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Tuesday 30 August 2016

A statement in response to the recent attacks on Michael Weiss

The recent dishonest attacks on Michael Weiss are symptomatic of an ugly failure in political responses to the Syrian slaughter. We have seen a popular revolt by the Syrian people ignored, shunned, distorted, and denied. We have seen a widespread betrayal of professed principles by figures who on other causes speak loudly of solidarity, who lay claim to the inheritance of past struggles for liberty, and who present themselves as being at the forefront of today's struggles against injustice.

Michael Weiss has been a stalwart supporter of the Syrian cause through his vital journalism and analysis. Michael wrote of, spoke up for, and firmly stood by the Syrian people. He did this when others turned a blind eye, or even worse, betrayed Syrians suffering genocidal attacks by the Assad regime and its allies.

The personal attack on Michael cannot be understood if analysed as a single incident. Sadly, it is part of a series of attacks on supporters of the Syrian people, such as the recent attacks from both left and right on the Jo Cox Fund for its support of the White Helmets, the rescue volunteers of Syria Civil Defence.

This political failure seen across left and right reflects a failure of society to recognise and respond to human suffering. In the face of such cruelty we will treasure our friends all the more.

Syria Solidarity UK

Sunday 28 August 2016

Daraya, The Democratic Experience

About Daraya Council

This profile of Daraya Council was published in the 17 May 2016 issue of the APPG Friends of Syria's newsletter, Syria Notes.

According to the Local Council of Daraya City, it was founded on 17 October 2012, a few weeks after a massacre by the Assad regime of 700 civilians, mostly women, children, and elderly people.

The council serves a population of 8,300 people. The council has 120 members inside Daraya, as well as representatives working outside of Daraya. Every six months, individuals are elected to positions of responsibility by a secret ballot of all members of the council. An individual can only run for the same position for two consecutive rounds. The head of the council is elected by the people through public elections.

Daraya is living through its fourth year of siege, the longest period that any Syrian area has survived under siege. The council must provide all essential services, such as water, electricity, and communications. The council’s aid office does its best to provide aid to the population. It runs a public kitchen that provides a daily cooked meal for people, but it is dependent on availability of resources. The aid office supervises cultivation of farming land, and divides crops between the people. All aid services are provided free to all. So far more than 1,000 tons of aid have been provided.

As well as aid within Daraya, members of Daraya Council help organise aid in 40 different cities inside and outside Syria for refugees and displaced people from Daraya.

The council’s medical office provides services to those injured in attacks on the city. The office runs the only field hospital in the city, which deals with all kinds of medical needs, from traumatic injuries, to child birth, to complicated medical operations. The field hospital operates with very few resources.

The council runs three primary schools in Daraya. There were plans to expand to cover secondary education, but these were suspended because of the recent increase in attacks by the regime. There are no other forms of education in the town, due the constant bombardment and the lack of staff.

Other services include street cleaning, providing clean water, and fortifying shelters to protect civilians from bombardment.

Daraya is defended by its own. The Syrian Army in Daraya is made up of local citizens, and there are no other military forces in the town, nor any form of extremists. The military office is under the civil authority of the council.

Daraya Council website:

Sunday 21 August 2016

Today is the third anniversary of the Ghouta chemical weapons attack

Third anniversary of the Ghouta chemical massacre: Britain’s deadly narcissism

Britain’s deadly narcissism
By George Morris, Rethink Rebuild Society

It’s hard to know how to commemorate something that’s still happening. Three years ago, the Assad regime fired rockets containing the nerve agent Sarin at civilian neighbourhoods in Ghouta, in the suburbs of Damascus. Earlier this month, the Syrian army dropped chlorine on the civilians of Saraqeb. In between there has been repeated use of chemical weapons, which have become an appallingly normal feature of Assad’s brutal and criminal campaign.

The Ghouta massacre still stands out. It’s not just because of the scale of the killing, with around 1,500 casualties. It’s not just because of the fact that of all the ways to die in a war, by chemical poison must be one of the most brutal, the most painful, the most appalling. It’s because of what the international community did next.

It did nothing.

It said it would do something. Having made the case that it was morally and politically necessary to punish Assad’s crimes, Obama quickly u-turned and indicated that, in fact, nothing would be done.

One of the reasons for this retreat was a vote taken in the House of Commons on 29th August 2013. Parliament voted 285-272 against a government motion that called for punishing Assad if there was UN support.

What’s interesting about the debate, and the national discussion surrounding it, is how narrow-minded and insular so much of it was. There were valid criticisms of the government proposal, and of the sort of intervention being discussed in the United States at the same time. But instead of having that discussion, many people simply wanted to do some soul-searching about Iraq.

Iraq was mentioned over a hundred times in the debate. That’s not objectionable in itself. It would be much more worrying if parliamentarians hadn’t reflected upon the invasion of Iraq in their discussion of another British engagement in the Middle East. But the comparison was fundamentally false. The invasion of Iraq caused large-scale loss of human life, undermined international law and inflicted wounds that will take decades to heal. These very same results have been achieved—and worse—in Syria, not through action, but through inaction.

The then Leader of the Opposition, Ed Miliband, opposed the government motion on Syria largely because of the political divisions within his own party. The Labour government’s decision to join the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 is an open wound in the party, and is overwhelmingly unpopular with its members. Effectively, the Labour leader was more concerned about the internal dynamics of his party than in the protection of human life.

Whenever politicians and commentators come to talk about foreign policy, they tend to do so as if the rest of the world doesn’t exist.

Now more than ever, as Brexit risks leaving us as Little England, weakened, isolated and anti-internationalist, we need to reflect on the self-indulgence and self-obsession that permeates and pollutes all of our national conversations about foreign policy. We need to move beyond attitudes of solipsism and isolationism. We need to think about more than Britain’s standing in the world, or factional politics within and between political parties. The price paid for this deadly narcissism can be measured in the dead of Syria.

Miliband announced after the vote that parliament had spoken for the British people. But it wasn’t a debate about the British people. It was a debate about the people of Syria, who, three years later, are still being massacred with poison gas.

George Morris volunteers for Rethink Rebuild Society, a Manchester-based Syrian advocacy and community organisation.

Photo: Corpses are buried in mass graves during the aftermath of chemical weapon attacks in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, Syria on 21 August, 2013. Rex Features/AP.

Video: “They are all liars…” A survivor of the Ghouta chemical weapons massacre speaks.

Interview source here.

Third anniversary of the Ghouta chemical massacre: Children attacked as they slept

Children attacked as they slept
By Dr Fadel Moghrabi, Peace and Justice for Syria

Three years on after Ghouta chemical attack which resulted in a tragic human life loss of 1,400 innocent civilians. A third of them were children, gassed to death during the early hours of the day while they are asleep. And the world has done very little about it

They disarmed the perpetrator Assad of some of his chemical weapons capability, but he was free to continue using all types of conventional weapons against innocent civilians.

In fact Assad has never stopped using his chemical weapons in spite of  the red line and the disarming carried out by the international community; he has used forbidden chlorine gas against civilians many times since the 2013 Ghouta attack, causing suffocation and death to many children and innocent civilians, most recently in Aleppo.

Syrian people felt completely abandoned by the Western communities who failed to stop one of the most brutal and tyrannical dictators. He has continued to murder his own people, supported by INHUMANE world powers like Russia, China and Iran.

We as Syrian expatriates living in the UK appeal for the international community to stop this kind of atrocity, and to hold the perpetrators accountable for their war crimes against humanity.

Dr Fadel Moghrabi is a cardiothoracic surgeon, a Syrian expatriate in the UK.

Photo: A mother and father weep over their child’s body who was killed in the chemical weapons attack on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta. Rex Features/AP.

Third anniversary of the Ghouta chemical massacre: Assad still using chlorine gas to terrorise

Assad is still using chlorine gas to terrorise
By Dr Sharif Kaf Al-Ghazal, Syrian Association of Yorkshire

It has been three years since the Assad regime committed the chemical massacre in Ghouta near Damascus  in which 1,400 people were killed. In three years very little has changed in the grand scheme of things. The use of chemical weapons was meant to be a ‘game changer’ that would convince the West of Assad’s tyranny once weapons of mass destruction were unleashed. And although a ‘red line’ was declared by Obama to prevent using such uncivilised weapons, this did not stop this criminal regime.

The Assad regime has since sunk to the depths of depravity with repeated attacks on civilians using both conventional weapons as well as chemical weapons. In September 2013 a UN sponsored deal was meant to rid the regime of all chemical weapons. This proved to be a farce as the the guilty party was barely disarmed and certainly not made to pay for its crimes. Today Assad and his cronies still use chlorine gas to terrorise their victims, almost 100 years after such weapons were forbidden in war by the Geneva Protocol.

This has placed the intentional community in a deeply humiliating position. While one superpower in particular has been backing Assad to the hilt both militarily and politically—Russia—others are still culpable due to their failure to act, their refusal to provide civilian protection and a No-Fly Zone. The Syrian people have long felt abandoned and view the West’s silence as complicity.

We hope that ultimately the criminal Assad regime will be held accountable for its actions and that these massacres will not be forgotten.

Follow the Syrian Association of Yorkshire on Facebook.

Photo: Bodies of victims of the Sarin chemical weapons attack on Ghouta, Syria on Wednesday 21 August, 2013, via Shaam News Network/AP.

Hisham Ashkar gives the identity of the victims in this photograph in his article, The Chemical Massacre in Eastern Ghouta: The Distance Between the Images and the Victims.

Saturday 20 August 2016

Omran: We are not helpless

By Batool Abdulkareem, Syria Solidarity UK

PDF version

Every six months or so, an image breaks through the indifference, the weariness, over Syria. A year ago, it was seeing Alan Kurdi, a three year old boy washed up dead on a Mediterranean beach, lying in the same posture as a sleeping child in its cot. Half a year ago it was the staring eyes of a starving baby in the besieged town of Madaya. Now it is Omran Daqneesh, five years old, bloodied and dazed after rescue volunteers pulled him from the ruins of one of Putin’s and Assad’s endless air attacks on civilians in Aleppo.

He sits, five years old, solitary and helpless. We watch, expecting soon to turn away once more. But we are not alone. We are not helpless.

We can join to call on our politicians to act, to stop this bombing. Overwhelmingly it is these attacks by the Russian and Syrian air force that are killing the majority of civilians, destroying hospitals, driving Syrians to flee.

Act how? Putin leads the killing now, and nobody wants to go to war with Russia. But there are ways other than war to respond.

The RAF now flies in Syrian airspace, so it has access to data on military flights over Syria. We can call on our government to use that data to identify the planes responsible for bombing hospitals; to publish details of whether they are Syrian or Russian planes, details of which bases they fly from. Publish so that we know who is to blame for each outrage, so that we know who exactly has command responsibility for these war crimes, and so that they know that they can be held accountable.

The UK can identify whose air force was responsible for the attack on Omran Dagneesh and his family, so that there can be no room for denial.

By the same means, the UK can give early warning to Syrian civilians when Russian and Syrian aircraft take off to attack civilian areas. Why is this not being done? We have the capacity, the radar systems, the communications technology to save lives.

And the UK can join with others in responding: EU leaders have the power to shut Putin’s Russia out of SWIFT, the interbank payment system. With Putin supplying Assad with Sukhoi bombers, with the Russian air force dropping cluster bombs and firebombs on civilians, this should happen now.

Other sanctions are also possible. Sukhoi, the Russian aircraft manufacturer supplying bombers to Assad, supplying the bombers that Putin’s air force uses to drop incendiaries, is still allowed to sell its wares in Europe. Russia’s trade delegation in the UK boasts of selling Sukhoi airliners to City Jet. It’s time to shut Sukhoi out of the European market.

We can’t turn away for another six months. Look at Omran, join together, and act.

Monday 15 August 2016

Al-Sweida Prison: Detainees shot, denied adequate medical care

Two killed and 27 injured in attack by Assad’s Shahiba militia

[PDF of this bulletin]

The central prison of Al-Sweida is a place where intellectual and revolutionary detainees are being held by Assad’s forces.

On Wednesday 3 August in Al-Sweida central prison, violent raids on detainees’ cells caused chaos as detainees tried to get out of their cells to counter the attacks.

To avoid another prison uprising, prison management and the head of the political security branch in Al-Sweida gave a promise to detainees that the offensive actions would not be repeated.

On Friday 5 August, a protest by detainees was met with live fire by guards on the prison walls. National Defence ‘Shabiha’ militia entered the prison shooting directly at detainees. Mohammad Qasim Raslan was hit by two shots in the chest and abdomen, and died in the following days. Hassan Jamoul was shot in his upper chest.

The prisoners retreated and the Shabiha militia moved through the prison, randomly shooting into detainees’ cells. Fadi Mahmoud was yet another victim, shot and killed on the spot in his cell.

Detainees who had retreated to the old building of the prison kept up resistance for an hour until the head of the Al-Sweida political security branch ordered an end to the shooting of unarmed prisoners and the withdrawal of the Shabiha militia. The wounded were taken to hospital, but tension remained high as detainees feared that the wounded would be abused by Shabiha militia.

On Saturday 6 August, an Interior Ministry investigation committee visited the prison. A number of prisoners were arrested, but the investigation committee chose to cover up the role of the Shabiha militia. Rather than expose the role of the Shabiha, the investigators focused on searching for and confiscating mobile phones, and on interrogating detainees who had communicated with the outside world.

On Sunday 7 August, one of the wounded detainees, Mohamad Qasim Raslan, died. He had been taken to the National Hospital in Al-Sweida and then returned to prison the next day even though he was nowhere near recovery. Other wounded were also brought back to prison and kept in isolation awaiting interrogation in the event of their recovery.

Al-Sweida prison is now under punishment measures: with prisoners confined to cells, visits restricted, and other limitations that make prisoners’ lives harder.

The demands of prisoners:

1: An immediate investigation to hold those responsible accountable for causing the death of two prisoners and the injury of 27 prisoners.

2: An end to the provocative investigations of prisoners who committed no crime other than transmitting news of the events to the public.

3: Visits by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and other concerned organisations to the prison to find out the reality of events; to see the status of injured prisoners; to see the inadequate medical treatment which led to the death of Mohammad Qasim Ruslan; to inspect the prison’s management; and to ensure the safety of detainees.

Saturday 6 August 2016

The Flames of Aleppo

Syrians and Syria Solidarity activists will picket the Bolshoi Ballet’s last performance of The Flames of Paris at the Royal Opera House in London on Saturday night (tonight). They will remind the audience of the conflagration of Aleppo: the revolution and siege there, and the role of Russia in the merciless aerial bombardment of Aleppo civilians.

The Bolshoi Ballet is one of Russia’s most prestigious state institutions. People need to be reminded that under this most benign facade the Russian state is responsible for thousands of civilian deaths in Syria in its effort to bolster the fortunes of Assad, a tyrant bent on seeing his country destroyed rather than surrender power.

See our Take Action page for ways to support the people of Aleppo.

Projections by Feral X.

Thursday 4 August 2016

Petition: Publish the identity of aircraft used to bomb hospitals in Syria

Petition to the UK Government: Publish the identity of aircraft used to bomb hospitals in Syria

On 29 July, unidentified aircraft bombed a maternity hospital in Syria supported by Save the Children.

As part of the Coalition against Daesh, the UK has data on military aircraft flights in Syria. Where data can identify aircraft used to bomb hospitals, the UK should publish their identity.

UK residents and citizens please sign here.

Physicians for Human Rights have documented 373 attacks on medical facilities in Syria.

Deliberate attacks on hospitals are a war crime. Those responsible should not be allowed any measure of deniability.

Background from Amnesty: Fatal airstrike on maternity hospital a potential war crime

Photo via Save The Children UK.