REFUGEES FLOOD INTO JORDAN AS FSA GAINS

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AS FSA MAKE RAPID GAINS AROUND DERAA IN SOUTHERN SYRIA “FLOOD” OF REFUGEES TO JORDAN TURNS INTO A “TORRENT”:

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.

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New Arrivals at Za’atari Refugee Camp, 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.

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Ancient Amphiitheatre in Bosra

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.

VIDEO ANALYSIS OF ATTACK ON ALEPPO UNIVERSITY SUGGESTS THAT ASSAD GOVERNMENT IS ALMOST CERTAINLY LYING ABOUT ITS COMPLICITY:

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.

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Second Missile Strike Caught on Video

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 Homs, Government shelling and rocket attacks continue on Opposition held areas such as Jobar, HERE:  and in nearby Al Qusair heavy clashes between the 2 sides are reported, HERE:

In Raqqa city in the north-east, Opposition fighters staged an attack on the central prison, killing many Government troops, HERE: , 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.

RUSSIANS PLAY-DOWN SIGNIFICANCE OF 1ST EVACUATIONS WHILE ASSAD GOVERNMENT OPTIMISTICALLY CALLS FOR A “MILLION-MAN PRAYERS” THIS FRIDAY TO SAVE THE REGIME:

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. 

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Russian Refugees Arrive in Moscow from Syria

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”.

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UN’s Valerie Amos & Turkish Foreign Minister in Davos

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. 

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40 Year Old, Abir Ramadan. Syrian Defence Force

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:

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WAR CLOSES IN ON DAMASCUS

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WAR CLOSES IN ON DAMASCUS ELITE AS THE POWER GOES OUT AND PRICES OF ESSENTIAL COMMODITIES RISE:

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.

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Central Damascus Suffers Severe Power Cut

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.

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Gasoline Queues Now Commonplace

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.

ASSAD’S RUSSIAN ALLIES AND HIS FAMILY MEMBERS STARTING TO “ABANDON SHIP” AS PRESSURE INCREASES:

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.

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Russia Sends 2 Planes to Collect its Citizens

(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.

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Female Members of the New Syrian Defence Force – AFP

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: 

FSA LAUNCHES CAMPAIGN TO CAPTURE IDLIB CITY BUT OUTSIDE SYRIA OPPOSITION POLITICIANS FAIL TO MAKE HEADWAY:

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.

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FSA Fighter Mans a Dushka Gun in Ma’arrat Al-Numan

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.

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Assads Oblivious to Killing in Their Name

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:

Lastly, to cheer us all up, some spectacularly funny “Whoops!” home-made weapons failures which even made the Opposition fighters laugh, courtesy of the Brown Moses Blog , HERE:  and HERE:

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Refugees Living in Caves in NE Syria

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ASSAD PRESIDING OVER “SINKING SHIP”

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SYRIAN FOREIGN MINISTER ACKNOWLEDGES ASSAD PRESIDING OVER A “SINKING SHIP”:

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.

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Assad Holding On as Syria Sinks

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:

A grad missile hits the suburb in slow motion, HERE:  and Daraya’s children bravely deal with their injuries, HERE: 

STRAIN OF WAR BEGINNING TO SHOW IN CENTRAL DAMASCUS AND LATEST MASSACRE PROMPTS PLEA FROM UN HIGH COMMISSIONER:

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.

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Buying Bread in Bulk While it’s Available

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:

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FSA Fighters Gather Round A Damaged Grave

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.

AS THEY CLOSE IN, OPPOSITION FIGHTERS TAKE ANOTHER MILITARY BASE DEFENDING ALEPPO INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT:

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.

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Aleppo’s Airport Remains Closed

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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Syrian MIG-21 that Defected to Jordan in June 2012

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ASSAD REGIME IN FRENZY Of ATTACKS

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ASSAD REGIME IN A FRENZY OF INDISCRIMINATE ATTACKS AFTER FALL OF AIRBASE, DELIBERATELY TARGETING CHILDREN AND CIVILIANS:

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.

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Captured Helicopter Gunship at Taftanaz

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.

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Assad Attacks Market at Azaz, Killing 20

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:

TWIN EXPLOSIONS AT ALEPPO UNIVERSITY WHILE STUDENTS SITTING EXAMS CAUSE 52+ DEATHS AND INJURE 160:

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.

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Unexplained Explosion at Aleppo University

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 Universityand the moment of the second explosion, HERE:  and the scene inside the university buildings afterwards, HERE:

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:

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Jihadist Fighters in Aleppo

 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.

RUMOURS THAT ASSAD AND FAMILY BASED OFFSHORE ON RUSSIAN SHIP AND HITLER LOSES IT HEARING OF ASSAD’S IMPENDING DEFEAT:

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:

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Hitler in a Rage over Assad’s Impending Defeat


LEEDS UNITED – ANOTHER BAHRAIN “DODGY DEAL”?

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LEEDS UNITED – ANOTHER “DODGY DEAL” COMING FROM BAHRAIN?

TIMELINE 30th SEPTEMBER 2012 15.05 GMT:

For months now the loyal fans of British football club Leeds United have been waiting not for news of the latest new player signing but for the details of a proposed takeover of their club by middle-east investors. Is this another “dodgy deal”?

http://www.petercliffonline.com/leeds-united-dodgy-deal

Leeds United Elland Road Football Ground – Reuters

A member of the Bahraini royal family, Sheikh Abdulrahman bin Mubarak Hamad Al Khalifa, who claimed to have “fallen in love with the club when he was 11 years old”, tried to take over Leeds United in 2003.

More recently he has been named as being involved with a consortium that has been negotiating with the football club’s owner – 80 year old Ken Bates – all summer.

Sheikh Abdulrahman is also well known in the UK for an alleged betting debt in excess of £350,000 (BHD207,230 or $565,000) which he is reputed to have owed to the British betting firm Spreadex since 2008. (See previous article: “Fake Sheikhs and Bahrain’s Fake Olympic Team” )

In the murky world of Middle East finance, it is likely that the Sheikh is still involved somewhere along the line, but his name was not mentioned when it was announced this week that an outfit called “GFH Capital” from Dubai have signed an agreement to take over the club.

Although financial details have not been released, it is thought the price the group is paying for Ken Bates shareholding is around £50 million (BHD 30,274,234 or $80.8 million dollars).

Four businessmen associated with GFH Capital attended last week’s game at the Elland Road ground, when Leeds beat Nottingham Forest 2-1, including the deputy chief executive officer of GFH Capital, David Haigh, and their chief investment officer, Salem Patel.

While Leeds United is currently in the second tier Championship League, it has potential to move up to the Premier League in the future. http://www.petercliffordonline.com/leeds-united-dodgy-deal

According to Patel, one of the their interests in the football club is that, despite having financial troubles in the past, it currently has no debt other than its ongoing lease.

GFH Capital hope to acquire the Elland Road site at some time in the future.

But their main interest is without a doubt that as from next season broadcasting rights for Premium League clubs will be a minimum of £60 million. 

If Leeds, to the delight of their fans no doubt, can return to the top league, then £60 million would soon cover any interest payments that GFH Capital will probably be paying on money they will have borrowed to buy the club in the first place.

PARENT COMPANY OF BUYER OF LEEDS UNITED ACCUSED OF “DODGY DEALS” :

Apart from David Haigh (whose parents were from Leeds apparently and who also set up the political group “Conservatives in the Gulf” ) and Salam Patel, also present at last week’s game in Ken Bates’ director’s box was Hisham Alrayes, currently acting CEO of Gulf Finance House (GFH) of Bahrain.

GFH are 100% owners of GFH Capital, its subsidiary, and GFH’s  Chairman, Esam Janahi, who was unavailable for last week’s meeting with Bates for “personal reasons”, has a long history of financial dealing across the Middle East, India and beyond.

http://www.petercliffordonline.com/leeds-united-dodgy-deal

Leeds Deal – Another Red Card?

However, red cards have been raised over the ability of GFH, which has suffered from the world economic crisis and in particular from falling land prices in Bahrain, to properly fund the Leeds deal.

Exotix, an investment firm that specialises in distressed assets, says in a research note that GFH is at “serious risk of default” and that its operations were not producing significant cash enabling it to pay future debts. “We remain wary of GFH’s ability to carry on as a going concern …” the research note continued.

According to Exotix, GFH has total debt amounting to $252 million and in May it received permission from creditors to restructure a $110 million debt that was outstanding. The National has further information, HERE:

A letter dated May 14 from the group’s auditors, KPMG, apparently says GFH “had accumulated losses of $300.69 million contractual obligations… and its current contractual obligations exceeded its liquid assets”.  In other words, GFH already owes more than the value of any saleable assets that it holds.

While GFH Capital is a separate legal entity with its own funds and balance sheet, some are concerned that it plans to purchase Leeds with debt that could be put on the club’s balance sheet, an approach used in several foreign takeovers of English football clubs, notably Liverpool and Manchester United. More in the Independent, HERE:

AS USUAL BAHRAIN’S ROYAL FAMILY HAS ITS FINGERS IN THE PIE:

GFH is well known in Bahrain for building the twin glass towers in the Financial Harbour district of Manama, the capital, a controversial development whose expensive office blocks remain largely empty.

According to an article published by Reuters in June 2011, “Land in the Gulf Arab region is largely controlled by a small number of ruling families who use it as a kind of currency, doling out plots to favored families and developers to forge political relationships and make money.

http://www.petercliffordonline.com/leeds-united-dodgy-deals

Esam Janahi – The New Owner of LUFC?

For it to work, the system depends on businessmen like Janahi, merchants who ostensibly operate independently from the state but whose success rests, at least in part, on political connections”.

“Our investigation shows,” continues Reuters, “The company charged investors huge markups on land deals and took out enormous up-front fees. 

Such fees are legal in the Gulf but western bankers say they would be highly unusual in Europe or the United States, where the industry collects big payouts only when a project is successfully built and sold.

Documents obtained show that GFH, which has teetered on the brink of collapse for several months [2011], also sometimes shifted investor money from one project to plug holes in another. The documents also suggest that GFH’s property projects were hurt by blurred lines between the personal interests of Janahi [the Chairman] and GFH itself. Investments and payments seemed to move back and forth between the two with very little scrutiny”.

Reuters says that “investors in GFH have been left with huge losses — $1.07 billion in 2009 and 2010 — and plenty of questions about whether the company’s myriad projects were ever going to be built in the first place”.

More recently GFH reported a profit of $4.7 million in the 2nd quarter of 2012, compared with a loss of $11.2 million in the same period a year earlier.

http://www.petercliffordonline.com/leeds-united-dodgy-deal

Bahrain’s Prime Minister for 42 Years

There are also questions around the connections of Bahrain’s dictators, the Al Khalifa family with GFH.

Documents shown to Reuters suggest that the “Ministry of Finance transferred the land on which GFH built its towers to the Bahrain Financial Harbour Company in 2003.

Bankers with knowledge of the deal say Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa, who has governed Bahrain since independence four decades ago, granted the land in return for a 50 percent stake in the project. The other 50 percent was owned by GFH”.

The Bahrain Financial Harbour Company is chaired by Sheikh Rashid Khalifa Hamad al-Khalifa, the antique Prime Minister’s son-in-law, just another member of the ruling family that holds 50% of the Government’s cabinet positions and controls almost every other aspect of Bahrain’s political life, economy, judiciary, military and security forces and its media.

“Local bankers estimate GFH raised a total of $5 billion between 2002 and 2011 – much of that money is still locked up in unfinished projects”. You can read much more detail of on GFH’s “dodgy deals” in the Reuters special report, HERE:

For the majority of Bahrainis, the Financial Harbour and companies like GFH have come to symbolise everything they hate about the Al Khalifa Government, accusing it of corruption, lack of transparency, torture, human rights abuse and the trial of dissidents who oppose it, on false charges.

Commenting on the takeover of Leeds United by the Bahraini financial conglomerate, Gary Cooper, Chairman of the Leeds United Supporters Trust, said, “We’re hoping for investment in the team and for Leeds United to be glorious again”.

Leeds was relegated from the Premier League in 2004. With the right investment, good management and purchasing power to buy more first-class players, it stands a chance of making a significant come back.

However, given the risks with GFH, lets hope its fans are not left yet again with a club weighed down with financial problems – but this time with the added tarnish of being run and financed by leading members of one of the world’s most suppressive dictatorships.

(Bahrain is 173 out of 179, just below China, Iran and Syria on the Press Freedom Index and 144 out of 167, three places below China, on the Democracy Index

http://www.petercliffordonline.com/leeds-united-dodgy-deal

 


THE SAD “JOKE” OF JUSTICE IN BAHRAIN

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Not content with imposing an extreme prison sentence of 3 years on Nabeel Rajab, President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, for “illegal assembly”, the Bahrain Government’s Minister of State for Media Affairs, ironically called Samera Rajab, gave a press conference on Saturday responding to widespread international criticism of the sentence and virtually blaming Nabeel Rajab personally for most of Bahrain’s problems.

http://www.petercliffordonline.com/joke-justice-in-bahrain

Nabeel Rajab Facing Long Prison Term

The minister claimed firstly that Nabeel Rajab had had a “free and fair trial”.

This of course is impossible when the king, his family and the administration to whom you are opposed also make, impose and administer the laws and control the judiciary. With members of the ruling Al Khalifa family acting as judges (no jury), who is going to oppose their wishes?

Although Nabeel Rajab has the right of appeal and the expectation (or at least hope) is that the term of the sentence will be reduced, 3 years is extreme by any measure. In any Western country a fine, a conditional discharge would be more likely or a worst a couple of weeks in prison for a repeat offence – but 3 years?

This is nothing but spite and vindictiveness and an attempt to remove the leadership of the protest movement. (EDITOR: Bring on a new generation of leaders I say!)

http://www.petercliffordonline.com/joke-justice-in-bahrain

Information Affairs Minister Samera Rajab – GDN

In her press conference (reported in the Gulf Daily News as “Justice Done”!) the Minister then went on to claim that Nabeel Rajab’s call to protest “are reported to have caused riots, road blocks, fires, and destruction of public and private property”.

Where is the direct evidence for that? Especially as Nabeel has a reputation for opposing violence and has only ever promoted peaceful demonstration.

But he is also now responsible not only for his own behaviour but apparently for that of everyone who opposes the Al Khalifa Government! In fact, violence has arisen because the frustration after more than a year – actually generations – of failure by the Government to respond to calls for democracy and sectarian equality, has boiled over into anger.

“These acts of incitement and direct participation,” the Minister blathered on, “Have compromised public order and the safety of citizens through the use of petrol bombs, along with other improvised weapons, against public and private property; as well as assault against police officers, leaving a number of them injured”.

(This is the same Information Minister whose criteria for “justice” is based on an  expressed  admiration for Sadam Hussein, the former dictator in Iraq!)

So now Nabeel is also responsible for “petrol bombing”, the use of “improvised weapons”, destruction of “public and private property”, “assaulting police officers” and “leaving a number of them injured”.

As Nabeel Rajab has never done any of these things personally and there was no evidence to show that he had or has ever incited anyone else to do them, there can be no doubt that both his arrest, trial and sentence are purely, 100% political and therefore vindictive.

http://www.petercliffordonline.com/joke-justice-in-bahrain

Samera Rajab Expresses Her Admiration for Dictator Sadam Hussein

On top of all that Nabeel Rajab is, according to the Minister responsible as well for “direct negative impact on economic and commercial activity in those areas of the capital which have prompted proprietors and businesses owners to request intervention from the Ministry of Interior to protect their interests and immediate safety”.

So somehow Nabeel has managed to “ruin the economy of Bahrain” as well. Nothing to do then with the violence perpetrated by the security forces against protesters and the excessive use of teargas and shotgun pellets?

They will be blaming him next for the sharp rise in insurance premiums to cruise liner companies preventing them from calling at Manama and to Bahrain’s failure to win more than one bronze medal at the Olympics! You can read the full report at the Information Affairs Authority (IAA) website, HERE:

Meanwhile, other leading Opposition figures, Zainab AlKhawaja, her father Abdulhadi AlKhawaja and 12 other of his compatriots all sit in jail as trials and appeals are delayed time after time on the whim of the presiding judge on the day.

http://www.petercliffordonline.com/joke-justice-in-bahrain

Abdulhadi AlKhawaja

The justice system in Bahrain is a joke and testimony to the ignorance of the ruling Al Khalifa family who think they can continue to suppress the legitimate claims of the majority of their population for democracy and the right to freedom of expression and assembly.

This stupid obstinacy will cost them dearly – eventually. Suppression breeds resistance – a law of nature. Extreme suppression breeds extreme resistance. History and the political direction of the 21st century are not on the Al Khalifas’ side. Sumood! (Steadfast!)

Please sign and support the AVAAZ petition to free Nabeel Rajab, HERE:

http://www.petercliffordonline.com/joke-justice-in-bahrain

FREE NABEEL RAJAB FROM THE AL KHALIFA DICTATORSHIP IN BAHRAIN

More than 5000 people worldwide have signed in the last 3 weeks.


TIME TO BRING ASSAD TO THE ICC

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ASSAD JET COMMITS WAR CRIME AT AZAZ – 40 CIVILIANS KILLED, UP TO 150 INJURED – I MAN “TODAY I BURIED 12 MEMBERS OF MY FAMILY”:

TIMELINE – 16th AUGUST 2012 12.15 GMT:

Around 3.00 pm local time yesterday afternoon, Wednesday, one of Assad’s MIG fighter jets screamed low over the FSA controlled town of Azaz in northern Syria near the Turkish border and delivered its deadly cargo of bombs.

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

Injured Woman Arrives at Field Hospital in Azaz – AP

Its targets were the former Ba’ath Party headquarters, now the HQ of the local FSA and a detention block nearby currently housing regime prisoners, Assad officials and members of the Shabiha.

Neither building was damaged. Azaz is a key town in the supply of food, medical supplies and probably ammunition and weapons to the FSA units fighting in Aleppo 30 miles (45 kilometres) away.

Instead the bombs fell on a residential block completely flattening dozens of houses over a 4,900 square metre area, instantly killing 40 civilians and injuring between 100 and 150 others.

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

Deadly Destruction by Assad Jet in Azaz

Houses on surrounding streets were also significantly damaged with collapsed walls and ceilings and shattered windows.

Families were resting at home together during the fasting hours of Ramadan.

The casualties have been moved as quickly as possible to Turkey for treatment but hospitals are struggling to cope with the influx. A further 15 are reported to have died since they were sent to hospital.

One resident. “Ahmed”, described how he buried 12 members of his family as a result of this airstrike.

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

Houses Destroyed at Azaz

“I was about 100 meters away from the house when I saw the airplane and heard the sound of the bombing and destruction.

My three brothers lived here.

I buried 12 of my family members today, including my father, my mother, and my sister – my brother’s wife as well. Walid, my brother, was cut into pieces. We didn’t recognize him at first. We buried my brothers’ children also. The youngest was 40 days old”.

You can read and see more from Human Rights Watch (HRW), who were there on the ground documenting the attack shortly after it happened, HERE:

Al Jazeera also has a pretty grim video report (Caution: distressing pictures), HERE:

International humanitarian laws on war, prohibit direct acttacks on civilian targets. Clearly the Assad regime has shown complete disregard for this, over and over.

UN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION REPORTS ON MASSACRE OF 108 AT HOULA – “BLAME LIES AT THE HIGHEST LEVEL”:

Yesterday also the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva published a report on the massacre at Houla on the 25th May 2012 clearly attributing blame to Government forces and Assad’s armed militia, the Shabiha. The investigating commission interviewed more than 600 witnesses. 108 people were murdered, including 49 children and 34 women.

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

108 Buried at Houla After Massacre – Reuters

In part the report reads:

“The commission found reasonable grounds to believe that Government forces and the Shabbiha had committed the crimes against humanity of murder and of torture, war crimes and gross violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, including unlawful killing, torture, arbitrary arrest and detention, sexual violence, indiscriminate attack, pillaging and destruction of property.

The commission found that Government forces and Shabbiha members were responsible for the killings in Al-Houla.

The commission confirms its previous finding that violations were committed pursuant to State policy. Large-scale operations conducted in different governorates, their similar modus operandi, their complexity and integrated military-security apparatus indicate the involvement at the highest levels of the armed and security forces and the Government”.

The full report can be found here by clicking on “Advanced Edited Version” and the document will come up in Word.

The BBC has an interview with Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, the Chairman of the UN inquiry, HERE:

TIME TO BRING PRESIDENT BASHAR AL-ASSAD OF SYRIA TO THE INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT:

EDITOR: Following these 2 events yesterday I decided to take personal action and launched another petition on AVAAZ, this time a call to bring President Bashar al-Assad to justice at the International Criminal Court (ICC) to be tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

http://www.petercliffordonline.com/home

Bring Assad to the ICC for Crimes Against Humanity

No doubt Russia and China will block any attempt by the Security Council to refer Assad to the ICC, but if we get 1 million signatures even they will take notice!

You can access the petition HERE:

Please retweet on Twitter and spread by email and on Facebook, Pinterest and other social media. More than 300 signatures have come in over the first 2 days from countries all over the world, including Russia.

The short address to retweet the petition is: http://bit.ly/AssadToICC


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“FAKE SHEIKHS AND BAHRAIN’S FAKE OLYMPIC TEAM”

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TIMELINE – 31st JULY 2012 00.03 GMT:

This is a tale of the 3 “Fake Sheikhs” (there may be more) from Bahrain, who are not what they pretend to be, and the “fake Bahrain Olympic Team”.

“Fake Sheikh” No. 1 is Sheikh Abdulrahman bin Mubarak Hamad Al Khalifa, sometimes described as a “businessman” and a member of Bahrain’s ruling Al Khalifa family.

http://www.petercliffordonline.com/bahrain-news

Sheikh Abdulrahman bin Mubarak Hamad Al Khalifa

Normally, you would have expected Sheikh Abdulrahman, who seems to have a keen interest in gambling and horse racing in particularly, to have been at the famous Newmarket racecourse in the UK a couple of weeks ago, to see the fine racehorse Shantaram win the Bahrain Trophy.

Perhaps it was a pious attack of conscience at the approach of Ramadan that deterred him from attending?

Or perhaps it was the fact he now owes the British betting company Spreadex a reputed £350,000 (BD207,230) in lost bets.

Spreadex have been trying to get this back since 2008 when the Sheikh apparently owned a couple of racehorses called Dear Maurice and Royal Jazra.

Things did not work out too well and the horses were returned to their stables and Spreadex, despite appeals to the Bahrain Royal family, has been unable to get the money it is owed. http://www.petercliffordonline.com/bahrain-news

Now the Sheikh’s name has reappeared in the UK as heading a group of investors who are trying to buy the football club, Leeds United.

Leeds used to be a leading British club but in recent years have fallen on hard times despite having a strong fan base and they were relegated from the Premier League in 2004.

The Sheikh, who is a former president of Al Najma Football Club in Bahrain, tried and failed to buy Leeds United in 2003. At the time the Sheikh was quoted as saying:

“I fell in love with the club when I was 11 years old when Leeds played Chelsea in the 1970 FA Cup final. It was fated that I should love the club. Whether that fate will determine that I can save them 30 years later, I don’t know. Leeds mean everything to me, I was born to support them. Those who are closest to me, my friends and my family, know what Leeds United mean to me”.

(EDITOR: I am sure other members of the Al Khalifa family, and in fact all citizens of Bahrain, are deeply moved by his enthusiasm.)

The Leeds United board of directors has granted the Sheikh’s consortium time to conduct “due diligence” into the club’s financial records, but the clubs fans under the umbrella of the Leeds United Supporters Trust are getting impatient at what seems like a long delay.

“Our members want to support a transparent and open Leeds United and being kept in the dark about who currently owns or runs their football club does nothing to achieve this, ” said a Trust spokesman frustrated at the lack of information over takeover talks which have been going on for months now. The value of the bid is thought to be £50 million (BD 29.8 million).

Leeds fans may like to think long and hard before allowing  a member of Bahrain’s ruling family who have deliberately targeted, persecuted and prosecuted Bahraini sportsmen, to take over the running of their club.

EDITOR: If the Sheikh succeeds in his bid, fans may not be too keen on the long term outcome either. Spreadex are unavailable for comment.

SHEIKH NASSER ATTENDS GAMES TO SUPPORT BAHRAIN’S “FAKE OLYMPIC TEAM”:

“Fake Sheikh” No. 2 is of course Sheikh Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa who contributes to all sorts of charitable causes in Bahrain but is firmly on record accused, including in court transcripts, of persecuting and even personally torturing members of the Shia community in last years uprisings.

http://www.petercliffordonline.com/bahrain-news

Sheikh Nasser and Friends at the Olympics

Despite our campaign to prevent Sheikh Nasser from attending the London Olympics on the basis that he spearheaded a committee that wrecked the lives of at least 150 Bahraini athletes and sports officials, the Sheikh, as president of Bahrain’s Olympic Committee, did make it to the opening ceremony last Friday.

In the photograph you can see that he was supported by Bahrain’s Foreign Minister, Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed bin Mohammed Al Khalifa, whom the Bahrain Government clearly sent to the Opening Ceremony to lend weight to the proceedings.

No doubt they staggered to their feet, considering the lateness of the hour, to applaud the entry of the “Fake Bahrain Olympic Team” as they entered the stadium in the parade of 204 participating nations.

“Fake” because, trouble is, only one member of the 14 member Bahrain Olympic team, consisting of 8 women and 6 men, originates from Bahrain, all the rest being naturalised citizens.

While it is not unusual for Olympic sports participants to change country, particularly when they have dual nationality, it is unusual to, as it seems, virtually “buy” your whole team in.

http://www.petercliffordonline.com/bahrain-news

Members of the Olympic Team – Just One Bahraini

No doubt the Bahrain officials were also on their feet to applaud the entry of the teams from Kenya and Ethiopia, which is where most of their athletes seem to have originated.

This piece of typical Al Khalifa chicanery, presumably based on money, is unlikely to raise much enthusiasm back home in Bahrain in even the most deluded of the “royal” family’s supporters.

http:/www.petercliffordonline.com/bahrain-news

Three of Bahrain’s 20 Imprisoned Athletes

Meanwhile, at least 20 athletes remain in Bahrain’s prisons, having been given sentences in military courts on trumped up charges  from last year’s disturbances. Some others of Bahrain’s best sportsmen now play for team’s abroad.

As it says in this Time article, the Al Khalifa government, having “eviscerated” its sports community, is reaping its just desserts in the athletics field. Though it is sad for the people of Bahrain and a waste of the collective talents of nearly 70% of its population.

Bahrain did win a gold medal in the men’s 1500 metre track final at Beijing in 2008. Unfortunately, the “Bahraini athlete”, Rashid Ramzi, later tested positive for the performance enhancing drug CERA and his medal and certificate had to be returned.

You will not be surprised to learn that Ramzi was born in Asfi, Morocco and became a “Bahraini citizen” in 2002 after “joining” the Bahrain armed services.

“DEEPLY RELIGIOUS” RELATIVE OF KING HAMAD REMOVED FROM FLIGHT COMPLETELY DRUNK AT 10.00 am:

And the last “Fake Sheikh”? He remains a bit of a mystery as the UK police have not released his name, though they have given his age as 28.

This mystery Sheikh, “a close relative of King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain”, was ejected from a British Airways Boeing 777 flight to Doha via Manama at London Airport last Saturday, when he started complaining about the service, attempted to enter the flight deck (EDITOR: Never a good move since 9/11) and refused to return to his £2,700 (BD1598) First-Class seat.

http://www.petercliffordonline.com

Drunk Bahrain Sheikh Arrested on BA Flight

British police called to the scene reputedly threatened the Sheikh with 50,000 volt Tazers, before arresting him for being drunk and disorderly and taking him to the airport’s police station where he was DNA’d, and had his photograph and fingerprints taken.

The Sheikh was later released on bail and will have to appear in court in London in September.

The Sheikh appears to have lost control at 10.00 am in the morning, so on the subjects of alchohol and Ramadan he is no doubt now in deep discussions with his spiritual advisers. Further detail in the Sun 


LETTER TO DAVID CAMERON, UK PM: “BAN SHEIKH NASSER”

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This week, reflecting the farcical state of “justice” in Bahrain, I sent the petition letter “Prevent Sheikh Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa From Attending the London Olympics 2012”, to David Cameron, the UK’s Prime Minister. This is what I said:

http://www.petercliffordonline.com/ban-sheikh-nasser

Sheikh Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa

TO: David Cameron, Prime Minister, 10 Downing Street, London SW1A 2AA

“Dear Prime Minister,

I am writing to draw your attention to more than 10,137 people who have signed my online petition calling on the British government to prevent Prince Sheikh Nasser bin Hamad al Khalifa of Bahrain from entering the United Kingdom to attend the London Olympics.

The petition reads:

‘We, the undersigned, urge the UK’s Prime Minister, David Cameron, and Jacques Rogge of the IOC, to ban Sheikh Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa from the 2012 Olympics in London, on the grounds of substantial and documented allegations of the sectarian persecution of athletes and his personal involvement in their torture – all of which is completely against the Olympic Charter of ‘preserving human dignity’ and allowing everyone ‘to practice sport without discrimination’.

I started this campaign with Community Petitions, an online petition platform hosted by global campaigning community AVAAZ. Since launching this petition, over 10,000 people have joined my call, including thousands of citizens of the United Kingdom and Bahrain.

Sheikh Nasser is the son of Bahrain’s ruling King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, one of the dictators who has tried to crush the Arab Spring with force. Bahraini athletes allege that Sheikh Nasser has used his platform as head of the country’s Olympic Committee to ensure that athletes in particular have been punished if they dissent.

Sheikh Nasser is alleged to be behind the committee that targeted 150 athletes and sports officials for their democratic views and which subsequently wrecked the lives and sporting careers of many of them.

Several of the protesters have also claimed that they were personally tortured by Sheikh Nasser after their arrests for peaceful demonstrations and detailed allegations have been made against him in court. A description of these can be found at the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights website: http://www.bchr.net/en/node/5346

I believe that these testimonies are both reliable and credible and documentation has already been submitted to your officials from the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR).

There should be no place for him in the United Kingdom or at the London Olympics.

Despite the BICI report the Al Khalifa Government is particularly good at making pretence of doing one thing and continuing to the do the opposite. Human rights abuses and imprisonment purely on sectarian grounds, based on trumped up charges, continue on a daily basis.

The continued jailing of human rights activists like Nabeel Rajab and Abdulhadi AlKhawaja on fabricated charges rather proves the point.

Last Saturday 14th July more than 200 people, including myself, demonstrated outside the Bahraini and Saudi embassies to bring attention to the plight of the above and hundreds of other political prisoners in Bahrain. 

The UK Government makes much of human rights abuse and lack of democracy and justice in Syria, China, North Korea, Iran and elsewhere but shamefully fails to say anything even vaguely critical of Bahrain allowing its own self–interest to take precedence.

The petition can be viewed online at:http://www.avaaz.org/en/petition/To_Prevent_Sheikh_Nasser_bin_Hamad_alKhalifa_of_Bahrain_from_attending_the_London_Olympics_2012/?wNnUgbbrom_attending_the_London_Olympics_2012/

I am happy to provide you with the names and countries of all 10,137 signers at your request.

Yours sincerely, Peter Clifford”

I also sent similar letters to:

Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister’s Office, 70 Whitehall, London SW1A 2AS.

William Hague, Foreign Secretary, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, King Charles Street, London SW1A 2AH.

Damian Green MP, Minister of State for Immigration, Home Office, Direct Communications Unit, 2 Marsham Street, London SW1P 4DF

Alistair Burt MP, Minister Responsible for Bahrain, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, King Charles Street, London SW1A 2AH.

And finally: Jacques Rogge, President International Olympic Committee, Chateau De Vidy, Case Postale 356; 1007 Lausanne, Switzerland

Feel free to do the same and use all or any part of the letter.

In a letter of reply to my own local MP, who raised the issue previously on my behalf, Alistair Burt said, “Our policy is clear that accreditation shall be refused to any individual who may present a safety or security risk, where their presence at the Games or in the UK would not be conducive to the public good or if there is independent, reliable and credible evidence that they have committed human rights abuses.”

In the case of Sheikh Nasser, the chances are that the British Government will let him into the UK and allow him to take part in the Olympic Games, wriggling out of the issue by saying complaints about him are not “independently verified”.

As long as the UK (and the US) is hypocritical about Bahrain, condemning human rights abuse elsewhere but remaining silent when it is carried out by one of its strategic allies, then nothing will change.

However, the point has been made, Sheikh Nasser’s alleged crimes recorded – and they will be on the Internet forever for succeeding generations to see, recall and remember.

*

BAHRAIN’S FARCICAL JUDICIARY:

http://www.petercliffordonline.com/ban-sheikh-nasser

“Do Not Forget Younis Ashoori”

FARCE 1: Younis Ashoori is a 61 year old hospital administrator, whose only “crime” appears to be that he, on orders from a superior, supplied oxygen cylinders to injured protesters in March 2011.

For this, and other trumped up charges he was condemned to 3 years in prison by a military court.

He is unwell, suffers severe pain from kidney stone problems and other complications and has been dragged back to court for a decision on his appeal no less than 10 TIMES!

His next appearance in court in this continuing psychological and emotional torture is  on 25th July.

You can sign a petition calling for Younis’ release, HERE:

FARCE 2 :  Nabeel Rajab, President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, has been jailed for 3 months for sending out comments on Twitter which the Al Khalifa Government does not like (EDITOR: I don’t suppose they like mine much either!).

http://www.petercliffordonline.com/ban-sheikh-nasser

Nabeel Rajab – “Sumood” (Steadfast)

He is also due in court to face other charges which are likely to prolong his stay in prison.

His family have been told they cannot visit him until August.

Meanwhile police officers, accused and on trial for murder, are allowed out from court  and free to go home every night.

In one case, an unnamed 22 year old Bahraini policeman is accused of killing Ali Abdulhadi Mushaima, 21, with a shotgun (euphemistically called a “pellet gun” in the Gulf Daily News report).

The police officer claims that he shot Ali Mushaima “accidentally” from 10 metres away, despite the fact that another officer says it was only 3 metres and Ali was shot in the back.

But this officer can go home every night to his comfortable bed and his air conditioned home. Younis Ashoori and many other prisoners in Jaw Prison are sweltering in temperatures which can exceed 45 C as part of the air conditioning system there is not functioning and conditions are crowded.

SUCH IS THE FARCICAL STATE OF “JUSTICE” IN BAHRAIN!

 

 


Fledgeling Democracies Take First Tottering Steps

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LIBYA HOLDS FIRST FULLY FREE PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS SINCE 1952 WITH HUGE FEMALE PARTICIPATION:

TUNISIA’S NEW “DEMOCRATIC” GOVERNMENT ALREADY SEEKING TO CONTROL STATE OWNED MEDIA OUTLETS:

EGYPT’S ARMY, WITH VAST BUSINESS INTERESTS, IN NO HURRY TO HAND POWER TO DEMOCRATICALLY ELECTED PRESIDENT:

YEMEN, FOLLOWING ONE–CANDIDATE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION, FACING HUGE PROBLEMS OF POVERTY, INSURGENCY AND STARVATION:

BAHRAIN AND GULF STATES STILL CONTROLLED BY BACKWARD FACING FAMILY AUTOCRACIES AND NO REAL DEMOCRACY YET IN SIGHT:

TIMELINE – 8th JULY 2012 14.08 GMT:

Congratulations to Libya on holding yesterday its first fully free parliamentary election since 1952.

http://www.petercliffordonline.com/fledgeling-democracies

Democracy in Libya – “I voted!”

Turnout was thought to be around 60% and notable for the large number of women who were voting for the first time.

At some polling stations women easily out-numbered men.

The election will select a 200 member General National Congress (GNC) from the 2,600 individual candidates and 400 political organisations who stood in the poll.

The most significant party to emerge so far is the Justice and Construction Party, consisting mainly of members of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The GNC when elected will pick a prime minister and cabinet. The GNC was also meant to choose 60 members to make up a committee to write a new Libyan constitution which will be voted on in a referendum next year, but the National Transitional Council (NTC), which will stand down as soon as a new government has been formed, has said the the constitutional committee will now be the subject of a separate national vote.

However, as elsewhere in the “Arab Spring” revolutions, the transition to the democratic process continues to be very rocky.

http://www.petercliffordonline.com/fledgeling-democracies

Federalists Burning Election Materials – cnn.com

In Libya, especially in the east around Benghazi, some polling stations were burnt to the ground or election material and voting papers destroyed and a helicopter carrying elections workers was shot at with heavy calibre bullets on Friday killing one of the occupants and forcing the aircraft to make an emergency landing.

Armed groups opposed to the election and wanting autonomy for oil-rich eastern Libya, also surrounded and closed the oil refineries at Ras Lanouf, Brega and Ajdabiya. In a separate incident another person was killed near a polling station in Ajdabiya.

In the current election of the 200 available seats, in a system devised by the NTC, the west of Libya will have 100, 40 will come from the south and 60 from the east. Many from the east think that the parliament will therefore be too “Tripoli orientated”, a sentiment which many in Benghazi province shared under Gaddafi as well. The BBC has a video report of the election, HERE:

Hopes for an effective and solid democracy in Libya also remain on shaky ground with the recent detention for 26 days of International Criminal Court (ICC) defence lawyers for Saif Gaddafi and their leading counsel, Melinda Taylor’s assertion since her release that it will be impossible for Saif to get a fair trial in Libya. You can see a video of her statement, HERE:

http://www.petercliffordonline.com/fledgeling-democracies

Democracy in Libya – “I voted too!”

Further worries for Libya’s progress are the huge tribal divisions and rivalries that still exist throughout the country, in some cases relating to disputes over killings or land that go back generations.

Two weeks ago, more than 100 people were killed following a clash between the Zintani and Mishasha tribes around the desert town of Misdah, both sides using weapons obtained from the former Gaddafi military. (Further background, HERE:)

TUNISIA’S NEW “DEMOCRATIC” GOVERNMENT ALREADY SEEKING TO CONTROL STATE OWNED MEDIA OUTLETS:

In Tunisia, the first of the “successful” Arab Spring revolutions, the entire membership of a commission set up to reform the country’s media, resigned this week, citing interference and censorship from the newly elected government.

http://www.petercliffordonline.com/fledgling-democracies

Tunisia – The Future Is In Our Hands

Kamel Labidi, the head of the The National Authority for the Reform of Information and Communication, said that the commission did “not see the point of continuing to work”.

The democratically elected majority Islamist government recently dismissed the senior executives of state-owned radio and TV channels and in another case fined the owner of a privately-run TV station for showing an animated film that the Government deemed blasphemous.

In reaction to these moves, Reporters Without Borders, the international media watchdog, said, “In the absence of clear legislation respecting international standards, senior public broadcasting personnel are being appointed in a way reminiscent of the old regime’s methods.”

The Tunisian Government has also failed to implement decrees protecting the rights of journalists and regulating new audio-visual media.

EGYPT’S ARMY, WITH VAST BUSINESS INTERESTS, IN NO HURRY TO HAND POWER TO DEMOCRATICALLY ELECTED PRESIDENT:

In Egypt, newly elected President Mohammed Mursi, from the Muslim Brotherhood (a banned organisation for years under Mubarak), promised massive crowds in Tahrir Square, the centre of the revolution, that he would represent all Egyptians of all faiths, but whether the Army Council that effectively still controls the country will actually allow him any real power remains to be seen. The BBC has a video report of the event, HERE:

http://www.petercliffordonline.com/fledgeling-democracies

Egypt Celebrates As New President Elected

The Supreme Council of Armed Forces (Scarf) that has been running Egypt since the fall of Mubarak, delayed the announcement of the winning candidate in the election and gave itself sweeping new powers just a few days before the presidential vote.

Scarf not only dissolved the newly elected parliamentary assembly but gave itself new authority to enact legislation, control the state budget and appoint a panel that will draft the new constitution.

The army, which controls vast sections of the Egyptian economy, including manufacturing of consumer goods, food, mineral water, construction, mining, land reclamation and even tourism (while its accounts are held secretly), is clearly not going to let go of its controlling reins without another fight.

YEMEN, FOLLOWING ONE-CANDIDATE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION, FACING HUGE PROBLEMS OF POVERTY, INSURGENCY AND STARVATION:

In Yemen, where another Arab Spring revolution of sorts, saw the departure of longtime dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh in February after ruling for 33 years and the unopposed election of his deputy President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, chaos still reigns, especially in the south where Al Qaeda insurgents have tried to take control.

Government forces have made gains during recent months, recapturing the insurgent held towns of Shuqra, Zinjibar and Jaar, but things came to a halt in the middle of June when a suicide bomber killed General Salem Ali Qatan who was both leading the battle in the south and moves to reform the army.

Another suicide bomber killed 100 soldiers in May while they were rehearsing for a parade for “National Unity Day” in the capital Sannaa.

http://www.petercliffordonline.com/fledgeling-democracies

The Faces of Yemen’s Poor – bbc.co.uk

Apart from that Yemen has massive problems with unemployment, malnutrition, poverty, lack of water and electricity and starvation on a huge scale.

And additionally many of Saleh’s family members have yet to relinquish power over key positions in the air force, Republican Guard, Presidential Guard and security services. (Further background on Yemen, HERE:)

A new democracy?  That remains to be seen.

But at least all the above have made some sort of move forward.

BAHRAIN AND GULF STATES STILL CONTROLLED BY BACKWARD FACING FAMILY AUTOCRACIES AND NO REAL DEMOCRACY YET IN SIGHT:

In Syria the “jury is still out” on the likely result in the bloody battle between President Assad and the pro-democracy Opposition, that has so far claimed more than 16,500 lives, but recent signs seem to indicate that the rebel fighters are making progress.

In Bahrain however, where the pro-democracy movement has been demonstrating almost daily against the Government for 17 months now, things at times seem to be going backwards.

A sly, Al Khalifa family-controlled and King Hamad led autocracy, constantly bleats about how “liberal and open” it is and trumpets its “march towards democracy”.

http://www.petercliffordonline.com'fledgeling-democracies

Bahrain – Victim of Police Beating

Yet behind closed doors, for example, people who criticise the Government get arrested without warrant and despite the installation of recording equipment in police interview rooms, detainees are routinely beaten in unfinished building lots before being taken to police stations.

Fahed Al-Sumait wrote on EA Worldview recently:

“For now, it is clear that the current political system is neither monarchical nor democratic enough to exploit the benefits of either. The lesson appears to be that a country cannot balance power effectively between an appointed cabinet and an elected parliament.

In an absolute monarchy, the king calls the shots and appoints who he wants to help him govern. By contrast, in a fully democratic system, competing ideologies vie for political dominance through various electoral systems, and the government branches function as a system of checks and balances. But …. where the systems are mixed, the executive and legislative branches are inherently locked in a power struggle.

This almost guarantees perpetual confrontation rather than some degree of symbiosis. The hybrid approach does not appear to be a formula for effective governance, but may instead be a structural defect that will continue to foster the kind of political chaos for which ……. is increasingly known.

It could be argued that the real question going forward is not how ……. will navigate through the current storm, but rather when (or if) it will be able to effectively repair its sinking ship.”

Filling in the gaps in the passage above you would see that Fahed was actually writing about Kuwait, where the elected parliament is in conflict with the upper chamber appointed by the Emir and has been suspended, but he could have just as well been writing about Bahrain.

Much the same system exists in Bahrain and throughout the Gulf area where family monarchies and sheikhdoms control their oil and gas producing fiefdoms. (Further background on Bahrain, HERE:

In my view, the “Arab Spring” revolutions will eventually reach these countries too –  modern media, communications and “an idea whose time has come” will ensure that – but when and how nobody knows.

To those fighters for democracy, human rights and freedom across the Gulf – “Sumood” (Remain Steadfast) – your time will come, history is on your side.

http://www.petercliffordonline.com/fledgeling-democracies

Bahrain – Conflict Continues on a Daily Basis