Syrian Coalition: We Have Repeatedly Warned of Consequences of Hezbollah Intervention in Syria

Nora al-Ameer, vice president of the Syrian Coalition, said that Hezbollah’s denial of any involvement in the onslaught on Arsal refugee camp in Lebanon is “as an unacceptable attempt to evade responsibility for the humanitarian catastrophe that afflicts the Syrian refugees in Arsal. Hezbollah’s chief Nasrallah will not succeed in exonerating his militias from the blood of innocent civilians. It has become clear that Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria is behind the spillover of terrorism to Lebanon, even though we have repeatedly called on the Lebanese government to put pressure on Hezbollah to withdraw its criminal militias from Syria. Civilians are now paying the price of the inaction towards horrific massacres committed by sectarian militias led by Bashar al-Assad.” Al Ameer calls on the Lebanese army to “not only to fight the terrorist militias that crossed the borders into Lebanon, but to treat with the root of the problem, which is Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria. We also call on the Lebanese authorities to immediately evacuate the Syrian refugees in Arsal camps which have become rubble. The indiscrinminate shelling on the town left dozens of casualties among the Syrian refugees, so it is unacceptable to force them pay the price of the inaction of international community and Lebanese authorities in particular in stopping Hezbollah’s killing machine that has claimed the lives of thousands of Syrians. What is going in Arsal comes as a retaliation by Hezbollah’s for the series of defeats inflicted on it by the rebel fighters in the area of Qalamoun. Arsal is shelter to more than 140,000 displaced Syrians, many of them came from Qalamoun, which suggests that the terrorist groups’ infiltration of the Lebanese borders and igniting an armed confrontation with the Lebanese authorities was not spontaneous or sudden, as it not only serves the interests of Hezbollah and the Assad regime who are seeking to put pressure on the rebel fighters through targeting their families in Arsal.” Moreover, Khaled Raad, member of the Free Teachers Union and who is currently living in Arsal appeals for international community and the Friends of the Syrian people to group to “immediately intervene and evacuate civilians and the wounded from form the makeshift field hospitals that suffer from shortages of medicines and medical equipment. “Two days ago, doctors had to amputate my son’s hand my sister-in-law’s legs who were badly injured as a result of indiscriminate shelling on the town of Arsal. The checkpoints set up by the Lebanese army allowed only the local people to leave the town, leaving us trapped inside.” Commenting on the entry of food aid to civilians trapped in Arsal, Raad said that “we do not accept to be fed with one hand while bombed with the other, what we want is evacuating the civilians and the wounded, especially the kids who are dying slowly of their injuries. We are still waiting for Red Crescent and the Red Cross to evacuate the wounded, and even if they do we see this not enough. The problems will be solved when all civilians are evacuated. Keeping us trapped inside the town will not solve the root of the problem, as this makes us hostages in the hands of the armed groups entrenched inside the town.”

(Source: Syrian Coalition / 06.08.2014)

Syrian Coalition: The Regime’s Revenge Attacks on East Ghouta Were Stirred by its Defeat in Mleiha

Mohammad Khair Al-Wazir, member of the Syrian Coalition, said that breaking the siege imposed by regime forces on Mleiha in East Ghouta, the gateway to East Ghouta, will set the stage for liberating more areas in rural Damascus. The breaking of the siege was the outcome of high-level coordination among the rebel factions that carried out a daring and surprising offensive against regime positions encircling the town. Stunned by the rebels’ sudden attack, regime forces retaliated by randomly shelling residential areas in Kafrbatna and Douma, killing at least 45 civilians and injuring dozens more.” Al Wazir also said that the Assad regime has been deliberately targeting civilians to put pressure on rebel fighters since the early days of the revolution whenever his forces suffer a setback. In light of the regime’s ongoing attacks against the rebellious cities and towns, we call on human rights organizations to assume their responsibilities towards the people of East Ghouta and put pressure on the Assad regime to force it to lift the siege imposed on hundreds of thousands of civilians. We also call upon the international community to pressure the Assad regime to abide by the UN Security Council resolution No. 2165 concerning the entry of relief aid to the besieged areas without the consent of the Assad regime.”

(Source: Syrian Coalition / 05.08.2014)

Syrian Coalition Demands the Release of 150,000 Detainees in Assad’s Prisons

Imad al-Din Rashid, head of the political bureau of the Syrian National Movement, said that “the Syrian defector who goes only by the name “Caesar” delivered dramatic and disturbing testimony Thursday to a U.S. congressional committee about the Assad regime’s atrocities, sharing with lawmakers just a few of the thousands of photos he took showing prisoners who were brutally beaten, starved and murdered.” Caesar spoke before the House Foreign Affairs Committee about what he saw while working for Bashar al-Assad’s army during a public hearing session. Rashid pointed out that the session discussed three major points, most notably the need to stop the torture practiced by the Assad regime against 150,000 detainees incarcerated in its secret prisons and who are facing the same bleak fate, emphasizing that Assad is not a partner in the fight against terrorism, while and the third point was highlighted by Frederic Hof, a former State Department senior official, who pointed to the need for supporting the Syrian Coalition and vetted members of the moderate armed opposition.” Rashid also pointed out that the Syrian Coalition played an important part in bringing the file of the 11,000 detainees to light “through beforehand coordination especially with the Coalition’s president and the Secretary General, as well as the media and legal institutions of the Syrian Coalition.” Caesar’s testimony was delivered in the presence of international war crimes scholar Cherif Bassiouni, international war crimes prosecutor David Crane, and Frederic Hof, a former State Department senior official. After the hearing session Caesar met with the US ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power who expressed shock at the sight of the grisly photos, and also with deputies of the U.S. secretary of state John Kerry, and with State Department’s Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes, Stephen Rapp who provided significant support for the file. Moreover, Rashid said that the opposition delegation renewed the calls for the UN Security Council to shoulder its legal responsibilities towards the protection of detainees in Assad’s jails, noting to the existence of three legal options to bring Assad to account: the establishment of a regional or national court in countries such as Britain, Spain, Norway, or Austria, the establishment of a special tribunal similar to the one established after the assassination of the former Lebanese PM Rafiq al-Hariri, or the establishment of a Special Court similar to those of Sierra Leone and former Yugoslavia. The opposition delegation held a press conference with the U.S. Congress after the hearing session during which it was emphasized that Bashar al-Assad would not be part in the fight against terrorism. The need was also raised for taking tangible measures towards the file of the 11,000 detainees and towards Assad’s use of chemical weapons against the innocent civilians. “I am not a politician, and I don’t like politics. Neither am I a lawyer,” Caesar said. But he added that he couldn’t simply continue doing his job taking pictures of the dead as the number of bodies being brought in by military and intelligence officials multiplied after anti-government protests erupted in 2011.

(Source: Syrian Coalition / 01.08.2014)

Syrian Interim Government: Assad is the Sole Buyer of ISIS’s Oil

Elias Warda, interim Energy Minister, said that the Assad regime is the sole buyer of the oil produced by the extremist groups that control of the oil fields in eastern Syria. “The Assad regime is violating the UN Security Council resolution that bans the purchase of oil from the extremist groups, thus Assad is actively providing support for these groups. Assad’s buying of oil from ISIS is not prompted only by geopolitical or geographical reasons that make him the sole bidder for ISIS’s oil, but it was more the outcome of secret treaties signed by the two sides as part of the mutual benefit policy that dominates the relationship between the Assad regime and ISIS. By buying oil from ISIS, the Assad regime is actually returning the favor to ISIS which was allowed to seize control of the oil fields to deny them to the Syrian rebels after regime forces withdrew from eastern Syria.” Warda also points out that the capture of these oil fields by Syrian rebels would pose real threat to the Assad regime, as this would grant them economic independence, which in turn means political independence, a scenario that would directly endanger the interests of the Assad regime and his allies.”  Moreover, Warda raises doubts the Russian move in the UN Security Council to pass a resolution that bans the oil trade with extremist groups in Syria. “I doubt that this UN resolution mainly targets ISIS, as they sell oil only to the Assad regime. We are afraid that this is a pre-emptive move aimed at preventing the activation of the European decision made in 2013 that gave the Syrian Coalition the right to export oil from oil fields in the rebel-held areas. Unfortunately, The international community is does not help us develop such oil projects that we badly need to overcome the financial obstacles that are facing the revolutionary movement.”

(Source: Syrian Coalition / 31.07.2014)

Syrian Coalition: Kidnapping of Father Paulo Serves the Interests of Assad and ISIS Only

Khalid al-Saleh, president of the Media Office, said that ISIS’s kidnapping of Father Paolo Dall’Oglio “is not targeted at one person, but the centuries-long tolerance upon which the culture of the Syrians was built. This heinous crime clearly serves only the interests of Assad and his allies who are seeking to present themselves as the guarantors of the minorities’ rights. Assad has been fervently trying to tamper with the cultural and social fabric of the Syrian society to achieve political goals. However, the supportive position of Father Paolo of the revolution, as well as the sacrifices made by all components of the Syrian people have sent a strong message to the world that no one will succeed in undermining the social and cultural diversity that have long characterized the Syrian civilization. Saleh also stresses that it is no longer a secret that Assad has been targeting all symbols of the minorities to create sectarian strife as this is the only way he can cling to power at the expense of the blood of the Syrian people. Assad and his allies should realize that Syrians will not allow the expulsion of the people out of their homes on the basis of their cultural identity, sect, race or believes. Syrian civilians can only be protected when the international community takes immediate and practical steps to support the Free Syrian Army, which proved to be the only force able to stand against the Assad regime and the extremist groups.”

(Source: Syrian Coalition / 31.07.2014)

Syria: Barrage of Barrel Bombs

Month after month, the Security Council has sat idly by as the government defied its demands with new barrel bomb attacks on Syrian civilians. Russia and China need to allow the Security Council to show the same resolve and unanimity it brought to the issue of humanitarian aid to call a halt to these deadly attacks on civilians.
Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director

(New York) – The Syrian government is raining high explosive barrel bombs on civilians in defiance of a unanimous United Nations Security Council resolution, Human Rights Watch said today. Resolution 2139 of February 22, 2014, ordered all parties to the conflict in Syria to end the indiscriminate use of barrel bombs and other weapons in populated areas.

The Security Council will meet on July 30 for its fifth round of reporting on the resolution. Since it was passed, Human Rights Watch has documented over 650 major new damage sites consistent with barrel bomb impacts on neighborhoods of the city of Aleppo held by non-state armed groups. Non-state armed groups participate in indiscriminate attacks as well, including car bombings and mortar attacks in pro-government areas.

“Month after month, the Security Council has sat idly by as the government defied its demands with new barrel bomb attacks on Syrian civilians,” saidSarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director. “Russia and China need to allow the Security Council to show the same resolve and unanimity it brought to the issue of humanitarian aid to call a halt to these deadly attacks on civilians.”

The UN resolution also strongly condemns the arbitrary detention and torture of civilians in Syria, as well as kidnappings, abductions, and forced disappearances, and demands that “all parties, in particular the Syrian authorities, promptly allow rapid, safe and unhindered humanitarian access for UN humanitarian agencies and their implementing partners, including across conflict lines and across borders.” When Syria failed to comply with that demand, the Security Council, in a July 14 follow-up resolution, authorized UN agencies and their implementing partners to deliver humanitarian assistance across the border even without government consent.

Witness statements, satellite imagery analysis, and video and photographic evidence obtained by Human Rights Watch indicate that government forces have maintained and even increased their bombardment rate of Aleppo since the Security Council passed the resolution in February. In the 113 days prior to the February resolution, Human Rights Watch identified at least 380 distinct damage sites in areas held by non-state armed groups in Aleppo by analyzing four satellite images recorded over the city since October 31, 2013.

In the first 140 days since the resolution was passed, through July 14, 2014, Human Rights Watch identified over 650 new major impact strikes in Aleppo neighborhoods held by armed groups opposed to the government, an average of almost five a day. The heaviest concentrations were in the neighborhoods of Masaken Hanano, al-Sakhour, Bostan Pasha, Sheikh Kheder, Trab al-Hellok, Aynat-Tal, Rasafeh, and Sheikh Saed.

A substantial majority of these sites have damage that is strongly consistent with the detonation of barrel bombs. Barrel bombs, and other high explosive unguided bombs, tend to create larger zones of building destruction than is typically seen with other types of air strikes and artillery fire, often with irregularly shaped blast craters of shallow depth with scalloped edges.

Al-Ameria neighborhood in Aleppo City

Before: Al-Ameria neighborhood in Aleppo City, taken April 26, 2014
After: Al-Ameria neighborhood in Aleppo City, after it was struck by probable air strike. Image taken May 23, 2014

Al-Ansari Mashad neighborhood in Aleppo City

Before: Al-Ansari Mashad neighborhood in Aleppo City, taken June 6, 2014
After: Al-Ansari Mashad neighborhood after it was struck by probable air strikes. Image taken July 14, 2014

These unguided high explosive bombs are cheaply made, locally produced, and typically constructed from large oil drums, gas cylinders, and water tanks, filled with high explosives and scrap metal to enhance fragmentation, and then dropped from helicopters. The damage to a small number of the identified sites was probably caused by other explosive weapons, either bombs delivered by conventional aircraft or prolonged artillery shelling. There is also strong evidence that government forces on the ground have fired hundreds of mortars and heavy artillery shells during this period, Human Rights Watch said.

A member of the local civil defense forces in Aleppo who participates in rescue operations, and who has access to a database of attacks in the area compiled by civil defense teams on the ground, told Human Rights Watch that one of the deadliest recent barrel bomb attacks in the city was in the al-Sukari neighborhood on June 16. He estimated that the attack killed about 50 civilians. The Violations Documentation Center, a local group, has identified 68 civilians killed in aerial attacks in al-Sukari on that day. Several videos published on YouTube show the destruction following the bombing and some of the killed and injured.

The member of the local civil defense forces said that an attack on the al-Shaar neighborhood on July 9 killed approximately 20 civilians. The Violations Documentation Center has identified 10 civilians killed in al-Shaar from aerial attacks on that day. Videos posted on YouTube show the destruction following the bombing and some of the victims of the attack.

Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that bombings had continued since the Security Council passed the February resolution. Human Rights Watch previously documented 10 air strikes using barrel bombs after February 22 that killed over 150 people. In 11 new barrel bomb strikes in Aleppo and the surrounding countryside, evidence compiled by Human Rights Watch from witnesses, published fatality figures, and videos and photographs indicates that at least 178 people were killed.

The Violations Documentation Center reported that aerial attacks killed 1,655 civilians in the Aleppo governorate between February 22 and July 22.

The deliberate targeting of civilians is a war crime, and if carried out in a widespread or systematic way as part of a policy of the government or an organized group, can amount to crimes against humanity. Military commanders should not, as a matter of policy, order the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas due to the foreseeable harm to civilians, Human Rights Watch said.

By using barrel bombs on densely populated areas, Syrian government forces are using means and methods of warfare that do not distinguish between civilians, who are accorded protection under the laws of war, and combatants, making attacks indiscriminate and therefore unlawful.

In its February 22 resolution, the Security Council explicitly expressed “its intent to take further steps in the case of non-compliance with this resolution.”

Russia and China, who have repeatedly blocked Security Council action aimed at penalizing the Syrian government for its rights abuses, should allow the Security Council to impose an arms embargo on Syria’s government, as well as on any groups implicated in widespread or systematic human rights abuses, Human Rights Watch said. Such an embargo would limit the Syrian government’s ability to conduct aerial attacks that violate international law, including by ensuring that Syria does not receive new helicopters or have its current helicopters serviced overseas. Russia and China should also allow the Security Council to impose a travel ban and an asset freeze on individuals credibly implicated in grave abuses, and refer the situation to the International Criminal Court, Human Rights Watch said.

Companies and individuals that provide arms, ammunition, or materiel to Syria, or to non-state armed groups that have been implicated in crimes against humanity or war crimes, risk complicity in these crimes, Human Rights Watch warned.

Under international law, providing weapons to forces or armed groups in Syria knowing that they are likely to be used in the commission of war crimes or crimes against humanity may amount to assisting in the commission of those crimes. Any arms supplier could bear potential criminal liability as an accessory to those crimes and could face prosecution, Human Rights Watch said.

On September 27, 2013, the Security Council acted to bring an end to the use of chemical weapons in Syria. While the unlawful use of chlorine gas has been documented since that time, the red line the Security Council drew has led to the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles, and radically diminished the risk to the civilian population from that threat.

“Barrel bombs, car bombs, and indiscriminate mortar fire are killing thousands of Syrians – many times the number of those who lost their lives in chemical weapon attacks, “ said Whitson. “What will it take to get Russia and China to allow the Security Council to enforce its own words, and take real steps to address these unlawful attacks?”

Attacks on Aleppo
The neighborhoods in northern Aleppo with the highest concentration of damage sites as reflected in the May 2014 through June satellite imagery are at some distance from front-line positions, with a high density of residential buildings. While many residents have been displaced from these areas, those who cannot afford to leave or do not want to abandon their homes have stayed behind. Some of the areas most affected in southern Aleppo, however, including the Masaken Hanano and Sheikh Saed neighborhoods, have become front-line areas, the member of the civil defense forces who is active in the area told Human Rights Watch.

The Syrian government has made recent advances in its offensive to take eastern parts of Aleppo and the surrounding countryside. In early July the government retook the city of Sheikh Najjar to the northeast of Aleppo. According to news reports the government has also taken control of the villages of al-Rahmaniya, al-Muqbilla, al-Sheikh Ziyad, Kafer Saghir, and Tel Shaeer in the northeast. In June government forces also took the villages of Ain Assan, Rasm Bakro, Rasm al-Khanat, Rasm al-Jdeideh, and Azzan, south of Aleppo, SANA, Syrian state media reported. In mid-May the government regained control of Aleppo central prison.

Human Rights Watch has also received reports of what appears to be indiscriminate shelling by non-state armed groups opposed to the government of the villages of al-Zahraa and Nubul in the Aleppo countryside. The villages, whose residents are Shia, are under siege and have been hit with an improvised rocket fitted with a gas canister – locally referred to as “hell’s cannon” – and other locally produced rockets since the passage of the resolution.

Human Rights Watch has previously documented numerous indiscriminate attacks by non-state armed groups in violation of resolution 2139. Jabhat al-Nusra, an extremist Islamist group opposed to the Syrian government, has claimed responsibility for car bombings including in Homs that killed dozens of people. Other armed groups have carried out car bomb attacks in populated areas as well. Human Rights Watch has collected evidence of many mortar strikes originating from territory held by armed groups that have killed civilians in Damascus and Homs neighborhoods under government control.

Handarat Neighborhood, March 4
On the morning of March 4, a barrel bomb struck the Handarat neighborhood of Aleppo. Elias, a 17-year-old boy who was injured in the attack, told Human Rights Watch that he was getting bread from the local bakery when the barrel bomb struck, killing his brother and another child, both nine years old, and injuring him and at least four others:

I was waiting in front of the bakery in Handarat when I saw a helicopter roaming. It was 9:30 a.m. It circled in the air three times and then dropped the barrel bomb. It fell two meters from me. I saw it falling, but where could I hide? I felt the explosion. I felt the shrapnel going inside my leg…. The shrapnel hit my neck and leg and my other leg was broken…. I saw four injured people. They were moving on the ground. I was told in the field hospital that five or six people died.

Elias told Human Rights Watch that there were no non-state armed group positions in the vicinity and that the neighborhood is residential and far from the front line.

Hellok Neighborhood, May 1
On May 1 several barrel bombs struck the Hellok neighborhood of Aleppo. Amal, who lives in the neighborhood, told Human Rights Watch that five barrel bombs struck two residential buildings in the neighborhood. “I saw the helicopters and I saw two barrels falling,” she said. “The barrels did not fall on our building but it was a few meters away.” She said that she saw 12 people who were killed in the attack, including a child who appeared to be about 12.

The Violations Documentation Center has identified 61 civilians, including 18 children, who were killed by aerial shelling in Hellok on May 1. Amal told Human Rights Watch that the nearest front line was about 500 meters from the strike sites and that there was a Free Syrian Army office about 100 meters away, although it was not struck in the attacks. Several videos posted on YouTube show the destruction following the bombing, as well as civilians who were injured and killed.

Karam al-Nuzha Neighborhood, May 1, July 5 and 7
On May 1 at least two barrel bombs struck the Aleppo neighborhood of Karam al-Nuzha. A 33-year-old carpenter who was injured in the attack told Human Rights Watch that it took place in the morning while he was at work. He said the first strike hit about 500 meters from his workshop and then a second bomb fell minutes later on the workshop where he was working with 17 other carpenters:

It was around 9:30 a.m. when a barrel bomb fell around 500 meters away [from our workshop]. I went out and saw the smoke from the blast and then saw the helicopter flying away. We went back to work and after a few minutes another barrel bomb fell on the workshop…. I remember seeing complete destruction. People were dragging me outside and removing the stones and debris that covered me. My leg and back were injured with shrapnel…. When I saw the helicopter flying away I did not imagine it would come back to hit us.

He told Human Rights Watch that at least five people were killed. The Violations Documentation Center has identified three civilians killed in Karam al-Nuzha on May 1 by aerial attacks. According to the witness, the nearest front line is three kilometers away, in the al-Sheikh Saed neighborhood.

A barrel bomb also struck the Karam al-Nuzha neighborhood on July 5. Tamer, a local resident, told Human Rights Watch that it struck his home in the evening while he was there with his family. “My wife and 9-year-old girl were injured by shrapnel,” he said. “My 5-year-old boy’s face is disfigured. My wife’s back is also injured. My 7-year-old boy was killed.”

In the evening on July 7 a third barrel bomb attack targeted the neighborhood. A local resident told Human Rights Watch that his building was hit:

I was at home with my 4-year-old daughter when the barrel bomb fell…. All I remember was that there was destruction … I live in a residential building with several floors. The building was destroyed and they removed me from under the rubble…. My 4-year-old daughter was also injured by shrapnel. My body is covered with shrapnel as well.

He estimated that the front line was more than one-and-a-half kilometers away.

Anadan, June 14 
In an aerial attack on June 14 a barrel bomb fell on a crowded market in Anadan, a town northwest of Aleppo. Marwan, a 15-year-old boy injured in the attack, told Human Rights Watch that he knew that it was a barrel bomb that struck the market because of the characteristic noise the bomb made when it was dropped. The Violations Documentation Center has identified 16 civilians killed by aerial attacks in Anadan on June 14, including two children.

Marwan told Human Rights Watch that at the time of the attack he was working in the market selling vegetables and that the market was full of people. “I don’t remember anything other than waking up and seeing people killed,” he said. “A two story building fell on me and people were pulling me out from under the rubble … I saw several people on the ground. I was told later in [the hospital in Turkey in] Killis that 20 people died and 16 others were injured.”

Marwan told Human Rights Watch that his leg was injured in the attack. He said that there were no members of armed groups in the vicinity.

A video published on YouTube on June 14 shows the aftermath of a strike in Anadan.

Tariq al-Bab Neighborhood, June 25
On June 25 at least one barrel bomb struck the Helwanye roundabout in Tariq al-Bab neighborhood in the eastern part of Aleppo, where taxis and minibuses gather to transport civilians to and from the countryside. Khalid, a 15-year-old boy, whose left leg was amputated because of injuries from the attack, told Human Rights Watch that no members of armed groups were in the vicinity of the strike site and that fighters were three to five kilometers away at the front line at Karam al-Jabal or further, at the Aleppo airport. He said he believed a barrel bomb was used in the attack based on the strength of the explosion and what other victims told him.

“On June 25, I was going to visit my grandfather in Helwanye when a barrel bomb was dropped on the roundabout,” he said. “I was in a taxi with five other people when the barrel fell on us…. The other men with me were all injured but I was the only one whose leg was amputated…. Now that I lost my left leg I won’t get to play football anymore.”

The Violations Documentation Center has identified five civilians, including two children, who were killed in Helwanye on June 25 by aerial attacks. It also identified six other civilians who were reportedly killed in the neighborhood of Tariq al-Bab on that day by aerial attacks.

A second resident, a pregnant teenager who was injured in a barrel bomb strike in Tariq al-Bab on June 25, told Human Rights Watch that she believed the closest front line was in Tel Sheikh Youssef and that there were no fighters from armed groups in the neighborhood. Tel Sheikh Youssef is approximately five kilometers from Tariq al-Bab. She told Human Rights Watch:

I was seven months pregnant … [and] was just leaving from a doctor’s appointment when the barrel bomb fell on the street. The doctor had told me that I should walk a bit, that it would be better for the baby, and so I was walking with my mother. We knew it was a barrel bomb from the sound but we did not have a chance to hide. I was injured by shrapnel in my leg and pelvis…. They took me to the Bayan hospital where I gave birth prematurely. I had a girl and she is now in good health.

The girl also told Human Rights Watch that in the aftermath of the attack she saw that one of her neighbors, a local hairdresser, had been killed.

On June 25 the Aleppo Media Center published a video on YouTube showing the aftermath of the attack on the Helwanye roundabout, including injured residents. A member of the local civil defense unit who is interviewed indicates that two barrel bombs fell on the roundabout, killing 20 people. An Orient News broadcast also published on YouTube on June 25 also shows the aftermath of the attack, and states that seven barrel bombs struck the area on June 25.

Al-Qaterji Neighborhood, June 29
On June 30 a barrel bomb struck the al-Qaterji neighborhood in Aleppo city. A man who was originally from Idlib, and who moved to the neighborhood with his wife and 4-year-old daughter because he heard it was relatively safe, told Human Rights Watch that the bomb struck the residential area where they were living, far from the front line or any military targets, injuring his daughter:

My wife and I were inside the house and my daughter was playing on the balcony. I heard the sound of helicopter … [and] I heard the barrel falling…. When the barrel bomb exploded the balcony was partially destroyed and my daughter fell from the 3rd floor. When I went down I saw a lot of destruction and people screaming but I only focused on my daughter. I took her to the al-Shaar field hospital and then I brought her to Kilis hospital [in Turkey] later that day. There are no fighters or front line close to the scene of attack. The whole point of me leaving Idlib was to not be around the Free Syrian Army.

A member of the local civil defense forces in Aleppo who participates in rescue operations also told Human Rights Watch that the al-Qaterji neighborhood was subject to a barrel bomb strike on June 30.

Tel Rifaat, July 8 
On July 8 an aerial attack using a barrel bomb targeted the town of Tel Rifaat and killed at least one child, according to his mother, who spoke to Human Rights Watch. She said she was sleeping in her house when the attack began, at about 3 a.m. She believed other civilians were also injured in the attack:

I was sleeping next to my husband when I woke up and saw stones above me. People the next day told me it was a barrel bomb. My 2-year-old son died and my husband was injured from shrapnel … I did not know what to do. I remember seeing my son’s body very far from his bed.

A news source reported that one child was killed and dozens of other civilians were injured in an air strike on Tel Rifaat on July 8.

The witness told Human Rights Watch that there were no armed groups in the vicinity of her home or in Tel Rifaat more broadly.

A video posted on YouTube on July 8 shows the destruction caused by the bombing.

(Source / 30.07.2014)

Syrian Coalition: Latest Rebels’ Gains Send Clear Messages to Assad and ISIS

Khalid al-Ali, member of the Syrian Coalition, said that “the remarkable gains made by rebels lately in various areas across Syria are a message to the international community that “your failure to stop Assad’s barrel bomb and chemical attacks does not in any way mean that we will accept to live under tyranny and dictatorship anymore. While we have tried every possible means to reach a political solution and avoid the bloodshed, Bashar al-Assad arrogantly rejected all our proposals and still insists on using Syrians as a fuel to achieve Iran’s expansionist goals in the region. The rebels’ setting up of a joint military operation room in northern and western rural Hama, as well as the high-level military coordination in Qalamoun were a key factor in turning the tide of the war against regime forces and their backers. These rebels’ gains clearly demonstrate that the Assad regime is weaker than everyone thinks, and that it can be toppled if rebel battalions are unified into one coherent body and under one command. As for ISIS and other extremist groups, they should realize that the Syrian people, who rebelled against the most savage dictatorship in the region, will not accept to be ruled by extremists, but will continue to make the biggest sacrifices to build a democratic, free and pluralist Syria.”

(Source: Syrian Coalition / 26.07.2014)


By Peter Clifford              ©               source


The unspoken tacit agreement between the Assad regime and the Islamic State (formerly ISIS) appears to be truly over, as the extreme Jihadists launched attacks on Syrian Government installations at 3 locations across Syria on Wednesday and Thursday.

In Aleppo province, the Islamic State attacked the Quwaires airbase, which has been under siege by Opposition groups for more than a year, while in the city of Hasakah IS fighters detonated 4 suicide bombs inside the headquarters of Assad’s Ba’ath Party.

IS Fighters Parade Through Raqqah


IS Fighters Parade Through Raqqah

12 Ba’ath Party officials were reported dead, one of them decapitated and for a while at least the IS flag flew from the top of the building and the area was awash with gunfire. Local residents fled from regime controlled areas of the city into the northern sections controlled by the Kurds.

On the eastern outskirts of Hasakah, fighting also erupted around the Kawkab Army Artillery base and Base 121 to the south of the city, resulting in the deaths of 11 soldiers and 17 Jihadists. The Islamic State was reported to have withdrawn overnight following Syrian Air Force air attacks.

North of the Islamic State power base in Raqqah city, IS’s main attack was against Assad’s Division 17, which started on Wednesday with 2 suicide truck attacks.

Although the Syrian Government retaliated with helicopter gunships and barrel-bombs, the IS Jihadists still managed to penetrate the base and are now reported to have part of it firmly under their control.

35 Jihadists were reported killed and dozens of Assad’s troops either killed or injured. The Islamic State beheaded 6 officers and gruesomely displayed their heads at Naem roundabout in Raqqah city. The Islamic State Force was estimated at 600, while the Syrian Army defenders amounted to only 2 – 300.

Some of Assad’s soldiers attempted to flee northwards to the Brigade 93 base at AynIsa, but were intercepted near Ruhayyat. The only comment on the Division 17 attack from SANA, the Syrian state media, is that, “ Members of the army unit defending the Band 17 area in Raqqa were successfully redeployed in preparation for facing the armed terrorist groups in the vicinity of Raqqa”.

Pictures released on the Internet, clearly show Islamic State fighters inside the base and an Austrian IS fighter has released video showing fighters destroying Assad portraits and discovering cigarettes and alcohol, HERE:

You can read more how the Islamic State is “testing the strategy of Assad’s military” in this Syria news Reuters’ article.


Elsewhere in Syria, Opposition fighters claimed to have taken over a “secret” regime radar station located between Nabek and Deir Attiya in the Qalamoun region of Damascus province and to have seized a checkpoint between Khan Ash-Shih and Zakiyah, killing 12 Government troops in the assault.

North-north-east of Aleppo city, the more moderate Opposition are reported to have taken back the village of Al-Ghuz from the Islamic State, and in Hama province Opposition fighters are said to have blown up the railway station at Taibat al-Iman, killing a significant number of regime troops inside.



IS Take Assad Eqipment in Division 17, Raqqah

From Lebanon comes information that a sergeant in the Lebanese army has defected to Syria to fight with the other Jihadist group, the Al-Nusra Front and from Jordan that the army there has shot with a missile an unmanned drone flying on their side of the border adjacent to Daraa province, near Mafraq. As yet the origins of the drone are unknown.

While the EU expanded its list of sanctions against Syrian individuals (3 more) and “entities” (9 more companies or organisations, including 2 oil traders) this week, the UN took action on aid deliveries following the passing of a resolution at the Security Council to by-pass the Assad regime and not seek their permission.

As a result 9 trucks carrying food, water purification tablets and sanitation and shelter materials crossed through the Turkey/Syria Bab al-Salam frontier post on Thursday heading toward unspecified Opposition-held areas,HERE:

In a week in which around 1800 people have died in Syria, one of the worst ever, and total deaths now exceed 170,000, it is sad how interest in the situation has bled away on the Internet and the media generally to Gaza, the Ukraine and elsewhere.

This piece in Atlantic magazine discusses whether the Arab world in particular is far more interested in Israelis killing Arabs than Arabs killing Arabs. What do you think?


A dawn attack yesterday, Thursday, with mortars on Iraqi Army positions in the town of Taji, north-west of Baghdad, led the Iraqi military to evacuate the local prison and head for Baghdad.



Charred Bus After Attack on Prison Convoy

The road south through a remote area was however booby-trapped with IED explosives leading to the disabling and destruction of a number of vehicles, followed by an all out attack by armed gunmen.

In the resulting carnage, 52 prisoners were killed and 8 soldiers or police officers, and a further 8 soldiers/police officers and 7 prisoners were left wounded. Taji is just 20 kilometres (12 miles) north of Iraq’s capital.

It is not clear if the prisoners, who were suspected militants, were killed by their captors or the armed gunmen who were assumed to be the Islamic State (IS) or their allies. Previous prison attacks by IS have freed more than 500 inmates to fight on their side.

The commander of Iraq’s Military Engineering Operations, Brigadier Abdul Kadhim Morshedi was reported killed in fighting south of Baghdad this morning, Friday, and reports from Sudan say that a militant Islamic group there, Al-Attasam belKetab wa al-Sunna, has also endorsed the Islamic State across Syria and Iraq.

According to some observers, the Islamic State is getting more sophisticated in the use of equipment, with one report that they are using UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles or drones) to spot Iraqi Army targets to bomb with mortars.



Remains of Damaged Entrance to Nabi Younis Mosque

In Mosul, which they control, the Islamic State blew up the famous mosque of Nabi Younis on Thursday, HERE: The mosque was said to contain the tomb of Jonah, who according to both the Bible and the Koran was swallowed by a whale, but survived to tell the tale.

Continuing the destruction of Iraq’s heritage IS also blew up the nearby mosque of Imam Aoun Bin al-Hassan. The mosques were destroyed because they were being used for “apostasy” according to the Jihadists, not prayer. A number of nearby houses were also damaged in the blasts.

A report that the Islamic State has “ordered all girls to undergo circumcision” (or female genital mutilation, known in the west as FGM) in Mosul has been denied by the extreme Jihadist group.

The report that FGM was going to be enforced in Mosul came from the UN’s deputy humanitarian coordinator in Iraq, Jacqueline Badcock, who told reporters that up to 4 million women and girls aged 11-46 faced the risk of genital mutilation.

Her statement was based on a document circulating on the Internet that originated in Aleppo in 2013 but which appears to have been “adapted” to look as though it was recently issued by the Islamic State leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi. FGM is not prevalent in Iraq, though more common in Kurdish areas.

(EDITOR: God forbid that they should go in this direction. FGM is an abomination. The UK is taking steps to make it a completely illegal act on UK citizens, carried out inside or outside the country)

In Baghdad yesterday, the Iraqi Parliament elected a new President, Fouad Massoum, a veteran Kurdish politician, while reports from northern Iraq say that up to 15,000 Shi’ite Turkmen and their families have been moved south by plane and armed convoy in order to get them out of the path of Islamic State (IS) attacks.

One of the ways IS makes such rapid progress is by attacking towns and villages and then if they don’t get cooperation or surrender, they kidnap members of prominent local families. Under those circumstances, the local leaders soon capitulate and the Islamic State moves on, leaving small cells of armed men behind to rule by fear. You can read more from Reuters.

A Carlos Latuff view of the fighting in Iraq:


Lastly, on a lighter note, it appears that “Iraqi Special Op Forces Gold Division” is far better at making music than fighting the Islamic State, here:

Syrian Coalition Praises Turkey’s Reaffirmation of its Support for the Syrian People

Mohammed Qaddah, vice president of the Syrian Coalition, described the meeting held between the Coalition’s president and the Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu as “positive.” Davutoglu stresses that Turkey “will not let down the Syrian people and will continue to support its demands and meets its needs till its homeland is free and democratic. No one can affect our historical relationship with the Syrian people, and we will provide the Syrian Coalition with all political, material and moral support to help the Syrian people win their battle for freedom and democracy.” Qaddah pointed out that “we highlighted our needs to the Turkish leadership and stressed the factors that can keep the Syrian revolution on the right track. We also raised the basic needs of Syrians in the refugee camps and in Turkish cities, especially the need to provide them with educational centers.” Qaddah praised Turkey’s positive position of the Syrian revolution and the Turkish leadership’s efforts to meet its needs. “The historical relationship with the Turkish brethren, the strong cultural ties and the support of Turkish’s policy on Syria all enabled Turkey to embrace the Syrian revolution.”

(Source: Syrian Coalition / 24.07.2014)

Obsessing About Gaza, Ignoring Syria (And Most Everything Else)

Destruction in Aleppo

The responses to what I write about the Hamas war fall into several categories. My least favorite sort of response is the kind that invokes Hitler in some way. Here is an e-mail that is representative: “I hope Hitler kills you and your family.” (Yes, it was written in the present tense.) Then there are the messages from those who seek the elimination of Israel. These run along the lines of, “Jeffrey wants blood, give him more Palestinian blood!” (I’m not sure if this tweet was riffing off the blood libel or not.) Like many people, I am legitimately shocked (not “shocked, shocked” but actually shocked) by the level of grotesque anti-Jewish invective seemingly (though not actually) prompted by the war, particularly in Europe. I’ve been getting mail like this for a long time, so it is the intensity and volume, rather than the content, that is so surprising.

One of my other least-favorite types of responses comes from the opposite end of the spectrum, from people who ask me why the media is so biased against Israel, and then cite the work of this reporter or that reporter—in this war, usually someone currently stationed in Gaza—who appears, to my interlocutor, to have an anti-Israel agenda. It’s a question I’ve seen for years, and it is usually asked by people who believe that Israel only has public relations problems, as opposed to actual problems, in addition to public relations problems.

I can’t speak with great knowledge about the reporters from European and other overseas outlets (I do have an understanding of the sympathies of many British reporters), but I tend to think that journalists from American outlets are doing a fine job in dangerous conditions of covering a horrible war. It is true that Hamas makes it difficult to report on matters it would rather not see come to light (this is why you see so few photos, if any, of armed Hamas fighters). It is also true that reporters in the field could do a more thorough job of asking Hamas leaders harder questions (such as, Why are you rejecting ceasefire offers; why did you place your command bunkers under hospitals; and so on), but working conditions are very difficult, and they are trying the best they can. (I’ve covered various of these mini-Middle East wars in the past, and, believe me, working conditions makes it difficult enough just to write down what you’re seeing six inches in front of your face.) In any case, these questions are sometimes best raised by analyzers and editorialists.

There is another question about media coverage that has been bothering me, however, one of proportionality. I was struck, over the weekend, by the lack of coverage of the Syrian civil war, in which the death count recently passed 170,000. By Sunday night, it had become clear that the weekend in toll in Syria would stand at roughly 700 dead—a larger number, obviously, than the weekend toll in Gaza (and more than the total number of deaths in this latest iteration of the Gaza war to date.) I tweeted the following in response to this news out of Syria: “I sincerely hope the @nytimes covers the slaughter in Syria – 700 dead in 48 hours – in tomorrow’s paper. Very important story as well.”

This was my sincere hope, and it was to my sincere surprise that Monday’s newspaper contained no information whatsoever about the weekend slaughter in Syria. The front page was devoted mainly to Gaza and Ukraine. But there was nothing inside either, and nothing on the website. As far as I can tell, the Times, as of this writing, has not addressed this most recent round of Syria carnage in an even semi-comprehensive way. It goes without saying that continuing violence in Libya, Egypt, Nigeria, Yemen, and so on, has not received much attention from the Times in recent days. (I’m singling out the Times because it is America’s best, most thorough and most important newspaper. I suppose you could accuse me of having a double standard. So be it.)

There are a couple of very good reasons why coverage of Israel and its troubles is so broad, and even obsessive. The first is a simple, technical one: Journalists can best cover what they can see. Hamas, despite its various restrictions, makes it easy for journalists to observe scenes of destruction in Gaza. It is much harder to operate in Syria (or rural Nigeria), and it is safer to operate in Gaza than it is in parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan. (For those of you who are wondering: In my time in Gaza, Hamas officials often gave me more access, and more respect, than officials of the more moderate Fatah, which at one point had me kidnapped and interrogated.)

The second reason is audience interest. Stories about Israel, and about Jews, almost automatically rise to the top of the Times’ “most-emailed” list. Stories about Miramshah or Fallujah, not nearly as much. I’m guessing this is true for other American outlets as well. And then there is a sound political reason why this conflict becomes the focus of so much coverage. Israel is a close ally of the U.S., and a recipient of American military and non-military help. This may make you very happy, or very unhappy, but the fact of it is incontrovertible. Therefore, the U.S. has a direct relationship with one of the players in this conflict (both, actually, because the Palestinian Authority is the recipient of a great deal of American aid as well). There is also the issue of double standards, which I wrote about here at length, but in short, Israel is a Western-style democratic state and so reporters are more apt to be interested in its behavior, and judgmental about its behavior, than in the behavior of despotic regimes.

But the Arab Spring (or Awakening, or whatever word you choose) has given lie to the idea—shorthanded as “linkage”—that the key to American success in the broader Middle East is dependent on finding a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This idea, that all roads run through  Jerusalem, has traditionally motivated a great deal of journalistic and foreign policy expert interest in this conflict. Finding a solution to this conflict is very important to the future of Israelis and Palestinians, of course, but not nearly so much to Americans. A peaceful resolution to this conflict would do little to bring about good governance in Arab states, or an end to Islamist extremism in the greater Middle East. Which brings me back to Syria. The war in Syria (and Iraq, since it is more or less a single war now) is of greater national security importance to the United States than the war in Gaza, and it should be covered in a way that reflects this reality.

In Damascus, Bashar al-Assad, the closest Arab ally of America’s main Middle East adversary, Iran, wages a brutal war against his country’s Sunni Muslim majority, a war that has prompted, in turn, the explosive growth of Al Qaeda-style Sunni extremist groups that now control broad swaths of both countries. These groups pose a direct national security threat to the United States, as the Obama administration has acknowledged. The Syria conflict is also one of the greatest humanitarian catastrophes of the post-World War II era. So from a moral perspective, and from a national security perspective, what happens in Syria should be of first-order interest to the U.S. media. But it is clearly not.

Why is this so? I can spend all day speculating, but one explanation for this lack of coverage is a relative lack of interest in the Syria/Iraq theater by Arabs and Muslims, or at least relative lack of interest in comparison to the obvious interest in the Gaza crisis. The American media takes at least some of its cues on Syria from the intensity of coverage in the Arab world. The Washington bureau chief of Al-Hayat, Joyce Karam, was one of the few people to notice the weekend death toll in Syria. She tweeted, in reference to anti-Israel protests in Pakistan, “Syria is essentially Gaza x320 death toll, x30 number of refugees, but no protest in Pakistan…”

I asked her why she thought this is so. Her answer: “Only reason I can think of is Muslim killing Muslim or Arab killing Arab seems more acceptable than Israel killing Arabs.”

Judging by the number and scale of anti-Assad protests (or anti-ISIS protests) in the Muslim world, she is obviously on to something. The Muslim world does seem more interested in Arabs who are killed by Jews than in Arabs killed by Arabs, and I’m guessing that this influences the scope and scale of the Gaza coverage as well. Why this is so—why the horrific levels of violence across the Arab world don’t seem to prompt such intense feelings, either in the Muslim or non-Muslim worlds, is a subject for another time. What is true for now is that Syria should be covered with the same focus and intensity that is applied to the war in Gaza.

(Source / 24.07.2014)