Sunday, 30 August 2015

The cleansing of Zabadani


“To those who analyze the revolution theoretically, head to the battle sites and turn your words into actions.” Al-Zabadani 18/06/2013

By Leila Al Shami. First posted at Leila’s Blog.

The town of Zabadani lies some 50 kilometers from Damascus, close to the Lebanese border in south-western Syria. Nestled between green mountains, it was once a popular tourist resort for Damascenes escaping the capital’s stifling summer heat. In 2011 Zabadani became a centre of resistance to Assadist fascism. Today the town is being pulverized and its people driven from their homes.

The first anti-regime protest was held in the town on 25 March 2011. A diverse revolutionary movement kept protests and civil disobedience alive and the town’s women overcame traditional social barriers to play a central role. They took to the streets despite the mass arrest campaigns and the security forces’ live fire.

In January 2012, Zabadani was liberated by the Free Army. As the state retreated the town’s people came together to keep their community functioning and to try alternatives to decades-long dictatorship. Martyred anarchist Omar Aziz was involved in setting up the local council. Its members were elected with wide popular participation including by Christian residents of the Sunni-majority town. Young revolutionaries produced a weekly magazine, ‘Oxygen’, dedicated to peaceful resistance and providing analysis of the revolution. A photography collective called Lens Young Zabadani was set up to document daily life.

Zabadani’s people have lived freedom, but this has come at a huge cost. In a pattern played out across the liberated areas, the regime subjected the town to a siege which by May 2013 had turned into a full blockade accompanied by daily bombing. Since 3 July the situation has dramatically worsened as a result of a regime offensive supported by masses of fighters from the Iranian-backed Hizbullah.

On 30 July Zabadani Council issued an urgent appeal. It stated that 48,000 residents had fled Zabadani to the nearby towns of Madaya and Bloudan. “The displacement of the people of Zabadani to Madaya means that they will be confined to a narrow and very densely populated geographic area already populated by a large number of displaced civilians and will be again besieged in an area which is being continuously targeted with barrel bombs by Assad’s warplanes and with heavy artillery bombardment by regime ground forces. The area is also surrounded by regime checkpoints where regime troops are already hunting civilians (men, women and children) from Zabadani, as well as warning them to prepare for a massacre and long-term siege.” It continues: “These threats against the people of Zabadani are the start of the regime’s and its accomplices’ planned ‘demographic change’ which we have warned repeatedly of. This threat to the people is not limited to Sunni Muslims but also includes the town’s Christian and other population, with all the town’s people being driven out in order to ‘cleanse’ the area and prepare for it to be resettled by foreign occupiers.” There are further recent reports that civilians displaced to two neighbouring towns, Bloudan and Al Mamoura, are being forced to leave. They have not been allowed to take their belongings, and many have been taken by military vehicles to Madaya.

The plan to cleanse Zabadani of its inhabitants came to the fore during recent cease-fire negotiations held between the Islamist militia Ahrar Al Sham, now the dominant armed rebel group defending the town, and an Iranian delegation, yet one more sign that it is now Iran, not Assad, which is calling the shots in Syria. The negotiations were premised on ending regime attacks on Zabadani in exchange for the end of Ahrar Al Sham’s campaign on the two Shia/regime loyalist towns of Al Fawaa and Kefraya in Idlib province. Yet negotiations broke down when Iran demanded demographic changes, calling for the removal of civilians from Zabadani in exchange for relocating the residents of Al Fawaa and Kefraya to Damascus.

Cleansing opposition areas of their Sunni inhabitants is not new. Following a cease-fire agreement in Homs, civilians were evacuated through ‘safe’ corridors. Many were detained by the regime and never seen again, the Homs Land Registry was destroyed and mainly Alawite regime loyalists were moved into now vacant Sunni houses. Perhaps the scenario is closer still to that of Qusayr, another predominantly Sunni and strategically important town near the Lebanese border surrounded by Shia villages, which links the capital with the regime’s stronghold on the coast and is an important supply route to Homs and from Lebanon’s Bekka Valley. Liberated Qusayr fell to the regime in 2013 following a fierce attack by forces including thousands of Shia fighters from Hizbullah. A Lebanese-negotiated agreement between rebels and Hizbullah saw the evacuation of rebel fighters from Qusayr, as well as civilians, with reports of homes in nearby evacuated villages being looted and burnt to prevent residents returning.

Qusayr was the first battle in which Hizbullah played a lead combat role. This pro-regime intervention by foreign Shia Islamists led to a deepening of sectarian tensions. A few days later there was a savagely sectarian response at Hatla in Deir al-Zour, where 60 Shia – some shabiha but at least 30 civilians- were killed.

Zabadani is the last remaining rebel stronghold in the Qalamoun mountains. It is of strategic importance to the resistance around Damascus for its supply lines from Lebanon, and it is also of strategic importance to the regime, Hizbullah and Iran. Yet beyond immediate military value, forced population transfers give rise to the fear that there’s a plan to divide Syria on sectarian lines, to redraw the borders with Alawites and Shia, Sunnis and Kurds all taking their own sections of the country. Far from being a prelude to peace, such a plan would precipitate an ethnic cleansing on a scale not yet seen in the country. Syria’s diverse ethnic and religious groups do not fit neatly into geographical areas and are spread across all regions. Even in the coastal region, the regime’s Alawite stronghold and presumably a key part of any future Assadist state, the two main cities – Lattakia and Tartous- contain major Sunni populations.

Zabadani’s people once took to the streets chanting the anti-sectarian revolutionary slogan “The Syrian People are One”. Now they are being expelled from their homes for the sake of what looks like an Iranian-sectarian partition.



Friday, 21 August 2015

Ghouta


Leaflet for tomorrow’s London event marking the second anniversary of the Ghouta massacre, 2pm at Trafalgar Square. PDF version here.

GHOUTA: 2nd Anniversary of the Chemical Attack in Ghouta, Syria.

On the 21st of August 2013, the Ghouta area of Damascus was shelled with rockets containing the chemical weapon Sarin. Over 1,700 people were reported killed.

In response, Britain’s parliamentarians voted to do nothing.

Despite multiple Security Council resolutions, and despite a massive international disarmament exercise by the OPCW and the UN, Assad has not stopped using chemical weapons. Instead, a century after chlorine was first used as a chemical weapon against Allied soldiers on the battlefields of the First World War, Assad has revived its use as a terror weapon against Syrian civilians.

Since the destruction of Syria’s declared chemical weapons was completed, experts from the OPCW have found evidence to indicate the Assad regime has retained secret stocks of both Sarin and VX nerve gas.

As Britain’s politicians debate taking on ISIS in Syria, they must face the consequences of their failure to take on Syria’s greatest killer, Assad.

This ongoing failure has contributed to the rise of ISIS, has degraded the status of the United Nations, and has eroded the trust of Syrians.

This failure has cost tens of thousands more civilian lives since the Ghouta massacre, and still the killers remain free to kill.

Five things everyone should know about Syria today

1. So far this year, the Assad regime has killed 7 times as many civilians as ISIS.

2. Since Security Council Resolution 2139 banned barrel bombs in February 2014, thousands more have been dropped onto hospitals, homes, and schools. Some of these bombs use chlorine gas to add to the terror. 95% of victims are civilians.

3. Assad’s air attacks are a leading cause of Syria’s refugee crisis.

4. Many of the barrel bombs are dropped on areas under siege. More than half a million people in Syria live in areas with no access to food, water or medicine, including the areas of Ghouta that were targeted by Sarin attacks in 2013.

5. The international anti-ISIS coalition is flying in the same airspace where Assad’s air force is attacking civilians, but it chooses not to intervene.

#ClearTheSky

Assad’s air force has helped ISIS expand into Syria. His air attacks fracture communities and drive extremism. To stop ISIS, stop the barrel bombs.

Syria needs a political solution. As in Bosnia, action to protect civilians can create conditions for political negotiations. A no-fly zone can help protect civilians from the worst of the violence.

Too many Syrians spend their days looking up at the sky, watching for the next barrel bomb will drop and fearing where it will hit.

Join 100+ non-violent Syrian groups in asking for the international community to enforce the UN ban on barrel bombs with a no-fly zone. Join the call to #clearthesky.

Links:

Planet Syria on 5 things everyone should know about Syria today, with sources.

Clear The Sky event page on Facebook.

Breathless on Facebook.



In London, Syrians and their friends will be marking the anniversary with an event tomorrow Saturday the 22nd of August.

Assemble at 2pm in Trafalgar Square, before walking to Downing Street. Please bring flowers to mourn the dead.

More on the Facebook event page.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Clear the sky


Photo: Syria Civil Defence rescue volunteers watch the sky as they eat.

On the second anniversary of the Ghouta massacre, Planet Syria and Breathless are campaigning under the slogan ‘Clear The Sky’.

Clear The Sky – Facebook event page.

Planet Syria write:
Two years ago on 21st August 2013 the world was focused on Syria after the government of Bashar al-Assad used Sarin on civilians in the worst chemical attack for a quarter of a century. (Since the Halabjah chemical attacks by the Saddam Hussein regime in 1988).

The world feigned outrage. Obama said a red line had been crossed.

But today the chemical attacks continue. Chlorine is routinely used in barrel bomb attacks on civilian neighborhoods. But it’s not the chemicals that are killing most people, it’s the bombs themselves.

Please invite all your friends to this event and do the following:

A) Join a street vigil or protest and look up towards the skies in groups. Educate the public around you by distributing fliers. Take photos and post them to this event. If you can’t do that...

B) ...Change your profile photo to a picture of you looking up towards the skies. Copy and paste the five points below into the description of your profile picture and add a link to this event.

C) Don't forget to use #‎clearthesky on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc.



In London, Syrians and their friends will be marking the anniversary with an event this Saturday the 22nd of August.

Assemble at 2pm in Trafalgar Square, before walking to Downing Street. Please bring flowers to mourn the dead.

More in this earlier post and on the Facebook event page.

Monday, 17 August 2015

What’s happened since 2013 in Eastern Ghouta?


Areas of control in Damascus suburbs. © Carter Center. From Amnesty International’s report Left To Die Under Siege.

By Mark Boothroyd

Since the chemical attacks on August 21st 2013 the inhabitants of Eastern Ghouta have had no respite from the suffering inflicted upon them by the Assad regime. The siege which only parts of Eastern Ghouta had suffered since early 2013, have now become total. Food and medical aid is reduced to a trickle, and falls far short of what is needed to meet the basic needs of the besieged population.

Lack of medical supplies has meant easily treatable illnesses can become a death sentence. Dozens of patients requiring dialysis have died as doctors are forced to reduce the regularity of treatments to conserve supplies. A report by the Syrian-American Medical Society , Slow Death: Life and Death in Syrian communities under siege, documented over 200 civilians who have died from lack of medical supplies over the past 2 years. Hospitals are targeted regularly by the regime. The Medical Director of the hospital in the town of Erbeen reported they had been attacked 10 times in the previous year, killing two nurses and badly damaging the facility.

Earlier in August, Amnesty International published a detailed report on the siege and regime war crimes in the region. The regime has subjected the towns and villages of the Ghouta to regular bombardment, sparing no part of the area. In May 2014 a warehouse housing humanitarian aid was deliberately targeted by the regime, killing several civilians and aid workers. Over 500 civilians have been killed between January and June this year from regime air strikes. Schools, markets, hospitals; the basic services required to sustain life are all attacked. The aim is to make the situation unliveable and break the will of the population to resist the regime.

On August 16th the regime again bombed the central marketplace in Douma. Over 100 were killed, and over 500 wounded. Several salvos were fired, the later ones timed so they would hit those trying to rescue the wounded.

The dire situation has lead to the phenomena of ‘bucket children’, groups of children who roam Eastern Ghouta scavenging and begging for food. With their parents unable to provide for them and little or no educational facilities, scavenging has become a way to pass the time, and perhaps secure at least one meal. In the situation of lawlessness and dire poverty, these children suffer high levels of abuse and labour exploitation, as well as the everyday risk of death from snipers, barrel bombs or shells.

The residents of Eastern Ghouta still participate in the resistance to the regime. The town of Saqba has a Friday demonstration every week without fail. The demonstrations range from a few hundred of several thousand at a time, and are used to demonstrate their opposition to the regime, and to place demands on the armed groups of the opposition.

The armed opposition is not spared criticism by activists in Ghouta. The armed factions in the region, most prominently Jaysh Al-Islam lead by Zahran Alloush, have been accused of monopolising food and oil supplies, driving up the price and aggravating the situation for the already impoverished residents. As well, hundreds of civilians have been detained by the armed groups. These detentions spurred three days of protest in June across Ghouta as thousands took to the street demanding the release of the detainees, the improvement of living conditions and the fall of Zahran Alloush.

The situation in Eastern Ghouta is a scandal and demands action. Join the demonstration on August 22nd to highlight the continued suffering of people in the Ghouta. Across Syria between 650,000 and 1,000,000 are trapped in nightmarish conditions, subject to siege and warfare. They need our support now more than ever.

AID ORGANISATIONS

Syria Relief: Al Ghouta Under Siege, 2 June 2015.

Médecins Sans Frontières‎ UK: Medics under bombardment struggling against the odds, 11 February 2015.

REPORTS

Syria 1st-Hand: The Siege of Damascus Suburb of Douma, Channel 4 News report and tweets by Lindsey Hilsum, 29 March 2014.

Through the Camera’s Lens, a Snapshot of Life in Ghouta, by Katarina Montgomery, Syria Deeply, 29 January 2015.

Doctors Describe Public Health Nightmare Amid Constant Threat of Attack, by Katarina Montgomery, Syria Deeply, 12 March 2015.

Damascus suburb hit by poison gas remains cut off, besieged, by Roy Gutman and Mousab Alhamadee, McClatchy DC, 12 June 2015.

Comment: Syria's civilians have been left to die under siege, by Kristyan Benedict, Amnesty International, 12 August 2015.

Assad Walls Off the Besieged Damascus Suburb He Gassed in 2013, by Michael Weiss, The Daily Beast, 12 August 2015.



Surviving Will, on the Assad regime’s ongoing violence against civilians in Douma, filmed in February 2015 by New Horizon Team.




On Saturday 22 August we will mark the second anniversary of the chemical weapons massacre in Ghouta, Syria.

We will assemble at 2pm in Trafalgar Square, before walking to Downing Street. Please bring flowers to mourn the dead.

Facebook event page

Saturday, 1 August 2015

A message from Syria to the United Kingdom



Via Raed Fares, on Facebook and on Twitter.

Ghouta: Marking the 2nd Anniversary, 22nd August at 2pm, Trafalgar Square, London



On Saturday 22 August we will mark the second anniversary of the chemical weapons massacre in Ghouta, Syria.

We will assemble at 2pm in Trafalgar Square, before walking to Downing Street. Please bring flowers to mourn the dead.

Facebook event page

On the 21st of August 2013, the Ghouta area of Damascus was shelled with rockets containing the chemical weapon Sarin. Over 1,700 people were reported killed.

In response, Britain’s parliamentarians voted to do nothing.

Despite multiple UN Security Council resolutions, and despite the massive international disarmament exercise organised by the OPCW and the UN, Assad has not stopped using chemical weapons. Instead, a century after chlorine was first used as a chemical weapon against Allied soldiers on the battlefields of the First World War, Assad has revived its use as a terror weapon against Syrian civilians.

Since the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons was supposed to have been completed, experts from OPCW (Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) have found evidence to indicate the Assad regime has retained secret stocks of both Sarin and VX nerve gas.

As Britain’s politicians debate taking on ISIS in Syria, they must face the consequences of their failure to take on Syria’s greatest killer, Assad.

This ongoing failure by the Western powers has contributed to the rise of ISIS, has degraded the status of the United Nations, and has eroded the trust of Syrians.

This failure has cost tens of thousands more civilian lives since the Ghouta massacre, and still the killers remain free to kill.