Firstly, I wish all my readers a Happy New Year plus good health, prosperity and lots of love and kindness throughout 2016. Many thanks to all of you who visited my blog throughout 2015 – 719,764 times to be precise! Which is a phenomenal increase on the previous year (244,133).
I started this blog on January 1st 2011, so today is my 5th anniversary. In those 5 years the blog has had in excess of 1.29 million visitors and was read by an average of 1,972 people a day from 198 countries in 2015.
For many though, will it be a happier new year in 2016?
Across the world there are now thousands affected by extreme climate change phenomena. In the US hurricanes and tornadoes have destroyed homes and killed householders, in the UK some people had their homes flooded for the 3rd time in a month and it will be months before they can get back in, and in South America tens of thousands are displaced after rivers 6 metres above their normal levels burst their banks. And that was only December.
There will, unfortunately, be a lot worse to come unless we get to grips with what we are collectively doing to the planet.
For Syria and Iraq, about which I have written extensively, things still look grim. Hundreds of thousands have been killed, and more than 10 million have been displaced from their homes. Tens of thousands more have fled to Europe or eke out a desperate existence in a refugee camp. Thousands have died, including many children, trying to make it across the Mediterranean “to a better life” in the EU.
And it does not look to get better any day soon. While politicians and diplomats endlessly talk, on the ground the fighting continues all day, every day and thousands more needlessly die or are seriously maimed or injured. Add to that the appalling, unfeeling and devilish actions of the Islamic State, and there does not seem a great deal to be optimistic about.
But optimistic I am. Every bad and hateful action leaves a residue of energy which eventually builds to a good reaction against it. The worse things get, the greater the demand for a positive response.
Too often we feel helpless and that there is little we can do. But there is. If you have spare cash donate to those groups that are making a difference. If you don’t, give some time or energy to those groups. If you do not have those either, support the petitions of human rights groups across the world who fight against the false imprisonment of individuals and for suppressed and threatened communities irrespective of their race, sex or religion. There is no shortage of causes.
For my part, I will continue to highlight events which mainstream media often ignore once the ratings start to sag and do my best to angle everything towards human rights and an appreciation that we are all equally human ( unless, of course, like the Islamic State and other barbarians, people descend into inhumanity and madness). Plus, in the darkness, the odd spark of humour and stories to uplift and inspire.
I also hope to produce some other work to personally help and grow the confidence of everyone not functioning to their full capacity. Watch this space.
In the mean time, if you can’t be right – be kind. Stand up and be counted when its appropriate and right, and stand back and observe when it is not. And we will see if the world is a better place in 2017. But until then I wish you all ….
Peter Clifford 1st January 2016
Frankly, the world has little choice but to fight the Islamic State. So as 2015 ends I offer 7 strategies to defeat the Islamic State in 2016.
It is a movement that is violent, cruel, irreligious and without compassion and it cannot be left to dominate and destroy social structures in the Middle East or elsewhere.
Modern society in either the West or the East is not perfect. It is riven with failed attempts at equality, plurality, democracy and inclusivity – but it has progressed and most of us benefit to one degree or another from this stuttering progress.
I can write this blog because I live in a society which protects my right, by and large, to express my views.
Still not so in many countries in the world where some significant powers have poor human rights and lock up bloggers because they dare to expose an attitude that is contrary to that of the ruling elite.
But unless all of us stand up against the Islamic State (IS), then any rights we currently enjoy, however tentative, will be swept away.
IS administers by rules of its own creation, fear and demonstrations of violence to subdue opposition. It is not interested in negotiating compromise.
Personally, I am against war and violence and I hate bombs and guns. But when your family is threatened do you hold to those feelings as “inviolate principles” or do you defend your family?
Although it clearly may take more than a year, I therefore put forward (in no particular order) these 7 strategies to defeat the Islamic State in 2016.
1. Moslems – Stand Up For the Society in Which You Live:
All those Moslems who oppose the actions of the Islamic State need to stand up for the countries and society’s in which they live.
It is not enough just to condemn the dreadful actions of IS and their misguided adherents in Paris, Tunisia, the US and across the world. It is necessary for Moslems to shun fear of persecution and stand up and say, “We oppose this obscenity. We support and are part of this community and will defend its right to exist and its values”.
And be willing to question Islamic attitudes to violence and religious beliefs.
In the Tennessee town of Chattanooga in the US they have set an example by doing just that.
Last July four Marines and a Sailor were killed in Chattanooga, recently described as America’s “most bible-minded city”, by a young Moslem who grew up there and who went on a mindless rampage.
Mindful of President Obama’s call for Moslems to both condemn violence and build stronger ties to their non-Moslem neighbours, Bassam Issa, the president of the “Islamic Society of Greater Chattanooga”, has been giving talks in local schools and colleges.
In them Mr Issa tells students that “What’s happening right now is not religious, even though IS and Al Qaeda are covered as a religious thing. In reality, it’s political.”
And he is right. It’s the politics of domination through control, violence and murder rather than the ballot box.
Dr. Mohsin Ali, a child psychiatrist and another member of the Chattanooga Islamic Society, said “We can’t ignore the fact that violent extremists use an interpretation of the very same books and texts that we use. I feel like the Muslim community does need to do more”.
The day after the killings in Chattanooga at a memorial service for the killed servicemen, Dr Ali told the congregation that he and other Moslems in the city were grieving alongside everyone else.
He then asked the Moslems in the Baptist Church to stand as a sign of the allegiance to Chattanooga and to peace. When dozens of Moslems stood, the rest of the congregation applauded loudly.
That’s the way forward. Coming together rather than tearing apart.
We are all in this – our religious or non-religious beliefs are irrelevant.
2. THE REST OF US – STAND UP FOR MOSLEMS:
Using the events of IS and its followers to justify anti-Moslem beliefs, actions and opinions is just ignorance and blind stupidity.
It’s a sign of the immature using their inadequacy and personal anger (whatever the origins) to dump on others. If you feel that way, look deep inside yourself – not at scapegoats.
Apart from which Moslems are not hereditarily more violent than the rest of us.
The whole history of Christianity is full of violence against “non-believers” and non-conforming sects. Buddhists (the supposedly “peaceful religion”) are accused of dreadful atrocities against the Rohingya in northern Myanmar (Burma). “Spreading atheist thought” is a crime punishable by imprisonment in Saudi Arabia.
At the end of the day we are all fellow human beings put on this planet presumably to exercise our individuality and creativity. Therefore, our diversity should be celebrated and respected as our community’s strength – not undermined or attacked and made into its weakness.
3. OPPOSE SECTARIANISM:
Sectarianism, the belief that my sect (of the same religion) is better than your sect, is about as bright as the stupidity of anti-Moslem feelings described above.
And it is probably the biggest problem affecting the Middle East today, polarising the Sunnis, led by Saudi Arabia, on one side and the Shiites (Shia), led by Iran, on the other.
In fact, the rise of the Islamic State can be traced back to Sunni suppression and sectarianism in Iraq. After the fall of Saddam Hussain, a Sunni who had persecuted the Shia (and Kurds) for years, Shiite politicians gained power in Iraq and excluded the Sunni.
Some of the remnants of Al Qaeda in Iraq were taken over by former Sunni military officers in Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist regime, who fanned the flames of Sunni dissent, and hey presto the Islamic State emerges with an extreme Sunni orientated philosophy.
Considering the difference between Sunnis and Shiites is based on who they revere as the family leaders of Prophet Mohammad’s legacy and all the clashes, deaths and abuses that have followed, it’s up there with the Inquisition which the Roman Catholic Church imposed on others in various forms in Europe between the 12th and 19th Centuries, killing and torturing tens of thousands.
Pointless abuse which seeks to impose thought control on others.
4. KEEP ATTACKING ISLAMIC STATE FINANCE:
According to research at the beginning of December, the Islamic State rakes in about $80 million a month, $1.1 million a day coming from oil sales alone. The rest of their income comes from emptying banks, selling antiquities, ransoms and local taxation (“zakat”).
According to the report an IS “Emir” known as Abu Fatima Al-Tunisi ran off with $25,000 worth of “zakat”, leaving a note on Twitter for his “comrades” saying, “What state? What caliphate? You idiots.”
Then there is the problem of “50,000 ghost soldiers”, with commanders drawing salaries for say 250 men a month, when in fact they only have 150 in their brigade.
To deal with the problem IS sent round administrators who paid the salaries in person, but then they made deals with the commanders to get a cut, with the same result.
In other words, corruption within the Islamic State is rife, again saying much about the spiritual nature of the organisation – or lack of spirituality in general.
At the same time, the Coalition and Russia should continue dismantling IS oil processing plants, tankers and well heads, making them unusable, and the world’s financial markets should block any attempts to do business with them or seize any transferred funds where they are identified.
Turkey, Israel and Assad have all been accused of buying IS oil and it is probably true as it comes through middle-men who ship it around the Middle East for a profit until its origins are obscure.
Easy to say that people should stop paying ransom bribes – but more difficult to adhere to when members of your family and community are imprisoned and brutalised by members of this loathsome organisation.
5. CONTINUE PRECISION BOMBING ON THE ISLAMIC STATE:
As I said at the beginning, I am no lover of military solutions – but sometimes there is no choice because IS and their followers are bloodily killing anyone they can.
Precision bombing by Coalition aircraft has done a remarkably good job with few collateral civilian deaths, hitting IS military targets time after time and empowering groups like the Kurds to advance and take territory away from the Jihadists.
Preferably there should be no civilian deaths at all but clearly IS hangers-on do know by now what they are in for if they stay.
By contrast, random and indiscriminate bombing by the Assad regime and now the Russian Air force too, has killed thousands of innocent civilians in the last 4 years and Assad’s Air Force are by far and away the biggest killers of civilians in Syria, far more than IS.
6. BATTLE THE ISLAMIC STATE ON MANY FRONTS:
In 2015 the Kurds in northern Syria have nearly tripled the territory they control, while at the same time they have helped to reduce the size of the IS caliphate by 14%.
One of the reasons that the Kurds (YPG/YPJ) in Syria have been so successful, apart from their innate determination and passion to survive, is that IS have found themselves stretched on too many fronts fighting too many battles and the Kurds have taken advantage of that.
According to analysis by the security company IHS Jane’s, IS activity in areas it controls has recently been most intense around Baghdad in Iraq and Damascus in Syria and much less near Kurdish controlled areas, suggesting they were overstretched.
When the Kurdish YPG for instance launched a campaign to retake Tal Abyad in northern Syria near the Turkish border, the forces of the Islamic State were widely spread elsewhere fighting battles in central and western Syria and in Iraq.
“The remaining forces in Tal Abyad were so depleted that they had to be re-enforced with… religious police units from Raqqa,” says IHS Jane’s.
While IS will continue no doubt to use the strategy of surprise, popping up unexpectedly in the most unlikely places, all other sides battling them on multiple fronts will put their fighters and their command and control structures under severe strain. That tension can’t be maintained indefinitely.
Along with this, arm, train and equip those who are most effective against IS and send in special forces not only to guide and help forces like the Kurds with air support but to conduct raids to take out the IS leadership.
7. GIVE IT TIME TO SELF DESTRUCT:
As long as everyone keeps up the pressure, time itself will see the Islamic State degrade and self-destruct.
Firstly, disillusion will set in, with the foreigners in particular discovering the caliphate is not the “earthly paradise” it was cracked-up to be. Living in dirty, and uncomfortable, dangerous conditions with bombs raining down and expensive food and electricity in short supply is probably not what they signed up for.
Escaping is not so easy either. A 17 year old Austrian girl who travelled to Syria to join IS last year, Sabra Kesinovic, is thought to have been beaten to death as she tried to escape in November. Many other potential escapees have been caught near the Turkish border and shot.
Secondly, a number of Sunni tribes who originally gave their allegiance to IS have also changed their mind and some have paid a terrible price for their “disloyalty” – around 900 members of the Al-Shaitat tribe in eastern Syria are believed to have been executed, crucified and beheaded.
The Islamic State’s aim with this is to spread terror and prevent further physical desertions, but it won’t prevent the loss of hearts and minds, it will only accelerate it.
Thirdly, the Islamic State is also riddled with corruption, as mentioned earlier. That will only increase as those in a position to take advantage of it will recognise a “sinking ship” when the see it and get out with their booty while they can.
Fourthly, IS was very successful in winning hearts and minds initially in areas it went into by providing food handouts and community services including financial support. With time that will become more and more difficult to sustain and be outweighed by its cruel and unjust treatment of those it believes have transgressed their rules.
And with time, those who were attracted to IS for “spiritual” reasons will eventually see that the whole organisation was cynically built around a religious philosophy to justify its actions, when in fact almost everything it does is against all modern definitions of decency and humanity and decidely “unspiritual”.
Can the Islamic State be eliminated completely? Probably not. Like Al Qaeda it will linger on in the warped minds and heads of those with vengeful personal agendas looking for an excuse to justify themselves.
But like Al Qaeda, it can be contained.
There is no shortage of problems in the world that need solutions, but this is the most pressing and like the Nazi threat of World War ll it must be met head on. Implementing the above 7 strategies to defeat the Islamic State in 2016 will go a long way to make that happen.
Congratulations to Saudi Arabia as Saudi women take one small step into the 21st century by both voting and standing for council posts in last weekend’s municipal elections.
Right across Saudi Arabia from small villages to the largest cities, 20 women were elected to municipal council seats.
Of the 7,000 candidates who stood for election, 979 were women and 2,100 seats were up for the taking in 249 local councils, so 20 female winners represent only 1% of those appointed – but it’s a start when before you have had no representation at all.
The Saudi King also has a quota of 1,050 seats to fill with his appointees, so hopefully he will he will take the opportunity to let in a few more of the women candidates.
4 women were elected in Riyadh, the conservative capital and 2 in the predominately Shia Islam Eastern Province.
Another woman was elected in Jeddah in western Saudi Arabia, perhaps the country’s most cosmopolitan city, while one more gained a seat in the holy city of Medina, the site of Prophet Mohammed’s first mosque.
Another woman was elected in the village of Madrakah, 150 kilometres north of Mecca which over bad roads has the nearest hospital, pointing out that many women in her village ended up giving birth in cars.
Other issues raised by the women candidates were more nurseries to look after children while mothers worked, more community centres for sports and cultural activities, the aforementioned better roads, improved garbage collection and greener cities.
I suspect there might be some more directly feminist issues waiting to surface in the background, but with this tentative level of suppression release it is probably wise to save those for another day. Saudi Arabia’s extreme clerics will be enraged at the changes as it is.
Credit for the policies all go to the new Saudi leader, King Salman, the Crown Prince Mohamed bin Nayef and the Deputy Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman, plus a coterie of relatively young, well-educated Cabinet members who frequently travel to the West and other countries worldwide.
While I am no great believer in the inalienable rights or abilities of hereditary royals, when it’s all you’ve got and they hold all the power and the purse strings, that’s what you have to work with.
In an attempt to make the elections a more level playing field for women forced to wear the full face-veil the General Election Committee, presumably on orders from the Government, banned all candidates, male and female from showing their faces in promotional posters, advertising boards or online. They were also not allowed to appear on television.
In Jeddah, 3 generations of women from the same family voted for the very first time, the oldest being 94.
Her daughter reflected on how important it was to vote, saying, “I walked in and said I’ve have never seen this before. Only in the movies. It was a thrilling experience.”
That response, while understood, would probably be seen as “sad” in the West.
Especially as Saudi women are still not allowed to drive a car, go out on their own unless accompanied by a male chaperone (usually a close family member), go to a mixed swimming pool, compete in sports, or wear clothes or make-up that “may show up their beauty”.
Interestingly, in a show of support, Uber drivers in some of the major cities drove women to the polling stations in last weekend’s elections, for free (though I can’t help wondering how many men refused to accompany their wives or even let them out of the house?)
There is still a long way to go.
Saudi women who competed in the last Olympic Games were described as “prostitutes” by hardline clerics back home and the Saudi consultant to the Olympic Committee has even proposed this year, 2015, that Saudi Arabia be allowed to host the Games – but with no women at all taking part!
At a recent book fair in Jeddah, where books by female Saudi writers were displayed and women took part in Q and A panels (and even Donald Trumps’ books were on display), 2 men got up and protested when a female poet started quoting poetry from her new book.
One of the men, addressing the audience, asked, “Do you accept that a woman recites poetry?” Fortunately, the audience responded with an unequivocal ‘yes’ and the two men were escorted out.
In Saudi Arabia the roots of all this, on the surface at least, lie in Wahaabism the official religion of the State founded on the teachings of Muhammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab, an 18th century cleric from the remote eastern interior of Arabia.
The main tenets of this religious philosophy is that there is only one God, Allah, and any that do not believe in him are unbelievers or apostates. The sectarian philosophy also does not believe in the worship and revering of clerics or saints and that there should be no shrines or places of worship other than those purely devoted to the “one God” (as defined by them).
This therefore excludes the Shiite Moslems who have numerous shrines and places of pilgrimage. In fact, in the original Wahaabi doctrines, jihad, or holy war against all “unbelievers”, including all other Moslems, was fully permissible.
In its extreme form Wahaabism forbids the “performing or listening to music, dancing, fortune telling, amulets, television programs (unless religious), smoking, playing backgammon, chess, or cards, drawing human or animal figures, acting in a play or writing fiction” and even the keeping or petting of dogs.
As far as women are concerned, they are forbidden to travel or work outside the home without their husband’s permission on the grounds that their “different physiological and biological structure” means they have a different family role to play, and if the husband does give permission to his wife to work outside the home, it can be withdrawn at any time.
As mentioned before, Wahhabism also forbids the driving of motor vehicles by women and sexual intercourse out of wedlock may be punished with beheading – although sex outside marriage is permissible with a “slave woman” (though probably not a woman with a “slave man” of course?).
(Just as well as Prince Bandar bin Sultan [former ambassador to the US and director of Saudi Intelligence] was the result of a “brief union” between his father, Sultan bin Abdul Aziz and a 16 year old “black serving women” – though slavery has since been “formerly banned” in the kingdom.)
In all of this it is easy to see the where the Islamic State gets its basic tenets and “vindication” from, offering a “pure” form of Islam which is “justified” in taking over the world (See last week’s post on The Anatomy of an Islamic State Jihadist).
Wahaabism has been so successful because it formed an alliance with the militarily aggressive House of Saud back in the 18th century, eventually taking over the whole of the Arabian peninsular, and more recently because of the billions of dollars of oil revenue monies used to promote it.
The result however is a bloody and deadly sectarian schism in Islam between the Sunni (of which Wahaabism is a part) and Shia branch descendants of Prophet Mohammad. Until this is sorted the Middle East and many other parts of the Islamic world will remain a mess.
However, the apparent misogynist aspects of Islam, Wahaabi or otherwise, are not restricted to males of the Moslem religion, they are still too common in the rest of the world.
Here in the UK, British boxer, Tyson Fury, who became WBA World Heavyweight Champion in November 2015, recently caused controversy by declaring that “a woman’s best place is in the kitchen and on her back – that’s my personal belief.”
Undoubtedly, he should keep his “personal beliefs” to himself, but I suspect that covertly a lot of men, wherever they are in the world, think the same way.
Such beliefs, in my view, are based on fear, pure and simple.
Again, as I have often written, our values are formed in childhood and if we grow up with bullying mothers, for whatever reason, and/or are encouraged by other males in the absurd notion that somehow men are “superior”, then we are more likely to gravitate to a male ethos that tries to suppress women in adulthood.
In fact it may be that suppression of women in the Islamic world and elsewhere which contributes to the disdain and disrespect that males show as adults towards women, is sometimes started by frustrated women taking out there anger at exclusion from full participation in the world, on their male (and female) children. And so the circle of deprivation and loss continues into the future.
The key to accelerating change is female education, as Malala Yousafzai, the 18 year old Pakistani, Noble Peace Prize winner has championed and to which, unsurprisingly, the Taliban and the Islamic State remain fiercely opposed.
At the Jeddah book fair mentioned earlier, the Saudi Minister of Education and Information, Adel al-Toraifi, said that an Arab reads six minutes a day, compared to the world average of 36 minutes.
He also said that the Arab world prints 27,809 books a year, which translates into 12,000 Arabs getting one book.
Compare that with China which publishes 440,000 books a year and the United States and the UK which publish just under 500,000 books a year between them.
Hopefully, the spread of and access to the Internet (when its male viewers are not accessing pornography) can help to change all that.
Peter Clifford – 16th December 2015
TIMELINE – 11th FEBRUARY 2015 14.03 GMT:
FOR MORE SYRIA AND IRAQ NEWS CLICK: HERE
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:
CLICK FOR MORE SYRIA NEWS
For further current news, views and information on Syria and Iraq click HERE:
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:
CLICK FOR MORE SYRIA NEWS
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. Al Jazeera has a video of prisoners being released from Idlib prison, 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.
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.
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. Video footage of the aftermath of the airstrike showed no military targets or Opposition fighters in sight.
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.
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”.
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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TIMELINE – 24th JANUARY 2013 14.53 GMT:
As Opposition forces make sudden advances in the southern province of Deraa and fighting with Government forces escalates, refugees flood into Jordan.
According to the Jordan Times late on Tuesday night, authorities had recorded 6,000 people crossing in a 12 hour period, just part of the 20,000 taken in in just over a week.
The Jordanian Government has appealed for international help in coping with the estimated 300,000 Syrian refugees sheltering in its country, 60-70,000 alone in the Za’atari refugee camp north of the capital Amman.
The BBC has a video report, HERE:
Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters have overrun several Army checkpoints within Deraa city itself and captured the nearby towns of Bosra and Ghabagheb.
Bosra in an ancient city with a citadel and a UNESCO World Heritage site Roman amphitheatre, one of the finest of its kind in the world.
The FSA have also attacked the 25th border police station in the town of Tal Shihab near the Jordanian border and continue to thwart regime attempts to take the Basr Harir suburb of Deraa.
Jet and missile attacks on FSA positions in Deraa have been reported this morning, further adding to the desperation of civilians to leave.
Similarly, the Syrian Air Force is continuing to strike the Damascus suburbs of Daraya, Douma, Moadamiyat al-Sham and Aqraba, where 3 Government tanks, in addition to a number of armoured vehicles, were destroyed by Opposition fighters yesterday. 8 jet strikes on Daraya have been recorded this morning, Thursday, alone.
There was also violent shelling yesterday on the Palestinian refugee camp of Husainiya, with many deaths.
Scud missiles, believed to have been fired from the Government’s Talkalakh base near Homs, came down on the Al-Bab suburb of Abu Taltal and in Kaljebrin, both in Aleppo province in the north, killing at least 23 people including a couple and their 3 children, the Hazrouni family from Abu Taltal.
Overall, at least 146 deaths were reported across Syria yesterday, Wednesday.
In Aleppo city itself, video analysis of the second bomb explosion on January 15th at Aleppo University, which killed at least 87, has revealed that it was almost certainly a rocket/missile strike, undermining the Government claims that the deaths were caused by car bombs.
The Government’s alternative claim was that they were “terrorist” missiles aimed at aircraft that had missed their targets, but the size of the explosions, the likely trajectory and distance travelled are not consistent with this theory either.
Slowed down the video reveals a missile coming in from the top right (near top of lamppost), HERE:
There are also unconfirmed reports today, Thursday, that Opposition fighters have breached the perimeter and entered Menegh military airport, a key Government installation near Aleppo. More information as it arrives.
Other reports confirm that Opposition fighters have taken the Al-Ghouna oil field in Hasaka province, HERE: and that another group of fighters have blown up the oil pipeline to the refinery on the Mediterranean coast near Banias.
In Raqqa city in the north-east, Opposition fighters staged an attack on the central prison, killing many Government troops, while the Syrian National Coalition is reported to have intervened to try and stop fighting at Ras Al-Ayn between Jihadists and Kurdish militia, both of whom are against the Assad regime but fighting each other for control of the area.
In Moscow, the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov did his best to play down the evacuation of Russian citizens from Syria via Lebanon on Tuesday, denying that is part of a wider plan.
However, he did admit that the families of Russian diplomats had been evacuated earlier and at least 1,000 people of Russian extraction or married to Russian citizens had expressed a desire to their Damascus embassy to leave Syria.
One returning Russian woman, Natasha Yunis, who is married to a Syrian and ran a beauty salon in Damascus, said, “The Free Syrian Army is getting closer. We’ve been left without money, without light, without water. A bomb exploded near our house … The children hid”.
In the event, the 2 flights that Russia organised from Beirut contained only 77 people, but there are as many as 30,000 of Russian origin living in Syria at the last count. The BBC has a short video report, HERE:
Sergie Lavrov also lashed out at the Syrian Opposition and their “obsession” with the ousting of President Assad before any talks could take place, saying, “As long as this irreconcilable position remains in place, nothing good can happen. Armed actions will continue and people will die.”
Conversely, the Saudi Foreign Minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, said it was “inconceivable” to negotiate with anyone who “carpet-bombed” his “own country, his own history and his own people”.
Meanwhile, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Turkey’s Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, said, “There should be a clear signal to the Syrian regime that what they have been doing, bombarding cities by airplanes, is a war crime,” adding that he expected the U.N. Security Council to step in “to stop this bloodshed.”
The UN’s humanitarian chief Valerie Ann Amos, sitting alongside him, said, “The humanitarian situation in Syria is already catastrophic and it’s clearly getting worse. What we are seeing now are the consequences of the failure of the international community to unite to resolve the crisis.”
Back in Syria more detail emerged about Assad’s new Syrian Defence Force, designed to defend neighbourhoods from Opposition attack. The first of the units passed out and paraded after training at a football stadium in Homs.
The first Women’s unit has 450 recruits aged between 18 and 50 and they are on duty manning checkpoints 4 hours a day and the rest of their time carrying on with their normal jobs.
The women’s training includes “shooting Kalashnikovs, machineguns, handling grenades, attacking opposition checkpoints, controlling our checkpoints, conducting raids and courses on military tactics,” said a commander. You can read more, HERE: and see a video of the women’s passing out parade, HERE:
Lastly, in a feat of over-optimistic illusion, the Syrian Government’s Religious Endowments Minster, Mohammed Abdel Settar, called for a “million-man prayers” in mosques this Friday to “appeal for the re-establishment of security in the country” (EDITOR: On the Government’s terms of course).
“Syria”, he burbled on, “Will prevail against the conspiracy launched by hostile states, carried out by their proxies and slaves, and led by Wahhabi infidels from abroad” (referring to the strict Wahhabi fundamentalism based in Saudi Arabia).
An interesting article also emerged in Al-Arabiya, claiming that Assad had told the UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi on his last visit that he was in fact to prepared to sacrifice and destroy Damascus if necessary in order to win the war. You can read more, HERE:
While Assad sits in his comfortable presidential palace and rants and schemes, 100’s of thousands of his countrymen now suffer. Al Jazeera has a video report of the appalling conditions in the Atmeh refugee camp, the only one in Syria, as the refugees live in fear and struggle to survive, HERE:
TIMELINE – 22nd JANUARY 2012 14.55 GMT:
The war came yet closer to the regime’s supporters in Damascus over the weekend when for the first time the electricity went out for a prolonged period in the upmarket areas in the centre of the capital, including affecting properties owned by the Assad family and the President’s businessman cousin Rami Maklouf.
The power failed on Sunday night and was out for at least 22 hours. The Electricity Minister, Imad Khamis, blamed the outage on “terrorists”, saying that they had brought down high-voltage power lines and it had affected sub-stations and generators.
He expected power to be fully restored to the capital by this morning, Tuesday.
For President Assad’s supporters it was, despite all the Government’s desperate reassurances, another sign that war closes in on Damascus and the end is approaching. Opposition fighters are reported fighting within 800 metres of Damascus Old City, once a tourist destination and a UNESCO World Heritage site.
One local resident said, “Inside Damascus’ Old City, you can’t escape the muffled sounds of shelling and fighter jets and even machine guns fired off nearby”.
To add to the misery and desperation, the Syrian Government yesterday raised the prices of petrol, wheat and flour. 95-octane gasoline (petrol) went up to 60 Syrian pounds ($0.75) per litre, flour from the equivalent price of $419 per ton to $434 and soft wheat, needed to make bread which is already in short supply,to the equivalent of $337, up from $321.
Last week the Government increased the price of diesel and heating oil by 40% to 35 Syrian pounds ($0.43) per litre, but on the black market it is already being valued at 115 Syrian pounds ($1.15) per litre.
The extent of the queues for fuel in the capital can be seen in Khalid Bin Waleed Street, filmed, HERE:
The increased price announcements were followed by another explosion on Monday in the wealthy area of Dumar in Damascus causing an unknown number of deaths.
Not surprising then that Jordan has reported another huge influx of 12,000 Syrian refugees in just the last 6 days, over 25,000 having crossed the border since January 1st.
Jordan says it is hosting 300,000 refugees, 176,000 of whom are registered with UNHCR, the UN refugee organisation. The UN is predicting 1.1 million Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries by June if the war does not end soon.
Two shells from an unknown source landed near the Russian embassy in Damascus on Saturday, perhaps prompting the airlift of “100” Russian citizens announced yesterday. As heavy fighting continues along the road to the International Airport and it remains closed to civilian aircraft, the Russians said they would bus their citizens to Beirut in Lebanon, where “2 planes” would be waiting to take them to Moscow.
(EDITOR: Quite why “2 planes” is unclear. Either the Russians have very small aircraft or they are moving all the fat people first!)
In the event, reports from Russian diplomats say that as many as 150 people were being bussed from Damascus this morning, Tuesday, and more will be moved “as and when required”.
Russian naval ships are currently carrying out exercises in the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, which include the use of landing craft and removing people from the shore.
Yet again there are also renewed reports from Dubai (reported on this blog some time ago) that Assad’s Mother, Anisa Makhlouf, has taken up residence there with other members of the Assad family.
Bushra Al -Assad, who has broken with the President, Bashar Al-Assad, several times, moved to Dubai in September and enrolled her 5 children in a private school after her husband was killed in a FSA bomb explosion in Damascus.
And in yet another desperate move the Assad Government has also formed a paramilitary force called the “National Defense Army” which will made up of men and women who were formally members of the “popular local committees”, most of whom are loyal members of the ruling Ba’ath Party and from all sects in Syrian society.
According to reports the members of the new armed militia are being trained in guerrilla warfare techniques to defend their own neighbourhoods by “advisers” from Iran and members of Hezbollah, the Lebanese armed militants.
The new force is already reported to be active in Homs province, supposedly leaving the Syrian Army free to fight elsewhere.
Similarly, the FSA is busy also training its recruits in urban warfare. This Al Jazeera video report, filmed at a captured army base on the outskirts of Damascus, shows the realistic training exercises, HERE:
Heavy fighting continues around Damascus, the regime sending yet more reinforcements to attack the Opposition held suburb of Daraya and even pounding it with ground to ground Grad missiles, not caring who they kill. Continuous airstrikes are also being reported on Douma and the East Ghouta region, another centre of Opposition strength, with successive rocket attacks on an area between Hamouriyeh and Jisreen.
Further north in Idlib province, the FSA has announced a campaign to free Idlib city from Assad regime control and on Monday launched attacks against 7 heavily armed Government checkpoints on the outskirts of the provincial capital.
A ground attack on Ma’arrat al-Numan has been repelled, HERE: and 3 tanks and an armoured vehicle sent there to reinforce the assault were destroyed.
In addition a checkpoint between Ma’arrat al-Numan and Khan Shaykhoun has been freed from government forces, opening another route towards Latakia, which many consider will be the Assad regime’s last stronghold.
However, the FSA is already well entrenched in Latakia province, local fighters using their extensive knowledge of the mountains to their advantage and holding large areas of territory. An excellent article on the looming fight for Latakia, HERE:
In Aleppo province heavy fighting continues in all areas, but particularly around Quwayres airbase, HERE: Within Aleppo city itself, the water supply suddenly came on again, causing citizens to rush around filling containers of drinking water before it was shut off again.
In Hama province on Monday at the Alawite town of Salamiya, east of the provincial capital, a suicide bomber blew up a car outside the local headquarters of the popular committee and the Shabiha. At least 30 people were reported killed, including a number of leading members of the local and regional Ba’ath Party.
Regime forces plus Shabiha accompanied by Hezbollah fighters have continued a major onslaught on the neighbourhoods of Jobar and Sultaniya and the village of Kafara’aya near Homs and heavy attacks are reported on Opposition positions near Deraa in the south and at Deir el-Zoiur and Raqqa.
In the extreme north-east clashes are also continuing between Jihadists and the Kurdish Popular Protection Units in Ras al-Ayn near the Turkish border, killing at least 56 fighters on both sides over the last 6 days.
In Istanbul, the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) meeting over the weekend failed to reach consensus on the make-up of a “transitional government” and an attempt to elect former Syrian prime minister Riad Hijab as leader of the new administration-in-exile did not come to fruition.
Instead, the President of the SNC, Moaz Alkhatib, left the meeting early to fly to Qatar to try and garner financial guarantees for a new government, if and when it comes into power. The Opposition politicians are due to meet in Paris on 28th January to discuss their plans with 20 supporter countries.
Yesterday also saw the arrival by sea and the unloading of the first NATO Patriot Missile systems from Germany in the Turkish port of İskenderun. They will now be transported by road to their positions near the Turkish – Syrian border and be fully operational early in February. The BBC has a video report, HERE:
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TIMELINE – 20th JANUARY 2012 14.25 GMT:
Perhaps signalling a sign of its desperation, the Assad regime’s Foreign Minister, Walid Muallem, said yesterday that the “nationalistic Opposition” could join a Cabinet, if they agreed to “lay down their arms” and rejected foreign intervention.
Appearing completely delusional, he also said that any discussion of President Bashar al-Assad’s future was “unacceptable”, knowing full well that the Opposition will hold no talks with Government until Assad has stood down. The main Opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, also welcome foreign intervention and there is therefore no chance of Muallem’s offer becoming a reality.
Seemingly acknowledging though that Assad is presiding over a “sinking ship”, Muallem said, “The US continues to have the president’s departure as a condition of regime change, ignoring the fact that the captain of a capsized ship does not jump into the first boat”.
That he should make such suggestions at this time is interesting, as clearly the Syrian Army are unable to push back the Opposition fighters and the Free Syrian Army and their independent allies continue to chip away at territory around Aleppo, in the rural areas and in the suburbs of Damascus.
The Army has been trying to retake the capital suburb of Daraya for 2 months but has not succeeded, despite bombarding it continuously.
Daraya was the subject of rocket and jet attacks again yesterday and today, Sunday, and dozens are reported killed or injured. 80 explosions were heard in Daraya on Saturday morning alone and Government tanks continue to shell the area indiscriminately as can be seen in this video footage, HERE:
The strain is also being felt in central Damascus where many people from the suburbs have now moved and been taken in by relatives or friends. Some houses are reported to be accommodating as many as 30 to 50 people and bread queues are starting to stretch into waits that last hours.
Inside the “Damascus Bubble”, citizens still drink hot chocolate inside cafes and civil servants still get on public transport to go to work, but the petrol queues now snake around the block and talk is of “high energy biscuits”, food normally reserved for countries in famine.
The BBC’s Lyse Doucet reports from Damascus, HERE:
In more rural areas, local residents have now taken to illegally cutting down trees in order to provide fuel for cooking and to keep warm. Al Jazeera has a video report, HERE:
Lyse Doucet has also now filed a video report and an updated article on the massacre at Hasawiya. What has emerged is that this was the work of the Alawite militia, the Shabiha, and latest reports suggest that as many as 150 died in the village.
Off camera women talk of how they were stripped naked and 44 were raped. Up to 100 men may have been kidnapped and the BBC saw of evidence of executed bodies that had been burnt in an attempt to destroy the evidence. The BBC has an article and video report (moderately gruesome), HERE:
This latest outrage prompted Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, to plead with the UN Security Council to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for investigation, but Russia and China remain intransigent, continuing to block any move that criticises President Assad. Syria has never signed up to be an ICC member and the Security Council is the only body that can order such an investigation.
Pillay’s plea followed hard on a letter sponsored by Switzerland and now signed by 58 countries to the Security Council making a similar request.
Muallem, Syria’s Foreign Minister, accused some of the signatories of using “deceit and double standards”, requesting a human rights investigation on one hand and supplying weapons and ammunition to the Opposition on the other.
In Aleppo this morning, Sunday, it is reported from the FSA that Opposition forces have taken Base 599, one of the military emplacements defending Aleppo International Airport and there are heavy clashes around the Muhallab military barracks in the Sabeel district.
At the Menegh helicopter base, Opposition forces are able to freely survey the airfield and are within shooting distance of the aircraft remaining, HERE:
Russia, in another sign of the increasing isolation of Syria’s largest city, has suspended the operation of its consulate in Aleppo.
In the extreme north-east in Ras Al Ayn, the Kurdish National Council has called on the Syrian Opposition to stop Jihadists shelling Kurdish militia positions with tanks and heavy machine guns. Several hundred Jihadists crossed from Turkey earlier in the week and there is some suspicion that the Turkish authorities, in support of their own campaign against Kurdish militants both inside and outside Turkey, are encouraging the conflict between the two sides.
In Hasaka province, clashes between the Syrian Army and Kurdish Defence Units are being reported around the village of Karzero, just east of Al-Rmeilan city, Syria’s oil capital. The Syrian Army reportedly retreated under fire and 24 soldiers are said to have defected.
Lastly, on the “unconfirmed report” front there is one that the head of the police in Latakia has defected and another that a defected MIG pilot has attacked Assad military sites in the mainly Alawite neighbourhood of the mixed sect town of Moadamiyat al-Sham near Damascus.
At first Opposition activists thought the plane was attacking Opposition targets, but after several rocket strikes and the activation of Syrian Government air-defence systems, they concluded that the pilot had turned against the Assad regime. What happened to him or the plane is not know.
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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, and a destroyed helicopter, still with the bodies of Assad’s dead troops inside it.
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”.
This raw footage shows smoke rising from the University and the moment of the second explosion.
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.
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.
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 the picture of guys smuggling plastic cans of gasoline from Iraq to Syria on their backs, through the snow with open-toed sandals.
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: