders only care about maintaining imperialism. Obama and the rest of the democratic party are unworthy of the loyalty they engender. On January 20th thousands of people will head to Washington to protest Trump while the Democrats will be making last ditch efforts to help jihadists destroy Syria.
Some of the protesters ought to target their ire at Obama and the Democrats and not just because of their electoral failure. They ought to pledge an end to support for warmongering Democrats altogether. If it is true that Trump is a fascist he won’t be the first one in the White House. His predecessor fits that description just as well. But events may have spun out of his control. The fate of Syria may not be in American hands any longer. And that is why the desperation is so evident.
Margaret Kimberley can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)BlackAgendaReport.com.
This video is in honour of all those who have suffered in East Aleppo under the Nusra Front regime funded by the NATO and Gulf states and imposed upon Syria and its people in order to bring about “regime change” and to achieve the US alliance geopolitical aims in the region and to strengthen Israel in the Middle East.
I hope it goes some way towards conveying the incredible suffering that these people endured and the joy they expressed when, at last, they were free from four years of brutal sectarianism, torture, abuse and starvation, not at the hands of the Syrian government, as described by the baying corporate media in the West, but at the hands of the terrorist and militant factions injected into East Aleppo by the very governments who were screaming “humanitarian crisis”.
Children, prematurely aged, whose childhood has been ravaged and stolen from them by our vulture regimes in the west via their proxy “child catchers” and exploiters.
They were using images of tiny Omran Daqneesh to cynically manipulate emotions in the west and to nudge public perception towards their goal of a No Fly Zone to ensure the deaths of yet more children.
Meanwhile, the children of East Aleppo continued to suffer and be traumatised as their siblings, their fathers, their mothers, their world was raped, beheaded, shot, mined, sniped, detonated, exploded in front of them.
Who will heal these children? Who will give them back their childhood, their innocence? Who will say sorry for the blood in the streets and the dust in their souls.
I am not writing this as a journalist but as a human being. To witness the level of depravity and extremism unleashed by the creatures who govern us and to see children – emaciated, angry, bruised and wounded children glaring at the world through a filter of pain, it is hard to be anything else.
For Aleppo and for Syria with all my love and my hope that one day the Syrian people will forgive all of us for what has been done to them.
Hashtag #lasttweet began to appear in Twitter frequently after government troops engaged the final phase of Aleppo’s liberation in recent weeks.
Bana al-Abed, an alleged seven-year resident of the largest city in Syria, was the first who created an Internet hysterical fit designed to discredit the process of recapturing Aleppo. Her Twitter account was registered in September, 2016, amid intensified fighting in Aleppo. There are many details of the horrors of war on her page. And the girl blames not the terrorists but the Syrian government and its allies. Tweets are actively retweeted and not only by the Syrian opposition, but also by the mainstream Western media. For example, The Washington Post called Bana the Syrian Anne Frank (who wrote a diary in Nazi-occupied Netherlands).
At the same time, no one draws attention to the strange nuances. First, tweets appear very often. It seems that the little girl posts the information about the situation in the city 24/7. Aleppo is a city of constant fighting, with no constant energy source and water supply, and there is often lack of food and medicine. The more so, no one can easily access the Internet and cellular network due to damaged infrastructure. Second, her account looks perfect it terms of English language. Third, celebs, Western journalists and popular opposition bloggers contribute to the viral dissemination of Bana’s posts. It took just three hours to collect more than 3,700 likes and more than 5,000 retweets after the publication of one of the first tweets of Bana. According to Social Rank website, the request “Who was your first follower?” shows the first subscriber of Bana was an Al-Jazeera journalist Abdul Aziz Ahmed.
Social Rank website shows the results of the request
Moreover, J.K. Rowling promised to send the girl a Harry Potter book and by doing so the writer made a very good ad and emphasized the problem of Bana. Despite the fact that Syria has always been at a high level of literacy of the population (more than 90 percent in fact), Aleppo has been involved in the civil war for four years. At the same time we are forced to believe that the seven-year-old child has such a good command of a foreign language that she is ready to read a book of several hundred pages in the original language.
Speaking of the language it should be noted that a Syrian activist Maytham Al Ashkar who is originally from Al-Zahraa in northern Syria, currently in Beirut, but often travelling to Damascus and Aleppo contacted the 7-year-old Twitter star, Bana Alabed, on November 27, offering to evacuate her family from eastern Aleppo. After a month, someone who identified herself as Bana’s mother responded. When he got contacted by Bana’s account, he started to chat in Arabic since they are all Syrians and Arabic is their mother tongue. However, it was obvious that the person behind the account preferred English as a language of communication.
The more so, according to the media, Bana’s mother studied law. This means that she has studied the Syrian curriculum for 12 years, which is all in Arabic, plus 4 years at university, where all the subjects are taught in Arabic
The girl and her mother didn’t arrange the possibility of evacuation which could be provided by the journalist. So, Maytham Al Ashkar decided that the girl is just a face, a tool used by the British intelligence. (British – because of the strong relationship between the Bana’s account and the White Helmets funded and sponsored by the UK)
Twitter conversation between Maytham Al Ashkar and al-Abed’s account
It should be noted that Bana not only writes these tweets but also her mother Fatima al-Abed who is a teacher at a local school. It is she who helps her daughter to write so grammatically correct. Nevertheless, all this raises a number of questions: who is really writing on behalf of Bana and where from? There are a number of other controversial issues. Inside Syria Media Center will try to investigate the Bana project.
On November 27, Bana reported that her home had been destroyed after the shelling. The house is allegedly located in Joured Awaad quarter in the eastern part of Aleppo. Meanwhile, about 20 shellings performed by the anti-government forces were registered in the provinces of Aleppo on November 26. The armed groups of the Syrian Free Army fired multiple launch rocket systems against Bayada and Salah al-Din quarters of the Aleppo city. In addition, terrorists of Jabhat Fateh al-Sham and ISIS fired multiple launch rocket systems, tube artillery, mortars and small arms several times against Shurfa inhabited area, Binyamin, Dahiya al-Assad, Jamaiyah Fahat, Amri, Ashrafiyah, Art Sabah, Akyul, 1070, Hai Zahraa Awwad, Kastello trade center, al-Assad military academy, area of the former military school, and Higma school in the Aleppo city.
At the same time, the activity of the government troops was concentrated in the area to the south of the city of Hanano. So, the question arises: why does the girl insist on her house being fired upon and ruined while none of the parties opened fire near her house.
It is also unclear why the walls and the furniture in Bana’s room are not affected by the attacks, and always look new, despite the fact that the girl is constantly complaining that she frequently has to move into a new house. Moreover, the curtains on her photos are always tightly closed and the girl is always clean dressed.
On November 22, Bana published a video which showed her walking down the street in a terrorist-controlled district. Very few people are seen in the area. Getting into the shot, some of the occasional pedestrians are trying to get out of sight. They don’t really care for a little girl being shot. At 0.59, a head appears from a corner and immediately disappears. This looks really suspicious. The high quality of the footage, professional editing, and a tripod (the video is really smooth) – all these prove that the video was staged.
Bana’s tweets are written in English and the girl keeps alleging that Bashar al-Assad “kills children, bombs schools, shells neighborhoods and hurts Aleppo’s residents”. She constantly accuses the Syrian AF of aggressive actions. The little girl’s account is politically straight with messages including popular hashtags. However, in her interview to BBC, Fatima al-Abed stressed that Bana’s twitter wasn’t a propaganda campaign and wasn’t linked to terrorists.
Meanwhile, there are a lot of photos not connected to Bana. For instance, the photos of children allegedly killed in the airstrike at an Idlib school. It’s unknown how the footage got into the hands of Bana’s parents, and why the family doesn’t want to leave east Aleppo for government-controlled areas.
Everything becomes clear when you see the Facebook page of Ghassan, the girl’s father, with lots of his friends tied to various radical groups fighting in Syria.
Omar al-Amd, a Jabhat al-Nusra sniper, one of Bana father’s friends
Besides, some media reported that Bana’s tweets are written by the popular Syrian opposition blogger Abdel Kafi al-Hamdo (https://twitter.com/Mr_Alhamdo). Creating his account in October, 2016, a teacher and an activist gained as much as 17,000 followers.
The propaganda pouring from Bana’s Twitter was mentioned at a high political level. In his interview to the Danish channel TV2, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad stressed that the terrorists and their allies promoted Bana’s tweets.
The Hollywood-stylish Bana’s “death” should also be mentioned. First, the girl’s Twitter became inactive just after the government offensive on east Aleppo started. But soon BBC reported that the girl and her mother were alive and that they had come to a safe place. The account was restored and a new Tweet appeared: “Under attack. Nowhere to go, every minute feels like death. Pray for us. Goodbye – Fatemah”.
The ban provoked mass hysteria in the social media, the hashtag #whereisBana quickly became trending. At the same time, Bana’s fake accounts started to post messages about her “death”, which were allegedly written by her mother.
As of today, it should be noted that the project is still active. “Last tweets” have been repeatedly appearing. Probably, the world will witness other news from Bana, whose messages remind us of the story of “Aleppo’s last hospital”.
Till now Bana remains a mystery. The city is completely under government control but no proof of Bana and her mother’s existence has emerged. It is possible that the girl left Aleppo for Idlib alongside the most radical militants (as pointed out by a NBC report) or headed to Turkey in the company of other armed groups. The latter suggestion is supported by the call for help directed at Turkish President Recep Erdogan and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu that Bana published on Twitter.
Locating Bana and showing that she is safe and can start a new, more quiet life, should be of utmost interest for the Syrian authorities. On the other hand, the rumors could be disproved by finding the flat in the eastern quarter of Joured Awwad and proving that exploiting children’s death is nothing but another propaganda plot of the Western media, and that the Bana project is closed.
Egypt’s police detained a man for making staged “wounded children” photos, which he was planning to use to misrepresent on social media as photos of destruction and injured people in Syria’s Aleppo, the Egyptian Interior Ministry said on Monday.
“The shooting team, which included photographer’s assistants and parents of the children, was detained in the Egypt’s province of Port Said,” the Ministry said on Facebook.
According to the Ministry, the police witnessed the shooting process, which was taking place near the vestiges of a building destroyed as illegal under the decision of the local authorities.
A girl standing in a white dress covered in “blood” that later proved to be paint drew attention of a police officer driving by. The girl held a teddy bear covered in the same “blood” and had her arm “bandaged”.
The photographer reportedly admitted that he was going to publish these photos on social media as pictures of Aleppo.
© Photo: Facebook / MoiEgy
Journeyman Pictures | December 12, 2016
Winner of the European Short Film Award at the European Film Awards.
In August 2012, Syrian photographer Issa Touma awoke to the dawn of the rebel uprising in the city of Aleppo. He spent the next nine days holed up in his apartment, filming the emerging civil war outside.
“It’s 8:15 AM”, says Touma, recording the morning sky and fading moon through his window, on a day that signalled a turning point for life in Syria’s largest city. “Strangers take position in my street.” he says, “they look unprepared, without any kind of war experience”. Young men in t-shirts, resembling students more than fighters, drag sandbags into a blockade below Touma’s window. A rebel appeals by loudspeaker to a regime soldier, “leave your post and come to us!”. He is answered by the sound of gunfire. Touma’s raw commentary and eye for photographic detail give an unprecedented glimpse into the beginnings of a war that rages to this day. …
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.
The most fateful chapter of the war in northern Syria may be deemed to have commenced on Sunday with the launch of the offensive by Syrian Kurdish militia, backed by American and French Special Forces, to retake control of Raqqa, ‘capital’ of the Islamic State, situated almost mid-point between Aleppo and Mosul. (Japan Times )
Raqqa’s fall will be a lethal blow for IS. But expert opinion has been that US is ill-prepared for a full-bodied campaign on Raqqa. A former US Army colonel Daniel Davis wrote in the National Interest magazine last week that with no state-supported military unit leading the assault, no allied militia, no resupply lines through friendly territory, wresting control of a major city such as Raqqa, “in a hostile foreign land enmeshed in a years-long civil war… could… result in deadly consequences.” (National Interest )
Yet, President Barack Obama decided otherwise. US soldiers have been spotted on the frontline. (RT)
What is the US gameplan? Indeed, driving the IS out of Raqqa is invested with symbolism, as Obama will be fulfilling his pledge to “degrade and defeat” the IS before leaving office. With the November 8 election no longer constraining him, Obama hopes to notch up a legacy in Syria as the president who ‘defeated’ the IS.
Second, there is the ‘big picture’. Washington is hoping to stall the capture of Aleppo by Syrian government forces (backed by Russia and Iran) so that the next US president has the option to revisit Syrian conflict. Control of Raqqa would allow the US to keep a direct influence on Aleppo.
Again, in immediate terms, the IS fighters coming under pressure in Mosul may evacuate to Raqqa and the US intends to blockade Raqqa at least partially so as to revisit the front after the battle for Mosul has been won.
To be sure, Raqqa is shaping up to be the bloodiest battle yet in the Syrian conflict. An estimated 5000 IS fighters are located in Raqqa.
The ‘known unknown’ will be the reactions of Turkey and Russia. The Turkish-Russian rapprochement faces a litmus test here. Suffice it to say, Russia will be watching Turkey’s ‘strategic autonomy’ vis-à-vis the US. There are conflicting signals that US and Turkey have a tacit understanding over Raqqa. (KUNA )
Meanwhile, Syrian Kurds also claim to have an understanding with the US to keep Turkey out in the cold. (Rudaw )
The Americans are playing a smart game. Turkey couldn’t have chosen this moment to push to capture the hugely strategic town of al-Babi without informing US, because the operation’s main aim is to thwart Kurdish plans to establish a contiguous enclave in northern Syria. Simply put, how is it possible that Turks are ostensibly hitting the Syrian Kurds hard just when the latter are fighting Obama’s war on IS in Raqqa? How could that possibly happen without some back-to-back US-Turkish understanding? (Read an excellent analysis in Al-Monitor on the Turkey’s plans in northern Syria)
In the developing situation, a Russian-Syrian consolidation in Aleppo becomes complicated if Americans and the French manage to establish a base camp in Raqqa from where they can lend support seamlessly to rebel groups in Aleppo. Prima facie, Obama’s one-year old warning of a ‘quagmire’ for Russians in Syria no longer seems far-fetched. (Reuters )
But then, Russians seem to estimate that capturing Raqqa is beyond the US’ capability anytime soon. For Tehran, too, Turkey and US’s control of al-Bab and Raqqa could foreclose a direct Iranian access route via Iraq and Syria to Lebanon, which is crucial for bolstering the military capability of Hezbollah. In fact, Raqqa leads to Zeir e-Zor city in eastern Syria, just 120 kilometers away, which is under Syrian government control and is a gateway for Iran to access Lebanon. The US and Israel have been hoping to bring Zeir e-Zor under control of Salafi groups hostile to Iran.
Read an impromptu commentary by Russian news agency Sputnik titled Operation Euphrates Rage: What is Known So Far About Raqqa Offensive.
Building on an over five-year, almost entirely fictional narrative about a popular uprising in Syria, recent developments on the ground in Aleppo have triggered a new propaganda blitz complete with a new set of provable lies. The following are ten facts about Aleppo that must be accepted by any objective, informed and rational observer regardless of one’s political views and opinions regarding Syria.
1) Eastern Aleppo was overrun by a foreign-backed, Al-Qaeda-led terrorist alliance in 2012. At that time, approximately 600,000 Aleppans fled eastern Aleppo for the security and safety of western Aleppo where the Syrian government maintained control.
2) Estimates of how many civilians remained in eastern Aleppo vary widely, but official estimates place the number between 100 and 150 thousand. UN estimates of up to 300,000 are almost certainly inflated and politically motivated.
3) Eighty to eighty-five percent of the armed fighters in eastern Aleppo belong to the Jabhat Al-Nusra, the official Al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria that just underwent a rebranding, complete with a new name and logo (see image above, top row, second from the left). The remaining fighters belong to twenty-two (there are constant splits, mergers, and rebranding among them) terrorist groups that all share the same jihadi ideology, methods, and objectives as Al-Qaeda.
4) The overwhelming majority of Syrian fighters in eastern Aleppo are not from Aleppo itself, belying the notion that any part of the city rose up against the government.
5) The terrorist groups in Aleppo include a large number of foreign fighters from eighty-one different countries with significant contingents from Turkey, the Gulf Arab states, North Africa, and Russia’s Chechnya and North Caucasus region.
6) Armed groups in eastern Aleppo have been deliberately shelling civilians in western Aleppo. This has led to angry protests against the Syrian government demanding an end to the shelling and the complete extirpation of the terrorist presence in eastern Aleppo.
7) This past week eastern Aleppo was finally completely encircled by the Syrian Army, effectively cutting off the terrorist groups’ supply routes from Turkey.
8) The Syrian government has offered all Syrian fighters in eastern Aleppo amnesty in exchange for laying down their weapons and surrendering to the Syrian authorities.
9) The Syrian military has also established three humanitarian corridors for civilians to exit eastern Aleppo. The Syrian government had prepared 10,000 habitable apartment units in western Aleppo for civilians fleeing in anticipation of a possible final battle. As dozens of families started to exit armed groups immediately began preventing civilians from leaving, prompting speculation they intend to use them as human shields when and if the Syrian Army begins its final entry into the eastern part of the city.
10) After completing the encirclement of eastern Aleppo the Syrian government, in a joint mission with the Russian Air Force based at Hemeimeem Air Base, began a massive humanitarian airlift into eastern Aleppo. The tragic shoot down of the Russian helicopter this week took place as it was returning from a humanitarian aid delivery.
A 5-hour meeting between a visiting foreign minister and Russian President Vladimir Putin is not only rare but difficult to recall. Putin makes rare exceptions to receive foreign ministers. And he always receives them after their talks with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. By all these yardsticks, US Secretary of State John Kerry’s meeting with Putin last Thursday in the Kremlin was extraordinary.
He drove into the Kremlin straight after touching down in Moscow Thursday evening and had talks with Putin lasting till 1 am in the wee hours of Friday morning. Putin’s rare appearance for a joint press briefing with a foreign minister (Kerry), Puitn’s ‘body language’ and, of course, the subsequent joint press conference by Kerry and Lavrov — they distinctly sought to convey the impression that the US and Russia were on to a big joint venture apropos the Syrian conflict. (here and here)
None of the three statesmen – neither Putin and Lavrov nor Kerry – was even remotely affected by the negative energy radiated by the high-profile summit meeting of the NATO, which had taken place in Warsaw hardly four days ago whose leitmotif was the strong determination of the western alliance to defend and deter Russia’s perceived aggressive tendencies in Eurasia.
Kerry is going to meet a select group of European allies later today in London to brief them on “the concrete steps that the U.S. and Russia are planning to take”. He disclosed that he had a phone conversation with Lavrov on Tuesday, and,
- We both [with Lavrov] believe that we have understanding of the direction we are going in and what needs to be achieved. Our teams will meet shortly in order to continue to do that, in order to bolster the cessation of hostilities, in order to increase our capacity to fight against Al Qaeda, an Nusra, as well as fight back against ISIL.
It all sounds too good to be true. But then, Kerry is a seasoned diplomat with 30 years as a senator behind him during which he also headed the senate foreign relations committee and now as America’s top diplomat for over 3 years. Why is the US all of a sudden giving such hype to a peace project with Russia, an aggressive regional power, to kickstart a political process Syria?
The US has always sought a “selective engagement” of Russia on issues of concern to Washington while pursuing the containment strategy on another track. Lavrov may have gently rubbed this in when Kerry phoned him on Thursday to discuss the “concrete steps” on Syria as follow-up to his talks in the Kremlin last week. Curiously, the Russian Foreign Ministry readout makes a wry reference to Lavrov also, inter alia, availing of the opportunity to gently remind Kerry how the Obama administration is also simultaneously moving heaven and earth to humiliate Russia on another front by keeping it out of the Rio Olympics. These seasoned diplomats must be having the hide of rhinoceros — the readout says, “Mr. Kerry agreed that sports should not be politicized”. (here)
Won’t Moscow be aware that Kerry might even be dissimulating a concord with Russia over Syria? Won’t Moscow know that the Obama administration is on its last leg and time has run out? The point is, there is a powerful lobby in Washington, including the Pentagon and apparently within the State Department itself, which opposes any form of US-Russia cooperation in Syria that does not lead to the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad in a near term. (Read a briefing by the Brookings Institution, on the hawkish opinion in Washington.)
Indeed, the US is engaging Russia assiduously against the backdrop of the dramatic events in Turkey. The ground has shifted in the geopolitics of the region. Interestingly, Kerry made the hurried unscheduled trip to Moscow last week within 4 days of the NATO summit even as the failed coup attempt was getting under way in Turkey. Actually, Kerry was about to meet with Putin in the Kremlin — or had been conversing with him already –even as the coup began in Turkey. Something doesn’t quite gel here, isn’t it? Suffice it to say, much depends on how far back Kerry (Obama administration) actually had known about the coup that was in the making in Turkey. (Read a breath-taking, blow-by-blow account of the ‘Turkish coup’ by senior editor Murat Yetkin in today’s Hurriyet.)
Of course, the failed coup in Turkey becomes a defining moment for the Syrian conflict. The Turkish military and state intelligence – and the political leadership – are all passing through such turbulence that Ankara simply lacks the presence of mind or the sheer capacity to continue to pursue an interventionist policy in Syria in a foreseeable future. Meanwhile, great uncertainties have crept into Turkey’s relations with the US and Europe. Moscow cannot but be aware that Turkey desperately needs to hold the Russian hand — and that indeed adds to Russia’s politico-military options in Syria. The thinking is reflected in a commentary by a top Kremlin pundit Fyodor Lukyanov in Moscow Times.
Clearly, the US policies on Syria are floundering. The Syrian forces have laid siege to Aleppo and the US-backed rebels are trapped inside the city, while Turkey may have begun disengaging from reaching aid to them. Washington has no option but to engage Moscow to work out some sort of face-saving compromise formula.
But what does Russia get in return? Participation in Rio Olympics? It shouldn’t be surprising if the International Olympics Committee has a last-minute change of heart and says ‘Da‘ to the Russian team, finally. If that happens, it will be in the best traditions of Russian-American trade-offs, and Kerry worked hard on it.
Activist Post | March 9, 2015
Putting its hypocritical and biased nature on full display once again, the alleged human rights organization, Human Rights Watch, was recently caught in an attempt to fabricate “evidence” of Assad’s use of barrel bombs in civilian areas for the purposes of further demonizing the secular Syrian government.
On February 25, HRW posted a photo of a devastated civilian area in Syria with the tagline “Syria dropped barrel bombs despite ban.” The “ban” HRW is referring to is the ban on bombing civilian areas that applies to both sides in Aleppo after the United Nations stepped in to save the Western-backed terrorists from annihilation. Assad’s forces had surrounded the city and had cut off a major supply route for the death squads from Turkey thus making the ultimate elimination of the jihadist forces a virtual inevitability.
As Somini Sengupta wrote for the New York Times on February 24,
Human Rights Watch said Tuesday that the Syrian government had dropped so-called barrel bombs on hundreds of sites in rebel-held towns and cities in the past year, flouting a United Nations Security Council measure.
In a report released Tuesday, the group said it relied on satellite images, photos, videos and witness statements to conclude that the Syrian government had bombarded at least 450 sites in and around the southern town of Daraa and at least 1,000 sites in Aleppo in the north.
The report focused on the period since Feb. 22, 2014, when the Security Council specifically condemned the use of barrel bombs, which are large containers filled with explosives and projectiles that can indiscriminately hurt civilians and are prohibited under international law.
There was only one problem with HRW’s tweet – the photograph the organization provided was not Aleppo.
In fact, the damage that had been wrought upon the civilian area in the photograph was not committed by the Syrian military but by the United States.
The photo was actually a picture of Kobane (Ayn al-Arab), the city which has been the site of heavy US aerial bombardment over the last several months as the US engages in its program of death squad herding and geographical reformation of sovereign Syrian and Iraqi territory.
But, while HRW was content to use the destruction of the city as a reason to condemn the Assad government and continue to promote the cause for US military action in Syria, the “human rights organization” was apparently much less interested in the exact same destruction wrought by US forces.
In other words, if Assad’s forces bomb a civilian area into the stone age, it is an atrocity, a war crime, and justification for international military involvement. If the United States bombs a civilian area into the stone age, it’s no biggie.
For instance, when Western media propaganda had reached a crescendo regarding the outright lie that Assad had used chemical weapons against his own people, HRW stood right beside Barack Obama and John Kerry in their effort to prove Assad’s guilt. HRW even went so far as to repeat the lie that the UN report suggested that Assad was the offending party, driving the final nail into the coffin of any credibility HRW may have had.
When a last-minute chemical weapons deal was secured by Russia in an effort to avoid yet another US/NATO invasion of Syria, HRW did not rejoice for the opportunity of peaceful destruction of chemical weapons and a chance to avoid war, it attacked the deal by claiming that it “failed to ensure justice.” Of course, the deal did fail to ensure justice. There were no provisions demanding punishment of the death squads who actually used the weapons or the US/NATO apparatus that initiated and controlled the jihadist invasion to begin with.
Regardless, when Mother Agnes Mariam of the Cross released her report that refuted what the US/NATO was asserting in regards to chemical weapons in Syria, HRW embarked upon a campaign of attack against her and her work.
Even as far back as 2009, however, HRW was showing its true colors when it apparently signed off on and supported renditions – the process of kidnapping individuals off the street without any due process and “rendering” them to jails and prisons in other countries where they are often tortured – in secret talks with the Obama administration.
If HRW ever had any credibility in terms of the question of actual human rights, then all of that credibility has assuredly been lost. HRW is nothing more than a pro-US, pro-NATO NGO that acts as a smokescreen for the continuation of the violation of human rights across the world – that is, unless those violations are committed by America’s enemies.
Given the massive destruction in large parts of Aleppo, Syria’s former economic juggernaut near the Turkish border, including in the city’s Medina souk and Industrial zone, claims of even more dire damage to Syrian heritage sites would perhaps be understandable. Even if not backed up with probative material evidence and sometimes made for political purposes by opponents of Syria’s government.
In the wake of the continuing conflict, questions from some quarters have repeatedly surfaced regarding the status of the 5th- or 6th- century Byzantium period, Great Synagogue of Aleppo. Known locally as Joab’s Synagogue or Al-Bandara Synagogue, lore has it that the building’s foundation was laid by King David’s general, Yoav, whom Jewish tradition holds captured Aleppo. Maimonides, in his letter to the rabbis of Lunel, speaks of Aleppo as being the only community in Syria where Torah learning survived.
The Times of Israel reported on 10/16/2012 that “Aleppo, once a trading center for Muslims, Armenians and Syrian Christians, was also home to one of the world’s oldest Jewish communities with its Great Synagogue which is now destroyed.” One of the US based anti-Arab Zionist organizations, the notorious Anti-Defamation League (ADL) claims that the synagogue was bombed by the Syrian army, with similar false reports being circulated via politically motivated internet conspiracy theories.
Another writer for the Jewish Times lamented: “While we continue to hear of the damage inflicted on Aleppo, it is almost unfathomable what is happening to its treasure trove of Jewish antiquity and Synagogues within its borders.” Claims have been made that Syrian government barrel bombs destroyed the cultural heritage site nearly two years ago.
These accusations and statements are patently false.
Susan Harris wrote in November of 2012 about massive damage in Syria to Jewish heritage sites, including in Aleppo, but without offering specific data, the author implied a frenzy of antisemitism. “Not only are the antiquities of Islam being destroyed, but a site of great interest to Jews sits in the eye of a hurricane swept in by the Arab Spring. For hundreds of years the Great Synagogue of Aleppo was the home to the Aleppo Codex, written around 930 CE.” And that it was caught up in “A labyrinth of medieval Jewish structures recently set ablaze, and the last fragile structural remnants of earlier civilizations crumbling into ash heaps under the weight of prolonged violence.” This statement is also false. The Codex has not been burned.
Articles and alarmist propaganda on the subject of Aleppo’s synagogues have appeared with titles like: “What’s left of Jewish Heritage in Syria”, “Who will save the remains of Syria’s ancient synagogues?” (JTA ), “Jewish Aleppo, Lost Forever The Syrian diaspora in Israel watches its once-vibrant ancestral home fall to ruin in the country’s civil war” (Joseph Dana, 8/22/2012). They are all misleading.
There have however been thefts of Syrian cultural artifacts; most of them have been done by agents of Israel. During a 10-year period in the 1980s, a collection of Jewish objects were stolen and smuggled out of Syria to Turkey by then-Chief Rabbi Avraham Hamra. The collection included nine ancient Bible manuscripts, known as the Ketarim, each between 700 and 900 years old. In addition, there were 40 Torah scrolls and 32 decorative boxes in which the Sephardic Torah scrolls were held. Israel offered a bizarre rationale that the thefts of antiquities belonging to Syria were “necessary because official requests for permission to take them out of Syria were denied”. Were this excuse to be accepted our global heritage in Syria and elsewhere would likely soon disappear.
Another theft of Syrian cultural heritage is The Aleppo Codex, believed to be the oldest manuscript containing the entire Hebrew Bible. It was stolen from the Great Synagogue of Allepo according to locals by the Mossad and in 1957 it was smuggled out of Aleppo to Israel, where it was presented in 1958 to President Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, and today it is housed in the Ben-Zvi Institute. The Aleppo Codex, part of Syria’s cultural heritage, is considered by some experts to be the most authoritative, accurate source document, both for the Biblical text and for the vocalization and cantillation. Some scholars claim it has greater religious and scholarly import than any other manuscript of the Bible. Unbeknownst to the thieves, 295 of the original 487 leaves of the Codex remain in Aleppo near the grand synagogue protected by a Syrian gentleman who was a volunteer caretaker and groundskeeper of sorts for many years. Apparently when the thieves pried open the vault underneath the basilica’s basement floor they failed to notice a cloth wrapping underneath what they stole or that the Codex had been divided for apparent study. The people of Syria and all who value cultural heritage await the return of the looted Codex from its thieves.
For over a week earlier this month, with the much-appreciated assistance of security personnel, this observer moved around Aleppo visiting endangered archaeological sites in order to chronicle some of them as part of a two-year research project across this cradle of civilization. Field visits and testimony of neighbors near Aleppo’s 11 synagogues present probative evidence that while they, as with many sites in Aleppo and elsewhere, are currently endangered, as of mid-December 2014 these places of worship, which are a valued part of Syria’s cultural heritage, are locked and secured. They do not exhibit signs of vandalism and are being watched over by authorities and by Syrian citizens in their respective neighborhoods.
With respect to the Great Synagogue of Aleppo, although situated in the district of the current front-line separating rebel from government forces, it has not been destroyed and as of 12/16/2014 shows no signs of damage. This may be partly due to the fact that both sides have been widely criticized for endangering Syria’s heritage and, with the exception of Da’ish (IS), appear to be taking greater care these days in selecting “military targets.” Another reason may be because the Great Synagogue is located on a side street of little apparent strategic import that has experienced no armed conflict. As recently as two decades ago it was in use until Aleppo’s remaining Jews left and as with other Jewish sites in Aleppo and across Syria, including cemeteries, schools, and communal properties, are now under government protection.
Rather than destroy Jewish heritage in Syria her government and people have preserved and repaired them when necessary. As of mid-December 2014 only 13 Jews remain in Aleppo according to Rabbi Avraham Hamra with nine men and eight women, all over sixty years of age. One of the last to depart Aleppo was Dr. Haim Cohen, a general practitioner who lived down the street from the Samoual Synagogue, which this observer visited on 12/11/2014. Dr. Cohen used to frequent a shop across from the entrance to the Samoual Synagogue, which I also visited and according to the shop owner who has been in the same location for 47 years and whose main work these days includes the mending of piles of military uniforms there has been no damage to synagogues in the Governorate and certainly not to the Great Synagogue of Aleppo.
In February of 2011, coincidentally the month before of the beginning of the current Syrian crisis, President Assad signed an executive order to repair the Al-Raqi Synagogue in the old Jewish quarter of Damascus by the end of the month as the renovation of 10 other synagogues in Syria’s major cities continued. On 12/11/2014 this observer photographed some randomly selected Aleppo synagogues, including the one in the Samoual district, and found them locked and saw no signs of desecration. Rather, normal citizens exhibit protective attitudes toward these heritage sites and even tend to keep the outside areas cleared of leaves and trash. Government workers also perform daily trash pickups along streets where the synagogues are located. Officials advised this observer that Syria sees the rebuilding of Jewish Damascus and repairs to synagogues across Syria in the context of preserving the secularism of Syria and its cultural heritage of which Jews were historically an important part.
Two months before the President signed the executive order to repair synagogues, Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, discussed the Jewish synagogues and cemeteries in Syria and he reported that he received a “very positive response from Assad.” Syrian Jews centered mainly in Brooklyn NY whose numbers are estimated at 85,000, maintain close ties with Syria. Some of them visit their birthplaces and conduct regular business relations in the country often experiencing criticism and pressure from the Zionist regime still occupying Palestine.
In November 1989, the Syrian government facilitated the emigration of 500 single Jewish women, who greatly outnumbered eligible Jewish men in Aleppo. During the 1991 Madrid Peace Conference Syria agreed to ease restriction on its Jewish population. As a result, Syria lifted many restrictions on its Jewish community, and allowed Jews to leave on condition that they not emigrate to Israel. Beginning on the Passover Holiday of 1992, more than 4,000 remaining members of the Aleppo and Damascus Jewish community were granted exit permits and within a few months, thousands more left for the United States, France or Turkey. Approximately 300 remained in Syria, most of them elderly all choosing to stay in the culture their families had lived in for many generations.
With the dawning of the 21st century, there was only a small, largely elderly community left in Aleppo. Jews were still officially banned from politics and government employment, and did not have military service obligations. Jews were also the only minority to have their religion mentioned on their passports and identification cards. Though some were occasionally subjected to harassment by Palestinian protesters during violence in occupied Palestine, the Syrian government took measures to protect them.
The government protected Jewish primary schools for religious studies, and Hebrew was allowed to be taught (today Hebrew is one of the languages SANA, the Syrian news agency presents its news item in). Every two or three months, a rabbi from Istanbul visited Aleppo to oversee the preparation of kosher meat, which most residents froze and used until his next visit. The community gradually shrank. From 2000 to 2010, 41 Syrian Jews left for occupied Palestine, and its numbers further dwindled as members of the largely elderly community died.
In 2001, Rabbi Huder Shahada Kabariti estimated that there were still 200 Jews in the country, of whom 150 lived in Damascus, 30 in Aleppo, and 20 in Qamashli. In 2003, the Jewish population was estimated to be fewer than 100. In 2005, the U.S. State Department estimated the Jewish population at 80 in its annual International Religious Freedom Report. In May 2012, one year into the Syrian civil war, it was reported that only 22 Jews still lived in Syria, all of them elderly and living in Damascus, in a building adjoining the city’s only functioning synagogue. This report was not accurate. As of December 2014, approximately 15 Jews remain in Aleppo according to Rabbi Avraham Hamra with nine men and eight women, all over sixty years of age.