TIMELINE – 11th FEBRUARY 2015 14.03 GMT:
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In an interview with BBC TV News, President Bashar Assad, completely contradicting all available evidence, has said that his army “does not use barrel-bombs”.
Sickeningly, despite some tough questioning from the BBC’s Jeremy Bowen, he also tried to turn the accusation into a joke.
“We don’t have barrels. Again, it’s like talking about cooking pots. So, we don’t have cooking pots.
We only have, like any regular army, we have bombs, we have missiles, we have bullets, and etc”.
He also dismissed a reports by Human Rights Watch about the regime’s repeated use of barrel-bombs as “a childish story”.
This Syrian helicopter aircrew is using one of the first crude #NotBarrelBombs, back in 2012 and thousands have been dropped since, here:
On a similar line of questioning on the use of chlorine gas, when asked to confirm his army was not using it, he said, “No, definitely not”.
Assad also claims that, while there is no direct co-ordination, his military get information about attacks on the Islamic State through “a third party”, presumed to be Iraq.
Bowen: “And is that a continuing dialogue that you have through third parties?”
President Assad: “There’s no dialogue. There’s, let’s say, information. But not dialogue”.
Bowen: “They tell you things?” President Assad: “Something like this”. Bowen: “Do you tell them things?” President Assad: “No”.
Despite thorough and persistent questioning in the interview, Assad is tricky, manipulative and evasive. As one Twitter user asked, “Is there a more coldly mendacious ruler in the world than Bashar?”
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) has documented 1009 air raids carried out by Assad’s helicopters and jets since the beginning of February in 12 out of Syria’s 14 provinces.
Not only has Assad upped the number of attacks in recent months, but cynically taken advantage of the world’s attention on the historic battle by the Kurds to defend Kobane.
According to SOHR the helicopters have dropped 537 barrel-bombs in February, killing 270 civilians including 48 women and 49 children. Another 1200 have been injured, some of them critically.
Or, if you can stomach it (“We are defending civilians and making dialogue”), the full transcript is on the Syrian state media site, SANA, HERE:
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Two days before the opening of the Geneva 2 “peace conference”, which in theory is supposed to agree a transitional government for Syria without President Assad, a devastating report has been published giving evidence of Assad’s war crimes with the systematic killing of 11,000 detainees by the his regime.
The report, based on evidence provided by a former Syrian policeman, has been prepared by three well-known international lawyers, all of whom have acted as prosecutors at previous international criminal tribunals, and contains 55,000 images of dead victims, many of whom have clearly been subjected to torture.
The defector was originally a “scene of crime” investigator who has worked for the Syrian Military Police for 13 years but in 2011 when the conflict started he was redirected to photograph and document the bodies of those brought from prisons and detention centres to a military hospital.
The images the policeman, codenamed “Caesar”, and his colleagues took showed evidence of starvation, brutal beatings, strangulation, and other forms of torture and killing.
Four or five pictures were taken of each body, 55,000 images therefore pertaining to around 11,000 dead detainees.
The were 2 reasons for the photographing. Firstly, to allow the production of a death certificate without family members seeing the body and protecting the authorities from having to explain the death, and secondly to provide “evidence” that an execution order had been carried out.
The three lawyers in the enquiry team were Sir Desmond de Silva QC and Professor Sir Geoffrey Nice QC from the UK and Professor David M. Crane from the USA.
Both De Silva and Crane had previously been Chief Prosecutor in the Special Court on Sierra Leone convened to prosecute the former president of Liberia, Charles Taylor, on charges of “war crimes” and “crimes against humanity” (he was sentenced in May 2012 to 50 years imprisonment).
Professor Nice was the lead prosecutor in the trial of the former Yugoslavian and Serbian president Slobodan Milošević, who was also indicted on “crimes against humanity” at the International Criminal Court at the Hague, but who died from heart problems before the end of his 5 year trial.
These 3 reputable and credible investigators spent several days in January 2014 questioning “Caesar” at a location in the Middle East (probably Qatar, whose Government paid for a UK firm of solicitors to co-ordinate the investigation) and found him truthful and not prone to exaggeration.
“Caesar” admitted he had not witnessed a single torture or execution and was only involved afterwards, but sickened by what he saw he copied the images onto a flash memory drive and transmitted the pictures and documents to a family member abroad.
The enquiry team were also backed up by forensic experts Professor Sue Black and Dr. Stuart Hamilton, plus a forensic imaging expert, Stephen Cole.
They examined the images without prior knowledge of their source and deemed the photographs as authentic, unretouched and evidence of beating, binding, restraint or other physical assault but “excluding injuries that could reasonably have occurred as the result of legal combat engagement”.
26,948 images were directly provided by “Caesar” and more than 20,000 via the Opposition Syrian National Movement from “Caesar” and other sources.
“Caesar” also described how he and a doctor were sent to a military hospital to record the deaths of prisoners killed in detention, sometimes recording as many as 50 bodies a day, requiring 15 – 30 minutes of work on each corpse.
After the issue of a death certificate the families were informed that their family member had died “in hospital” from either a “heart attack” or “breathing problems”.
Each body was given two numbers, one referring to the branch of the intelligence service responsible for the detention and death of the detainee, and a second number falsifying that the detainee had died in hospital. The corpses were then taken away for burial in a rural location.
Although in the short time available the enquiry team was not able to examine every single image, they concluded that there is more than sufficient evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity by the Assad regime.
De Silva told the London Guardian, where the report was first published (along with CNN), that the evidence “documented industrial-scale killing”. He added: “This is a smoking gun of a kind we didn’t have before. It makes a very strong case indeed.”
Commenting on the report, a spokesman for the US Government said, “As we have for over two years, and again today, we call on the Syrian government to grant immediate and unfettered access to all their detention facilities by international documentation bodies, including the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria”.
A Human Rights Watch (HRW) spokeswomen said, “These photos – if authentic [Having not checked them ourselves] – suggest that we may have only scratched the surface of the horrific extent of torture in Syria’s notorious dungeons. There is only one way to get to the bottom of this and that is for the negotiating parties at Geneva II to grant unhindered access to Syria’s detention facilities to independent monitors.”
At the time of writing, the day after the release of the report, SANA, the Syrian official state media, makes no mention of the accusations at all.
President Bashar Assad, portrays himself as a loving family man, an urbane, gentle, sophisticated leader “loved” by his people.
He is clearly nothing of the kind. The Assad war crimes evidence detailed above can only happen systematically and repeatedly over a long period if authorised from above.
Not withstanding that this report has been commissioned by Qatar (a sworn enemy of Assad and sponsors of the armed Opposition against him) and that it publication has been timed to cause maximum impact at the Geneva conference – the responsibility for everything described above is Assad’s.
He had allowed this to happen and directly or indirectly authorised it.
Assad is in fact a monster, a blood-thirsty killer, just like his father Hafez, who will do anything to preserve his family “dynasty” and the elitist position of the minority Alawite community to which he belongs.
Bashar Assad should be arrested and tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity at the International Court in the Hague, in the Netherlands, at the earliest possible opportunity.
You can read the full Guardian report, HERE:
And the enquiry’s report, HERE:
The BBC has a video report, HERE:
CNN has 3 video reports, with 3 of the investigators, (CAUTION – EXTREMELY HARROWING IMAGES) HERE:
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TIMELINE – 28th JANUARY 2013 15.00 GMT:
After 3 days the battle for control of Idlib’s main prison continues. In dramatic scenes on Friday, Opposition forces in co-ordinated attacks on regime positions across the city of Idlib, managed to break into the central prison and free more than 300 grateful prisoners, reputedly capturing a number of Assad’s soldiers in the process.
10 Opposition fighters were killed in the attack but those remaining are still fighting for complete control of the penitentiary in a city which is still largely under Government control.
Government forces are desperate to retake the prison, even using MIGs to drop bombs inside the penitentiary compound, because it is also a major checkpoint controlling the entrances to the city from the west.
The prison contained both criminals and political prisoners and the Opposition fighters will bring those they released before a judge to decide whether they should be released completely or complete their sentences elsewhere.
Opposition forces are almost certainly control of vast areas across Idlib province itself, enabling them to to now concentrate their fire on the provincial capital. A video of prisoners being released from Idlib prison under heavy gunfire is HERE: and Al Jazeera has a another report, HERE:
In the north-eastern part of Idlib province Opposition fighters yesterday captured the villages of Yaqoubiya and Janoudiya plus 4 tanks and 3 armoured vehicles.
Deir el-Zour is under similar Opposition assault and unconfirmed reports say that the fighters have captured a large military checkpoint near the Deir Az-Zour Suspension Bridge and are targeting Assad’s political intelligence branch which overlooks the Euphrates river that divides the city in two.
Around Damascus, the fight for the Sunni suburbs continues with the Assad regime bombing and shelling civilians incessantly and unmercifully.
Fierce clashes are being reported at checkpoints near the entrance to the Yarmouk Palestinian Refugee camp and activists say that 13 people were summarily executed at a checkpoint by Shabiha in Daraya, where Opposition fighters are bravely holding on, even managing to destroy 5 tanks and 6 armoured vehicles trying to enter the suburb.
There is also an unconfirmed reported that the Syrian Air Force managed to kill some of its own troops battling for Daraya yesterday afternoon, Sunday, with “friendly fire”.
The strength of the fighters in Daraya seems to lie in the fact that they are mainly defected conscripts from the nearby Assad military bases and know the area extremely well.
A spectacular attack on one of Assad’s tanks in Daraya, with a soldier fleeing afterwards, can be seen in HD, HERE:
Latest reports from Damascus today, Monday, confirm that following heavy fighting Opposition fighters captured the Qadam train station and terminal, reportedly one of the largest regime outposts in the south of the capital.
The clashes have led to the closure of the main highway nearby which links Damascus with Deraa in the south of the country. There is video footage of the battle for the rail terminus, HERE:
Opposition fighters around Damascus also seized the base of the Army’s 22nd brigade in the East Ghouta district, just 10 kilometres east of Damascus International Airport, and captured another 2 tanks and large quantities of weapons.
Additionally they attacked the 781st Air Defense base in the suburb of Khan al-Sheeh and the Military Security Branch in the town of Sa’saa where they were able to set dozens more detainees free.
Al Jazeera has a video report on the Damascus suburb of Harasta, once home to more than 500,000 mainly Sunni Syrians.
Over 22 months the city has been completely destroyed, almost all the residents have fled and it is now occupied by roaming packs of dogs or cats.
Assad’s Army destroyed whole blocks of apartments, just to get a line of sight for its snipers. This is what is left, HERE:
In Aleppo province indiscriminate Government air strikes have killed 20 in Menbij, half of them children, and another 10 at Al-Bab. There is video footage of the aftermath of the airstrike, with no military targets or Opposition fighters in sight, HERE:
Opposition fighters have also captured the Military Housing Foundation and the cement factory in the Sheikh Saad district of Aleppo city while continuing their attacks on the airbases surrounding the city. And in Homs province there is a renewed Government assault on all towns and villages that have resisted Assad control.
Indicating the increasing scale of the fighting, activists observing activity at Latakia airport say that the Bustan Foundation, a charity run by Rami Makhlouf, Assad’s cousin, handed over the bodies of 84 killed soldiers and Shabiha to their families in the province.
Reports this morning, say that the regime is pounding villages 25 north-west of the central city of Hama in an attempt to regain the countryside surrounding the provincial capital causing 100’s of people to flee in cars and on tractors and motorbikes. The indiscriminate shelling of the town of Kirnaz this morning, Monday, can be seen, HERE:
In the most explicit criticism of President Assad yet by Russia, the country’s Prime Minister, Dmitri Medvedev, said, in an interview with CNN at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland at the weekend, that the Syrian President had made a “grave, perhaps fatal error” by delaying political reforms.
“He should have acted much more quickly and reached out to the peaceful opposition which was ready to sit at the negotiating table with him”, said the Russian Premier.
It seems to me that his chances of staying (in power) are shrinking day by day.”
As if in a belated awareness of the regime’s errors has penetrated its consciousness, the Assad Government has released a string of bizarre announcements in the last few days, most of which will get little or no reaction.
Last Thursday, the regime called on all its citizens who have fled the country to return, saying they will get “aid” regardless of whether they left the country legally or illegally or are opponents of President Assad or not. The Government also called on Opposition figures to take part in reconciliation talks, but that is not even on the agenda for the Opposition until Assad falls.
Yesterday, the Syrian High Judicial Council announced a suspension of prosecutions of opposition members so they can join such a national dialogue but activists say, the Government, following its usual path, arrested a senior member of Damascus-based opposition National Development Party, Khalil Mustafa Sayed, on Friday.
Even Syria’s semi-approved internal Opposition has accused the Assad regime of being responsible for the killing of 87 students at Aleppo University.
As for Assad himself, unconfirmed reports say that he is in a 100 room bunker complex underneath the presidential palace supported by 50 highly-vetted staff.
The reports say that there is a gym, a cinema, operations and communications rooms and enough supplies to last them 6 months.
Opposition fighters are busy however firing home-made rockets at the palace, HERE:
For a good feel of how it is to visit Syria right now, have a read of this excellent article in The National, HERE:
Internationally, President Obama gave an interview to the New Republic magazine in which he described how he had to wrestle “with where and when can the United States intervene or act in ways that advance our national interest, advance our security, and speak to our highest ideals and sense of common humanity”.
“And as I wrestle with those decisions, I am more mindful probably than most of not only our incredible strengths and capabilities, but also our limitations”. You can read more, HERE:
Lastly, in a moving tribute of solidarity with the students killed at Aleppo University, students across the United States met to remember them, seen in this video, HERE:
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