Syria

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So Much Spin: How May Plates Can Trump Keep in the Air?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 30/06/2020 - 11:28pm in

If you feel overwhelmed, there is good reason. We are currently in the midst of a number of storylines, any one of which would define any other administration. And the news comes so fast you can barely figure out who the players are before there’s another twist: There’s Russia and the bounties on soldiers, “white power” retweets, and Mike Pence actually wearing a mask. Continue reading

The post So Much Spin: How May Plates Can Trump Keep in the Air? appeared first on BillMoyers.com.

The Caesar Act: The Latest Western Attack on Syria Didn’t Drop From a Plane

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 20/06/2020 - 1:50am in

Talib Mu’alla served as a soldier in the Syrian Arab Army before he was wounded in Aleppo in 2014. As he described the multiple shots he took to his body, I thought it remarkable that he survived.

“A shot (bullet) to my chest, a shot to my stomach, three shots in my spine. My chest, stomach, and intestines ruptured, and I lost a kidney. I was also shot in the right side of my face,” he recounted. “I fell into a coma for 25 days, then woke for a few days and fell back into a coma for another 16 or 17 days. It took two years for me to be able to walk again.”

Talib was discharged from the army after his injuries and has since joined an auxiliary of the army. “From  2011 until now, I haven’t taken off my uniform. And I won’t take it off until the war is finished,” he said.

 

The media’s monsters

As a consequence of the war on Syria, there has been immeasurable loss: the destruction of historic places like Palmyra, Maaloula (the ancient Aramaic village northeast of Damascus), Aleppo’s souqs; and the destruction of city districts in the fight against terrorism. Aleppo’s souqs were being carefully restored when I traveled to Syria in March. Yet, there is still much rebuilding to do and thanks to the Caesar Act, that just got harder.

More appalling than the destruction of Syria’s historic places is the human loss, civilian and military alike. Regarding the latter, little concern is meted out by Western press over the deaths and maiming of members of Syria’s national army. On the contrary, the Syrian Arab Army is portrayed in Western media and by Western politicians as murderers and thugs personally belonging to President Assad and not to Syria.

Nothing could be further from the truth, and indeed countless videos and anecdotes of Syrian soldiers putting their lives on the line in order to protect and save civilians from terrorists are available for any who wish to see them. The army is a conscript army but also includes career soldiers and men and women who voluntarily joined in order to defend their country.

Last August, I interviewed the Syrian Arab Army’s Head of Political Administration, General Hassan Hassan. He noted that the Syrian army “includes in each of its formations, soldiers from all Syrian governorates, with no exception.” This defies Western media’s portrayal of the Syrian army as “Assad’s army” or their claims that those fighting “rebels” (terrorists) are only from the Alawi sect. These types of claims are put forth in an attempt to create the illusion that in Syria, it has been President Assad and “his forces” against disenchanted Sunnis, an utterly false claim.

This sectarianism exists largely in the minds of those backing terrorism in Syria, be they Saudi, Turkish, Qatari, or Western leaders.

When I asked General Hassan to speak more on the army, he replied:

The two greatest armies in modern history have failed to achieve what the Syrian Army has accomplished. In Afghanistan, fewer than 10 percent of the number of terrorists in Syria were able to defeat two armies: the Red Soviet Army and the U.S. Army.

But, the Syrian Army defeated such terrorism. The Syrian Army fought battles that can be classified as new in military science. The Syrian Army fought above ground and underground battles in addition to their battles against the media war, intelligence war, information war, economic war, gang and street-to-street wars. Despite all of that, the Syrian Army achieved victory. Therefore, can we imagine the magnitude of the sacrifices made in this respect by the Syrian Army?”

On various trips to and around Syria over the years I’ve encountered Syrian soldiers in hot zones where terrorists linger nearby and in liberated areas, at checkpoints and in hospitals. Many are young, and others are grey-haired, proud to be serving in the defense of their country and citizens.

Many drive taxis in their off-hours to compensate for the meager salary they receive, a salary that doesn’t compare to the hefty salaries paid to members of Gulf and Turkish-backed armed militants.

Together, and with the help of Syria’s allies, they staved off some of the most heinous and powerfully-backed terrorists the modern world has known, but at a great price.

The numbers of wounded soldiers, particularly critically-wounded, are not published, so it is hard to gauge just how large their numbers are. However, given that the war on Syria has raged for nearly a decade, with soldiers fighting well-armed terrorists from around the world–terrorists with the backing of the U.S.-led coalition in Syria — the numbers of martyred and maimed can only be tragically-high.

 

Wounded veterans prepare for life after war

Given that the U.S. government frequently criticizes the government of Syria for not taking care of its citizens, it’s worth reflecting on the shameful manner in which the U.S. neglects its own veterans of war. But in Syria, a myriad of associations work with war-wounded soldiers to provide prosthetic limbs and rehabilitate them after their injuries, giving them life skills to work or start their own businesses.

Jerih al-Watan (The Wounded of the Homeland), is a veteran support program founded in 2014 by the Syrian Presidency with the support of the Syrian Trust For Development and medical experts. The aim of Jerih al-Watan, according to its Facebook page, is “providing adequate care and appropriate rehabilitation to secure a decent life for the wounded,” from the army, popular defense forces, and internal security forces.”

Jerih al-Watan focuses on physical rehabilitation, social and psychological support as well as vocational training for jobs ranging from construction to food production.

The latter is what I saw last week when I traveled to the Qardaha region in northwestern Syria. A region I had not previously visited, Qardaha is a paradise that the average person may not associate with Syria, as many mistakenly imagine the country to be all desert. It is not, of course.

Traveling a familiar route from Damascus to the coast, I passed rows of greenhouses and the citrus and banana trees that are prevalent in the Tartous and Latakia region and finally moved up along a road lined with pine trees and wildflowers, winding up through the mountainous hills of Qardaha. Photos of martyred soldiers appeared when passing through Qardaha itself, as they do all over Syria.

I reached the training point, where, in the evening, a gorgeous pink sunset descended over the layered hills, the sea in the distance.

Soldiers were receiving training in the skills of cheese and yogurt making, staples of the Syrian diet. They were first shown how to make the products, then had a hand at making them themselves. The final results were the delicious spice-colored yogurt balls and black-sesame-laden cheeses that are ubiquitous in Syria’s restaurants.

Syria Wounded soldiers

Wounded soldiers learning to make dairy products. Photo | Eva Bartlett

Syria Wounded soldiers

Making yogurt balls, cheese and yogurt. Photo | Eva Bartlett

With these skills, the soldiers are able to start a small enterprise and support their families.

In between training sessions, wounded soldiers sat chatting in the shade. With their permission, I spoke with some of them about their injuries and feelings about having served in the army. With injuries ranging from vision and speech impairments to difficulties walking or loss of hands, I was struck by the graceful confidence of the injured soldiers.

Syria Wounded soldiers

Wounded soldiers discussing their options after receiving vocational training. Photo | Eva Bartlett

Instead of wallowing in their injuries, they looked to future prospects, improving their knowledge to improve their lives.

 
A reservist in the army, Ayet Yusef was wounded in 2013 while serving in Aleppo. “We were attacked at 2 am by armed terrorist gangs. A clash occurred, during which I was wounded by shrapnel in my left eye. I lost sight in that eye. But after treatment, it is now fine.” Yusef, like most wounded soldiers I’ve met, is proud of having served, and even prouder of his injury. “We raise our heads to the sky. We were in the Syrian Arab Army and that is an honor for us. And if they now asked me to serve again, no problem,” he said.

Another soldier, 30-year-old Du’a Ijna, had difficulty speaking as he explained how he was injured in 2011. “We were on patrol in Khan Sheikhoun (Idlib),” he recalled, “A terrorist group attacked and I was wounded by shrapnel to my brain. That affected my hands, legs, and speech. I was paralyzed for a month and a half, but after physiotherapy, it got a little better.”

Jaafar Badran was injured in 2016 while serving in Aleppo. His injury left him without his right hand or left leg. “We resisted the terrorism, and there will be martyrs and wounded among us, and that’s okay. What matters is the country returns to stability.”

Inad Ahmed was injured while serving in Tulul al-Himr, al-Qunaytra. “I was shot in my spinal column, and for three years I couldn’t walk.” Ahmed now walks with a severe limp but speaks with a smile. “I have to be optimistic about what I’m going through and keep looking ahead. What happened happened.”

Just beyond the training location, a beautiful sunset burst out and I thought about the many wounded soldiers, some whose lives were disrupted forever, others who overcame major injuries to the point they could walk, or at least hobble, again. They were all gracious. Some on the shy side, others — including men whose injuries were the worst — gregarious and humorous. Spending time with them was humbling, but also reaffirmed what I already knew about the army: they are some of the most courageous people I’ve met and those who write lies about them should hang their heads in shame for being so far from the truth.

Syria Wounded soldiers

Post-training photo of the group of soldiers who received vocational training. Photo | Eva Bartlett

Initiatives like this, teaching and encouraging economic self-reliance, are more critically-important than ever these days in Syria. After over nine years of war and relentless sanctions on the country, Syria’s economy is as shattered as the cities formerly occupied by terrorist groups. Neither would be devastated had the U.S. and allies not launched its clandestine war against Syria, but they did, and the economic war on Syria will only worsen.

The Syrian Trust, a nonprofit national development organization headed by the first lady of Syria, has been quietly helping soldiers with rehabilitation and prosthetics as well as giving them training, even supplying machinery and other equipment needed for small businesses.

In November 2016, after having visited Aleppo for the fourth time just weeks before the city was finally liberated from the array of terrorist gangs occupying its eastern and southern regions, freeing the people of the hell on earth they’d endured for years — I was back in Damascus and visited the Hamish Hospital in Barzeh, where Jarih al-Watan was manufacturing prosthetic limbs performing physiotherapy for wounded soldiers.

There, I saw many soldiers going through differing degrees of physiotherapy and rehabilitation after having been injured. Many were without one or both legs, others missing hands and arms.

I met Ali, a 30-year-old soldier who lost both his legs in a mine blast a year prior on the Khanasser road to Aleppo. The first time I went to Aleppo in July, the taxi driver told me that Da’esh (ISIS) routinely creeps onto the road at night to lay mines and the SAA in the morning has to clear them so the road is safe for civilians and transport trucks.

Ali was a slight young man, and emblematic of the stoic, strong nature of Syrians fighting this war against terror and for their country. Ten days after losing his lower legs, Ali was walking on artificial ones. When I met him, he was finishing physiotherapy and wants to go back to defending Syria.

I am discharged from the army but I want to go back. We want this war to be over.”

He isn’t the only gravely wounded soldier I’ve met who wanted to return to service. In May 2018, Syrian soldier and incredible photographer Wassim Issa was gravely injured in a terrorist landmine blast that blew off both his lower legs and left him in a coma for two days. When I visited him in the hospital three days after his injury, he was sitting up in bed wearing a huge smile at my visit. Although I already knew him to be a courageous and gentle man, I was surprised at how upbeat he was, having just escaped death and lost his ability to walk.

In subsequent visits over the years, Wassim maintained his positivity that he would walk again. Indeed, by October 2018 Wassim had been fitted with prosthetic limbs and done the needed physio in order to walk again.

On one of my visits, he told me: “I don’t need money, I don’t need a house, I just need peace for my country.”

Syria Wounded soldiers

A screenshot from a news report shows Wassim Issa in January 2019 via the Facebook page, “Here Lattakia

I met Captain Ali, a Syrian pilot and soldier who was injured five times (more, actually, but he only counts the major injuries), several times in Latakia in July and August of 2016. He was shot by a sniper, the bullet going through his arm, sniped through his hip, shot in his head (requiring 26 stitches), received shrapnel in his chest, and finally lost his left leg to a Da’esh suicide bomber.

Captain Ali was awarded the Russian Medal of courage for his work in the Latakia countryside. He also had stories of the helicopter he was flying being hit on three different occasions but not being downed.

His personality was a mixture of humility, confidence, humor.

Syria Wounded soldiers

Meeting with Captain, Ali in a Latakia hospital in 2016. Photo | Eva Bartlett

And in Aleppo this past March, I met Ahmed Abo Alkef, 29, in then recently-liberated al-Zahra’a, Aleppo. Alkef joined the army in June 2010 and was close to fulfilling his conscription service when he was shot in the head by a terrorist sniper, leaving him in a coma for several months.

He is now paralyzed on one side of his body, the bullet still in his skull. Like other soldiers I’ve spoken with, Alkef without hesitation to my question replied he is proud of serving in the army and proud of his injury, life-shattering as it is.

In the Barzeh Center physiotherapy training hall, Ali walked with a young man who appeared to be around the same age, also missing his lower legs.

At the prosthetics factory, the Director, Dr. Yousef Sarraj, stressed that in his experience 25 percent of those patients they treat request artificial limbs specifically with the intent of returning to the battlefront to defend Syria, including the ten officers who are currently waiting for limbs so they return to the battlefront.

While there, the power briefly went out and roughly 20 seconds later, the generators kicked in. Dr. Sarraj noted: “We can overcome problems of power, but we can’t overcome the problem of getting raw materials for the prosthetics.”

Unsurprisingly, Western sanctions on Syria include prohibiting key materials needed in prosthetic limbs manufacturing, including (among many things) resin, the primary material used in the manufacture. According to Dr. Sarraj, to acquire 100 kg of resin would take around one year.

 

Meeting the needs of sanctions-ravaged Syrians

In addition to its work with injured soldiers, the Syrian Trust For Development also focuses on providing micro-credit, assisting disabled Syrians, supporting children with cancer, rural development, supporting families of missing persons, supporting victims of sexual violence, culture, and heritage, and children’s and women’s issues.

In October 2016, I visited a community center in Barzeh, Damascus, supported by the Syrian Trust. The community center manager, Ahmad al-Khodr told me the center had opened in 2015 and served a diverse community.

“There is a lot of political and religious diversity here in Barzeh, as many people from all over Syria left their homes, due to the war, and settled here in Barzeh. In this community center, you’ll see a small glimpse of Syrian communities around the country. Every day there are more than 400 beneficiaries here, between children, men, and women.

Barzeh and nearby Aysh al-Warwar had big battles. The FSA (Free Syrian Army) was there for a long time. In 2014, there was reconciliation here between the Syrian army and the FSA. This community center is very near the region under truce. So this place is more diverse than other regions of Damascus (in terms of political leanings).”

He explained the Trust’s approach to assisting those in need:

We study the cases to know what are the needs of the people here. We visit their houses. We don’t implement any plan without knowing what is needed and knowing that the plan will meet their needs.

We have a law department which, among other things, helps people who have lost their identity papers during the war.”

Vocational training is offered at the center, including teaching women to sew and men to paint homes.

Syria Wounded soldiers

Learning sewing skills at the Barzeh Community Centre, October 2016. Photo | Eva Bartlett

We also support them with courses on how they can start their own businesses, how to market their products and business. After the workshop we provide them money to start their own businesses, some are loans and others they don’t need to repay. After the courses, we connect the beneficiaries with factories or places of work. And others start their own small businesses.”

Khodr explained that psychological support is offered to women whose husbands were martyred or kidnapped by the FSA or other terrorist groups and to victims of domestic violence. “We teach them to know their rights,” he said.

Children also received psychological support, and for children who have left school because of the war, the Trust gives them special classes to get caught up enough to return to schools.

“This applies to children up to baccalaureate level. We also have classes for people who never studied, elderly who don’t know how to write or read. They receive a certificate from the Syrian government.”

I asked about the women whose husbands might have been members of the FSA or other terrorist groups. “Aren’t you worried that the women will earn money and give it to their husband, to the fighters?”

Khoder replied, “The people who live here are very poor, very in need. They want to live, eat, sleep in peace, they won’t be giving their money to fighters, they need it simply to live. Here we work with beneficiaries as people, not numbers. Other NGOs (UN etc) you’ll see them working in high-class clothing. Here we work with them as brothers and sisters. We work with them whatever their religious or political view. We work with them as humans. They are our brothers and sisters in Syria.”

This last point, about how the Trust deals with those it helps, I saw for myself when Trust employees were talking with the injured soldiers receiving vocational training. They indeed took an interest in the soldiers’ lives, engaging with them as fellow Syrians, to the point that when it was learned that it was the one year birthday of a soldier’s daughter, a cake was procured and we visited the family.

Over the tabbouleh and kibbeh the family offered, as the birthday girl wobbled around the room charming all, the grandfather, himself having served many years in the army, spoke with pride about his wounded son’s service. The personal insights gleaned from conversations and from seeing the state of homes helps the Trust to assess their needs, even needs not mentioned by recipients themselves.

 

More misery from the West: increased sanctions

In 2020, it’s no secret, and no longer debatable, that the misery Syria’s people have faced for almost a decade—the relentless, savage, terrorism of civilians and military alike—is a product of Western, particularly American, covert and overt meddling.

Western countries use forums like the United Nations as well as government-funded media to further their goals and distort the reality about events on the ground in Syria. The West supports terrorist gangs who have slaughtered and pillaged since the war on Syria started in 2011. In fact, the West and its Gulf allies instigated the non-revolution, flooding money and weapons into Syria before the first protests even emerged.

As I wrote on my personal blog in 2015:

In 2002, then-Under Secretary of State John Bolton added Syria (and Libya, Cuba) to the “rogue states” of George W Bush’s “Axis of Evil,”…meaning Syria was on the list of countries to “bring democracy to” (aka destroy) even back then.

Anthony Cartalucci’s “U.S. Planned Syrian Civilian Catastrophe Since 2007” laid out a number of pivotal statements and events regarding not only the war on Syria but also the events which would be falsely-dubbed the “Arab Spring.” Points include:

  • General Wesley Clark’s revelation of U.S. plans to destroy the governments of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Iran.
  • Seymour Hersh’s 2007 “The Redirection” on NATO and allies’ arming and training of sectarian extremists to create sectarian divide in Lebanon, Syria and beyond.

The 2009 Brookings Institution report, “Which Path to Persia?,” on plans to weaken Syria and Lebanon, to later attack Iran.

Further, asreported:

  • U.S. funding to the Syrian opposition began flowing under the Bush administration in 2005.
  • Since its founding in October 2011, the Syrian National Council has received $20.4 million from Libya, $15 million from Qatar, $5 million from the UAE.

Former French Minister for Foreign Affairs, Roland Dumas, in aJune 2013 TV interviewspoke of his meeting (two years prior) with British officials who confessed that:

Britain was organizing an invasion of rebels into Syria. This operation goes way back. It was prepared, preconceived and planned….”

 

The Caesar Act

The recent passage of the Caesar Act is the newest level of criminality targeting Syria, even the name of the act is based on a lie. An implementation of yet further brutal sanctions against the people of Syria, it will cause immense suffering, all under the premise of targeting Syria’s leadership and helping Syria’s people. The flawed and hypocritical logic is one which the U.S. has applied to tens of nations who have refused to cower to its hegemony.

Even U.S. envoy for Syria James Jeffrey has acknowledged America’s intentional destruction of Syria’s economy, allegedly stating recently that the sanctions, “contributed to the collapse of the value of the Syrian pound… the Syrian regime is no longer able to manage an effective economic policy… due to the economic crisis that is also affecting Lebanon. ”

In the same statement, Jeffrey claimed the sanctions will “protect” Syrians, a comment far from reality.

Recall that after the sanctions-induced murder of between one million-one and a half million civilians in Iraq, the Western narrative of sanctions as merely targeting leaders of nations has long been exposed for the malevolent lie that it is.

The website Sanctions Kill notes that “Sanctions are imposed by the United States and its junior partners against countries that resist their agendas. They are a weapon of Economic War, resulting in chronic shortages of basic necessities, economic dislocation, chaotic hyperinflation, artificial famines, disease, and poverty. In every country, the poorest and the weakest – infants, children, the chronically ill and the elderly – suffer the worst impact of sanctions.”

In Venezuela, sanctions led to the deaths of 40,000 Venezuelans in 2018 alone.

Heavily-sanctioned for years, Syria faces the same risks.

As Syrian-American activist, Johnny Achi, told me:

The sanctions on Syria have been imposed since I could remember. Firstly in 1979, when the U.S. first designated Syria as a state sponsor of terrorism for its roll in support of the PLO and the Palestinian cause.

‏In 2004, a new set of sanctions was imposed by Bush the son after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and after Syria refusing to kneel to the demands of the new world order.

Since the so-called “uprisings” began in March 2011, the Obama administration intensely pursued calibrated sanctions to deprive the Syrian government of the resources it needs to quell the terror and violence inflicted on the Syrian population by Obama’s supported Nusra and ISIS terror groups, and to pressure the Syrian president to give in and resign, “to allow for a democratic transition as the Syrian people demand.” Which could not be further away from the truth, since President Assad, by most Western reports, continued to enjoy no less than 70% popularity amongst all Syrians.

All these sanctions up to the new Caesar Act were bearable since Syria has always pride itself of being self-sufficient economically and never needed help from the international community, and refused to be in debt to the IMF or the World Bank.

The Caesar Act of 2019 came in direct response to the series of victories by the Syrian Army against terrorists across the whole country, setting the stage to the final battle of Idlib, the terrorists’ final hotbed.”

Under the sanctions levied by the Caesar Act, Syria cannot import vital medications or the materials to produce them, including for cancer, hypertension, and other critical ailments. Sanctioning Syria’s ability to import medicines, medical equipment, and among many other things, materials for rebuilding, is criminal and an act of terrorism.

As I wrote in a December 2019 editorial for RT:

When I was in Syria last October, a man told me his wife had been diagnosed with breast cancer, but because of the sanctions he couldn’t get her the conventional treatments most in the West would avail of.

In 2016, in Aleppo, before it was liberated of al-Qaeda and co, Dr. Nabil Antaki told me how –because of the sanctions– it had taken him well over a year to get a simple part for his gastroenterology practise.

In 2015, visiting Damascus’ University Hospital, where bed after bed was occupied by a child maimed by terrorists’ shelling (from Ghouta), a nurse told me:

“We have so many difficulties to ensure that we have antibiotics, specialized medicines, maintenance of the equipment… Because of the sanctions, many parts are not available, we have difficulties obtaining them.

In 2018, Syria’s Minister of Health told me that Syria had formerly been dubbed by the World Health Organization a “pioneer state” in providing health care.

“Syria had 60 pharmaceutical factories and was exporting medicine to 58 countries. Now, 16 of these factories are out of service. Terrorists partially or fully destroyed 46 hospitals and 620 medical centers,” he told me.

I asked the minister about the complex in Barzeh, targeted with missile strikes by the U.S. and its allies in April 2018. It turns out that it was part of the Ministry of Health and manufactured cancer treatment medications as well as antidotes for snake or scorpion bites and stings, the antidote also serving as a basic material in the manufacture of many other medicines.

Syrian-American doctor Hussam al-Samman told me about his efforts to send chemotherapy medications to Syria for cancer patients in remission. He jumped through the various hoops of America’s unforgiving bureaucracy to no avail. It was never possible in the first place.

We managed to get a meeting in the White House. We met Rob Malley, a top-notch assistant or adviser of Obama at that time. I asked them: ‘How in the world could your heart let you block chemotherapy from going to people with cancer in Syria?’

The U.S. and allied Western countries imposing the sanctions on Syria should be imprisoned for their crimes against humanity and their support of terrorism in Syria. Yet, there is never justice and the criminals run the show.

Fares Shehabi, a Syrian member of Parliament from Aleppo, highlighted the attack on his country’s economy in 2011:

…when EU backed “rebels” began a systematic campaign of burning & looting thousands of factories in Aleppo, including my own!” The EU, he continued, “sanctioned the Syrian economy to make things worse for our people!”

The latest round of sanctions against Syria, which came into effect on June 17, will target not only the people but also Syria’s ability to rebuild the country. This includes rebuilding the city of Raqqa, utterly destroyed by the U.S.-led coalition in Syria, whose presence is in violation of international law and of Syria’s sovereignty.

“Sanctions Kill” also notes, that, “Currencies are devalued and inflated when sanctions are levied. Countries are pressured to stop doing business with targeted countries. The first sectors affected are generally medicines, cost of food, power, water treatment and other essential human needs. Sanctions violate international law, the UN charter, Geneva and Nuremberg conventions because they target civilians by economic strangulation, creating famines, life threatening shortages, and economic chaos.”

According to the World Food Program, “7.9 million Syrians are food insecure – an increase of 22 percent in just one year. Syria is in the grip of a severe economic crisis, and this is driving levels of food insecurity. Rising food and fuel prices and a depreciating informal exchange rate are making it more difficult for families to access the food they need.”

This is precisely what is occurring in Syria, which, with the help of its allies, is attempting to rebuild. US sanctions will hinder the rebuilding process.

The other day I was chatting with a college student, Naji Kaskas, about how this new round of heightened sanctions affects him. He said:

I started working this year, my savings are in Syrian pounds. Now, they’ve lost half their value, or more. This Caesar Act, what it already has done to us is to contribute to the collapse of the Syrian currency.

We’re unable to buy food like chicken and meat, now, they’re way too expensive. Even milk. We’re not living a normal life, we have anxiety because our future is not stable.

Before, 500 Syrian pounds were equal to US$1 (Note: before 2011 it was around 50 Syrian pounds to the dollar). Now, it has reached 3,000 Syrian pounds, so our salaries are much less now.”

Jordanian political figures denounced the heightened sanctions appropriately as “economic terrorism”, calling them “one of the most dangerous types of crimes against humanity.”

Syrian-American activist Johnny Achi has been back to Syria countless times during the war, including since early 2011. He has seen the effects of the war and also the effects of the sanctions. He told me:

These final sanctions have broken the back of Syrians, whom after 10 years of war are exhausted, resources depleted, and simply put, were looking forward to the rebuilding process and the economic recovery. And that is precisely what these sanctions are meant to stop. Any country, or entity that attempts to help Syria gets back on its feet, will too become a target of the brutal US sanctions.

In a nutshell, what they could not take from us by force, they’re trying to take by punishing and starving an entire population.

But we will always remain resisting. After all that we’ve been through, and all the sacrifices we paid, we have no choice but to continue to live free or die free.”

Indeed, the people of Syria are fighting for their country, families and future, at great personal expense. Meanwhile, the US does everything in its power to destroy their future, country and livelihoods.

Who is really the terrorist state here?

Feature photo | A Syrian soldier who lost his legs while fighting in Syria’s war, helps his comrade after a physical therapy session, at the Ahmad Hamish Martyr hospital in Damascus, Syria. Hassan Ammar | AP

Eva Bartlett is a Canadian independent journalist and activist. She has spent years on the ground covering conflict zones in the Middle East, especially in Syria and Palestine. She is a recipient of the International Journalism Award for International Reporting and the Serena Shim Award For Uncompromised Integrity In Journalism. Visit her personal blog, In Gaza, and support her work on Patreon.

The post The Caesar Act: The Latest Western Attack on Syria Didn’t Drop From a Plane appeared first on MintPress News.

From Lebanon to Syria, the Arab World is Failing Palestinian Refugees

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 14/05/2020 - 6:40am in

Heinous racism. That is how the Geneva-based Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor described a recent decision by Lebanese authorities to bar Palestinian refugee expats from returning to Lebanon.

Lebanon’s restrictions on its ever-diminishing population of Palestinian refugees is nothing new. However, this event is particularly alarming as it may be linked to a long-term official policy regarding the residency status of Palestinian refugees in this Arab country.

Many were taken aback by a recent Lebanese government’s order to its embassy in the United Arab Emirates, instructing it to prevent Palestinian refugees from returning to their homes in Lebanon.

Tariq Hajjar, a legal advisor to the Euro-Med Monitor said in a statement that “the circular includes heinous racial discrimination against Palestinian refugees holding Lebanese travel documents.”

Hajjar rightly insisted that “the holder of this document should receive similar treatment to the Lebanese citizen.”

Indeed they should, as has been the practice for many years. Otherwise, there is no other place where these refugees can possibly go, considering that Lebanon has been their home for decades, starting in 1948 when Israel forcefully expelled nearly a million Palestinians from their historic homeland.

Refugees, regardless of their race, ethnicity or religion, should be treated with respect and dignity, no matter the political complexity of their host countries. Palestinian refugees in Lebanon cannot be made an exception.

Last April, the Palestinian Association for Human Rights called on the United Nations to provide financial assistance to Lebanon’s Palestinian refugees, indicating that due to the coronavirus pandemic, a whopping 90 percent of all Palestinian refugees in Lebanon have lost their jobs.

Under discriminatory Lebanese laws, Palestinian refugees are not allowed to practice 72 types of jobs that are available to Lebanese nationals. This is merely one of many other such restrictions. Thus, employed Palestinian refugees in Lebanon (the vast majority of whom are now unemployed) have been competing within a very limited work market.

A large number of those refugees have been employed at the various projects operated by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).

Many of those who were lucky enough to receive university degrees opted to leave the country altogether, mostly working in the teaching, engineering, banking, and medical sectors in Arab Gulf countries.

However, due to the coronavirus, the severe financial hardship suffered by UNRWA and to new Lebanese government regulations, all doors are now being shut in the face of Palestinian refugees.

For thousands of those refugees, the only remaining option is sailing the high seas in search for a better refugee status in Europe. Yet, sadly, tens of thousands of those refugees are now living a miserable life in European camps, or stranded in Turkey. Hundreds drowned while undertaking these perilous journeys.

According to a recent survey by  the Lebanese Central Administration of Statistics, conducted jointly with the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, only 175,000 (from nearly half a million) Palestinian refugees still reside in Lebanon.

That said, the Palestinian refugee tragedy in Lebanon is only a facet in a much larger ailment that is unique to the Palestinian refugee experience.

Syria’s Palestinian refugees arrived in the country in waves, starting with the Zionist ethnic cleansing of Palestine during the ‘Nakba’, or Catastrophe. Others fled the Golan Heights after the Israeli invasion in 1967. Many more fled Lebanon during the Israeli 1982 invasion.

The relatively safe Syrian haven was ruptured during the ongoing Syria war started in 2011. UNRWA’s mission, which allowed it to provide the nearly half a million Palestinian refugees in Syria with direct support was made nearly impossible because of the destructive war, and the fact that hundreds of thousands of Palestinians either fled the country or became internally displaced.

The devastating impact of the Syrian war on Palestinian refugees was almost an exact copy of what had transpired earlier during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and the American invasion of Iraq in 2003.

In the case of Iraq, where most of the country’s 35,000 refugees fled, the Palestinian refugee crisis was particularly compounded. While Palestinians enjoyed a permanent residence status (though no ownership rights) in Iraq before the war, they were still not recognized as refugees as per international standards, since UNRWA does not operate in Iraq. Post-2003 Iraqi governments exploited this fact to the fullest, leading to the displacement the country’s Palestinian population.

Since its advent, the US Administration of President Donald Trump has waged a financial war on the Palestinians, including the cutting of all aids to UNRWA. This infamous act has added layers of suffering to the existing hardships of refugees.

On May 5, UNRWA, somberly declared that it only has enough cash to sustain its operations until the end of the month.

The truth is that, long before Trump targeted the UN agency, UNRWA has functioned for over 70 years with an inherent vulnerability.

UNRWA was established exclusively with a UN mandate that provided the organization with a “separate and special status” to assist Palestinian refugees.

Arab governments, at the time, were keen for UNRWA to maintain this ‘special status’ based on their belief that lumping Palestinian refugees with the burgeoning world refugee crisis (resulting mostly from War World II) would downgrade the urgency of the Palestinian plight.

However, while that logic may have applied successfully in the immediate years following the ‘Nakba’, it proved costly in later years, as the status and definition of what constitute a Palestinian refugee remained historically linked to UNRWA’s scope of operations.

This became clear during the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, but, especially, since the start of political upheavals and subsequent wars in the Middle East in the last decade.

This is precisely why the US and Israel are keen on dismantling UNRWA, because, according to their logic, if UNRWA ceases to operate, the Palestinian refugee ceases to exist with any status that makes him/her unique.

Such precarious reality calls for an urgent and creative solution that should be spearheaded by Arab countries, UN-registered NGOs, and friends of Palestine everywhere.

What is needed today is a UN-adopted formula that would allow the legal status of Palestinian refugees under international law to remain active regardless of  UNRWA’s scope of operation while providing Palestinian refugees with the material and financial support required for them to live with dignity until the Right of Return, in accordance to UN Resolution 194 of 1948, is finally enforced.

For the rights of Palestinian refugees to be maintained and for the Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria scenarios not to be repeated, the Arab League must work within the framework of international law – as determined by the UN General Assembly – to safeguard the Palestinian refugees’ legal status which is currently under an unprecedented attack.

Palestinian refugees must not have to choose between forfeiting their legal and unalienable right in their own homeland and accepting a life of perpetual degradation and uncertainty.

Feature photo | A Palestinian man walks down an empty street after lockdown imposed by Lebanese authorities at Jalil, or Galilee refugee camp, in Baalbek, Lebanon, April 24, 2020. Hussein Malla | AP

Ramzy Baroud is a journalist and the Editor of The Palestine Chronicle. He is the author of five books. His latest is “These Chains Will Be Broken: Palestinian Stories of Struggle and Defiance in Israeli Prisons” (Clarity Press, Atlanta). Dr. Baroud is a Non-resident Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA), Istanbul Zaim University (IZU). His website is www.ramzybaroud.net.

The post From Lebanon to Syria, the Arab World is Failing Palestinian Refugees appeared first on MintPress News.

Erdogan’s Idlib Misadventure: Reality Checks and Hard Lessons for Turkey

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 04/04/2020 - 2:17am in

Even when viewed through the prism of Turkish interests, President Tayyib Erdogan’s escalatory actions in Syria’s Idlib governorate constitute now plainly evident blunder. Refusing to finally abandon its occupation of Idlib has so far produced numerous setbacks for Turkey, visible to all but the brashest of Erdogan’s diehard supporters. It also threatens to damage Turkey’s ability to leverage its ties with numerous foreign powers that enable it to invest in its overseas adventures in the first place.

Turkey deployed large numbers of troops and artillery to Idlib to fight the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) as it began operations in February to retake Idlib while colluding with the a-Qaeda-linked terrorist group, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). With a Russian no-fly zone imposed over Idlib and strong Russian aerial support and material supplies, the SAA moved on Idlib with the goal of destroying HTS. The Turks subsequently lost ground and Erdogan hurriedly sought Russia’s assistance for a ceasefire.

As noted by Turkish analyst Cengiz Candar, Erdogan was clearly the junior partner in the equation as he failed to secure a visit from Russian President Vladimir Putin to Turkey and was instead received in Moscow in a rather humiliating fashion:

The most striking humiliation of the Turkish guests appeared in the choreography of the meeting. Footage showed the crowded Turkish delegation standing under an imposing statue of Catherine the Great, the Russian empress who annexed Crimea from Ottoman Turkey in 1783 and defeated the Ottomans several times in the Russo-Turkish wars in 1768-74 and 1787-1792. To add insult to injury, Erdogan was seated next to Putin under a bronze sculpture of Russian soldiers of the fateful Russian-Turkish War that ended in Ottoman Turkey’s defeat in 1878.”

The ceasefire terms Erdogan finally obtained from Putin during his March 5 visit were a far cry from the first major Erdogan-Putin brokered ceasefire in Idlib, the Sochi Agreement inked in September 2018. While the Sochi Agreement had de facto allowed Turkey to maintain forces inside Idlib, neither Sochi or the March 5 ceasefire entailed or was followed by tangible steps that would ensure Turkey rid Idlib of terrorist groups such as HTS. In fact, the March 5 ceasefire forced Turkey to swallow some bitter pills.

Putin and Erdogan Moscow meeting

Putin, second from right, and Erdogan, center, talk during their meeting in the Kremlin during the March 5, 2020 meeting in Moscow. Pavel Golovkin | AP

The ceasefire, which began in earnest on March 6, did not address the issue of the Turkish military observation posts that found themselves surrounded by the SAA’s advance. This effectively left their fate in the hands of their enemy. While Turkey can leverage Russia to oversee the continuation of supplies to these posts, their stranded status itself marks another Turkish failure in Idlib.

Additionally, the ceasefire terms imposed by Russia meant that Erdogan’s previously-successful tightrope act of using militant extremists (such as HTS) as proxies while continuing to have de-facto Russian acquiescence to extended Turkish military presence in Syria, was no longer tenable. It did this by declaring four-mile deep security zones to be jointly patrolled by Turkish and Russian forces to the north and south of the vital M4 Highway, leaving Erdogan with an easy choice: foster terrorists within the same vicinity as Russian forces and severely antagonize a vital partner state or remove them from the zones.

As noted by al-Masdar News, the deal allowed Syria to keep the ground it gained and paved the way for the eventual liberation of the M4 Highway from terrorists without Turkey intervening to protect them. Syria already liberated another vital road, the M5 Highway, prior to the ceasefire and maintained control of it.

That the deal represented Russia punishing Turkey, even if without drastic measures, for pushing the envelope too far vis a vis its actions inside Syrian territory exemplifies the extent of Turkey’s blunders in Idlib. This is because Russia, even after Erdogan’s constant disregard for the Sochi Agreement’s terms regarding terrorist groups, tended to cooperate with Turkey a great deal in Syria.

 

The Ill-conceived Idlib adventure damages Turkey’s credibility

A key example of such generous Russian assistance to Turkey was the October 22, 2019, Putin-Erdogan Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). The MoU ended Turkey’s successful Operation Peace Spring that month against its Kurdish enemies who were entrenched with U.S. support in northeastern Syria. It also ‘legitimized’ Turkey’s military presence in the areas consolidated by granting it a 32-kilometer deep safe zone. The Kurds were also mandated to be disarmed and incorporated into the Syrian military, over which Russia possesses considerable leverage.

Russia is unlikely to try to force an abrupt Turkish withdrawal, but it has clarified to Erdogan that his Idlib policies are an irritant in Russia-Turkey ties.

The United States – who Turkey’s operation successfully forced to make the tactically-easy choice to abandon the landlocked ethno-secessionist Kurds of the ‘Syrian Democratic Forces’ in deference to NATO member Turkey – approved the MoU’s status quo. However, Turkey remained well aware of the increasingly anti-Turkish Congress heatedly opposing the operation due to support for the SDF by Israel and its powerful U.S. lobbyists, giving Erdogan even more reason to view Russia as a partner.

The most striking example of Russia’s accommodation of Erdogan’s ambitions was the MoU indirectly greenlighting his plans to demographically engineer northeastern Syria away from a Kurdish majority. It did so by affirming Turkey’s ‘right’ to resettle Syrian refugees in Syria without demarcating a specific area for this important function, leaving the choice to Turkey.

Syria Idlib refugees

Syrian refugees travel en masse through the town of Hazano in Idlib province, Jan. 27, 2020. Ghaith Alsayed | AP

Erdogan with his latest actions thus irritated a vital partner, making himself look even worse in the process with erratic requests to the U.S. and NATO for assistance. The latter’s assistance came in rhetoric only, dismissing any prospects of intervention on Turkey’s behalf in Idlib.

The Idlib fiasco has, however, confronted Turkey with more than just lessons on the pitfalls of investing in dangerous foreign policy ventures based on an over-estimation of its own power. It has confronted the uncomfortable Turks with a much broader, deeper lesson: that opportunities presented to them by malignant foreign powers to gain military, economic and strategic hegemony at the expense of neighboring states will ultimately lead to their own isolation and downfall and that coexistence with neighboring states in defiance of such tempting opportunities is in Turkey’s best interest.

 

Why Turkey’s own interests demand peace with Syria

This lesson, in fact, was alluded to relatively recently by Syrian President Bashar al Assad, who reasonably stated in an interview on March 4 that socio-cultural factors made Turkey and Syria’s nations share ‘brotherly’ ties. Assad reiterated his past stance that conflict between Turkey and Syria – and Turkey’s military presence in Syria – was pointless.

But will Turkey embrace this understanding or eschew it? Whatever path it chooses, there seems due to be due recognition and acknowledgment among Turkey’s policymakers of recent events in Idlib as marking a turning point in Turkey’s regional posture and foreign relations.

On this note, Turkish strategic analyst and former military advisor Metin Gurcan asserts that the tumult in Idlib has brought Turkey to a crossroads in its geostrategic orientation. According to Gurcan, powers in Turkey have split with regard to Turkey’s path forward after the events in Idlib and a ‘moment of truth’ is approaching regarding choosing whether Turkey embraces neighborly coexistence or continued conflict:

The choice they face is not an easy one. Continued alignment with the Russian-Iranian axis dictates reconciliation with Assad in northern Syria, while opting for collaboration with the US-Israeli axis would require Turkey to soften its hard-line stance on the PKK-affiliated YPG. By relying on its own military capacity, meanwhile, it would run the risk of showdowns with Washington, Moscow, Tehran and Damascus on the battlefield.”

A Turkey which has adequately learned its lessons from Idlib will not see reconciliation with Assad as a caveat in embracing regional powers such as Iran and Russia, which lack the appetite for conflagration in Syria that the U.S. and Israel do. It will, in fact, withdraw from all Syrian territory as been all-too-prudent since Turkey dismantled the only understandable threat to its security in the form of the Kurdish contras in October of last year. Turkey needs cordial ties with Syria’s allies in Russia and Iran, both of whose highly differing reasons for supporting Damascus intertwine at the consensus on the need to rid it of extremist terrorists which Turkey has seen for too long as proxies.

Turkey’s ties with the powers that have facilitated the ravaging of Syria by war and terrorism already exhibited a clear downward trend. With regard to the U.S., Erdogan cannot – as some in Turkey hope – leverage his personal rapport with U.S. President Donald Trump enough to overcome the rising anti-Turkey sentiment in the U.S. Congress and media.

Turkey’s dreams of joining the European Union (EU) can also be said to be dead, especially after Erdogan took to utilizing the threat of launching refugees at EU shores for the EU’s perceived intransigence toward his interests and demands in Syria.

Russia and Iran thus assume heightened importance for a Turkey driven by rationality and not hot-headed power-grabs such as in Idlib, which they both disapprove of. Russia has proven an efficient means for Turkey to hedge its bets when greeted with indifference from the West and Turkey has availed it as such amply in the past, going through with joint ventures opposed vehemently by the U.S., such as the purchase of Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile systems and economic projects such as the TurkStream gas pipeline.

Iran, for its part, is beginning to be seen by Turkey as a means of responding to the downward trends in Israel-Turkey ties, albeit in a less visible manner than Russia has in regards to the U.S. and EU. Just as Turkey and Israel experience a ‘falling out’ over issues ranging from dominance over Eastern Mediterranean gas reserves to the Israeli alliance with the anti-Turkish Gulf Arabs (GCC) and the rival factions Turkey and Israel back in the Libyan Civil War, Turkey can be seen developing a closer understanding with Iran on these very issues.

Turkey would serve both itself and the region better if it were to acknowledge Assad’s view of the Turkish and Syrian peoples having no genuine quarrels with each other and scale back its concept of Turkish interests which involve creating such quarrels. If anything, Turkey should withdraw from Syria and concentrate efforts toward Libya, where the UN-recognized Government of National Accord controls less territory than the Israeli-GCC backed warlord, General Khalifa Haftar, and is economically and militarily weaker.

If, however, it continues to escalate matters in Idlib, where terrorists have not respected the March 5 ceasefire, Turkey will erode its ties to both Russia and Iran. Its own case in Libya will weaken and it will find itself not only back in the U.S. and Israeli camp, but actively over-reliant on it. In view of all these factors, Erdogan would do well to interpret Assad’s comments on Syrian-Turkish relations as an invitation toward better ties and accept it enthusiastically.

Feature photo | Graphic by Claudio Cabrera

Agha Hussain is an independent researcher based in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. He specialized in Middle Eastern affairs and history and is an editorial contributor to Eurasia Future, Regional Rapport and other news outlets. Read more of his work on his personal blog.

The post Erdogan’s Idlib Misadventure: Reality Checks and Hard Lessons for Turkey appeared first on MintPress News.

US Accused of Using Food Aid to Smuggle Weapons to Militants in Syria’s Rukban Refugee Camp

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 31/03/2020 - 7:26am in

DAMASCUS (Mideast Discourse) — While the COVID-19 pandemic has taken center stage in the media, little attention is being paid to a tragedy playing out in southeastern Syria. Far away from the western media coverage of the “Islamic State of Idlib”, the scene is set in a desolate area on the border between Syria and Iraq, adjacent to the illegal U.S. military base of Al Tanf.  The Rukban Camp holds 13,500 displaced Syrian civilians and 6,000 armed militant terrorists of Maghawir Al-Thawra and their families.

On March 28, the Russian-Syrian Coordination Committee released a statement in Damascus, in which they exposed U.S. support for the terrorists who control the camp. Under the guise of humanitarian aid, the U.S. has coerced the UN into complicity. UN aid trucks, according to the statement, are being used to deliver not only food and supplies to the suffering civilians but also arms and ammunition to Maghawir Al-Thawra who administer the camp. The U.S. uses the residents of the camp as a pretext to continue its illegal occupation of the area, claiming the U.S. troops are protecting the displaced civilians living at the camp.

The situation in the camp is dire, as the terrorists are in complete control, even deciding who eats, and who starves. According to the joint statement, many civilians have been evacuated from the camp and relocated to government-controlled areas that are safe and have free medical care facilities under the Syrian Ministry of Health, who work in conjunction with the World Health Organization (WHO).  However, the U.S.-backed terrorists have prevented some civilians from leaving by threatening them with dire consequences based on misinformation. Maghawir Al-Thawra is benefitting from the suffering civilians trapped in the camp as hostages.

The ‘Russian Centre for Syrian Reconciliation’ said in September 2019 that the Rukban Camp is controlled by an illegally armed militia, and they had refused to let UN buses inside to evacuate those who needed to be evacuated, instead insisting on using the civilians as human shields. Maghawir Al-Thawra had seized a large cargo delivered by the UN and the Syrian Red Crescent and the confiscated goods were warehoused by the terrorists.

“Sometimes, we received aid from the Red Crescent, but we only saw a small portion of it, most often sold to us, not given for free. The militants take the free aid and resell it to the refugees — that’s their business. To get money, we had to work at the camp. They set up a brick factory and we had to work like dogs there,” said Ahmad Mohammed, a former resident at Rukban Camp, who has been evacuated to Palmyra, and is now living safely there. He said that Maghawir Al-Thawra was selling humanitarian aid given freely, “Medical aid depended on the militants, too: if you co-operate, you have access to doctors. If you don’t, there will be no aid,” Mr. Mohammed said.

The U.S. military uses the assets on hand, in this case Maghawir Al-Thawra, to keep the very small numbers of American troops safe, and firmly in control of the area. The Pentagon knows it would be very hard to get approval for 6,000 Americans troops to hold Al Tanf, but the terrorists are on hand and are vicious fighters who will carry out crimes without batting an eye.

U.S. troops illegally occupied the area at Al Tanf in 2015, defying international law and the UN charter. President Trump famously ordered the troops to withdraw from Syria, only to back-track later and order the U.S. military to occupy and confiscate the oil wells in the Deir-Ez-Zor area illegally.  However, the U.S. military presence at Al Tanf has never been under the withdrawal order, and the U.S. military base there is only manned by a few hundred troops.  They partner with the Maghawir Al-Thawra, who are on the U.S. payroll and are tasked with the security and administration of Rukban.

“We believe that the American side’s reluctance to exert influence on their militants to ensure the unhindered departure of people from the Camp and the safe work of humanitarian representatives in the At-Tanf zone they occupied is clear evidence of their intention,” the March 28 statement asserted.

 

The UN is prolonging the suffering

On March 18, UNICEF shut down the only clinic providing Rukban Camp residents with advanced medical care, such as surgeries, and Caesarean-sections. Two days later a group in Rukban issued an urgent appeal addressed to the UN and the international community in general, calling for quick action to lift what it called the “Coronavirus siege,” which has only worsened the already miserable situation in the camp.

Serena Shim, an American journalist, was covering the Syrian conflict from the Turkish-Syrian border in 2014. She had reported that terrorists had crossed from Turkey into Syria on trucks bearing the symbols of the UN’s ‘World Food Organisation’ and other humanitarian aid organizations.  She was killed the day after she had broadcast that the Turkish intelligence agency had threatened her. While her death was pinned on a cement truck hitting her small car, the driver of the truck was never charged.

Syrians need to return to normal life in their homes, not in camps. The solution for the Rukban Camp is to be shut down, the residents evacuated to safe areas, which have aid, schools and medical care available.  The US troops should evacuate from the area, taking with them their partners Maghawir Al-Thawra. The Syrian war is over. Peace has returned to Syria, and there is no justification for keeping hostages in a camp, which has always been more like a prison than a sanctuary.

Feature photo | A U.S.-backed anti-government fighter mans a heavy machine gun next to a US soldier in al Tanf, a border crossing between Syria and Iraq. Hammurabi’s Justice News | AP

Steven Sahouni is an independent Syrian political analyst and writer based in Lebanon; he has been covering the Syrian crisis since it’s onset in 2011 and has published several articles in numerous media outlets – He is regularly interviewed by US, Canadian and German media.

The post US Accused of Using Food Aid to Smuggle Weapons to Militants in Syria’s Rukban Refugee Camp appeared first on MintPress News.

White Helmets or Whitewash?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 28/03/2020 - 5:01pm in

The broad definition of propaganda is information, especially of a biased or misleading nature used to promote a political cause or point of view. So what is the British taxpayer not being told about the ongoing war in Syria?

The post White Helmets or Whitewash? appeared first on Renegade Inc.

White Helmets or Whitewash?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 28/03/2020 - 5:01pm in

The broad definition of propaganda is information, especially of a biased or misleading nature used to promote a political cause or point of view. So what is the British taxpayer not being told about the ongoing war in Syria?

The post White Helmets or Whitewash? appeared first on Renegade Inc.

The UK Hasn’t Bombed Iraq or Syria Since Last September. What Gives?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 24/03/2020 - 11:57pm in

The UK’s involvement in the U.S.-led air war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria has slowly and quietly wound down over the last few months. Official figures show that the UK hasn’t dropped a single bomb as part of this campaign since September last year.

However, where those bombs have caused significant civilian harm is still uncertain, even after some of these sites have been investigated. According to the data, 4,215 bombs and missiles were launched from Reaper drones or RAF jets in Syria and Iraq over a five-year period. Despite the number of munitions and the lengthy timeframe in which they were deployed, the UK has only admitted to one civilian casualty in the entire conflict.

The UK’s account is directly contradicted by numerous sources, including its closest wartime ally, the United States. The U.S.-led coalition has estimated that its airstrikes have caused 1,370 civilian casualties, and has distinctly stated it has credible evidence that civilian casualties have ensued in bombings involving RAF bombers.

The British Ministry of Defence (MOD) hasn’t actually visited a single site in Iraq or Syria to investigate allegations of civilian casualties. Instead, the coalition relies heavily on aerial footage to determine if civilians have been killed, even while knowing that aerial footage would not be able to identify civilians buried beneath the rubble. This has allowed the MOD to conclude that it has reviewed all of the available evidence but has “seen nothing that indicates civilian casualties were caused.”

 

UK-induced civilian deaths: what we know so far

There are at least three RAF airstrikes that have been tracked by Airwars, a UK based not-for-profit organization that tracks the air war against ISIS, predominantly in Iraq and Syria. One of the sites in Mosul, Iraq, was visited by the BBC in 2018 after it became aware civilian casualties were likely. Following this investigation, the U.S. admitted that two civilians were “unintentionally killed.”

In another site struck by British bombers in Raqqa, Syria, the U.S. military readily admitted that 12 civilians were “unintentionally killed” and six “unintentionally injured” as a result of the blast. The UK has issued no such admission.

Despite this confirmation from the leading arm of the coalition, the UK has remained adamant that the available evidence has not demonstrated civilian harm caused by its reaper drones or RAF jets. The UK has insisted it wants “hard proof” which is an even greater standard of evidence than that of the United States.

“While we’re not aware of specific UK cases beyond the four detailed [including the UK’s one confirmed event],” Chris Woods, director of Airwars told MintPressNews via email, “we’ve alerted MoD to more than 100 potential UK civilian harm events in recent years. While a proportion turned out not to be RAF strikes, we remain concerned about many possible further cases.”

Woods also added:

Our investigation shows the UK continues to clear itself of civilian deaths from RAF strikes – even where the US-led Coalition determines such events to be credible. In effect, the Ministry of Defence has set the investigative bar so high that it’s currently impossible for them to admit casualties. This systemic failing is a gross misjustice to those Iraqis and Syrians who have paid the ultimate price in the war against ISIS.”

The fact that UK bombers were active in Mosul speaks volumes as to how deep this deception runs. While the U.S.-led coalition downplayed deaths in Mosul (and often blamed them on ISIS), a special AP report found that during the U.S.-led mission, some 9,000 to 11,000 civilians had died, nearly ten times what had been previously reported in the media. The number of deaths found by AP was still relatively conservative, as it did not take into account the dead still buried underneath the rubble.

 

The elephant in the corporate media’s room

The presence of U.S., UK or any coalition troops, personnel, jets or drones in Syria’s sovereign territory is questionable at best, and outright illegal at worst. How the UK legally justifies its military presence in a sovereign country is still unclear, but as far as Syria’s president is concerned, all foreign troops uninvited by the government have invaded the country.

Leaked audio of then-secretary of state John Kerry confirmed the U.S. knew their presence in Syria was illegal, yet to this day nothing has been done to address this. Speaking to Syrian opposition members at a meeting at the Dutch Mission to the UN, Kerry said:

… And we don’t have the basis – our lawyers tell us – unless we have the U.N. Security Council Resolution, which the Russians can veto, and the Chinese, or unless we are under attack from the folks there, or unless we are invited in. Russia is invited in by the legitimate regime – well it’s illegitimate in our mind – but by the regime. And so they were invited in and we are not invited in. We’re flying in airspace there where they can turn on the air defenses and we would have a very different scene. The only reason they are letting us fly is because we are going after ISIL. If we were going after Assad, those air defenses, we would have to take out all the air defenses, and we don’t have the legal justification, frankly, unless we stretch it way beyond the law.” [emphasis added]

Even if the U.S.-UK entry into Syria could be justified on legal grounds, the effects of this campaign were nothing short of criminal. In mid-2018, Amnesty International released a report which described the onslaught as a U.S.-led “war of annihilation,” having visited 42 coalition airstrikes sites across the city of Raqqa.

Most credible estimates of the damage done to Raqqa indicate that the U.S. left at least 80 percent of it uninhabitable. One must also bear in mind that during this destruction, the U.S. cut a secret deal with “hundreds” of ISIS fighters and their families to leave  Raqqa under the “gaze of the US and British-led coalition and Kurdish-led forces who control the city.” 

A U.S.-backed Syrian fighter from the SDF stands amidst the ruins of buildings near the Clock Square in Raqqa, Syria October 18, 2017. (Erik De Castro/Reuters)

An SDF militant stands amid the ruins of buildings near the Clock Square in Raqqa, Syria October 18, 2017. Erik De Castro | Reuters

As explained to MintPressNews by anti-war campaigner David Swanson:

The legalistic-ish justification for war on Syria has varied, never been clear, never been in the slightest convincing, but has focused on the war not really being a war. Of course it’s a violation of the UN Charter, the Kellogg-Briand Pact, and the laws of Syria.”

Swanson added:

Only people dumbed down or beaten down enough to accept the notion that you can bomb a country and not kill civilians could accept that it’s legal to do so.”

 

Where to next for the UK military?

With the continued, ongoing threat posed by COVID-19, Brexit, and a public and social economic crisis, the UK appears to have enough on its internal plate in the meantime. However, even under the leadership of David Cameron – a prime minister who believes his austerity measures were too soft – the UK still found the resources and funding needed to bomb Libya back tp the Stone Age in 2011.

The UK will likely always find a reason to follow the U.S. into war depending on the geopolitical significance of the battle arena. As public intellectual and MIT professor Noam Chomsky explained to MintPress via email “Brexit very likely will turn Britain into even more of a US vassal than it has been recently.” However, Chomsky noted that “much is unpredictable in these deeply troubled times” and indicated the UK did have a unique opportunity to take its fate into its own hands post-Brexit.

Swanson echoed Chomsky’s concern, advising that war under the leadership of Boris Johnson appears to be more, not less, likely. “There is a cardinal rule of corporate media,” Swanson explained, “Thou shalt not criticize a current racist sociopathic buffoon without glorifying a past one. Thus, we see Boris being compared with Winston [Churchill].”

The more likely scenario is that the UK will follow the recent U.S. doctrine of declaring the Indo-Pacific its “priority theatre” and winding down its wars in the Middle East and elsewhere on that basis.

Boris Johnson Feature photo

Boris Johnson talks to British armed forces servicemen based in Orzysz, Poland, June 21, 2018. Czarek Sokolowski | AP

At the end of 2018, the UK announced it was establishing diplomatic representation in Lesotho, Swaziland, the Bahamas, Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa Tonga and Vanuatu. With its existing representation in Fiji, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea (PNG), the UK will likely have better reach than the U.S. in this region.

Earlier this year, the UK also opened its new mission to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Jakarta, Indonesia. Further, the UK’s National Security Capability Review also noted that the “Asia-Pacific region is likely to become more important to us in the years ahead”, echoing a similar sentiment to that of the MOD’s Mobilising, Modernising & Transforming Defence policy paper published in December 2018.

In 2018, it quietly deployed warships to the region for the first time in five years. The UK has also continued regular military exercises with Malaysian and Singaporean troops and maintains a military presence in Brunei and a logistics station in Singapore. There are even talks that the UK will seek to build a new base in the region.

The fact that a royal navy warship was challenged in the South China Sea by the Chinese military should give one an idea of where this is all headed.

As the rise of China in this region raises more challenges for the US-NATO establishment than Iraq and Syria will in the near future, we should expect the UK to divert more of its military resources and focus to this region in a bid to counter and confront China at every possible avenue.

Feature photo | Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II is escorted by Station Commander Group Captain James Beckpast during a visit to Royal Air Force Marham, east England, Feb. 3, 2020. Richard Pohle | AP

Darius Shahtahmasebi is a New Zealand-based legal and political analyst who focuses on US foreign policy in the Middle East, Asia and Pacific region. He is fully qualified as a lawyer in two international jurisdictions.

The post The UK Hasn’t Bombed Iraq or Syria Since Last September. What Gives? appeared first on MintPress News.

Death at the Border: Syrian Refugees Should Not Be Used as Political Pawns

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 20/03/2020 - 1:27am in

Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced in a surprising move on February 29 that he would be reopening his country’s border to Europe, allowing tens of thousands of mostly Syrian refugees into Greece and other European countries.

Expectedly, over 100,000 people rushed to the Ipsala border point in the Edirne province separating Turkey from Greece, hoping to make it through the once-porous border.

Even though the sea route was not initially opened for the refugees, many attempted to brave the sea anyway, using small fishing boats and dinghies. A few have reportedly reached the Greek Islands.

What transpired was one of the most tragic, heart-rendering episodes of the Syrian war and the subsequent refugee crisis saga.

This time around, Greece, with tacit political support from the rest of the European Union, was determined not to allow any of the refugees into its territories.

The prevailing understanding in Europe is that the Turkish government was purposely engineering a refugee crisis to press the EU into supporting Turkish military operations in Idlib in northern Syria.

“They didn’t come here on their own,” the Greek Public Order Minister, Michalis Chrysohoidis, told reporters on February 29, with reference to the flood of refugees at his country’s border. “They are being sent away and being used by (our) neighbor, Turkey,” he added.

While the media focused mostly on Erdogan’s decision within the context of the Idlib conflict, little mention was made of the fact that Syrian and other refugees in Turkey have been the focal point of an internal crisis within the country itself.

The Istanbul mayoral election (held on March 31 and, again, on June 23) underscored the anti-refugee sentiment among ordinary Turks, one that is compounded by the fact that Turkey itself has been subjected to a protracted economic recession.

Unsurprisingly, the over 3.5 million Syrian refugees who had fled the war in their country over the last decade are being scapegoated by opportunistic politicians, the likes of Istanbul’s new Mayor, Ekrem Imamoglu

“Imamoglu was  … able to tap into simmering discontent with the large number of Syrian refugees in Istanbul in the context of his general complaints about the high level of unemployment in the city,” wrote Bulent Aliriza and Zeynep Ekeler on the Center for Strategic and International Studies website.

The Turkish government is now fully aware of the obvious correlation in the minds of many Turkish voters between the oppressive economic crisis and the Syrian refugee population in Turkey.

In fact, a recurring argument made by the Turkish government is that its military campaign in northern Syria is ultimately motivated by its desire to create a safe zone that would allow for the resettlement of many Syrian refugees.

With its NATO alliance faltering, and with growing difficulties at the northern Syrian front, Turkey’s strategy quickly fell apart. However, the scenes of naked, shivering refugees running back to the Turkish side, after being pushed away by Greek military and police was not only indicative of Turkey’s growing political dilemma, but of Europe’s betrayal of Syrian refugees and its utter incompetence in fashioning long-term solutions to a crisis that has been brewing for years.

On March 18, 2016, Turkey and EU countries signed the statement of cooperation, which resulted in a short-lived barter. According to the deal, Turkey agreed to stem the flow of refugees into Europe in exchange for economic incentives to help Ankara cope with the economic burden, partly resulting from the refugee crisis.

Aside from the fact that Turkey has claimed that the EU failed to fulfill its part of the deal, the agreement did not offer a long-term solution, let alone a political vision that would ultimately end the suffering of millions of Syrians.

What makes the Syrian refugee crisis within the Turkish-EU context particularly complex is the fact that the refugees are finding themselves hostage to selfish, political calculations that view them as a burden or a pawn.

This unfortunate reality has left Syrian refugees in Turkey with three options, all of which are dismal: returning to a war zone in Syria, coping with unemployment and an increasingly hostile political environment in Turkey or making a run for the Greek border.

When Ahmed Abu Emad, a young Syrian refugee from Aleppo, opted for the third and final option on March 2, he was shot in the throat by Greek border police. His fellow refugees rushed his gaunt body back to Turkey, where he was laid to rest.

Considering their limited options, however, neither death, injury nor torture will end the quest of Syrian refugees, who are desperately trying, as they have for years, to find a safe space and badly needed respite.

Perhaps only Palestinian refugees can relate to the dilemma of their Syrian brethren. It is one thing to be pushed out of your homeland, but it is a whole different thing to be refused, dehumanized and subjugated everywhere else.

The Syrian refugee crisis is a political, not a humanitarian crisis – despite the palpable humanitarian component of it. Therefore, it can only be resolved based on a comprehensive political solution that keeps the interest of millions of Syrian refugees – in fact, the Syrian people as a whole – as a top priority.

Several ‘solutions’ have been devised in the past but they have all failed, simply because various governments in the Middle East and Europe have tried to exploit the refugees for their own political, economic, and ‘security’ interests.

The time has come for a more considerate and thoughtful political strategy that is predicated on respect for international and humanitarian laws, one that adheres to the Geneva Conventions regarding the rights of war refugees.

Syrian refugees do not deserve such inhumane treatment. They have a country, glorious history and a deeply-rooted culture that has profoundly influenced ancient and modern civilizations. They deserve respect, rights, and safety. Equally important, they should not be used as pawns in a costly and dirty political game in which they have no interest or choice.

Feature photo | Refugees walk next to discarded shoes and boots outside the perimeter of the overcrowded Moria refugee camp on the northeastern Aegean island of Lesbos, Greece, March 11, 2020. Aggelos Barai | AP

Ramzy Baroud is a journalist and the Editor of The Palestine Chronicle. He is the author of five books. His latest is “These Chains Will Be Broken: Palestinian Stories of Struggle and Defiance in Israeli Prisons” (Clarity Press, Atlanta). Dr. Baroud is a Non-resident Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA), Istanbul Zaim University (IZU). His website is www.ramzybaroud.net

The post Death at the Border: Syrian Refugees Should Not Be Used as Political Pawns appeared first on MintPress News.

How Victims of the US’ “Maximum Pressure” Campaign Are Coping with Coronavirus

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 19/03/2020 - 4:22am in

As Western nations descend into a panic over the coronavirus pandemic, Americans are getting a taste of what it’s like for the millions who have been living under U.S. sanctions and warfare.

Iran has been hit hard by the pandemic with 850 confirmed deaths to date. It’s Rial lost 80 percent of its value and food costs have nearly doubled. With the country scrambling to handle the crisis, nations are refusing to sell the Islamic Republic medical supplies for fear of running afoul of U.S. sanctions.

Iran’s foreign minister Javad Zarif has decried the sanctions numerous times on Twitter.

On March 14, Zarif tweeted that “Viruses recognise no politics or geography. Nor should we,” adding that U.S. sanctions against Iran had been seriously hampering the country’s efforts to combat COVID-19.

Last week, Both Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Zarif penned letters to their foreign counterparts and to the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres demanding that U.S. sanctions be lifted so that Iran could deal more effectively with a global crisis of seemingly unprecedented proportions.

In one of his tweets, Zarif expressed his frustration in the strongest terms, “it is immoral to let a bully (US) kill innocents,” he said. And this is precisely what U.S. sanctions are doing. The U.S. and its EU and UK allies have systematically imposed sanctions upon target nations with the knowledge that these measures collectively punish the ordinary people in those nations. Sanctions are an integral component in modern hybrid war strategies, designed to weaken a nation chosen for destabilization.

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Sanctions: a “small price to pay”

Ostensibly, sanctions are a means of bringing a recalcitrant government into line with U.S. foreign policy agendas. The reality is that they hit the weakest sectors of the population, depriving them of essential infrastructure and healthcare. This was witnessed in Iraq where Madeleine Albright notoriously described the deaths of 500,000 children as a “price” that was “worth it” to fulfill U.S. policy objectives in the region.

In that same country, the United States deliberately targeted almost every water treatment plant, seven out of eight dams were destroyed and then sanctions targeted supplies of water purification components, even chlorine. As a result, the potential for waterborne illnesses was increased exponentially. Combined with wartime poor sanitation, these orchestrated conditions would expose hundreds of thousands of Iraqis to U.S. engineered disease and misery. All this to provide post-war leverage for the U.S. and its allies.

US Sanctions Coronavirus

Dehydrated and malnourished, seven-month-old Sahra is comforted by her grandmother at the Mansour Children’s Hospital in Baghdad, February 22, 1998. According to UNICEF, 30 percent of Iraq’s children under five were malnourished at the time thanks to US-led sanctions. Peter Dejong | AP

In an article originally published in 2001, Professor Thomas Nagy describes the discovery of Defence Intelligence Agency documents (DIA) which proved beyond any shadow of a doubt that the U.S. “used sanctions against Iraq to degrade the country’s water supply after the Gulf War.” The primary document, “Iraq Water Treatment Vulnerabilities,” is dated January 22, 1991. It spells out how sanctions would prevent Iraq from supplying clean water to its citizens.

“Iraq depends on importing specialized equipment and some chemicals to purify its water supply, most of which is heavily mineralized and frequently brackish to saline,” the document states. “With no domestic sources of both water treatment replacement parts and some essential chemicals, Iraq will continue attempts to circumvent United Nations Sanctions to import these vital commodities. Failing to secure supplies will result in a shortage of pure drinking water for much of the population. This could lead to increased incidences, if not epidemics, of disease.”

Today, very similar conditions are being seen in Yemen, where the quagmire of a Saudi-led war is increasing the risk of disease exacerbated by a UN-endorsed land, air and sea blockade. The Saudi coalition could not operate effectively without military assistance from the U.S., UK, and EU and it is systematically destroying water, sewage and desalination plants across Yemen, leaving tens of thousands without clean water and with inadequate sanitation facilities.

In March 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recorded a horrifying 2,263,304 cholera cases in Yemen and 3,767 related deaths since 2017 when the epidemic took hold in the battered and besieged nation. Without the sanctions and the Saudi blockade, this disease would be both preventable and curable.

Internal documents from the Sana’a-based Ministry of Health confirm that while the Sana’a government is responding to COVID-19 by banning all flights and closing its borders, the Saudi-backed regime of fugitive President Abdul Mansour Hadi has actually increased the number of flights into Yemen, especially from Cairo, which is predicted to develop into a major Coronavirus-affected location. The Health Ministry in Sana’a has accused the Hadi administration of gross negligence regarding national security and has warned of catastrophic consequences if the pandemic arrives in Yemen as a result of this irresponsibility.

The actions of the Saudi Coalition, which effectively control the Hadi regime’s policies, risk the introduction of a more potent pandemic into the midst of a country already battling a five-year humanitarian blockade and a disproportionate, unjustified war of aggression that has seen the country dealing with a host of devastating epidemics. The flaunting of safety measures by the Saudi Coalition, endorsed by the UK and US, must be effectively considered as biological warfare and a crime against humanity.

Much like the Saudi-led Coalition aggression against Yemen, the 2011 NATO bombing campaign in Libya was intended to destroy that country’s standard of living. According to journalist and academic, Professor Michel Chossudovsky, “the objective of the NATO bombings from the outset was to destroy the country’s standard of living, its health infrastructure, its schools and hospitals, its water distribution system.” In Libya too, the combination of sanctions and devastation of infrastructure would ensure an unprecedented rise in epidemics among weakened and immune-system-deficient wartime populations.

 

Wartime carpetbaggers profit from postwar misery

Corporate carpetbaggers historically arrive in the wake of the destruction they have manufactured with rebuilding campaigns and projects almost invariably financed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank. “War is good for business” for predator nations and disease is profitable for the purveyors of “humanitarian” military intervention.

With the explosion of COVID-19, Iran had no other option but to approach the IMF for funding to fight the coronavirus. The head of Iran’s Central Bank, Abdolnaser Hemmati, confirmed that a request has gone to the IMF for $5 billion. It remains to be seen how the IMF, of which the United States is the largest shareholder, will respond to the request and if it will honor its commitment to help all countries to overcome the pandemic, regardless of historic enmity or ideological differences. The decision ultimately lies with the United States, as it holds veto power over the IMF.

What is apparent is that the combination of the so-called maximum pressure campaign being waged by the United States and the coronavirus have brought about unexpected dividends for those levying the sanctions, and those dividends will be paid out in potential IMF loans to Iran. Interest on IMF debts inevitably leads to greater pressure on education, healthcare, and other social services when limited funds have to be diverted to pay off the loan. Meanwhile, those sectors will still be negatively impacted by sanctions.

Will the U.S. exploit global desperation or will it discover a hidden well of humanity hitherto concealed? History tells us that America’s long term predatory reflex will be the dominant feature of its response to cries for help from nations it has historically perceived as prey or competition to U.S. unipolar supremacy.

Beirut-based political science professor Amal Saad summed it up in a single succinct tweet:

Iran and Yemen are not the only countries devastatingly affected by U.S. sanctions that threaten their ability to cope with a pandemic as ferocious as COVID-19. Venezuela and Syria are also besieged and weakened by what is effectively economic terrorism.

As MintPress News recently reported, the United States’ hybrid war on Venezuela has de facto intensified since the global outbreak of COVID-19. According to former United Nations special rapporteur Alfred de Zayas, U.S sanctions have already been responsible for the death of over 100,000 Venezuelans. As elsewhere, the effects of sanctions are most damaging on the health sector, which directly impacts Venezuela’s ability to deal with a pandemic on the scale of COVID-19.

Leonardo Flores, a Latin America policy expert says that if it “were it not for the solidarity of China and Cuba, which sent testing kits and medicine, Venezuela would be woefully ill-equipped to handle the coronavirus. The sanctions are worsening an already dangerous situation, forcing Venezuela to spend three times as much for testing kits as non-sanctioned countries.”

Venezuela was the first country affected by COVID-19 to seek a loan from the IMF. The request for $ 5bn was rejected by the IMF “claiming a lack of certainty over the legitimacy of President Nicolas Maduro’s government”. A “lack of certainty” that has been generated largely by Washington and their aligned media.

US Sanctions Coronavirus

A worker of the state-owned Concepción Palacios Maternity Hospital manufactures face masks in Caracas, Venezuela, March 17, 2020. Ariana Cubillos | AP

The collective punishment meted out by U.S. sanctions inflicts damage on entire populations in prey nations, under the 1949 Geneva Convention, this is a war crime. To maintain such punitive economic pressures during a time of global health insecurity must be a supreme crime against humanity as defined by the United Nations International Law Commission in 1947. Yet we see no chink in the U.S. armor, no response to demands for humanity from peoples already decimated and ravaged by U.S. neo-colonialist policies.

The United States leaves target nations with no other option but to break the blockade by any means possible and to find ways to circumnavigate the draconian restrictions imposed upon them by successive U.S. administrations. The WHO, despite its own apparent funding issues, has been instrumental in providing essential medical equipment and testing kits to Venezuela and Iran and has heaped praise upon Iran’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis and in particular the rapid, dedicated response of health workers in the city of Qom, south of Tehran.

Other non-aligned nations such as China and Cuba have been responding proactively to the world health crisis, despite China having just emerged from an intense period of combat against the virulent disease themselves.

Cuba allowed the docking of a British cruise ship after five passengers tested positive for COVID-19. The MS Braemar, carrying six hundred passengers, the majority of whom are British, had been stranded at sea for two days while trying to find a country that would permit docking. Cuba was the only nation to respond positively and the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs said:

“These are times of solidarity, of understanding health as a human right, of reinforcing international cooperation to face our common challenges, values that are inherent in the humanistic practice of the Revolution and of our people”

 

In Syria, a perfect storm is brewing

There are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 yet in Syria. Syria’s health sector has been severely affected and decimated by a 9-year proxy military campaign to topple the elected and popular government headed up by President Bashar Al Assad. Aside from financing and arming extremist and terrorist groups, among them al Qaeda and ISIS, the U.S.-led intervention has turned the economic screws on the Syrian people across all sectors.

Syria’s overburdened health sector trying to rebuild in liberated areas and to recover its equilibrium after almost a decade of war and terrorist occupation is going to be hard-pressed to respond adequately to a pandemic as rapacious as COVID-19. The United States and allies are well aware of this and despite all pretensions of caring about the welfare of the Syrian people, we see no move by any of the countries involved to ease the sanctions even temporarily. This, combined with the military campaign in Idlib, north-west Syria, the inevitably high numbers of displaced civilians and the looming threat of COVID-19, has the potential to create the “perfect storm” in Syria unless western countries respond humanely to the situation.

Bear in mind, these sanctions, imposed by the United States, UK and European Union, are “the most complicated and far-reaching sanction regimes ever imposed” according to UN special rapporteur, Idriss Jazairy. The fact that the Syrian state has not collapsed is a testament to the unity of the people behind their government and their resistance in the face of U.S. efforts to destabilize the region.

The Syrian Health Ministry is responding efficiently to the crisis, working closely with the WHO and despite nine years of war, the University Medical Faculties and public hospitals across liberated Syria are still operating fully staffed and offering free health services. Despite these measures, the threat of COVID-19 entering Syria must be taken very seriously.

US Sanctions Coronavirus

Syrian workers spray disinfectant as a precaution against the coronavirus outbreak in a public bus in Aleppo, March 15, 2020. Photo | SANA via AP

The neighboring countries of Lebanon, Turkey, Palestine and Jordan have all reported cases. Syria’s borders are not secure, particularly with Turkey where inbound and outbound foreign mercenaries and refugees have transited almost without restriction for nine years. Despite all measures taken by the Syrian government and Health Ministry, which include some border closure and controls, the risk remains perilously high.

 

What does COVID-19 reveal about the world we live in?

While the United States, the EU and UK populations respond with panic to the COVID-19 pandemic that is sweeping their nations, countries like Yemen and Syria who have been dealing with humanitarian siege warfare, economic sanctions and full-scale military war for extended periods of time, are responding with a more sanguine approach.

These countries know what it means to survive unimaginable hardship and COVID-19 is another test of their resolve and steadfastness, one they will not fail.

In 2019, a number of countries met at the United Nations in New York to discuss the United States’ unilateral sanctions that violate the UN Charter. This was an attempt by the non-aligned resistance movement to create a formal group to challenge and combat these economic pressures and imperialist doctrine on a global scale. It is indicative of the emergence and strengthening of a global resistance movement against neo-colonial expansion and the solidarity of nations resisting the predation by the U.S.

COVID-19 is a test for humanity, an unprecedented catalyst for real, organic transformation. Will we allow our governments to imprint upon us an even more profound level of isolationism driven by fear and panic, enforced by martial law, or will we realize that the only way humanity can survive, now and in the future, is by uniting and responding to the crisis in solidarity with all oppressed nations in this world?

The litmus test is how governments in the West respond to what is a global health crisis. Will they genuinely put human beings first and lift the punitive sanctions that make it almost impossible for many countries to combat Coronavirus or will they exploit the situation in a last-ditch attempt to bring these nations to their knees. A recent tweet from U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo suggests that the U.S. will double down on its hybrid war against Syria while claiming to “stand on the side of the Syrian people.”

The United States should be aware that their humanitarian fig-leaf no longer exists, more and more people have seen through the charade. With a resistance axis in ascendance, the U.S. is in real danger of losing its full-spectrum dominance in an increasingly multi-polar world where nations demonized by the United States are stepping up to the plate to assist countries affected by the pandemic. Will Coronavirus be the final nail in the empire’s coffin? Only time will tell, but one thing is for sure, the U.S. is not looking good and non-aligned nations are showing the world what the world should really look like during a global crisis.

Feature photo | Medics wearing protective gear work in a ward dedicated for people infected with the new coronavirus, at Baqiyatallah Al’Azam Hospital in Tehran, Iran, March 7, 2020. Mohammad Hasan Zarifmanesh | Tasnim via AP

Vanessa Beeley is an independent journalist and photographer who has worked extensively in the Middle East – on the ground in Syria, Egypt, Iraq and Palestine, while also covering the conflict in Yemen since 2015.

The post How Victims of the US’ “Maximum Pressure” Campaign Are Coping with Coronavirus appeared first on MintPress News.

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