Abdul-Jabbar’s Story

Destroyed houses in Killi

by M. B. Awan

The village of Killi lies in the north-west of Syria, near the Turkish border and has been free from the control of the Assad regime for well over a year. The overwhelming first impression gained from Killi and its’ people is that of euphoria over being free, symbolised by the nightly demonstrations which occur after the night prayers (taraweeh) in Ramadan. It was on one jubilant night after those demonstrations that the dark, human side to the price of freedom the people of Syria have and are having to pay was demonstrated to me by a brave and remarkable young man, Abdul Jabbar Abdul Kareem.

 

I was invited by a local teacher, whom had become a close friend of mine to his Uncle’s house. The aforementioned uncle had been imprisoned and tortured by Hafiz al-Assad, Bashar’s father in 1982 and his son had just been released by the Assad regime earlier that evening. A large crowd of locals had gathered in order to congratulate the family and hear the young man, Abdul Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s story. Abdul Jabbar looked like the average twenty-something that you would meet in any part of the world. He spoke about how they took him and tortured him. After most of the significant members of the gathering had left, I was granted an interview.

 

Abdul Jabbar, somewhat atypically for a victim of torture, was in good spirits and was remarkably composed when explaining what happened:

“I am a resident in Kelly and someone (probably in his place of work) informed the government about me, spreading lies, such that I was a terrorist, etc. I travel to Aleppo for work on a daily basis, so one day several months ago I was stopped at a checkpoint when my details came up on a wanted list. The army immediately seized and began to beat me, accusing me of being a terrorist; no questions were asked. I was then arrested and taken to a Military Security facility in Aleppo.”

 

There they kept him for 12 days. He was interrogated and tortured there for 1 hour, beaten, verbally abused (they cursed Allah, his God and his religion) and accused him of all sorts of crimes: that he was a terrorist, that he was a violent member of the revolution. He told the truth, despite being tortured, that he was innocent of everything he was accused of. After that he was transferred to an even worse stage of torture in Idlib (one of the main cities in the north of Syria), which all seemed to be planned to break him, in order to get him admit some crimes so they could torture him further. Once inside the military interrogation facility in Idlib, the torture and the conditions were far worse as was evident from the indignation in his face as he recounted this part of the story. Here he stayed for approximately 17 days (Abdul Jabbar is not exactly sure, because he didn’t see sunlight during this time). Two of those days were spent in a 1-metre square cell with four men. General population was little better; in dungeon like conditions; a room approximately 50 metres squared with 110 people inside. There was no natural light, one toilet and no running water. They were given water and bread twice a day. Fleas, lice and skin irritation were rampant due to the unhygienic conditions. He was blindfolded and led out for interrogation twice for 2-hour periods. The first time an officer in the army was present and the placed him in a reverse hanging position and accused him of various crimes (which he denied). The police then proceeded to beat him, verbally abuse his God, his family (mother, wife, daughters, sisters, etc.) and then let him hang in a painful stress position, while drinking alcohol and mocking him. This happened twice, although the second one seemed to consist mostly of a beating (he showed me where his hands had bled due to the pressure of the cuffs applied to him). Eventually, he was released when they determined that they had no evidence of any crime.

 

Even though he was an active participant of a truly popular revolution before his most recent dose of the Assad regime’s concept of justice, he is now even more determined to aid a revolution, which seeks to free the Syrian people from the shackles of a tyrant who has terrorised his population in the vein of his father since he took office in 2000.

Tough Times in Crucial Border Town Qusayr

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By Erika Solomon

BEIRUT | Thu May 30, 2013 10:20am BST

(Reuters) – Syrian rebels pleaded for military and medical aid in the embattled border town of Qusair on Thursday, saying they were unable to evacuate hundreds of wounded under an onslaught from government forces backed by Lebanese Hezbollah fighters.

President Bashar al-Assad launched an offensive to capture Qusair two weeks ago in what many see as a bid to cement a hold on territory from the capital Damascus up to his Alawite community heartland on the Mediterranean coast.

“We have 700 people wounded in Qusair and 100 of them are being given oxygen. The town is surrounded and there’s no way to bring in medical aid,” said Malek Ammar, an opposition activist in the besieged town.

Rebels in Qusair sent out an appeal for support using social media outlets, saying the town near the Syrian-Lebanese border – straddling supply lines critical to both sides in Syria’s civil war – could be devastated.

“If all rebel fronts do not move to stop this crime being led by Hezbollah and Assad’s traitorous army of dogs…, we will soon be saying that there was once a city called Qusair,” the statement said.

Syria’s two-year old conflict began as a peaceful protest movement but evolved into an armed insurrection after a violent security crackdown on demonstrators. More than 80,000 people have been killed and the violence is now stoking political and sectarian tensions in neighbouring countries.

Shi’ite Muslim Hezbollah is believed to have committed hundreds of guerrilla fighters, many of them with battle experience from a 2006 war with Israel, to help its ally Assad secure Qusair.

BOMBARDMENT

Fighters in Qusair said they were hearing at least 50 shells crashing every hour. Hezbollah and Syrian government forces appeared to be advancing more quickly after seizing the nearby Dabaa air base on Wednesday.

The Qusair fighting has intensified already simmering sectarian tensions. The rebels are mostly from Syria’s Sunni Muslim majority while minorities have largely backed Assad, himself from the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam.

Rebel units from different parts of Syria have said for days that they have sent fighters to support the opposition in Qusair, but rebels inside say none have made it into the town.

You Tube videos published by several units suggest some brigades have arrived around the outskirts of Qusair, a town of 30,000, but not advanced further.

Ahmad Bakar, a doctor in a hospital near Qusair, posted on appeal on Facebook for rebels to rush to help.

“We need immediate intervention from outside battalions. I swear to God no supplies have gotten through to us and we need a route to be opened to evacuate the wounded an civilians.”

Thousands of civilians are believed to have fled Qusair before the offensive began – Assad’s forces distributed leaflets by plane saying they would be attacking the town.

Some activists estimate Qusair’s civilian population was at about 20,000 when the offensive began.

“What we need them to do is come to the outskirts of the city and attack the checkpoints so we can get routes in and out of the city. Most of Qusair is surrounded,” said the activist Ammar, speaking by Skype from the town.

Among those who have come to try to help Qusair are fighters from radical Sunni Islamist groups such as Ahrar al-Sham and Jabhat al-Nusra, which is linked to al Qaeda.

Sunni rebel groups have threatened to commit sectarian revenge massacres in Shi’ite and Alawite towns both in Lebanon and Syria in retaliation for Hezbollah’s participation in the Qusair attack. They see the battle-hardened Hezbollah’s role as critical to Assad’s battlefield strength.

(Editing by Mark Heinrich)

source:

http://uk.reuters.com/article/2013/05/30/uk-syria-crisis-qusair-idUKBRE94T08Y20130530

EU Lifts Arms Embargo, Russia Keeps Supplying Arms as the Killing Goes On

ImageRussia says it will go ahead with deliveries of S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Syria, and that the arms will help deter foreign intervention.

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said the missiles were a “stabilising factor” that could dissuade “some hotheads” from entering the conflict.

Russia also criticised an EU decision not to renew an arms embargo on Syria.

Meanwhile, the BBC has heard evidence that 200 people were killed in a massacre in western Syria this month.

Opposition activists said they had documented the civilian deaths in al-Bayda and Baniyas after government troops and militias entered the towns.

Continue reading the main story

Analysis

image of Jim MuirJim MuirBBC News

While the lifting of the EU arms embargo is theoretically good news for the fractious Syrian opposition, it is clearly going to be some time before it has any effect on the battlefield balance. Its authors hope the decision itself will send a strong enough signal to the Assad regime that it is time to hand over power.

That is extremely unlikely. It is hard facts on the ground that count, for a regime that has shown every sign of determination to fight to the end to stay in power. While European arms supplies remain for the moment theoretical, the step has stirred an angry reaction – possibly even an escalation – from the Russians.

They’ve said the move has jeopardised efforts to convene a peace conference, and that they plan to honour a prior contract to supply Syria with advanced S-300 air defence missiles. Israel sees that as a threat to its own security, and has warned that it “would know what to do.”

As the Syrian conflict deepens, the stakes are clearly getting higher by the day. But for the rebels at least the eventual possibility of carefully-controlled arms deliveries is there, in what looks like being a bloody, long-haul struggle.

‘We know what to do’

Mr Ryabkov said the contract for the S-300 missile systems had been signed several years ago.

“We consider these supplies a stabilising factor and believe such steps will deter some hotheads from considering scenarios that would turn the conflict international with the involvement of outside forces,” he was quoted as telling journalists.

Russia’s envoy to Nato, Aleksandr Grushko, said Moscow was acting “fully within the framework of international law”, in delivering the arms.

“We are not doing anything that could change the situation in Syria,” he said. “The arms that we supply are defensive weapons.”

The BBC’s Jim Muir in Beirut says the Russian statement could be seen as an escalation. He says there had been reports that Moscow was holding back on delivering the arms, in exchange for an Israeli commitment not to carry out further air raids over Syria.

Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said the Russian missile systems had not yet left Russia.

“I hope they will not leave, and if, God forbid, they reach Syria, we will know what to do,” he said.

Russia has repeatedly blocked efforts to put more pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Along with the US, it has been leading efforts to organise an international peace conference on Syria next month.

The Syrian opposition has not said whether to attend the conference, and was locked in talks in Istanbul, Turkey, as an unofficial deadline to decide on its attendance passed.

‘Clear signal’

On Monday, the EU said member states would be able to decide their own policy on sending arms to Syria, after foreign ministers were unable to reach the unanimous decision required to extend the current arms embargo past Saturday.

However, in a declaration announced after 12 hours of talks, it agreed not to “proceed at this stage with the delivery” of equipment.

The EU’s Foreign Affairs Council is to review this position before 1 August, in light of fresh developments to end the conflict including the ongoing US-Russia peace initiative.

The EU embargo, first imposed in May 2011, applies to the rebels as much as the Syrian government.

Britain and France had been pressing for the ability to send weapons to what they call moderate opponents of President Assad, saying it would push Damascus towards a political solution to the two-year conflict.

Syria’s Russian-made military

  • Nearly 5,000 tanks; 2,500 infantry fighting vehicles; 2,500 self-propelled or towed artillery units
  • 325 Tactical aircraft; 143 helicopters
  • Nearly 2,000 air defence pieces
  • 295,000 active personnel; 314,000 reserve personnel

Statistics: IISS

Other EU states had opposed sending arms.

A spokesman for UK Prime Minister David Cameron said the decision sent an unambiguous message to President Assad.

“We are sending a signal loud and clear to the regime and being very clear about the flexibility we have if the regime refuses to negotiate,” he said.

George Jabboure Netto, a spokesman for the opposition Syrian National Council said the dropping of the arms embargo was a “step in the right direction”, though a spokesman for another grouping, the Syrian National Coalition, said the move might be “too little too late”.

Mr Ryabkov said Russia was disappointed by the decision. “This directly harms the prospects of convening an international conference,” he said.

More than 80,000 people have been killed and 1.5 million have fled Syria since the uprising against Mr Assad began in 2011, according to UN estimates.

Syrian opposition calls upon rebel fighters to save embattled Qusair

 

Syrian National Coalition urges disparate groups of fighters to head to city under assault from Assad and Hezbollah forces

Qusair
Syrian civilians search for survivors in Qusair after what activists said was shelling by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad. Photograph: Reuters

Syria‘s main opposition alliance has urged fighters from around the country to reinforce a rebel-held city under attack by government troops and Hezbollah militants.

The Syrian National Coalition (SNC) sought to bolster on Wednesday embattled rebel fighters in Qusair, who for a fourth day in a row came under fierce assault from forces loyal to the Assad regime. The city, which is near the border with Lebanon, lies at the heart of a government offensive to secure a strip of land running from the capital, Damascus, to the Mediterranean coast.

The Iranian-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah has been fighting alongside Syrian regime forces in the city and surrounding areas in Homs province for weeks.

Forces from outside Syria aim to destroy Qusair and rebels should join the fight to rescue the city, George Sabra, acting head of the SNC, said. He also urged Lebanese authorities to respect Syria’s sovereignty and prevent foreign gunmen from crossing the border to fight in the civil war.

The SNC has no control over the assorted groups of rebels fighting in Syria, and it was unclear what impact, if any, Sabra’s appeal would have.

But an amateur video released by the Aleppo Media Centre showed what it said were dozens of members of al-Tawhid Brigade from the northern city heading to Qusair to help. The rebels were driving pickup trucks, cars and trucks, some of them mounted with anti-aircraft guns.

Opposition fighters in Qusair were holding out on Wednesday, but appeared to be under increasing strain as government tanks, artillery and warplanes pounded the city.

An official from the Homs governor’s office said about 80% of Qusair was in government hands. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, added that troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad had discovered tunnels that linked areas of the city, and that the fighting was now concentrated in the north-west Qusair where the “terrorists” were still entrenched. His comments could not be independently verified because Damascus bans independent media access to much of Syria.

Rami Abdul-Rahman, who heads the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights activist group, said Assad forces and Hezbollah units were bombarding Qusair with rockets on Wednesday. A group of rebels trying to reach the city from the nearby town of Ind Shamseen were ambushed by Syrian troops, killing at least two, he said.

A video released by activists on Tuesday showed destruction in several areas in the city as well as heavy damage to the minaret of its grand mosque. The videos appeared genuine and corresponded with Associated Press’s reporting of the events depicted.

Hezbollah’s role in the fighting has increased up tensions in Lebanon, which has been on edge of conflict since the Syrian war began in 2011. Lebanon and Syria share a complex web of political and sectarian ties and rivalries.

Supporters of Hezbollah funeral in SidonSupporters of Hezbollah and relatives of Saleh Ahmed Sabagh, a member of the group, carry his coffin through Sidon, southern Lebanon, on Wednesday. Photograph: Ali Hashisho/Reuters

In an hour-long standoff on Wednesday, dozens of supporters of hardline Sunni cleric Ahmad al-Assir blocked the road leading to a cemetery in the southern city of Sidon to prevent the burial of a Hezbollah fighter who died recently in Qusair.

There was fighting in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli between supporters and opponents of Assad as well on Wednesday. Lebanese security officials said at least 10 people, including two soldiers, have been killed and more than 100 wounded since Sunday in Tripoli.

source:

  • Associated Press in Beriut
  • guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 22 May 2013 18.45 BST

UN Phillipino Peacekeepers released by Syrian Freedom Fighters

See they do nice things as well as eat their enemies hearts :p

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MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Rebels who held 21 Filipino U.N. peacekeepers in Syria put blankets on their hostages to help them sleep through the cold nights and a rebel commander became visibly emotional when his group released the men, a U.N. peacekeeping official said Sunday.

Despite the good treatment they got from the insurgents fighting Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime, the peacekeepers were relieved to have survived the four-day ordeal unscathed and were thankful for U.N. and Philippine government efforts that set them free, said Philippine army Col. Cirilito Sobejano, who is the chief of staff of the U.N.’s monitoring mission in the Golan Heights.

The unarmed Filipino army soldiers, who were riding in trucks, were abducted by anti-Assad gunmen after providing water and food to other peacekeeping troops Wednesday in southern Syria near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. After tough negotiations, they were freed Saturday on Jordan’s border and taken to a hotel in the Jordanian capital of Amman, Philippine officials said.

A medical checkup showed the released hostages were all in good health.

“They were in high spirits. We were laughing about their experiences,” Sobejano told The Associated Press by telephone from Amman. “They had a cordial relationship with their captors, who put blankets on them because it was very cold at night.”

“When they were handed over in Jordan, a rebel commander got visibly sad,” he said. “They were really treated as guests.”

At the Amman hotel, the peacekeepers were welcomed with a “boodle fight” — a Philippine military mess-hall style of eating, where food is usually laid out on banana leaves atop a long table and soldiers eat with their hands, said army Col. Roberto Arcan, who heads the military’s peacekeeping operations center in Manila.

Arcan said he talked by phone with one of the freed peacekeepers, army Maj. Dominador Valerio, who asked him to “please tell my wife I’m OK,” Arcan said, adding he immediately relayed the good news to the officer’s wife.

Raul Hernandez, spokesman for the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs, said Sunday that the plan was for the 21 peacekeepers to stay in Jordan for two days before they return to the Golan Heights.

source: usa today

More Evidence of Chemical Attacks by Alawite Shi’a Regime Emerges

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A correspondent who visited the northern town of Saraqeb was told by eyewitnesses that government helicopters had dropped at least two devices containing poisonous gas.

The government has vehemently denied claims it has used chemical agents.

The US had warned that such a development would be a “red line” for possible intervention.

President Barack Obama said he had seen evidence of chemical weapons being used in Syria – but it was important to get more specific information about what happened.

In a meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Washington, he said all options, both diplomatic and military, were being considered.

The two leaders reaffirmed their support for Syria’s opposition and their demands for President Bashar al-Assad to stand down.

“There’s no magic formula for dealing with an extraordinarily violent and difficult situation like Syria’s,” Mr Obama said.

“If there was, I think the prime minister and I would already have acted upon it and it would already be finished.”

Meanwhile UK Foreign Secretary William Hague reiterated that Syria must allow access to a UN team to investigate the chemical weapons claims.

‘Suffocating smell’

“Start Quote

We were taken to Maryam Khatib’s house by one of her nephews. He showed us where the device is said to have landed. A small hole has been smashed into the tiled floor, a pair of disposable surgeon’s gloves lie abandoned nearby. The plants around the site appear to have withered and died, showing signs of possible contamination”

On 29 April, Saraqeb, a town south-west of Aleppo, came under artillery bombardment from government positions.

Doctors at the local hospital told the BBC’s Ian Pannell they had admitted eight people suffering from breathing problems. Some were vomiting and others had constricted pupils, they said. One woman, Maryam Khatib, later died.

A number of videos passed to the BBC appear to support these claims, but it is impossible to independently verify them. Test are being carried out in France, the UK and Turkey on samples from the site of the attack.

Mrs Khatib’s son Mohammed had rushed to the scene to help his mother and was also injured in the attack.

“It was a horrible, suffocating smell. You couldn’t breathe at all. You’d feel like you were dead. You couldn’t even see. I couldn’t see anything for three or four days,” Mr Khatib told the BBC.

A doctor who treated Mrs Khatib said her symptoms corresponded with organophosphate poisoning and that samples had been sent for testing.

Mohammed Khatib receiving treatment
 
Mohammed Khatib says he was badly affected by the attack

One device was said to have landed on the outskirts of Saraqeb, with eyewitnesses describing a box-like container with a hollow concrete casing inside.

In another video, a rebel fighter holds a canister said to be hidden inside the devices. Witnesses claim there were two in each container.

Another video shows parts of a canister on the ground, surrounded by white powder.

The BBC has been told that samples from the scene and from the alleged victims have been sent to Britain, France, Turkey and America for testing.

Competing claims

Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a former commanding officer at the UK’s Joint Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear Regiment, said the testimony and evidence from Saraqeb was “strong, albeit incomplete”.

 

Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, chemical weapons expert: “I gauge that they’re not making it up”

In Saraqeb and in three similar events in Syria in recent weeks, “people have got ill and died and their symptoms are what we would expect to see from a nerve type of agent, be it sarin or be it organophosphate,” Mr de Bretton-Gordon said.

On the available evidence, recent attacks in al-Otaybeh to the east of Damascus, in Adra near the town of Douma, and in the Sheikh Maqsoud district of Aleppo appear “virtually identical” to what happened in Saraqeb, according to Mr de Bretton-Gordon.

Mr de Bretton-Gordon has not visited the site or tested any of the alleged evidence but was given full access to the material gathered by the BBC.

Both the US and UK have spoken of growing evidence that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons.

Rebel fighters have also been accused of using them. They also have denied this.

In March, Syria’s government and opposition called for an inquiry into an alleged chemical weapon attack in Khan al-Assal in the north of Syria which killed at least 27 people, with both sides blaming each other.

A 15-strong UN team headed by a Swedish scientist Ake Sellstrom has been assembled to investigate the claims.

However, the Syrian government has refused the team access. Syrian officials have been quoted as saying they want the team to look into the incident in Khan al-Assal, but the team has requested unconditional access with the right to inquire into all credible allegations.

The UN estimates that the two-year-old conflict has left at least 80,000 people dead.

Syria map

The Rebel Alliance reopens Ghutah

Interesting article: by the way Ghutah is apparently the location of the Second Coming of Christ!

Free Syrian Army fighters return fire after what they say was during clashes with forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad in Deir al-Zor May 13, 2013. REUTERS-Khalil Ashawi
Free Syrian Army fighters return fire after what they say was during clashes with forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad in Deir al-Zor May 13, 2013. REUTERS-Khalil Ashawi

Free Syrian Army fighters return fire after what they say was during clashes with forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad in Deir al-Zor May 13, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Khalil Ashawi

By Mariam Karouny

BEIRUT | Tue May 14, 2013 7:55pm EDT

(Reuters) – Syrian rebels including the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front have counter-attacked east of Damascus to retake a town that served as a conduit for arms from Jordan into the capital before it was seized by government forces last month, rebel sources said.

The rebels’ struggle to end four decades of Assad family rule has been complicated in part by internal divisions along ideological and political lines, as well as a shortage of heavy weaponry that could decisively turn the tide of conflict.

But in a rare move, brigades operating in Ghouta, a largely agricultural region on the eastern outskirts of Damascus, have united under one command to wrest back the town of Otaiba, two miles northeast of Damascus international airport.

“This is a huge target no brigade can deliver on its own, even al-Nusra cannot do it alone, so we all agreed to unite to retake it,” said a commander whose brigade is one of the 23 taking part in the battle.

“With God’s will this will be a decisive battle in rural Damascus that will stop the advance of the regime army and reopen the supply route.”

Brigades from the Western-backed rebel General Command and Islamist units joined forces over the weekend and pledged to share weapons and fighters. They took as their flag a white banner with the Muslim declaration of faith: “There is no god but God; Mohammad is God’s prophet”.

“We are fighting for the same goal and that is to topple Assad – so why shouldn’t we unite?” said a commander from an Islamist brigade involved in the battle.

Government forces have regained the initiative in the past few weeks, pushing rebels from areas close to central Damascus.

CHASTENED BY BATTLEFIELD SETBACK

Rebels said they wanted to take advantage of the unusual unity among brigades in the latest campaign – named Al Furqaan after a chapter in the Koran – to press on to Damascus airport.

The bloc of brigades was agreed only for the current battle, the rebels said, but it was driven by a heavy setback last month when their feuding and failure to reinforce local fighters allowed government forces to advance.

“How could they allow the loss of their supply line? How could they all just sit there and watch the regime throttling their lungs?” said a rebel from Otaiba. “Now they are paying the price – some shipments that were delivered earlier are stuck and need a path so they have to open the route.”

In addition to al-Nusra Front, Islamic groups like the powerful Liwaa al-Islam, Liwaa Martyrs of Douma and Ossoud al-Allah are also in the union under the command of Abu Salah Taha, head of the Martyrs of Douma.

The agreement signed by the brigades commits them not to pull out of battle or hold back their weapons, as some rebel groups have done in other provinces, and those who break the code are to be held to account.

“So far everyone is committed and everybody is using their weapons. They are all present on the front, which is 8 kilometers (5 miles) long,” said a fighter via Skype.

The Islamist commander said hopes were high in this offensive and that if it succeeded it would pave the way for rebels to work together in a national body.

“This is like a rehearsal for a wider cooperation across the country. If this is successful then all of us will consider forming a national army.”

(Editing by Mark Heinrich)