Who are Syria’s Alawites?

An Alawite falconer is pictured in Baniyas, Syria, between 1939 and 1945

LATAKIA, Syria — As an anonymous group of self-professed Alawite leaders recently declared their independence from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad — himself an Alawite — it seems appropriate to get to know more about the somewhat obscure sect sometimes known as the third branch of Islam.

Many Alawites are unwilling to discuss their beliefs openly because their foes consider them apostates who believe Imam Ali is God. The Alawites consider these characterizations to be fabrications. Though some Alawites and Shiite scholars try to portray Alawites as Twelver Shiites, the anonymous group says Alawites are an independent, third sect of Islam who follow a mystical interpretation of the Quran.

On April 3, the anonymous Alawite group dared to issue a controversial declaration designed to “reform” and clarify Alawite identity. For example, the document calls for ending the practice of “taqiyya.” (A simplified explanation of taqiyya describes it as the belief that Muslims may use deception to protect their knowledge or escape a situation in which they feel threatened.) The document emphasizes that Alawites are neither Sunni nor Shiite and rejects the tradition of the “salvation sect,” under which some Muslims believe their sect is the only true way to salvation, and all other sects are apostates. According to the declaration, Alawites believe there are good people in all religions and sects.

Ahmad Adeeb Ahmad, a Syrian Alawite religious scholar, told Al-Monitor, “Faith and salvation, according to our beliefs, are not tightly linked to a sect, but to loyalty. So we acknowledge the existence of good and faithful men everywhere.”

The Alawites claim to belong to the line of Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (599-661), the fourth caliph who was the cousin and brother-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad.

The Alawite sect originated in Iraq and soon moved to Aleppo in Syria under the rule of Sayf al-Dawla al-Hamadani (890-1004), an Alawite who helped spread the doctrine. He followed a senior Alawite scholar, Hussein bin Hamdan al-Khusaibi (874-961), the founder of Alawi religious practice.

The Alawites were persecuted by the Umayyad, Abbasid, Mamluk and Ottoman states, which carried out massacres against the Alawites after occupying the Levant in 1516. The Alawites fled to the Latakia mountains after a large massacre in Aleppo in which thousands of them died.

Hanbali theologian Taqi ad-Din Ahmad ibn Taymiyyah (1263-1328) issued fatwas in the early 1300s deeming Shiites, Alawites, Druze and Ismailis to be apostates. The Mamluk and Ottoman authorities used these fatwas as religious justifications to kill Alawites. This persecution deeply affected Alawite society, which resorted to taqiyya in religious practice and to nationalist, leftist and secular ideologies in political and partisan work.

The April 3 declaration states, “Alawite mysticism is not a secret religious practice” but a way to divine the true nature of the miraculous secrets of creation, not to hide a religious belief.

Ahmad rejects the call to end taqiyya because Ali specifically told followers to use taqiyya to protect their religion and religious knowledge, he said. Ahmad explained that secrecy “does not mean hiding our teachings from others, but is about theological knowledge and secrets that are obtained by those who have dedicated their souls to God, who opened up to them and gave them the mystical knowledge, which they protected from falling into the hands of renegades who would distort them.”

Some Muslims accuse Alawites of deifying the imam, a charge Alawites deny. Ahmad said Ali is the guardian and Muhammad is the prophet and no one can determine the link between them. Ahmad quoted Muhammad as saying, “I am from Ali, and Ali from me.”

An Alawite scholar based in Latakia, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Al-Monitor that while Alawites do not deify Ali, they have overstated his position due to a misunderstanding of the doctrine. Alawites’ perception of Muhammad and Ali goes beyond the traditional view; they see the two as a manifestation of the creator, while all the prophets are a single person who appears at different times and the messages they reveal are several springs that originate from one source, God.

Ahmad, however, rejects the idea that the prophets are one person, saying, “The prophets in our belief are not mortals, but they are lights of God.”

Alawites share some common beliefs with Twelver Shiites (the oneness of God, justice of God, prophecy of Muhammad, divine leadership of the 12 imams and the day of judgment), and also some differences as a result of the philosophical and mystical dimensions of the Alawites.

The Alawites believe in the transcendence of God in his entirety and manifestations. Ahmad said Alawites see God expressed in the Quranic al-Noor verse: “Allah is the light of the heavens and the earth. The example of His light is like a niche within which is a lamp, the lamp is within glass, the glass as if it were a brightly shining star.”

Ahmad added that Alawites’ view about Tawhid, the oneness of God, is expressed in the Quranic Ikhlas verse: “He begets not, nor is He begotten, and there is nothing at all like Him.”

The April 3 declaration said Alawites believe in the mystical interpretation of the Quran. Ahmad explained that the Alawites say, “The Quran has visible and invisible faces. We consider all of them.”

The document states that Alawites drew from other monotheistic religions such as Judaism and Christianity and that this is a source of completeness and richness for them. Ahmad, however, said that claim is “an attempt to distort the Alawite way and accuse us of introducing Israeli matters into our beliefs. This is pure fabrication. But we believe in the words of Moses, Issa [Jesus], Solomon, David and all the prophets. We cite their words and we are committed to their teachings.”

Muslims of other sects oppose the Alawites’ belief in reincarnation, saying it is contrary to Islam. But Ahmad explained, “Reincarnation does not mean a random movement of the soul between two bodies without order. It is a religious and scientific fact that we have a lot of evidence for. It is not incompatible with the principle of punishment on judgment day and it does not deny the existence of heaven and hell, because divine justice requires that no one can achieve his full self and purify himself in one life.”

(Source / 13.05.2016)

Baby steps: Lebanon’s municipal elections inspire hope

A woman casts her ballot at a polling station in Zahle during Lebanon’s municipal elections, May 8, 2016

BEIRUT — Despite all the doubts shrouding the municipal elections in Lebanon following a second extension of the parliament term and in light of the Lebanese political crisis, elections began May 8 and are set to be held over four consecutive Sundays ending May 29 and covering all Lebanese provinces.

These elections are bringing democratic life back to Lebanon, which has endured a presidential vacancy since May 2014 and the obstruction of official institutions in light of the political crisis and sharp divide in the country since former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was assassinated in 2005.

Also, the Council of Ministers is experiencing major disagreements over several issues, including national security, and has almost been disbanded on several occasions.

The parliament hasn’t held legislative sessions since November, as the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and the Lebanese Forces Party have refused to attend any legislative session whose agenda does not include a new electoral law. Lebanon’s Muslims and Christians are both calling for a new electoral law that would give them fair and equal representation.

Parliament voted to extend its term twice: the first time in May 2013 for 17 months, and the second in November 2014 for 31 months, until June 2017.

These two extensions were supported by all parliamentary groups except for FPM members, who submitted appeals to the Constitutional Council each time asking that use of the extension law be limited to exceptional circumstances. Such situations were indeed encountered during periods of unrest, in particular the clashes in Tripoli between Alawites and Sunnis in mid-May of 2013, and a series of explosions, most notably the one in Haret Hreik in the predominantly Shiite southern suburbs in January 2014.

Attempts to agree on an electoral law are ongoing. Parliament formed joint committees to address finance, budget, administration and justice, foreign affairs and migrants, national defense, interior and municipalities, and media and telecommunications. The joint committees started a series of meetings called by parliament Speaker Nabih Berri to discuss the proposed electoral law.

The first meeting of the joint committees was May 3; discussion was limited to five electoral proposals and draft laws. There are 17 proposals to be discussed.

The first five proposals include the majority single-member district system submitted by the Phalange Party; the mixed system including 64 parliament members according to the majority system and 64 members according to the proportional system as proposed by Berri; the mixed system proposed by the Lebanese Force, the Future Movement and the Progressive Socialist Party based on the election of 68 parliament members according to the majority system and 60 according to the proportional system; the proportional system submitted by Najib Mikati’s government to the parliament in 2013 based on dividing Lebanon into 13 districts; and the Hezbollah-supported proposal of a proportional system based on a nationwide vote.

Will the municipal elections now underway and the parliament meetings to agree on a new law revive hope of successfully holding legislative elections in June 2017? If the parliamentary committees fail to reach an agreement, will Lebanon face a third extension of the parliament’s term or will elections be held according to the old electoral law?

Ibrahim Kanaan, a parliament member representing the Change and Reform bloc, told Al-Monitor, “The fact that municipal elections were held confirms that there is no excuse for not holding the legislative elections, and that the extension of the parliament stems from political reasons.”

He added that imposing yet another extension would inevitably stir an angry public reaction. “Holding legislative elections requires a decision, and promulgating a new electoral law requires a [genuine] will,” Kanaan said. “Will the meetings of the joint committees lead to an agreement on this law? Although the experiences of the FPM with the political parties on the subject of electoral law are not encouraging, everyone must now assume their responsibilities in light of the institutional paralysis. No party can afford to fail approving this law.”

Kanaan seemed optimistic that the legislative elections will be held next year. He even said he expects the elections to be held earlier than scheduled, since the current government bottleneck makes them imperative.

“Those who support the extension option cannot keep opposing the legislative elections, and the Christian understanding between the FPM and Lebanese Forces pushes the democratic process forward,” he said.

According to Berri, the parliament will never be extended again, and agreeing on a new electoral law will pave the way for conducting elections at any given moment. During the last session, on May 11, the deputies conveyed the possibility of ending the parliament’s term early, before June 2017.

Parliament member Ahmad Fatfat of the Future Movement told Al-Monitor, “The municipal elections confirm the Lebanese … will to promote the democratic life. The municipal elections are an important electoral movement, even if they do not have the same political dimension as the legislative elections.”

Fatfat said he doesn’t believe the successful municipal elections demonstrate that parliament term extensions weren’t needed. “When the extensions were decided upon, the security situation was more difficult than it is today, in light of the lack of an electoral law agreed upon by all parties and the parliament’s inability to pass a new law,” he said.

He confirmed that the Future Movement does not want an extension but prefers elections based on a new law.

Fatfat also confirmed that there is a collective will to prevent a third extension of the parliament, stressing that the Future Movement and Berri are exerting their utmost efforts to pass a new law. He also accused other parties of derailing discussions about the law by refusing to make compromises; he specifically blamed Hezbollah and the FPM for the failure to elect a president.

While optimism seems to prevail, an agreement doesn’t appear imminent — and reaching an agreement is just the first step needed. Lebanon has to deal with internal constitutional and political challenges ranging from actually implementing the law and holding the elections all the way to dealing with the mother of all crises: the ongoing presidential vacuum.

(Source / 13.05.2016)

IOF bars on foot march from accessing the Aqsa Mosque

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM, (PIC)– Israeli Occupation forces (IOF) on Thursday barred Palestinian marchers, who kicked off last Saturday from Haifa city in 1948 Occupied Palestine towards Occupied Jerusalem, from accessing the Aqsa Mosque. The march’s spokesman Sindbad Taha told Quds Press that the IOF stopped the march in Wadi al-Joz district east of Occupied Jerusalem and barred participants from approaching the Aqsa neither collectively nor individually and threatened them with arrest.  Israeli police stopped the marchers on Wednesday at an Israeli barrier and forced them to use buses just to disrupt the march which is launched for the second year on the anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba in 1948.

(Source / 13.05.2016)

Using police dogs, Israeli forces attack Palestinian prisoner

RAMALLAH, (PIC)– Using police dogs, Israeli forces brutally attacked the Palestinian prisoner Mohamed al-Azza, from Bethlehem, during his arrest. The dogs mauled the detainee, bite and cut his right hand artery causing him severe bleeding. After his visit to Maskoubiya detention center, lawyer of the Palestinian Prisoners Society (PPS) quoted  the detainee al-Azza as saying that he was violently pulled by the dogs before being severely beaten by Israeli soldiers, causing him severe injuries all over his body. He was then taken to Hadassah Ein Karem Hospital for treatment for nearly a week to be then moved to Maskoubiya detention center. Al-Azza is still unable to move his right hand fingers, the lawyer pointed out. Al-Azza was arrested along with his brother in April 2016 and prevented to meet his lawyer for 21 days.

(Source / 13.05.2016)

Israel kills Hezbollah military commander

File photo shows Mustafa Badreddine, the top military commander of the Lebanese resistance movement, Hezbollah.

File photo shows Mustafa Badreddine, the top military commander of the Lebanese resistance movement, Hezbollah

An Israeli strike against the Syrian capital, Damascus, has claimed the life of a top military commander of the Lebanese Hezbollah resistance movement.

Mustafa Badreddine was killed in the Israeli attack near Damascus International Airport on Friday, Lebanese al-Mayadeen television channel reported.

Badreddine was the commander of Hezbollah’s military arm, its chief of intelligence, and adviser to the movement’s Secretary General Seyyed Hassan Nasrallah.

He was the cousin and brother-in-law of the top Hezbollah commander, Imad Mughniyeh, who was likewise assassinated by the Israeli regime in Damascus in 2008. Israel’s spy agency, Mossad, killed Mughniyeh by remotely detonating a bomb planted in the spare tire of a parked SUV in the Syrian capital.

Lebanon’s Hezbollah has confirmed the death of its top commander, Reuters reported.

Pro-Hezbollah activists on the social media were paying homage to the commander. Mughniyah’s son, Jihad, was also killed in an Israeli airstrike in Syria in January 2015.

Israel is widely known for its support for terrorists trying to topple the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. According to Israel’s Channel 2 television, the number of militants having been treated by Israeli medical staff since 2011 has reached 2,100.

In December 2015, the British newspaper Daily Mail said the Israeli regime had saved the lives of more than 2,000 Takfiri militants since 2013.

The Syrian army has repeatedly seized sizable quantities of Israeli-made weapons and advanced military equipment from militants in the Arab country.

Lebanon has been sporadically affected by the foreign-backed militancy that has been taking its toll for the past five years.

Hezbollah has frequently announced that its military role in Syria is aimed at preventing the spillover of the Syrian crisis into Lebanon.

(Source / 13.05.2016)

IOF attacks peaceful rally in Bil’in town

RAMALLAH, (PIC)– Dozens of Palestinian citizens suffered from inhaling tear gas on Friday when the Israeli occupation forces (IOF) violently attacked their peaceful rally in Bil’in town, west of Ramallah. The rally was a procession of bicycles organized to mark the 68th anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba (catastrophe). Dozens of young cyclists participated in the procession from Yasser Arafat Square in Ramallah to Bil’in town. The IOF showered the participants with a hail of tear gas grenades as they reached Bil’in town, west of Ramallah.

(Source / 13.05.2016)

New report breaks down the Israel lobby in the European Union

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Today in London a new report entitled The Israel lobby and the European Union is being released. Researched and written by Public Interest Investigations and Spinwatch and published by EuroPal Forum, it seeks to explore a number of Israel lobby groups in the European Union, the power they wield and the dubious sources that fund them, while also uncovering the secretive transatlantic networks behind them.

A series of pro-Israel lobby groups have sprung up in Brussels in recent years. Some of the most influential being the European Friends of Israel (EFI), modelled on the UK’s very successful Conservative Friends of Israel, and Friends of Israel Initiative (FII). The report manages to dissect the support base for these groups and others, including detailing their links with far right groups across Europe. It cites a former director of a London think tank relating to anti-Semitism who pointed out that many far-rightists and former neo-fascists seeking political respectability “now support Israel and see Israel-supporting Jews as potential allies in their fight against the “Muslim threat”.

The establishment of similar pro-Israel groups in Brussels is part of efforts over the last decade to create what the report terms “a powerful transatlantic lobby in the heart of the European Union”. This has direct links to the Israel lobby in Washington, as well as American funders.  These funders have been shown to routinely support organisations engaged in the occupation of Palestine and policies that directly harm the potential for peace. For example, a notable donor to FII is the Middle East Forum; a think-tank based in Philadelphia which the report says is a “distributor of funding to the transatlantic Islamophobia network”. The group finances the establishment of Israeli settlements through its support for the Central Fund of Israel and Friends of Ir David. The Ir David foundation, baked by right-wing American Jewish millionaires and Israeli government money, appropriates Palestinian land and properties for the settlement enterprise.

The report also examines EU-Israel trade relations, looking at key points in recent history such as Israel’s wars on Gaza and EU reactions to them.While Israel faced a freeze in upgraded trade relations with the EU following the 2008-2009 Gaza war, subsequent opportunities to put pressure on Israel over its treatment of Palestinians have been missed. Instead, trade relations have developed; with the efforts made to apply pressure on Israel often successfully resisted by the Israel lobby.

Perhaps the timeliest chapters in this report are the ones that deal with the issue of criminalising resistance and silencing dissent. The Israel lobby in both the US and the EU has had considerable success in this arena. Lobby groups in the EU have used the closure of respected Muslim charities in the US to strengthen their call for European countries to classify Palestinian and Arab non-violent resistance to Israeli aggression as criminal.  The report also deals with the tactic employed by supporters of Israel of accusing its critics of anti-Semitism. This is very relevant to the recent Labour anti-Semitism row which has led to many debates regarding the blurring of the line between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionist or what is referred to as ‘new anti-Semitism’.

The Israel lobby and the European Union is an in-depth study of the Israel lobby groups making headway in the European Union. It highlights their ties with right wing pro-Israel movements in the US, some of which demonstrate Islamophobic tendencies and support Israel’s settlement industry, while successfully mapping out the complex network of individuals and organisations underpinning them. The Israel lobby is incredibly strong and wields a great amount of power in politics today. Reports such as this challenge that power and are all the more important considering the lack of power the Palestinian lobby wields. Despite all this, there is some good news in the report- the push for a strong Israel lobby in the European Union springs from the recognition that Palestine solidarity movements are having an effect on public opinion. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign has seen considerable progress, as has other campaigns that are taking root across Europe.

Click here to view the report.

(Source / 13.05.2016)

Weekly Highlights / Reporting period: 3 – 9 May 2016

Latest Developments (outside of the reporting period):

  • On 11 May, Egypt opened the Rafah crossing with Gaza in both directions for two days.  This follows 85 consecutive days of closure – the longest such period since 2007
  • A 54-year-old Palestinian woman was killed while farming her land east of Khan Younis, and another eight Palestinian civilians, including six children, were injured, in a series of Israeli air strikes and tank shelling across the Gaza Strip. Violence escalated on 4 May as Israeli forces entered Gaza and carried out military operations, reportedly after the discovery of a tunnel running from Gaza into Israel. Palestinian armed groups responded with mortar fire towards Israeli forces; no Israeli injuries were reported. On five occasions during the week, Israeli forces entered Gaza and carried out land-levelling and excavation operations.
  • On 3 May, a 36-year-old Palestinian man ran over Israeli soldiers staffing a flying checkpoint near Deir Ibzi’ (Ramallah), injuring three of them, and was subsequently shot and killed by other soldiers. The body of the Palestinian was handed over to his family later the same night. This brings the number of West Bank Palestinians killed by Israeli forces in attacks and alleged attacks since the beginning of 2016 to 51.
  • On 5 May, the Israeli authorities indicated that they intend to hand over soon the corpses of Palestinians suspected of perpetrating attacks against Israelis in the past six months.  During the reporting period, one such corpse was released in East Jerusalem, on the condition that the funeral be limited to 30 people, with a 20,000 NIS deposit to guarantee this condition.  The Israeli authorities continue to hold 15 such bodies.
  • 86 Palestinians, including ten children, were injured across the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) during clashes with Israeli forces. Most of these clashes erupted during protests, including the weekly demonstrations in Kafr Qaddum (Qalqiliya) and near the fence separating Gaza and Israel, or during search and arrest operations. Among the injuries, was a 15-year-old boy shot in the head with a rubber-coated metal bullet, during clashes between Israeli forces and a group of children near a school in Al Khader village (Bethlehem). Also, three Palestinian journalists were injured by shrapnel from sound grenades fired by Israeli forces during a demonstration held on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day at Beituniya checkpoint near Ofer Prison (Ramallah).
  • Israeli forces re-opened two metal gates blocking Palestinian traffic through a key road junction in the Hebron governorate, next to Beit Einoun village. Since its closure in October 2015, this junction witnessed multiple attacks and alleged attacks against Israeli forces deployed there, which resulted in the killing of eight Palestinians and the injury of six Israeli soldiers.  Its opening is expected to reduce tensions and ease the movement of 35,000 people, including employees, students and patients, who were previously forced to take longer and more expensive detours.
  • In Nablus city, the Israeli authorities punitively demolished the family home of a Palestinian man currently in detention and under prosecution for the killing of two Israeli settlers on 1 October 2015.As a result, his pregnant wife was displaced, and eight other Palestinians, including two children, were affected, due to damage caused to two adjacent apartments, during the demolition.
  • On 6 May, a 36-year-old Palestinian woman, and mother of three, was forcibly evicted by the Israeli authorities from East Jerusalem, where she has been living for years, on grounds of lack of a residency permit. The woman, who holds a West Bank ID, is married to a Jerusalem ID holder currently serving a prison sentence for an attack he perpetrated in 2002, after which their home was sealed.
  • On 9 May, a group of Israeli settlers, reportedly from the settler organization of ‘Ateret Cohanim, moved into a three-storey building in the Old City of East Jerusalem; no displacement was reported. Israeli laws and practices since 1967 have facilitated the takeover of properties and establishment of settlements in the heart of Palestinian neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem. In 2015, Israeli settlers took over four homes displacing 17 Palestinians.
  • Four settler attacks against Palestinians were recorded this week, including the physical assault of a human rights defender in Hebron city; theft of livestock in Shufa (Tulkarem); and two incidents of vandalism of property near Deir Istiya and in Kifl Haris (both in Salfit). In the latter incident, Israeli settlers, accompanied by Israeli forces, reportedly entered the village to visit a religious shrine, and vandalised property while preventing villagers from returning home.
  • In the Gaza Strip, three children (9 months, 2 and 4 years old) died of a fire that broke out in their home, due to the mishandling of candles used to cope with the severe electricity shortage. At least five other accidents, resulting in the injury of three people, were reported in the same context during the week. Electricity outages lasting up to 18-20 hours per day have been ongoing for seven consecutive weeks, rendering the delivery of basic services contingent on the availability of emergency fuel. A number of protests against this situation have taken place throughout Gaza during the week.
  • The Egyptian-controlled Rafah Crossing has remained closed in both directions during the week , bringing the period of uninterrupted closure to 84 days, the longest such period since 2007. Authorities in Gaza have indicated that over 30,000 people, including, around 9,500 medical cases, and 2,700 students, are registered and waiting to cross.

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(Source / 13.05.2016)

Next Will Be “bloodier”

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Israel blames the escalation on Al-Qassam firing mortar shells at Israeli forces working to unearth secret tunnels near the border fence.

Supposedly, the Israeli army found a cross-border tunnel on Monday.

“Hamas’s diabolical plan to infiltrate into Israeli communities must be stopped”, said Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an Israeli military spokesman.

Israeli tanks have now been firing at what they think are Hamas targets within Gaza.

These are the worst exchanges of rockets and tank fire since the war on Gaza in 2014, which ended in over 2,200 casualties and about 11,000 injured, but for all the claim of Hamas targets, they only killed few Hamas militants, however, Israel did leave with multiple war-crimes.

Israel launched a fourth air raid on Palestinian land since Wednesday in response to what it calls cross-border fire.

The tunnel found Thursday is about 29 meters (95 feet) underground, the IDF said, and it was not immediately clear whether it is a newly dug tunnel or an older tunnel Israel had hit and which had been repaired.

Mideast Israel Palestinians

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks on as he leads the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on April 21, 2013

Now Benjamin Netanyahu is conveying to his cabinet another war on Gaza, “just a matter of time.” That it will be “bloodier” than the 50 day campaign of 2014.

(Source / 13.05.2016)

Nyrabia Calls for Alternative UNSC Solutions to End Assad’s Disregard for Political Process

Vice-president of the Syrian Coalition Muwaffaq Nyrabiya said the blocking of aid convoys by regime forces from entering Daraya and the targeting afterwards of civilians in the area is a deliberate “war crime.” He added that regime actions in Daraya provide yet further proof it will not negotiate in good faith.

Nyrabiya called upon the UN Security Council to find alternative solutions to protect the Syrian people and to put an end to the Assad regime’s blatant disregard for the political process.

“The UN Security Council has to take concrete action to force the Assad regime to implement its obligations regarding lifting of the blockades on the besieged areas and stopping killing and bombing of civilians,” Nyrabiya said. “International will is urgently needed to curb Assad’s criminality and protect Syrian civilians from the ongoing violations and atrocities.”

The local council in Daraya said in a statement late on Thursday the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) informed the field hospital in the town on Wednesday of its intention to deliver medicinal aid to the besieged town on the following day, Thursday. “The ICRC said they got a clearance from the Assad regime to deliver medical aid to the town. The aid deliveries the Assad regime granted entry to did not include food aid, but medicines, vaccines and infant formula,” the council said.

The council added that “residents on Thursday morning gathered in the town waiting for the convoy aid and they expressed anger at the regime’s orders to remove food items form the aid shipments. The convoy, which was accompanied by officials from the United Nations, ICRC and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, arrived at the outskirts of the town at around 1:00 PM. Then it was stopped at a regime checkpoint manned by soldiers from the 4th Division near Iceman Factory to be searched. Regime army officers insisted on removing baby milk and medicines from the convoy, allowing only vaccines to go through.”

The council added: “The team accompanying the convoy insisted on the passage of all aid items. Negotiations between the two sides continued for several hours before the team decided to cancel the whole mission. The convoy returned to Damascus at about 6:15 PM without any aid entering the town.”

The council also said that regime forces afterwards bombed the place where civilians were gathering to collect relief aid with several mortar shells, killing two civilians, a father and his son, and wounding five others.

(Source: Syrian Coalition / 13.05.2016)