Sunday, October 19, 2014

Will anything Survive the Kobane blitz


 A US-led airstrike on a Syrian gas facility in Kobane

Airstrikes hit border town

Dramatic pictures emerge of strike against Islamic State militants

With this level of airstrikes, will there be anything left?

Friday, October 10, 2014

Why the threat to execute Abdul-Rahman Kassig feels so personal

Loveday Morris at The Washington Post wrote this tribute to Peter Kassig whose life is now brutally threatened by ISIS. The NCF will do what little it can to pursue his case:

Last week, exactly a year after finding out that my friend had gone missing in Syria, I saw him again. But it was far from the scenario his family and friends had been hoping for. Kneeling in the dirt in an orange jumpsuit, Abdul-Rahman Kassig, or Peter as he was known before his conversion, was slated for execution in the Islamic State’s latest video.

We'd braced for this moment ever since the killing of James Foley, the American journalist, in August. His executioner also threatened the life of another victim, a pattern that was followed in two videos that followed. And then, on Friday, when the group released footage of its beheading of British aid worker Alan Henning, we caught our first glimpse of Kassig since his kidnapping.

Kassig is just one of millions of innocents caught up in Syria’s war, a conflict in which disappearances and death occur every day. For him, it was an unshakable desire to help those innocents that led him to become a victim too – abducted a year ago during an aid mission.

Though some may question the risks he took, Kassig saw his calling in Syria's suffering.

I first met him at a government hospital in northern Lebanon. It was the summer of 2012 and I was working as a freelance journalist. The United Nations had just confirmed what had been obvious for some time — that the conflict in neighboring Syria was a full-blown civil war.

The wards of the Tripoli hospital were filled with horrors: A mother who had lost her entire family as well as her legs in a helicopter attack, a teenager whose spine had been shattered by sniper fire as he went to fetch bread, children peppered with shrapnel wounds. Most people see such tragedies as the sad toll of a war that they can’t influence. But Kassig couldn’t ignore the victims.

An Indiana native, he'd given up his studies back in the United States to travel to Lebanon to volunteer. He'd first worked in the country’s Palestinian refugee camps, until the tempo of the Syrian war picked up, leading him to the hospital in Tripoli.

A trained medic, he'd begun helping on the wards, changing bandages, suturing wounds. Syrians who worked with him said that when they'd gotten a call from an American asking to come and work in the hospital, they'd expected someone older to arrive, a retiree perhaps, with time and money. They were surprised when Kassig showed up, 24 years old, tirelessly dedicated.

It was the camaraderie he had with his fellow volunteers and medics, largely displaced Syrians, that struck me most when I first met him. He worked with them, slept with them, ate with them.

In the stream of do-gooders attracted by the conflict, Kassig stood out. He didn’t dabble, he lived the conflict.

In a CNN interview filmed around that time, he talked about what drove him.

"We each get one life and that's it. We get one shot at this and we don't get any do-overs, and for me, it was time to put up or shut up," he explained. "The way I saw it, I didn't have a choice. This is what I was put here to do. I guess I am just a hopeless romantic, and I am an idealist, and I believe in hopeless causes."

On the day Kassig and I met, a group of us journalists and medical workers sat in the parking lot outside the hospital, sharing stories. He talked about how he had served briefly in the U.S. military, but had come out a pacifist. It was the first of what would be many long evening chats we had on life and work.

Burhan Mousa Agha, a Syrian from the city of Homs who volunteered with him at the hospital, recently recalled a conversation he'd had with Kassig when Agha had been contemplating returning to Syria.

“He told me, ‘Brother, go back to Syria, but not to fight, because fight brings fight, blood brings blood. Go to help with humanitarian work.' "

Later, when Agha was granted political asylum in Switzerland and couldn’t afford a plane ticket, it was Kassig who stumped up the cash.

For Kassig, though, the path ultimately led to Syria. He set up an aid group, Special Emergency Response and Assistance, and moved to southern Turkey, where cross-border access was easier. It was just before a visit there a year ago that I found out he'd been kidnapped on one of his missions in Syria.

I’d tried to contact him on Facebook to tell him I'd be in town, but his account had been deactivated. He'd been missing a few days, but his family had asked for a media blackout on his case. They feared publicity could jeopardize efforts to secure his release. We hoped that the network of Syrians who loved him might be able to help secure his release, but the weeks and months passed with little sign of hope.

The media blackout remained in place until his appearance in last week’s video.

It was only then that I found out about his conversion, with his family's announcement that he'd embraced Islam during the early days of his detainment. That raised inevitable questions over the authenticity of his conversion, but a former hostage who was held with him has said Kassig found genuine comfort in his faith. Other friends say he had discussed the affinity he felt for the religion at least a year earlier, and just before he was captured, he’d fasted during Ramadan.

In his last letter to his family, which they received in June, he talked about being “at peace with my belief.”

“If I do die, I figure that at least you and I can seek refuge and comfort in knowing that I went out as a result of trying to alleviate suffering and helping those in need,” he wrote.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Siwar al Assad addresses Tory Party Conference Fringe Meeting

Siwar al Assad, Director, ANN Satellite Television, was one of the speakers at a fringe meeting discussing the fault line dividing the Sunni and Shiite World held at the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham

Introducing the event, chair Shree Wood, chief research officer, The Next Century Foundation, explained that the current wave of violence in the Middle East had been triggered by the invasion of Iraq by the US in 2003 but the original Shi’a-Sunni political conflict, which had now become religious, dated back to the seventh century. The structure that had contained Shi’a-Sunni tension had “cracked” in the Arab Spring, Wood explained.

Siwar Al Assad, said that in its 9,000 year history, Syria had passed through many disasters and wars but “this war seems to be one of the most difficult” because sophisticated weapons were being used and “many people were dying.” Nor could anyone have “any clear picture” as to how it was going to end, he said.

There had just been seven hours of debate in the UK parliament over the  airstrikes in Iraq. I heard that Parliament could have a meeting on Syria soon. How many hours will they need to talk about Syria?

The international community was not coordinating or trying to find a solution, said Siwar Al Assad. The great powers need to mount a joint effort, or else the chaos in Syria would spread further, he warned.

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, had the last local Al-Qaeda franchise in Iraq. He was killed in 2006. After his death, a Revolutionary Council led by Abu Omar Al Bagdadi was created. This Council was infiltrated by 16 ex officers of the Iraq Baath Party loyal to Saddam Hussein. This Council declared the Establishment of a  Islamic State (I.S.). Then Abu Omar Al Bagdadi was killed. Abubaker Al Bagdadi (Ibrahim Awad), encouraged by the Baathist officers, took over.

Meanwhile Al Nusra merged in 2012 with ISIS and the two factions had been squabbling with each other ever since until now that they have come under attack from America and the two factions have reached a fresh decision to shelve their differences and no longer fight each other.

The radical Islamist groups, linked to Al Qaeda, posed the most serious problems said Al Assad. The ideology of the Ba’ath party was to join all the Arabic countries together and had almost succeeded when the party had been ruling in Syria and Iraq. The outcome of the US-led airstrikes was being closely watched.

The regime existed in Damascus and did control most of Syria, said Al Assad. The regime does exist. The world has decided to ignore that fact. The world had to include the regime in a solution. Manufactured opposition had not known how to operate on the ground: they had sold the weapons that were donated to them by the West to the extremists. Reportedly, ISIS now earned £3-6m per day and no longer needed to be given weapons, said Al Assad. Bashar al-Assad was “as involved” in fighting ISIS insofar that the Syrian regime was “hitting the same targets”, and knew ISIS “better than anyone else”.

Syrians should sit around the table. Dialogue needed to begin in Syria, monitored by regional and world powers, without pre-conditions.

It was important to note that ISIS “had imperialist ideology”, warned al-Assad. The planet was “the planet of God” and they were “God’s people on Earth”. They would “never stop”, he said.

Question and answer

  1. Thelma Matuk, Conservative Sutton Coldfield, asked where American and British foreign policy went “so horribly wrong”. Al Assad agreed that the West did not understand the slow processes of the region, which was 500 years behind. “You are 500 years ahead of us”. It was important “to support gradual and peaceful change”.  We have to be patient. You have to support us.
  2. Gary Kent, Kurdistan Regional Government, said that he agreed that a key priority was to win over moderate Sunnis but asked how this could be reconciled with collaboration with Basher al-Assad or Iran. Also he felt that Iraq should amend rather than stop the policy of de-Baathification. He further stressed the need for Iraq to become a “confederation” as a further step towards Kurdish independence. The Sunni-Shia problem “was a very old problem”, said Al Assad, that today “did not exist”. It had been manufactured, he said. 90 per cent of Damascus were Sunni and still under regime control. Aleppo had been destroyed because the people had not joined the Revolution. It was the same in Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Iraq: Sunni and Shia “did not hate each other”. The problem was between the Muslims and the Islamists, he said.
  3. Peter Goodwin (Conservative) asked about Russia’s role in the region. Al Assad said that it had mainly acted in Syria It sought to support governments to tackle terrorism, not a particular party or faction. Russia was still providing the Syrian regime with weapons, he said. Russia was encouraging dialogue without precondition and had engaged with all opposition parties, which would be the path toward a solution. The US had excluded some groups, he observed.
  4. Responding to a question from Councillor Karl Cole, Conservative South Leicestershire, on the “weakness” of the United Nations, al Assad said that ultimately the UN constituted individual nations. Nonetheless, it had been proven “inefficient” in many conflicts over the preceding 20 years, he said, and had started to lose credibility. This was dangerous because the Charter was “a guarantee for world stability and peace”. 

Shree Wood thanked delegates for attending, summed up, and closed the meeting.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Kidnapped Lebanese Soldier

This is the video of Ali Al-Hajj Hassan, one of the Lebanese soldiers kidnapped lately by ISIS (or the Islamic State).

Ali Al-Hajj Hassan also happens to be the brother of The Iman Foundation's Vice-Chairman and its President for the Middle East, Sheikh Mohammed Al-Hajj Hassan.