TIMELINE – 15th JANUARY 2012 UPDATED 20.11. GMT:
Since the fall of the Taftanaz airbase in Idlib province last Friday, the Assad regime, in an apparent frenzy of retaliation has bombed and shelled Opposition held positions and districts across Syria, killing in the last few days more than 30 children and at least 11 women, plus many men both combatants and civilians.
In the aftermath of the capture of Taftanaz, the largest regime helicopter base in northern Syria, video footage has revealed seized stocks of barrel-bombs and a helicopter prepared to deliver them, HERE: and a destroyed helicopter, still with the bodies of Assad’s dead troops inside it (CAUTION: moderately gruesome), HERE:
The town of Taftanaz itself has come under heavy rocket and shell attack since the nearby base was taken. However, continuing their campaign of targeting Assad’s air power and the bases it operates from, Opposition forces have continued attacks on the Menegh, Quwayres and Jarah bases in Aleppo province and Deir El-Zour airport.
At Menegh, the Opposition fighters are making progress, breaking through the perimeter of the base and raising the revolutionary flag, HERE: and shelling Government positions with a powerful 130 mm Howitzer, HERE:
This video footage shows Opposition fighters attacking the military airbase at Deir El-Zour, HERE: while there are also reports that a Government convoy transporting senior military officers, including a brigadier general, was successfully attacked between Deir El-Zour and Palmyra.
The suburbs around Damascus and its rural areas are currently seeing some of the heaviest fighting, bombing and shelling.
To try and slow the Opposition attacks on the Mezzeh military base, the regime has bombed all the houses in the immediate area to deny the fighters cover.
The regime also claimed over the weekend that it had seized the Opposition suburb of Daraya, where heavy fighting has continued for weeks, but as clashes have continued in the last few days, despite most of the area being destroyed, the fighters continue to hold out. The effects of shelling on Daraya can be seen, HERE:
Bombardments have continued against the Damascus suburbs of Hazeh, Douma, Jesrin, Irbin, Moadamiyeh, Shebaa and Beit Saham and particularly on the East Ghouta region near the capital where the Opposition fighters are especially strong and well organised.
This morning, Tuesday, heavy clashes are reported between the 2 sides in the neighborhood of As-Sayeda Zeinab and near the Air Defense headquarters in the Al- Maliha district of Damascus.
There are also reports that the regime launched 3 Scud missiles from the
outskirts of Damascus city (Battalion 578) heading towards northern areas of Syria at 2.30 am this morning, Tuesday. This follows on from another confirmed missile launch logged by NATO tracking radar at the weekend.
One of the worst attacks in the last few days was on the Opposition held town of Azaz in Aleppo province where MIG fighters targeted an open-air market on Sunday killing 20 and wounding more than 90.
Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF – Doctors Without Borders), who operate in the area said they were inundated with bodies and casualties.
In the view of their spokesman, the Assad regime had deliberately targeted civilians, many of whom were children out with their parents innocently enjoying the first sunshine after the winter storms.
“The cars and ambulances kept on coming and patients flooded the hospital,” said Adriana Ferracin, an MSF nurse in Syria. “We received many patients with limb amputations, head injuries and bleeding eyes and ears.”
Heavy bombing and shelling has also been reported on Idlib and on Houla, where 10 people have been killed in an artillery attack this morning, and Rastan in Homs province, as well as the suburbs of Homs city itself. Some districts of Homs have been under constant Government siege for more than 6 months.
Heavy clashes continue to be reported in the south of Syria around Deraa, credited with the start of the revolution. Opposition fighters attacking a Government position can be seen, HERE: and targeting a building with Assad snipers on top, HERE:
An explosion at Aleppo University has additionally been reported this morning, which the Government are blaming on “terrorists” but which activists say was an aerial attack by Government aircraft.
7,000 students were reported to be taking their exams at the time and unconfirmed reports say deaths are anything from 15 to “70”.
The latest statement from a military official in Aleppo told the AFP news agency that the explosion occurred after rebels tried to shoot down a warplane with a missile, but failed to hit their target.
A Syrian government official in Damascus told The Associated Press that two rockets hit the university’s Information Technology Academy. The official said the two rockets were fired from a rebel-held area in Aleppo.
Latest details from the Opposition side put deaths at 52 and expected to rise, while Government sources are saying 80 dead and 160 injured. Further details as the position becomes clearer.
While clashes are reported as ongoing in the city’s Old City and throughout the suburbs, Aleppo, once Syria’s business and industrial heart has been largely destroyed but some clusters of buildings remain by mutual consent.
Some businessmen persuaded both sides in the conflict to largely leave some of the industrial areas alone and although it has not been immune to shell strikes, some industrial buildings are now home to groups of internally displaced refugees. NOW Syria has further details, HERE:
Aleppo is also home to some of Syria’s jihadist fighting groups, including the US banned Al-Nusra Front.
This terrifies many Western governments who fear that if they get a foothold and establish an Islamic state which then democratic countries and their assets will come under threat worldwide.
The problem is the jihadist fighters are often the most effective in combat, the best experienced, having fought in other war-zones, the best disciplined and the most dedicated and formidable foes of the Assad Government.
Even secular members of the Free Syrian Army give them grudging respect for their fighting skills and achievements. You can read more from Reuters, HERE:
A report just in from Jordan says that the legal leader of Jabhat al-Nusra (the Al-Nusra Front), Riyad Hdeib, known as Abi Hamza, has been killed in Tafas near Deraa following Government shelling.
Hdeib, aged 32, was a Jordanian national. Around 300 Jordanians are believed to be be fighting in Syria on the Opposition side.
After the killing of so many children in Syria in the last few days Human Rights Watch based in New York has called on more countries to sign to sign up to the letter drafted by Switzerland calling on the Security Council to refer the Syrian situation to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for an investigation.
So far 57 countries, including all of the EU except Sweden and newly independent countries such as Tunisia and Libya, have endorsed the letter but as yet it has not been signed by the US.
In a statement, Switzerland said “the numerous allegations of crimes against humanity and war crimes in Syria need to be investigated and those responsible on all sides of the conflict brought before court. ” Russia has called the request “ill-timed and counter-productive”.
Two interesting rumours about President Assad, both unconfirmed. One says, in reports originating from Saudi Intelligence, that he and his family are living safely on a Russian warship in the Mediterranean, Assad himself travelling to meetings in Damascus by helicopter. You can read more,HERE:
The second unconfirmed rumour is that Assad has given instructions that if he is assassinated then the military should launch rocket attacks against Israel, though the source of the information is the Arabic version of Russia Today (EDITOR: Not my favourite source of reliable postings!).
If you are in the West, next time you are comfortably filling up your car at the gas/petrol station, contemplate these pictures, guys smuggling plastic cans of gasoline from Iraq to Syria on their backs, through the snow with open-toed sandals, HERE:
Or these children living in concrete block buildings with no doors, no heating, not enough clothes and the ground covered with snow, in this BBC video HERE:
And lastly, just to lift your spirits a little bit, someone has done an “Syria job” on the old Hitler apoplectic rage excerpt from the film “Downfall”. Hitler, informed of the impending defeat of President Assad, loses it, HERE:
BURMA: In my very first post on 1st January 2011 I wrote about women’s rights and how by depriving women of the opportunity to play their full role in society, we waste 50% of the earth’s human resources.
Two of the women in oppressive situations that I highlighted then were Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese pro-democracy leader who was held under house arrest, on and off, for almost 24 years until her release on 13th November 2010, and Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani who was sentenced to death by stoning in Iran, despite the fact that her husband was already dead at the time of the supposed “offence”.
It is with some pleasure then to note that Aung San Suu Kyi is now free to travel, that she and her followers have won some seats in the Burmese parliament, that Burmese leaders after years of isolation are now communicating with the world (though probably through self interest), and that Aung San Suu Kyi has today arrived for a visit to the UK.
This is her first visit to Europe since 1988, although she was married to an Englishman, Michael Aris, a Tibetan scholar, who died of cancer in 1999. Fearful that the Burmese authorities would not allow her to return if she went to her husband’s bedside, she made the painful decision to stick by her people and remain in Burma.
Aung San Suu Kyi also has 2 sons based and born in the UK and during her UK visit she will make a visit to Oxford where they all lived for a number of years. Today, Tuesday, is her 67th birthday.
She is expected to receive an honorary degree from the university while in Oxford, meet Prince Charles and his wife Camilla on Thursday and address both houses of the British Parliament, as well as meeting David Cameron the Prime Minister. She spoke in Ireland at the weekend, HERE:
Last Saturday Aung San Suu Kyi addressed the Nobel Committee in Norway and received the Nobel Peace Prize which they awarded her 20 years ago. She said she heard about it on the radio at the time, while under house arrest, and it helped reconnect her with the wider world. You can read more about her life, HERE:
So sometimes the world does get a little better it seems, despite all the pain, persecution, killing and torture.
IRAN: Of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, the Iranian lady sentenced to death by stoning, there is no word as far as I can trace.
In January 2012 the Iranian parliament changed the law on “adultery” to death by hanging, but that is effectively no improvement on a punishment that seems to be reserved for women and remains cruel, inhuman and unjust.
Sakineh Ashtiani, may still be alive in prison, but it would not surprise me to learn that she has been quietly and secretly executed.
EGYPT: The 2011 “revolution” in Egypt that brought down it’s long time president and dictator, Hosni Mubarak, looks as though it may have stalled.
Despite reaching the point of parliamentary elections, a “Supreme Constitutional Court” (odd when the country still does not have a constitution) declared last week that the legislative polls last year were unconstitutional because party members were allowed to contest seats in the lower house reserved for independents.
This has led the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (Scarf), which had controlled the country since Mubarak fell, still in complete power.
So everyone is wondering if anything has changed.
The question gains more stringency when you discover that of the 2 remaining candidates in last week’s presidential election run-off, one is a former army officer and prime minister under Mubarak, Ahmed Shafiq, and the other is the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, a group of whom the army are terrified.
Following the ruling by the constitutional court on the parliamentary elections, Scarf, dissolved parliament and prevented MPs from entering, and yesterday gave itself sweeping powers over legislation, the national budget and over who writes a new constitution, effectively removing power from any new president.
The Brotherhood’s presidential candidate Mohammed Mursi is believed to be slightly ahead in the polling but the results will not be declared until Thursday.
The former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi, who was 3rd in the first round of voting, said the declaration was a “seizure of the future of Egypt”.
So far the street revolutionaries, many of whom supported Sabahi, have been restrained.
However, if Thursday’s result is suspected of being gerrymandered in favour of the ruling army council, who seem to have guaranteed themselves jobs for life and have huge and lucrative business interests all over Egypt, then the revolution in Egypt may just have to take place all over again.
Whether the people have enough energy or stomach for that remains to be seen.
FATHER AND 4 YEAR OLD SON BLASTED BY POLICE BIRDSHOT WHILE SITTING IN THE STREET:
BAHRAIN’S PATHETIC LEGAL SYSTEM TOO AFRAID OF LOSING FACE TO ACQUIT ALL MEDICS ON ALL CHARGES:
BIASED JUDICIARY CONTINUES TO PLAY GAMES WITH VICTIMS OF LAWS PREVENTING SELF-EXPRESSION:
FURTHER RESTRICTIONS ON THE UNIVERSAL RIGHT OF SELF EXPRESSION VIA SOCIAL MEDIA ON THE WAY:
In a week that has seen a 11 year old released after more than 1 month in detention, more children arrested, some in the middle of the night, and now yesterday a small child serously injured with birdshot, Bahrain’s Opposition Tweeters can be forgiven for asking on Twitter whether the Al Khalifa Government has “run out of grown-ups to arrest and shoot?”.
Ali Hassan, the 11 year old (sometimes reported as 12) was released on bail on Monday this week after being initially imprisoned and then held in a juvenile detention centre.
While in detention the six grade student was forced to take his exams while behind bars, not the most conducive environment for clear thinking and exam preparation. All Ali wanted to do was to go home and be with his Mum.
Ali is still charged with “illegal gathering” and “rioting” and accused of trying to block the street against entry by police into his village, and will have to return to court on 20th June.
The youngster says he was just playing in the street with 2 friends when they were chased by plaincloths police. When Ali fell over while trying to escape, he was taken away and unecessarily incarcerated. You can hear his own testimony in this Al Jazeera interview, HERE:
As Ahlam Oun points out an “illegal gathering” is a meeting together of 5 people or more, which would of course make many family meetings “against the law”.
In her blog post Ahlam suggests that this has become the authorities “quick-fix” to neutralise anyone they don’t like, but conversely they fail to prosecute anyone who supports them when the Al Fateh movement for example hold an unlicensed rally. You can read Ahlam’s blog, HERE:
There have also been numerous reports of villages being raided this week by police in the middle of the night, especially between the hours of 1.30 and 4.30 am.
The raids seem systematic and deliberate, one by one targeting in the last 7 days the villages of Salmabad, Daih, Jidhafs, Al Musala, Aali, Sanabis, Sitra, Buri, Muharraq, Duraz, Bilad Al Qadeem and many more and arresting people while they are still half asleep.
The raids are often noisy, aggressive and violent. The usual “tactful” approach, and almost always without a warrant to arrest, can be seen in this daylight video of a group of imcompetent “Keystone Kops” attempting to break down a door, HERE:
Ali Ashoor, shown here, is 16 years old and has been detained since January 5th. He is currently the youngest prisoner in Jaw prison.
Yesterday Hassan AlSamea, 12 years old, was dragged away from his mother and arrested despite her attempts to prevent it.
The despondent face of Hassan’s Mother and those of the smirking female police officers having succeeded in their task, say it all.
You can see the “battle for Hassan’s freedom”, HERE:
FATHER AND 4 YEAR OLD SON BLASTED BY POLICE BIRDSHOT WHILE SITTING IN THE STREET
Worst of all this week is the shooting of a 4 year old child (earlier reported as 5 years old.
EDITOR: Can someone tell me why there are always problems in Bahrain getting ages right?)
Ahmed Naham was sitting in the street with his Father who was selling fish, as photographic evidence confirms.
Mr. Naham says the police coming down the street told them to “go away” but as he prepared to pick up his child, a policeman opened fire. The 4 year old now has 2 pellets in his left eye and more in other parts of his body. The father has pellets in his thigh, stomach and arms. Video on the Internet shows police carrying the boy away, closely followed by his father, HERE:
After arriving at the Salmaniya Medical complex, police and security service personnel prevented people and some members of the family from speaking to the father or seeing the little boy.
He is now undergoing treatment, HERE:
EDITOR: It seems very evident to me that this is a new tactic – target children and indirectly intimidate their parents in the hope that they will keep their offspring away from protests. Fat chance – far too late for that! Sumood.
BAHRAIN’S PATHETIC LEGAL SYSTEM TOO AFRAID OF LOSING FACE TO ACQUIT ALL MEDICS ON ALL CHARGES:
But of course, the persecution of adults in the Shia community in Bahrain does not stop either. This morning,Thursday, while nine of the medics who have been on trial for over a year in military and civil courts, were acquitted of all charges, nine others were convicted.
Those acquitted following a series of internationally condemned and farcical trials were Zahra AlSammak, Hassan AlTublani,
Fatima Haji, Nada Dhaif, Ahmed Omran, Rola AlSaffar, Najah Khalil, Mohammed AlShehab and Sayed Marhoon.
However, the following were found guilty, albeit with reduced sentences, Ali AlEkri (5 years), Ghassan Dhaif (1 year), Mahmood Asghar (6 months), Bassem Dhaif (1 month), Ebrahim AlDemistani (3 years), (Nader Diwani and Abdulkhaliq AlOraibi (both 1 month), Dhiaa AbuIdrees (2 months) and Saeed AlSamaheeji (1 year).
Two other medics did not appear in court to appeal their 15 year sentences, having either gone abroad or underground in Bahrain.
The court threw out some of the most serious charges such as “occupying the Salmaniya hospital” and “possessing weapons”, piles of which, including chains, a sword and an AK 47, were brought into court at a previous hearing.
“This is an unjust ruling,” Twefik Dhaif, the uncle of two of the convicted medics said.
“These are the elite doctors in this country. We have 15 doctors in my family, and most of the people they have treated were Al Khalifas,” referring to Bahrain’s controlling family. You can read Al Jazeera’s report, HERE:
Clearly this has nothing to do with justice. Everyone knows that all the medics did was help treat the injuries of protesters in very difficult circumstances.
Reducing sentences and freeing some is the best the Bahrain Government and judicial system can come up with in the face of continued international criticism and in an a pathetic attempt to save face. And it is not enough.
Donna McKay, the executive director of Physicians for Human Rights, said after the verdict, “It is a travesty of justice that the trials continued and that the medics are now sentenced to jail time”.
Dr. Nada Dhaif, the only one of the doctors on trial allowed to travel, spoke at a demonstration in Dublin on 12rh June, HERE: supported by other speakers such Jamila Hanan (aka Frankie Dolan), HERE: Respect to you both for your clear statements.
One of the nurses’ story, published at Philly.com, is very telling too.
INCOMPETENT JUDICIARY CONTINUES TO PLAY GAMES WITH VICTIMS OF LAWS PREVENTING SELF-EXPRESSION:
And the injustice continues. Nabeel Rajab, the President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights was due in court again this week but was remanded in prison again, without a court visit, until 18th June. He is also due in court on 19th May on another charge, but no-one will be surprised if that hearing is delayed also.
All part of the not-so-sophisticated sadistic mental torture practiced by the Al Khalifa Government.
Ahmed Aoun, an imprisoned 17 year old student, who had a police shotgun pellet embedded in his right eye, was denied an operation at the end of May, but now 2 weeks later the surgery has been carried out. The delay may have cost him his sight.
He was originally arrested while receiving treatment at a private hospital for his injuries which were sustained while supporting a peaceful demonstration.
Now comes news that Sayed Hadi Al Musawi, a former Opposition MP who recently gave testimony at the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva during Bahrain’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on human rights, has been called for questioning today at the Public Prosecutor’s office following a complaint by the Ministry of Interior.
At the time of the UPR hearing local loyalist media in Bahrain referred to the participants as “traitors” and they were threatened with prosectuion by the Minister of Interior himself.
The Bahrain Justice and Development Movement, who also attended the UPR session, said “Regardless of whether this relates to Sayed Hadi’s involvement in the UPR there is no justification for the call for investigation. Sayed Hadi is an opposition activist and human rights defender who has always worked within the framework of the law.
This is is another attempt to try to silence the opposition and does not constitute a serious attempt by the authorities to take the country out of the current crisis.” There is further information, HERE:
FURTHER RESTRICTIONS ON THE UNIVERSAL RIGHT OF SELF EXPRESSION VIA SOCIAL MEDIA ON THE WAY:
In addition to all that the likely direction of further arrests and prosecutions is indicated by a statement reported in the press by the recently appointed Minister of State for Information Affairs, Samira Rajab.
Samira Rajab, a past supporter of dictator Sadam Hussein apparently, said that Bahrain is set to introduce tough new laws to combat the “misuse” of social media.
Claiming that action was necessary to “guarantee the security of the state”, the minister said, “We have a right to punish those who indulge in seditious behaviour and create disunity among the people.
We have to think of how to protect our national security. We have these new threats and we have to see how we can tackle those threats”.
Speaking at a conference organised by the Bahrain Centre for Strategic and International Studies and Energy, she asserted that “social media had been and continues to be abused by the so-called human rights activists”, citing claims “that drowning victims had been killed by torture” and that “sickel cell victims” had been killed by security forces.
(EDITOR: Though independent examination of victims in both those cases has indicated that the victims had been severely tortured before death.) The full report on the minister’s speech is HERE:
Compounding the Al Khalifa Government’s inane and immature ability to understand the rights of individuals to self-expression in the modern world, the King, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa held a meeting at the Bahrain Defence Force (BDF) Command Headquarters.
Also present at the family gathering were Commander-in-Chief Field Marshal Shaikh Khalifa bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, State Minister for Defence Affairs Lieutenant General Dr. Shaikh Mohammed bin Abdullah Al Khalifa and BDF Chief of Staff Major General Shaikh Daij bin Salman Al Khalifa.
In his speech to the officers present, the King said yesterday, “Our armed forces are the protectors of the nation’s achievements and everybody must know that whoever disrespects the forces or its leaders is in fact abusing us”.
We cannot tolerate,” the King continued, “Any irreverence of our beliefs, social values and armed forces in the name of freedom of expression. All competent executive agencies have to take the necessary measures to address these violations in accordance with the law”. (You can read the full report, HERE: )
TRANSLATION: “Criticise the armed forces, police or security forces and we will take that personnally and make up new laws to prosecute you for defamation”. For the oppressed in Bahrain it does not get any easier.