President al-Assad to France 2 TV: France was a spearhead in supporting terrorism… We are ready for any dialogue that meets Syrians’ interests

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Damascus, SANA-President Bashar al-Assad gave an interview to France 2 TV.

Following is the full text;

Question 1: Good evening, Mr. President, I’d like to start straight forward. For most French, you are in a very large part responsible for the chaos going on in Syria, because of the brutality of the repression during the last four years. According to you, what is your part of responsibility?

President Assad: Actually, since the first few weeks of the conflict, the terrorists infiltrated the situation in Syria with the support of Western countries and regional countries, and they started attacking the civilians and destroying public places, public properties and private properties, and that’s documented on the internet, by them, not by us. So, our role as government is to defend our society and our citizens. If you want to say what you said is correct after four years, how could a government or president that’s been brutal with his population, killing them, and with the support from the other side of the greatest countries and political powers in the world, with the petrodollars  in our region… how could he withstand for four years? Is it possible to have the support of your public while you are brutal with your public?

Question 2: In the beginning, there were tens of thousands of people in the street. Were they all jihadists?

President Assad: No, definitely not. But the other question is, if in the sixth day of the conflict, the first Syrian policeman was killed… how? By the peaceful demonstration? By the audio waves of the demonstrators? How? He’s been killed by terrorists. Somebody who took a gun and shot that policeman, so he’s a terrorist. It doesn’t matter if he’s a jihadist or not, because he killed a policeman.

Question 3: There were perhaps jihadists or terrorists, but our reporters were there at the beginning and they met a lot of people saying “we want more freedom, more democracy.”  They weren’t terrorists or jihadists.

Every government should support freedom under the constitution

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President Assad: Definitely, everybody has the right to ask for his freedom, and every government should support freedom, of course, under the constitution. But does freedom mean to kill the civilians, to kill policemen, to destroy the schools, the hospitals, the electricity, the infrastructure? That’s not owned by the government; it’s owned by the Syrian people. It’s not owned by us, it’s not owned by me. Is that the freedom that you’re talking about?

ISIS was created in Iraq in 2006 under the supervision of the Americans

Question 4: A lot of analysts and a lot of journalists say that you have helped ISIS to emerge, because it’s an opportunity for you to appear like a shield.

President Assad: But ISIS was created in Iraq in 2006 under the supervision of the Americans. I’m not in Iraq and I wasn’t in Iraq. I wasn’t controlling Iraq. The Americans controlled Iraq, and ISIS came from Iraq to Syria, because chaos is contagious. When you have chaos at your neighborhood, you have to expect it in your area.

Question 5: But the word ISIS at the beginning…

President Assad: Let me continue. Whenever you have chaos in a certain country, this is a fertile soil for the terrorists to come. So, when there is chaos in Syria, ISIS came to Syria. Before ISIS came al-Nusra Front, which is al-Qaeda, and before that you had the Muslim Brotherhood. They all represent the same grassroots for ISIS to come later.

Question 6: So you have no responsibility at all for what happened since the last years in Syria?

President Assad: Normally, things are not absolute. To have no responsibility is not precise, because everybody has a responsibility. We have our own problems in Syria. The government is responsible, every one of us is responsible, every Syrian citizen is responsible, but now I’m talking about what brought ISIS here: the chaos, and your government, the government – or if you want to call it regime – the French regime, as they call us, is responsible for supporting those jihadists that they called moderate opposition.

Question 7: France is supporting a coalition, national Syrian coalition. Are they terrorists?

President Assad: The people who are supported now, who have Western armaments, they became ISIS, they were supported by your state, and by other Western states, by armaments, and that was announced by your Defense Minister. He announced it at the beginning of this year; he said we sent armaments. So, those people you called moderate, in 2012 before the rise of ISIS and before the West acknowledged the existence of al-Qaeda faction which is al-Nusra, they published videos where they eat the heart of a Syrian soldier, where they dismember other victims, and where they behead others. They published it, we didn’t. So, how can you ignore this reality, that they want to publish it, and tell you this is the fact?

Question 8: Let’s talk about the present. It appears that the Syrian army continues to utilize indiscriminate weapons like barrel bombs, which have devastating effects on civilians. Why don’t you change this strategy?

President Assad: We never heard in our army of indiscriminate killing weapons, because no army, including our army, will accept to use weaponry that doesn’t aim, because it will be of no use. You can’t use it, I mean from a military point of view. This is first. Second, when you want to talk about indiscriminate killing, it’s not about the weapon; it’s about the way you use it, and the proof of that is the drones, the American drones in Pakistan and Afghanistan, they killed more civilians than terrorists. They are the highest precision weapon in the world. So, it’s not about the kind of bomb. We have regular bombs, regular armaments.

Question 9: You don’t use barrel bombs?

President Assad: What is a barrel bomb? Can you tell me what it is?

Question 10: There are several documents, videos, and photographs like this, where you see a barrel bomb dropped by helicopters. This is Aleppo, this is Hama a few months ago, one year ago. Only Syrian army has helicopters, so what can you answer?

President Assad: This is not proof. These are two pictures of two things. No one can link them to each other.

Question 11: Aleppo, Hama.

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President Assad: No, no. This picture that you mentioned here, what is it? I have never seen such a thing in our army. I’m not talking about the helicopters, I’m talking about two pictures. How can you relate between the two?

Question 12: You say it’s a fake? It’s a false document?

President Assad: No, no, it has to be verified, but in our army we only use regular bombs that could be aimed. So, we don’t have any armament that could be shelled indiscriminately. That’s it.

The war in Syria is about winning the hearts of the people, it’s not about killing people

Question 13: But this helicopter, only the Syrian army has helicopters.

President Assad: Yes, of course, I didn’t say we didn’t have helicopters, that we don’t use it. I’m talking about the armaments. They aim to target the terrorists. Why to kill indiscriminately? Why to kill the civilians? The war in Syria is about winning the hearts of the people, it’s not about killing people. If you kill people, you cannot be in your position, as a government, or as president. It’s impossible.

Question 14: What about chemical weapons? You committed two years ago not to use chemical weapons. Did you use chlorine gas in the battle of Idleb last month?

President Assad: No, this is another fake narrative by the Western governments. Why? Because we have two factories of chlorine. One of them is closed for a few years now, it’s not used anyway, and the other one is in the northern part in Syria, which is the most important factory than the first one. It’s on the Turkish border, it’s under the control of the terrorists for two years, and we sent formal documents to the United Nations regarding that factory. They wanted to come and they sent us a formal response, they couldn’t reach it. So, the chlorine in Syria is under the control of the rebels. This is first. Second, this is not a WMD, it’s not a weapon of mass destruction. The regular armaments that we have are more influential than chlorine, so we don’t need it anyway.

Question 15: But there are investigations, you must have seen that, from HRW, about last month in Idleb. Three attacks with chlorine smell, with symptoms consistent with exposure to toxic gas, that is what was concluded this investigation. These three attacks took place in territory controlled by armed opposition groups. HRW, are they liars?

President Assad: We didn’t use it. We don’t need to use it. We have our regular armaments, and we could achieve our goals without it. So, we don’t use it. No, there’s no proof.

Question 16: There are witnesses, there are testimonies of doctors.

President Assad: No, no. We ask, in every allegation regarding the chemical weapons in the past, in the present, we were the party who asked the international institutions to send delegations for investigations. We are, not the opposite, actually. And our soldiers were exposed to sarine gas two years ago, and we invited the United Nations to make investigations. How could we invite them while we are using them? That’s neither true nor reasonable.

Question 17: Are you ready to invite them again, on Idleb?

President Assad: We already did. We always invite. We don’t have a problem with that.

Question 18: Now, an international coalition led by the U.S. is bombing ISIS from the air. Is it a problem for you, or is it help for you?

President Assad: It’s neither, none of them. Because it’s not a problem of course if you attack terrorists, but at the same time, if you’re not serious, you don’t help us.

Question 19: Why not serious?

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President Assad: If you want to make a comparison between the number of air raids of the coalition of 60 countries, while we are one country, a small country, what we do is tenfold, sometimes, than what they do in one day. IS that serious? It took them to liberate what they call in the media Kobani city, on the Turkish borders, it took them four months to liberate it, in spite of having Syrian fighters on the ground. So, they’re not serious so far. And the other proof is that ISIS has expanded in Syria, in Iraq, in Libya, in the region in general. So, how can you say that it was effective? They’re not serious, that’s why they don’t make any help to anyone in this region.

Question 20: There have been thousands of strikes of coalition in the beginning, but France only is striking in Iraq. Would you like France to join the coalition to strike in Syria?

The coalition against terrorism cannot be formed by countries who support terrorists 

President Assad: As I said, they’re not serious anyway. The coalition against terrorism cannot be formed by countries who support the terrorists at the same time, so we don’t care whether they attack it in Syria, or Iraq, or both, as long as they support the same terrorists at the same time. They send weapons to the same terrorists under the title of moderate opposition when Obama said it’s elusive, so the armaments will actually go to whom? To the terrorists. So, this is contradiction. It doesn’t work.

Question 21: You have the same enemy with France: ISIS. There have been attacks in France in January. For that moment, did your intelligence service have contact with French intelligence services?

President Assad: There are some contacts, but there’s no cooperation.

Question 22: What do you mean by contacts?

President Assad: We met with them, we met with some of your security officials, but there’s no cooperation.

Question 23: No exchange of information?

President Assad: No, nothing at all.

Question 24: So, why did you meet them?

President Assad: They came to Syria, we didn’t go to France. They came, maybe for some exchange of information, but when you want to have this kind of cooperation, it’s a two-directions way, so it’s about we help them, they help us. Now, according to the reality that’s related to your politics or to the policy of the French government, we should help them, while they support the terrorists and kill our people, so it doesn’t work.

Question 25: Did France ask for contact with your intelligence services?

President Assad: Yes, we met with them. There was a meeting with them.

Question 26: It was France asking?

President Assad: Yes. We don’t have anything to ask from the French intelligence. We have all the information about the terrorists.

Question 27: There are hundreds of French fighting with ISIS in Syria. Did you arrest some of them? Are there some French people from ISIS now in Syrian jails?

President Assad: No, in the prisons we don’t have any of them, we only have information, because the majority of those jihadists, they come here to fight and to die and to go to Heaven, that’s their ideology. So they’re not ready to go to any prison.

Question 28: So, there are none in jail?

President Assad: No, in jail we don’t have any of them.

Question 29: There are some people nowadays in France, some politicians, some MPs, you have received some of them these last days, they say that it’s time to dialogue with you. What initiative would you be ready to take to convince the others that you can become a partner for dialogue?

President Assad: With them?

Question 30: With France.

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President Assad: They have to convince me first, that they don’t support terrorists, that they are not involved in the blood shedding of the Syrian people first. They made the mistake regarding Syria, we didn’t kill any French or European people. We didn’t help terrorists in your country. We didn’t help the Charlie Hebdo. You helped the terrorists, so your country, Western officials, should convince us that they don’t support terrorists. But we are ready for any dialogue, taking into consideration that it’s going to be for the interest of the Syrian citizens.

How can we make dialogue with a regime that supports terrorists in our country? 

Question 31: So at this moment, you are not interested in dialogue with France.

President Assad: No, we are always interested in dialogue with anyone, but that is based on the policy. How can we make dialogue with a regime that supports terrorists in our country, and what for? That’s the question. When they change their policy, we’ll be ready to make dialogue, but without that policy, there’s no aim for the dialogue. You don’t make dialogue for the sake of dialogue; you make it in order to reach certain results, and that result for me is for this government to stop supporting the terrorists in my country.

Question 32: So, you would have no message to send to Francois Hollande in the objective of dialogue?

President Assad: I think the main message that should be sent to him is by the French people, and the poll in France will tell you what message Hollande should listen to, which is, as the most unpopular president in the history of France since the 50s, should take care of his population and prevent terrorists from coming to France. For me, as somebody who suffering with his citizens, with the other citizens in Syria, from terrorists, I think the most important message is what you’ve been seeing in France is only the tip of the iceberg. When you talk about terrorism, you have a full mountain under the sea. Be aware of this mountain that will inflict your society.

Question 33: When John Kerry, the United States, said perhaps we will have dialogue with Mr. Bashar Assad, with President Assad, after he came back to another position, but you said ok, these are words, I want acts, I’m ready for dialogue. So, you are ready for dialogue?

France is the spearhead that supports terrorism in Syria 

President Assad: Of course, we are ready. I said we are ready, with every country in this world, including the great powers in the world, including France. But I said dialogue should be based on a certain policy. The spearhead against Syria, the spearhead that supports terrorism in Syria, was first France, second UK, not the US this time. Obama acknowledged that the moderate opposition is illusive.. he said that it is fantasy.

Question 34: He said it’s a phantasm to think that we could arm them and they could win the war, but he didn’t say there were no moderate opposition.

President Assad: Exactly. What’s the meaning of “we could arm them and they couldn’t win the war?” What does it mean? What does fantasy mean? They said they’re going to arm the moderate opposition. Can you tell me what is it, where it is? We don’t see it. We live in Syria, you live in France. I live here, I don’t find it to fight it, if we have to fight it. We don’t find it.

Question 35: You say there are foreign countries, too much foreign countries, involved in the Syria conflict, but without Iranian support, without Hezbollah support, would you be able to fight against terrorism now? I mean, you denounced that foreign countries are involved in Syria, but on your part there is Iranian and Hezbollah support for you.

President Assad: There’s a big difference between intervention and invitation. Every country, every government in the world, every state, has the right to invite any other country or party or organization to help in any domain, while no country has the right to intervene without invitation. So, we invited Hezbollah. We didn’t invite the Iranians, they’re not here, they didn’t send any troops.

Question 36: There are no Iranians here fighting with you?

President Assad: No, no, they don’t fight. We have regular relations with Iran for more than three decades. We have commanders, officers coming and going between the two countries based on the cooperation that existed between us for a long time. This is different from fighting. So, we as a government have the right to have such kind of cooperation, but France and other countries don’t have the right to support anyone within our country. This is a breach of the international law, this is a breach of our sovereignty, this a breach of the values that they’ve been proudly talking about – or allegedly some of them talk about – for decades now, maybe for centuries. One of these values is democracy. Is it democracy to send armaments to terrorists? To support rebels? Do I have the right to support the terrorists of Charlie Hebdo or something similar?

Question 37: You know what the French Prime Minister said recently about you. He said “he’s a butcher.” What’s your response?

President Assad: First of all, let me be frank with you. The statements of the officials in France, no-one is taking them seriously now, for one reason: because France is a satellite somehow to the American policy in the region. It’s not independent, it doesn’t have the weight, it doesn’t have the credibility. This is first. Second, as an official, you always care about the opinion of the population and Syrain citizens. I’m not made in France or any other country. I’m here because of the Syrian citizens, and that’s what you have to take care of.

Question 38: Do you think, one day, you will win this war, and that everybody, everything will go on like before, and Syria will go like before, with nothing changed?

President Assad: No, nothing should be as before, because you make things as before means you didn’t develop, you didn’t learn from the conflict. This conflict has many lessons. We have to learn from the lessons, and we have to make things not like before, but better, and there’s a big difference.

Question 39: And with Bashar Assad ruling Syria?

President Assad: I don’t care about this. I care about what the Syrian people want. If they want Bashar al-Assad, he will stay. If they don’t want him, he has to leave right now. I mean, how can he govern without the support of his public? Can he? He cannot.

Question 40: How can you know that you have the support of your population?

President Assad: First of all, when you don’t have support, they won’t support the army, you will not withstand for four years. How can you withstand without their support?

Question 41: Perhaps they’re scared.

President Assad: They are 23 millions. How can 23 millions be scared of one person, or one intelligence, or one government? That’s not realistic, not rational.

Question 42: You think it’s democracy now in Syria? You think people can really say what they think?

President Assad: No, we were on the way to democracy, it’s a process, it’s a long way. There’s no place you reach it, you say this is democracy. If you want to compare me to the West, to France, and other countries, no, you are much ahead of us, definitely, because of your history and because of many other circumstances and factors. If you want to compare me to your closest friend, Saudi Arabia, of course we are democratic. So, it depends on how you compare me.

Question 43: If you were convinced that leaving the power would mean peace for Syria, would you do it?

President Assad: Without hesitation. If that were the case, without hesitation, I would leave of course. If I’m the reason of conflict in my country, I shouldn’t be here. That’s self-evident.

Question 44: I wanted to show you another photograph. This is Gilles Jacquier. He was a journalist in our channel, France 2. He was killed here in Syria 3 years ago. You had promised an investigation about that to know who killed him. What can you tell us about this investigation today?

President Assad: Regardless of the allegations at that time that we killed him, he was in a residential area under the control of the government, and he was killed by a mortar, not by a bullet, so the self-evident thing is that the government wouldn’t shell itself or the residential area of its supporters by mortars. So, it’s very clear, everybody knows, and many French media at the time acknowledged that he was killed by a mortar that was shelled by what you call the opposition, actually they are terrorists. So, he was definitely killed by them, but if you want to about – are you asking about the investigation?

Question 45: Yes. There has been an investigation? Would you give the result of this investigation you have to prove for French justice?

President Assad: No, we don’t have to prove. We have legal procedures, and whenever we have any crime in Syria, we follow these procedures, like any other country. You have a judicial system in Syria, you have regular procedures; so if you want to know about the details, after this interview you can be referred to the involved or interested institution.

Question 46: And you would ok to give this information to French justice?

President Assad: Of course, we don’t have any problem.

Question 47: If French justice would like to send investigators here, policemen, judge, would you be willing to?

President Assad: That depends on the agreement between the two governments, if you have agreement or, let’s say, a treaty or such a thing, regarding the judicial systems in the two countries and the cooperation between these two systems, we don’t have a problem, but it’s not a political decision.

Question 48: Thank you, Mr. President.

President Assad: Thank you for coming.

(Source / 20.04.2015)

Unravelling the media spin on Yarmouk

(Article from April 10th)

Residents in the besieged Yarmouk refugee camp tell a very different story of recent violence from the one carried in the mainstream media

A man walks past destroyed buildings in the Yarmouk refugee camp on 6 April 2015

When the Islamic State (IS) group entered Yarmouk in southern Damascus last week, the Palestinian refugee camp was thrust back into the media spotlight.

Caught between the rockets of Syrian government forces and violent militants who have seized territory in northern Syria and Iraq, factions inside Yarmouk, chiefly the Palestinian group Aknaf Beit al-Maqdis, fought fierce gun battles with IS.

With concern over the fate of the camp growing, the PLO sent a delegation from the West Bank to Syria to discuss the plight of the refugees with Syrian authorities. An initial statement from PLO official Ahmad Majdalani said that Palestinian factions had agreed to cooperate with Syrian government forces inside the camp to counter IS.

However, another statement released shortly afterwards from the PLO leadership in Ramallah contradicted this, saying that they refused to be drawn into military actions.

Saeb Erekat, the PLO’s chief negotiator, supported the move and stressed that Palestinian factions within Yarmouk have refrained from meddling in “a conflict that isn’t theirs”.

Residents of Yarmouk, however, offer a very different version of events.

“Palestinian militias allied to Bashar al-Assad like the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command [PFLP-GC] are the ones who dragged the camp into the Syrian conflict,” 30-year-old journalist Ahmad, a resident of the camp, told Middle East Eye via Skype on Thursday.

“Before, the camp was a safe haven, a neutral zone for people in the areas around it,” Ahmad said. “These militias, led by PFLP-GC’s Ahmad Jibril, are the ones who began kidnapping and arresting activists within and around the camp and handing them over to the regime.”

Anwar Abdul Hadi, a PLO official based in the government-controlled capital of Damascus, said on Sunday that 2,000 people were evacuated from the camp to the capital under the protection of the Syrian army.

“Around 400 families managed to leave the camp on Friday and Saturday via two secure roads to the Zahira district which is under army control,” he said, adding that most were taken to government shelters and hospitals in Damascus.

Shaml Media, a Palestinian media network in Syria, was the first to contest the PLO’s claims, tweeting out that only 180 people left Yarmouk.

Sources within the camp who spoke to various humanitarian organisations within Yarmouk told MEE that approximately 200 people left on the day the PLO issued its statement.

“They weren’t evacuated,” said Ahmad. “I can confirm that the regime forces did not offer a safe passage for the ‘evacuation’ of the refugees. Rather, the refugees took refuge outside the camp.”

Displacement from the camp

Since IS entered Yarmouk just over a week ago, a total of 4,000 residents had fled to the nearby neighbourhoods in the besieged southern Damascus area of Babila, Yalda and Beit Sahm.

Salim Salamah, who is based in Sweden and head of the Palestine League for Human Rights-Syria, admitted to the confusion surrounding the news of the residents fleeing.

“We need to distinguish between two things,” he said. “The displacement of the people from the camp within southern Damascus and the displacement of the people from the camp to outside, who are now in the regime-controlled Damascus.”

Ahmad said that Yarmouk, a 2.11-square-km area that used to house 160,000 people that are now reduced to around 14,000, had entrances to the north sealed off by government forces and a few roads to the south that led to neighbourhoods controlled by armed opposition factions, most of which have signed truces with the Syrian government.

It remains unclear as to how exactly the 200 residents managed to make it outside southern Damascus to the government-controlled part of the capital.

“No one goes to the regime-controlled entrances,” Ahmad explained. “It’s just not checkpoints they’ve erected; it’s an entire battleground, with snipers ready to shoot at anything moving.”

“Most of the people that managed to leave to Yalda and Babila are now living in schools or in the streets,” he added.

“The roads are accessible as long as there is no aerial bombardment,” said Salamah. “Of the people who fled since IS invaded the camp, 2,500 people from Yarmouk are now in Yalda, 1,000 in Babila, and 500 in Beit Sahm.”

Military entry will bring further death

Anger at the PLO has risen in the camp, especially since the announcement that Palestinian officials would be meeting with authorities who they see as responsible for the camp’s ongoing blockade.

“We have been under siege for years, and all the humanitarian aid is delivered to Beit Sahm and Babila,” said one resident of the camp. “We thank Ahmad Majdalani for the presents he has given us in the past few days,” he added sarcastically, referring to the rockets that Syrian military planes have dropped on the camp.

Fawzi Hameed, the head of the civil society organisations in Yarmouk, stated that a military solution would only bring more devastation.

“We demand [that] the PLO and those in Ramallah find a solution to get us out of this situation … and we stress that the entry of the military will bring about further death and destruction and is not the solution,” he said.

Presence of IS exploited by factions for media

Analysts say that the renewed attention that Yarmouk is now under masks the complicity of both pro- and anti-government factions that contributed to its demise.

“Everyone is trying to profit from the camp’s suffering,” Ahmad said. “They all want to turn Yarmouk into a Kobane to achieve their victories on the backs of the flesh of the civilians,” referring to the Kurdish city that garnered major media attention after IS overran the city and the US-led military coalition started a bombing campaign against the militants.

Speaking through Skype, Ahmad’s otherwise solemn voice halted a few times as the whining of a Syrian military plane sounded overhead. After a couple of loud booms, he apologised and said he would call back later as he had to move to the lower ground of the house he was in.

“One thing we have to be mindful of is that the presence of the Islamic State in Yarmouk provides other sides, the opposition factions and the government regime alike, to exploit the media in a favourable way,” he said.

Different rival opposition factions have issued statements regarding their role in fighting IS alongside Aknaf Beit al Maqdis.

“If Jaish al-Islam [a Saudi-backed faction led by Zahran Alloush that operates in eastern Ghouta] wanted to fight IS they could have entered from Hajr al-Aswad and attacked them from behind,” Ahmad laughed. “There are limited battles on the outskirts but they did not enter the camp – this is all for the media. Also, Ahrar al-Sham did not get involved.”

Meanwhile the media has turned a blind eye to the government forces’ role in starving Yarmouk’s residents in favour of intensive reporting on the army’s alleged military proposition to enter the camp in order to repel IS. Yet Yarmouk’s residents maintain that the biggest threat they encounter is from the Syrian military airstrikes on the camp.

“Media sources have reported that there are massacres and mass beheadings in Yarmouk,” said Abu Ahmad Huwari, the secretary-general of the Palestinian National Body for Yarmouk camp, pointing out that this has caused families who were previously displaced from the camp to panic.

“We in Yarmouk assert that there is no truth to these reports, and we confirm as civil society organisations that there are airstrikes that kill civilians, and that we will remain in the camp in order to ensure a dignified life and to ensure the return for our families,” he declared. “We will not leave the camp despite the barrel bombs or the gun battles. We will only leave if we go back to our land in Palestine. For now, we demand a safe passage so that food and medical supplies can enter for our people.”

Aerial bombings biggest danger

Ahmad dismissed claims of an IS takeover of the camp.

“Here I am, talking to you and smoking,” he said. “I can go down to the store in the street and buy a pack of cigarettes, and I won’t be beheaded by IS because I am not living in their ‘state.’”

“They didn’t impose their rule and declare Yarmouk as part of their caliphate,” he added. “Their presence should not be confused with controlling the camp.”

“We’ve been talking for a couple of hours now,” he continued. “Have you heard me at one point say with fear, oh no, I must hide because a member of IS just passed by? The airstrikes remain the biggest danger to the civilians.”

The bombings target residential areas as it is too risky to target the flashpoints where opposition groups are located in close proximity to government forces.

“More than 30 barrel bombs targeted the camp in the last nine days,” Salim Salamah said. “On Wednesday night 16 barrel bombs fell on the camp, including one that targeted Palestine Hospital. These aerial bombardments are extremely destructive and are in no way comparable to the ground invasion of IS.”

“If medical and food supplies don’t enter the camp within the next 48 hours, the result will be beyond tragic,” he said.

(Source / 19.04.2015)

Syrian Coalition to Hold Consultative Meeting With Revolutionary Forces

The political committee has discussed preparations for holding a consultative meeting with the Syrian revolutionary forces, including civil society organizations, revolutionary bodies and rebel factions. The consultations aim to lay out unified political positions and vision with regard to any potential future proposals for a political solution.

The political committee met with rebel leaders in Istanbul to learn about the latest developments in the battlefronts across Syria and to discuss ways to secure support for rebels.

The political committee also met with Interim Prime Minister Ahmed Tomeh to review the government’s plans in light of the lack of support and the increasing needs and to discuss the general budget for the year 2015.

(Source: Syrian Coalition / 18.04.2015)

KOBANE /CIZIRE UPDATE 78: YPG LIBERATE YET MORE VILLAGES ON THE SOUTHERN FRONTS, WHILE TALK OF TURNING KOBANE INTO A “MUSEUM” OFFENDS SOME

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

http://www.petercliffordonline.com/syria-news-3

SYRIA and IRAQ NEWS

Battles against the Islamic State continue in the sectors to the south and south-east of Kobane city, with a YPG/YPJ operation on Wednesday night targeting the Jihadists near the village of Xane. An IS vehicle was destroyed and 5 x IS fighters killed.

SYRIA and IRAQ NEWS

 

Destroyed Petrol Station With Lafarge Plant in Background

Having taken Hamdoun and then Khan Mamed, the YPG are in a position to isolate the IS Jihadists still within the Sal/Lil salient north of the M4 highway, by crossing the M4 and cutting them off by moving westwards.

The attempted suicide car bomb attack on the YPG at Gocekmetê reported earlier (scroll down – see below) resulted in the killing of 9 x IS Jihadists when the YPG blew up the suicide vehicle while it was still surrounded by IS fighters.

Further to the west, the combined YPG/FSA force has been making attacks on IS positions 10 kilometres north-west of Sarrin, supported by Coalition attacks on IS in the centre and on the outskirts of Sarrin town.

Just east of Sarrin, the Kurdish forces have also once again crossed the M4 highway and have advanced towards Ras Al Ayn, supported by Coalition airstrikes.

In the battle for the Lafarge Cement Plant, 2 FSA fighters died and 3 from the YPG, their funerals held together in Kobane earlier this week.

The YPG has produced this video of the battle for Lafarge and the surrounding villages, (EDITOR: I’ll forgive them the over-dramatic music!) here:

https://youtu.be/Wt-2V6FrASc

Latest reports today, Friday, say that last night, Kurdish forces on the southern Kobane front liberated the villages of Bîrhemlî, Gewande, Dafiya and Girê Şehîd Hecî and 6 x IS Jihadists were killed.

On the eastern front of Kobane province, YPG are additionally reported to have moved even nearer to IS-held Tel Abyad, liberating villages less than 20 kilometres from the IS stronghold, though further detail still awaited.

SYRIA and IRAQ NEWS

 

Stairs But No House Left in Kobane

Within Kobane city itself, 9 truckloads of food aid have arrived from the Municipality of Bedlîs in northern Kudistan, Iraq, 6 containing flour and 3 more other food supplies.

There also appears to be a proposal, coming from whom is not yet clear, that half of Kobane should be left as it is and turned into a “museum”.

Some Kobane citizens have already expressed their horror at this idea, though given the worldwide interest in the struggle for Kobane, it could in fact bringing tourists from all over the world and help to fund the rebuilding of a new modern city.

US Central Command (Centcom) reports 4 airstrikes in Kobane Canton from Tuesday am through to Wednesday destroying 6 x IS fighting positions and hitting 2 tactical units.

2 further airstrikes near Hasakah during the same time period destroyed another 6 x IS fighting positions, an IS vehicle bomb, an IS tunnel and an IS bunker, plus hitting 2 more tactical units.

From Wednesday am through to Thursday morning, yesterday, 4 airstrikes in Kobane Canton destroyed another 6 x IS fighting positions and hit 2 tactical units.

Kobane Canton Situation Map for 16.04.15, courtesy of @ChuckPfarrer, here:

SYRIA and IRAQ NEWS

 

SW Kobane Canton Situation Map 16.04.15

In Cizire Canton, unconfirmed local reports suggest that the Islamic State is sending its elite forces to the province, perhaps now seeing it as a “softer target” than Kobane.

On Tuesday night into Wednesday morning, IS Jihadists attacked the small village of Ennabiya Sudan, 7 kilometres south-east of Tel Tamir. After a long and heavy battle, the YPG prevailed, killing 4 x IS fighters and wounding another 5.

The bulk of the IS attacking group then retreated to the village of Derxam, 1.5 kilometres away, where they later hit by a Coalition airstrike, killing another 15. The same night, Coalition planes targeted another IS group in Lilan, 6 kilometres to the south-west of Tel Tamer, destroying a pick-up with a heavy machine gun and killing a further 3 x IS fighters.

IS training Younger and Younger Children to be its "Next Generation"

 

IS training Younger and Younger Children to be its “Next Generation”

Meanwhile, IS appear to be increasingly training younger and younger children to fight for them, in the hope that by brainwashing them earlier they can induce them to be “life-long members” of the IS Jihadist cause.

Children are taught religion and Sharia, as well as Arabic, hand to hand combat techniques and military training. Some are even given dolls on which to practice “beheading” and one video features a real-life executioner who is probably no more than 10.

But IS, in its backwardness, sees philosophy, science, history, art and sport to be incompatible with Islam, and instead seems to be committed to raising a generations of unfeeling individuals who are likely to be locked into “ long-term loyalty” and who will become a “cadre of fighters that will see violence as a way of life”.

You can read more in The Guardian Syria news HERE:

ESTIMATES PUT THE REAL NUMBER OF DEAD IN SYRIA SINCE 2011 AT MORE THAN 310,000, WHILE RUMOURS SWIRL OF A PLANNED COUP AGAINST ASSAD:

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) yesterday said that its records indicate that 220,271 have been killed in Syria between 18th March 2011 and 14th April 2015.

104,629 (47.50%) are civilians, including 11,021 children (10.53%) and 7,049 women (6.73%).

Another 39,848 (18.09%) killed in that time are Opposition and Islamic fighters (including defected soldiers and officers), while 28,253 are from the Islamic State (IS), the Al Nusra Front (ANF) and other extremist organisations.

Putting all the pro-Assad fighter deaths together (regular soldiers and National Defence Force militia), amounts to 78,189 or 35.49% of the total. (EDITOR: So no wonder the Alawite community is getting restive – see below)

They have also logged 3,162 unidentified dead, which are included in the total, and 3,526 pro-Assad Shiite militia fighters.

However, SOHR estimates that there are another 20,000 at least who have disappeared into Assad’s prisons and 14,500 from various groups held by the IS and ANF. The true death total for these two secretive groups for their own fighters may be more like 86,000 than the 28,253 recorded above.

SOHR also estimates that during the last 4 years, as many as 1.5 million have been wounded.

SYRIA and IRAQ NEWS

 

Young Victim of Assad’s Chlorine Attacks

The reality of some of this hit home this week when video footage was shown to the UN Security Council on the alleged chlorine attack by the Assad regime on the village of Sarmin in Idlib province last month on March 16th as Opposition fighters prepared to overrun Idlib city.

Assad’s military believed that Sarmin was one of the Opposition fighters “command and control” centres.

Some of the doctors from Sarmin who treated the injured, led the presentation and answered questions.

The bombing came just days after the Security Council passed a resolution condemning the use of toxic chemicals such as chlorine in such attacks.

3 children under 4 died in the regime raid, after the doctors were unable to revive them, plus the mother of one of them and a grandmother.

Many of those present at the UN were in tears as the evidence emerged and while the session was underway, another 5 barrel-bombs were dropped on Sarmin by Assad’s helicopters, some allegedly containing more chlorine and causing distress yesterday, HERE:

You can read more from BBC Syria news, HERE:

The huge death toll may also be getting to Assad’s main backers, the Shia orientated Alawite community.

There were reports this week that another of Assad’s cousins, Munther al-Assad, was arrested after a big security lockdown in Lattakia city.

Munther, who reportedly had gone into hiding, was, according to some sources under suspicion of preparing a coup, along with President Bashar Assad’s exiled uncle, Rifaat Al-Assad who attempted to take control from his brother, Hafez (Bashar’s father) in 1984, but failed and retreated to France where he has remained ever since.

After being flown to Damascus for an “interview” with the President, Munther was apparently returned to Lattakia. You can read more of this mysterious saga, HERE:

SYRIA and IRAQ NEWS

 

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Deployed in Syria

There are also reports that after suffering heavy losses in the last few months, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, of whom there are thought to be around 6,000 deployed in Syria, have withdrawn from many far-flung combat zones and re-deployed in locations around Damascus in defence of the capital.

You can read more on this, HERE:

Units of Syria’s Opposition fighters, fed up with the behaviour of the Islamic State around Damascus, yesterday stormed their HQ in the suburbs of Qaboun and Barzeh districts, killing 20 of them and capturing another 30, (caution – gruesome towards the end) HERE:

Meanwhile, fighting inside the Yarmouk camp between the Palestinians and extreme Islamists continues.

Reliable sources are saying the Al Nusra Front, in conjunction with the Islamic State, still control around 80% of the camp and the desperate situation for the civilians trapped there remains unresolved.

Assad Bomb Idlib With Chlorine Gas as UNSC Looks into Evidence of Previous CW Attacks

Activists in Idlib and surrounding areas have reported over 43 civilian suffocation cases after Assad’s air force dropped six barrel bombs, four of which contain poisonous chlorine gas, on residential areas inside the city and in the towns of Tamana’a and Kafr Najd.

Vice-President of the Syrian Coalition Nagham al-Ghadiri said that these attacks coincide with a hearing session by the members of the UN Security Council of testimonies on the Assad regime’s use toxic gases in the town of Sarmin in March, which reveals the position of the Assad regime on those meetings and utter disregard for them.

“The Assad regimes’ persistence in using chemical weapons against civilians is due to the UN Security Council’s failure to take deterrent action against the Assad regime. Yesterday’s chlorine attack on Idlib and rest of the Assad regime’s crimes make it imperative for the international community to impose a no-fly zone and establish safe havens in Syria to provide protection for civilians.”

(Source: Syrian Coalition / 17.04.2015)

Most dangerous Islamic State leaders come from Scandinavia – Syrian President Assad

Syria's President Bashar Assad (Reuters / SANA)

Bashar al-Assad warned about the growing threat from “Scandinavian” Islamist extremists fighting inside of Syria, where the battle against Islamic State amidst a protracted civil war has claimed the lives of over 200,000 people.

Syrian President Bashar Assad, in an interview with the Swedish newspaper Expressen, said the threat of terrorism should not looked at as “domestic or as local,” but rather as a global phenomenon, before going on to reveal that “the most dangerous leaders of ISIS (Islamic State or IS) in our region are Scandinavian.”

Assad, who has struggled to remain in power through four grueling years of civil war, and now incursions by IS jihadists as well, warned that Sweden and Europe are at risk of terrorism.

“As long as you have terrorism growing in different European countries, Sweden cannot be safe,” Assad told Kassem Hamade in the Syrian capital, Damascus. “As long as the backyard of Europe, especially the Mediterranean and Northern Africa, is in chaos and full of terrorists, Europe cannot be safe.”

When asked whether Sweden requested information about these ISIS fighters or other jihadists, Assad said: “There’s no contact between our intelligence agencies.’

Between 5,000 and 6,000 Europeans have traveled to Syria to join Islamic State, said Vera Jourova, the EU Commissioner for Justice said, emphasizing that 1,450 of them are French citizens, the French newspaper Le Figaro reported.

However, EU officials believe that the figures are strongly underestimated, as foreign fighters are difficult to track.

The comments by the Syrian leader came after the Swedish intelligence agency, SÄPO, recently warned that jihadists returning from fighting in Syria represent the biggest domestic threat in Sweden today.

Säpo press officer Fredrik Milder told The Local, that “at least 150 Swedish residents were known to have been to Syria or Iraq to fight for Isis or other extremist groups, with intelligence suggesting that at least 35 had died in the process.”

“About 50 of those known to have traveled to Syria have returned to Sweden. They travel to Syria, return to Sweden and tend to go back again,” Milder said, while adding that “there is only a very little we can do to stop people from traveling from Sweden to join al-Qaeda-inspired groups.”

Milder did not offer an explanation as to why these individuals were not being arrested upon their return to Sweden and other European countries.

Starting in September 2014, a coalition of US-led forces – including Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates – launched airstrikes on Syrian territory, which were not authorized by the Syrian president, against Islamic State (IS), which has declared its intention of creating a caliphate across parts of the Middle East.

(Source / 17.04.2015)

Death toll from Syria conflict exceeds 220,000: Report

People walk past debris next to the Sa’ad Ansari school (background) in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on April 12, 2015. © AFP

People walk past debris next to the Sa’ad Ansari school (background) in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on April 12, 2015

The death toll from the five-year-long foreign-backed militancy in Syria has surpassed 220,000, a UK-based monitoring group says.

Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said on Thursday that the organization had so far counted 222,271 deaths since the start of the crisis in March 2011.

More than 67,000 of the dead were civilians, including more than 11,000 children, he said.

Nearly 68,000 foreign-backed militants have been killed in the conflict while nearly 47,000 Syrian army troopers and pro-government fighters have lost their lives in the conflict, Abdel Rahman said.

The group noted that the actual toll is likely much higher than the deaths it has been able to count.

The toll does not include some 20,000 people listed as missing.

Over 3.8 million Syrians have left their country since the beginning of the crisis in March 2011. More than 7.2 million Syrians have also become internally displaced, according to the United Nations.

(Source / 16.04.2015)

Syrian Coalition Calls For The Release Of Mazen Darwish & His Colleagues

A verdict in the case of the head of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM) Mazen Darwish and three of his colleagues has been postponed, their lawyer said on Monday.

“The head of the terrorism court set a verdict date for the cases of Mazen Darwish and his colleagues Hani Zaitani and Hussein Ghreir for April 28, after it was delayed a number of times,” Michel Shammas told reporters.

The three media activists have been held by the Assad regime since 2012 on charges of “promoting terrorist acts.”

The United Nations has urged the Assad regime to release all political prisoners, and has made a special plea for the release of the three activists.

Spokesman for the Syrian Coalition Salem al-Meslet calls on the UN Security Council to put pressure on the Assad regime to implement the Un resolution 2139 urging the release of all detainees in Syria. He also calls on as the International Red Cross’s mission to organize visits to detention centers to check on the safety of detainees and report on their status.

Meslet stresses that the file of detainees in Assad’s secret jails is a top priority for the Syrian Coalition, adding that “we constantly raise the issue of the detainees in all our meetings with Arab, international and UN officials and call upon them to exercise pressure on the Assad regime to release the detainees and alleviate their suffering. “No-one must forget the role of activists who have been detained by Assad’s security forces, and that almost every Syrian has a brother, a friend or relative who is waiting a bleak fate in Assad’s secret jails.”

The designated date for the verdict is scheduled days before Darwish’s receipt of Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize, award to him by UNESCO. The organization announced that it would deliver the prize to Darwish or his representative during the upcoming celebration of World Press Freedom Day, which will be hosted by Latvia on May 3rd.

(Source: Syrian Coalition + Agencies / 16.04.2015)

KOBANE/CIZIRE UPDATE 77 – LATEST KURDISH OFFENSIVE SEES 20 VILLAGES LIBERATED AND MORE THAN 60 ISLAMIC STATE FIGHTERS KILLED

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

http://www.petercliffordonline.com/syria-news-3

SYRIA and IRAQ NEWS

The YPG have confirmed that they have successfully completed an operation on their southern and south-eastern front on Tuesday which began on April 8th to drive back the Islamic State (IS).

SYRIA and IRAQ NEWS

 

YPG Preparing for Battle Once More

During that period the YPG/YPJ, with support from Free Syrian Army (FSA) units, have captured as many as 9 villages, the Lafarge Cement Plant (scroll down – see below) and 2 quarries near Celebi.

The villages captured included Bocak, Xirab Hişk and Derfilît.

IS have continued an attack on the village of Gocekmetê, which the YPG had captured earlier, and attempted to penetrate the Kurdish defences with a suicide car bomb.

The YPG managed to detonate the car while it was still surrounded by Islamic State fighters.

Two other suicide bomb attacks were also repelled and 31 x IS Jihadists killed during this operation at a cost of 3 Kurdish fighters.

20 x AK-47s, a 120 mm mortar and 24 rounds, 8 Katyusha rockets, a military vehicle, 1 scope and 2 radios were also recovered.

Since these reports came in, latest information suggests that a combined YPG/FSA force has liberated another 6 villages including Hamdoun, with claims that as many as 60 x IS fighters have been killed in the Hamdoun area. This video footage shows parts of the battle at Hamdoun and (caution) a large number of bloody IS corpses at the end, HERE:

Along with Hamdoun, Khan-Mamed, Xorxori, Girek, Dafiye and Xwedan, all 40 – 50 kilometres from Kobane city, were freed by the YPG/FSA force late on Tuesday or earlier today.

Between Sunday am and Monday morning, US Central Command (Centcom) reports 6 airstrikes in Kobane Canton, which destroyed 12 x IS fighting positions and 2 x IS vehicles as well as hitting an IS tactical unit.

From Monday morning through to Tuesday am, 3 more airstrikes by the Coalition destroyed 4 x IS fighting positions and 1 x IS vehicle, as well as hitting 2 x IS tactical units.

This video declassified by Centcom shows a Coalition strike on an IS fighting position on April 6th (not even time to say prayers), here:

https://youtu.be/dY-JHpXMPdo

To the east in the Kurdish Canton of Cizire, numerous battles with the Islamic State continue along its western edge, with a YPG operation near Tel Xenzir destroying an IS vehicle and all its occupants.

A joint Kurdish/Arab fighting force is being trained to defend the Canton and recently went into action after passing out, (sub-titles) HERE:

Cizire Canton Situation Map courtesy of @MarkMonmonier , here:

SYRIA and IRAQ NEWS

 

Cizire Canton Situation Map 14.04.15

OPPOSITION FIGHT IN ALEPPO HOTS UP AND MODERATE FIGHTERS IN THE SOUTH REJECT COOPERATION WITH THE AL NUSRA FRONT:

In the north-western district of Aleppo city this week, Opposition fighters did a thorough job of finally demolishing the regional headquarters of Assad’s Air Intelligence, where hundreds, if not thousands have been tortured and/or imprisoned.

At the weekend the Opposition completed mining a tunnel under the Air Intelligence building, HERE:  followed by the grand finale, here:

https://youtu.be/dY-JHpXMPdo

The result caused widespread celebrations in Opposition held parts of the city, HERE:

Since destroying Assad’s security building, Opposition fighters have gone on to take over the Al-Basheer Mosque nearby and an orphanage and have moved into the Al-Zahraa district below it, attacking regime-held positions,HERE:  and using their homemade “Hell-Fire” cannon to good effect, HERE:

Rumours have circulated that some senior Assad officers and their families have left Aleppo in the face of the renewed Opposition offensive, but this has been denied by the Syrian Government’s Information Minister, Omran al-Zoubi – though this probably does not mean a lot as he is frequently seen as Assad’s chief “Minister of Propaganda”.

The Opposition’s current strength in Aleppo has certainly persuaded Syria’s Grand Mufti, Ahmad Hassoun, to apparently issue a Fatwa allowing Assad to barrel-bomb Opposition-held areas of the city out of existence.

Assad’s murderous regime has been quick to follow through with shell, rocket and barrel-bomb bombardments, with more than 100 killed in Aleppo province in air attacks in the last few days.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) has already recorded 1709 airstrikes by Assad’s forces all around Syria in April 2015 alone, including 984 barrel-bombs. 260 civilians have been killed in the first half of this month by these attacks, including 81 children and 51 women, and an estimated 1500 wounded.

Assad airstrikes in Idlib province yesterday, Tuesday, killed 11 in Idlib city and another 12 in Saraqeb, HERE:

Situation Map for Aleppo courtesy of @PetoLucem, here:

SYRIA and IRAQ NEWS

 

Aleppo Situation Map 14.04.15

In Damascus, barrel-bomb attacks and clashes between warring sides have also continued in the Yarmouk Palestinian Refugee Camp, though latest reports from local people suggest that the bulk of the Islamic State fighters have withdrawn to their stronghold in nearby Hajar al Aswad.

Some IS fighters remain in the south-west of the camp, while Palestinian factions – both pro and anti-Assad – are controlling most of the eastern and northern sections of the camp.

This leaves the largest fighting group inside the camp as the Al-Nusra Front (ANF), who allowed the Islamic State to enter the Camp in the first place. Both of the extremist groups loath the Palestinian Opposition force, who were until recently running the camp, Aknaf Beit al-Maqdis.

SYRIA and IRAQ NEWS

 

Palestinians Have Suffered Chronic Food Shortages for 2 Years in Yarmouk

Hopefully, ANF will allow in more aid, so desperately needed by those trapped inside, some of whom demonstrated yesterday to bring their plight to world attention, HERE:

Al-Qaeda aligned ANF have fared less well in southern Deraa province, where the “Southern Front”, an alliance of FSA and more moderate Islamic Groups, has pushed them away from the border crossing at Nassib to Jordan and now attacked a number of their HQs.

The Southern Front issued a strong statement rejecting ANF’s ideology, refused any cooperation with it, and declaring themselves the “sole military force representing the Syrian revolution” in the south.

“We can’t go from the rule of Assad to Zawahri and Nusra,” said a spokesman referring to the Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri.

He then went on to invites ANF members to defect and join their more moderate ranks.

First Shipment of Food Aid Delivered to Civilians Trapped in Deir Ezzor

Vice-President of the Syrian Coalition commends the International Committee of the Red Cross’s delivery of food aid to the neighborhoods in Deir Ezzor besieged by ISIS.

“This move proves that the Assad regime can secure the needs of civilians trapped in the parts of the city besieged by ISIS either by granting access to relief organizations or through supplying civilians with food and medicine through the air base located near the city. However, the Assad regime chose instead to play the role of the victim in front of the international community. We call on the ICRC to send more aid shipments for civilians to avoid a new humanitarian catastrophe.

ISIS, which controls large swathes of land in eastern Syria, has laid a siege on parts of Deir Ezzor and blocked entry of food supplies coming via Deir Ezzor-Tadmur road, and also prevent the entry of civilians into these neighborhoods because they are “the land of infidels” and called on civilians to evacuate them. Civilians living in the regime-held areas can leave the city only through to through military aviation after obtaining the approval of the military commander there.

The shortages of food, medical supplies and water cleaning agents and power outages have led to the outbreak of epidemics such as lice, scabies, hepatitis A and typhoid, forcing schools to close down. The catastrophic humanitarian situation is aggravated by 20-long power and water outage.

Activists said that regime forces beat and humiliate civilians during the distribution of food aid, while a child has reportedly died as a result of severe hunger.

(Source: Syrian Coalition / 15.04.2015)