|Syria - Islam's Rising Star|
War in Lebanon has dramatically altered the political spectrum in Syria. Support for Hezbollah is strong, and many now call for the re-capture of the Golan Heights. In a nationally televised address to the Syrian Journalist Union, President Bashar al Assad issued a stark warning to Israel; “Your weapons, warplanes, rockets and even your atomic bombs will not protect you”. He is playing a dangerous game.
Syria - Stoking the Fires
As Hezbollah’s principal sponsor Syria has a key role to play in determining if the truce will hold. But the mood in Syria is militant. In return for peace it’s likely to demand the return of the Golan Heights.
|Farid N. Ghadry: Syria's Ahmed Chalabi ?|
Farid N. Ghadry (also Farid al-Ghadry and Frank Ghadry) is co-founder and current president of the Reform Party of Syria (RPS), a "'US-based opposition party' of pro-democracy Syrians", and the president of the Syrian Democratic Coalition.
Ghadry was born in Syria and, in 1964, at the age of 8, emigrated to Lebanon with his family. Ghadry came to the United States in 1975.
Described as a "discredited businessman from Virginia" who is "Syria’s version of Ahmad Chalabi" by Robert Dreyfuss April 17, 2006, in The American Prospect, Ghadry is "a secular, pro-democracy Sunni from a majority-Sunni country. He is charming and articulate, enjoys driving his kids to soccer practice, and favors a Syrian peace with Israel," Elizabeth Eaves wrote February 7, 2005, in Slate. When Eaves asked Ghadry "why he started the Reform Party of Syria, he said that he and his wife had reached a comfortable point in their lives, with their children nearly grown, and decided that they wanted to give something back. Who wouldn't find such a philanthropic impulse appealing? She joined the board of a children's hospital, and he decided to overthrow a government."
Ghadry is a member of AIPAC. On May 15, 2003, Eli J. Lake wrote in The National Review: "His organization is only now getting off the ground," and "a Syrian who belongs to one of Israel's main lobbying groups is not exactly a strong political candidate in a country that remains one of the most rabidly anti-Israel in the region. As Ghadry himself admits, 'The Syrians are not ready for someone who wants to make peace with Israel.'"
Syria's terror networks
By Farid N. Ghadry / February 20, 2007
|The March to War: Syria Preparing for US-Israeli Attacks|
by Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya
Global Research, May 25, 2007
"To the east there is the Resistance in Iraq, to the west there is the Resistance in Lebanon and to the south there is the Resistance of the Palestinian people. We, in Syria, are at the heart of all these events!”
-Basher Al-Assad, 10th President of Syria (April 30, 2007)
Syria was in the sights of the White House and Pentagon since the advent of the “Global War on Terror.” Attacks on Lebanon and Syria have long been expected as a phase in the American-led war march unfolding in the Middle East and Central Asia in the wake of the tragic events of September 11, 2001.
The U.S. government itself has clarified that it was considering invading Syria after the fall of Baghdad in 2003.  The U.S. Congress in 2003 also started to re-evaluate strengthening the Syrian Accountability Act. The Guardian, a major British newspaper, reported during the initial days of the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq in April of 2003 that Syria was a potential military target:
The 2006 Israeli war against Lebanon was also initiated for strategic reasons, which included the subjugation of Syria, as a continuation of the Pentagon’s plans to strike Syria. This has been acknowledged by Israeli and U.S. government officials and there are numerous international press reports to validate this. In fact on October 8, 2003, months after the fall of Baghdad to U.S. tanks and soldiers, Israeli fighter jets made air raids inside Syrian territory. The Syrians restrained themselves refusing to be baited into a war. The Syrian President gave a rare public response to the Israeli air strike in Syria accusing Ariel Sharon and the Israeli government of trying to drag Syria and the entire region into a “new war.” 
Syria is now the subject of intense covert and overt diplomatic U.S. and E.U. pressure as the Anglo-American war machine is running out of time. Attempts are also underway to create a wedge between Iran and Syria. Military provisions are additionally underway on the immediate borders of Syria for a possible war in the Levant and a broader Middle Eastern war that would stretch from the borders of Egypt and Turkey to the frontier of Western China. Israel is also making preparations for yet another war, while the U.S. and British militaries continue to marshal their armed forces into Afghanistan, Iraq, and the broader Middle East.
Controlling Syria can heavily influence the geo-strategic realities and environment in the Middle East. The geo-strategic position of Syria places it at a critical juncture between Lebanon, Palestine, and Anglo-American occupied Iraq; three fronts that the U.S. and its allies are actively engaged in. Three intertwined wars of intelligence, proxy, public relations, civil, covert, and military dimensions are being waged in Palestine, Lebanon, and Iraq. The conquest of Damascus is a prerequisite to winning these fronts and would greatly strengthen the American-led position in a possible showdown against Iran and its allies. Although, it should be mentioned that after the strategic 2006 defeat of Israel in Lebanon, it seems that preparations are now being made for a simultaneous war against both Syria and Iran.
Allegations of Syrian Weapons of Mass Destruction
Both Syria and its ally Iran, since the invasion of Iraq, face the real threat of American-led and Israeli aggression. The threat of war looms high over both Middle Eastern republics and a dossier of pretexts for war has been steadily built against both nations.
It is no coincidence that in mid-2003, with the initiation of the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq, that Jack Straw, the British foreign minister at the time, visited both Tehran and Damascus to guarantee both Iran and Syria that there would be no Anglo-American wars launched against them. When asked about the possibility of future wars against Syria and Iran after the invasion of Iraq, Jack Straw responded: “it would worry me if it were true. It is not true, and we would have nothing whatever to do with an approach like that.” 
Jack Straw’s statements proved to be without foundation. Merely days after his statements in Tehran and Damascus the British, including Jack Straw and Tony Blair, and the U.S. governments began to threaten Damascus and accuse the Syrians of also trying to produce weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) just like Iraq.  The Syrian Ambassador to Britain, Mouafak Nassar, sharply questioned the motives of the Anglo-American accusations of Syrian weapons of mass destruction (WMDs): “I will say I am wondering why they are targeting one Arab country after the other. They are ignoring totally the country that has mass destruction weapons—Israel.” 
The weapons of mass destruction (WMD) allegations were toned down and eventually evaporated in the wake of the blowback from the U.S. and British allegations of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (WMD) as a pretext for invading Iraq. The White House and 10 Downing Street would have to find other pretexts for initiating hostilities with Damascus. These pretexts would eventually emerge after the Valentines Day assassination of the late Rafik Hariri, former prime minister of Lebanon (February 14, 2005).
Syria almost immediately faced efforts to diplomatically isolate it, led by France and America. The initiative to hammer Syria had commenced. It was before February 2005 that the “Atlantic Rift” between France and Germany on the one hand and U.S and Britain on the other hand really started to close, leading to significantly better relations.
An understanding between the Franco-German entente and the Anglo-American alliance, the two branches of NATO, had been initiated. The result was an unfolding consensus which is now supported by pro-U.S. governments in both France and Germany. This in turn has bearing on the creation of respective spheres of responsibility and influence in the Middle East.
NATO Supreme Commander’s Hunting Words: After Afghanistan, Seven Additional Countries to be Conquered
The Syrians and the Iranians were well aware that what was unfolding on their immeidate borders was the resurrection of a multi-phased historic Anglo-American campaign drafted in London before the First World War. The Syrians, like others throughout the globe from Riyadh and Cairo to Moscow, Berlin, and Beijing, were fully aware of this Anglo-American vision for the Middle East and Central Asia— dreams that were now in the process of being implemented as reality and in due course shared with France and Germany.
In an interview, General Wesley Clark, the former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO in Europe, frankly stated that the U.S. has been set on initiating a major military road map of international warfare that would start in Afghanistan and Iraq and end with Iran;
Starting from 1991 and the end of the Cold War, there have been continuous U.S. and NATO military build-ups in and around the Balkans, the Middle East, and Central Asia. There is a long-term strategy at play. in these regions. General Wesley Clark’s assertions help put into focus just one stage of this military build-up. NATO expansion around Russia and the militarization of China’s eastern flank constitute another stage of this military roadmap.
The nations that were mentioned by the former NATO commander in his interview are Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and finally Iran. The events in Yugoslavia and the Balkans are part of this military list or “long war.” The latter is characterised by the following stages:
France and Germany, the Franco-German entente, are partners in this historic neo-colonial project: thus the project is no longer strictly Anglo-American, it is a NATO project. It is no coincidence that all these targeted nations, aside from Libya, fall within the operational-level military command boundaries of United States Central Command (CENTCOM). NATO expansion is also linked to the wars and the pending wars in this vast region.
Central Asia, the Caspian Basin, and the underbelly of Russia will be exposed as the next stage of this “long war,” once the Pentagon finishes with Iran and the Middle East. NATO can not project full power in these former Soviet areas until it has a secure opening which is what Iran, along with NATO-garrisoned Afghanistan, can provide as forward bases. The entry of NATO into Central Asia will effectively create a barrier between Russia, China, and India.
Syria is a U.S. and Israeli Military Target
Originally, Syria seems to have been willing to cooperate with both the Franco-German entente and the Anglo-American alliance, to a limited extent. But it now seems that similar to the case in Uzbekistan, relations have so to speak been spoiled. The Syrian-Iranian alliance is also the oldest partnership in the Middle East dating back to the pre-Revolutionary period in Iran, under the Pahlavi Dynasty.
It seems that Syria and NATO allies were at loggerheads because the resolve of the Syrians was underestimated and more importantly the Anglo-American alliance and Franco-German entente subsequently lost the trust of the Syrians because of attempts to destabilize Syria. This included covert attempts at inciting regime change in Damascus. Syrian troops quickly left Lebanon in 2005, not just because of the will of the majority of the Lebanese people, but because of the fear that the Syrian position in regards to Lebanon would quickly be portrayed like that of Iraq in regards to Kuwait in 1991. Syria left Lebanon because the Syrian government was aware that the Pentagon was looking for a justification to march U.S. troops and tanks into Damascus. 
Several pretexts were given by the White House, which frankly told the international media it was contemplating operations against the Syrians after the fall of Baghdad. These pretexts included Syrian support to Iraq and Syrian help to Palestinian and Lebanese groups opposed to Israel. The Observer (U.K.) also noted that the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq was the first stage of a military campaign to control the Middle East in April of 2003;
It is also important to examine the terminology used by Bush Jr. Administration officials in regards to the portrayal of an attack/invasion of Syria. They have referred to a military campaign in the Levant as “phase three” of the “Global War on Terror.” It should be noted that “phase one” of the wider war was the invasion of Afghanistan (2001) in Central Asia, “phase two” the invasion of Iraq (2003) and “phase three” has become the Israeli war against Lebanon (2006).
Syria has become bolder due to the events of 2006 in Lebanon. Syrian officials knew very well that Syria was also part of the intended theatre of Israeli operations and were expecting military strikes. Public statements about a “New Crisis” in Lebanon and Syria that would be initiated by the United States were being made by Iranian, Lebanese, and Syrian leaders in 2003, right after the fall of Baghdad. 
The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) reported in May of 2003 that Mohammed Khatami, the Iranian president at the time, while in Beirut warned that Lebanon and Syria were jointly in the sights of the military campaign the U.S. and Britain had launched in the Middle East;
At the start of the Israeli campaign against Lebanon, Iran warned Israel of “unimaginable damage” if it attacked Syria and Syrian diplomats stated that their country felt strengthened by Iran’s support and that Damascus “knows that the U.S. would want to prevent a wider conflict involving Iran [at the time].” 
This seems to have been true at the time in 2006 and during that past phase of the military roadmap in the Middle East, which was intended on simultaneously subjugating Syria and Lebanon. But it now seems, despite the diplomatic rhetoric, that the United States is preparing for potentially starting a war with both Iran and Syria. The military preparations that are underway speak louder than U.S. diplomacy and public statements.
At the time, in 2006, the U.S. and Israel were not logistically ready for a war with Iran, but they had been preparing for the long awaited and anticipated military project. Permanent Anglo-American super-bases have been constructed in Iraq as forward bases into Iran. Large naval armadas are marshaling in the waters of the Middle East, from the Eastern Mediterranean to the Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf, in preparation for war and also to enforce a naval blockade against Syria, Lebanon, and Iran.
An interview with Meyrav Wurmser, the wife of David Wurmser, Advisor on Middle Eastern Affairs to U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney, reveals part of the intentions to attack Syria, one of the seven countries listed by General Clark as being a target of the Pentagon. Madame Wurmser unmistakably indicates that Syria was the main military target during the Israeli war on Lebanon;
An article titled Israel Should Hit Syria First that was released by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), which represents the innermost thoughts and perspectives of the American foreign policy circle from the White House to the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Congress, also advocates that Israel should have attacked Syria.  The article by Maximilian Boot, a senior U.S. national security fellow for the CRG and an advocate of the use of military force to impose American dominance on a global scale, originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.
Israel is also making louder and continuous noises about an imminent Syrian attack; this is in anticipation of a war against the Syrians. The Syrians are naturally aware of the plans to attack their country and have started their defensive preparations, which the mainstream Israeli media originally portrayed as an initiative to attack Israel, but later redefined as defensive preparations for fuzzy unclear reasons.
Leaving the Door open for Syria: Formulating the surrender of Tehran’s ally
"If Syria does engage more broadly with the West, that leaves Iran almost entirely isolated in the Middle East...”
-Jon Alterman, Center for Strategic and International Studies (Washington D.C.)
It is also no mere coincidence that Jalal Talabani of Iraq and Mahmoud Abbas of Palestine, two vassals of the Anglo-American alliance, visited Damascus in the same week.  The Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, came under the pretext of negotiating with the leaders-in-exile of Hamas in Damascus to reach a political settlement between Fatah and Hamas. Jalal Talabani’s trip to Syria was also a sham. Both men undoubtedly came representing the White House in negotiations with Syria to get Damascus to capitulate just as Libya did in 2003 after the fall of Baghdad.
The Anglo-American war machine has lost some momentum and the international foxtrot has become more complicated; it seems that a door is being opened to Syria for a Libya-like surrender to avoid or skip one phase of the “long war.” Javier Solana, the E.U. Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana, traveled to Syria in what was being termed as a “groundbreaking” visit to Damascus. France, until the visit by Javier Solana, had blocked almost all contact between the E.U. and Syria.  Germany has also been sending continuous signals to Syria along with other E.U. countries. Chancellor Merkel while in Lebanon, visiting to show support for the Lebanese government and to see German sailors posted in the Eastern Mediterranean, demanded that the Syrians cooperate with the stipulations of the E.U., the U.S., and Israel. 
In March of 2007, officials of the Bush Jr. Administration also visited Damascus after a period of diplomatic boycotts intended to isolate Syria. These visits took place in Syria under the justification that talks between the Syrian government and the Bush Jr. Administration were focused solely on the millions of Iraqi refugees that were trying to escape the chaos and violence in Iraq. It was after the initial visits from Bush Jr. Administration officials that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also visited Syria in a highly publicized visit. The White House declared that it opposed the House Speaker’s visit to Damascus even though Ellen Sauerbrey, an assistant secretary at the U.S. State Department and a representative of the White House, was in Syria for negotiations. 
All rhetoric put aside, outside of public posturing, the implementation of U.S. foreign policy has historically been one of the subjects that the two main political parties in the United States, the Democrats and the Republicans, are virtually indistinguishable in their actions. There exists no liberalism or conservative dogma or partisanship in U.S. foreign policy. The bills approved after the November 2006 U.S. Congressional elections by the U.S. Congress, which is controlled by the Democrats, are merely a continuation of the Bush Jr. Administration’s agenda. The U.S. Congress has approved and passed bills for the funding of the continued occupation of Iraq, given the White House additional powers, and paved the way for future wars in the Middle East.
Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi visited Syria with a delegation that included Democrats and a Republican.  The visits to Damascus from the U.S. State Department and the House Speaker essentially were part of a combined effort and served the exact same interests, which was to get the Syrians to capitulate. Congresswoman Pelosi went to Damascus as a representative of the larger ruling establishment in the U.S., to which the White House is a member, and her discussions are what opened the door for the hollow talks in Egypt between Condoleezza Rice and the Syrian Foreign Minister in early-May, 2007.
Washington D.C. seeks Regime Change in Damascus
Abdel-Halim Khaddam, the former vice-president of Syria, now in exile because of apparent corruption charges is being supported by the White House as an opposition figure against Damascus. He is also being alluded to as a democratic alternative for Syria, just as the corrupt Ahmed Chalabi has been for Iraq by the White House. Abdel-Halim Khaddam is also establishing an office in Washington D.C., which in itself is a negative omission for an exiled Arab opposition figure. 
It is no mere coincidence that fighting has broken out in Lebanon between Fatah Al-Islam, a previously unheard of radical militant group, and the Lebanese Armed Forces, days after David Welch, the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs at the U.S. State Department, held unprecedented meetings with General Michel Sulaiman (Solomon) the Commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces. Although Saudi Arabian, Jordanian, and American channels created Fatah Al-Islam, Syria is conveniently being blamed as the perpetrator in a calculated move to strengthen the manufactured war dossier against Damascus.
 Julian Borger et al., Bush vetoes Syria War, The Guardian (U.K.), April 15, 2003
 Sharon threatens to hit Israel’s enemies anywhere, China Daily, October 8, 2003.
 Straw: UK will not attack Syria or Iran, The Guardian (U.K.), April 2, 2003
 Julian Borger et al., Bush vetoes Syria War, Op. cit.
 General (ret.) Wesley Clark, 92 Street Y Exclusive Live Interview, interview by Amy Goodman, Democracy Now, March 2, 2007.
 Ed Vulliamy, Syria could be next, warns Washington, The Observer (U.K.), April 13, 2003.
 Iran warns US against ‘New Crises,’ British Broadcasting Service (BBC), May 13, 2003.
 Iran’s foreign minister in Syria, British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), July 17, 2006.
 Yitzhak Benhorin, Neocons: We expected Israel to attack Syria, Yedioth Aharonot, December 16, 2006.
 Maximilian Boot, Israel Should Hit Syria First, Los Angeles Times, August 23, 2006.
 Iraq’s Talabani arrives in Syria, British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), January 14, 2007.
Atul Aneja, Abbas in Syria for talks, The Hindu, January 21, 2007.
 EU plans to re-engage with Syria, British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), March 9, 2007.
 Nadim Ladki, Merkel urges Syria to cooperate on Lebanon, Reuters, April 2, 2007.
 Stephen Kaufman, Syria, United States Exchange Views on Iraqi Refugees: Talks in Damascus described as "useful" and "straightforward," U.S. State Department, March 12, 2007.
 Hassan M. Fattah, Pelosi’s Delegation Presses Syrian Leader on Militants, The New York Times, April 5, 2007, p.A3.
The delegation form the U.S. House of Representatives was comprised of;
Nancy House (Democrat)-California; Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives;
Tom Lantos (Democrat)-California; Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affair;
David L. Hobson (Republican)-Ohio;
Henry A. Waxman (Democrat)-California,;
Louise M. Slaughter (Democrat)- New York;
Nick J. Rahall II (Democrat)-West Virginia;
Keith Ellison (Democrat)-Minnesota.
 Claude Salhani, Interview: Khaddam Cautions on Damascus, United Press International (UPI), April 24, 2007.
The interview is extremely revealing. The former Syrian official has all the characteristics of a “Chalabi-like” turncoat. He criticizes Syrian political institutions, but refuses to say anything critical about the rest of the Arab World. The former Syrian official was also one of the Syrian government top proponents and a vocal opponent of the U.S. government.
Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya is Research Associate of the Centre for Research on Globalization (CRG) and the author of several articles on US war plans in the Middle East and Central Asia.
|Page last updated at 14:12 GMT, Monday, 27 October 2008|
Syria condemns 'US village raid'
The scene of the raid
Syria has protested angrily to both the US and Iraq after what it said was a US helicopter raid inside its territory that killed eight civilians.
Syria summoned US and Iraqi envoys to condemn the "aggressive act". Iraq said the area targeted was used by militants to launch cross-border attacks in Iraq.
The US has neither confirmed nor denied the incident. It has previously accused Syria of allowing militants into Iraq.
Syria said the US helicopters attacked a farm in the Abu Kamal border area.
If confirmed, the raid would be the first known attack by US forces inside Syrian territory, says BBC diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus.
A Syrian government statement said: "Syria condemns this aggression and holds the American forces responsible for this aggression and all its repercussions."
It called for an immediate investigation.
The attack drew strong criticism from Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa, who told reporters the incident "should not pass by without clear condemnation."
They started firing at us. My little boy ran out and as I went to protect him they shot me
Wife of a security guard
Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said Baghdad was "in contact with the American side about reports regarding the attack along the frontier with Syria".
But he added that the attacked area "is a theatre of insurgent activities against Iraq using Syria as a launch pad".
Neither the Pentagon nor the White House has made any official comment. A US military spokeswoman in Baghdad said it was "in the process of investigating".
Syria's press attache in London, Jihad Makdissi, told the BBC the incident was "an outrageous crime and an act of aggression".
"If [the US has] any proof of any insurgency, instead of applying the law of the jungle and penetrating, unprovoked, a sovereign country, they should come to the Syrians first and share this information," he said.
Mr Makdissi said the US government had "proved to be irrational and they have no respect for international law or human rights".
He warned that Syria would "respond accordingly in the proper way".
The government newspaper Tishrin called the act a "war crime".
Although there has been no official US response, an unnamed US military official told the Associated Press news agency that special forces had targeted al-Qaeda linked militants moving across the border.
"We are taking matters into our own hands," the US official said.
The official said there had been considerable success closing lines of entry for foreign militants but added: "The one piece of the puzzle we have not been showing success on is the nexus in Syria."
Several days ago the commander of US forces in western Iraq said they would be increasing operations to secure the border as it had become an "uncontrolled" entry point for militants.
US intelligence believes up to 90% of the foreign fighters entering Iraq come through Syria.
Syria's official Sana news agency said that "four American helicopters violated Syrian airspace around 1645 local time [1345 GMT] on Sunday".
The government said the helicopters attacked the Sukkariyeh farm near Abu Kamal, eight kilometres (five miles) from the Iraqi border.
A building under construction was hit and four children and a married couple were among the dead, it said.
Reports of the raid vary but some said at least two helicopters landed and troops disembarked to fire on the building.
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"We were at the building site when four [soldiers] came down. Four [soldiers] headed towards us and another four went towards the workers who were putting in the foundation concrete," a woman identified as the wife of a security guard told Syrian television.
"They started firing at us. My little boy ran out and as I went to protect him they shot me. There were four aircraft - two of them landed while the other two remained airborne. The aircraft also kept on firing at us. They killed the workers. When I went to catch my son they shot me. He was running towards his father."
TV pictures showed a truck riddled with bullet holes and a blood-stained floor.
Our correspondent says the timing of the incident is curious, coming right at the end of the Bush administration's period of office and at a moment when many of America's European allies - like Britain and France - are trying to broaden their ties with Damascus.
|"Mark my words," the Democratic vice presidential nominee warned at the second of his two Seattle fundraisers Sunday. "It will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama like they did John Kennedy. The world is looking. We're about to elect a brilliant 47-year-old senator president of the United States of America. Remember I said it standing here if you don't remember anything else I said. Watch, we're gonna have an international crisis, a generated crisis, to test the mettle of this guy."|
"I can give you at least four or five scenarios from where it might originate," Biden said to Emerald City supporters, mentioning the Middle East and Russia as possibilities. "And he's gonna need help. And the kind of help he's gonna need is, he's gonna need you - not financially to help him - we're gonna need you to use your influence, your influence within the community, to stand with him. Because it's not gonna be apparent initially, it's not gonna be apparent that we're right.
|US special forces launch rare attack inside Syria, 7th Ld-Writethru, ML|
* AP foreign, Monday October 27 2008
By ALBERT AJI
Associated Press Writer= DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) - U.S. military helicopters launched an extremely rare attack Sunday on Syrian territory close to the border with Iraq, killing eight people in a strike the government in Damascus condemned as "serious aggression."
A U.S. military official said the raid by special forces targeted the network of al-Qaida-linked foreign fighters moving through Syria into Iraq. The Americans have been unable to shut the network down in the area struck because Syria was out of the military's reach.
"We are taking matters into our own hands," the official told The Associated Press in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the political sensitivity of cross-border raids.
The attack came just days after the commander of U.S. forces in western Iraq said American troops were redoubling efforts to secure the Syrian border, which he called an "uncontrolled" gateway for fighters entering Iraq.
A Syrian government statement said the helicopters attacked the Sukkariyeh Farm near the town of Abu Kamal, eight kilometers (five miles) inside the Syrian border. Four helicopters attacked a civilian building under construction shortly before sundown and fired on workers inside, the statement said.
The government said civilians were among the dead, including four children.
A resident of the nearby village of Hwijeh said some of the helicopters landed and troops exited the aircraft and fired on a building. He said the aircraft flew along the Euphrates River into the area of farms and several brick factories. The witness spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information.
Another witness said four helicopters were used in the attack.
Since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, there have been some instances in which American troops crossed areas of the 600-kilometer (370-mile) Syria-Iraq border in pursuit of militants, or warplanes violated Syria's airspace. But Sunday's raid was the first conducted by aircraft and on such a large scale. In May 2005, Syria said American fire killed a border guard.
Syria's Foreign Ministry said it summoned the U.S. and Iraqi charges d'affaires to protest against the strike.
"Syria condemns this aggression and holds the American forces responsible for this aggression and all its repercussions. Syria also calls on the Iraqi government to shoulder its responsibilities and launch and immediate investigation into this serious violation and prevent the use of Iraqi territory for aggression against Syria," the government statement said.
Syrian state television late Sunday aired footage that showed blood stains on the floor of a site under construction, with wooden beams used to mold concrete strewn on the ground. Akram Hameed, one of the injured, told the television he was fishing in the Euphrates and saw four helicopters coming from the border area under a heavy blanket of fire.
"One of the helicopters landed in an agricultural area and eight members disembarked," the man in his 40s said. "The firing lasted about 15 minutes and when I tried to leave the area on my motorcycle, I was hit by a bullet in the right arm about 20 meters (yards) away," he said.
The injured wife of the building's guard, in bed in hospital with a tube in her nose, told Syria TV that two helicopters landed and two remained in the air during the attack.
"I ran to bring my child who was going to his father and I was hit," she said. The TV did not identify her by name.
The area targeted is near the Iraqi border city of Qaim, which had been a major crossing point for fighters, weapons and money coming into Iraq to fuel the Sunni insurgency.
Iraqi travelers making their way home across the border reported hearing many explosions, said Qaim Mayor Farhan al-Mahalawi.
The foreign fighters network sends militants from North Africa and elsewhere in the Middle East to Syria, where elements of the Syrian military are in league with al-Qaida and loyalists of Saddam Hussein's Baath party, the U.S. military official said.
He said that while American forces have had considerable success, with Iraqi help, in shutting down the "rat lines" in Iraq, and with foreign government help in North Africa, the Syrian node has been out of reach.
"The one piece of the puzzle we have not been showing success on is the nexus in Syria," the official said.
On Thursday, U.S. Maj. Gen. John Kelly said Iraq's western borders with Saudi Arabia and Jordan were fairly tight as a result of good policing by security forces in those countries but that Syria was a "different story."
"The Syrian side is, I guess, uncontrolled by their side," Kelly said. "We still have a certain level of foreign fighter movement."
He added that the U.S. was helping construct a sand berm and ditches along the border.
"There hasn't been much, in the way of a physical barrier, along that border for years," Kelly said.
The White House in August approved similar special forces raids from Afghanistan across the border of Pakistan to target al-Qaida and Taliban operatives. At least one has been carried out.
The flow of foreign fighters into Iraq has been cut to an estimated 20 a month, a senior U.S. military intelligence official told the Associated Press in July. That's a 50 percent decline from six months ago, and just a fifth of the estimated 100 foreign fighters who were infiltrating Iraq a year ago, according to the official.
Ninety percent of the foreign fighters enter through Syria, according to U.S. intelligence. Foreigners are some of the most deadly fighters in Iraq, trained in bomb-making and with small-arms expertise and more likely to be willing suicide bombers than Iraqis.
Foreign fighters toting cash have been al-Qaida in Iraq's chief source of income. They contributed more than 70 percent of operating budgets in one sector in Iraq, according to documents captured in September 2007 on the Syrian border. Most of the fighters were conveyed through professional smuggling networks, according to the report.
Iraqi insurgents seized Qaim in April 2005, forcing U.S. Marines to recapture the town the following month in heavy fighting. The area became secure only after Sunni tribes in Anbar turned against al-Qaida in late 2006 and joined forces with the Americans.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem accused the United States earlier this year of not giving his country the equipment needed to prevent foreign fighters from crossing into Iraq. He said Washington feared Syria could use such equipment against Israel.
Though Syria has long been viewed by the U.S. as a destabilizing country in the Middle East, in recent months, Damascus has been trying to change its image and end years of global seclusion.
Its president, Bashar Assad, has pursued indirect peace talks with Israel, mediated by Turkey, and says he wants direct talks next year. Syria also has agreed to establish diplomatic ties with Lebanon, a country it used to dominate both politically and militarily, and has worked harder at stemming the flow of militants into Iraq.
The U.S. military in Baghdad did not immediately respond to a request for comment after Sunday's raid.
Associated Press reporter Pamela Hess in Washington and Sam F. Ghattas in Beirut contributed to this report.
|Syria US forces make rare raid into Syria 27/10 17:26 CET|
The people of the Syrian border town of Al Bukamal have been burying their dead. Syria says eight civilians were killed after US helicopters and ground troops attacked from across the Iraqi frontier.
The Iraqi government and the White House say they conducted a successful operation against Iraqi insurgents who were using Syria as a safe haven. Syria’s foreign minister is furious.
“We consider this criminal and terrorist agression, and we put the responsibilty on the American government and they need to investigate and return back to us with the result,” Walid Mouallem said in London.
The attack site is close to the city of Qaim, which has been a major crossing point for fighters, weapons and money coming into Iraq to sustain the Sunni insurgency.
The Syrians say they may protest to the UN Security Council about the attack, and will seek compensation from America for the victim’s families. The Americans claim 90 percent of foreign fighters entering Iraq come through Syria.
| Joshua and all,|
I just spoke on the phone with a doctor in ABou Kamal- He confirmed that the attack happened around sunset. The 4 helicopters came from the East of the township, he saw them coming. The soldiers debarked and shot people who were working in a building under construction on the periphery of the township.
9 people were pronounced dead on arrival to the hospital- Two more are severely wounded and are being operated on right now [he does not expect them to survive]- He has not read the papers (there are none to read at this time of the night) nor listened to the news and there is no internet there….His report was completely spontaneous-
I was not able to get the details on the ages of the injured but he described them as poor simple people (Masakeen)from the town. If the matter were otherwise, he would have let me know.
Joshua Landis - Syria Comment (more on the raid at this link)
|Syria says raid is 'terrorist' act|
The Syrian foreign minister has described a deadly raid on a village near the border with Iraq, allegedly carried out by the US, as a planned act of "terrorist aggression".
Speaking in London on Monday, Walid Muallem also raised questions about how a pact between the US and Iraq over troop deployment next year could impact on neighbouring countries.
Muallem said the eight people killed in Sunday's helicopter attack in the border village of Sukariya were civilians.
"All of them were unarmed and they are on the Syrian territories," he said. "This killing of civilians in international law means a terrorist aggression.
"The Americans do it in the daylight, this means it is not a mistake it is by determination, by planned determination."
'Al-Qaeda lieutenant killed'
The US has not officially responded to Syria's accusations, but an unnamed US official said on Monday that Abu Ghadiya, a former lieutenant to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the late leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, had been killed in the raid.
"It was a successful operation ... He [Abu Ghadiya] is believed to be dead," the official said.
( In Video: Alleged US raid on Syrian soil )
"He had knowledge of many of the so-called 'rat lines' or smuggling routes [into Iraq] ... This undoubtedly will have a debilitating effect on this foreign fighter smuggling network."
Muallem also said that Syria would be holding the US responsible and that the government needed to investigate and report back to them with an explanation as to why the raid had been carried out.
"Also, the question arises here: Is this the production of the agreement between the administration and Iraq, the defensive agreement, where many Iraqis are saying that the sovereignty of Iraq is at stake and the American will use the Iraqi's territories to launch aggression against neighbouring countries? These are question marks," he said.
The families of those killed in the raid on Sukariya, which lies close to the town of Abu Kamal, buried their loved ones on Monday.
Syrian state television said four US military helicopters had been involved in Sunday's raid on the village.
"Four American helicopters violated Syrian airspace around 4:45pm local time [13:45 GMT] on Sunday," state television reported.
Two of the helicopters landed and dropped off eight US soldiers, who then entered a house, Syrian media reported.
"American soldiers ... attacked a civilian building under construction and fired at workmen inside, causing eight deaths," state television said.
The government said that those killed were workers.
Akram Hameed, a man in his 40s who said he was injured in the attack while fishing in the Euphrates river, told Syrian television he saw four helicopters coming from the border area under a heavy blanket of fire.
"One of the helicopters landed in an agricultural area and eight members disembarked," Hameed said.
"The firing lasted about 15 minutes and when I tried to leave the area on my motorcycle, I was hit by a bullet in the right arm about 20 metres away."
Syrian television showed what it said was the injured wife of the building's guard, in bed in hospital with a tube in her nose, saying that two helicopters landed and two remained in the air during the attack.
The raid targeted an area used by fighters responsible for cross-border attacks into Iraq, Ali al-Dabbagh, the Iraqi government spokesman, said on Monday.
"The attacked area was the scene of activities of terrorist groups operating from Syria against Iraq," he told the Reuters news agency.
"The latest of these groups ... killed 13 police recruits in an [Iraqi] border village. Iraq had asked Syria to hand over this group which uses Syria as a base for its terrorist activities."
Al-Dabbagh would not say who had carried out the attack.
"Iraq is always seeking distinguished relations with its sister Syria," he said.
"The presence of some anti-Iraq groups in Syria, which are supporting and participating in activities against Iraqis, would hinder improvement of these relations".
The US and the US-backed Iraqi government have on several occasions accused Damascus of not doing enough to stop anti-US fighters, including those from al-Qaeda, crossing the border into Iraq.
After news of Sunday's attack emerged, the Syrian government summoned the senior US and Iraqi envoys to Damascus to protest against the raid, the Syrian Arab news agency (Sana) reported.
A Syrian government statement said: "Syria condemns this aggression and holds the American forces responsible for this aggression and all its repercussions."
The statement also called for the Iraqi government to launch an investigation into the attack.
Reem Haddad, the Syrian information ministry spokesperson, sais that the raid breached a recent accord between Iraq and the US.
"This is a flagrant violation of the new [security] agreement between Iraq and the US," she told Al Jazeera.
"One of the points of that agreement is that they do not attack bordering countries."
Hoda Abdel Hamid, Al Jazeera's correspondent in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil, said the alleged US raid seemed to be in contradiction to comments by US officials that Syria had improved its border security.
"What is quite puzzling for many people here is that the Americans had actually praised the role of Syria over the last year," she said.
"Earlier this year, I had conversations with General David Petraeus [then commander of US forces in Iraq] and Ryan Crocker, the US ambassador to Iraq; they both said that Damascus had made [security] efforts at its main airport and along the Syria-Iraq border, and that the flow of fighters coming into Iraq had diminished considerably over the previous year.
"They both said the number of people infiltrating Iraq from Syria had dropped by 50 per cent [in the last year]. Actually, Petraeus told me that it was impossible for any country to fully control its borders, specifically when it is in a porous desert area."
Lieutenant-Colonel Chris Hughes, a spokesman for US forces in western Iraq, said that the US division that operates on the Iraqi side of the border was not involved in Sunday's incident.
The area targeted lies close to the Iraqi border city of Qaim, which in the past has been a crossing point for fighters, weapons and money used to fuel the armed Sunni opposition against Iraq's government.
| Demonstrations prompt closure of U.S. Embassy in Syria|
* Officials say action due to "increased security concerns" amid anti-U.S. protests
* Iraq says it will share results of inquiry into deadly airstrike with Syria
* Syria says 8 civilians killed in Sunday strike, which it considers "act of aggression"
* Washington hasn't confirmed airstrike; source says it targeted al Qaeda fighter
BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- The U.S. Embassy in Damascus announced that it will be closed Thursday because of "increased security concerns" arising three days after a U.S. strike in Syria.
Iraqi refugees took to the streets in Damascus, Syria, on Wednesday to protest Sunday's airstrike.
Officials said the action was taken because of concerns over anti-U.S. demonstrations scheduled for Thursday over Sunday's airstrike, which Syria claims left eight people dead near the Iraq-Syria border.
Demonstrations were reportedly staged Wednesday throughout Syria to protest the incident, which has raised tensions among Iraq, Syria and the United States.
Tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in Abu Kamal, Syria, near the Iraqi border, burning American flags and shouting angrily, the country's official news agency SANA reported.
The Syrian government summoned the top U.S. official in the country, Maura Connelly, on Wednesday to request that an American cultural center be shut immediately. The government also requested a closure date of November 6 for the American-run Damascus Community School, deputy U.S. State Department spokesman Robert Wood said.
The Syrians did not specify how long the closures would last, Wood said.
Connelly told Syrian officials that the United States "expects them to provide adequate security to the buildings" during the closures, Wood said.
Senior State Department officials said the U.S. was pushing back on the request to close the school, as were other international diplomats and Syrian families whose children attend classes there.
Earlier this week, the Syrians gave Connelly a "demarche," or formal protest, about Sunday's incident, Wood said.
Syria has filed a complaint with the United Nations over the incident, which it has deemed an "act of aggression."
Syria says four U.S. helicopters based in Iraq launched the deadly airstrike on a farm under construction about five miles (8 kilometers) from the Iraq-Syria border, according to SANA.
Washington has not confirmed the strike. But a U.S. official who did not want to be identified said U.S. gunships fired near the Syria-Iraq border and successfully targeted Abu Ghadiya, an Iraqi suspected of working with al Qaeda to smuggle money, weapons and foreign fighters into Iraq.
Abu Ghadiya was "the top facilitator of al Qaeda foreign fighters into Iraq," according to a top U.S. military official in Iraq who did not want to be named for security reasons.
News of the embassy closure came as the Iraqi government announced Wednesday that it has opened an investigation into the airstrike.
Iraqi authorities said they plan to share their findings with Syria.
"All information and data [will be] submitted to the brotherly Syrian side upon the completion of investigations," the statement said, quoting an authoritative source in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
In its letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the current head of the U.N. Security Council, Syria maintained that the U.S. helicopters "violated Syrian airspace" and struck a civilian building before returning to Iraq, SANA reported.
Farhan Haq, a spokesman for Ban's office, confirmed that the secretary-general had received the complaint and said it will be studied and circulated among Security Council members.
Syria identified the eight killed as Daoud Mohammad al-Abdullah and his four sons; Ahmad Khalefa; and Ali Abbas and his wife, according to SANA.
Another unnamed U.S. official in Washington disputed that women or children were killed.
The official said the operation, carried out by U.S. Special Operations ground forces, was designed to minimize the risk of unintended civilian casualties. He said that other members of Abu Ghadiya's network were killed in the raid and that no one was captured alive.
Ali al-Dabbagh, the spokesman for the government in Baghdad, initially responded to the attack Monday.
"We want good relations, but we must remember that 13 Iraqi policemen ... were killed in an Iraqi bordering village near that region by a terrorist group that was operating from the Syrian territories," he said.
The Syrian government denounced that statement, state-run media reported. Al-Dabbagh issued a statement Tuesday saying the government in Baghdad condemned the attack and called on U.S. forces "not to repeat such acts."
Iraq's parliament issued a statement Tuesday expressing "great regret" over the strike, which it said threatens to "mar" Iraq's relationship with Syria.
|Questions raised over Syrian complicity in US raid|
Syria has denounced a US strike on its territory but sources say Damascus secretly backed the raid
Marie Colvin and Uzi Mahnaimi
November 2, 2008
The 38-year-old farmer was watering his maize in the scrubby vastness of eastern Syria when four Black Hawk helicopters swooped in low over the palm trees, heading from the border with Iraq formed by the Euphrates River.
It was late afternoon. The light was fading and the chill of the desert winter night was setting in. The helicopters, following their leader in a disciplined arc, hovered just above the one-storey concrete and mud homes of the village of Sukariyeh before the attack began.
Two of them landed next to a ramshackle building site and uniformed men hit the ground firing. Two other helicopters gave aerial cover.
“To begin with I thought they were Syrian helicopters, but then I saw eight or nine soldiers armed to the teeth. They carried big black M16s,” said Mohammad al-Ali, the farmer. His land lies closest to the site where an American commando squad last week staged an unprecedented strike in Syrian territory.
The guns were the clue to their identity – only Americans or their allies carry M16s; the Syrian army has Russian-made AK47s.
Ali said the troops raced to a compound of new homes, where men of the al-Hamad family were working. “Even before they ran from their helicopters they began to shoot at the workers,” Ali said. “The whole operation took 10 to 15 minutes and they left behind seven corpses.”
According to one eyewitness, the Americans took two men, alive or dead, back with them.
The Americans’ target was an Al-Qaeda commander identified as Badran Turki Hashim al-Mazidih, also known as Abu Ghadiya, an Iraqi-born terrorist in his late twenties. It is believed that he died in the firefight and his body was removed.
The Syrian regime immediately denounced the raid for violating its sovereignty, froze high-level diplomatic relations with Washington and protested at the United Nations in a ritualised show of anger.
However, sources in Washington last week revealed to The Sunday Times an intriguingly different background to the events in Sukariyeh.
According to one source, the special forces operation had taken place with the full cooperation of the Syrian intelligence services.
“Immediately after 9/11, Syrian intelligence cooperation was remarkable,” said the Washington source. “Then ties were broken off, but they have resumed recently.”
Abu Ghadiya was feared by the Syrians as an agent of Islamic fundamentalism who was hostile to the secular regime in Damascus. It would be expedient for Syria if America would eliminate him.
The threat to the Syrian government has made the regime of President Bashar al-Assad jittery. In September a car bomb exploded in Damascus near its intelligence headquarters. Many of the 17 victims were Shi’ite Muslim pilgrims at a nearby shrine.
The Washington source said the Americans regularly communicate with the Syrians through a back channel that runs through Syria’s air force intelligence, the Idarat al-Mukhabarat al-Jawiyya.
In the time-honoured tradition of covert US operations in the Middle East, this one seems to have gone spectacularly wrong. The Syrians, who had agreed to turn a blind eye to a supposedly quiet “snatch and grab” raid, could not keep the lid on a firefight in which so many people had died.
The operation should have been fast and bloodless. According to the sources, Syrian intelligence tipped off the Americans about Abu Ghadiya’s whereabouts. US electronic intelligence then tracked his exact location, possibly by tracing his satellite telephone, and the helicopters were directed to him. They were supposed to kidnap him and take him to Iraq for questioning.
According to defence sources, when the four US helicopters approached the Syrian border, they were detected by Syrian radar. Air force headquarters in Damascus was asked for permission to intercept.
After an Israeli airstrike against a suspected nuclear reactor in the same region last year, Syrian air defence has been on high alert. The request was turned down by senior officers because the American operation was expected.
It is not clear what went wrong, but it is believed that the helicopters were spotted by the militants on their final approach and a gun battle broke out. That is supported by an account from a local tribal leader, who said a rocket-propelled grenade had been launched from the compound at the helicopter. The firefight blew the cover on a supposedly covert operation.
Ninety minutes after the raid, according to a local tribal leader, agents of the feared Mukhabarat, the Syrian intelligence service, flooded into the village. “They threatened us that if anyone said anything about what happened in this area, their family members would die,” he said.
Local residents were happy to identify the seven dead villagers as Daoud al-Hamad, who owned the land, and his four sons, who were helping him to build the new houses, along with the site watchman and his cousin. The area is isolated and poor. Locals speak with Iraqi accents, as their tribe extends across the border, and smuggling is the most lucrative local profession.
The tribal leader revealed that everyone in the village knew that “jihadis” – extremist Islamic fighters – were operating in the area.
“You could often hear shooting from close to the border, which was not clashes but fighters training,” he said.
“There are areas along the border where the Mukhabarat doesn’t let people go and that’s where I think the jihadis are. The areas are some of the best ways into Iraq.”
Despite the furore over the raid, there can be little doubt that the Americans will celebrate the death of Abu Ghadiya, whom they described as the “most prominent” smuggler for Al-Qaeda in Iraq. He allegedly ran guns, money and foreign fighters along the “rat lines” that lead across the desert into northern Iraq and sometimes led raids himself.
In February the US Treasury Department identified Abu Ghadiya as a “high value” Al-Qaeda commander in charge of smuggling “money, weapons, terrorists and other resources . . . to Al-Qaeda in Iraq”.
It described him as a Sunni Muslim born in the late 1970s in Mosul and said he had been an aide to the leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was killed in 2006.
Damascus may have other motives for its cooperation with Washington. Some diplomats in the capital think the regime would like to stage its own cross-border strikes against terror groups in Lebanon, which it sees as a threat.
“Syrian cross-border incursions into northern Lebanon in pursuit of Fatah al–Islam [a group affiliated with Al-Qaeda] are plausible,” said one source. They may be relying on the United States to turn a blind eye to do so.
American officials refused to apologise for the botched raid on Syria. They said the administration was determined to operate under a definition of self-defence that provided for strikes on terrorist targets in any sovereign state.
For Al-Qaeda militants, the safe haven of Syria will be looking decidedly cooler as winter sets in.
Additional reporting: Hugh MacLeod in Beirut
|After Libya, “Syria next piece on geopolitical chessboard”|
Published: 03 April, 2011, 19:13
Syrian anti-government protesters, some holding signs reading "We only love freedom", march in the northeastern town of Qamishli on April 1, 2011 (AFP Photo / STR)
The Libyan crisis may repeat itself in Syria, believes independent journalist James Corbett, who joined RT to discuss the latest developments in the Middle Eastern country.
On Sunday, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad appointed a new prime minister after dismissing the cabinet in an attempt to ease the unrest in the country.
Dozens have been killed in two weeks of fighting. The government blames outside influences for the unrest.
The extraordinary wave of protests has proved the most serious challenge yet to Assad's 11-year rule. He earlier pledged he would form committees to look into civilian deaths and the possibility of replacing the decades-old emergency laws.
The situation has raised fears that further foreign military intervention could be on the cards.
“Syria is going to become the next piece on the geopolitical chessboard for those who are manipulating the current intervention in Libya. We’ve seen a lot of covert intervention going on behind the scenes before and during the so-called ‘humanitarian intervention’. And that’s exactly what’s going to be taking place in Syria as a very geo-strategic location starts to become destabilized,” James Corbett told RT.
After Libya, “Syria next piece on geopolitical chessboard” — RT
|Syrian lesbian blogger is revealed conclusively to be a married man|
Tom MacMaster's wife has confirmed in an email to the Guardian that he is the real identity behind the Gay Girl in Damascus blog
The Guardian, Monday 13 June 2011
Syrian lesbian blogger has been revealed to be Tom MacMaster, an American based in Scotland. Public domain
The mysterious identity of a young Arab lesbian blogger who was apparently kidnapped last week in Syria has been revealed conclusively to be a hoax. The blogs were written not by a gay girl in Damascus, but a middle-aged American man based in Scotland.
Tom MacMaster, a 40-year-old Middle East activist studying for a masters at Edinburgh University, posted an update declaring that, rather than a 35-year-old feminist and lesbian called Amina Abdallah Araf al Omari, he was "the sole author of all posts on this blog".
"I never expected this level of attention," he wrote in a posting allegedly emanating from "Istanbul, Turkey".
"The events [in the Middle East] are being shaped by the people living them on a daily basis. I have only tried to illuminate them for a western audience."
The admission – confirmed in an email to the Guardian from MacMaster's wife – apparently ends a mystery that has convulsed parts of the internet for almost a week. But it provoked a furious response from those who had supported the blogger's campaign, with some in the Syrian gay community saying he had risked their safety and seriously harmed their cause.
The blog A Gay Girl in Damascus was launched in February, purportedly to explain "what it's like to be a lesbian here", and gathered a growing following as Syria's popular uprising gained momentum in recent months. Amina described participating in street protests, carrying out furtive lesbian romances and eventually being forced into hiding after security forces came to her home to arrest her.
Then, on 6 June, a post appeared in the name of Amina's cousin "Rania O Ismail", who said the blogger had been snatched by armed men on a Damascus street. The news sparked internet campaigns to release her, until activists in Syria and beyond began voicing doubts.
It emerged that no one, even a woman in Canada who believed she was having a relationship with Amina, had ever spoken to her, and other key details could not be corroborated.
In recent days an army of bloggers, journalists and others uncovered snippets of evidence that pointed increasingly to MacMaster and his wife, Britta Froelicher, who is studying at the University of St Andrews for a PhD in Syrian economic development.
IP addresses of emails sent by Amina to the lesbian blog LezGetReal.com and others were traced to servers at Edinburgh University. A now-defunct Yahoo discussion group supposedly jointly run by "Amina Arraf" was listed under an address in Stone Mountain, Georgia, that public records show is a home owned by MacMaster and Froelicher.
Many private emails sent by the blog's author contained photographs identical to pictures taken by Froelicher and posted on her page on the Picasa photo-sharing website. Included on the site are many images from a trip to Syria in 2008. The pictures had been removed from public view by Sunday night.
With the evidence increasingly compelling, MacMaster, who apparently moved to Edinburgh with his wife late last year, decided to come clean. "While the narrative voice may have been fictional, the facts on this blog are true and not misleading as to the situation on the ground," the update read. "This experience has, sadly, only confirmed my feelings regarding the often superficial coverage of the Middle East and the pervasiveness of new forms of liberal Orientalism. However, I have been deeply touched by the reactions of readers."
Despite MacMaster's assertion "I do not believe that I have harmed anyone", activists were furious. Sami Hamwi, the pseudonym for the Damascus editor of GayMiddleEast.com, wrote: "To Mr MacMaster, I say shame on you!!! There are bloggers in Syria who are trying as hard as they can to report news and stories from the country. We have to deal with too many difficulties than you can imagine. What you have done has harmed many, put us all in danger, and made us worry about our LGBT activism. Add to that, that it might have caused doubts about the authenticity of our blogs, stories, and us.
"Your apology is not accepted, since I have myself started to investigate Amina's arrest. I could have put myself in a grave danger inquiring about a fictitious figure. Really … Shame on you!!!"
"What a waste of time when we are trying so hard to get news out of Syria," another Damascus activist told the Guardian.
Twitter supporters and bloggers also reacted furiously. There was no immediate reaction from Sandra Bagaria, the French Canadian woman who exchanged around 1,000 emails with Amina and believed herself to be in a romantic relationship with her. Jelena Lecic, the London woman whose pictures were appropriated by the blogger and passed off as Amina, including in direct email correspondence with the Guardian, was not immediately available for comment.
Katherine Marsh, the pseudonym of a journalist who until recently was reporting for the Guardian from Syria, interviewed Amina by email in May after being put in touch with her by a trusted Syrian contact who also believed the blogger to be real.
Marsh said that many steps had been taken to try to verify Amina's identity, including repeated requests to meet, at some personal risk to the journalist, and to talk on Skype.
Amina agreed to meet but later emailed to say she had seen security forces and had therefore not come to the meeting. She then emailed details of her supposed hiding place, lending credence to her story.
Despite the explanations offered in the blogpost, the question many were asking last night was why. In response to an email from the Guardian, Froelicher said she and her husband "would be giving the first interview to a journalist of [their] choice in 12-24 hours". In a message to another journalist, she said: "We are on vacation in Turkey and just really want to have a nice time and not deal with all this craziness at the moment."
|Syrian TV says at least 11 killed in Damascus blast; death toll expected to rise|
In a sign of just how polarized Syria has become, the opposition has questioned the government’s allegations that terrorists are behind the attacks — suggesting the regime itself could have been behind the violence to try to erode support for the uprising and show the observer team that it is a victim in the country’s upheaval.
The government has long contended that the turmoil in Syria this year is not an uprising but the work of terrorists and foreign-backed armed gangs.
Air force Col. Riad al-Asaad, leader of the main armed group fighting the regime, denied responsibility for Friday’s bus bombing in an interview with pan-Arab Al-Jazeera TV.
He said his organization, the Free Syrian Army, “doesn’t have the experience to carry out such explosions” and said the regime “is the plotter for this attack.” He spoke from Turkey, where the group is based.
|Air force Col. Riad al-Asaad, leader of the main armed group fighting the regime, denied responsibility for Friday’s bus bombing in an interview with pan-Arab Al-Jazeera TV.|
He said his organization, the Free Syrian Army, “doesn’t have the experience to carry out such explosions” and said the regime “is the plotter for this attack.” He spoke from Turkey, where the group is based.
|Report: France Training Free Syrian Army Rebels in Turkey, Lebanon|
by Naharnet Newsdesk 28 November 2011, 08:06
French military forces are training armed Syrian rebels in Turkey and Lebanon to fight the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad, a Turkish newspaper has reported.
According to Milliyet, as cited by The Islamic Republic News Agency, IRNA, the French forces are training the so-called Free Syrian Army to wage war against Syria's military.
The report said the French, British, and Turkish authorities “have reached an agreement to send arms into Syria.”
The three countries have also informed the U.S. about the training and arming the Syrian opposition, it said.
The rebel army has stepped up attacks on regime targets in recent weeks in a bid to topple Assad’s government which has waged a bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters since mid-March.
The Free Syrian Army claims to have some 20,000 deserters in its ranks. The group's chief, Riad al-Assaad, is based in Turkey.
The report came after the media also revealed that the British and French intelligence agencies have tasked their agents with contacting Syrian dissidents based in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli to help fuel the unrest in Syria.
Reports also said that French agents have been sent to northern Lebanon and Turkey to build the first contingents of the Free Syrian Army out of the deserters who have fled Syria.
Report: France Training Free Syrian Army Rebels in Turkey, Lebanon — Naharnet
|U.S. secretly backed Syrian opposition groups, cables released by WikiLeaks show|
By Craig Whitlock,
The State Department has secretly financed Syrian political opposition groups and related projects, including a satellite TV channel that beams anti-government programming into the country, according to previously undisclosed diplomatic cables.
The London-based satellite channel, Barada TV, began broadcasting in April 2009 but has ramped up operations to cover the mass protests in Syria as part of a long-standing campaign to overthrow the country’s autocratic leader, Bashar al-Assad. Human rights groups say scores of people have been killed by Assad’s security forces since the demonstrations began March 18; Syria has blamed the violence on “armed gangs.”
Barada TV is closely affiliated with the Movement for Justice and Development, a London-based network of Syrian exiles. Classified U.S. diplomatic cables show that the State Department has funneled as much as $6 million to the group since 2006 to operate the satellite channel and finance other activities inside Syria. The channel is named after the Barada River, which courses through the heart of Damascus, the Syrian capital.
The U.S. money for Syrian opposition figures began flowing under President George W. Bush after he effectively froze political ties with Damascus in 2005. The financial backing has continued under President Obama, even as his administration sought to rebuild relations with Assad. In January, the White House posted an ambassador to Damascus for the first time in six years.
The cables, provided by the anti-secrecy Web site WikiLeaks, show that U.S. Embassy officials in Damascus became worried in 2009 when they learned that Syrian intelligence agents were raising questions about U.S. programs. Some embassy officials suggested that the State Department reconsider its involvement, arguing that it could put the Obama administration’s rapprochement with Damascus at risk.
Syrian authorities “would undoubtedly view any U.S. funds going to illegal political groups as tantamount to supporting regime change,” read an April 2009 cable signed by the top-ranking U.S. diplomat in Damascus at the time. “A reassessment of current U.S.-sponsored programming that supports anti-[government] factions, both inside and outside Syria, may prove productive,” the cable said.
It is unclear whether the State Department is still funding Syrian opposition groups, but the cables indicate money was set aside at least through September 2010. While some of that money has also supported programs and dissidents inside Syria, The Washington Post is withholding certain names and program details at the request of the State Department, which said disclosure could endanger the recipients’ personal safety.
Syria, a police state, has been ruled by Assad since 2000, when he took power after his father’s death. Although the White House has condemned the killing of protesters in Syria, it has not explicitly called for his ouster.
The State Department declined to comment on the authenticity of the cables or answer questions about its funding of Barada TV.
Tamara Wittes, a deputy assistant secretary of state who oversees the democracy and human rights portfolio in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, said the State Department does not endorse political parties or movements.
“We back a set of principles,” she said. “There are a lot of organizations in Syria and other countries that are seeking changes from their government. That’s an agenda that we believe in and we’re going to support.”
The State Department often funds programs around the world that promote democratic ideals and human rights, but it usually draws the line at giving money to political opposition groups.
In February 2006, when relations with Damascus were at a nadir, the Bush administration announced that it would award $5 million in grants to “accelerate the work of reformers in Syria.”
But no dissidents inside Syria were willing to take the money, for fear it would lead to their arrest or execution for treason, according to a 2006 cable from the U.S. Embassy, which reported that “no bona fide opposition member will be courageous enough to accept funding.”
Around the same time, Syrian exiles in Europe founded the Movement for Justice and Development. The group, which is banned in Syria, openly advocates for Assad’s removal. U.S. cables describe its leaders as “liberal, moderate Islamists” who are former members of the Muslim Brotherhood.
It is unclear when the group began to receive U.S. funds, but cables show U.S. officials in 2007 raised the idea of helping to start an anti-Assad satellite channel.
People involved with the group and with Barada TV, however, would not acknowledge taking money from the U.S. government.
“I’m not aware of anything like that,” Malik al-Abdeh, Barada TV’s news director, said in a brief telephone interview from London.
Abdeh said the channel receives money from “independent Syrian businessmen” whom he declined to name. He also said there was no connection between Barada TV and the Movement for Justice and Development, although he confirmed that he serves on the political group’s board. The board is chaired by his brother, Anas.
“If your purpose is to smear Barada TV, I don’t want to continue this conversation,” Malik al-Abdeh said. “That’s all I’m going to give you.”
Other dissidents said that Barada TV has a growing audience in Syria but that its viewer share is tiny compared with other independent satellite news channels such as al-Jazeera and BBC Arabic. Although Barada TV broadcasts 24 hours a day, many of its programs are reruns. Some of the mainstay shows are “Towards Change,” a panel discussion about current events, and “First Step,” a program produced by a Syrian dissident group based in the United States.
Ausama Monajed, another Syrian exile in London, said he used to work as a producer for Barada TV and as media relations director for the Movement for Justice and Development but has not been “active” in either job for about a year. He said he now devotes all his energy to the Syrian revolutionary movement, distributing videos and protest updates to journalists.
He said he “could not confirm” any U.S. government support for the satellite channel, because he was not involved with its finances. “I didn’t receive a penny myself,” he said.
Several U.S. diplomatic cables from the embassy in Damascus reveal that the Syrian exiles received money from a State Department program called the Middle East Partnership Initiative. According to the cables, the State Department funneled money to the exile group via the Democracy Council, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit. According to its Web site, the council sponsors projects in the Middle East, Asia and Latin America to promote the “fundamental elements of stable societies.”
The council’s founder and president, James Prince, is a former congressional staff member and investment adviser for PricewaterhouseCoopers. Reached by telephone, Prince acknowledged that the council administers a grant from the Middle East Partnership Initiative but said that it was not “Syria-specific.”
Prince said he was “familiar with” Barada TV and the Syrian exile group in London, but he declined to comment further, saying he did not have approval from his board of directors. “We don’t really talk about anything like that,” he said.
The April 2009 cable from the U.S. Embassy in Damascus states that the Democracy Council received $6.3 million from the State Department to run a Syria-related program called the “Civil Society Strengthening Initiative.” That program is described as “a discrete collaborative effort between the Democracy Council and local partners” to produce, among other things, “various broadcast concepts.” Other cables make clear that one of those concepts was Barada TV.
Edgar Vasquez, a State Department spokesman, said the Middle East Partnership Initiative has allocated $7.5 million for Syrian programs since 2005. A cable from the embassy in Damascus, however, pegged a much higher total — about $12 million — between 2005 and 2010.
The cables report persistent fears among U.S. diplomats that Syrian state security agents had uncovered the money trail from Washington.
A September 2009 cable reported that Syrian agents had interrogated a number of people about “MEPI operations in particular,” a reference to the Middle East Partnership Initiative.
“It is unclear to what extent [Syrian] intelligence services understand how USG money enters Syria and through which proxy organizations,” the cable stated, referring to funding from the U.S. government. “What is clear, however, is that security agents are increasingly focused on this issue.”
U.S. diplomats also warned that Syrian agents may have “penetrated” the Movement for Justice and Development by intercepting its communications.
A June 2009 cable listed the concerns under the heading “MJD: A Leaky Boat?” It reported that the group was “seeking to expand its base in Syria” but had been “initially lax in its security, often speaking about highly sensitive material on open lines.”
The cable cited evidence that the Syrian intelligence service was aware of the connection between the London exile group and the Democracy Council in Los Angeles. As a result, embassy officials fretted that the entire Syria assistance program had been compromised.
“Reporting in other channels suggest the Syrian [Mukhabarat] may already have penetrated the MJD and is using the MJD contacts to track U.S. democracy programming,” the cable stated. “If the [Syrian government] does know, but has chosen not to intervene openly, it raises the possibility that the [government] may be mounting a campaign to entrap democracy activists.”
U.S. secretly backed Syrian opposition groups, cables released by WikiLeaks show - The Washington Post
|Syria's crisis is leading us to unlikely bedfellows|
David Cameron and William Hague are at risk of over-simplifying a dangerous and complex situation.
By Peter Oborne
9:00PM GMT 18 Feb 2012
When two car bombings killed nearly 50 people in the heart of the Syrian capital of Damascus just before Christmas, we in the West were quick to challenge claims made on state TV that the atrocities had been carried out by al-Qaeda. We were inclined to award more credibility to the Syrian rebels, who denied that the terror group was involved at all, and insisted that the attacks had been cynically staged by the government, perhaps as a bid for international sympathy.
However, all doubt ended last week when James Clapper, director of US national intelligence, informed the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Damascus bombings “had all the earmarks of an al-Qaeda attack”. Mr Clapper added that “we believe al-Qaeda in Iraq is extending its reach into Syria”. So, it’s official. Al-Qaeda is acknowledged as an ally of Britain and America in our desire to overturn the Syrian government.
Think about it. Ten years ago, in the wake of the destruction of the Twin Towers, we invaded Afghanistan to eliminate al-Qaeda. Now the world’s most notorious terror organisation wants to join a new “coalition of the willing” in Syria (not just al-Qaeda: yesterday the Muslim group Hizb ut-Tahrir staged a march through west London in support of their Syrian brothers and the establishment of the Khilafah state).
This may be the most profound turnaround in global politics since the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of 1939 converted Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany from bitter enemies into allies – and it is important to understand that the affinity of interests between al-Qaeda and the West extends far beyond Syria. Britain, the United States and al-Qaeda also have a deep, structural hostility to President Assad’s biggest sponsor, Iran.
Like al-Qaeda, we are interested in undermining Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in the Lebanon. In Libya, David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy threw their weight behind the destruction of Gaddafi’s government and its replacement by a new regime which reportedly embraces al-Qaeda-connected figures. We and the terror group have come to share the same hostility to the Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, and for very much the same reason: we both agree that he takes his orders from Tehran.
Of course, it remains the case that we have different methods and contrasting ideals. But we share unnervingly similar short-term objectives. Although it is unlikely that Britain and America have significant direct dealings with al-Qaeda, it may be that some of our allies do.
Let’s consider for a moment one of the most glaring hypocrisies of American foreign policy: the differential treatment between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Washington never ceases to complain about the connection between the Pakistani intelligence services and the Taliban. But we never hear a whisper of concerns about the connection between Saudi intelligence and Salafi movements across the Middle East, of which al-Qaeda is the best known offshoot.
For months, the region has been alive with rumours that al-Qaeda and other Sunni fighters have been sneaking into Syria through Lebanon and Turkey. Many of these extremist Sunni infiltrators fought with al-Qaeda in Iraq before being driven out and taking refuge in the Lebanon. It is likely that they are backed with money and arms by Saudi interests, and inconceivable that they could act without the knowledge, and perhaps the assistance, of Saudi intelligence.
So what has brought al-Qaeda in from the cold? The answer lies in the Arab Spring. Certainly the revolutions in Libya, Tunisia and elsewhere started out as popular uprisings; many of the rebels in Syria continue to fight, and often die, for human rights and democracy. But, as time has gone by, other agendas are coming into play, and other interests have sought to assert themselves. The statecraft of Saudi Arabia demonstrates how complex the situation has become. The gerontocracy which governs that desert kingdom will never countenance internal opposition. Indeed, Saudi troops marched into Bahrain to suppress the democracy movement there. On the other hand, the Saudis backed the Libyan rebels and are reportedly active in the destabilisation of President Assad.
This deeply reactionary monarchy remains Britain and America’s closest ally in the Middle East. As the Arab Spring has unfolded, we have encouraged the Saudis to develop a makeshift alliance that embraces Qatar, Jordan, the Israelis, al-Qaeda and, it would seem, elements of the Muslim Brotherhood, who have very strong historical reasons for wishing to dislodge the Assad regime, in the light of its brutal crushing of the Brotherhood-inspired revolt in Hama 30 years ago. All members of this alliance would agree that they want the Shiite-Allawi regime in Syria to be replaced by some form of majority Sunni rule. Britain and America hope this would be democratic; doubtless al-Qaeda and its Saudi allies have something else in mind. Ranged on the other side are Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas and Iraq’s al-Maliki government. In Iraq, many of the Awakening Councils (the militia set up by the US six years ago to defeat al-Qaeda) now feel betrayed and are said to have joined forces again with their Sunni brethren.
The situation could hardly be more dangerous or more complex. Yet, in recent public pronouncements David Cameron has repeatedly spoken of the conflict in Syria as a struggle between an illegal and autocratic regime at war with what he likes to call “the people”. Either he is poorly briefed, or he is coming dangerously close to a calculated deception of the British public. For the situation is far more complicated than he has admitted. It is far from obvious, for example, even that a majority of Syrians are opposed to the Assad regime. Russia calculates that perhaps two thirds of Syrians are still broadly supportive, and it is worth recalling that Russia was a more accurate source of information in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq than either Britain or the US.
Foreign policy is perhaps the area where David Cameron’s Government has copied New Labour most closely. Mr Cameron shares much of Tony Blair’s slavish adherence to American foreign policy aims, especially in the Middle East. Like Mr Blair, he wilfully simplifies intractable foreign policy decisions and has shown a fondness for overseas adventures. In Syria, British rhetoric may raise expectations among the opposition which we can never satisfy.
Meanwhile, in Libya there are menacing signs that last year’s Anglo-French intervention is starting to go wrong. The toppling of the Gaddafi regime has not brought an end to the killing. If anything, the fighting appears to be getting worse, as the country breaks into hostile armed fractions – a fertile hunting ground for al-Qaeda, our latest collaborator in the war on terror. I hope that the Prime Minister and his Foreign Secretary, William Hague, know what they are doing as they allow Britain to be dragged closer towards further intervention in the Middle East. But judging from their public remarks they may be playing a game whose rules they do not fully understand.
|US, UK Targeting Syria: Revisiting 1957 Attack Plans?|
by Felicity Arbuthnot / February 7th, 2012
The very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world. Lies will pass into history.
— George Orwell (Eric Arthur Blair, 1903-1950)
For anyone in two minds about what is really going on in Syria, and whether President Assad, hailed a decade ago as “A Modern Day Attaturk”, has become the latest megalomaniacal despot to whose people a US-led posse of nations must deliver “freedom” with weapons of mass, home, people, nation and livelihood destruction, here is a salutary tale from modern history.
Have the more recent saber-rattlings against Syria* been based on US-UK government papers only discovered in 2003, and since air-brushed (or erroneously omitted) from even BBC timelines on that country?
In late 2003, the year of the Iraq invasion, Matthew Jones, a Reader in International History at London’s Royal Holloway College, discovered “frighteningly frank” documents — 1957 plans between then UK Prime Minister Harold Macmillan and then President Dwight Eisenhower endorsing: “a CIA-MI6 plan to stage fake border incidents as an excuse for an invasion (of Syria) by Syria’s pro-western neighbours.”
At the heart of the plan was the assassination of the perceived power behind then President Shukri al-Quwatli. Those targeted were Abd al-Hamid Sarraj, Head of Military Intelligence; Afif al-Bizri, Chief of Syrian General Staff: and Khalid Bakdash, who headed the Syrian Communist Party.
The document was drawn up in Washington in September of 1957:
In order to facilitate the action of liberative (sic) forces, reduce the capabilities of the regime to organize and direct its military actions … to bring about the desired results in the shortest possible time, a special effort should be made to eliminate certain key individuals.
Their removal should be accomplished early in the course of the uprising and intervention, and in the light of circumstances existing at the time.
In light of President Assad’s current allegations of foreign forces, interventions and cross-border incursions, this document contains some fascinating, salutary phrases:
Once a political decision has been reached to proceed with internal disturbances in Syria, CIA is prepared, and SIS (MI6) will attempt to mount minor sabotage and coup de main (sic) incidents within Syria, working through contacts with individuals.
Incidents should not be concentrated in Damascus … care should be taken to avoid causing key leaders of the Syrian regime to take additional personal protection measures.
Further, a “necessary degree of fear … frontier incidents and (staged) border clashes”, would “provide a pretext for intervention” by Iraq and Jordan – then still under British mandate.
Syria was to be “made to appear as sponsor of plots, sabotage and violence directed against neighbouring governments … the CIA and SIS should use … capabilitites in both psychological and action fields to augment tension.”
Incursions into Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon would involve “sabotage, national conspiracies, and various strong arms activities”, were, advised the document, to be blamed on Damascus.
In late December 2011 an opposition “Syria National Council” was announced, to “liberate the country”. Representatives met with Hilary Clinton. There now seems to be a US – endorsed “Syrian Revolutionary Council.”
The Eisenhower-Macmillan plan was for funding of the “Free Syria Committee” and “arming of political factions with paramilitary or other actionist capabilities”, within Syria.
CIA-MI6 planned fomenting internal uprisings and replacing the Ba’ath Communist-leaning government with a Western, user-friendly one. Expecting this to be met by public hostility, they planned to “probably need to rely first on repressive measures and arbitrary exercise of power.”
The document was signed off in both London and Washington. It was, wrote Macmillan in his diary, “a most formidable report” — a report which was “withheld even from British Chiefs of Staff …”
Washington and Whitehall had become concerned at Syria’s increasingly pro-Soviet, rather than pro-Western sympathies, and the Ba’ath (Pan Arab) and Communist party alliance, also largely allied within the Syrian army.
However, even political concerns were trumped by Syria then controlling a main pipeline from the Western bonanza of Iraq’s oil fields in those pre-Saddam Hussein days.
Briefly put, in 1957 Syria allied with Moscow (which included an agreement for military and economic aid) also recognized China – and then as now, the then Soviet Union warned the West against intervening in Syria.
Syria is unchanged as an independent minded country, and the loyalties remain. It broadly continues to be the cradle of the Pan Arab ideal of Ba’athism, standing alone since the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime.
In 1957, this independent mindedness caused Loy Henderson, a Senior State Department official, to say that “the present regime in Syria had to go …”
Ultimately, the plan was not used since British mandate or not, neighbouring countries refused to play. However, the project overtly bears striking similarity to the reality of events over the last decade in Syria – and the region.
In a near 1957 re-run, Britain’s Foreign Minister, William Hague has said President Assad “will feel emboldened” by the UN Russia-China vote in Syria’s favour.
Hilary (“We came, we saw, he died”) Clinton, has called for “friends of a democratic Syria”, to unite and rally against the Assad government:
“We need to work together to send them a clear message: you cannot hold back the future at the point of a gun”, said the woman filmed purportedly watching the extrajudicial, illegal assassination of who may be, or may be not, Osma Bin Laden and others –but certainly people were murdered by US illegal invaders at the point of lots of guns.
Supremely ironically, she was speaking in Munich (5 February) historically “the birth place of the Nazi party.”
The Russia-China veto at the UN on actions against Syria has been condemned by the US, varyingly as “disgusting”, ‘shameful”, “deplorable”, “a travesty.”
Eye opening is the list of US vetoes to be found here. Jaw dropping double standards can only be wondered at (again.).
Perhaps the bottom line is that in 1957, Iraq’s oil was at the top of the agenda, of which Syria held an important key. Today, it is Iran’s, and as Michel Chossudovsky notes so succinctly: “The road to Tehran is through Damascus.”
* 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2008, 2011, 2012.
US, UK Targeting Syria: Revisiting 1957 Attack Plans? | Dissident Voice
|BBC News uses 'Iraq photo to illustrate Syrian massacre'|
The BBC is facing criticism after it accidentally used a picture taken in Iraq in 2003 to illustrate the senseless massacre of children in Syria.
The photograph was actually taken by Marco di Lauro in Iraq in 2003
By Hannah Furness
10:39PM BST 27 May 2012
Photographer Marco di Lauro said he nearly “fell off his chair” when he saw the image being used, and said he was “astonished” at the failure of the corporation to check their sources.
The picture, which was actually taken on March 27, 2003, shows a young Iraqi child jumping over dozens of white body bags containing skeletons found in a desert south of Baghdad.
It was posted on the BBC news website today under the heading “Syria massacre in Houla condemned as outrage grows”.
The caption states the photograph was provided by an activist and cannot be independently verified, but says it is “believed to show the bodies of children in Houla awaiting burial”.
A BBC spokesman said the image has now been taken down
Mr di Lauro, who works for Getty Images picture agency and has been published by newspapers across the US and Europe, said: “I went home at 3am and I opened the BBC page which had a front page story about what happened in Syria and I almost felt off from my chair.
“One of my pictures from Iraq was used by the BBC web site as a front page illustration claiming that those were the bodies of yesterday's massacre in Syria and that the picture was sent by an activist.
“Instead the picture was taken by me and it's on my web site, on the feature section regarding a story I did In Iraq during the war called Iraq, the aftermath of Saddam.
“What I am really astonished by is that a news organization like the BBC doesn't check the sources and it's willing to publish any picture sent it by anyone: activist, citizen journalist or whatever. That's all.
He added he was less concerned about an apology or the use of image without consent, adding: “What is amazing it's that a news organization has a picture proving a massacre that happened yesterday in Syria and instead it's a picture that was taken in 2003 of a totally different massacre.
“Someone is using someone else's picture for propaganda on purpose.”
A spokesman for the BBC said: “We were aware of this image being widely circulated on the internet in the early hours of this morning following the most recent atrocities in Syria.
“We used it with a clear disclaimer saying it could not be independently verified.
“Efforts were made overnight to track down the original source of the image and when it was established the picture was inaccurate we removed it immediately.”
BBC News uses 'Iraq photo to illustrate Syrian massacre' - Telegraph
|The Syrian opposition: who's doing the talking?|
The media have been too passive when it comes to Syrian opposition sources, without scrutinising their backgrounds and their political connections. Time for a closer look …
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 12 July 2012 10.48 EDT
A nightmare is unfolding across Syria, in the homes of al-Heffa and the streets of Houla. And we all know how the story ends: with thousands of soldiers and civilians killed, towns and families destroyed, and President Assad beaten to death in a ditch.
This is the story of the Syrian war, but there is another story to be told. A tale less bloody, but nevertheless important. This is a story about the storytellers: the spokespeople, the "experts on Syria", the "democracy activists". The statement makers. The people who "urge" and "warn" and "call for action".
It's a tale about some of the most quoted members of the Syrian opposition and their connection to the Anglo-American opposition creation business. The mainstream news media have, in the main, been remarkably passive when it comes to Syrian sources: billing them simply as "official spokesmen" or "pro-democracy campaigners" without, for the most part, scrutinising their statements, their backgrounds or their political connections.
It's important to stress: to investigate the background of a Syrian spokesperson is not to doubt the sincerity of his or her opposition to Assad. But a passionate hatred of the Assad regime is no guarantee of independence. Indeed, a number of key figures in the Syrian opposition movement are long-term exiles who were receiving US government funding to undermine the Assad government long before the Arab spring broke out.
Though it is not yet stated US government policy to oust Assad by force, these spokespeople are vocal advocates of foreign military intervention in Syria and thus natural allies of well-known US neoconservatives who supported Bush's invasion of Iraq and are now pressuring the Obama administration to intervene. As we will see, several of these spokespeople have found support, and in some cases developed long and lucrative relationships with advocates of military intervention on both sides of the Atlantic.
"The sand is running out of the hour glass," said Hillary Clinton on Sunday. So, as the fighting in Syria intensifies, and Russian warships set sail for Tartus, it's high time to take a closer look at those who are speaking out on behalf of the Syrian people.
The Syrian National Council
The most quoted of the opposition spokespeople are the official representatives of the Syrian National Council. The SNC is not the only Syrian opposition group – but it is generally recognised as "the main opposition coalition" (BBC). The Washington Times describes it as "an umbrella group of rival factions based outside Syria". Certainly the SNC is the opposition group that's had the closest dealings with western powers – and has called for foreign intervention from the early stages of the uprising. In February of this year, at the opening of the Friends of Syria summit in Tunisia, William Hague declared: "I will meet leaders of the Syrian National Council in a few minutes' time … We, in common with other nations, will now treat them and recognise them as a legitimate representative of the Syrian people."
The most senior of the SNC's official spokespeople is the Paris-based Syrian academic Bassma Kodmani.
Here is Bassma Kodmani, seen leaving this year's Bilderberg conference in Chantilly, Virginia.
Kodmani is a member of the executive bureau and head of foreign affairs, Syrian National Council. Kodmani is close to the centre of the SNC power structure, and one of the council's most vocal spokespeople. "No dialogue with the ruling regime is possible. We can only discuss how to move on to a different political system," she declared this week. And here she is, quoted by the newswire AFP: "The next step needs to be a resolution under Chapter VII, which allows for the use of all legitimate means, coercive means, embargo on arms, as well as the use of force to oblige the regime to comply."
This statement translates into the headline "Syrians call for armed peacekeepers" (Australia's Herald Sun). When large-scale international military action is being called for, it seems only reasonable to ask: who exactly is calling for it? We can say, simply, "an official SNC spokesperson," or we can look a little closer.
This year was Kodmani's second Bilderberg. At the 2008 conference, Kodmani was listed as French; by 2012, her Frenchness had fallen away and she was listed simply as "international" – her homeland had become the world of international relations.
Back a few years, in 2005, Kodmani was working for the Ford Foundation in Cairo, where she was director of their governance and international co-operation programme. The Ford Foundation is a vast organisation, headquartered in New York, and Kodmani was already fairly senior. But she was about to jump up a league.
Around this time, in February 2005, US-Syrian relations collapsed, and President Bush recalled his ambassador from Damascus. A lot of opposition projects date from this period. "The US money for Syrian opposition figures began flowing under President George W Bush after he effectively froze political ties with Damascus in 2005," says the Washington Post.
In September 2005, Kodmani was made the executive director of the Arab Reform Initiative (ARI) – a research programme initiated by the powerful US lobby group, the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).
The CFR is an elite US foreign policy thinktank, and the Arab Reform Initiative is described on its website as a "CFR Project" . More specifically, the ARI was initiated by a group within the CFR called the "US/Middle East Project" – a body of senior diplomats, intelligence officers and financiers, the stated aim of which is to undertake regional "policy analysis" in order "to prevent conflict and promote stability". The US/Middle East Project pursues these goals under the guidance of an international board chaired by General (Ret.) Brent Scowcroft.
Peter Sutherland Peter Sutherland pictured at the Bilderberg conference. Photograph: Hannah Borno
Brent Scowcroft (chairman emeritus) is a former national security adviser to the US president – he took over the role from Henry Kissinger. Sitting alongside Scowcroft of the international board is his fellow geo-strategist, Zbigniew Brzezinski, who succeeded him as the national security adviser, and Peter Sutherland, the chairman of Goldman Sachs International. So, as early as 2005, we've got a senior wing of the western intelligence/banking establishment selecting Kodmani to run a Middle East research project. In September of that year, Kodmani was made full-time director of the programme. Earlier in 2005, the CFR assigned "financial oversight" of the project to the Centre for European Reform (CER). In come the British.
The CER is overseen by Lord Kerr, the deputy chairman of Royal Dutch Shell. Kerr is a former head of the diplomatic service and is a senior adviser at Chatham House (a thinktank showcasing the best brains of the British diplomatic establishment).
In charge of the CER on a day-to-day basis is Charles Grant, former defence editor of the Economist, and these days a member of the European Council on Foreign Relations, a "pan-European thinktank" packed with diplomats, industrialists, professors and prime ministers. On its list of members you'll find the name: "Bassma Kodmani (France/Syria) – Executive Director, Arab Reform Initiative".
Another name on the list: George Soros – the financier whose non-profit "Open Society Foundations" is a primary funding source of the ECFR. At this level, the worlds of banking, diplomacy, industry, intelligence and the various policy institutes and foundations all mesh together, and there, in the middle of it all, is Kodmani.
The point is, Kodmani is not some random "pro-democracy activist" who happens to have found herself in front of a microphone. She has impeccable international diplomacy credentials: she holds the position of research director at the Académie Diplomatique Internationale – "an independent and neutral institution dedicated to promoting modern diplomacy". The Académie is headed by Jean-Claude Cousseran, a former head of the DGSE – the French foreign intelligence service.
A picture is emerging of Kodmani as a trusted lieutenant of the Anglo-American democracy-promotion industry. Her "province of origin" (according to the SNC website) is Damascus, but she has close and long-standing professional relationships with precisely those powers she's calling upon to intervene in Syria.
And many of her spokesmen colleagues are equally well-connected.
Another often quoted SNC representative is Radwan Ziadeh – director of foreign relations at the Syrian National Council. Ziadeh has an impressive CV: he's a senior fellow at the federally funded Washington thinktank, the US Institute of Peace (the USIP Board of Directors is packed with alumni of the defence department and the national security council; its president is Richard Solomon, former adviser to Kissinger at the NSC).
In February this year, Ziadeh joined an elite bunch of Washington hawks to sign a letter calling upon Obama to intervene in Syria: his fellow signatories include James Woolsey (former CIA chief), Karl Rove (Bush Jr's handler), Clifford May (Committee on the Present Danger) and Elizabeth Cheney, former head of the Pentagon's Iran-Syria Operations Group.
Ziadeh is a relentless organiser, a blue-chip Washington insider with links to some of the most powerful establishment thinktanks. Ziadeh's connections extend all the way to London. In 2009 he became a visiting fellow at Chatham House, and in June of last year he featured on the panel at one of their events – "Envisioning Syria's Political Future" – sharing a platform with fellow SNC spokesman Ausama Monajed (more on Monajed below) and SNC member Najib Ghadbian.
Ghadbian was identified by the Wall Street Journal as an early intermediary between the US government and the Syrian opposition in exile: "An initial contact between the White House and NSF [National Salvation Front] was forged by Najib Ghadbian, a University of Arkansas political scientist." This was back in 2005. The watershed year.
These days, Ghadbian is a member of the general secretariat of the SNC, and is on the advisory board of a Washington-based policy body called the Syrian Center for Political and Strategic Studies (SCPSS) – an organisation co-founded by Ziadeh.
Ziadeh has been making connections like this for years. Back in 2008, Ziadeh took part in a meeting of opposition figures in a Washington government building: a mini-conference called "Syria In-Transition". The meeting was co-sponsored by a US-based body called the Democracy Council and a UK-based organisation called the Movement for Justice and Development (MJD). It was a big day for the MJD – their chairman, Anas Al-Abdah, had travelled to Washington from Britain for the event, along with their director of public relations. Here, from the MJD's website, is a description of the day: "The conference saw an exceptional turn out as the allocated hall was packed with guests from the House of Representatives and the Senate, representatives of studies centres, journalists and Syrian expatriats [sic] in the USA."
The day opened with a keynote speech by James Prince, head of the Democracy Council. Ziadeh was on a panel chaired by Joshua Muravchik (the ultra-interventionist author of the 2006 op-ed "Bomb Iran"). The topic of the discussion was "The Emergence of Organized Opposition". Sitting beside Ziadeh on the panel was the public relations director of the MJD – a man who would later become his fellow SNC spokesperson – Ausama Monajed.
Along with Kodmani and Ziadeh, Ausama (or sometimes Osama) Monajed is one of the most important SNC spokespeople. There are others, of course – the SNC is a big beast and includes the Muslim Brotherhood. The opposition to Assad is wide-ranging, but these are some of the key voices. There are other official spokespeople with long political careers, like George Sabra of the Syrian Democratic People's party – Sabra has suffered arrest and lengthy imprisonment in his fight against the "repressive and totalitarian regime in Syria". And there are other opposition voices outside the SNC, such as the writer Michel Kilo, who speaks eloquently of the violence tearing apart his country: "Syria is being destroyed – street after street, city after city, village after village. What kind of solution is that? In order for a small group of people to remain in power, the whole country is being destroyed."
But there's no doubt that the primary opposition body is the SNC, and Kodmani, Ziadeh and Monajed are often to be found representing it. Monajed frequently crops up as a commentator on TV news channels. Here he is on the BBC, speaking from their Washington bureau. Monajed doesn't sugar-coat his message: "We are watching civilians being slaughtered and kids being slaughtered and killed and women being raped on the TV screens every day."
Meanwhile, over on Al Jazeera, Monajed talks about "what's really happening, in reality, on the ground" – about "the militiamen of Assad" who "come and rape their women, slaughter their children, and kill their elderly".
Monajed turned up, just a few days ago, as a blogger on Huffington Post UK, where he explained, at length: "Why the World Must Intervene in Syria" – calling for "direct military assistance" and "foreign military aid". So, again, a fair question might be: who is this spokesman calling for military intervention?
Monajed is a member of the SNC, adviser to its president, and according to his SNC biography, "the Founder and Director of Barada Television", a pro-opposition satellite channel based in Vauxhall, south London. In 2008, a few months after attending Syria In-Transition conference, Monajed was back in Washington, invited to lunch with George W Bush, along with a handful of other favoured dissidents (you can see Monajed in the souvenir photo, third from the right, in the red tie, near Condoleezza Rice – up the other end from Garry Kasparov).
At this time, in 2008, the US state department knew Monajed as "director of public relations for the Movement for Justice and Development (MJD), which leads the struggle for peaceful and democratic change in Syria".
Let's look closer at the MJD. Last year, the Washington Post picked up a story from WikiLeaks, which had published a mass of leaked diplomatic cables. These cables appear to show a remarkable flow of money from the US state department to the British-based Movement for Justice and Development. According to the Washington Post's report: "Barada TV is closely affiliated with the Movement for Justice and Development, a London-based network of Syrian exiles. Classified US diplomatic cables show that the state department has funnelled as much as $6m to the group since 2006 to operate the satellite channel and finance other activities inside Syria."
A state department spokesman responded to this story by saying: "Trying to promote a transformation to a more democratic process in this society is not undermining necessarily the existing government." And they're right, it's not "necessarily" that.
When asked about the state department money, Monajed himself said that he "could not confirm" US state department funding for Barada TV, but said: "I didn't receive a penny myself." Malik al -Abdeh, until very recently Barada TV's editor-in-chief insisted: "we have had no direct dealings with the US state department". The meaning of the sentence turns on that word "direct". It is worth noting that Malik al Abdeh also happens to be one of the founders of the Movement for Justice and Development (the recipient of the state department $6m, according to the leaked cable). And he's the brother of the chairman, Anas Al-Abdah. He's also the co-holder of the MJD trademark: What Malik al Abdeh does admit is that Barada TV gets a large chunk of its funding from an American non-profit organisation: the Democracy Council. One of the co-sponsors (with the MJD) of Syria In-Transition mini-conference. So what we see, in 2008, at the same meeting, are the leaders of precisely those organisations identified in the Wiki:eaks cables as the conduit (the Democracy Council) and recipient (the MJD) of large amounts of state department money.
The Democracy Council (a US-based grant distributor) lists the state department as one of its sources of funding. How it works is this: the Democracy Council serves as a grant-administering intermediary between the state department's "Middle East Partnership Initiative" and "local partners" (such as Barada TV). As the Washington Post reports:
"Several US diplomatic cables from the embassy in Damascus reveal that the Syrian exiles received money from a State Department program called the Middle East Partnership Initiative. According to the cables, the State Department funnelled money to the exile group via the Democracy Council, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit."
The same report highlights a 2009 cable from the US Embassy in Syria that says that the Democracy Council received $6.3m from the state department to run a Syria-related programme, the "Civil Society Strengthening Initiative". The cable describes this as "a discrete collaborative effort between the Democracy Council and local partners" aimed at producing, amongst other things, "various broadcast concepts." According to the Washington Post: "Other cables make clear that one of those concepts was Barada TV."
Until a few months ago, the state department's Middle East Partnership Initiative was overseen by Tamara Cofman Wittes (she's now at the Brookings Institution – an influential Washington thinktank). Of MEPI, she said that it "created a positive 'brand' for US democracy promotion efforts". While working there she declared: "There are a lot of organizations in Syria and other countries that are seeking changes from their government … That's an agenda that we believe in and we're going to support." And by support, she means bankroll.
This is nothing new. Go back a while to early 2006, and you have the state department announcing a new "funding opportunity" called the "Syria Democracy Program". On offer, grants worth "$5m in Federal Fiscal Year 2006". The aim of the grants? "To accelerate the work of reformers in Syria."
These days, the cash is flowing in faster than ever. At the beginning of June 2012, the Syrian Business Forum was launched in Doha by opposition leaders including Wael Merza (SNC secretary general). "This fund has been established to support all components of the revolution in Syria," said Merza. The size of the fund? Some $300m. It's by no means clear where the money has come from, although Merza "hinted at strong financial support from Gulf Arab states for the new fund" (Al Jazeera). At the launch, Merza said that about $150m had already been spent, in part on the Free Syrian Army.
Merza's group of Syrian businessmen made an appearance at a World Economic Forum conference titled the "Platform for International Co-operation" held in Istanbul in November 2011. All part of the process whereby the SNC has grown in reputation, to become, in the words of William Hague, "a legitimate representative of the Syrian people" – and able, openly, to handle this much funding.
Building legitimacy – of opposition, of representation, of intervention – is the essential propaganda battle.
In a USA Today op-ed written in February this year, Ambassador Dennis Ross declared: "It is time to raise the status of the Syrian National Council". What he wanted, urgently, is "to create an aura of inevitability about the SNC as the alternative to Assad." The aura of inevitability. Winning the battle in advance.
A key combatant in this battle for hearts and minds is the American journalist and Daily Telegraph blogger, Michael Weiss.
One of the most widely quoted western experts on Syria – and an enthusiast for western intervention – Michael Weiss echoes Ambassador Ross when he says: "Military intervention in Syria isn't so much a matter of preference as an inevitability."
Some of Weiss's interventionist writings can be found on a Beirut-based, Washington-friendly website called "NOW Lebanon" – whose "NOW Syria" section is an important source of Syrian updates. NOW Lebanon was set up in 2007 by Saatchi & Saatchi executive Eli Khoury. Khoury has been described by the advertising industry as a "strategic communications specialist, specialising in corporate and government image and brand development".
Weiss told NOW Lebanon, back in May, that thanks to the influx of weapons to Syrian rebels "we've already begun to see some results." He showed a similar approval of military developments a few months earlier, in a piece for the New Republic: "In the past several weeks, the Free Syrian Army and other independent rebel brigades have made great strides" – whereupon, as any blogger might, he laid out his "Blueprint for a Military Intervention in Syria".
But Weiss is not only a blogger. He's also the director of communications and public relations at the Henry Jackson Society, an ultra-ultra-hawkish foreign policy thinktank.
The Henry Jackson Society's international patrons include: James "ex-CIA boss" Woolsey, Michael "homeland security" Chertoff, William "PNAC" Kristol, Robert "PNAC" Kagan', Joshua "Bomb Iran" Muravchick, and Richard "Prince of Darkness" Perle. The Society is run by Alan Mendoza, chief adviser to the all-party parliamentary group on transatlantic and international security.
The Henry Jackson Society is uncompromising in its "forward strategy" towards democracy. And Weiss is in charge of the message. The Henry Jackson Society is proud of its PR chief's far-reaching influence: "He is the author of the influential report "Intervention in Syria? An Assessment of Legality, Logistics and Hazards", which was repurposed and endorsed by the Syrian National Council."
Weiss's original report was re-named "Safe Area for Syria" – and ended up on the official syriancouncil.org website, as part of their military bureau's strategic literature. The repurposing of the HJS report was undertaken by the founder and executive director of the Strategic Research and Communication Centre (SRCC) – one Ausama Monajed.
So, the founder of Barada TV, Ausama Monajed, edited Weiss's report, published it through his own organisation (the SRCC) and passed it on to the Syrian National Council, with the support of the Henry Jackson Society.
The relationship couldn't be closer. Monajed even ends up handling inquiries for "press interviews with Michael Weiss". Weiss is not the only strategist to have sketched out the roadmap to this war (many thinktanks have thought it out, many hawks have talked it up), but some of the sharpest detailing is his.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights
The justification for the "inevitable" military intervention is the savagery of President Assad's regime: the atrocities, the shelling, the human rights abuses. Information is crucial here, and one source above all has been providing us with data about Syria. It is quoted at every turn: "The head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told VOA [Voice of America] that fighting and shelling killed at least 12 people in Homs province."
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights is commonly used as a standalone source for news and statistics. Just this week, news agency AFP carried this story: "Syrian forces pounded Aleppo and Deir Ezzor provinces as at least 35 people were killed on Sunday across the country, among them 17 civilians, a watchdog reported." Various atrocities and casualty numbers are listed, all from a single source: "Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP by phone."
Statistic after horrific statistic pours from "the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights" (AP). It's hard to find a news report about Syria that doesn't cite them. But who are they? "They" are Rami Abdulrahman (or Rami Abdel Rahman), who lives in Coventry.
According to a Reuters report in December of last year: "When he isn't fielding calls from international media, Abdulrahman is a few minutes down the road at his clothes shop, which he runs with his wife."
When the Guardian's Middle East live blog cited "Rami Abdul-Rahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights" it also linked to a sceptical article in the Modern Tokyo Times – an article which suggested news outlets could be a bit "more objective about their sources" when quoting "this so-called entity", the SOHR.
That name, the "Syrian Observatory of Human Rights", sound so grand, so unimpeachable, so objective. And yet when Abdulrahman and his "Britain-based NGO" (AFP/NOW Lebanon) are the sole source for so many news stories about such an important subject, it would seem reasonable to submit this body to a little more scrutiny than it's had to date.
The Observatory is by no means the only Syrian news source to be quoted freely with little or no scrutiny …
The relationship between Ausama Monajed, the SNC, the Henry Jackson hawks and an unquestioning media can be seen in the case of Hamza Fakher. On 1 January, Nick Cohen wrote in the Observer: "To grasp the scale of the barbarism, listen to Hamza Fakher, a pro-democracy activist, who is one of the most reliable sources on the crimes the regime's news blackout hides."
He goes on to recount Fakher's horrific tales of torture and mass murder. Fakher tells Cohen of a new hot-plate torture technique that he's heard about: "imagine all the melting flesh reaching the bone before the detainee falls on the plate". The following day, Shamik Das, writing on "evidence-based" progressive blog Left Foot Forward, quotes the same source: "Hamza Fakher, a pro-democracy activist, describes the sickening reality …" – and the account of atrocities given to Cohen is repeated.
So, who exactly is this "pro-democracy activist", Hamza Fakher?
Fakher, it turns out, is the co-author of Revolution in Danger , a "Henry Jackson Society Strategic Briefing", published in February of this year. He co-wrote this briefing paper with the Henry Jackson Society's communications director, Michael Weiss. And when he's not co-writing Henry Jackson Society strategic briefings, Fakher is the communication manager of the London-based Strategic Research and Communication Centre (SRCC). According to their website, "He joined the centre in 2011 and has been in charge of the centre's communication strategy and products."
As you may recall, the SRCC is run by one Ausama Monajed: "Mr Monajed founded the centre in 2010. He is widely quoted and interviewed in international press and media outlets. He previously worked as communication consultant in Europe and the US and formerly served as the director of Barada Television …".
Monajed is Fakher's boss.
If this wasn't enough, for a final Washington twist, on the board of the Strategic Research and Communication Centre sits Murhaf Jouejati, a professor at the National Defence University in DC – "the premier center for Joint Professional Military Education (JPME)" which is "under the direction of the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff."
If you happen to be planning a trip to Monajed's "Strategic Research and Communication Centre", you'll find it here: Strategic Research & Communication Centre, Office 36, 88-90 Hatton Garden, Holborn, London EC1N 8PN.
Office 36 at 88-90 Hatton Garden is also where you'll find the London headquarters of The Fake Tan Company, Supercar 4 U Limited, Moola loans (a "trusted loans company"), Ultimate Screeding (for all your screeding needs), and The London School of Attraction – "a London-based training company which helps men develop the skills and confidence to meet and attract women." And about a hundred other businesses besides. It's a virtual office. There's something oddly appropriate about this. A "communication centre" that doesn't even have a centre – a grand name but no physical substance.
That's the reality of Hamza Fakher. On 27 May, Shamik Das of Left Foot Forward quotes again from Fakher's account of atrocities, which he now describes as an "eyewitness account" (which Cohen never said it was) and which by now has hardened into "the record of the Assad regime".
So, a report of atrocities given by a Henry Jackson Society strategist, who is the communications manager of Mosafed's PR department, has acquired the gravitas of a historical "record".
This is not to suggest that the account of atrocities must be untrue, but how many of those who give it currency are scrutinising its origins?
And let's not forget, whatever destabilisation has been done in the realm of news and public opinion is being carried out twofold on the ground. We already know that (at the very least) "the Central Intelligence Agency and State Department … are helping the opposition Free Syrian Army develop logistical routes for moving supplies into Syria and providing communications training."
The bombs doors are open. The plans have been drawn up.
This has been brewing for a time. The sheer energy and meticulous planning that's gone into this change of regime – it's breathtaking. The soft power and political reach of the big foundations and policy bodies is vast, but scrutiny is no respecter of fancy titles and fellowships and "strategy briefings". Executive director of what, it asks. Having "democracy" or "human rights" in your job title doesn't give you a free pass.
And if you're a "communications director" it means your words should be weighed extra carefully. Weiss and Fakher, both communications directors – PR professionals. At the Chatham House event in June 2011, Monajed is listed as: "Ausama Monajed, director of communications, National Initiative for Change" and he was head of PR for the MJD. The creator of the news website NOW Lebanon, Eli Khoury, is a Saatchi advertising executive. These communications directors are working hard to create what Tamara Wittes called a "positive brand".
They're selling the idea of military intervention and regime change, and the mainstream news is hungry to buy. Many of the "activists" and spokespeople representing the Syrian opposition are closely (and in many cases financially) interlinked with the US and London – the very people who would be doing the intervening. Which means information and statistics from these sources isn't necessarily pure news – it's a sales pitch, a PR campaign.
But it's never too late to ask questions, to scrutinise sources. Asking questions doesn't make you a cheerleader for Assad – that's a false argument. It just makes you less susceptible to spin. The good news is, there's a sceptic born every minute.
|BBC Scrubs Video Of US Backed Syria Rebels Committing War Crimes|
Posted by Alexander Higgins - August 24, 2012 at 2:32 am -
The BBC and NY Times scrub their own video and news story showing Syrian terrorists forcing a tortured prisoners to become a suicide bomber.
Government censors have apparently ordered the BBC and the NY Times to delete videos and an accompanying on the ground video report showing US backed terrorists in Syria committing war crimes.
The move by the BBC follows a similar moves in the past, including the scrubbed BBC report that revealed the police beating a 16-year-old girl sparked the London Riots and a scrubbed BBC documentary on Israel’s secret nuclear weapons program among others.
The latest scrubbed BBC video shows Free Syrian Army rebels preparing a 300 kilogram bomb that is loaded onto the back of a truck to be detonated at a government checkpoint in the city of Aleppo.
The report explains how the US backed terrorist tell the prisoner they have captured he is being released as part of a prisoner exchange.
The rebel terrorist then give him the truck and send him on his way to the government checkpoint and attempt to remotely detonate the bomb and turn the prisoner into an unwitting ‘suicide bomber’.
However, the video then shows the terrorist returning disappointed that the bomb didn’t detonate as the BBC narrator admits that forcing prisoners to become suicide bombers “would certainly be considered a war crime.”
The clip also explains how the terrorist have commandeered an apartment belonging to a Syrian police captain.
The rebels are seen sneering at photos of the police captain’s family.
They the proclaim, “Look at their freedom, look how good it is” as they look at the wedding photos of the captain’s wife with her face uncovered and then hypocritically go on to enjoy the luxury of the man’s swimming pool.
The video claims the prisoner confessed to being part of a pro-government militia, never mind the fact that Syria is a sovereign nation with a sovereign established army and civil security forces.
The narrator explains the bruises from torture on the prisoner’s body as having been metered out by the man’s previous captors.
Then BBC commentary emphasizes how well the rebels are treating the man, showing them handing him a cigarette.
Of course this propaganda is discredit after we find out the man has been tricked into thinking he was part of a prisoner exchange program when in reality he was being set up as an unwitting suicide bomber.
The clip shows the prisoner being blindfolded and told to drive the truck towards a government checkpoint.
“What he doesn’t know is that the truck is the one that’s been rigged with a 300 kilo bomb,” states the narrator.
The clip then shows terrorists expressing disappointment after it’s revealed that the remote detonator failed and the bomb did not explode.
New York Times reporters who shot the video claim they had no knowledge of the plot. A longer version of the clip was posted on the New York Times You Tube channel until it was deleted from there as well
Syria Girl discusses the video more with on Infowars.
BBC Scrubs Video Of US Backed Syria Rebels Committing War Crimes
Kidnapping of John Cantlie and Jeroen Oerlemans was a new and unexpected hazard for those trying to report the Syrian conflict
Kim Sengupta Author
Wednesday 10 October 2012
The civil war in Syria has claimed the lives of a number of journalists, most notably those of Marie Colvin and Remy Ochlik during shelling by the army in Homs, highlighting the dangers of covering the most brutal episode of the Arab Spring.
But the kidnapping of John Cantlie and Jeroen Oerlemans, two young freelance photographers, by a rebel group was a new and unexpected hazard for those trying to report the conflict outside the regime’s censorious control.
The Independent was in Syria at the time and I recall the anxiety my colleagues and I felt for John and Jeroen and also a sense of unease about what this meant for the rest of us. The abductions had taken place at a point just across the Turkish border frequently used by the media on their way into Idlib and Aleppo. We knew the young fixer who had taken the pair along the route and there were questions about his judgment and, also, loyalty.
The kidnappers were said to be a large jihadist group including British Pakistanis, something most of us had not encountered before. These fighters expressed visceral hatred of the West and appeared to regard the media as potential spies.
The development also worried many in the Syrian resistance. I remember the commander of one khatiba (battalion) in Aleppo telling us that they were going to find the extremsit group and disarm and expel them. At the end John and Jeroen were rescued by Syrian rebels, but what happened to that foreign jihadist group remains a mystery.
Two terror suspects arrested at Heathrow Airport in the first case of the Syrian civil war leading to the arrest of suspected terrorists in the UK
A man and a woman, both aged 26 and both British nationals, were held on suspicion of travelling to Syria to support terrorist activities at 8.30pm yesterday
Kim Sengupta Author
Wednesday 10 October 2012
Two Britons [Jubayer Chowdhury & Shajul Islam], one believed to be a NHS doctor [Shajul Islam], have been arrested in the first case of the Syrian civil war leading to the arrest of suspected terrorists in the UK.
The man and woman were held by Scotland Yard detectives as they flew into Heathrow from Egypt.
The couple are being questioned, it is believed, over suspected terrorist activities including the kidnapping of a British and a Dutch photographer who crossed into Syria from Turkey two months ago. John Cantlie and Jeroen Oerlemans described being captured at gunpoint by a group of foreign fighters including “British Pakistanis”.
The two journalists were freed by members of the Syrian resistance who stormed the jihadist camp. The leader of the kidnap gang, The Independent can reveal, was subsequently executed by another rebel faction. The body of Abu Mohammed al-Shami al-Absi was found at Samada near the Turkish border two weeks after he disappeared in August.
Freelance photographer Mr Cantlie, who was shot along with Mr Oerlemans when they tried to escape, maintained later that he was treated by a doctor who spoke with a south London accent and was using saline drips with NHS logos on them. The pair’s captors boasted of their alliance with al-Qa’ida and had threatened to kill them. Mr Cantlie was reported to be helping police to identify whether or not the detained suspect is the medic he had met.
The couple, both 26, were arrested by officers the Yard’s Counter-Terrorism Command after they arrived on an 8.30am flight from Cairo and taken to a central London police station “on suspicion of the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism”. Searches were later carried out at a number of properties in east London.
British security sources yesterday refused to comment on reports from Syria that the arrests at Heathrow followed information supplied by the more “secular” elements of the Syrian opposition who had been liaising with SIS (MI6) operatives based in Istanbul and the Turkish capital Ankara on a regular basis since last Autumn.
Al-Absi worked with the Islamist Jobhat al-Nusra Brigade which had openly proclaimed it’s links to al-Qa’ida and has carried out a number of suicide bombings. His followers have accused the Al-Farouq brigade his killing.
The group, which has publicly stated its opposition to al-Qa’ida’s involvement in the conflict, denies responsibility. But one of its officers, Amar Mohammed Abadullah, told The Independent: “We are fighting for a democracy where all our people, Muslims and Christians, have a part to play. Obviously we cannot work with those who want to impose their own [version of an] Islamist state and act against those who disagree with them.”
Speaking about yesterday’s arrests, Mr Oerlemans said about his captors: “There wasn’t any woman anywhere, so that surprised me. But that doesn’t mean it’s not one of the guys in the camp. They were all 20-somethings so it might just well be the kidnappers.”
There has been an intrinsic difference between the Britons who had travelled to join in Libya’s revolution against the regime of Muammar Gaddafi and those who had joined the jihad in Syria.
Hundreds from the Libyan diaspora in Britain fought in the uprising. The Britons in Syria are estimated by MI5 to be no more than a “few dozen” although the actual figure, in reality, is even lower. However, most of them are not originally from Syria but other countries.
Foreign Secretary William Hague said: “We’ve had reports of course of foreign fighters including British people going to Syria. That’s not something that we recommend and we do not want British people going and taking part in violent situations anywhere in the world.”
|Foreign Secretary William Hague said: “We’ve had reports of course of foreign fighters including British people going to Syria. That’s not something that we recommend and we do not want British people going and taking part in violent situations anywhere in the world.”|
West Conjures Fake "Syrian" Government
Smokescreen meant to cover open-backing of foreign Al Qaeda terrorists inside Syria, while panicking & disrupting Syrian unity.
November 14, 2012 (LD) - Predictably, the Western arranged confab in Doha, Qatar has seen the selection and approval by the US and its allies of a "new opposition coalition" to serve as the face of militants fighting inside Syria.
This was in response to overwhelming international condemnation to what has become an open proxy war fought against Syria by Western interests and its regional allies. It is a repeat of the now catastrophically failed NATO intervention in Libya that has left the nation mired in genocidal sectarian and tribal violence, a weak, ineffectual client-regime, and human rights abuses dwarfing in reality, the now confirmed fabrications used by NATO ahead of military operations early in 2011.
France and the Arab League have already reapplied their stamp of approval on the "new" coalition, following their support for the same political front they have attempted to prop up for the last nearly 2 years.
Coalition is Smoke Screen for state Sponsorship of Terrorism.
Beginning at least as early as 2007, the West and its allies, primarily the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia, began quietly organizing, funding, and arming a regional front of sectarian extremists across the Arab World to be used against Lebanon, Syria, and Iran. Exposed in Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh's "The Redirection," published that same year in the New Yorker, it was revealed that many of these sectarian extremists were in fact affiliated directly with Al Qaeda.
The article stated specifically (emphasis added):
To undermine Iran, which is predominantly Shiite, the Bush Administration has decided, in effect, to reconfigure its priorities in the Middle East. In Lebanon, the Administration has coöperated with Saudi Arabia’s government, which is Sunni, in clandestine operations that are intended to weaken Hezbollah, the Shiite organization that is backed by Iran. The U.S. has also taken part in clandestine operations aimed at Iran and its ally Syria. A by-product of these activities has been the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam and are hostile to America and sympathetic to Al Qaeda.
In essence, the West would be intentionally and knowingly funding the very adversaries Western troops had just spent the better part of a decade allegedly fighting in Afghanistan, Iraq, and upon lesser known battlefields in Somalia, Pakistan, and Yemen, as part of the "War on Terror."
From the very beginning of the so-called "Arab Spring," armed elements were active in Syria actively seeking to widen what was the final execution of 2007's plans to undermine and overthrow first Syria, then Lebanon and finally Iran. The so-called "Syrian National Council" (SNC), as well as street protests and online activism served as but a smokescreen for what was in reality an invasion of Syria by Western armed and backed foreign extremists sent to augment Muslim Brotherhood militants prevalent in the Dar'a, Idlib, and Dayr Al-Zawr regions of Syria - also coincidentally the "cradles" of the current so-called "revolution."
The influx of foreign fighters spiked after NATO had finally succeeded in 2011 at overthrowing the government of Libya and placing into power militants from the eastern city of Benghazi. It was from Benghazi that an overwhelming proportion of Al Qaeda fighters had be sent to fight in Iraq during the US occupation. Like in Syria, the "cradle" for the so-called "Libyan revolution" was also coincidentally the epicenter for extremist activity. In Libya's case, Benghazi served as the center for the the US State Department, United Nations, and the UK Home Office (page 5, .pdf)-listed terror organization, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG).
This was documented extensively in the West Point Combating Terrorism Center reports, "Al-Qa'ida's Foreign Fighters in Iraq" and "Bombers, Bank Accounts and Bleedout: al-Qa'ida's Road In and Out of Iraq."
Both reports exposed Libya as a global epicenter for Al Qaeda training and recruitment, producing more fighters per capita than even Saudi Arabia, and producing more foreign fighters numerically than any other nation that sent militants to Iraq, except Saudi Arabia itself.
Image: Libya, despite its relatively small population, came in second overall, producing foreign fighters to wage sectarian war in Iraq. Libya exceeded all other nations per capita in producing foreign fighters, including Al Qaeda's primary patrons, Saudi Arabia. These diagrams were produced by West Point's Combating Terrorism Center, on pages 8 and 9 of its "Al-Qa'ida's Foreign Fighters in Iraq" report.
The reports specifically identify eastern Libya (Cyrenaica) as terrorist hotbeds, precisely where the so-called 2011 "pro-democracy revolution" also began, and where most of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi's attention had been focused over the course of at least three decades, fighting militant extremists. The cities of Darnah, Tobruk, and Benghazi in particular fielded the vast majority of foreign fighters sent to Iraq and also served as the very epicenter for the 2011 violent, NATO-backed uprising.
Image: (Left) West Point's Combating Terrorism Center's 2007 report, "Al-Qa'ida's Foreign Fighters in Iraq" indicates that the vast majority of Al Qaeda terrorists arriving in Iraq from Libya, originated from the country's eastern region, and from the cities of Darnah and Benghazi in particular. (Right) A map indicating rebel held territory (red) during Libya's 2011 conflict. The entire region near Benghazi, Darnah, and Tobruk served as the cradle for the so-called revolution. The US government is just now revealing the heavy Al Qaeda presence in the region, but clearly knew about it since at least as early as 2007, and as other reports indicate, decades before even that.
Clearly, the US military and the US government were both well aware of the heavy Al Qaeda presence in eastern Libya since as early as 2007. When violence flared up in 2011, it was clear to many geopolitical analysts that it was the result of Al Qaeda, not "pro-democracy protesters." The US government, its allies, and a the Western press willfully lied to the public, misrepresented its case to the United Nations and intervened in Libya on behalf of international terrorists, overthrowing a sovereign government, and granting an entire nation as a base of operations for the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG).
A similar scenario is now playing out in Syria, where the West, despite acknowledging the existence of Al Qaeda in Benghazi, Libya, is using these militants, and the exact same networks used to send fighters to Iraq, to flood into and overrun Syria. This, after these very same Libyan militants were implicated in an attack that left a US ambassador dead on September 11, 2012.
Image: Libyan Mahdi al-Harati of the US State Department, United Nations, and the UK Home Office (page 5, .pdf)-listed terrorist organization, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), addressing fellow terrorists in Syria. Harati is now commanding a Libyan brigade operating inside of Syria attempting to destroy the Syrian government and subjugate the Syrian population. Traditionally, this is known as "foreign invasion."
LIFG terrorists are documented to be flooding into Syria from Libya. In November 2011, the Telegraph in their article, "Leading Libyan Islamist met Free Syrian Army opposition group," would report:
Abdulhakim Belhadj, head of the Tripoli Military Council and the former leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, "met with Free Syrian Army leaders in Istanbul and on the border with Turkey," said a military official working with Mr Belhadj. "Mustafa Abdul Jalil (the interim Libyan president) sent him there."
Another Telegraph article, "Libya’s new rulers offer weapons to Syrian rebels," would admit
Syrian rebels held secret talks with Libya's new authorities on Friday, aiming to secure weapons and money for their insurgency against President Bashar al-Assad's regime, The Daily Telegraph has learned.
At the meeting, which was held in Istanbul and included Turkish officials, the Syrians requested "assistance" from the Libyan representatives and were offered arms, and potentially volunteers.
"There is something being planned to send weapons and even Libyan fighters to Syria," said a Libyan source, speaking on condition of anonymity. "There is a military intervention on the way. Within a few weeks you will see."
Later that month, some 600 Libyan terrorists would be reported to have entered Syria to begin combat operations and have been flooding into the country ever since.
Image: (Left) West Point's Combating Terrorism Center's 2007 report, "Al-Qa'ida's Foreign Fighters in Iraq" also indicated which areas in Syria Al Qaeda fighters filtering into Iraq came from. The overwhelming majority of them came from Dayr Al-Zawr in Syria's southeast, Idlib in the north near the Turkish-Syrian border, and Dar'a in the south near the Jordanian-Syrian border. (Right) A map indicating the epicenters of violence in Syria indicate that the exact same hotbeds for Al Qaeda in 2007, now serve as the epicenters of so-called "pro-democracy fighters."
In Syria, the southeastern region near Dayr Al-Zawr on the Iraqi-Syrian border, the northwestern region of Idlib near the Turkish-Syrian border, and Dar'a in the south near the Jordanian-Syrian border, produced the majority of fighters found crossing over into Iraq, according to the 2007 West Point study.
These regions now serve as the epicenter for a similar Libyan-style uprising, with fighters disingenuously portrayed as "pro-democracy" "freedom fighters." These are also the locations receiving the majority of foreign fighters flowing in from other areas described in the 2007 report, mainly from Saudi Arabia via Jordan, and from Libya, either directly, through Turkey, or through Egypt and/or Jordan.
The CIA is confirmed to be operating in these areas, allegedly "to help keep weapons out of the hands of fighters allied with Al Qaeda or other terrorist groups," according to the New York Times in their article, "C.I.A. Said to Aid in Steering Arms to Syrian Opposition."
Image: The most prominent routes into Syria for foreign fighters is depicted, with the inset graph describing the most widely used routes by foreign fighters on their way to Iraq, as determined by West Point's 2007 Combating Terrorism Center report "Al-Qa'ida's Foreign Fighters in Iraq" (page 20). These same networks are now being used, with the addition of a more prominent role for Turkey, to target Syria directly. (Click to enlarge)
Posturing and Threats meant to Weaken/Splinter Syria's Unity.
Even as the West postures as if only now weapons will begin flowing to the "new opposition coalition," militants in Syria have been receiving Western backing, funding, and arms through a variety of networks, years before the so-called "Arab Spring" had even begun, and certainly well before this current juncture in the conflict. However thus far, clearly to no avail.
The West, primarily the US, UK, and France, its NATO ally Turkey, and the Persian Gulf monarchies of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, are intentionally assisting known terrorists in the overthrow of the sovereign, secular government of Syria - a repeat of the now clearly failed, and already backfiring NATO intervention in Libya. In fact, the exact same terrorists the US claims it is "hunting" in the deserts of Libya for having killed its ambassador, now stand poised in Syria to receive expanded political recognition and military support from the West after this latest round of window dressing in Doha, Qatar.
International support has waned significantly for the West and its narrative. The tepid support the West garnered for its military operations in Libya seem now a long-lost luxury.
The SNC itself is politically, tactically, socially, culturally, and above all ideologically disconnected with both the fighters in Syria, as well as any legitimate opposition that may exist. While the SNC consists of Syrians, many of the fighters in Syria are in fact foreign militants who hold an allegiance to Saudi Wahhabism, opposed by even many of the current Syrian government's critics - critics who also denounce the SNC and their calls for foreign intervention.
In coordination with this political charade, Israel and Turkey have been pressing the borders of Syria. Turkey, led by the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has allowed its territory along the border with Syria to be used as a sanctuary and staging ground for foreign terrorists entering into and fighting against the government and people of Syria. Israel has recently been firing at Syrian forces conducting security operations against militants in the Golan Heights.
The two-pronged encroachment by Turkey and Israel is not the spontaneous response by both nations to an escalating conflict on the ground. Rather it was prescribed, verbatim, by corporate-financier funded policy think-tank, the Brookings Institution, in their report, ""Assessing Options for Regime Change" as a means of increasing psychological pressure on Syria.
The report states specifically:
In addition, Israel’s intelligence services have a strong knowledge of Syria, as well as assets within the Syrian regime that could be used to subvert the regime’s power base and press for Asad’s removal. Israel could posture forces on or near the Golan Heights and, in so doing, might divert regime forces from suppressing the opposition. This posture may conjure fears in the Asad regime of a multi-front war, particularly if Turkey is willing to do the same on its border and if the Syrian opposition is being fed a steady diet of arms and training. Such a mobilization could perhaps persuade Syria’s military leadership to oust Asad in order to preserve itself. Advocates argue this additional pressure could tip the balance against Asad inside Syria, if other forces were aligned properly.
The prospect of foreign military intervention, or NATO's already depleted terrorist forces succeeding even with increased weapon shipments from the West, is still unlikely. As Brookings indicates, much of what is being done is aimed at psychologically undermining the stalwart defense thus far put up by the Syrian government and its people.
The "fear" of possible military intervention and/or the increase in terrorist capabilities is meant to splinter the Syrian population's overwhelming support and unity against what is now clearly foreign aggression, not rebellion. Likewise, the seemingly unstoppable advance of Western aggression against Syria is meant to undermine the support of Syria's allies.
Western aggression however has already reached its limits - and while it could embark upon a wider military confrontation with Syria, should both the Syrian people and Syria's allies remain committed to the defense of the nation's sovereignty, not only will this aggression fail, it will create momentum that will roll the West and its extraterritorial interests back significantly, if not entirely. Unity is still Syria's only option.
Obama to Supply $10 Million Military Aid to Terrorist Groups in Syria
By Global Research News
Global Research, April 13, 2013
Region: Middle East & North Africa
The United States is set to send as much as $10 million in direct aid to the armed groups in Syria, Bloomberg TV Channel revealed.
The channel reported that U.S. President Barack Obama said in a directive to the secretaries of state and defense that Washington would use the inventories of government agencies to give “non-lethal commodities and services,” to the armed groups in Syria.
Iranian Press TV Channel pointed out that White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a briefing that Washington has provided over $115 million in “nonlethal assistance” to the armed groups in Syria so far.
Meanwhile, the Democrat Senator Robert Menendez has said that he would propose legislation to permit Washington to supply “Syria’s opposition” with weapons.
The Croatian newspaper Jutarnji List said that 3,000 tons of weapons, paid for by Saudi Arabia as requested by the US, have been airlifted from Zagreb airport in 75 planeloads to the armed groups through Jordan since November 2012.
The German weekly, Der Spiegel said that US troops deployed to the Jordanian border were training and offering support to the armed groups in Syria.
| 24 April 2013 Last updated at 16:34|
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Syria clashes destroy ancient Aleppo minaret
AFP photograph of Aleppo's Umayyad Mosque and its minaret (16 April 2013) and purported photograph showing mosque without minaret after its destruction (24 April 2013) Pictures show the once famous landmark reduced to a pile of rubble
The minaret of one of Syria's most famous mosques has been destroyed during clashes in the northern city of Aleppo.
The state news agency Sana accused rebels of blowing up the 11th-Century minaret of the Umayyad Mosque.
However, activists say the minaret was hit by Syrian army tank fire.
The mosque, which is a Unesco world heritage site, has been in rebel hands since earlier this year but the area around it is still contested.
Last October Unesco appealed for the protection of the site, which it described as "one of the most beautiful mosques in the Muslim world".
Images posted on the internet showed the minaret reduced to a pile of rubble in the mosque's tiled courtyard.
Other parts of the mosque complex - which dates mostly from the 12th Century - have been badly damaged by gunfire and shell hits.
A report by Sana said fighters from the al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra group had destroyed the once famous landmark.
It quoted an official source saying that "terrorists... placed explosive materials in the minaret and the mosque's southern door and set them off".
However, Aleppo-based activist Mohammed al-Khatib, quoted by AP news agency, said a tank shell had "totally destroyed" the 45m (148ft) minaret.
The mosque has suffered extensive damage during months of fighting, with antique furnishings and intricately sculpted colonnades affected.
Reports say some ancient artefacts have also been looted, including a box purported to contain a strand of the Prophet Muhammad's hair.
However, rebels said they had salvaged ancient handwritten Koranic manuscripts and hidden them.
Footage uploaded on YouTube purports to show Aleppo minaret no longer exists
Earlier, rebels and government forces reportedly clashed near Aleppo as they fought for control of a military airbase.
Rebels took a key military position outside the Minnigh airport on Tuesday and launched another raid on Wednesday, according to opposition activists with the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
"The rebels, who have laid siege to the airport for months now, entered it for the first time around dawn," Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the UK-based activist group, told AFP news agency.
Heavy fighting was taking place in the grounds, he added.
Analysts say losing control of the airport would be a strategic blow for the government.
The Free Syrian Army has been trying to seize a number of airbases in the area to disrupt regime supply routes.
In another development on Wednesday, Syria's Deputy Foreign Minister told the BBC that his country was fighting a war against terrorism.
Faisal Mekdad said the international community should be supporting President Assad and his government.
Asked if he thought the Syrian government could still defeat the rebels, he said: "We shall defend our sovereignty and independence to the last drop. We have a strong army, we have a lot of our people who are supporting the government, who are uniting their ranks to defend the country. And in such a situation they will never defeat Syria."
According to the UN, at least 70,000 people have been killed in the civil war and more than a million are now living as refugees in neighbouring countries.
Asian Times - Middle East
Mar 28, '13
The Syrianization of Syria rolls on
By Victor Kotsev
Perhaps years from now, a new term along the lines of "Syrianization" will take over the significance of the sweeping (and some say inaccurate) concept of Balkanization. The northern Levant is quickly overtaking every other part of the world as the paradigm of complete fragmentation of a geographic and political entity.
It is hard to tell who or what is falling apart more quickly: the regime, the opposition, or the possibility of reaching international consensus over the civil war which has killed at least 70,000 people so far, a figure that former United Nations secretary general and envoy to Syria Kofi Annan called in a recent Reuters interview "a gross under-estimation".
Shortly after a symbolic Arab League summit in which Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's place was taken by a rebel leader [Moaz al-Khatib] (who had himself resigned from his position several days prior to the meeting), Annan said that it was "too late" for either a military intervention or arming the opposition. "My own view is that as late as it is we have to find a way of pouring water on the fire rather than the other way around," he added.
The North Atlantic Treaty Alliance also rebuffed a request by Moaz al-Khatib, the acting head of the Syrian National Coalition, to deploy Patriot missiles based in Turkey to protect northern Syria from regime air strikes. "I'm scared that this will be a message to the Syrian regime telling it 'Do what you want'," al-Khatib told Reuters bitterly.
Nevertheless, the Arab League summit in Doha backed soundly weapons shipments to the rebels and a somber al-Khatib was shown opening the first opposition embassy in the Qatari capital on Wednesday. He refused to elaborate on his political plans, after resigning on Sunday, but the defiant tone he struck at the meeting-telling Arab rulers to "fear God in dealing with your people" and calling on them to free political prisoners-suggested he is not looking to patch up relations.
His resignation came after a complex intrigue orchestrated by Qatar and the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, which resulted in the election as a Ghassan Hitto*, a Syrian Kurd who has spent decades living in the US, to head a provisional rebel government. The Qataris had intended Hitto to represent the opposition on Tuesday instead of al-Khatib, but outcry among the political representatives as well as the military leaders of the rebels (some of whom refused to recognize the transitional government) forced them to reconsider.
According to a report in the Washington Post, the Muslim Brotherhood (which is backed by Qatar) sought to regain through Hitto's appointment "some of the influence lost when the original Syrian opposition body, the Syrian National Council, was absorbed into the wider Syrian coalition" last November. The move, however, upset the tenuous balance between the diverse rebel groups.
"The coalition is on verge of disintegrating," a Syrian history professor living in the US told the Post. "It's a big mess." 
Rebel unity has always been a bit of a fiction. Al-Khatib, a moderate former imam of the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, sought to present himself as a conciliatory figure, but he also frequently drew criticism from different groups, for example for extending an offer of negotiations to the regime earlier this year.
Recently, however, things have gotten worse on the ground, to the point where different rebel groups are on the verge of an open war with each other. Particularly bad is the divide between more secular opposition groups and Islamists such as the Muslim Brotherhood and the al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra. In this context, al-Khatib's departure is seen by many as a victory for the extremists.
A recent Time Magazine story documented major clashes between Jabhat al-Nusra and the Farouq Brigades, another prominent rebel group. "They are just here to try and impose their rules on us," Farouq's commander Mohammad al-Daher told journalist Rania Abouzeid shortly before being injured in one of several successive attempts on his life. 
Moreover, Riad al-Asaad, the top commander of the Free Syrian Army of which the Farouq Brigades are a part, was injured on Monday in a car bomb attack that was attributed to the Syrian regime. However, what is known about the circumstances of his injury shows some remarkable similarities with the methods used to target al-Daher. A full-blown civil war among the rebels is not out of question.
In fact, the period when the Syrian civil war could be described as having two sides may be over. Numerous other rifts besides the moderate-extremist divide, such as the Kurdish issue and the private interests of a myriad of rebel fiefdoms throughout the country, are rearing their heads.
A little-known issue that could be likened to the east-west divide in Libya is the rift between north and south, exemplified by the rivalry of the two largest cities in Syria, Aleppo and Damascus. "Many Damascenes are fearful of being overrun by the North," wrote in his blog Joshua Landis, a prominent Syria expert at the University of Oklahoma. "The time-honored divide between North and South Syria is again gaining relevance. There is precedence for war between north and south. In 1954, at the end of General Shishakli's four year rule of Syria, which developed into the country's first real dictatorship, Syria split in half." 
"Opposition guys from Damascus had expressed to me that they hope Europe will train and arm forces in the South to take Damascus to keep the Islamists and Aleppines from taking it," Landis added in a personal email. The Obama administration, by contrast, "remains extremely cautious about undertaking any Middle East initiative."
Last week, Britain and France advocated arming the rebels at a meeting of European foreign ministers, in what was widely seen as defiance of US policy[?]. However, they received little support, and now with opposition unity in tatters and both political and military blows being exchanged on the ground, it seems that at least the public push has hit a dead end. Other disagreements, included reportedly between Qatar, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, could also get in the way of a more concerted effort to bring down the Syrian regime. Not to mention, of course, Assad's allies Russia and Iran.
Meanwhile, the rebels are certainly receiving weapons-and plundering them from captured army bases-and, according to some reports have managed to kill as many as 13,000 regime soldiers. The noose around Damascus is slowly tightening, and many observers believe that the fall of the capital is a matter of time.
"I do think Assad will lose Damascus eventually," wrote Landis. "It is a Sunni city. The battle will be devastating, however."
It remains to be seen who disintegrates first: the regime or the main rebel groups opposing it. If a civil war of a type where everybody is fighting everybody else erupts, there may be no winners in Syria at all.
1. Syrian opposition in disarray as its leader resigns, The Washington Post, March 24, 2013.
2. In Syria, the Rebels Have Begun to Fight Among Themselves, Time, March 26, 2013.
3. Moaz al-Khatib, Moderate Syrian Leader, Resigns, as Islamic Front and Nusra Move on Damascus. Will the US build a Counter-force?, March 24, 2013.
Victor Kotsev is a journalist and political analyst.
|Oh the irony of Imperialist warmongers propaganda on the 'probable use of chemical weapons in Syria' on the same day that the Bank of England announce Winston Churchill on the new £5 note "the RAF had employed mustard gas against Bolshevik troops in 1919, while the army had gassed Iraqi rebels in 1920 "with excellent moral effect".|
Churchill was particularly keen on chemical weapons, suggesting they be used "against recalcitrant Arabs as an experiment". He dismissed objections as "unreasonable". "I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes _ [to] spread a lively terror _" In today's terms, "the Arab" needed to be shocked and awed. A good gassing might well do the job. "
|WING-CDR. GALE 30 Squadron, Iraq:|
I was in the RAF. I had a job to do. My loyalty was to my commanding officer who gave me my orders. If the kurds hadn't learned by our ecph example to behave themselves in a civilised way then we had to spank their bottoms and this was done by bombs and guns.
Free Syrian Army rebels defect to Islamist group Jabhat al-Nusra
The well-resourced organisation, which is linked to al-Qaida, is luring many anti-Assad fighters away, say brigade commanders
Mona Mahmood and Ian Black
The Guardian, Wednesday 8 May 2013 20.14 BST
The flag of the Islamist rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra [?] flying over the main square of the city of Raqqa in Syria. Photograph: Reuters
Syria's main armed opposition group, the Free Syrian Army (FSA), is losing fighters and capabilities to Jabhat al-Nusra, an Islamist organisation with links to al-Qaida that is emerging as the best-equipped, financed and motivated force fighting Bashar al-Assad's regime.
Evidence of the growing strength of [Jabhat] al-Nusra, gathered from Guardian interviews with FSA commanders across Syria, underlines the dilemma for the US, Britain and other governments as they ponder the question of arming anti-Assad rebels.
John Kerry, the US secretary of state, said that if negotiations went ahead between the Syrian government and the opposition – as the US and Russia proposed on Tuesday – "then hopefully [arming the Syrian rebels] would not be necessary".
The agreement between Washington and Moscow creates a problem for the UK and France, which have proposed lifting or amending the EU arms embargo on Syria to help anti-Assad forces. The Foreign Office welcomed the agreement as a "potential step forward" but insisted: "Assad and his close associates have lost all legitimacy. They have no place in the future of Syria." Opposition leaders were sceptical about prospects for talks if Assad remained in power.
Illustrating their plight, FSA commanders say that entire units have gone over to al-Nusra while others have lost a quarter or more of their strength to them recently.
"Fighters feel proud to join [Jabhat] al-Nusra because that means power and influence," said Abu Ahmed, a former teacher from Deir Hafer who now commands an FSA brigade in the countryside near Aleppo. "Al-Nusra fighters rarely withdraw for shortage of ammunition or fighters and they leave their target only after liberating it," he added. "They compete to carry out martyrdom [suicide] operations."
Abu Ahmed and others say the FSA has lost fighters to al-Nusra in Aleppo, Hama, Idlib and Deir al-Zor and the Damascus region. Ala'a al-Basha, commander of the Sayyida Aisha brigade, warned the FSA chief of staff, General Salim Idriss, about the issue last month. Basha said 3,000 FSA men have joined al-Nusra in the last few months, mainly because of a lack of weapons and ammunition. FSA fighters in the Banias area were threatening to leave because they did not have the firepower to stop the massacre in Bayda, he said.
The FSA's Ahrar al-Shimal brigade joined al-Nusra en masse while the Sufiyan al-Thawri brigade in Idlib lost 65 of its fighters to al-Nusra a few months ago for lack of weapons. According to one estimate the FSA has lost a quarter of all its fighters.
Al-Nusra has members serving undercover with FSA units so they can spot potential recruits, according to Abu Hassan of the FSA's al-Tawhid Lions brigade.
Ideology is another powerful factor. "Fighters are heading to al-Nusra because of its Islamic doctrine, sincerity, good funding and advanced weapons," said Abu Islam of the FSA's al-Tawhid brigade in Aleppo. "My colleague who was fighting with the FSA's Ahrar Suriya asked me: 'I'm fighting with Ahrar Suriya brigade, but I want to know if I get killed in a battle, am I going to be considered as a martyr or not?' It did not take him long to quit FSA and join [Jabhat] al-Nusra. He asked for a sniper rifle and got one immediately."
FSA commanders say they have suffered from the sporadic nature of arms supplies. FSA fighter Adham al-Bazi told the Guardian from Hama: "Our main problem is that what we get from abroad is like a tap. Sometimes it's turned on, which means weapons are coming and we are advancing, then, all of a sudden, the tap dries up, and we stop fighting or even pull out of our positions."
The US, which has outlawed [Jabhat] al-Nusra as a terrorist group, has hesitated to arm the FSA, while the western and Gulf-backed Syrian Opposition Coalition has tried to assuage concerns by promising strict control over weapons. "We are ready to make lists of the weapons and write down the serial numbers," Idriss told NPR at the weekend. "The FSA is very well organised and when we distribute weapons and ammunition we know exactly to which hands they are going."
Syria's government has capitalised successfully on US and European divisions over the weapons embargo by emphasising the "jihadi narrative" – as it has since the start of largely peaceful protests in March 2011. Assad himself claimed in a recent interview: "There is no FSA, only al-Qaida." Syrian state media has played up the recent pledge of loyalty by Jabhat al-Nusra to al-Qaida in Iraq.
Western governments say they are aware of the al-Nusra problem, which is being monitored by intelligence agencies, but they are uncertain about its extent.
"It is clear that fighters are moving from one group to another as one becomes more successful," said a diplomat who follows Syria closely. "But it's very area-specific. You can't talk about a general trend in which [Jabhat al-Nusra] has more momentum than others. It is true that some say JAN is cleaner and better than other groups, but there are as many stories about it being bad." Critics point to punishments meted out by Sharia courts and its use of suicide bombings.
The FSA's shortage of weapons and other resources compared with Jabhat al-Nusra is a recurrent theme. The loss of Khirbet Ghazaleh, a key junction near Dera'a in southern Syria, was blamed on Wednesday on a lack of weapons its defenders had hoped would be delivered from Jordan.
"If you join al-Nusra, there is always a gun for you but many of the FSA brigades can't even provide bullets for their fighters," complained Abu Tamim, an FSA man who joined Jabhat al-Nusra in Idlib province. "My nephew is in Egypt, he wants to come to Syria to fight but he doesn't have enough money. Al-Nusra told him: 'Come and we will even pay your flight tickets.' He is coming to fight with al-Nusra because he does not have any other way."
Jabhat al-Nusra is winning support in Deir al-Zor, according to Abu Hudaifa, another FSA defector. "They are protecting people and helping them financially. Al-Nusra is in control of most of the oil wells in the city." The Jabhat al-Nusra media, with songs about jihad and martyrdom, is extremely influential.
Abu Zeid used to command the FSA's Syria Mujahideen brigade in the Damascus region and led all its 420 fighters to al-Nusra. "Since we joined I and my men are getting everything we need to keep us fighting to liberate Syria and to cover our families' expenses, though fighting with al-Nusra is governed by very strict rules issued by the operations command or foreign fighters," he said. "There is no freedom at all but you do get everything you want.
"No one should blame us for joining al-Nusra. Blame the west if Syria is going to become a haven for al-Qaida and extremists. The west left Assad's gangs to slaughter us. They never bothered to support the FSA. They disappointed ordinary Syrian protesters who just wanted their freedom and to have Syria for all Syrians."
Inside Jabhat al Nusra - the most extreme wing of Syria's struggle
One of the men behind a series of jihadist attacks inside Syria tells Ruth Sherlock about their battle to overthrow President Assad.
By Ruth Sherlock, Beirut
7:30AM GMT 02 Dec 2012
This was one of the growing number of suicide bomb attacks that are changing the face of the Syrian rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad's regime. They have shifted the balance of power away from the regime by bringing destruction to some of its most sensitive and well-guarded strongholds, often in the capital, but in doing so have also killed or maimed many civilian bystanders.
Sitting on a threadbare carpet in small room with concrete walls in the northern Lebanese town of Tripoli, the jihadist who called himself Yasser al-Sibahi spoke to me only after being introduced by a childhood friend with whom he grew up in the city of Homs, and whom he trusted.
His accounts of the operations conducted by his wing of the Islamist group Jabhat al-Nusra provide an exclusive and terrifying glimpse inside the most extreme wing of the Syrian rebellion – one which many members of the more secular Free Syrian Army loathe, and which may prove to be the West's worst nightmare.
They also give an insight into the further conflict to which Syria may descend, if or when the Assad regime finally falls.
The group, which has parallels with al-Qaeda, is the largest and most hardline of a score of jihadist organisations whose brutal methods – including beheadings – have shifted the dynamics of what had previously been a mostly moderate Sunni opposition.
The first attack for which Jabhat al-Nusra claimed responsibility came on Jan 6 this year – 10 months after the first anti-Assad protests began – when a suicide bomber blew up buses in the central Damascus district of Al-Midan that were carrying riot police to an anti-government protest. More than 26 people, mostly civilians, were killed.
Since then the use of suicide bombings or remotely detonated car bombs has dramatically increased, with Jabhat al-Nusra and other groups launching dozens of attacks against government positions each month. Almost two years into the conflict, such attacks have become a near daily reality in the capital Damascus.
The key to Jabhat al-Nusra's extreme violence is its recruitment of radical fighters from abroad to join Syrians who follow its secretive official leader, known as Abu Muhammad al-Julani – whose fiery speeches on jihadist websites are electronically distorted to make his voice unrecognisable.
Mr Sibahi's brother is the leader or "Emir" of Jabhat al-Nusra in the northern countryside of Homs province, while he has become a key figure in smuggling foreign volunteers and weapons across the border from Lebanon.
"I have sent in brothers from Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Pakistan, Lebanon, Turkmenistan, France and even from Britain," he said, with evident pride
Jun 5, '13
THE ROVING EYE
Meet the 'Friends of Jihad'
By Pepe Escobar
Western politicos love to shed swamps of crocodile tears about "the Syrian people" and congratulate themselves within the "Friends of Syria" framework for defending them from "tyranny".
Well, the "Syrian people" have spoken. Roughly 70% support the government of Bashar al-Assad. Another 20% are neutral. And only 10% are aligned with the Western-supported "rebels", including those of the kidnapping, lung-eating, beheading jihadi kind.
The data was provided mostly by independent relief organizations working in Syria. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) received a detailed report in late May - but, predictably, was not too keen on releasing it.
As Asia Times Online has been stressing for months, the Sunni business classes in Damascus and Aleppo are either neutral or pro-Assad. And most Sunnis now regard the gangs of foreign mercenaries weaponized by Qatar and the House of Saud as way more repellent than Assad.
Meanwhile, in Britain - where David of Arabia Cameron remains gung ho on a no-fly zone to protect the "Syrian people" - only 24% of Britons are in favor of further weaponizing the "rebels" (although 58% support humanitarian aid).
And at a rally in Doha, perennial al-Jazeera star and Muslim Brotherhood icon Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi - now pontificating at Al-Azhar in Cairo - has called for a jihad of all Sunni Muslims against Damascus. As he also branded Hezbollah as "the party of Satan" and condemned Iran for "pushing forward arms and men to back the Syrian regime". He has in fact condoned a jihad of Muslims against Muslims, even though he insisted his call to fight Hezbollah is "not against all Shi'ites".
Still al-Qaradawi also said, "How could 100 million Shi'ites defeat 1.7 billion [Sunnis]?" Only because [Sunni] Muslims are weak". It's more than implied that Shi'ites are the enemy.
So who cares what the "Syrian people" might think? The Western "Friends of Syria" could not have found a more willing golden patsy to promote their usual, self-fulfilling Divide and Rule gambit - the Sunni-Shi'ite divide. It's always handy to have dysfunctional GCC petro-monarchies posing as "liberators" so the West once again may conduct a proxy war "leading from behind".
In other news, where's Evelyn Waugh when you need him? It's Scoop all over again, with Syria replacing a "promising" war in the African Republic of Ishmaelia and every hack in the Western world doing a remix of the Daily Beast, proclaiming Assad's imminent demise because, well, we're with the rebels and we have decided they are going to win.
Those infidel missiles
As it stands, the Geneva II negotiations promoted by Washington and Moscow seem to be as good as six feet under (although they are getting together today to define the framework).
The European Union has lifted its arms embargo on Syria - a move that was essentially a Franco-British delirium that went over the heads of reluctant EU members. It had to be Britain and France, of course, the two former imperial powers that almost a century ago carved up a line in the sand dividing the Levant and now want a redesign.
This would mean, in practice, that the EU has declared war on Damascus. Well, sort of. Under the EU agreement, no weaponizing will go on before autumn. And the belligerent Franco-British duo has to make sure any weapons are used only to protect civilians. Who will supervise this - a bunch of Brussels bureaucrats in army fatigues? Well, they can always revert to default - ask for American help. Every grain of sand in the Levant knows the CIA is "assisting" Qatar and Saudi Arabia to weaponize the "rebels".
And then there's the distinct possibility that Britain may have acted, once again, as an American Fifth Column inside the EU, paving the road for a possible Obama administration "all options are on the table" intervention.
Russian President Vladimir Putin checkmated the EU - and the US - in no time. Yes, those famous S-300 missile systems are coming to Damascus, and soon. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said the missiles were a stabilizing factor in Syria that would dissuade schemes by "hotheads". He also stressed - correctly - that the EU may just have bombed the planned Geneva talks.
Former Russian Air Force General Anatoliy Kornukov told Interfax-AVN Online that Damascus would need at least 10 battalions of S-300 air defense missile systems to fully protect its territory from a possible NATO attack.  In this case, there's no way a no-fly zone - a Franco-British wet dream - can be imposed.
Each S-300 surface-to-air missile system consists of a radar-equipped command post and up to six 5Zh15 missiles. It would take only a month to train Syrians to operate them. Kornukov observed, "Our systems can be deployed within five minutes." And they're almost impossible to jam.
What are the "Friends of Syria" going to do about that? Call another meeting? Time for al-Qaradawi to go on al-Jazeera and upgrade his jihad to include Russian missiles (after all these are infidel weapons). Why not set an example and volunteer himself to the front line?
1. See here.
Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007) and Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge. He also wrote Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009). He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.