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Monday 30 January 2017

UK Syrian Community Protests Trump’s Muslim Ban

Rethink Rebuild Society

The UK Syrian community unequivocally condemns US President Trump’s recently announced executive order which places a ban on individuals from seven majority Muslim countries—including Syria—from travelling to the United States in what has been termed his Muslim ban. This ban also puts an indefinite halt to the US’s Syrian refugee resettlement programme.

This executive order is not only discriminatory, but it also alienates and stigmatises entire sections of the US and world populations at a time when it becomes more and more imperative that communities stand together in solidarity to address global threats including the Syrian refugee crisis and the threat of terrorism.

We fear that this executive order will have a reverse effect of fuelling hate and inciting terrorism in the UK and across the world, as we have already seen by the terrorist shooting at a Canadian mosque on 29 January which killed six worshippers and injured an additional eight. Such potential ramifications were stressed by US Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham who argued in a joint statement that Trump’s Muslim ban could ‘become a self-inflicted wound in the fight against terrorism.’

We are also concerned about the repercussions that Trump’s Muslim ban will have against Syrian refugees who fled the Syrian conflict under the worst imaginable conditions – arbitrary arrest, torture, constant bombardment, and relentless siege. This group deserves compassion and assistance from Western countries, not to mention that many have fled from the very terrorism which Trump has vowed to eradicate. We call upon the UK to echo the stand of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau by welcoming Syrian refugees banned by the US into the UK.

Amid this nightmare inflicted upon the Syrian and other communities in the UK and abroad, the British Syrian community is disheartened at the UK Government’s embarrassingly absent response. Although Trump’s executive order clearly clashes with purported British values of inclusion, diversity, and equality, Prime Minister Theresa May has yet to offer a formal condemnation of this discriminatory policy, and furthermore refused to call out Trump’s divisive rhetoric in her joint press conference with him on Friday. We therefore call upon the Government to offer a formal protest against Trump’s Muslim ban and to denounce it as discriminatory and counterproductive to the fight against terror. We furthermore endorse the petition asking the UK Government to rescind the official invitation for Trump to visit Her Majesty the Queen until his administration lifts this discriminatory policy.

Rethink Rebuild Society has established itself as a non-profit organisation that acts as an umbrella for the Syrian community in Manchester, and endeavours to clarify the Syrian cause to its audience in the UK and the wider public.

Tuesday 24 January 2017

A distress call from Wadi Barada civil society organisations

  • The communities of Wadi Barada have been under violent attack by Hezbollah and the Assad regime for over a month.
  • Lebanese Hezbollah terrorists are trying to force out the local Syrian population.
  • Wadi Barada’s civilians are in dire need of food and medicine.
  • Wadi Barada could be reached by JPADS airdrops using GPS guided parachutes without aircraft having to enter Syrian airspace.
  • The World Food Programme has used JPADS elsewhere in Syria but both the WFP and the UK refuse to help Wadi Barada.
  • Theresa May dismissed MPs’ calls for airdrops as impractical but didn’t say the WFP was already using JPADS elsewhere in Syria.

Read more: World Food Programme used JPADS for Deir Ezzor aid drops

We have received the following distress call from civil society organisations in Wadi Barada:

For the 33rd day running, Assad regime forces, Hezbollah, and other militias have been attacking Wadi Barada despite a proclaimed ceasefire in Syria, which was announced on 30th December 2016. The human and material cost has been terrible.

200 people have been killed as a result of the military attack, 60% of them women and children.

400 people have been injured. 150 of these are in need of urgent medical evacuation.

45,000 people have lost their homes following intense bombardment of residential areas by the regime and its allied militias.

All hospitals and medical centres are inoperational after they were directly attacked by the regime and its allies. Two medical staff have been killed and six injured as a result of these attacks.

The Civil Defence system is also out of service, after all its operational centres and equipment were destroyed because of deliberate targeting.

There is a great deal of destruction throughout the villages of Wadi Barada, particularly Basimah and Ain al-Fijeh.

80,000 people are suffering as a result of continuous bombardment and siege. Food supplies are now so meagre that people eat only one small meal a day. Sometimes this meal only consists of one apple. Families have been forced to slaughter whatever livestock they possess for food. There is now a severe shortage of children’s milk. The situation is getting worse because the regime and militia checkpoints which completely surround Wadi Barada have not allowed any food in for a month and not allowed medicine in for over four months. If the military assault continues and the regime and its allies continue with this policy, this could well lead to starvation.

 There is now an almost total lack of medicine, especially medicines to treat chronic conditions often suffered by older people, such as diabetes, heart disease, blood pressure, and blood disease. More than 20 people have died as a result of the lack of these medicines. The regime and its allies do not allow people to be evacuated from Wadi Barada for medical treatment.

Following the regime’s bombardment of the Ain el-Fijeh water plant, the water supply cannot be purified and is now polluted and people have contracted diseases from drinking impure water. Dozens of people now suffer from symptoms such as diarrhoea and vomiting.  As a result of the destruction of homes, people have taken shelter in mosques, halls, and other spaces, and this has led to overcrowding and this has exacerbated the situation, further spreading disease. Infants are especially at risk. Two new-borns have died as a result of the inability of medical staff to provide adequate care and jaundice has spread among infants due to trauma and fear.

Due to the ongoing humanitarian catastrophe, we declare the whole of Wadi Barada a disaster area and we call on all humanitarian organizations, human rights organizations, the UN Security Council, the UN General Assembly, and the international community to urgently intervene to save the civilians trapped in Wadi Barada, who are at the mercy of the rockets and mortars of the Assad regime and its allies and who are now facing the threat of disease and starvation.

Relief Corps in Wadi Barada • Medical in Wadi Barada • Media Corps in Wadi Barada • Local Council in Wadi Barada • Civil Defence in Wadi Barada • Institution of Barada Al Kheir • Institution of Ghouth Barada

Saturday 21 January 2017

Confirmed: World Food Programme used JPADS for Deir Ezzor aid drops

  • These GPS guided parachutes can fly 25km to a precise landing point.
  • UK refuses to use JPADS airdrops system to aid civilians under attack from Hezbollah and Assad.

The World Food Programme’s representative for Syria, Jakob Kern, has confirmed that the agency has used FireFly JPADS for aid airdrops to Deir Ezzor. Around 25 JPADS parachutes have been used to drop mostly medical aid to the regime held town which is besieged by ISIS.

JPADS airdrops form just part of the WFP effort: overall the World Food Programme has made 177 air drops in nine months to Deir Ezzor. The World Food Programme has never made a single aid drop to any territory besieged by the Assad regime or its Iranian-backed ally Hezbollah. The vast majority of besieged areas are under siege from the regime.

The particular advantage with JPADS is that the system uses GPS navigation to remotely guide the parachute to a precise landing point. The drop can be made by planes at a standoff distance 25 kilometres away from the impact point, and at an altitude of 24,500 feet above sea level, high enough to be safe from MANPADS surface to air missiles. This means that JPADS could be used to drop aid to areas besieged by Hezbollah by planes flying outside Syrian airspace.

Last year, NGOs pressed for JPADS to be used to drop aid to besieged civilians in Aleppo City. The proposal was for aid to be dropped from RAF or NATO planes flying beyond regime controlled territory; the JPADS parachutes would then have flown under remote GPS guidance the final 25 kilometres to three designated landing points in Aleppo city.

In a December letter to NGOs, Prime Minister Theresa May contrived to ignore this fully viable safe option for helping civilians and for countering Hezbollah and Assad’s forced removal of populations.

The UK’s failure to deploy this available technology for the relief of besieged civilians helped speed their forced displacement from Aleppo city.

Assad and Hezbollah are now doing the same again in areas between Damascus and the Lebanon border, forcing out Sunni majority populations in order to replace them with people supportive of Hezbollah, Assad, and Iran. Western inaction on this is worsening the refugee crisis, and contributing to the entrenchment of Hezbollah—a proscribed terrorist organisation—across a wide portion of Syrian territory.

Theresa May’s refusal to act makes the UK complicit in Hezbollah’s campaign of ethnic cleansing in Syria.

Earlier: GPS guided parachutes are being used for arms drops in Syria – but the UK refuses to use them for aid drops.

Wednesday 18 January 2017

GPS guided parachutes are being used for arms drops in Syria – but the UK refuses to use them for aid drops

  • For a year now, the UK Government has rejected calls for airdrops saying they are too dangerous and too difficult.
  • Safe options for airdrops are being ignored by Government ministers.
  • Technology for precision airdrops that would allow aircrews to safely drop guided parachutes from beyond Syrian airspace is already being used by UK allies in Syria—but these GPS guided parachutes are being used to drop arms, not aid.

A year has gone by since Jo Cox in the House of Commons first voiced the call for humanitarian airdrops to besieged Syrian communities. Back then it was images of clearly starving children in the town of Madaya that stirred MPs to speak out.

In the year since, the UK Government has been presented with a range of options for airdropping aid to Syrians under siege at little or no risk to British aircrews.

One option presented to the UK Government in the last year has been a detailed costed proposal for airdrops using existing drone technology. Another has been airdrops using precision JPADS technology which would allow some besieged areas to be reached by remotely guided parachutes dropped from outside Syrian airspace.

This week, USA Today reports on how these GPS guided parachutes are already being used by the Coalition against ISIS to drop arms to local allies inside Syria.

Gen. Carlton Everhart told USA Today of the US Air Force’s ‘expanded precision airdrop capability.’ The Air Force conducted 16 airdrop missions in Syria last year, including six in December.

The airdrop missions have changed dramatically since previous wars, such as Vietnam, when pallets would be easily blown off target, sometimes landing within reach of the enemy.

Today, the bundles are guided onto landing zones using GPS technology and steerable parachutes. ‘We'll get it within 10 or 15 meters of the mark,’ Everhart said. The supplies range from small arms ammunition to vehicles.

The Air Force can drop supplies at night and vary where they are dropped to ensure militants are not able to seize US equipment.

A leading manufacturer of JPADS technology describes how their system allows parachutes to be dropped from a standoff distance 25 kilometres away from the target and then remotely guided to the impact point using GPS navigation.

This ability to drop from a distance means besieged areas like Madaya—one year later still under siege by Hezbollah and Assad forces—could be reached by airdrops without aircraft ever having to enter Syrian airspace.

Over 140,000 people recently signed a petition calling on the UK to drop aid to besieged Syrian communities. The Government rejected the call and the Petitions Committee rejected a debate.

In a December 2016 letter on airdrops, Prime Minister Theresa May rejected them primarily on the grounds that aircraft would be risking attack by Russia. In words repeated in the Government’s rejection of the public petition, she then asserted that the same risk applied to unmanned options. Clearly this is nonsense. No aircrew lives are at risk if unmanned drones are used for airdrops, and if planes drop GPS guided parachutes from outside Syrian airspace, there can be no legitimate grounds for Russia to attack.

The UK Government set out two aims for its Syria strategy when MPs voted for action in December 2015: To defeat terrorism in Syria, and to end the refugee crisis. Today the Government is sitting on its hands while a proscribed terrorist organisation, Hezbollah, besieges Syrian civilians with the aim of driving entire communities from their homes. Continued UK inaction on relief to besieged communities will further empower and entrench terrorism, and further worsen the refugee crisis.

End the excuses. Drop aid to besieged Syrian communities now.


US increasing airdrops of supplies to forces battling ISIL in Syria, USA Today, 17 January 2017.

Can JPADS save lives in Syria? APPG Friends of Syria, 13 January 2017.

Air-drop life saving aid into the starving cities in Syria, petition to the UK Government.

Photo: FireFly guided precision aerial delivery system by Airborne Systems.

Saturday 14 January 2017

Regime agrees ceasefire to allow repair of Damascus water supply, then resumes attacks

By Wadi Barada Media Centre

Report for  Friday 13th January 2017: Regime signs ceasefire agreement and sends maintenance teams, and then resumes attacks, targeting the maintenance teams.

At 11 o’clock this morning the bombardment of Wadi Barada stopped. A ceasefire agreement had been reached allowing maintenance teams to enter Wadi Barada and displaced people to return their villages.

The people of Wadi Barada are determined to stay in their area and NOT to sign an agreement with the regime that would forcibly displace them from their homes and villages on green buses, as happened in various towns around Damascus.

However, the ceasefire agreement was broken only a few hours after it was signed. While the regime was negotiating the ceasefire, its forces stormed Wadi Barada. The opposition had announced that a ceasefire in Wadi Barada was a precondition for its participation in peace talks in Astana. Wadi Barada is now facing an unknown fate and we ask that the opposition to announce the failure of the political process in response to the regime’s continued attacks in violation of the ceasefire. All talk of Russian pressure on the regime to stop the attack on Wadi Barada is false.

The following YouTube video shows the entry of maintenance teams to the area. However, the video also showed that tank shells landed on the village of Ain El-Fijeh, where the maintenance teams had arrived to repair the Ain El-Fijeh Spring, despite the signing of the ceasefire agreement.

In an interview, activist Abdel Qader Fahd said that regime forces directly targeted the maintenance teams, which the regime itself had sent, and bombed the villages of Ain El-Fijeh and Basimah and other areas of the Wadi Barada Valley. Fahd added that this was the second time the ceasefire was cancelled. The previous day, the team that the regime had sent to negotiate a ceasefire with rebels in Wadi Barada was also bombed by the regime side. Several militias are fighting alongside the regime, including the Lebanese Hezbollah militia. Fahd also said that regime forces had advanced in their assault on the village of Basimah.

A video uploaded later by Abdel Qader Fahd to YouTube shows the maintenance teams repairing the Ain El-Fijeh water plant while gunfire was heard in the background.  In the video, Fahd says that the maintenance teams had resumed their attempts to repair the plant at 8pm despite the ongoing attack on Basimah and that the ceasefire agreement had been a trick to allow the regime to launch a surprise attack on Basimah. The maintenance teams have been directly attacked by the regime and one of their vehicles had broken down because of the gunfire it had sustained. The maintenance teams’ work is aimed at restoring the water supply to Damascus.

Friday 13 January 2017

Russian helicopters join regime aircraft bombing Wadi Barada

By Wadi Barada Media Centre

Report for Thursday 12 January 2016.

Warplanes and helicopters haven’t stopped bombing the villages of Wadi Barada since last night with barrel bombs and missiles. For the 21st day running the regime, Hezbollah and other militias allied with them have continued with their criminal assault on Wadi Barada, despite a ceasefire.

Since the early hours of the morning regime forces have targeted the villages of the area with heavy artillery, tanks, warplanes, helicopters, and rockets. They have tried to storm the area from the Kfeir Al-Zeit entrance.

Civilian homes have been bombed with IRAM and GRAD rockets and targeted by snipers and heavy machine-gun fire.

However rebels have resisted their advance and prevented them from making any gains. The regime used chlorine gas in Basimah, resulting in the injury of two people.

A 12 year old girl died and three other people were wounded in the village of Dair Qanoun as a result of the regime’s attacks.

One person was killed in Kfeir Al-Zeit as a result of intense sniper fire.

Russian helicopters dropped bombs on the village of Basimah in Wadi Barada on Thursday alongside regime helicopters. Regime helicopters carried out 30 airstrikes on Basimah and the outskirts of Ain Al-Fijeh village.

In what appears to be a new strategy, the regime is using two helicopters in every airstrikes. Each one drops four barrel bombs. Three days ago Russian helicopters started accompanying regime helicopters. Each helicopter drops six bombs at the same time and their bombs are bigger than the regime’s barrel bombs.

The regime’s warplanes bombed Ain al-Fijeh village on Thursday. Some of the strikes were directed at the Ain al-Fijeh Spring and the surrounding area as well as local houses. Some houses were completely destroyed.

The regime’s warplanes started bombing Ain al-Fijeh at six in the morning. At the same time the village was subjected to intense bombardment with artillery, tanks, and Gvodzika howitzers, as well as heavy mortars which fell on residential areas and farms in the village.

It’s important to note here that the regime’s “Military Media” network today broadcast for the first time scenes that it said were from the Ain El-Fijeh spring, the surrounding area, and the village of Basimah.

This comes 23 days after the beginning of the military assault on Wadi Barada, which has continued despite a proclaimed “ceasefire”. At the beginning of the assault the regime blamed those it called “terrorists” for blowing up the Ain El-Fijeh water plant and pollution of its water. However, the regime’s lies were exposed by videos broadcast by the Wadi Barada Media Centre, showing the regime’s rockets and barrel bombs falling on the Ain El-Fijeh, causing damage to the water plant which caused it to become completely inoperational. As a result, it has stopped supplying water to Damascus and the villages of Wadi Barada.

Wednesday 11 January 2017

Hezbollah and Assad Regime escalate attacks on besieged Wadi Barada

Video: Regime raids on Basimah village.

By Wadi Barada Media Centre.

Report for Tuesday 10th January 2017.

Omar Qantaqji, a young man resident in Ain El-Fijeh was killed today and seven other people were injured a result of an intensification of bombardment by regime forces, the Lebanese Hezbollah militia, and the Qalamoun Shield brigade on the villages of Wadi Barada.

From the early hours of the morning regime forces tried to advance from the entrance to the village of Basimah. Heavy artillery, tanks, IRAM surface-to-surface missiles, and heavy machine guns and sniper fire were all used. The rebels resisted their advance and there were violent clashes. The rebels managed to burn two tanks and damage a “Shilka” mobile anti-aircraft gun. After this the regime carried out more than 15 raids on the village with planes, helicopters and IRAM surface-to-surface missiles, as well as B10 heavy machine guns.

Regime forces also bombed Ain el-Fijeh village with heavy mortars, shells, and snipers also targeted the village. Like on every day, The Ain El-Fijeh Spring water plant was bombarded with shells and rockets, increasing the damage and destruction it has already suffered. Civilian houses were also damaged. Rebel snipers killed two regime troops who tried to advance on the Hawat Mountain overlooking Ain El-Fijeh.

There were also clashes between regime forces, Hezbollah, and Qalamoun Shield militia on one hand and rebels on the other around the villages of Kfeir Al-Zeit and Al-Husseiniya after an attempt by the invading forces to advance deep into these villages. However, the invaders were unsuccessful in making any significant advances after the rebels stopped them.

On a humanitarian level, the villages of the area have had no water, electricity, mobile or landline telephone service or Internet services for 20 days following the regime’s bombardment of infrastructure and vital facilities. Diseases are spreading after homes and mosques in relatively safe villages have become overcrowded with people and the medical authority in Wadi Barada says that the reason for this is that people have drunk unpotable water which has not been purified and have become in close proximity together as a result of the regime’s attack on the area.

Video: Regime forces and militias in the surrounding mountains of Wadi Barada.

Monday 9 January 2017

Wadi Barada attack by Hezbollah and Assad regime continues, with no ceasefire in sight

The following report comes from Wadi Barada, an area between Damascus and the Lebanese border under siege by Hezbollah and Assad regime forces.

Wadi Barada is the source of the main Damascus water supply. On 23 December, as part of the attack on the area, the Assad regime bombed the Fijeh Springs, interrupting the water supply. See Bellingcat’s report here.

Hezbollah have a strategic interest in seizing Wadi Barada and other besieged areas between Damascus and the Lebanese border in order to secure supply their supply routes. See the APPG Friends of Syria report here.

The Hezbollah military is a terrorist organisation proscribed by the UK since 2008. It is supported by Iran and is allied with the Assad regime. Despite its status as a proscribed terrorist organisation and its role in besieging civilian populations in Syria, Hezbollah is not currently targeted by the UK’s counterterrorism action in Syria.

Wadi Barada attack by Hezbollah and Assad regime continues—no ceasefire in sight

By the Media Commission of Wadi Barada

Report from Sunday 8th January 2017, the 19th day of airstrikes on Wadi Barada.

Warplanes have continued their airstrikes on the villages of Wadi Barada for the 19th day running. These airstrikes have increased in intensity simultaneously with the escalating ground attack on several fronts around the area.

Since Sunday morning, warplanes have carried out intense bombing on the village of Ain El-Fijeh, and this was followed by clashes at the villages north-eastern entranceas regime forces tried once again to storm the village. Simultaneously, heavy artillery and rocket bombardment hit most of the residential areas and farms of Ain El-Fijeh.

The warplanes carried out 20 airstrikes on Ain El-Fijeh until the afternoon today. During this time and afterwards the regime continued to bomb the village with artillery, rockets, heavy machine-gun fire and sniper fire. This is ongoing. This has all led to widespread destruction as the warplanes have targeted buildings with rockets which cause heavy damage.

The warplanes also renewed their airstrikes on the village of Basimah around noon and bombed the village with artillery and IRAM rockets, also targeting it with heavy machine gun fire and artillery. This was followed by an attempt by regime forces to advance from the direction of the Basimah Valley intersection. Rebels managed to stop their advance.  Regime forces and militia have made dozens of failed attempts to advance on Wadi Barada during their 19 day assault on the area.

In the past hour, approaching midnight, the regime has continued to bomb Basimah with 20 IRAM rockets as well as missile batteries, mortars, and tanks.

Clashes between revolutionaries and the regime’s Qalamoun Shield militia have renewed on the outskirts of the village of Kfeir Al-Zeit, at the Tallat Nahlah intersection, after regime militia tried to advance under the cover of heavy bombardment. Rebels managed to stop their advance and there have been reports that regime militia members have been killed and injured. The frontlines between the two sides remain unchanged.

The Lebanese Hezbollah militia resumed their attack southwest of the village of Al-Husseiniya, trying once again to storm it, under the cover of rockets and artillery. They did not manage to advance but the bombing led to the death of a young man as well as the destruction of houses in the villages.
Turning to the humanitarian situation, the regime’s bombardment and siege of Wadi Barada has led to the cutting off of all sources of food, medicine, and fuel to 100,000 civilians and the breakdown of essential services including electricity, water, communications, and the Internet.

The regime has used its cutting off of communications and the Internet to Wadi Barada to isolate it from the media and spread rumours and lies about negotiations, blaming those it calls “militants” for the explosion at the Ain El-Fijeh Spring and cutting off water to Damascus and claiming that they have prevented repair teams and equipment from entering the area.

These regime claims have backfired because video evidence and previous reports by the media authority have shown the regime’s direct targeting with rockets and barrel bombs of the Ain El-Fijeh spring. The regime has also stopped any negotiations and efforts to solve the water problem and it is completely responsible for what happened. It is also responsible for any potential disaster caused by its military assault on Wadi Barada.

Saturday 7 January 2017

Syrian MP boasts of the Assad regime’s links with ISIS

By Yasmine Nahlawi, Rethink Rebuild Society

In a television interview on Syrian state television on 4 January, the Syrian Parliamentary Secretary and MP Khaled Aboud asked, ‘Where is Daesh and the Nusra Front and all these jihadist revolutionary factions? They are on the outskirts of Damascus. Then why have there been no bombings in Damascus? Why are these bombings happening in Turkish cities instead?’

Mr. Aboud here asked a critical question which holds implications for the fight against Daesh. If Daesh truly views the Assad regime as an enemy, then why does it not carry out attacks in Assad-controlled territory?

Mr. Aboud proceeded to answer this question: ‘The Syrian security establishment and the Syrian intelligence services have infiltrated and deeply penetrated these networks. They have managed to take control of key structures within. Consequently, in my opinion, what is happening in Turkey, no one can stop that without cooperating with the Syrian security establishment. I will tell you the Syrian state is aware of important aspects of what is going on in Jordan and Turkey. There is a difference between knowing about these operations and actually running them.’

Essentially, Mr. Aboud admitted on Syrian state television that the Assad regime’s security forces are in control of certain structures within terrorist organisations such as Daesh through infiltration.

In reaction to these words, Rethink Rebuild Society Advocacy Director Haytham Alhamwi says, ‘This video only proves what we have been saying for a long time, that Assad and Daesh are two sides of the same coin. For fifty years, the Assad regime—father and son—have coordinated terrorist attacks outside Syria, mainly in Iraq and Lebanon. This association with and even control over Daesh is only the latest scandal.’

The Assad regime’s knowledge of terrorist attacks by Daesh in Jordan and Turkey (but also, potentially in other countries including European countries) and its subsequent failure to take action to prevent them, imparts a degree of responsibility upon the Assad regime for these attacks. It is furthermore no less than a threat or blackmail to countries around the world, including the UK, to say that the Assad regime will not help with counter-terrorism operations in these countries (despite maintaining a degree of control over terrorist groups) unless these countries cooperate with the regime. This is contrary to UN Security Council Resolution 2249 which ‘Calls upon Member States that have the capacity to do so to take all necessary measures… to redouble and coordinate their efforts to prevent and suppress terrorist acts committed specifically by ISIL also known as Da’esh as well as ANF [Al-Nusra Front]… and to eradicate the safe haven they have established over significant parts of Iraq and Syria.’

We reiterate our long-standing message that the Assad regime is not a trustworthy player in the fight against terrorism and that its links with and implicit control over the group must be addressed in order to make international efforts against the terrorist group more effective.

Dr Yasmine Nahlawi is Research and Policy Coordinator at Rethink Rebuild Society, Voice of the Syrian Community of Manchester.

Syria’s rebellious women

First screened in 2015, Syria’s Rebellious Women is a series of short documentaries by Zaina Erhaim. Read a review of the series by Clara Connolly. Zaina is now putting some of the short films online.

Syria Rebellious Women: Pledge الثائرات: عهد

Zaina writes: Ahed is one of the women documented in the Syria Rebellious Women series. She left Aleppo, still you’ll always find her protesting, working for Syrians wherever she goes.

Syria Rebellious Women: Pretty الثائرات: زين

Zein Al sham was forced to evacuate her sieged city Aleppo at the end of last year. She was one of the last to leave.

Syria Rebellious Women: Precious الثائرات: غالية

Ghalia Rahal, Khaled's mother, is one of the women documented in the Syria Rebellious Women series. She lost Khaled after filming this, but still running all the Mazaya centers in Idlib suburb.

Wednesday 4 January 2017

The Guardian and Wadi Barada: The dangers of relying on the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights

Wadi Barada, attacked by pro-Assad forces despite a ceasefire. Photo via EA Worldview

By Amr Salahi

On Monday 2 January, The Guardian published a report entitled ‘Hundreds of Syrians flee as Assad’s forces bomb Barada valley rebels.’  In its original version, the report quoted Rami Abdul Rahman, the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), as saying that the Wadi Barada area near Damascus was excluded from the recent ceasefire between the Assad regime and the rebels because the rebels in the area were from the ‘Fatah al-Sham Front.’  This was the exact same justification that the regime had used to continue its attempt to seize control of Wadi Barada, which is the location of an important spring supplying water to Damascus. The regime and its Russian ally have often used the presence of the Fatah al-Sham Front (formerly affiliated to Al-Qaeda and known as the Nusra Front) in a certain area as a pretext to break ceasefires and bomb civilian areas.

The Fatah al-Sham Front has not in fact been present in Wadi Barada since 2015. The local council of Wadi Barada and the medical, relief, and civil defence authorities in the area have issued a joint statement denying the presence of Fatah al-Sham. The statement describes the fighters in the area as ‘mostly affiliated to the Free Syrian Army, with the rest civilians who took up arms in self-defence.’ The Free Syrian Army in Wadi Barada also issued a statement on Monday calling on Turkey and Russia to ‘stop this clear violation of the ceasefire.’ It has also stated that it would suspend participation in the ceasefire if the attack on Wadi Barada continues.

Following publication of the Guardian article, the Takkad (Verify) website published a report quoting the Wadi Barada Media Centre directly refuting Abdul Rahman’s claims, and the Guardian article was updated to reflect this. It is indeed shocking that the head of a human rights organisation has effectively justified the Syrian regime’s breaking of a ceasefire agreement and bombardment of civilian areas. However Mr. Abdul Rahman and the SOHR have come under a great deal of scrutiny before.

Other Syrian human rights organisations which monitor casualties are much more transparent about how they gather data. The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR), for example, publishes its methodology on its website and is open about its limitations. The Violations Documentation Centre (VDC) is also clear about its methodology. These Syrian organisations work with established international organisations and have been praised by Every Casualty, which campaigns for every casualty of armed conflict anywhere in the world to be documented, for their ‘impressive recording efforts.’

On the other hand, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights seems to have focused on being quoted in the media and appears to have been successful in that mission. They are now probably the most well-known Syrian human rights organisation. But a search of their website reveals that there is no information on their methods or how they gather information.

They have published information before which appears scarcely credible, claiming in December 2013 for example that deaths among regime soldiers exceeded deaths among rebels by a rate of approximately 2:1 and deaths among civilians by a rate of approximately 4:1. This was at a time when the regime had a monopoly on aerial power and heavy weaponry, was using it indiscriminately on civilian areas, and had already committed notorious massacres of civilians such as the ones in Banias, Houla, and Tremseh.

Mr Abdul Rahman, who lives in Coventry, has been the subject of an article by former French diplomat Ignace Leverrier, published in Le Monde in 2014. In the article, Leverrier notes that the SOHR did not publish any reports, doubts that it had a network of informants on the ground in Syria, as other human rights organisations do, and claims that SOHR is essentially a one-man operation.  Leverrier also mentions that members of the Syrian opposition had suspicions regarding Abdel Rahman’s sources and his relationship with the Syrian government.

What is clear is that SOHR is a very opaque organisation. It is very strange that the media are effectively giving the word of one man based in the UK greater weight than those of local authorities, humanitarian organisations, and activists on the ground, without asking questions about his method, sources, and background. It is the responsibility of media organisations to make sure that their sources are credible. Other organisations, much more reliable than SOHR, are available to provide the media with information.


After Aleppo: Civilian areas targeted by pro regime forces. Report by the Secretariat to the All-Party Parliamentary Group Friends of Syria, 2 January 2017.

Ceasefire Near Collapse Amid Pro-Assad Offensive on Wadi Barada, by Scott Lucas, EA World View, 4 January 2017.

Wadi Barada: What Happened to Damascus’s Water? By Nick Waters, Bellingcat, 4 January 2017.