‘If Sunni, Shia, world powers united, we wouldn’t be talking ISIS’

Rebel fighters sit on a pick-up truck in Tel Mastouma, after they said they took control of the area which overlooks the Mastouma military base, south of the city of Idlib, Syria. © Ammar Abdullah

Rebel fighters sit on a pick-up truck in Tel Mastouma, after they said they took control of the area which overlooks the Mastouma military base, south of the city of Idlib, Syria

If Islamic factions, Middle Eastern countries, and Western powers joined in coalition against Islamic State (IS, aka ISIS/ISIL), they wouldn’t even be in the picture by now, Dr. Max Abrahms of Northeastern University told RT.

Though Islamic State’s extreme violence as it attacks new countries is creating more and more enemies and uniting the world’s rhetoric in condemnation against it, geo-political maneuvering is preventing the kind of coordinated decisive action that is the right approach to beating IS, according to Abrahms.

READ MORE: US planes begin bombing ISIS in Syria from bases in Turkey

RT: If Islamic State (IS, aka ISIS/ISIL) does possess chemical weapons, which seems to be the case, how much of an international concern do you think this is?

Dr. Max Abrahms: You know, these kinds of weapons are really scary, but they’re actually scarier than they are effective. In this particular case, I’m not even sure that a single Kurd was killed by the presumed chemical weapons attack. During World War I, chemical weapons were widely used and the results were disappointing for those who used them. In areas where conventional weapons were used, more people were killed than where chemical weapons were used. People can be left with the impression that unconventional weapons are always the deadliest tactic. We make this binary distinction between conventional and unconventional weapons, but there’s a huge difference between, say, a nuclear weapon and, say, the use of chlorine or the use of mustard gas, so in no way is this attack a game changer.

RT: Russia has promised to continue its support for the Iraqi government in the fight against ISIL. Do you think that the pressure is mounting on them now, though? You say it’s not a game changer, but perhaps it will get a lot of negative press and maybe just make people think a bit more about this.

MA: I mean, if anything this kind of violence, I really think, is counterproductive for the perpetrators. Islamic state is really racking up a huge number of enemies as it attacks more countries; now Turkey has gotten into the fight; now it’s harder for jihadis to flow into Syria. I see this kind of violence as backfiring against the group by further building up the coalition, and basically scaring off the local population, and making them less likely to join up with Islamic State. So, I do not see this kind of violence as strategic.


RT: Russia’s been calling on that broader coalition to include, for example, the Syrian government forces. Do you think that all parties can come together on this.

MA: No, I do not think that that’s likely. It’s very unfortunate. We wouldn’t even be talking about Islamic State if, after the emergence of this group, the Sunnis, the Shia, the Americans, the Russians, the Brits, you know, we all got together and fought against this group, but it really hasn’t worked that way. Assad has been very divisive; the United States has vacillated: do we want to work with this guy; do we want to remove him. The Sunni world has been extraordinarily unhelpful in terms of providing ground forces against Islamic State. And so we’ve been left, essentially, with Shia fighters in Iraq doing most of the heavy work there, and the Shia militia coupled with the Syrian army doing most of the heavy lifting against Islamic State in Syria. This is very unfortunate because, yes, I mean, as Lavrov pointed out, if there were a broader coalition of Sunnis and Shia, you know, the West, etc., we wouldn’t even be talking about Islamic State anymore.


RT: You mention that Assad has been divisive. He’s split the different nations. Sergey Lavrov has been trying to sort of mend bridges. He’s met even with the main Western backed Syrian opposition group. I mean, that doesn’t happen very often. They still insist though that Assad has to go. Do you think that Assad is proving a distraction that’s, perhaps, harming the fight against Islamic State?

MA: No, I wouldn’t go so far. I think that the alternative to Assad is actually probably even worse. We saw what happened with regime change in Iraq and Libya. Those governments were deposed. And what happened? The terrorists took over. And so, you know, Assad is very very harsh on his own population, but doesn’t have designs internationally in the same way that groups like Islamic State, or even the Nusra group, have. And we’ve seen that as the Syrian army has receded in its power, these Islamist groups have gained momentum and gained strength, and I do not see that as a positive development.

(Source / 14.08.2015)

In heartbreaking letter, Shawkan: Can you save me?

In heartbreaking letter, Shawkan: Can you save me?


CAIRO: “I miss my camera, I miss the reason for my scourge and calamity, I miss holding it between my hands to see the life through it…I miss smelling it in the morning before my coffee time, and yes- unfortunately- I miss my work…which costs me days of my life.”

In these heartbreaking words, detained photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zaid, famous for Shawkan, sends a letter from prison after he completes two years behind bars without trial.

Mahmoud Abu Zaid, Shawkan. Photo courtesy of: Freedom for Shawkan Facebook page

Mahmoud Abu Zaid, Shawkan

“I am Mahmoud Abu Zaid, Shawkan, and I am today completing 700 days in Torah cemetery, I live here… and I think here will be my final resting place….Can you save me?” he said in his letter, which was read out Wednesday by his recently released colleague, Photojournalist Ahmed Gamal Ziada, at a press conference marking the “unjustly” detention of Shawkan.

Shawkan was arrested August 14, 2013, during his coverage of the police dispersal of Rabaa al-Adawiya sit-in, which was widely condemned for “brutality” of police that led to the death of hundreds of people, mostly affiliated with the banned-Muslim Brotherhood group.

Although he was arrested while doing his job, accusations drawn against Shawkan had nothing to do with his work as photojournalist. He was charged of murder, attempted murder, assaulting security forces and weapon possession.

His lawyer Karim Abdel Rady spoke at the conference about violations spotted in Shawkan’s case, including: physical assault during detention, absence of a lawyer during interrogations and the release of two foreign journalists arrested with Shawkan, on same day of detention.

“Shawkan should have been released from day one, we have submitted all papers proving that he is a journalist and that he was assigned by his agency Demotix to cover the dispersal,” continued Rady.

“Shawkan should be released immediately,” his lawyer said, adding that his client has completed two years; the maximum period stipulated in the law for remand detention.

Shawkan’s father complained about prison “tenacious” he faces to send his son food and medicine. “My son is wronged, he was only carrying his camera, not a cannon or a gun.”

Shawkan’s father at press conference “My son is wronged.”

Shawkan’s father at press conference “My son is wronged.”

In prison, Shawkan developed hepatitis C and his health deteriorated, Freedom for Shawkan Campaignpreviously announced.

“I want to tell you that I am getting used to my skinny, pale body…sometimes I do not know whether the pain is from bloody virus C or from Anemia,” Shawkan said in his letter.

Journalists facing jail for doing their job

A protest outside Press Syndicate calling “No for imprisoning journalists”

A protest outside Press Syndicate calling “No for imprisoning journalists”

At least 35 journalists are currently detained, mostly over charges related to their work, said Khaled el-Balshy, a member of press syndicate, in contradiction to official announcement that no journalists are jailed over publishing crimes.

“Either they [authorities] do not say truth or they do not know; this is a major problem,” Balshy added.

Gehad Hamdy, a photojournalist, told The Cairo Post “the situation is getting worse; a sense of enmity against cameras is growing in the streets.  passersby often obstruct us in the streets ,thinking they are protecting the nation that way.”

During the first six months of the year 2015, “172 violations against journalists were spotted; 91 of them were committed by individuals affiliated with state security agencies,” said Mostafa Shaat, Researcher at the Egyptian Center for General Political Studies.  The violations included: physical assaults, detention and prevention from doing their work.

Shaat further referred to legal violations during journalists’ trials, describing evidences thrown against Canadian Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed, accused of “trumped-up” terror-related charges, as “insulting and funny.”

(Source / 14.08.2015)

IOF arrests four Palestinian citizens from WB

NABLUS, (PIC)– The Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) on Friday arrested four Palestinian citizens from the northern West Bank city of Qalqilya while they were in Beit Dajan village east of Nablus city, according to local sources.

The sources clarified that the IOF late last night arrested the four youths and took them to an unknown destination.

In a related context, the IOF at dawn Friday stormed Jenin refugee camp and confiscated a vehicle belonging to a Palestinian citizen, which led to the outbreak of clashes between Palestinians and the Israeli forces. Neither injuries nor arrests were reported.

(Source / 14.08.2015)

Administrative detention: ‘Because I said so’ ruling

Administrative detention does not allow the accused to learn the charges against him, and therefore cannot defend himself against it. It’s a sort of parallel universe where due process doesn’t exist, and you go to jail simply because someone said so.

Palestinian youth throw stones during clashes with Israeli police in the Palestinian refugee camp of Shuafat in East Jerusalem, November 5, 2014. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Palestinian youth throw stones during clashes with Israeli police in the Palestinian refugee camp of Shuafat in East Jerusalem, November 5, 2014

In February, a viral video showed an Israeli passenger on an Israeli airline who really wanted to purchase duty-free chocolate and who felt that she was being neglected by the flight attendant. That feeling of neglect quickly turned into anger, and she began shouting, “What am I, an Arab?” to the support of at least one other passenger, who echoed, “What is she, an Arab? Sell her the chocolate!”

How horrific it must have felt for them to be treated as Arabs, which, in their eyes, as naturally inferior.

And if Israelis get that riled up about chocolate, I can’t even begin to imagine how they must feel about their government’s recent decision to implement administrative detention against Israeli citizens.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the concept of administrative detention, because so far it’s been a Palestinian affliction, and as such, not of major concern, the practice is, to me understood as the “because I said so” ruling. You know, when you were a child and you asked your parents for something that you thought was reasonable and they said no. You asked why, and they said, “because I said so.”

It’s the same thing with administrative detention. If there is concrete evidence of any wrong-doing–and that’s a big if–you are not privy to it, and therefore cannot defend yourself against it. It’s a sort of parallel universe where due process doesn’t exist, and you go to jail simply because someone said so.

Currently, there are 370 Palestinian administrative detainees in Israeli facilities according to the human rights watch group B’Tselem. The majority of them were sentenced to six months, which many times is repeatedly extended before the period is over, with the same disregard for due process.

The overwhelming majority of those detainees have done nothing wrong besides belonging to Palestinian political factions. In some cases, the security establishment’s crystal ball indicates that they might do something to compromise the security of the state at some point in the future. In many cases, they are directly related to someone who has committed an offense, thus, guilty by association.

How can I be so sure they haven’t done anything wrong? Because we’re talking about a state in which 14 year-old boys receive quarter of a century jail sentences for throwing rocks. These guys are only getting six months.

The UN mentions 331 incidents in 2014 where setters, often heavily armed, have attacked Palestinian people and property. This ranges from breaking the branches off fruit trees that are bearing fruit to burning entire olive orchards. From killing sheep to burning toddlers alive. This year there have been over 100 such incidents reported, one of the most recent an attack on the Palestinian village of Duma, which left an eighteen-year-old baby and his father dead.

Often the perpetrators of attacks against Palestinians conveniently can not be found by Israeli security officials. When they are found, they are given a slap on the wrist. And isn’t that what this new decision to implement administrative detention on Israelis really is?

In the case of Duma, a number of Israeli terrorists walked up to a house in the middle of the night. The house did not look abandoned, so it was safe to assume the residents were inside and asleep, which speaks to premeditation. They firebombed the house from multiple vantages.

In a country that actually respects the rule of law, like the US, if a band of thugs firebomb a house, killing two residents, they would be facing at the very least two counts of manslaughter, two more counts of attempted murder, three to four counts of destroying private property with intent to cause grievous bodily harm, several hate-crime-related charges, three to four counts of trespassing. If convicted, I guarantee you they wouldn’t be going home after six months to a celebratory welcome home party.

If they were Palestinians who had firebombed an Israeli house, and hadn’t been conveniently killed during the arrest, they would have been sentenced to multiple consecutive life sentences. However, Israeli terrorists, who over the past 18 months have committed close to 500 acts of terrorism against Palestinians continue to walk free, or face a six month administrative detention that will elevate them to the status of heroes amongst their peers.

While Netanyahu has tried to draw a parallel between the way he deals with “Palestinian terrorists” and “Jewish terrorists,”the latter are growing more blazon with every attack. They can sleep soundly at night knowing that they aren’t going to be treated as badly as Arabs.

(Source / 14.08.2015)

PHRC: Gaza blockade increases poverty rate to 38.8%

GAZA, (PIC)– The Palestinian Human Rights Center (PHRC) said that due to the unjust siege imposed on the Gaza Strip by Israel, the poverty rate in Gaza has recently increased to reach 38.8%; out of which 21.1% are suffering from destitution. The unemployment rate has recently increased to reach 44%.

PHRC warned that these rates indicate an unprecedented economic deterioration in the blockaded enclave.

In its weekly report, PHRC pointed out that the Israeli occupation authority (IOA) has imposed sanctions against the civilians in the West Bank as part of the collective punishment policy pursued by the IOA, which flagrantly violates international human laws.

The report also said that the IOA has completely closed three out of four commercial crossings which connect Gaza with the West Bank and Israel.

Karem Abu Salem (Kerem Shalom) crossing is Gaza’s only commercial crossing but it is not fit to meet the needed amount of goods and fuel.

PHRC charged that Israel has imposed tight security restrictions on people’s movement via Beit Hanoun (Erez) crossing depriving the Gazans from reaching their families in WB and the 1948-occupied lands, let alone the hundreds of students who were deprived from attending the WB universities.

The IOA is banning the entry of raw materials and construction materials to the Strip except for very few kinds and in very limited quantities to be used in the international projects, according to the report.

It highlighted that there is an almost complete ban on Gaza’s exports except for few products like flowers, strawberries, and spices.

PHRC stressed that Gaza and the West Bank including Jerusalem are still under Israeli occupation and that crossings’ closure and collective punishment policies are still imposed on the Gazans in absolute disregard to the human rights’ treaties, the international humanitarian law, and Geneva Conventions.

Israel is bound to apply the international human rights law (IHRL) in a way that provides the civilians and victims with better protection, the report said.

Israel has been imposing tight land and sea blockade on Gaza in an attempt to completely isolate the Strip from the external world, which seriously worsened the economic, social, educational and living conditions of about 1.8 million Palestinians.

(Source / 14.08.2015)


By Peter Clifford                 ©                 (www.petercliffordonline.com/syria-iraq-news-5/)



After they were driven out of Sarrin on Kobane Canton’s south-western front, the Islamic State (IS) retreated further south to the Najm citadel, the remains of an ancient fortress overlooking the Euphrates River, where they established a new headquarters.



Boy Looks at Books From a Destroyed Building in Kobane

Yesterday, Thursday, Coalition aircraft bombed IS facilities near Najm and this was followed by loud explosions, indicating that stores of weapons and ammunition had been struck.

Generally, Kobane city is now seen as safe and this week another 1,600 Kobane citizens returned across the Turkish border from North Kurdistan where they had been seeking refuge.

Preparations are also underway for the start of the new school year in Kobane on September 7th.

All the schools in the city were destroyed during the Islamic State attacks but 5 will be operational in September and all the schools in the outlying villages across the Canton.

As importantly, another 180 teachers have been trained to teach in Kurdish and the Kurdish Language Institute now has 450 teachers able to teach in the Kurdish Language at 3 levels.

At the Kobane border gate into Turkey, Turkish authorities are still denying the entry of the bodies of 20 YPG/YPJ fighters who were killed in battle against IS.

The fighters originated in North Kurdistan on the the Turkish side of the border where their families have been waiting 2 weeks now to reclaim their loved one for a proper burial.

An appeal has now been made to the UN to take action on the issue.

Turkey’s Foreign Minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, also said yesterday that his country does not expect to use ground troops in Syria to fight the Islamic State – but the option “remains on the table”.

The “Clean up the city – First International Campaign for Reconstructing Kobanê” fundraiser atFirefund has nearly reached $20,000 but that is only around 15% of the target of $130,000.


Further to the east, Kurdish security, the Asayish, have arrested 30 people in Tal Abyad who they believe to be members of Islamic State sleeper cells. Along with the arrested people they discovered weapons, ammunition, Turkish uniforms and other equipment.

Near the frontier at Tal Abyad some Kurds trying to cross were ordered by Turkish border guards to “back off and turn” and when they did so, according to local reports, the guards opened fire, killing 2 and wounding 8.

In the north-east of Syria, the Islamic State continues its attempts to infiltrate Qamishli and Hasakah. On Wednesday, Coalition jets hit several IS targets near Tel Hamis south of Qamishli, while the YPG battled with IS both south of Qamishli and east of Hasakah city.

Heavy fighting took place at Ghazalla, 22 kilometres south Tel Hamis with at least 4 x IS Jihadists killed and 3 YPG fighters injured. Coalition planes also bombed an IS checkpoint near Al-Hol town south-east of Hasakah.

Fierce battles are reported again today, Friday, south of Hasakah as the YPG moves forward towards Al-Hol and Shaddadi. IS is reported to have brought in as many as 200 suicide bombers and heavy artillery from Deir Ez-Zour to defend the 2 key towns.

Vice News, which has embedded itself with the YPG in Hasakah has released its 3rd video report (after short ad), here:


(Go to Vice News if this video fails to load)

US Central Command (Centcom) reports 21 airstrikes in Syria this week on Tuesday through Thursday, 10 of them near Hasakah destroying 15 x IS fighting positions among other targets.

2 airstrikes in Kobane Canton destroyed 7 x IS fighting positions and an IS motorbike as well as hitting 2 tactical units. The other airstrikes were near Aleppo, Abu Kamal (destroying an IS front-end loader and a bridge) and Deir Ez-Zour.


In south Syria the Opposition have once again made huge advances near Daraa city overrunning the north-western approaches.

In the last 48 hours Opposition fighters have taken Government defensive lines in Tal Za’tar, a hill at AL-Yududeh and the “cypress barrier” between Daraa and its northern suburb of Atman.

Footage from the battlefield is HERE:  and near a fuel station at Tal Za’tar, HERE:

In this video Opposition fighters are in the regime’s defensive trenches at Tal Za’tar, HERE: and take a Syrian Air Force airstrike, HERE:

Reports of a large number of regime troops killed including Assad General Al Ayoud.

This map. courtesy of @markito0171, shows the (blue) area of Opposition advance towards the city itself, here:



Opposition Advance Into North-West Daraa City Approaches

In Idlib province the Opposition are shelling the main regime base at Joureen on the Ghab Plain with rockets,HERE:  and have detonated 2 bridges near Al- Ziyara to prevent a regime advance.

In Latakia province, the Al-Nusra Front has stormed regime positions in the Jabal Al-Turkman mountains north-east of Latakia city and shelled Latakia city itself, killing 2 and wounding 13.

Latakia city remains tense since the arrest of Suleiman Assad, a cousin of the President, for shooting of a senior Army officer in a road rage incident. Some Alawites have called for Suleiman Assad’s execution (scroll down – see below).

Even more interesting is evidence of corruption and intrigue after the release of a swathe of documents by the Swiss arm of international bankers HSBC which show a whole host of accounts, 18 in all, linked to President Assad’s close cousin, businessman and millionaire Rami Makhlouf.

Even more damning is that some of the front companies connected with the accounts are headed by well-known Israeli businessman Freddy Zinger. You can read more, HERE:

In Aleppo province the Islamic State captured the village of Tilalyan north of Mare as they seek to cut off the Opposition supply route between the Turkish border and Aleppo city, but Opposition fighters are said to be fighting back strongly.

In Damascus province, the agreed ceasefire (scroll down – see below) involving Zabadani and the 2 Alawite enclaves in Idlib province, Fu’ah and Kefraya, appears to be holding and the first of 40 Opposition fighters are said to have left Zabadani today.

However the ruling council at nearby Wadi Barada has once again shut off the water supply to Damascus city in protest at the Hezbollah and regime actions at Zabadani, calling for the pro-Assad forces to withdraw.

Struggling to Survive in a Palestinian Refugee Camp in Southern Lebanon

Palestinian refugees from Syria are fleeing to Lebanon’s already crowded refugee camps. (APA/file)

Palestinian refugees from Syria are fleeing to Lebanon’s already crowded refugee camps

Manar Mohamed begins to cry before I have even asked my first question. She turns to look at her daughter, who is sitting next to her on one of the mattresses that constitute the only furniture of the apartment. At first glance, Farah looks like an ordinary nine-year old, dressed in a pink Donald Duck t-shirt and grey sweat pants. She smiles shyly at me and jumps up when her mother asks her to get something from the kitchen.

It is only recently that she has been able to run like that again. When Farah returns, Manar shows me a red scar, in the shape of a star, on her left foot.
“The shrapnel hit here,” she says, pointing at the outside of the foot, “and then went right through. She couldn’t walk for a long time.”

Manar and Farah are refugees from the civil war in Syria, and two years ago they made their way to Burj al-Shamali, the Palestinian refugee camp that is located in the south of Lebanon, just three kilometers from the city of Tyre.

During the Nakba – the Catastrophe – of 1948, approximately 750,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled from their homeland by Zionist forces in a campaign of ethnic cleansing. Shortly thereafter Palestinian refugee camps were established to house these refugees, and there are today 59 such camps in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria.

Burj al-Shamali is one of the poorest Palestinian refugee camps in all of Lebanon. It is plagued by the same problems that afflict all of the camps, such as overcrowdedness, lack of education, severe electricity cuts, tap water that is so salty it is undrinkable, and unemployment.

“Unemployment is actually worse here than in the camps in Beirut,” Mohamed, who works for Beit Atfal Assamoud, an NGO in Burj al-Shamali that provides educational, medical and social services to the camp’s children, told me earlier in the day. “This is an agricultural region, which means most of the work is seasonal.”

Burj al-Shamali is a closed camp, and traffic in and out of the camp is tightly controlled. In practice, pedestrians are able to enter by skirting the concrete slabs that block the many gaps in the walls and various other structures that form the camp’s boundary. Vehicular traffic must go through a checkpoint, and cars and trucks are searched regularly.

These regulations have both positive and negative consequences for Burj al-Shamali. Because the camp is closed, there is a high proportion of marriages between close relatives, and hereditary diseases can be prevalent. For example, Burj al-Shamali is known as “The Thalassemia Camp” because of the high percentage of residents that have this blood disorder, which is dangerous and expensive to treat.

Another consequence, Mohamed told me, is that, unlike in the refugee camps in Beirut, everybody in Burj knows each other.

“There are very few strangers in the camp. Most of the families have been here since 1948.”

Because of the strong relationships among families, Burj does not suffer from the extreme violence that afflicts the camps in Beirut.

“We do not have many things,” he said, “but we do have hope.”

A walk through the camp confirms Mohamed’s statements. The residents seem friendlier and less stressed than they do in Shatila, a refugee camp in Beirut that is not closed and has seen an enormous influx of Syrian refugees over the last few years. Because of the ban on building materials, the buildings in Burj al-Shamali are not as tall as in Shatila, and there is more light, giving it an appearance that is brighter and more hopeful.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) was created in 1949 to provide basic educational and medical services to the residents of the camps as well as arrange for improvements in infrastructure such as garbage removal and water. However, UNRWA recently announced that due to a sizeable budgetary shortfall, it will begin cutting back on the services it provides to the residents of the Palestinian refugee camps, including Burj al-Shamali.

Until recently, Manar and her family received approximately U.S. $300 per month from UNRWA, but this has now been cut to roughly $100, leaving the family unable to pay even the $160 the landlord demands for rent.

“How are we going to survive?” says Manar. “There is no man to earn money.”

Manar, her husband Mustafa and Farah were living in the Sayeda Zeinab neighborhood of Damascus when their lives were changed forever by a bomb that struck their home in 2012. Manar and Farah, though injured badly, managed to escape alive, but Mustafa’s body was never discovered, and Manar assumes he is dead.

“Farah was covered with shrapnel. There was blood everywhere. There was shrapnel in her stomach. They thought she was going to die. But she did not. They removed the middle finger of her left hand, and the next finger doesn’t work.”

She demonstrates by holding her daughter’s hand and its useless, dangling appendage.

The family spent the next five months living with relatives in Damascus, allowing Farah’s wounds to heal. When a group of Manar’s neighbors made arrangements to flee to Burj al-Shamali, Manar decided to join them.

Now Manar and Farah, as well as Manar’s sister and mother, live in this two-room apartment, and the UNRWA spending cuts have them extremely worried about the future.

Abu Asseem, the director of Beit Atfal Assamoud, tells us that UNRWA’s budget shortfall will have severe consequences for the camp beyond just a decrease in financial contributions to families like Manar’s.

“They have said they will not pay the salaries of the teachers this fall. All of the schools will probably close, at least until 2016.”

Manar is grateful for the help she has received from others in the camp, especially Beit Atfal Assamoud, but she knows that her future lies elsewhere.
“All I want to do is go home,” she cries, her bright green eyes glazing over with tears.

As the civil war in Syria rages on, it is clear that Manar’s wish will not be granted anytime soon. For now there is still hope that somehow, she can make things work for her family here in Burj al-Shamali, but with the extra burden created by the UNRWA cuts, even that hope appears to be running out.

(Source / 14.08.2015)

The occupation attacks three children in Silwan and attempts to arrest them

Silwan, Jerusalem (SILWANIC) —

The occupation forces attacked a group of children while walking in “Maragha” neighborhood in Silwan.

Wadi Hilweh Information Center was informed that the occupation forces attacked the 9-year old Qassam Eyad Al-A’war, 5-year old Mohammad Kamal Al-A’war and the 7-year old Mohammad Ahmad Al-A’war while they were heading home from summer camp.

Eyad Al-A’war, Qassam’s father, explained that he was on the roof of his house and heard the sound of a sound grenade and children screaming. He managed to get to the area where the occupation forces were surrounding the three children under the pretext of “throwing stones towards a settler”; the forces fired a sound grenade towards the children and pushed them to the ground.

Al-A’war added that verbal altercations broke out between him and the occupation forces who were forced to withdraw from the area. The forces came afterwards to his house and checked his ID and asked about his son Qassam.

(Source / 14.08.2015)

Khoja: Transitional Governing Body Should not Include Assad & his Gang

President Khoja stresses that the Syrian conflict should be resolved in accordance with the Geneva declaration in 2012 which called for the formation of a transitional governing body, affirming that it should not include any of the regime’s elements, chiefly President Bashar Al-Assad.

“Bashar al-Assad has no role in the future of Syria,” Khoja said in an interview with the Interfax news agency on Friday.

After concluding talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Khoja said that the Assad regime was using ISIS as an excuse to re-establish its footing on several key areas in Syria.

“The Russian side showed understanding of the Syrian Coalition’s vision of a political solution,” he added.

Khoja stresses the need to pull Syria out of its current situation, which he described as chaotic because of war waged by the Assad regime against the Syrian people. He also stresses the need to restore stability to the region.

“A political solution must preserve Syria’s territorial integrity and the unity of its people, in addition to protecting state institutions from collapse.”

Khoja pointed out that “we agreed with the Russian leadership to continue consultations and meetings to find a just solution in Syria.”

With regards to the fight against terrorism, Khoja said that “regime forces deliberately withdrew from several strategic areas which were seized by ISIS. He imported sectarian militias to kill the Syrian people and carried out attacks on popular markets and residential areas, which leaves no doubt that the Assad regime is the source of terrorism and chaos in the region and thus cannot be a partner in the fight against terrorism.

(Source: Syrian Coalition / 14.08.2015)

Egypt marks Rabaa massacre anniversary with two narratives

Despite a name change and being sealed-off, Rabaa Square’s physical presence has been replaced by symbolism to many Egyptians

Egyptians rally in support of deposed president Mohamed Morsi outside Cairo’s Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque on 7 July 2013

Egypt on Friday marked the second anniversary of what has become known as the Rabaa massacre, when security forces violently cleared two protest camps in Cairo, staged in support of ousted President Mohamed Morsi.

The larger of the two sit-ins in support of Morsi, who was Egypt’s first elected president before being overthrown by the army in a popularly backed coup on 3 July 2013, took place in Cairo’s Rabaa al-Adawiya Square.

The second sit-in was held at Nahda Square, before being attacked along with Rabaa Square by armed security forces on 14 August 2013, leading to the deaths of around 1,000 protestors.

A few days ahead of the second anniversary of the Rabaa massacre, government officials placed placards across Rabaa Square renaming it Hisham Barakat, after Cairo’s prosecutor general who was killed in a bomb attack in June.

The move has been seen by observers as an attempt to erase a collective memory of the violent crackdown on the hundreds of thousands of protesters who camped out in Cairo to protest against the military coup.

Rabaa Square became a symbol of resistance as the site where, according to HRW report, at least 1,000 Egyptians, predominantly supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, were killed during the forcible dispersal of the protesters. The Egyptian government condemned the HRW report for including “misleading information”.

The name Rabaa and its associated symbol of four-fingers on top of a yellow background was appropriated by resistance groups which continue to hold protests and challenge the current government led by Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, who staged the coup when he was head of the army and defence minister.

The Egyptian cabinet officially approved the renaming of Rabaa Al-Adawiya Square in July, almost three weeks after Barakat was killed in a Cairo bomb attack that targeted his car.

The request to change the name of the square was made in order to “erase the memory” of the Rabaa Al-Adaweya sit-in and “replace it with the everlasting memory of Barakat’s martyrdom as a respected judge”, said head of the Judges Club Abdullah Fathy on the day of Barakat’s death.

Two years after the dispersal, the square is surrounded by several police checkpoints, while Rabaa mosque, after which the square was originally named, remains closed.

Despite being renovated, the mosque – which was the site for a makeshift hospital during the sit-in – and adjacent complex remain empty as high security measures have been maintain, passers-by told MEE.

Imposing narrative

While Nezar al-Sayyad, Professor of Architecture, Planning, Urban Design and Urban History at University of California, Berkeley sees the name change as a common practice adopted by all ruling elites in Egypt, he believes the name Hesham Barakat will not be easily adopted.

“I do not expect that Rabaa will disappear easily. Those who support the regime will be happy to adopt the name change but those who do not will continue to call it Rabaa,” said Sayyad.

“When Mubarak came to power after Anwar Sadat’s assassination, he changed the name of Tahrir Square to Anwar Sadat Square, but no one ever used it.”

“What is happening now with Rabaa is identical. Like every political regime, this government is attempting to erase what was there before and use a name that is more in line with its own policies and outlook,” he added.

Nicholas Simcik-Arese, a geography DPhil candidate at the University of Oxford, agreed: “The destruction or appropriation of spaces of collective memory in a city is not a new phenomenon.

“Across history, but particularly in recent times in Egypt, there is an enduring and tried tradition of asserting power through erasure or imposition of a certain narrative in the city.”

“[Rabaa] is clearly not just the name of a square or mosque alone but of a widespread movement that emerged as a result of events there and has taken a life and visual language of its own.”

“Potent symbols and memories are resilient in ways that the state will always find difficult to match.”

Deeper polarisation

Many Egyptians see the name change as a message from the government to the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters that they are in power, especially that Barakat was responsible for handing a death sentence to hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood members.

“This [name change] is similar to kied el nissa [an Egyptian expression used when old women tease each other],” 21-year-old law student Abdel Rahman El-Dahshory told MEE.

“The government is just like an old woman trying to tease its rival. I was a participant in the 30th of June protest, but I know that Brotherhood members were killed there; why inflame their anger?” he added.

Thirty-two-year-old accountant Hassan Ibrahim agreed with Dahshory: “The government should be more responsible by taking decisions that are best for the whole country.

“A decision like this is more of a child’s. Furthermore, the Brotherhood never claimed responsibility of the assassination [of Hisham Barakat]; it is such a sensitive decision that should not be taken,” he added.

While some Egyptians are deeply disturbed by the name change, others are more enthusiastic about it.

“The man [Barakat] spent his life fighting those terrorists [the MB]. He ought to be honoured in a proper way,” said 63-year-old Abo Baker Abo el-Maati, a retired government official.

The differing opinions about the decision reflect a deepening polarisation in Egyptian society which observers say will not be helped by the name change.

“Irrespective of what people may feel about the MB or about the current government, most independent estimates calculate that about one-thousand humans were killed in Rabaa al- Adaweyya Square,” said Simcik-Arese.

“Replacing this collective memory will likely be read by families of the dead as blaming them for the general prosecutor’s assassination. It is hard to see how any healing or unity can come from what will undoubtedly be understood as a provocation,” he said.

“Whether through the repeated demolition of encampments in Tahrir Square between 2011 and 2013 and abrupt construction of monuments or parking spaces in their place, the renaming of Mubarak Metro station, the enormous laser projection of the words ‘this is not a coup’ in English on the Mogamma, or the white washing of political graffiti on Mohammed Mahmoud Street, it is clear that erasing or covering the symbols of memory does not erase the memories themselves,” he added.

Meanwhile in Britain, one day ahead of the second Rabaa massacre anniversary, human rights lawyers have warned that senior Egyptian officials visiting the UK could be arrested for crimes against humanity.

(Source / 14.08.2015)