Tag Archives: Eva Bartlett

voices from a half-forgotten war: Vanessa Beeley and Eva Bartlett return to speak with Syria’s ‘wrong victims’

The following are extended extracts taken from recent reports written and published independently by journalists Vanessa Beeley and Eva Bartlett. I very much encourage readers to follow the links to read these excellent articles in their entirety.

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‘Wrong victims’ of Syria war left voiceless by mainstream media, condemn West for their suffering

July 24 | Vanessa Beeley

Now that the Syrian Arab Army and allies have swept much of Syria clean of the terrorist groups introduced into the country by the US interventionist alliance, the civilian trauma is surfacing and is being processed.

In 2005, playwright Harold Pinter’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech sent shock waves around the ruling establishment. During the speech, Pinter described the US strategy of “low intensity” conflict:

“Low intensity conflict means that thousands of people die but slower than if you dropped a bomb on them in one fell swoop. It means that you infect the heart of the country, that you establish a malignant growth and watch the gangrene bloom.”

The West established the malignant growth in Syria and the wider region, the terrorist groups are a cancer that the Syrian Arab Army and the people of Syria have been battling to contain and cauterise before it spreads to the rest of the world. The gangrene can be perceived as the trauma, the effects of this externally-fomented conflict upon the Syrian people.

No war is without victims, but in the West we only hear about the right kind of victims, those that squeeze into the narrow, mono-dimensional frame of the Syrian conflict. A frame manufactured by the ruling globalists and their PR cohorts in their aligned media institutions who have willingly provided the coverage that conceals the obscene crimes of their own governments while inventing slogans to criminalise the Syrian government and allies.

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Habib Raaed’s son was murdered in June 2014. Terrorists embedded in the Damascus suburbs and countryside of Eastern Ghouta targeted the Al Thawra sports club and basketball court with mortars. Three children were murdered in this attack. Habib’s son Elias, Maya Wahbeh and Robert Qoozma whose legs were amputated in the French Hospital – he later died from his awful wounds on 3 July 2014.

I spoke with Habib in July 2019, he told me:

“My son, from when he was born until the day of the attack, he never hurt anyone, he never insulted anyone… he was playing basketball in this court where we are, he was hit by a shell from those monsters – the monsters created by the hostile nations – he (my son) was killed with two of his friends, many were injured, his sister was next to him but she couldn’t save him, she couldn’t do anything for him.”

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Also in 2014, George Ibrahim and his now 14-year-old son, Jean, went through the trauma of another terrorist attack upon Al Manar elementary school in the Old City of Damascus, in the Bab Touma area. This Armenian Christian school was targeted by mortars in April 2014. As the children were sitting and gathering in the playground in the morning before classes began at 8am, a mortar struck the heart of the courtyard – 9-year-old Jean was suddenly caught up in unimaginable carnage.

George Ibrahim with his son Jean – revisiting the scene of the 2014 terrorist mortar attack on Al Manar elementary school, Damascus. © Vanessa Beeley

Jean witnessed his best friend, Sinan Mtanious, murdered in front of him – the shrapnel passed through his neck, killing him instantly. Another child, Lauren Bashour, lost her legs in the attack according to the school director, Ghassan Al Issa. Ghassan showed me the exact spot the missile struck, on the steps where children gathered to talk and sit before class. Ghassan said that at least eight children suffered severe injuries, the loss of limbs or hands, multiple shrapnel wounds as the molten metal scythed through their young flesh.

When George came rushing back to the school to rescue his son he was confronted with scenes of bloodshed, shock and horror – he told me that the childrens’ bodies were everywhere, some with limbs missing, many bleeding profusely from their open wounds, but he could not find his son anywhere, his panic was overwhelming. In fact, although grievously injured, Jean had somehow managed to stagger to the school entrance and had been bundled into the first ambulance by the SAA soldiers who had rushed to help the children. When George finally found his son, it was in the nearby French Hospital where Jean begged his father to “not let him die.”

In an interview with local media, Jean later demanded to know why the terrorists had done this, why they targeted children in school. Jean warned the terrorists that he “would talk to Jesus and ask him to punish them for their crimes” – even at that age, terribly injured and traumatised, Jean knew that the Western media (the BBC had visited the hospital) would not condemn this massacre nor would they headline his appeals for justice – he was not a ‘Bana’ or an ‘Omran’ – he was altogether the wrong kind of victim.

Jean was right – despite being in Damascus during the attack and witnessing the savagery of Western-backed armed gangs, the BBC’s Lyse Doucet still managed to spin the story away from condemnation of terrorist attacks and dishonestly in the direction of Syrian government responsibility.

When George and Jean agreed to talk to me about the attack five years later, in the same school courtyard where the blood of innocents had been shed, they both broke down as the nightmarish memories surfaced and opened wounds that had never been allowed to heal.

Click here to read the full article published on July 24th on Vanessa Beeley’s The Wall Will Fall website.

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Voices from Syria’s Rukban Refugee Camp belie corporate media reporting

July 4 | Eva Bartlett

Despite those testimonies and the reality on the ground, Western politicians and media alike have placed the blame for the starvation and suffering of Syrian civilians squarely on the shoulders of Russia and Syria, ignoring the culpability of terrorist groups.

In reality, terrorist groups operating within areas of Syria that they occupy have had full control over food and aid, and ample documentation shows that they have hoarded food and medicines for themselves. Even under better circumstances, terrorist groups charged hungry civilians grotesquely inflated prices for basic foods, sometimes demanding up to 8,000 Syrian pounds (US $16) for a kilogram of salt, and 3,000 pounds (US $6) for a bag of bread.

Given the Western press’ obsessive coverage of the starvation and lack of medical care endured by Syrian civilians, its silence has been deafening in the case of Rukban — a desolate refugee camp in Syria’s southeast where conditions are appalling to such an extent that civilians have been dying as a result. Coverage has been scant of the successful evacuations of nearly 15,000 of the 40,000 to 60,000 now-former residents of Rukban (numbers vary according to source) to safe havens where they are provided food, shelter and medical care.

Silence about the civilian evacuations from Rukban is likely a result of the fact that those doing the rescuing are the governments of Syria and Russia — and the fact that they have been doing so in the face of increasing levels of opposition from the U.S. government.

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Credit | War on the Rocks

The sparse coverage Rukban has received has mostly revolved around accusations that the camp’s civilians fear returning to government-secured areas of Syria for fear of being imprisoned or tortured. This, in spite of the fact that areas brought back under government control over the years have seen hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians return to live in peace and of a confirmation by the United Nations that they had “positively assessed the conditions created by the Syrian authorities for returning refugees.”

The accusations also come in spite of the fact that, for years now, millions of internally displaced Syrians have taken shelter in government areas, often housed and given medical care by Syrian authorities.

Over the years I’ve found myself waiting for well over a month for my journalist visa at the Syrian embassy in Beirut to clear. During these times I traveled around Lebanon where I’ve encountered Syrians who left their country either for work, the main reason, or because their neighborhoods were occupied by terrorist groups. All expressed a longing for Syria and a desire to return home.

In March, journalist Sharmine Narwani tweeted in part that, “the head of UNDP in Lebanon told me during an interview: ‘I have not met a single Syrian refugee who does not want to go home.’”

Of the authors who penned articles claiming that Syrians in Rukban are afraid to return to government-secured areas of Syria, few that I’m aware of actually traveled to Syria to speak with evacuees, instead reporting from Istanbul or even further abroad.

On June 12, I did just that, hiring a taxi to take me to a dusty stretch of road roughly 60 km east of ad-Dumayr, Syria, where I was able to intercept a convoy of buses ferrying exhausted refugees out of Rukban.

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Five hundred meters from a fork in the highway connecting a road heading northeast to Tadmur (Palmyra) to another heading southeast towards Iraq — I waited at a nondescript stopping point called al-Waha, where buses stopped for water and food to be distributed to starving refugees. In Arabic, al-Waha means the oasis and, although only a makeshift Red Crescent distribution center, and compared to Rukban it might as well have been an oasis.

A convoy of 18 buses carrying nearly 900 tormented Syrians followed by a line of trucks carrying their belongings were transferred to refugee reception centers in Homs. Members of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent distributed boxes containing beans, chickpeas and canned meat — the latter a scarcity among the displaced.

Buses transported nearly 900 refugees from Rukban Camp to temporary shelters in Homs on June 12. Photo | Eva Bartlett

As food and water were handed out, I moved from bus to bus speaking with people who endured years-long shortages of food, medicine, clean water, work and education … the basic essentials of life. Most people I spoke to said they were starving because they couldn’t afford the hefty prices of food in the camp, which they blamed on Rukban’s merchants. Some blamed the terrorist groups operating in the camp and still others blamed the Americans. A few women I spoke to blamed the Syrian government, saying no aid had entered Rukban at all, a claim that would later be refuted by reports from both the UN and Red Crescent.

An old woman slumped on the floor of one bus recounted:

“We were dying of hunger, life was hell there. Traders [merchants] sold everything at high prices, very expensive; we couldn’t afford to buy things. We tried to leave before today but we didn’t have money to pay for a car out. There were no doctors; it was horrible there.”

An elderly woman recounted enduring hunger in Rukban. Photo | Eva Bartlett

Aboard another bus, an older woman sat on the floor, two young women and several babies around her. She had spent four years in the camp: “Everything was expensive, we were hungry all the time. We ate bread, za’atar, yogurt… We didn’t know meat, fruit…”

Merchants charged 1,000 Syrian pounds (US $2) for five potatoes, she said, exemplifying the absurdly high prices.

I asked whether she’d been prevented from leaving before. “Yes,” she responded.

She didn’t get a chance to elaborate as a younger woman further back on the bus shouted at her that no one had been preventing anyone from leaving. When I asked the younger woman how the armed groups had treated her, she replied, “All respect to them.”

But others that I spoke to were explicit in their blame for both the terrorist groups operating in the camp and the U.S. occupation forces in al-Tanf.

An older man from Palmyra who spent four years in the camp spoke of “armed gangs” paid in U.S. dollars being the only ones able to eat properly:

“The armed gangs were living while the rest of the people were dead. No one here had fruit for several years. Those who wanted fruit have to pay in U.S. dollars. The armed groups were the only ones who could do so. They were spreading propaganda: ‘don’t go, the aid is coming.’ We do not want aid. We want to go back to our towns.”

Mahmoud Saleh, a young man from Homs, told me he’d fled home five years ago. According to Saleh, the Americans were in control of Rukban. He also put blame on the armed groups operating in the camp, especially for controlling who was permitted to leave. He said, “There are two other convoys trying to leave but the armed groups are preventing them.”

Mahmoud Saleh from Homs said the Americans control Rukban and blamed armed groups in the camp for controlling who could leave. Photo | Eva Bartlett

A shepherd who had spent three years in Rukban blamed “terrorists” for not being able to leave. He also blamed the United States: “Those controlling Tanf wouldn’t let us leave, the Americans wouldn’t let us leave.”

Many others I spoke to said they had wanted to leave before but were fear-mongered by terrorists into staying, told they would be “slaughtered by the regime,” a claim parroted by many in the Western press when Aleppo and other areas of Syria were being liberated from armed groups.

The testimonies I heard when speaking to Rukban evacuees radically differed from the claims made in most of the Western press’ reporting about Syria’s treatment of refugees. These testimonies are not only corroborated by Syrian and Russian authorities, but also by the United Nations itself.

Click here to read Eva Bartlett’s full report first published on July 4th by Mint Press News.

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Additional:

On Tuesday 23rd, Eva Bartlett spoke with Ryan Cristian of The Last American Vagabond about her recent trip to the Middle East and specifically the US-run al-Rukban internment camp in Syria, as well as what she personally witnessed while living in Palestine, and the parallels between the two atrocities (unfortunately the sound quality is quite poor in parts):

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Filed under al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, Syria

five independent journalists reporting on-the-ground from Venezuela

Aaron Maté

In mid-February, ‘The Grayzone’s Aaron Maté (former host and producer for ‘The Real News’ and  ‘Democracy Now!’) went to Bolivar Square in Caracas and spoke with people who were queuing up to sign a petition opposing US meddling in Venezuela:

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Max Blumenthal

Shortly afterwards, founder of ‘The Grayzone’, Max Blumenthal, visited to Caracas to investigate Venezuela’s widely-reported ‘humanitarian crisis’ and took a tour of a local supermarket:

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Update:

On March 19th, Max Blumenthal spoke at a UN Human Rights Council session in Geneva on a panel titled “Humanitarian crisis in Venezuela: Propaganda vs. Reality”:

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Eva Bartlett

Eva Bartlett is a Canadian journalist better known for her on-the-ground reports from Gaza and Syria. She arrived in Caracas on Sunday 10th and has since been issuing reports on a regular basis at her ‘Patreon’ site. Her latest report is reprinted below along with her most recent video:

I filmed these scenes on March 15, but until now have been too busy and also lacking good enough internet to upload.

My objective in filming is not to say there is no poverty in Venezuela, nor to imply there is no hunger or shortages anywhere. However, when corporate media is flat out saying shelves are empty all over Caracas and the city is in crisis, well this is false. The scenes I’m seeing are much like I saw in 2010. I know there are differences since then and now, of course, but there isn’t the pandemonium MSM is attempting to claim is happening here.

Also, this is not a wealthy area of Caracas, its perhaps lower middle class. I’ll film the wealthy areas where typically opposition live in coming days.

Further, in the days since filming this, power has fully returned to Caracas and most of Venezuela, metro is running, things are as they were before the power cuts.

I have had the opportunity to visit organized communities growing massive amounts of produce, also breeding rabbits (apparently a high source of protein)…and also one of the cities urban garden initiatives. I’ll upload more on that when time allows, but for now, day 1, no “crisis”, but people were dealing with the effects of the nation wide power outage, one believed most likely due to US acts of sabotage on the electricity grid.

Click here to read more reports from Venezuela by Eva Bartlett on Patreon

On March 17th Eva Bartlett was interviewed on ‘The Jimmy Dore Show’:

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Updates:

On March 31st, Eva Bartlett published an extended post from Caracas entitled “US is manufacturing a crisis in Venezuela so that there is chaos and ‘needed’ intervention”. Regarding the cancellation of flights, she writes:

On  March 9, American cancelled my Miami-Caracas flight on the basis that there wasn’t enough electricity to land at Caracas airport. Strangely enough, the Copa flight I took the following day after an overnight in Panama had no problem landing, nor did Copa flights on the day of my own cancelled flight, according to Copa staff.

The cancellation of flights to Venezuela then lends legitimacy to the shrill tweets of Marco Rubio, Mike Pence, John Bolton, and the previously unknown non-president, Juan Guaido.

I’ve been in various areas of Caracas since March 10, and I’ve seen none of this “civil unrest” that corporate media are talking about. I’ve walked around Caracas, usually on my own, and haven’t experienced the worry for my safety corporate media is telling Westerners they should suddenly feel more than normal in Venezuela.

In fact, I see little difference from the Venezuela I knew in 2010  when I spent half a year here, except the hyperinflation is absurdly  worse and in my absence I missed the years of extreme right-wing  opposition supporters street violence – a benign term for the guarimbas which saw opposition supporters burning people alive, among other violence against people and security.

So it strikes me that the decision of American Airlines to stop flying to Venezuela is not about safety and security issues, but is political, in line with increasingly hollow rhetoric about a humanitarian crisis that does not exist, even according to former UN Special Rapporteur, Alfred de Zayas.

I asked Paul Dobson, a journalist who has lived in Venezuela the last 14 years, if anything like this had happened before. Turns out it has, also at a very timely moment.

“At the time of the National Constituent Assembly elections, July 30, 2017, the major airlines –  including Air France, United, American, pretty much all of the European airlines – suspended their flights one day before the elections, citing  “security reasons.” Most of the services were reopened about four days after the elections, some of them two weeks after the elections.”

So were there ‘security concerns? I asked Paul.

“This was towards the end of street violence (guarimbas) that had been going on for six months in the country. Why didn’t they suspend their activity six months before, two months before? They did it the day before the elections, clearly trying to influence votes and the  way that people see their country internationally. There were no extra security concerns that day than any day over the last 6 months. So, there was really no justification for it. And it caused massive problems on the ground, around elections.”

Click here to read the full article at Patreon.

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On March 17th, President Nicolás Maduro met with the US Peace Council delegation for over an hour, speaking on issues related to the recent power outage, how the Venezuelan people responded, and the US draconian policies against Venezuela. Eva Bartlett filmed and uploaded around 10 minutes of their meeting:

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Alan Gignoux and Carolina Graterol

British photojournalist Alan Gignoux whose work has been published in The New York Times, CNN Traveller, The Independent, Reuters and World Photography News, among others (www.gignouxphotos.com); and Venezuelan journalist-filmmaker Carolina Graterol, who has worked for the BBC World Service (Spanish) and Telesur; both based in London, went to Venezuela for a month to shoot a documentary for a major global TV channel. They talked with journalist Paul Cochrane about the mainstream media’s portrayal of Venezuela compared to their experiences on the ground. The full transcript is reprinted below:

Paul Cochrane (PC): What were you doing in Venezuela, how long were you there and where did you go?

Alan Gignoux (AG): We went in June 2018 for a month to shoot a documentary; I can’t disclose what channels it will be on right now, but it should be on air soon. We visited the capital Caracas, Mérida (in the Andes), Cumaná (on the coast), and Ciudad Guayana (near the mouth of the Orinoco river).

PC: How did being in Venezuela compare to what you were seeing in Western media?

Carolina Graterol (CG): I am a journalist, I have family in Venezuela, and I knew the reality was very different from what the media is portraying, but still I was surprised. The first thing we noticed was the lack of poverty. Alan wanted to film homeless and poor people on the streets. I saw three people sleeping rough just this morning in London, but in Venezuela, we couldn’t find any, in big cities or towns. We wanted to interview them, but we couldn’t find them. It is because of multi disciplinary programmes run by the government, with social services working to get children off the streets, or returned to their families. The programme has been going on for a long time but I hadn’t realized how effective it was.

PC: Alan, what surprised you?

AG: We have to be realistic. Things look worn down and tired. There is food, there are private restaurants and cafes open, and you could feel the economic crisis kicking in but poverty is not as bad as what I’ve seen in Brazil or Colombia, where there are lots of street children. Venezuela doesn’t seem to have a homeless problem, and the favelas have running water and electricity. The extreme poverty didn’t seem as bad as in other South American countries. People told me before going I should be worried about crime, but we worked with a lady from El Salvador, and she said Venezuela was easy compared to her country, where there are security guards with machine guns outside coffee shops. They also say a lot of Venezuelan criminals left as there’s not that much to rob, with better pickings in Argentina, Chile or wherever.

PC: How have the US sanctions impacted Venezuelans?

CG: Food is expensive, but people are buying things, even at ten times their salary. Due to inflation, you have to make multiple card payments as the machine wouldn’t take such a high transaction all at once. The government has created a system, Local Committees for Production and Supply (known by its Spanish acronym CLAP) that feeds people, 6 million families, every month via a box of food. The idea of the government was to bypass private distribution networks, hoarding and scarcity. Our assistant was from a middle class area in Caracas, and she was the only Chavista there, but people got together and created a CLAP system, with the box containing 19 products. Unless you have a huge salary, or money from outside, you have to use other ways to feed yourself. People’s larders were full, as they started building up supplies for emergencies. People have lost weight, I reckon many adults 10 to 15 kilos. Last time I was in Venezuela three years ago, I found a lot of obese people, like in the US, due to excessive eating, but this time people were a good size, and nobody is dying from hunger or malnutrition.

PC: So what are Venezuelans eating?

CG: A vegetarian diet. People apologized as they couldn’t offer us meat, instead vegetables, lentils, and black beans. So everyone has been forced to have a vegetarian diet, and maybe the main complaint was that people couldn’t eat meat like they used to do. The situation is not that serious. Before Hugo Chavez came to power, Venezuela had 40% critical poverty out of 80% poverty, but that rate went down to 27%, and before the crisis was just 6 or 7% critical poverty. Everyone is receiving help from the government.

PC: So food is the main concern?

CG: The real attack on the economy is on food. When you have hyperinflation everything goes up in price, but food has become the main source of spending because this is the variable going up in price at exorbitant levels. Bills like water, electricity, public transport haven’t gone up that much and represent a small percentage of any family spending. This is why the distortions in the economy are not intrinsic, but caused by external factors, otherwise everything should have gone up, no matter what it is.

PC: Alan, did you lose weight in Venezuela?

AG: No! What surprised me was how many people are growing their own vegetables. It is a bit like in Russia, where everyone has a dacha. Venezuela is tropical, so it is easy to grow produce. Mango trees are everywhere, so you can pick a mango whenever you want.

PC: So the crisis we read about everyday is primarily due to the US sanctions?

CG: The sanctions have affected the country. I want to be fair. I think the government was slow to act on the direction the country was being pushed. It was probably not a good idea to pay off $70 billion in external debt over the past five years. In my opinion, (President Nicolas) Maduro decided to honor the external debt, thinking this was the right way to pay our commitments, but at the same time, this economic war started waging internally, and also externally, blocking international loans.

The government should also have taken action against Colombia for allowing over one hundred exchange houses to be set up on the border with Venezuela. These exchange houses eroded the currency as they were using different exchange rates, and that contributed to the Bolivar’s devaluation. I think they should have denounced the (Juan Manuel) Santos government. If Colombia says that Venezuelan oil that crosses its border is contraband, why not currency? Remember, the biggest industry in Colombia is cocaine – narcotics trafficking – and it has grown exponentially, so they’ve an excessive amount of US dollars and need to launder them, which drained the Venezuelan currency. It is induced hyperinflation. Also, in Miami, the Venezuelan oligarchy created a website called DolarToday about 12 years ago to destroy the Venezuelan economy.

PC: What else struck you?

CG: People are still smiling and making jokes about the situation, which I find incredible. People are willing to share, and we were in some tricky situations, like when our car broke down at night.

AG: Everyone says don’t drive at night in Venezuela. We were on the road, and figured we’d only half hour to go, what could go wrong? Then a transformer burned out. I thought I was about to have my Venezuelan nightmare, stuck in the middle of nowhere on a dark road at night. Who would ever find you?

CG: As there were no lights we had to use our phones to let big trucks know we were on the road.

AG: We pretended I was deaf as I couldn’t pass for Venezuelan with my Spanish accent. So, a really old old pick-up truck pulls up, and the occupants looked rather salty, but they were very nice and took us to a petrol station.

CG: I told you Alan, you are not in the US, you are not going to be shot!

AG: I was with three women with money, I thought OK I will be shot, but it all turned out fine, and they thought I was deaf.

CG: We were told we could sleep in a shop but we slept in the car instead, and it was fine.

PC: What about the power cuts that have plagued the country?

CG: During blackouts, people told stories, played music, or went out and talked on the streets. It was a paradise, no TVs, smartphones, but real human contact. People cook together. During the day they’re playing board games, dominoes, and kids are having fun. People with kids are possibly more stressed, especially if you live in a tower block, as if you’ve no electricity, you’ve no water. That is why the US hit the electricity grid as it means no water in Caracas – a city of 10 million people. Luckily there are wells with clean water around the city, so people queue up to get it.

PC: So there was a real discrepancy between the image you were given of Venezuela and the reality?

AG: Sure, there are queues for oil, but people are not dying of starvation and, as I said, poverty is no where near what it is like in Brazil. I wouldn’t say a harsh dictatorship, people were open, and criticized the government, and the US, but also Chavez and Maduro. The Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV) have admitted they had made bad economic decisions. I thought it would be more repressive, and it wasn’t. People were not fearful about speaking out. I think Venezuelans blame the Americans for the situation more than Maduro.

PC: What do you make of the hullabaloo in February about US and Canadian aid being blocked by Venezuela?

AG: It is a Trojan horse, a good way to get the US in, and why international agencies were not willing take part in the plan. Instead there has been Chinese and Russian aid.

CG: There’s not the chaos US and Trump were expecting. (Opposition leader and self-proclaimed president Juan) Guaidó is the most hated guy in Venezuela. He has to stay in luxury hotel in La Mercedes, an expensive neighbourhood of Caracas. They have electricity there, as they were prepared, so bought generators. That is why Guaidó went there, and has a whole floor of a luxury hotel for him and his family. While people are suffering Guaidó is trying on suits for his upcoming trip to Europe. It is a parallel world.

AG: You think Guaidó will fail?

CG: Venezuelans are making so many jokes with his name, as there’s a word similar to stupid in Spanish – guevon. And look at the demonstration in La Mercedes the other day (12 March), the crowds didn’t manifest. It is becoming a joke in the country. The more the Europeans and the US make him a president, the more bizarre the situation becomes, as Guaidó is not president of Venezuela! Interestingly, Chavez predicted what is happening today, he wrote about it, so people are going back to his works and reading him again.

PC: There’s plenty of material on the history of American imperialism in South America to make such predictions, also, more recently, the Canadians and their mining companies, in Paraguay, Honduras, and now backing Guaidó.

CG: Exactly. Look at Chile in 1973, what happened to the Sandinistas in El Salvador, in Guatemala.

It is a well rehearsed strategy to destroy an economy using external forces to drive up prices of supplies and products. When you have such a cycle, it explodes.

Click here to read the same transcript as published today by Counterpunch.

Please note that I will try to update this post as soon as the documentary shot by Gignoux and Graterol is released.

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Filed under did you see?, Venezuela

an alternative review of the year by Chunky Mark

To love. To be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and the vulgar disparity of life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never, to forget — Arundhati Roy

When I came across Chunky Mark’s (aka the Artist Taxi Driver) three hour youtube upload entitled “JEZZA the movie 2018” I was intrigued. Three hours later I was impressed: it had really felt like three hours well spent.

The film includes interviews with Dr Bob Gill, producer of The Great NHS Heist; David Graeber, anthropologist and author of Debt: The First 5000 years; Aaron Bastani, co-founder of Novara Media; Paul Mason, former Economics Editor for BBC Newsnight and Channel 4 News; Magid Magid, the incumbent Lord Mayor of Sheffield; as well as comedians Norman Lovett and Eddie Izzard. He speaks with Ed Miliband, and about half the current shadow cabinet: Emily Thornberry, Barry Gardiner, Richard Burgeon, Dan Carden, Jon Ashworth and John McDonnell. He even gets an interview with French presidential candidate, Jean-Luc Mélenchon. He also introduces us to Chilean filmmaker Felipe Bustos Sierra and his newly released documentary Nae Pasaran which tells the remarkable story of four factory workers at the Rolls Royce plant in East Kilbride who downed tools in solidarity with the victims of Pinochet’s reign of terror:

(Caution: strong language in parts)

A lot of ground is covered as he slow tours Liverpool, Sheffield and London; the trail of his video diaries interspersed with an occasion lyrical rant which is the trademark of Chunky Mark’s online performances. Topics range from austerity, tax havens, pensions, fracking, homelessness, the privatisation of the NHS, the Windrush scandal, the neglect of the Grenfell survivors, the march against Trump’s visit, the ongoing fight for justice for the Hillsborough victims, the plight of refugees, to the peril of a resurgent far right. Mark McGowan (his real name) speaks to those most deeply affected and closely involved. To a young man who is living on the streets of London, to three Muslim women who run a soup kitchen, to nurses and doctors, to a fellow (he is actually one) taxi driver and to a handful of the WASPI women. Most poignantly he visits a few of the migrant camps near Calais including that one nicknamed “The Jungle” (isn’t that shameful enough?)

In truth I paused a few times during the three hours – there’s a lot to take in and some sequences are a little slack, which is only to be expected. Judged fairly, this is a fine piece of amateur filmmaking: sensitive, constantly thought-provoking, and in parts hilarious. Though it will not win any Golden Globes, it deserves an audience, which is why I am recommending it.

Oh, and at one point I stopped for about half an hour to gaze out of my bedroom window over the rooftops and the gardens, watching as fireworks lit up the Sheffield sky welcoming in the New Year. The annual people’s firework display (as I regard it) is one recent tradition I look forward to. How different from our long-established Bonfire Night which goes on and on for days and means what? Why do we celebrate the uncovering of the so-called ‘gunpowder plot’ to blow up parliament by detonating lots of mini explosives? Yet it feels right that we celebrate something as arbitrary and ephemeral as the passing of the minute hand at the start of every year with such a nonsensical flurry of sound and fury. Countless individuals in countless backyards lighting blue touch papers that launch into one glorious, synchronised citywide spectacular.

Reflecting upon the moment of yearly rebirth can feel a bit like pinching yourself; uncannily becoming aware of the thing you are forever forgetting. Not merely another year passing and I am still here, but right now I am here. And in a way Chunky Mark’s review is a gentle slap to our political consciousness (whereas most other annual reviews are to entertain and distract). His appraisal of Britain’s mounting social problems is unsettling, but there is constant encouragement too. It is not so much a homage to the Labour leader as a heartfelt tribute to grassroots activism.

Incidentally, Corbyn is featured just twice (in spite of the title) — quoting the beautiful words of Arundhati Roy at the beginning and then at the end rallying supporters saying:

That is why those great people who founded our movement, those great people who struggled against enormous odds in the last two centuries to try to bring about the kind of strength and organisation that we’ve got in trade unions and in the Labour Party [made] all those things possible for us. Now my friends, let’s dedicate ourselves absolutely to taking that message of decency, justice, social justice, socialism out there on the streets all around this country and say to the Tories “we are many, you are few — We are for the many, you are for the few.”

Wishing you all a very happy New Year!!!

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Correction:

Mark McGowan is a real minicab driver although in the original post I had written that he spoke to: “… a (‘fellow’ – he’s not actually one) taxi driver…”

You can read more about him in this Guardian review by Dawn Foster published in January 2015.

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Additional:

New Year’s greetings from Syria courtesy of independent journalist Eva Bartlett:

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faked concern: Haley & corporate media bleating about Idlib civilians, ignore terrorists’ presence | Eva Bartlett

Eva Bartlett | InGaza

Nikki Haley, the hypocritical US Ambassador to the UN, mistakenly thinks she can dictate – from New York City, far from the terrorists which her country supports – that the Syrian army cannot fight and eradicate al-Qaeda in Idlib.

Her, and other American figures’ words, come with faked concern over the lives of Syrian civilians.

This is particularly ironic given that the US-led coalition, illegally in Syria, destroyed the Syrian city of Raqqa and killed untold numbers of civilians along the way, in their fake fight against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) – a pretext which has only time and again strengthened IS in Syria. Raqqa remains uninhabitable, and even today corpses are still being unearthed.

Haley and the Western corporate media have been bleating in chorus about Idlib and the civilians there, deliberately ignoring the presence of Al-Qaeda and affiliated terrorists occupying the governorate and surrounding areas in Aleppo and Hama governorates.

They ignore, too, the reality of life in areas which were once occupied by these terrorists: the torture, imprisonment, maiming, assassination, and starvation endured by the civilian population at the hands of these extremists and paid mercenaries.

The other reality Haley and co-regime change mouthpieces whitewash is that once these areas are liberated of Al-Qaeda, Ahrar al-Sham, Jaysh al-Islam, and the myriad other extremist terrorist groups, life gets back to normal, schools reopen, cities and towns repopulate, ancient traditions resume as they have for thousands of years in this cradle of civilization.

Occupation, Liberation, Peace and Stability

With the exception of Deir ez-Zor, and smaller hamlets throughout the Syrian countryside, I’ve been to every major city and town liberated by Syria and allies from Al-Qaeda and co-terrorists. They are all now in peace, with many of the areas thriving, rebuilding, and the other areas at least in peace without the sadistic rule of terrorists.

In June 2014, I went to the old city of Homs just one month after the reconciliation deals that saw Al-Qaeda and Free Syrian Army terrorists bused out of the city. This beautiful historic old city and its ancient churches were in shambles. Some of that was due to the Syrian army fighting the terrorists, but most of it was due to the terrorists burning, looting, and booby trapping the buildings they had occupied.

Indeed, a resident of the old city, Abu Nabeel, took me around, showing me the destruction, vandalization, burning and looting that terrorists did before leaving Old Homs, including leaving bombs in residents’ homes, to inflict yet more loss of life even after the terrorists had left. But also while there in June 2014, I saw residents and youth volunteers scraping the debris, painting hopeful art on walls, beginning the rebuilding process.

Also in June 2014, two months after its liberation, I went to the ancient village of Maaloula, which had been occupied or targeted by al-Qaeda and co-terrorists from September 2013 to April 2014. They systematically destroyed, looted, burned or stole ancient relics and vandalized historic buildings. In summer 2016 and more recently in September 2018, I returned to find life pulsing during the Celebration of the Holy Cross, a nearly-1700 year old celebration interrupted only during the terrorists’ occupation of Maaloula.

In December 2015, I returned to Old Homs to find that some reconstruction had occurred. Churches were partially repaired, a school was fully rehabilitated, shops had opened, and residents were putting up Christmas decorations.

In June 2017, when I returned to Homs, I saw a city pulsing with life, and peace. That June, I also went back to Aleppo, which I’d been to four times prior to its December 2016 liberation [see: Western corporate media ‘disappears’ over 1.5 million Syrians and 4,000 doctors,  The Villages in Aleppo Ravaged by America’s “Moderate” “Rebels”, and: Aleppo: How US & Saudi-Backed “Rebels” Target ‘Every Syrian’, November 29, 2016, Mint Press News].

I saw eastern areas that had been occupied by Al-Qaeda, Nour al-Din al-Zenki, IS and other terrorist factions. The destruction was indeed immense, as terrorists had holed up underground, including occupying schools and hospitals. The complex housing the Eye and Children’s Hospitals was turned into a headquarters for Al-Qaeda and IS, with basements turned into prisons, prisoners’ fates decided by Sharia courts of the extremists.

I returned to Aleppo in May 2018, and spent hours at the ancient Citadel, both filming people enjoying their time around the Citadel, and later joining them at one of the cafes encircling this historic site. Talking with Aleppo MP, Fares Shehabi, we discussed how none of this had been possible under the rule of the extremists.

WATCH: Life in Old Aleppo, around the historic Citadel

WATCH: Aleppo MP Fares Shehabi on improved life in Aleppo since liberation

Indeed, in November 2016, standing near the ruins of the Carlton Hotel, tunnel-bombed by terrorists in May 2014, and looking towards the Citadel, I was told to step back due to the risk of Al-Qaeda snipers. But the Aleppo I saw in May 2018 was likewise pulsing with life, and peace.

In media campaigns to demonize the Syrian and Russian governments, Western media mentioned al-Waer, Homs, and Madaya. But few, or none, that I’m aware of bothered to go to those places after they were restored to peace. I did, in June 2017, and unsurprisingly heard what journalists in eastern Aleppo heard when those areas were liberated: the reason they had been starving was because  terrorists had stolen all the food aid that entered the town and kept it for themselves. Indeed, near a munitions workshop, I found the remnants of one such parcel, a Red Cross package. And like in eastern Aleppo, terrorists in Madaya had imprisoned civilians, and had tortured them.

When in April and May 2018 I went to various areas of eastern Ghouta, I again heard about terrorist-induced starvation. When I asked whether residents could access their farmland – as eastern Ghouta is an agricultural region – I was told that, no, they couldn’t, terrorists controlled the farmland, too, leaving them literally starving.

A few weeks ago I returned to Daraa City. I’d been there in May 2018, at a time when terrorists in Daraa al-Balad and outskirts were heavily shelling the city. At great risk, I was able to go to the state hospital, with snipers just 100 metres away from the sole route leading there. The hospital was severely damaged, with entire wards destroyed. The Children’s Hospital wing was damaged and off limits due to the proximity of terrorists roughly 50 metres away – as I would learn when I returned a few weeks ago.

In Daraa this September, there was no bombing, just the scraping of rubble as bulldozers and residents cleaned up the remnants of this foreign war on Syria.

On September 11, I went to Mhardeh, a town in northern Hama, where 13 civilians were killed by terrorists missiles targeting the town on September 7. Most of the dead were killed right away, others died slowly of critical injuries. One man lost his wife, three young children and mother to the terror attacks. He lost everything.

When I asked him how the situation of Idlib, occupied by at least 70,000 terrorists, a modest estimate – impacted him and Mhardeh, he replied that Idlib is the cause of their suffering.

WATCH: Shadi Shehda on his murdered children, mother, and wife, killed by terrorists in Idlib

The September 7 attacks on Mhardeh weren’t the first. To the contrary, the town has been relentlessly targeted for the past 7 years, its local defense commander, Simon al-Wakil, told me.

WATCH: Simon al Wakeel Speaks on Mhardeh’s National Defense Forces and Civilians Under Terrorist Attacks

So did the Presbyterian Church’s Reverend Maan Bitar, who said: “The gunmen, the terrorists, they are in all the region of Idlib, not just Idlib city. They are also two kilometers from here (in northern Hama). We’ve received more than 7,000 missiles, rockets, and mortars these past eight years. Every time the terrorists feel they are in a critical situation, militarily speaking, from the government, they shell civilians. Nobody spoke about that. For eight years, Mhardeh town is being shelled, and civilians killed, but nobody spoke of that.”

WATCH: Reverend Maan Bitar on Terrorism Against Mhardeh Civilians, and Need to Liberate Idlib

Nearby al-Skalbiyye has also been relentlessly targeted, including with 10 Grad missiles fitted with cluster bombs, as noted by British journalist Vanessa Beeley who visited the town.

Idlib Reality: an al-Qaeda safe-haven

With the Nikki Haleys and laptop media now droning incessantly about “3 million civilians” in Idlib prone to being massacred by the Syrian and Russian armies, it’s time to reflect on a number of points.

First of all, there is no accurate figure for the number of civilians in Idlib, much less the number of terrorists. Given that when we heard the same cries before the liberation of Aleppo, with the UN itself chiming in to claim that 300,000 civilians were trapped in Aleppo’s eastern areas – the actual number was less than half that figure – we can at least be sceptical about the current claims of 300,000 in Idlib.

Moreover, among the population in Idlib, how many are terrorists? How many are being held against their will by terrorists? How many are Syrians?

Al-Qaeda’s presence in Idlib isn’t a conspiracy theory, it’s an established fact that even US State Department’s Special Envoy, Brett McGurk, made clear when he said: “Look, Idlib province is the largest Al-Qaeda safe-haven since 9/11. Idlib now is a huge problem, is an Al-Qaeda safe-haven right on the border with Turkey.

Yet, outlets like CNN whitewash their presence. While there are no definitive figures for the number of non-Syrians among those terrorists, it is a fact that there are extremists from around the world.

What Western leaders and media fail to address is the reign of terror the different extremist gangs inflict on Syrian civilians. This includes their kidnapping of untold numbers of civilians, particularly children.

Vanessa Beeley wrote this just weeks ago, noting that in a liberated area of eastern Idlib, she was told that over 600 children and adults had been kidnapped by “both the terrorist groups and the #WhiteHelmets” in the last 12 months there.

Further, it is from positions within Idlib governorate that terrorists continue to fire on Aleppo. So in spite of the liberation of Aleppo from these extremists, areas closest to them are routinely bombed.

Fares Shehabi tweeted in September about a rocket attack on Aleppo believed to have originated from Idlib.

In all of the areas I mentioned, the Syrian and Russian governments worked to offer amnesty and reconciliation to Syrians holding arms, and indeed these reconciliations enabled the return to peace in many of these areas.

The Syrian and Russian governments have again opened humanitarian corridors for civilians to leave Idlib, and as with corridors opened in Aleppo, terrorists have attacked the corridor, to prevent civilians from leaving. Some updates state that Syrians have been able to exit when the corridor wasn’t being targeted, and other updates note that terrorists are preventing civilians from leaving, or demanding money from civilians who want to leave.

Syria and Russia have again offered reconciliation and amnesty. It is terrorists within Idlib who refuse this, refuse a political process, and instead continue to hold civilians hostage and occupy Syrian territory.

On September 28, Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, addressed media the day of a General Assembly meeting, noting the US-led destruction of both Raqqa and Mosul, Iraq, also noting that Russia and Syria prevented this in Aleppo and in Eastern Ghouta.

These are all points to keep in mind the next time Nikki Haley shrilling performs for the cameras. It is time to liberate Idlib, by military or political means, and bring peace to Syria.

Click here to read the same article as it was originally posted on Eva Bartlett’s website InGaza.

A shorter version of the article was first published on October 8th at RT.com

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RELATED:

I would like to thank Eva Bartlett for allowing me to reproduce this article.

Not all of the views expressed are necessarily views shared by ‘wall of controversy’.

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Global Network for Syria: “Statement on impending US, UK and French military intervention in Syria”

The following is from the Global Network for Syria [see bottom for names]:

[*Downloadable PDF here: Global Network for Syria_Statement_August 2018]

Statement on impending US, UK and French military intervention in Syria

We, members of the Global Network for Syria, are deeply alarmed by recent statements by Western governments and officials threatening the government of Syria with military intervention, and by media reports of actions taken by parties in Syria and by Western agencies in advance of such intervention.

In a joint statement issued on 21 August the governments of the US, the UK and France said that ‘we reaffirm our shared resolve to preventing [sic] the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime and for [sic] holding them accountable for any such use… As we have demonstrated, we will respond appropriately to any further use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime’.

The three governments justify this threat with reference to ‘reports of a military offensive by the Syrian regime against civilians and civilian infrastructure in Idlib’.

On 22 August, Mr John Bolton, US National Security Adviser, was reported by Bloomberg to have said that the US was prepared to respond with greater force than it has used in Syria before.

These threats need to be seen in the context of the following reports and considerations.

Reports have appeared of activity by the White Helmets group, or militants posing as White Helmets, consistent with an intention to stage a ‘false flag’ chemical incident in order to provoke Western intervention. These activities have reportedly included the transfer of eight canisters of chlorine to a village near Jisr Al Shughur, an area under the control of Hayat Tahrir Ash Sham, an affiliate of the terrorist group Al Nusra. Some reports refer to the involvement of British individuals and the Olive security company. Other reports indicate a build-up of US naval forces in the Gulf and of land forces in areas of Iraq adjoining the Syrian border.

We therefore urge the US, UK and French governments to consider the following points before embarking on any military intervention:

  • In the cases of three of the previous incidents cited in the 21 August statement (Ltamenah, Khan Sheykhoun, Saraqib) OPCW inspectors were not able to secure from the militants who controlled these areas security guarantees to enable them to visit the sites, yet still based their findings on evidence provided by militants.
  • In the case of Douma, also cited, the interim report of OPCW inspectors dated 6 July based on a visit to the site concluded that no evidence was found of the use of chemical weapons and that evidence for the use of chlorine as a weapon was inconclusive.
  • Western governments themselves acknowledge that Idlib is controlled by radical Islamist extremists. The British government in its statement on 20 August justified its curtailment of aid programmes in Idlib on the grounds that conditions had become too difficult. Any action by the Syrian government would not be directed at harming civilians, but at removing these radical elements.
  • Any military intervention without a mandate from the United Nations would be illegal.
  • Any military intervention would risk confrontation with a nuclear armed comember of the Security Council, as well as with the Islamic Republic of Iran, with consequent ramifications for regional as well as global security.
  • There is no plan in place to contain chaos in the event of sudden government collapse in Syria, such as might occur in the contingency of command and control centres being targeted. Heavy military intervention could result in the recrudescence of terrorist groups, genocide against the Alawite, Christian, Druze, Ismaili, Shiite and Armenian communities, and a tsunami of refugees into neighbouring countries and Europe.

In the event of an incident involving the use of prohibited weapons – prior to taking any decision on military intervention – we urge the US, UK and French governments:

  • To provide detailed and substantive evidence to prove that any apparent incident could not have been staged by a party wishing to bring Western powers into the conflict on their side.
  • To conduct emergency consultations with their respective legislative institutions to request an urgent mission by the OPCW to the site of any apparent incident and give time for this mission to be carried out.
  • To call on the government of Turkey, which has military observation posts in Idlib, to facilitate, in the event of an incident, an urgent mission by the OPCW to the jihadi-controlled area, along with observers from Russia to ensure impartiality.

We further call on the tripartite powers to join Turkish and Russian efforts to head off confrontation between the Syrian government forces and the militants opposing them by separating the most radical organisations such as Hayat Tahrir Ash Sham and Hurras Ad Deen from the rest, eliminating them, and facilitating negotiations between the Syrian government and elements willing to negotiate.

Dr Tim Anderson, University of Sydney

Lord Carey of Clifton, Crossbench Member of the House of Lords and former Archbishop of Canterbury

The Baroness Cox, Crossbench Member of the House of Lords

Peter Ford, British Ambassador to Syria 2003-06

Dr Michael Langrish, former Bishop of Exeter

Lord Stoddart of Swindon, Independent Labour Member of the House of Lords

30 August 2018

For enquiries contact Peter Ford 07910727317; peterford14@yahoo.com

* Reposted in full and as original from Eva Barlett’s blog ‘In Gaza’.

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reports on the ground in Douma contradict the official narrative of a chemical attack

“There is much tut-tutting in Britain by the commentariat about the spread of authoritarianism in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, but less so about the growing limitation on what can be freely expressed at home. Increasingly, anything less than full endorsement of the government line about the poisoning of the Skripals in Salisbury or the suspected gas attack on civilians in Douma in Syria is characterised as support for Putin or Assad.” — Patrick Cockburn

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Since Syrian forces recaptured Douma, a few western reporters have entered and spoken with eyewitnesses on the ground. The two main reports I have read or seen so far are consistent and both contradict the official narrative that the area was subject to any kind of chemical weapons attack.

(Note that: all transcripts below are my own.)

Robert Fisk:

Robert Fisk is one of the best known mainstream war reporters. Writing in The Independent yesterday, he reported testimony of an eyewitness named Dr Assim Rahaibani who tells him that the video footage shot inside the clinic is “perfectly genuine”, although it is not showing victims of a chemical attack:

War stories, however, have a habit of growing darker. For the same 58-year old senior Syrian doctor then adds something profoundly uncomfortable: the patients, he says, were overcome not by gas but by oxygen starvation in the rubbish-filled tunnels and basements in which they lived, on a night of wind and heavy shelling that stirred up a dust storm.

Fisk then adds:

Before we go any further, readers should be aware that this is not the only story in Douma. There are the many people I talked to amid the ruins of the town who said they had “never believed in” gas stories – which were usually put about, they claimed, by the armed Islamist groups.

Continuing with the story of eyewitness Dr Rahaibani, Fisk writes:

“I was with my family in the basement of my home three hundred metres from here on the night but all the doctors know what happened. There was a lot of shelling [by government forces] and aircraft were always over Douma at night – but on this night, there was wind and huge dust clouds began to come into the basements and cellars where people lived. People began to arrive here suffering from hypoxia, oxygen loss. Then someone at the door, a “White Helmet”, shouted “Gas!”, and a panic began. People started throwing water over each other. Yes, the video was filmed here, it is genuine, but what you see are people suffering from hypoxia – not gas poisoning.”

Fisk has a style of writing that sometimes drifts toward ambiguity. It is as if he doesn’t dare tell the truth straight but he can hint at it. So read his next paragraph carefully and please make up your own mind to what he is trying to say:

The White Helmets – the medical first responders already legendary in the West but with some interesting corners to their own story – played a familiar role during the battles. They are partly funded by the Foreign Office and most of the local offices were staffed by Douma men. I found their wrecked offices not far from Dr Rahaibani’s clinic. A gas mask had been left outside a food container with one eye-piece pierced and a pile of dirty military camouflage uniforms lay inside one room. Planted, I asked myself? I doubt it. The place was heaped with capsules, broken medical equipment and files, bedding and mattresses.

Click here to read Robert Fisk’s full report entitled “The search for truth in the rubble of Douma – and one doctor’s doubts over the chemical attack”.

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Pearson Sharp:

The conservative and erstwhile pro-Trump news channel One America News Network  sent reporter Pearson Sharp to Douma. He says that he has spoken with a great many witnesses, none of whom believe there was a chemical attack:

So we just randomly went up to different people – no-one came up to us – and interviewed probably about 30 or 40 people throughout the town. And consistently not one person in the entire town that we talked to said that they had seen or heard anything about a chemical attack.

They said that they had lived there for seven to fifteen years – some of them – so you know they were long time residents of the area. And many of them were very close to the site that was allegedly attacked on the day that it was allegedly attacked. One man said that he was within 50 metres at the time they say it was attacked and he heard and saw nothing outside of the ordinary.

When I asked them what they thought the chemical attack was, they told me, all of them told me that it was staged by the rebels: the rebels who were occupying the town at that time. They said that it was a fabrication. That it was a hoax. And when I asked them why, they told me that it was because the rebels were desperate and they needed a ploy to help get the Syrian army off their backs so they can escape… That story was told to us by numerous people.

[from 2:40 mins]

Sharp says he also visited the square which was the “ground zero” of the alleged attack as well as the nearby hospital where he spoke with other eyewitnesses who did not see any evidence of a chemical attack, although they did see the events captured on videotape:

It’s not clear exactly where the strike happened in that square but it was that square… so I walked around it and looked at everything. There was some mortars that had exploded in the concrete, but nothing looked like a chemical attack… There were soldiers there. There were military police there. They said they had been stationed there for a while and they hadn’t seen anything that day.

They did point out to me that there was a hospital nearby – which is right off the square actually – that had a basement two or three storeys underground, where there was an emergency field hospital that had been used by the terrorists to treat their wounded. And so we looked around and one of the buildings in that area – there are several (they’re all about 15 storeys) – one of the buildings in the area had a large bulwark of dirt built up around the edges to apparently protect it from strikes so that people inside wouldn’t be hurt. And we walked around and there was a tunnel carved into the side of that you could walk down into it and that was where they’d built this makeshift hospital.

And it was actually very sophisticated, they had a carpark, a garage, they had maintenance bays: things like that. And we walked down a couple of floors underground and into the room – the hospital room that you see in all the videos where the people are being hosed off. And it’s still being used right now as a hospital. There’s still doctors there taking care of people but now those doctors are working for the government instead of working for Jaish al-Islam terrorists.

So I spoke to one of the doctors. He was a doctor in training right now, and he was on duty at the time of the attack that day. And I asked him what he saw that day and he told me that it was a routine day for him. He said it was very dusty that day, so a lot of people were coming in coughing. You know just irritation to the throat and things like that. And normal war injuries because you know it was part of the war zone occupied by the terrorists. And they said that there was nothing out of the ordinary, and while they were going about their rounds suddenly – out of nowhere – they said a bunch of strangers burst into the room screaming that there was a chemical attack.

And they brought in allegedly victims and started hosing them down with water. And so the doctors you know they freaked out and they grabbed hoses and started helping. And the strangers who brought in the victims were videotaping everything… they brought in cameras and they were filming everything and as soon as they’d washed everybody off and stuff, they packed up and they left. And that was the end of it.

[from 5:50 mins]

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Vanessa Beeley:

Independent journalist Vanessa Beeley has been reporting events on the ground in Syria for many years. On the Ron Paul Liberty Report broadcast today, she spoke with presenter Daniel McAdams who asked what she was hearing about events in Douma. She says that Robert Fisk’s report is in line with testimony broadcast by Arabic channels given by two doctors who said they were inside the hospital at the time of the alleged attack:

So basically Robert Fisk has gone in and through talking to civilians there he is confirming the same narrative that this was definitely a staged event.

The US and the UK and France are claiming that they have this sort of “secret evidence” but they don’t seem to be able to get much beyond the social media chatter, which The Pentagon was also basing its entire findings upon.

[from 8:10 mins]

Daniel McAdams: But what do you make of the gruesome pictures of bodies, particularly of children’s bodies? You know we have seen them. People will say well how can you dispute this: look at these bodies.

Vanessa Beeley: Look this is very difficult to say without actually having been in there and without actually talking to people. But one thing has to be made very clear: Jaish al-Islam, which is he Saudi-financed group that was occupying Douma, had held thousands of prisoners, many of them kidnapped in Adra, an area to the north, in 2013 (women and children).

It’s very difficult to speculate because as I say I haven’t spoken to civilians there to see whether the scenes that you’re seeing were filmed – you know of the bodies themselves – certainly there are a lot of anomalies about those images. I mean I think even one BBC researcher [I will add the name when I have it] pointed out the fact that the bodies had been rearranged after the initial event. They’d been moved and placed in a position for the greatest photographic impact.

Now when I was in another area of Eastern Ghouta in Zamalka which was one of the areas affected in 2013 by the then alleged chemical weapon attack, I did speak to civilians who told me of the staging of events and of the kidnapping of children to be used in those events – the drugging of those children and the fact that many parents there who lost children in these alleged [chemical weapons] attacks did not see their children before they were buried.

So what I’m in the process of doing right now is just piecing together the testimonies that I’m getting from these various areas in Eastern Ghouta. So it’s very hard to draw firm conclusions right now, but certainly it’s looking as if many of these events were staged. Many of them were you know psyops basically to facilitate further military intervention on a humanitarian basis.

[from 8:35 mins]

I will try to update this post as and when there are further reports.

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Update:

German ZDF correspondent, Uli Gack, travelled to Syria and visited one of the refugee camps near Damacus “where over 20,000 people escaped from eastern areas – and above all from Douma”. On the basis of received testimony, he reported differently to the accounts embedded above although as he did confirm on April 20th on ZDF Heute that “this whole story on April 7th was staged”.

Presenter: “You were in a big refugee camp today and talked to a lot of people. What did you hear about the attack?”

Uli Gack: “We just came back from Harjalla. This is a place about five kilometers away from here, and where over 20,000 people escaped from eastern areas – and above all from Douma. And the people there told us in a tone of conviction, that this whole story on 7 April was staged by ISIS. They said that this place of action was a command post of the Islamists. There, the Islamists had set up chlorine containers and, in general, just waited for this highly interesting target for the Syrian air force to be bombed – that’s what happened. And the chlorine gas tanks exploded. And people also assert with conviction that there were several such provocations in Douma. They also tell us of a so-called exercise by ISIS, where different people had been exposed to chlorine gas, that was filmed and then was given as material evidence that was published on 7th April. Whether that is true or not, I would not stick my neck out for every sentence, but somehow there seems to be something to it.”

Presenter: “But if this is the case why would the Russians want to prevent the inspectors from carrying out their examinations? Is that not a total contradiction?”

Uli Gack: “It is a complete contradiction. Absolutely. But if we look at places like Homs or Aleppo or, lastly, Mosul, you have to look at their underground tunnels which are like Swiss cheese and where, weeks later, again and again organized cells break out of the ground and carry out attacks or armed raids, then there is still some danger for this inspection team. And that’s why Russia says it just cannot leave people there lest that is the case. Whether that’s true or not, whether there’s something to it, we don’t know but in fact, the longer time passes since April 7th, the harder it is to detect potentially degraded chlorine gas, and it’s likely to be nearly impossible to determine authorship.”

Presenter: “Many thanks. Uli Gack.”

[This translation is courtesy of the youtube uploader.]

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On April 18th Sputnik released an interview of 11 year-old Hassan Diab who had featured in the hospital footage shot by the White Helmets:

They also spoke with Baraa Badran who works at the hospital. He told them: “we didn’t see any chemical attack symptoms here” [from 2:00 mins].

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Further Update:

More recently both Vanessa Beeley and Canadian journalist Eva Bartlett visited Saqba in eastern Ghouta where they reported on a large building complex formerly occupied by the White Helmets. This site is located just a few hundred yards from the bomb making factory of Faylaq al-Rahman where mortars and missiles were manufactured ready to fire on civilians in Damascus.

Eva Bartlett writes:

Corporate media does not deign to report that over 11,000 civilians were killed in Damascus alone by such mortar and missile attacks. Hardest hit were Damascus’ old city, where I’ve spent weeks and weeks in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and now 2018. Thankfully, unlike prior years, now the old city is not being pounded daily by these mortars. But in prior years, the attacks on civilian areas was relentless and brutal. Following are links related to such attacks.

Click here to read Eva Bartlett’s full report on her own website In Gaza.

Vanessa Beeley discusses the same complex in a highly-informative interview given on May 1st on UK Column news [from 39:40 mins]:

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On May 11th, Eva Bartlett discussed her visit to Douma in an interview with Dan Dicks of Press for Truth:

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This quote was also added as an update.

Cockburn continues:

“A telling instance of this new authoritarianism is the denunciations of a party of Christian clergy and peers who have been visiting Syria to meet church dignitaries and government officials. This is an understandable mission for concerned British Christians because Christians in Syria can do with all the solidarity they can get as they are forced to flee or are kidnapped or murdered by Isis, al-Qaeda or the Muslim Brotherhood. Like many Syrians, they see their choice as not being between good and bad but between bad and worse. They generally prefer survival under Assad to likely extinction under his enemies.

“Visiting embattled members of the depleted Christian community in Syria is a good thing to do. And, yes, it could be said that the presence of British Christians in Damascus is very marginally helpful to Assad, in much the same way that Peter Arnett’s truthful report on the baby milk in Abu Ghraib must have pleased Saddam Hussein. The Foreign Office said the Christians’ visit was “not helpful” but then helping the British state should not be their prime concern.

“None of the arguments currently being used in Britain and the US to smear those sceptical of the governmental and media consensus are new. The Bolsheviks used to denounce people who said or did things they did not like as “objectively” being fascists or counter-revolutionaries. When those being denounced, often only a preliminary to being shot, replied that they were no such thing, the Bolsheviks would reply: “tell us who supports you and we will tell you who you are”. In other words, the only thing that matters is what side you are on.”

From an article entitled “In Middle East Wars It Pays to be Skeptical” written by Patrick Cockburn published in Counterpunch on April 23, 2018. https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/04/23/in-middle-east-wars-it-pays-to-be-skeptical/  

 

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How We Were Misled About Syria: Channel 4 News

Tim Hayward

Difficulties faced news organisations attempting to cover events in the war in Syria, particularly in the eastern part of Aleppo when under siege. Western journalists had stopped even trying to enter that area for fear of being kidnapped, or worse, at the hands of one or other of the armed factions holding the area. International relief agencies and NGO’s were not to be found on the ground either, for the same reasons.

This is one of the two main problems for media coverage of Syria that Eva Bartlett highlighted at a UN press conference in November 2016 when talking about her first hand experience of conditions in Aleppo.[1] Asked by a journalist from a mainstream publication why she seemed to be challenging ‘all these absolutely documentable facts that we’ve seen from the ground’, she pointed out that he was referring to a hearsay narrative, not facts, because ‘sources…

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first-hand accounts from the US Peace Council and other non-aligned observers of the ‘civil war’ in Syria

What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know. It’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so — Mark Twain 

In July, the US Peace Council sent a delegation to Syria for a week-long visit to meet with secular and religious leaders. They returned to the US and gave a press briefing at the UN on August 9th in which they denounced the entire US/western depiction and narrative of Syria as a propagandist lie:

“What we saw in Damascus and what we saw in the two villages outside Damascus belies the propaganda that has overwhelmed us. [Yet] it’s hard for even those of us who have been in the peace movement for a long time – it’s hard for us to ignore this propaganda – it is so well-orchestrated.”

I have produced a comprehensive transcript of the briefing which is attached as an addendum.

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The journey from Homs however is a profound experience, for it involves hours of travelling across expansive plains, through miles of destroyed and deserted villages and towns that had been occupied, terrorised and destroyed by Islamist fighters, and the battles that ensued. Most of the millions of internally displaced who fled to the comparative safety of government-controlled areas, and refugees who have fled the country fled early in the fighting, both because of the brutality of the rebel groups, and because of the government bombing of the enemy. But none of us realised the extent of destruction which had been done at the hands of the fighters, who would destroy the homes and factories of anyone who opposed them.

As we passed through the deserted destroyed streets of one large town, we saw graffiti insulting a local Saudi Sheikh who had preached the Wahhabi ideology, and who had encouraged the town to rise up against the secular government. Throughout our visit, people in different places told us that one of the factors leading to the uprising had been the influence of Wahhabi doctrine on the thousands of Syrians who had gone to Saudi Arabia to work and study prior to the conflict. This was an insight of which I had not been previously aware.

writes Revd. Andrew Ashdown who led an entirely separate British delegation on a visit to Syria just one month ago at the start of September. The group, which included two cross-bench members of the house of Lords: Baroness Caroline Cox and Lord Raymond Hylton, had been invited by the Grand Mufti of Syria, Dr. Hassoun; Bishop Armash Nalbandian, Armenian Archbishop of Damascus; Bishop Audo of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Aleppo;  and Revd. Harout Selimien, President of the Armenian Evangelical Church in Syria.

Following visits to Damascus and Maaloula, the party journeyed onwards to Homs and Aleppo. This is Ashdown’s account of what they found in Aleppo:

Arriving in Aleppo from the Castello Rd is a bewildering experience. After passing through miles of destroyed suburbs, (formerly occupied by ‘rebels’, but now secured by the Syrian army) the road into town very suddenly becomes like any other city. Within the space of a hundred metres, empty ruins become tree-lined, car-filled boulevards, cafes, shops, Churches and mosques. The media give the impression that the whole city of Aleppo is destroyed. This is far from the truth. Large areas are, but two thirds of the city still stands, and in this city, constantly shelled by rebel-held areas, where death and destruction is a threat from all sides, a veneer of ordinary life goes on. Arriving at sunset, less than five hundred metres from an area that looks like a scene from Armageddon, people were out in the streets and the cafes were full. This is government-controlled Aleppo, where 1.5 million people live. These people are not being bombed by Assad. Rather the Syrian Army is protecting them, no matter to which sectarian or faith community they belong. These people are very grateful that the long siege of the city imposed by the rebels, which received barely any attention in the international media is now over.

The scenes of devastation that we see on our TV screens are real, but they are only a part of the story. The narratives we hear about on our media are exclusively reported from the rebel side, where an estimated 200,000 people struggle to survive. Of those, 50,000 are fighters, many of them foreign and most belonging to extremist factions, and the remainder are mainly families of those fighters. Most of the resident population of those areas have long since fled, either to the safety of the government-held areas, or have fled the country. […]

The Syrians we met asked if the world knew what was going on in Aleppo. I could only respond that as far as people knew, the whole city was destroyed, and that the government are bombing, shelling and gassing their own people. They were both amused and exasperated. They said that the rebels had used gas, not the government. It is also an extremely common view in Syria (and often repeated by those in Aleppo themselves) that the people whom the government are bombing in the city, are not civilians, but are almost exclusively terrorists and their families. The 1.5 million civilians living in the comparative ‘safety’ of the government-held areas of the city are exhausted by the constant shelling and ‘hell-fire canon’ attacks of the rebels, and are keen for the government to win the war.

Continuing:

In the afternoon, we met with the Governor of Aleppo who told us of the efforts being made to receive what civilians are left in rebel-controlled areas.  He mentioned the many stories of people who are wanting to leave those areas, being prevented from doing so, and some being killed for wanting to do so.  He despaired of the international media’s misrepresentation of the realities on the ground.

Afterwards we were incredibly lucky to visit the Senior Doctor’s Council of Aleppo. This was a last minute arrangement, and by chance we interrupted a meeting of the Senior Executive of Aleppo Doctors. The doctors were glad to interrupt their meeting and welcomed us warmly, saying they were delighted we had come to see the situation. The group that were present included representatives of different medical specialities. The first thing we asked was about the regular media reports that there are only a few doctors left in Aleppo and that the last paediatrician was killed in a government airstrike. They laughed.

“Firstly you must understand that there is a media war against Syria, so you won’t hear about what’s happening in Government-controlled areas. Actually, there are 250 paediatricians currently active in Aleppo. The one that was killed is not on any register as a doctor of this city. Nor is the ‘Al Quds’ hospital that was supposedly destroyed known in Aleppo it all. It was probably a temporary field clinic set up by the terrorists. When they say that a ‘hospital’ has been targeted by the government, they are usually temporary field-clinics; they are not registered clinics or hospitals. Today, there are 4,260 doctors in Aleppo of which 3,150 are active. Of these, about 1,500 are specialists. Since the start of the conflict, 20 registered hospitals have been destroyed by the terrorists (these are not mentioned in the western media). But there are still 6 active public hospitals and about 40 small private hospitals in the city. At the moment we have a huge shortage of medicines and equipment in both public and private hospitals, including MRI machines. Our priorities are spare parts for equipment. Most of the aid given by the WHO and by other agencies, and all the resources given by Saudi Arabia and Turkey goes to the terrorists, not to the citizens of the city.”

Click here to read Ashdown’s full diary and a summary of the findings of his own delegation which concludes as follows:

While almost all media coverage in the West focuses on the devastating effects of military offensives by Government forces, in just one day during our visit (September 5th) the following attacks by the armed Opposition inflicting indiscriminate death and injury included:

Four car bombs at Homs with 12 killed and 30 injured; in Tartus 45 killed and 100 wounded; in the Damascus countryside, 3 killed and 12 wounded; in Hasaka, 6 killed and 20 wounded.

This is only a part of the daily toll of death and injury inflicted by Opposition forces on civilians, such as the shelling of the University in Aleppo by 4 missiles on the day we were there.

Already, we have been accused of spouting ‘government propaganda’.  No. We travelled to Syria to listen to the voices of Syrian people and we have met hundreds from across the respective communities in the country. Personally, this is my fifth visit to the country since April 2014, and the messages remain consistent and widespread. What we are sharing is not ‘government propaganda’ at all, but the voices of ordinary Syrians. Anyone who thinks otherwise is showing their ignorance!

I would repeat the cry of most Syrians we have met. Come and visit us and see the reality for yourselves. I have seriously wondered whether the enormous pressure put upon us by both government and Church figures NOT to visit Syria, is precisely because they do not want us to see and hear the truth, simply because it does not ally with the deliberate misrepresentation the international community is conveying to achieve their own agendas.

I hope and pray that any ceasefire leads to a true and lasting peace. I also hope and pray that the international community will adjust their policies to consider the real needs and wishes of the Syrian people, and that we do not use the ‘provision of aid’ as a means of rearming militant factions to further prolong the war. The goal of everyone should be the restoration of peace; the rebuilding of the country; the respect of plurality and development of reform; and the reconciliation and healing of souls, which will be the most difficult task. Enough of fuelling war. Let us end the policy of violence, and truly seek the path of peace, and listen first to the voices of the people themselves.

[bold emphasis added]

Andrew Ashdown was interviewed about his experiences by Mike Robinson for UK Column on Thursday 6th. The interview is embedded below:

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Eva Bartlett is Canadian freelance journalist and activist who spent more than three years living in Gaza documenting Palestinian life under Israeli rule. Since 2014, she has undertaken four trips to Syria and following her latest visit gave an extended interview to Sign of the Times Media [September 2nd] which is embedded below:

Click here to read more on her blog In Gaza.

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Vanessa Beeley is a British investigative journalist and photographer. The daughter of Sir Harold Beeley, Middle Eastern Advisor to Labour Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin, she too has been a frequent visitor to the Gaza Strip and campaigner for Palestinian rights.

Vanessa Beeley was a member of the US Peace Council delegation that visited Syria in July (see above). After the main contingent returned, however, she journeyed onward and continued with her own investigation. Here is an interview she gave on Liberty Report in late September shortly after returning:

Click here to read more on her blog thewallwillfall.

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Addendum: transcript of US Peace Council speaking at UN

It was quite evident to us over the several years that what we were hearing and reading from the press was obviously confusing the American people and the peace movement – the large vocal anti-war movement that exists in our country. We saw the same pattern of ever other invasion where the leadership of the country was demonised and therefore used as an excuse to intervene in the internal affairs. Our organisation, US Peace Council, is a firm advocate of the United Nations Charter, with deep respect for the sovereignty of all countries; respecting the rights of the peoples of those countries to determine their own destiny.

It was our consideration that we had to reach out to the US peace movement and ask that they participate in a delegation to Syria to see for themselves what existed, to speak to both officials and non-officials, [and] civil society, to try to determine for themselves independently, the situation in Syria and the road to peace. That is our responsibility. Our responsibility is to reach out first to the US peace movement and then to the American people.

The campaign to confuse the American people has been intense. And it is our purpose to try to bring some light – some understanding – which can perhaps lead to the American people demanding an end to the intervention and peace in Syria.

We reached out to many peace organisations in our country to try to get a broad delegation to go. I would be less than honest if I did not say that some did not come because they were fearful of going into a warzone. Others demonstrated a confusion that does exist because of reading the propaganda and the barrage of, unfortunately, the media which gives such a one-sided story. We feel we have that obligation. And it is a tribute to those who went that they overcame those obstacles and agreed to go and, may I point out, paid their own way to go.

– Alfred Marder, President of the US Peace Council [3:00 mins on]

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I think what Alfred said is so true: we are fighting a mass of propaganda that has demonised the Syrian government, demonised its leaders. An effort that precedes every other intervention that the United States has made over the course of many, many decades. In order to convince people that it’s okay for quote-unquote “humanitarian reasons” to overthrow a government, and to replace it with whatever. The United States prefers a government that is not independent, that is a willing participant in whatever US policy is. So what we saw in Damascus and what we saw in the two villages outside Damascus belies the propaganda that has overwhelmed us. It’s hard for even those of us who have been in the peace movement for a long time – it’s hard for us to ignore this propaganda – it is so well-orchestrated.

We spoke to members of industry – the chamber of industry. We spoke to leaders in the student union – the national student union. We spoke with NGOs that are involved with taking care of the orphans of those who have died in this war on both sides. They don’t discriminate. Orphans are orphans: whatever side they were fighting on these young people have to be taken care of. We spoke with an NGO that trains women (who don’t have a skill in sewing) because they lost the breadwinner in their family. We spoke to an NGO where they’re trying to deal with reconciliation and trying to make sure supplies get to the country that is under the control of the terrorists – the mercenaries.

And we make a distinction between opposition – the political opposition with whom we also met – and the terrorists and the mercenaries with whom we did not meet. We met people in Syria who work non-violently to bring about change. We learned of their efforts to bring about change working in opposition to the government, working with the government, but non-violently.

We met with government officials. We met with the Minister of Administration. We met with the Ministry of Health. We met with the Minister of Reconciliation: a whole approach to bringing back those Syrians who have for one reason or another joined the mercenaries and the terrorists. […]

We saw for ourselves the damage that was done to the university. Even while we were there a shell fell into the School of Architecture killing students and faculty. And the students themselves were rebuilding the damage. We saw villages that are basically Christian villages that have been besieged by the terrorists but have now been liberated. And the damage done to a shrine in a village called Maaloula, which is a village where they still speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus. And the attacks on the Christian population.

One of the things I bring back – there are two things I want to mention finally, that we feel are really important – one is that while the United States would like to divide the Syrians up by religion, or within a religion by the different beliefs within that religion, there wasn’t a Syrian we talked to who would accept that. We spoke to the Grand Mufti and he said people ask me how many Muslims there are in Syria, and his response is always 23 million. That’s the population of Syria. And when we spoke to the bishop of one of the Orthodox churches he answered the same thing. The number of Christians is 23 million. We will not allow ourselves to be divided up the way that the United States has divided up the people of Iraq or Libya or Afghanistan or so many other countries. We won’t allow that. And that unity, I believe, has led to the ability of the Syrians to withstand an invasion by the most powerful country in the world and its most powerful allies in Europe [and] its most powerful allies in the Middle East. With what is a vicious attack on the Syrian people.

The second is the sanctions. I have to admit that I did not know before I went that the United States has imposed sanctions on Syria in a way that’s similar to the sanctions the United States imposed on Iraq in the 1990s, in order to weaken that country and that government, that the United States admits killed 500,000 children in Iraq (during the 1990s sanctions). That set of sanctions means that the Syrian people cannot get medicines that they desperately need, that they cannot get factory parts that they need to maintain their economy, they can’t get infant formula and many other things. Their students cannot go abroad. Their lawyers are separated from the rest of the international legal system because of those sanctions.

These sanctions are not reported in the US media to my knowledge and we need to know about them. These sanctions are another way to weaken the Syrian government and the Syrian state.

— Henry Lowendorf, Member of the Executive Board of the US Peace Council, Head of the Syria Delegation [7:30 mins on]

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I went to Syria because I thought it was important to learn from the Syrian people themselves what was actually happening in Syria because there has not been a focussed enough response by the peace movement in the United States to what’s been going on in Syria.

I can’t add a whole lot to what Henry and Al have said but I want to make this one particular point because I think it’s very important and it gets to the core of everything that’s going on. This is not a civil war in Syria. That’s probably the first thing we heard and we heard it over and over again. It is not President Assad against his own people. It is President Assad and the Syrian people all together in unity against outside forces – outside mercenary forces – terror organisations. And the names change every day, or every other day, to try to protect their identity and maybe keep the connection between the country that funded it and that group a little more nebulous. But there are groups – mercenary forces – supported by Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United States, and underneath it Israel – the state of Israel. And these outside mercenary forces are the ones that are terrorising the Syrian people and are attempting to divide the Syrian people.

I remember when the US invaded Iraq. Our organisation was against it well before the invasion ever began. But once the invasion was over and the United States was setting up a government we talked to many Iraqis who said: we’re not Sunni and Shia; we’re not Sunni, Shia and Kurds; but the United States is trying to divide us that way. And we got exactly the same message when we were in Syria. We are Syrians. As Henry said before: whether you are Christian, Muslim or other you are Syrian; and that’s one of the things that enabled the Assad government to withstand five-plus years of this kind of outside attack.

When it was time for the US to unseat Saddam Hussein after years of sanctions and two wars, he fell like that [click of fingers]. When it was time the United States decided for Gaddafi to go he fell like that [click of fingers]. But when it was time the United States decided for Assad to go, he did not fall. And why? Because he has the support of 23 million Syrian people – and it was more before all these refugees were created and sent around the world.

The whole idea of regime change – the policy of regime change – is illegal under international law. The United States has no right to do that. The United States has no right to decide for the Syrian people who their government leaders should be. And so during my time there in Syria I felt over and over again “who are we?”, “why are we presuming to know what’s best for the Syrian people?”

And the other part of this that I think the people of United States need to know is that the Assad government provides free healthcare – free universal healthcare to everyone. It’s part of the government’s mission. Free education for everyone from primary school all the way through, even to university and medical school. And when we met with this one particular person from the non-violent opposition, we asked him, well tell us, what are some of your grievances with the Assad government, and he said, well, you just heard that it costs about $50 a year for people going to medical school, we think that’s too high. He was being somewhat facetious, of course, but these are the kinds of policies that our citizens here in the United States are calling for: tuition free college; universal healthcare. So the Assad government is in the business of doing this and providing this to the people. And without a doubt, even the non-violent opposition parties, who had issues with democracy or corruption prior to 2011, everyone has thrown themselves in behind the Assad government because that’s the best hope, the best bet for the Syrian people.

Lastly, I think I want to echo what Henry said, that to a person, people ask that the sanctions be lifted. While we were there someone came and said a certain pharmaceutical company which name I forget at the moment was refusing to send childhood immunisations from the United States to Syria causing great harm to Syrian people. That’s not how this country or any country should act within the world’s community. So the sanctions, as we’ve learned many times, do not hurt the governments they’re intended to hurt, they hurt people – and so, they need to be lifted.

We also heard that the border between Turkey and Syria needs to be closed so that this pipeline of trained groups – terror groups – is blocked, and no more of those groups get into Syria. And finally, that the United States needs to stop supporting some of those outside terror groups. All of the support for the outside terror groups needs to be withdrawn. And allow the Syrians to fend for themselves. The Syrian Arab Army is fighting for its life and fighting for the life of Syria, and we need as a country to acknowledge our role – what we’re doing to cause harm and destruction to the Syrian people – and we need to stop it, and we need to stop it now, and that’s one of the things I’ll be saying over and over again since my return from Syria.

— Madelyn Hoffman, Executive Director of New Jersey Peace Action, Member of the Syria Delegation [16:30 mins on]

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I have been a human rights and a peace activist as long as I can remember… I was honoured to be asked to be part of this delegation. […]

As an American citizen it is shameful for me to admit what my government is doing in the sovereign country of Syria. We have no right to impose these illegal sanctions. In fact, these sanctions, allegedly the government says, are against the government of Syria, but in fact, it’s against the people – civil society. People who are attempting to maintain the infrastructure, the healthcare, the safety of all Syrian people. One of the things that stood out to me is not only the lack of medication [but] the fact that Syrian children are dying because they can’t get chemotherapy med[icine] into the country, because of the illegal sanctions that the US and the West has imposed.

Also, they’re not allowing parts and materials to get to businesses who are trying to maintain. And they are trying to maintain for more than one reason – not just to continue to make money, but to employ people. Because when people have no way to earn a living they become desperate. And we know that some of the Syrian people who may have chosen to join the terrorists [did so] mostly for economic reasons, because they couldn’t earn a living. And their benefactors, the US and all the others who are collaborating together to fund this terrorism, are paying people very well to participate in this illegal activity against the Syrian people.

So there are so many ways – subtle ways – that the US sanctions are affecting the Syrians. And when we spoke the business people, they mentioned to us that we are desperately trying to stay in business, we’re desperately trying to keep our people employed, so they don’t become desperate, and they don’t then feel like they have no other choice.

Something else that’s very important is that we did have the opportunity to speak with civil society – not just all of the official organisations. And we met with people who have witnessed, and lived through, and shared their experiences with the mercenaries and explained unspeakable things that I’m not going to go into detail about what those were, but it was very difficult to sit in the presence of someone whose child was assassinated, whose niece was kidnapped and is still missing, whose daughter was raped – kidnapped, raped and then sent back – male and female rapes we heard about.

So this is what the US is financing. This is what the US is backing. And this is not okay. And as a citizen, beyond being a peace and human rights activist, I will not be silent about what I learned, and we have to take responsibility for what’s happening in this country, and the lack of morality when it comes to our foreign policy, and what we are doing elsewhere.

I do want to say that we had almost a two hour meeting with President Assad which we were all very grateful for. After listening to all the voices of civil society groups and officials that we met with, if you think about it, it makes no sense what the US and western media is reporting. It makes no sense that Assad, who is trying to maintain the infrastructure and look toward the future for the Syrian people, would be the one destroying hospitals, and all these places that the US media and western media is saying he is the one responsible for destroying. Just doesn’t make sense. He is interested in the future for Syria. He told us flat out, when this is over with we can have another election, [and] if they don’t want me, they don’t want me, that’s fine. But for now, I have been elected to lead this country and that is what I will do.

The last piece I want to talk about is, you know, having been a student and scholar of restorative and transitional justice for many years, I was really very, very impressed and excited about the fact that they have a Ministry of Reconciliation. That even in the middle of the trauma that Syrian people are involved with at this point, they are looking towards the future and they are dealing with people in a restorative and healing way already. So if some Syrian citizen has joined the mercenaries and if they put down their arms, they are welcomed back into Syrian society. They are fed and their families are fed and restorative justice techniques are being used so that you don’t have a group of Syrians now who are feeling outside of society. So everything I have said, I will continue to say and I will continue to share with other people. And I feel now, since I have been there, we are now capable of sharing truth that unfortunately our media has not been offering the world, and we intend not to be silent from here forward.

— Donna Nassor, Professor and Lawyer also part of US Peace Council [23:30 mins on]

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I am reminded of the famous comment by the American writer Mark Twain who once said that it’s not what we don’t know that gets us into trouble, what gets us into trouble is what we think we know for sure that just ain’t so. And that’s what I think of when I think of my fellow Americans and what they know about Syria – and what they think they know about the war and the Syrian government and the Syrian leadership. What they think they know, just ain’t so. So we have to take that on, because we’re getting into trouble.

Our delegation came to Syria with political views and assumptions, but we were determined to be sceptics, and to doubt everything – meet everyone we could – and to confirm or disconfirm received opinion, conventional wisdom, and to follow the facts wherever they led us. I concluded a number of things from the trip: I won’t go over things that my colleagues have already mentioned.

The motive, in my opinion, of the US war is to destroy an independent Arab secular state. It’s the last secular Arab state standing, and it wants a client regime like Libya, like Iraq, like a number of other countries you could mention. The US hostility to independent Syria long precedes 2011, the beginning of the war.

US, I concluded, claims to be against ISIS, but yet has been loathed to fight a really consistent fight against terrorism. Certain privileged groups such as the al-Nusra Front – the names shift – are called ‘moderate rebels’ because they fight the Syrian government, and the US wants that. They are not moderate: they beheaded a twelve year-old boy when we were there – we saw it on youtube and on TV.

The motives of the US proxy states are somewhat different: sectarian motives and regional power rivalries affect Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The Wahhabist ideology, the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood, is a sick, medieval, backward ideology, it drives the Saudi state, it motivates that state to finance this war, and Damascus by contrast promotes a socially inclusive and pluralistic form of Islam – and we met the leaders of that form of Islam and they are humane and democratic-minded people, and have every reason to join with the American people in stopping this insane support for Wahhabism, which is behind so much terrorism in the world.

Those of my fellow countrymen who are dogmatic about Assad demonisation are not going to like what I have to say now, which is that the Syrian government is popular and for that reason it is winning the war. The battle for Aleppo will probably be decided soon – relatively soon – and may be the last hurrah, in my opinion, of the foreign mercenaries. The president is popular. His government is recognised as legitimate by the UN. It contests and wins elections. The elections are monitored. There’s a parliament which contains opposition parties – we met them. There is a significant non-violent opposition, which is trying to work constructively for its own social vision. Some of it is inside the government, which in effect is a government of national unity; some of it is in the parliament – we met them. The Minister of Reconciliation deals directly with armed groups, and he’s an opposition leader.

So let me conclude. The US policy on Syria regime change is not wrong in its details, it is wrong in its fundamentals. It is wrong, root and branch. It violates the UN Charter. It violates international law. The US is bombing parts of Syria without the consent of legitimate government – that violates international law. The sanctions violate international law. […]

I think, out of our trip flows certain tasks. I think it is the task of the US anti-war movement to unite around a different vision than what it has united around thus far. Thus far it has united around a feeble vision that is partly false: that partly accepts the dominant State Department, corporate media narrative. We must directly and forthrightly challenge US policy if we are to shift US public opinion. Some organisations alas buy into the dominant mainstream media narrative. They have not covered themselves in glory by so doing.

This is a dangerous moment. Without mentioning names, apparently the leading candidate for president is surrounded by military advisors who are talking about ‘no-fly zones’, which means air-war against the Syrian airforce and the Russians, or ‘boots on the ground’ which means US invasion. If we’re not frightened by that talk, we should be (frightened by that talk). This is a dangerous moment. We have to change the basic US policy, we need a different anti-war movement, and we must begin to shift US public opinion.

— Joe Jamison, Member of the Executive Board of the US Peace Council, Member of the Syria Delegation [30:00 mins on]

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Widely attributed although unsourced.

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Where is the West’s compassion and condemnation following terror attacks in Middle East?

When other broadcasters were reporting on today’s terrorist bombings in Damascus that killed at least 50 people and injured more than hundred, BBC news at 1:00 pm was devoted instead to tributes to former radio DJ and TV presenter Terry Wogan who died from cancer aged 77.

At five o’clock (shortly before I  began reposting the article below) BBC news was still devoting almost its entire broadcast to tributes and features on Terry Wogan, whilst the victims of the Damascus suicide bombings received only the briefest mention as part of a three or four minute slot which covered the Geneva talks. Then it was back to the tributes. A stark contrast to the media outcry after atrocities are committed on the streets of Western Europe, or whenever similar numbers of innocent victims are murdered in a American shooting.

This is more than hypocrisy, it is propaganda by omission. The silence is calculated and deliberate.

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Where is the West’s compassion & condemnation following terror attacks in Middle East?

Zein Abudllah, 8, injured by shrapnel to his face in the December 12, 2015, triple terrorist bombing in al-Zahra’a, Homs. © Eva Bartlett

Report by Eva Bartlett

Facebook users were not instructed to do so, but may nonetheless wish to change their profile pictures in solidarity with the families and friends of victims of recent terrorist attacks.

A great many of the victims were aspiring university students, others were school teachers, children, infants, parents, and elderly. Their bodies were torn apart in the acts of violence, many unidentifiable.

Most of these innocent victims will go unnamed, their murders obfuscated, or largely unnoticed, in Western media.

Consider the following cycle of carnage:

On November 12, 2015, a double suicide bomb ripped through the Bourj al-Barajneh neighbourhood of southern Beirut, killing 45 and injuring 200 more, many critically so. The terrorists attacked just before 6 pm, on a narrow and crowded residential and commercial street, ensuring maximum loss of life. More would have been murdered had not a local man, Adel Termos, tackled an approaching suicide bomber. Termos lost his life in the blast, but saved countless others with his act of courage.

On December 12, 2015, terrorists car-bombed, then suicide-bombed, the al-Zahra’a neighborhood of Homs, Syria, killing at least 16 civilians and injuring over 50, according to initial reports from Syrian State media (later updates noted 20 dead and over 100 injured). The deaths and destruction from the initial car-bombing—near the Ahli Hospital—was made worse since the terrorists set off their bomb next to a natural gas delivery truck. Later, a terrorist returned to the scene and detonated his explosive vest among rescuers who had come to help the injured.

Site of the terrorist car-bombing on December 12, 2015, in al-Zahra’a, Homs.

This pattern repeated itself on December 28, 2015, in al-Zahra’a, where a car bomb followed by a suicide bomb, killed up to 30 civilians, and injured over 100, according to Syrian state media initial reports. Again, on January 26, terrorists car and suicide bombed al-Zahra’a, killing at least 24 and injuring over 100, many critically-so, according to Syrian state media.

The al-Zahra’a district of Homs had been terror-bombed many times prior to the December 12 attacks, as have other areas of Homs, including the Ekrama district, which suffered a school bombing on October 1, 2014. There, terrorists car and suicide-bombed next to the school, killed 45 people, mostly children and women, according to al-Masdar News. Video footage showed terrified, maimed and dead children being carried away from the school.

The terror attacks are not limited to Homs. Over the past 5 years of this foreign war on Syria, Western-backed militants have committed such acts of terrorism all over Syria. On December 30, 2015, members of Da’esh (ISIS) triple-bombed Qamishli, north-eastern Syria, remote-detonating explosives in three restaurants, killing at least 16 civilians. On January 24, 2016 Da’esh again terror-bombed the city, killing at least three people.

The list of terror attacks in Syria, and neighbouring Lebanon and Iraq, is an endless and long list. Yet, while the vast majority of the victims are civilians, their deaths do not merit the same front-page coverage as similar acts do in the West; the terror attacks do not merit the same statements of condemnation and outpouring of sorrow issued by Western leaders when terrorism strikes elsewhere.

Immense Suffering in Beirut and Homs

I paid a visit to Bourj al-Barajneh and al-Zahara, in November and December 2015, respectively. I witnessed firsthand their narrow roads with their destroyed buildings and homes, which emanated an immense suffering that most Western media glossed over.

The Bourj al-Barajneh tragedy occurred one day before the November 13 attacks in Paris, yet the latter attack on the French capital would make headlines for weeks following; Facebook users changed their profile photos to images of the French flag; world leaders – who were largely silent on Beirut’s tragedy the day prior, as well as the repeated terror attacks in Syria – convened in Paris to march in solidarity with the victims.

Western media’s coverage of the Beirut attack was loaded with sectarian lexicon, essentially relegating those murdered civilians as belonging to a “Hezbollah stronghold” or a “Shia neighborhood,” which to Western readers obscures the fact that – while indeed proudly supportive of Hezbollah – these are everyday humans who have been targeted by terrorism.

The Shia/Sunni Lebanese area is also home to many Christian and Palestinian residents. Visiting in the evening, as when the November 12 attacks occurred, I saw heavy pedestrian, motorcycle and automobile traffic along the narrow streets and lanes that host a number of shops and stalls.

Commercial and residential streets in the Bourj al-Barajneh area of Beirut which was double terror bombed November 12. © Eva Bartlett

At the site of the second explosion, residents had erected a memorial and large poster of Adel Termos, the young man who gave his own life to prevent further loss of lives. On the school door opposite, a photo of a Rawan Awad, a young teacher who was killed in the attacks. A local woman pointed to second-story windows, telling me, “the blood reached the windows up there, flesh, too. The blast was huge.” It was said to be the biggest explosion in Beirut for years.

Along the memorial were photos of other victims of these terror attacks: elderly, children, young men and women, victims of Western-backed terror and Western hypocrisy. Their lives didn’t merit worldwide sorrow and solidarity.

Adel Termos, the hero who prevented further loss of lives.

Je Suis… Blind and Deaf

The sting that the Lebanese people felt when the world’s attention was focused on Paris, the day after the massacre in Beirut, is a sting that Syrians have known deeply over the past five years.

Take the example of Homs’ al-Zahra’a. Any Western media reporting that does cover the repeated terrorist bombings of the neighborhood does so in sectarian and biased lexicon.

The neighbourhood is described as: “an Alawite” area; a “government-held” area (AP).

But it is not described in terms of its reality, a district comprising a majority of Alawis, but also significant numbers of Christians, Sunnis, and Shia, many of whom are Internally Displaced Syrians who have moved to this “government held” area after fleeing the terrorists’ violence in their own home areas of Aleppo, Idlib, and elsewhere.

The depiction of al-Zahra’a merely as “an Alawite” district is in line with the NATO alliance’s sectarian project in Syria, a sectarianism which the vast majority of Syrians continue to refuse. Depicting al-Zahra’a merely as a “government held” area feeds into the Western narrative of obfuscating on the vast amount of support for the Syrian president, and further confuses readers as to the civilian suffering at each terrorist attack in al-Zahra’a.

This human suffering I saw on a December 15, 2015 visit to the neighbourhood, meeting with family members of the dead.

On the second story of what was the shell of his home, teenager Yousef Abdullah walked me through the ruins of the three story home housing two families, outside of which the car bombing had occurred just days prior. It was he who carried out the body of his 17 year old cousin, Caroline, crushed under rubble on the ground level.

The small clothing shop on ground level belonged to Anaya Abbas, a 50, killed in the bombing. Her son, Alaa al-Hamwi, had only days prior returned to see his family. One of the Syrian soldiers defending the Kuweires airbase against terrorist attacks, the al-Hamwi family suffered doubly, from worry over their long absent son, and now from the murder of Anaya Abbas.

Visiting al-Zahra’a one sees a vividly different face, a tormented face, than that which the corporate media allows. Many human stories abound, if journalists care to convey them. The sad hypocrisy is that when terrorist attacks occur on Western soil, these human stories are conveyed, ad nauseam.

Homes opposite the terrorist car bombing blast in al-Zahra’a, Homs © Eva Bartlett

UN Selective on Terrorism

Syria’s Foreign and Expatriates Ministry has repeatedly issued letters to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) requesting that such acts of terrorism in Syria be officially condemned, and that action be taken against those states supporting, financing, and enabling terrorism in Syria, namely Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The letters specify that the terrorism being committed in Syria is not only by Da’esh (ISIS) but also by other terrorist groups, including “Jebhat al-Nusra, Jaish al-Islam, al-Jabha al-Islamiya, Jaish al-Fateh, Ahrar al-Cham,” and the so-called “Free Syrian Army”.

These letters are routinely ignored by UNSC and the Secretary-General, although they are based on the tenets of UN resolutions pertaining to terrorism.

In its latest letters, following the January 24, 2016 terror-bombings in al-Zahra’a, the Ministry noted the significance of their timing with respect to the upcoming Geneva talks.

Following the December 12, 2015 attacks, the Syrian Ministry sent their standard letters, requesting condemnation of the terrorism. The request was supported by Russia, with their own draft statement, which was rejected at the UNSC.

In the Face of Terror… You’re on Your Own

When the majority of the above-listed terror bombings have been claimed by Da’esh (ISIS), whom the West claims to be fighting, the glaring lack of condemnation of the Homs bombings, and the one-off condemnation of the Beirut bombings, reveals again the blatant hypocrisy of Western leaders.

In his November 13, 2015 address, President Obama, unsurprisingly, made no mention of either Beirut or Syria’s suffering under western-backed terrorists. Instead he called the Paris situation “heartbreaking” and uttered: “…we stand together with them in the fight against terrorism and extremism.”

Not to be outdone, Vice President Biden offered his “deepest condolences” and called the attacks “heartbreaking” “outrageous” and “tragic” and vowed, “We will look out for one another. We will stand together. We will never bow. We will never break. …We will respond. We will overcome. We will endure.”

In his November 21, 2015 address, Biden, in his opening remarks did actually mention the name “Beirut”, and commented, “in the face of terror we stand as one.” Yet, his address focused primarily on Paris—the “simple human acts” carried out by Parisians post Paris attack—and made no other mention of Beirut, nor the “simple human acts” carried out there. Like Beirut residents rushing to donate blood, post-attacks, for example.

Rather than addressing Beirut’s humanity, or even deigning to mention terror attacks carried out on Syrians throughout Syria, Biden used the rest of his address to talk about Syrian refugees and the “rigorous screening”, “fingerprinting” and background checks refugees go through to enter the US. In other words, he used his platform to negate true suffering in Syria, and instead subtly indoctrinate his audience into equating Syrians with terrorism.

Obama issued a proclamation “Honoring the Victims of the Attack in Paris” on November 15, 2015, ordering the US flag to be flown “at half-staff at the White House and upon all public buildings and grounds, at all military posts,”… and so on.

In a search of the Whitehouse.gov website, using key terms like: “Bourj Barajneh”, “Burj al-Barajneh”, “Beirut”, “Zahra”, “Zahraa”, “Homs” + bombing, I came up with just one match, aside from the above-mentioned November 21VP Biden’s uttering of the name “Beirut” before his ode to Paris.

The entry was a Statement by NSC Spokesperson Ned Price, on the day of the Bourj al-Barajneh attacks. Neither Obama, nor Biden, deigned to personally make this statement.

One paragraph, the statement “condemns in the strongest terms today’s horrific terrorist attacks in Beirut, Lebanon that killed dozens and wounded hundreds more. We offer our deepest condolences to the families and other loved ones of those killed and injured in this violence. The United States will stand firm with the Government of Lebanon as it works to bring those responsible for this attack to justice….”

Compare the fiery rhetoric in the Paris statements with this meek Beirut statement. Little sorrow was expressed, nor unwavering solidarity, nor “fighting against extremism.”

Such is Western hypocrisy towards those murdered by Western-supported death squads.

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Eva Bartlett is a freelance journalist and rights activist who has lived in the Gaza Strip since late 2008. She was aboard the Dignity, one of five Free Gaza missions to successfully sail to the Strip in 2008. Eva rode in ambulances during the 2008/2009 Israeli attacks on Gaza, and documented from a central Gaza hospital during the November 2012 Israeli attacks. She has worked extensively with Gaza’s fishermen and farmers, accompanying them as they come under fire from the Israeli army. She keeps a blog In Gaza. This report was also published by Russia Today on Jan 30, 2016.

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Last week Eva Bartlett did an interview with Brendan Stone on his programme, Unusual Sources. Their introduction:

“Guest: Eva Bartlett, Canadian journalist, who has visited Syria four times in the past three years.

Mainstream media reporting and NGO social-media posts about starvation in the Syrian village of Madaya are designed to elicit an emotional response and build support for military intervention in Syria. Reality on the ground there, and elsewhere in Syria is ignored.

Agitation about Madaya is propaganda in its purest form – telling part of the truth in order to obscure a larger picture. Falsehoods were definitely spread about Madaya, and citizens in the West need to start asking questions about the stories and reporting surrounding Madaya and other Syrian villages. That is, if we are serious about breaking the cycle of war propaganda justifying intervention in Iraq, Libya, Syria, and elsewhere.”

Listen HERE

I would like to thank Eva Bartlett for allowing me to repost this article.

Not all of the views expressed are necessarily views shared by ‘wall of controversy’.

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Filed under al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, Lebanon, Syria