al-Nusra, al-Raqqa, Calls for Jihad, River of Death

 

al-Nusra

 

Syrians Protest Demanding Exit of al-Nusra

Activists take to streets of rebel-held Mayadeen in eastern Syria for third straight day to demand that Al-Nusra Front fighters leave town.

Protests erupted after the Islamist Al-Nusra Front… set up a religious council in
the east of Deir Ezzor province, where Mayadeen is situated, to administer
affairs in the area.

NPR – An interesting interview with an Al-Nusra fighter; his naiveté is both quaint and disturbing – via Conrad

Jabhat Al-Nusra’s Goals Extend Beyond Syria – As the Syrian war intensifies, Hussein Jemmo examines the reasons behind the rise of al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra, and argues that the battle for Syria is only one step in a wider regional strategy for this group.

…The speech suggested that the militant front has become the main force in the fight against the Syrian regime, with no mention of the Free Syrian Army… The speech indicates that the FSA is being subsumed. After having been the leading military entity in the Syrian revolution, the FSA has been pushed to the sidelines compared to Jabhat al-Nusra… In Aleppo’s countryside, a member of Jabhat al-Nusra showed me a booklet entitled “Regional War Strategy in Syria.” The booklet represents a serious vision by an al-Qaeda analyst. It is available on the internet and helps explain the carefully planned beginnings of jihadism in Syria. According to the study, “The title of the next battle of Damascus will be ‘survival of the smartest,'” and explains how the jihadist environment began to emerge in Syria.

 

al-Raqqa

 

Events surrounding the takeover of Raqqa are still hazy. A number of reports refer to Jabhat al-Nusra as having taken over the city, or even to other groups such as Harakat Ahrar al-Sham and the Brigade of Huthaya bin al-Yaman. But these reports don’t mention the group Jabhat al-Wahdet al-Tahrir al-Islamiyya who identified themselves as such in the video in which they are holding the muhafiz and head of Raqqa’s Ba’ath party. Consistent with the observation that the “emir” of this group may be from Deir ez-Zor is the alleged participation of refugees who had previously fled Deir ez-Zor for al-Raqqa in the city’s takeover (still unconfirmed). Also unclear is who among / how much of the local population wanted this shift of support (from regime to opposition) to occur, and who was opposed to it. The battle of narratives (“Raqqa is liberated” vs. “Raqqa has been seized by outsiders”) is in full swing. –MTB

The fall of ar-Raqqa to Jihadism ~ Jabhat an-Nusra & Harakat Ahrar as-Sham by pietervanostaeyen – March 7

On March 4 2013 the city of ar-Raqqa was conquered by Syrian rebels. What is remarkable about this conquest is that the city fell to Jihadist troops. The (secular) Free Syrian Army hardly had any role in the battle for and conquest of the al-Assad stronghold.

Although this news is widely spread amongst specialists inquiring and reporting on Jihadism in Syria, the traditional media seem to be ignoring this fact. In this blogpost I will try to point out the significance of the Jihadist groups in conquering this city.

The above blogger believes that:

[The] significance of Al-Raqqah’s fall to Ahrar al-Sham & Jabhat al-Nusra cannot be emphasised enough. Its position on Highway 4 between Aleppo to the W and Deir ez Zour to the SE makes it of critical strategic value. Deir ez Zour already dominated by Islamist rebel groups, especially members of Syrian Islamic Front’s Jaish al-Tawhid and of Jabhat al-Nusra. Linking Deir ez Zour & Al-Raqqah – with Iraqi border to the east, unites two Islamist rebel fronts and puts them in a very strong position to converge on Aleppo if necessary

Whereas in How Important is the Rebel Takeover of Raqqa it’s asserted that:

…how important is Raqqa in the broader fight against the Assad regime? The answer: not much. The taking of Raqqa, a city of about 250,000 people and now home to hundreds of thousands more internally displaced persons, and with little economic or military value, is just the latest in a wave of rebel victories across the north… The Syria conflict will be won or lost around a small patch of real estate in western Damascus – the areas that host several presidential palaces, the military’s fourth division and Republican Guard, not Raqqa or anywhere else… In the halls of regime power in Damascus few tears will be shed for, what it sees, a backwater desert outpost.

Regime Attacks Raqqa, Rebels Conduct Executions

Videos posted online from Raqqa have shown government workers and troops lying dead in the streets, gun shot wounds in their heads. One video shows three bodies who it is claimed were executed for being “dogs of military intelligence”.
Rights groups have reported summary executions of regime officials and troops following the capture of other areas.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on Sunday that at least 14 people have been killed in government airstrikes on the northern Syria city of Raqqa.

Raqqa Lies in Ruins

The armed opposition has dragged the Syrian army into yet another battle that will lead to yet more destruction and bloodshed. With this, Raqqa city, where the situation had been calm for two years, has joined the tragic flow of incidents in Syria.
Contrary to expectations, Raqqa — controversially — did not initially join the “Syrian revolution.” When the incidents first broke out, diffident protesters took to the streets, but they soon stopped. The city’s movements remained peaceful until the end of last year. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad even prayed in one of Raqqa’s mosques during Eid al-Adha last June.

The agreement with the Free Syrian Army leaders in the Kurdish regions, and the heavy blow that was dealt to the militants and Jabhat al-Nusra in Aleppo triggered quick action to achieve another victory. There was also news about militants coming from Iraq, and they paved the way for the battle of Raqqa city by taking over its suburbs without any real resistance. They then tightened their grip on al-Tabqa city and its areas of strategic importance, such as the Euphrates Dam. All of these steps were leading up to a large-scale offensive on the city, which started with a blockade on its central prison and ended with frequent incursions from different entrances to the city.

 

New Resources

 

Free e-book from Al Mesbar Studies & Research Center and the Foreign Policy Research Institute: The West and the Muslim Brotherhood after the Arab Spring

 

Good BBC documentary: A History Of Syria With Dan Snow

“The conflict in Syria can only be understood by knowing the history of Syria”

 

Christians

 

Syrian Christians Dream Of Life Without Assad Or Radical Islamists The story of Deir Ezzor’s Christians: attacked by the regime, helped by the FSA, scared of the Islamists…

Abu Ibrahim says he and his family are the only Christians left in Syria’s devastated city of Deir Ezzor, and he is terrified Muslim extremists could make their already difficult life hell. Yet every Sunday, he and the family peacefully hold prayers…

 

Jets Bomb Homs as Mortar Fire Rocks Damascus

Mortar bombs struck a Christian neighborhood and a football stadium at game time in Damascus Monday, killing six civilians and wounding at least 24 in what appeared to be an escalating campaign by rebels to sow fear in the Syrian capital…

In the latest attacks, four mortars bombs hit Bab Sharqi, a predominantly Christian area known for its old churches. One fell in a park, two near an ice cream shop and a fourth hit a house nearby.

 

Uncertain Future for Syria’s Minorities

The Muslim commander of the local rebel garrison appears to be trying to allay any fears among the roughly 2,500 Christian residents who have stayed in the village since the fighting in January, saying he won’t impinge on anyone’s rights…
“I am not convinced that these people want freedom and democracy,” said Fadi, a Christian civil engineer from Damascus, voicing a common view that the rebels are led by extremists. “I sympathized with them at the start, but after all the destruction, killing and kidnapping, I prefer Bashar Assad.”

 

Christian Neighborhoods, Damascus Suburbs, Homs Refinery Hit by Rebel Attacks

One child was killed and 9 others wounded when a bomb shell hit their school bus in Damascus.

 

Syrian Jihad and Jihad for Syria

 

Grand Mufti Ahmad Badreddin Hassoun’s jihad against the jihadists: Syria’s top Sunni cleric appeals to Syrian youth to join the military. The feelings of Syria’s Sunnis are divided regarding this regime-linked figure; he has some influence but many Sunnis view him as a tool of the establishment.

One of the pillars of President Bashar Assad’s leadership is secularism, but nearly two years into a fight which it says is spearheaded by hardline Islamist terrorists, Damascus has decided to employ its enemy’s tactic: jihad. The highest official Sunni Muslim body in Syria, closely linked to the government, issued a religious decree on Sunday calling on Syrians to join the military, which it called both “a national and a religious duty”.

 

Hundreds of Russian Islamists Fighting in Syria

Rais Suleimanov, head of the Kazan-based Volga Center for Regional and Ethno-Religious Studies, said he got this number from Russian militants themselves, who he said have “no interest in exaggerating it.” He said the militants come from CIS countries including Ukraine and from different regions of Russia, among them Tatarstan and the volatile North Caucasus, where Russian law enforcement is battling an intractable insurgency of separatist Islamist militants.

 

Judge convinces young Saudis, “convicted for demonstrating” in Saudi Arabia, to go and “fight the real enemy”–Shiites in Syria:

In one documented case, a Saudi judge encouraged young anti-government protesters to fight in Syria rather than face punishment at home. Mohammed al-Talq, 22, was arrested and found guilty of participating in a demonstration in the north-central Saudi city of Buraidah.

After giving 19 young men suspended sentences, the judge called the defendants into his private chambers and gave them a long lecture about the need to fight Shiite Muslims in Syria, according to Mohammed’s father, Abdurrahman al-Talq.

“You should save all your energy and fight against the real enemy, the Shia, and not fight inside Saudi Arabia,” said the father, quoting the judge. “The judge gave them a reason to go to Syria.”

Within weeks, 11 of the 19 protesters left to join the rebels…

Saudi authorities have a strategic goal in Syria, he said. “Their ultimate policy is to have a regime change similar to what happened in Yemen, where they lose the head of state and substitute it with one more friendly to the Saudis,” al-Qahtani said.

 

West training Syrian rebels in Jordan Exclusive: UK and French instructors involved in US-led effort to strengthen secular elements in Syria’s opposition, say sources Julian Borger and Nick Hopkins, guardian, Friday 8 March 2013

Western training of Syrian rebels is under way in Jordan in an effort to strengthen secular elements in the opposition as a bulwark against Islamic extremism, and to begin building security forces to maintain order in the event of Bashar al-Assad’s fall.

Jordanian security sources say the training effort is led by the US, but involves British and French instructors.

The UK Ministry of Defence denied any British soldiers were providing direct military training to the rebels, though a small number of personnel, including special forces teams, have been in the country training the Jordanian military.

But the Guardian has been told that UK intelligence teams are giving the rebels logistical and other advice in some form.

British officials have made it clear that they believe new EU rules have now given the UK the green light to start providing military training for rebel fighters with the aim of containing the spread of chaos and extremism in areas outside the Syrian regime’s control.

According to European and Jordanian sources the western training in Jordan has been going on since last year and is focused on senior Syrian army officers who defected….

“What has happened of late is that there has been a tactical shift,” said Julien Barnes-Dacey, a Middle East expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations thinktank. “Islamist forces have been gaining steam in the north and Jordan is keen to avoid that in the south. Having been very hands-off, they now see that they have to do something in the south.”

He added: “There is a feeling that Jordan simply can’t handle a huge new influx of refugees so the idea would be to create a safe zone inside Syria. For them it’s a no-win scenario. Everything they had been seeking to avoid has come to pass.”

For western and Saudi backers of the opposition, Jordan has become a preferable option through which to channel aid than Turkey. Ankara has been criticised for allowing extremist groups, such as the al-Nusra Front, become dominant on the northern front while it focused on what it sees as the growing threat of Kurdish secessionism.

“The Americans now trust us more than the Turks, because with the Turks everything is about gaining leverage for action against the Kurds,” said a Jordanian source familiar with official thinking in Amman….

Syrian rebels have said that in the past few months there had been a relaxation of the previously strict US rules on what kinds of weapons were allowed across the border, and that portable anti-aircraft missiles had been released from Turkish warehouses where they had been impounded.

Matt Schroeder, who tracks the spread of such weapons for the Federation of American Scientists, said the recent appearance of modern, sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles in the hands of such fragmented rebel groups was deeply troubling in view of their capacity to bring down civilian airlines…

 

Foreign Policy

The Islamic State of Iraq, a militant jihadist group affiliated with Al-Qaeda, has claimed responsibility for a massacre of nine Iraqi guards and 48 Syrian soldiers who sought respite in Iraq from Syria’s civil war. The massacre is considered one the conflict’s most deadly episodes of cross-border fighting. The U.S. has condemned this attack as an act of “terrorism” because it claims some of the Syrian troops sought medical treatment in Iraq. Meanwhile, Syria’s grand mufti, Sheik Ahmad Badr al-Deen Hassoun, has issued a religious degree urging Syrian parents to enlist their children in the Syrian Army. The grand mufti is a Sunni and also closely linked to the Assad regime. His degree is significant for two reasons: it appeared to call for jihad; and it suggests the Assad regime lacks a sufficient supply of soldiers, prompting concerns that Assad may enforce compulsory service into the armed forces. This speculation is corroborated by reports that the Syrian government is recruiting and training Syrian women to become soldiers in a force named the “Lionesses for National Defense.” A video posted to Russia Today’s Arabic channel shows women marching in army fatigues, carrying Kalashnikov rifles, chanting slogans in support of the Syrian regime. Their duties consist largely of checkpoint control.

 

River of Death

The regime tries to outdo itself in the production of horror

 

Guardian: The story behind one of the most shocking images of the war

Why did the bodies of 110 men suddenly wash up in the river running through Aleppo city six weeks ago? A Guardian investigation found out.

It is already one of the defining images of the Syrian civil war: a line of bodies at neatly spaced intervals lying on a river bed in the heart of Syria’s second city Aleppo. All 110 victims have been shot in the head, their hands bound with plastic ties behind their back.

It’s a picture that raises so many questions: who were these men? How did they die? Why? What does their story tell us about the wretched disintegration of Syria? A Guardian investigation has established a grisly narrative behind the worst – and most visible – massacre to have taken place here…

There are no women on the grisly slideshow of dead men that is replayed in melancholy slow motion every time a relative arrives. Nor are there more than a handful of males aged over 30. Most of the dead dragged from Aleppo’s Queiq River were men of working age.

Another thread strongly unites the fate of the river massacre victims; each of them had either been in the west of the city, or had been trying to get there. They had to pass though checkpoints run by the Syrian army, or their proxy militia, the Shabiha. The process involved handing over identification papers that detailed in which area of the city the holder of the papers lived…

Two other men who had been arrested at regime checkpoints and later freed were also interviewed. Both alleged that mass killings had taken place in the security prisons in which they had been held. They identified the prisons as Air Force intelligence and Military Security — two of the most infamous state security facilities in Syria.

“If they took you to the park, you were finished,” said one of the men, who had been freed in mid-January. “We all knew that. It is a miracle that I am standing here talking to you.”

The man, in his early 20s, refused to be identified even back in the relative safety of the east of the city. Nowadays, he spends his mornings on the banks of the river, waiting for more bodies to float down.

The concrete ledge from where the bodies were recovered is now covered by waters which, on 29 January, had receded leaving the sodden remains exposed, blood oozing from single bullet wounds to each of their shattered skulls…

“Before I left the prison, they took 30 people from isolation cells and killed them.”

Abdel Rezzaq said he was being held in Block 4, within earshot of the solitary confinement cells and the area where he alleges the prisoners were taken, then executed. “They handcuffed them and blindfolded them and they were torturing them till they died.”

“They poured acid on them. The smell was very strong and we were suffocating from it. Then we heard gunshots. The next day they put me and some of the others in front of men with guns, but they didn’t shoot at us. They freed me later that day.”

“I heard women screaming. They were pouring alcohol on us and cursing us. Only God got us out of there, no-one gets out alive. And only god knows what happened to the rest of the people who were in there. I will fight for this cause because I want the whole world to see what is happening.”

“I was there for a month,” he said. “Then one night they took us to an area outside, it was near a park and I thought that was it. I was preparing for death by praying and they started shooting along a wall where they had lined people up. There were about four guys next to me, to my right, and they stopped shooting. I heard one officer say ‘let them go’. And here I am. I will stay waiting for these bodies for the rest of the war. I cannot believe I am here.”

 

Aleppo’s river of death By Donatella Rovera

Aleppo’s Kweik river, keeps washing up the bodies of men and boys who have been shot in the head at close range. Some have their hands tied behind their backs, some have marks suggesting torture. Virtually every day this past week I have been getting early morning phone calls informing me of more bodies in the river – two on Sunday, four on Monday, seven on Tuesday, three on Wednesday… All eventually float to the same spot in the Bustan al-Qasr district of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, under the control of opposition forces but just a few hundred meters downstream from an area held by government troops. It is too dangerous to try to recover the bodies at the point where they first appear – it’s too close to the government-controlled zone and right in the line of their sniper fire. Instead, local volunteers wait for the bodies to float another 300 meters or so downstream where they can be retrieved more safely. On March 3, I arrived just as two corpses had been recovered from the river. On the face of one, something had been written with a blue marker. I had to look closely because the writing was pale and partially erased by the water and mud – the body was floating face-down when it was found. On the forehead was written “al-Assad ” and on the left cheek “Surya;” the writing on the right check and the chin could not be deciphered. People thought the two illegible words might have been “u bas” – as in the pro-regime refrain: “al-Assad, Surya, u bas” ([President] al-Assad, Syria and that’s it).

 

Women

 

Syrian Women’s Day, March 8, 2013 by Aida Dalati

Between the years 1174 to 1260AD Ayyubid royal women banned together with Damascene daughters of the local Ulamaa (scholars) and built learning centers Madrassas for the Damascus and Aleppo youth, and Zawiahs-hospices for the terminal ill.

Some of the women’s work includes, Safwat-al-Mulk’s Peacock cupola (Qubbat al-Tawawis) built by the Seljuk widow of Taj al Dawleh, a spacious mosque and Sufi hospice located near the entrance of the Straight Street which I pass by every time I go to see my upholsterer. Also Princess Zummurud Khatoun’s Madrasat Khatuniyya the fifth madrassa-school built in Damascus and Princess Dayfa Khatoun’s Madrasat al Firdouse in Aleppo.

The title of “Khatoun” in Ayyubid Seljuk refers to Queen, princess, lady or noble woman.

In a span of these 85 years before Hulako the Mongol occupied Damascus, studies have found that out of the 147 persons who participated in building, 21 were women. Out of 69 Madrassas 15 were by built by women, (23% of the total) as were 6 (21%) out of the 29 Sufi hospices. In Aleppo 5 out of the 20 (25%) Khanqahs-Ribats (hospices) were also built by women. I find this to be a most delightful and empowering piece of history.

Chapter 19 Ayyubid Royalty in Damascus, Damascus Renaissance, Aida Dalati By Aida Dalati, to be published by Amazon, Photos available upon request

 

Arab revolutions have made women worse off (Moha Ennaji, The Daily Star)

“Though women across the Middle East participated actively in the Arab Spring protests that began in late 2010, they remain second-class citizens, even where popular uprisings managed to topple autocratic regimes. Indeed, the Islamist governments now in power in several countries seem more determined than the despots that they replaced to keep women out of politics. In conducting interviews with women in the region, I am struck by their pessimism. They fear the loss of their rights. They see economic disintegration all around them, raising the possibility of a further increase in violence. As social bonds fray, they feel increasingly vulnerable. More than once, I heard them express the view that things were better before the revolutions.

Female representation in parliaments and Cabinets after the Arab Spring has been either absent or meager, and women activists fear Islamist parties will implement reactionary policies that discriminate on the basis of gender. In Egypt, for example, the Freedom and Justice Party, which dominates parliament, claims that a woman cannot become president. Egyptian women were heavily represented in the protests that brought down President Hosni Mubarak’s regime in 2011, but they have been largely excluded from any official decision-making role ever since.”

 

Hezbollah and Lebanon

 

First Confrontation between Jabhat al-Nusra and Hezbollah

While the Iraq-Syria border was witnessing the first armed confrontation pitting  Sunni jihadists against Iraqi and Syrian soldiers, leaving scores of people  dead, a wide stretch of border between Lebanon and Syria was the scene of direct  and unprecedented contact between Shiite Hezbollah militants and Sunni jihadists belonging to Jabhat al-Nusra. This new and serious development is likely  to have serious repercussions in the coming weeks. There are several theories  about how this situation came to pass.

 

A Divided Society: The Impact of the Syrian Crisis on Lebanon Terrorism Monitor Volume: 11 Issue: 5, March 8, 2013 By: Nicholas A. Heras

…As Lebanon moves towards planned Parliamentary elections in June, the question of Lebanon’s role in the Syrian crisis will present a difficult political choice for certain communities, particularly the Christians. Lebanon’s Christian community is generally split between support for pro and anti-Assad political parties, but in an environment where the fear of a rising militant Salafist presence amongst Christians is growing, tenuous political allegiances may be switched to support parties, particularly the Free Patriotic Movement, that are aligned with what is widely seen in Lebanon as the greatest guarantee against Sunni militancy in Lebanon, Hezbollah.

 

Hezbollah backs end of Syria suspension from Arab League

On Thursday, the leader of Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc, Mohammed Raad, said Lebanese Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour was right to call for an end to the suspension observed by all Arab states.

“His statements accurately reflect Lebanon’s official stance on Syria.” Raad told Beirut news media of the call to reinstate Syria, which was suspended from the Cairo-based league in 2011.

Weapons

 

New footage, said to be from a Syrian government tank, shows the desolation in Daraya outside Damascus, via Brian Wit

The Syrian National Coalition, the coalition of opposition forces which is supported by a number of countries including the US, UK and France, has also postponed a meeting to form a provisional government until March 20.

NYT – Russians Bring Dashcam War Reporting to Syria

http://www.youtube.com/user/newsanna/videos?view=0&flow=grid

 

Do arms transfers represent breakthrough for Syrian rebels? By AuthorPaul Mutter |

FSA fighters being instructed in the use of the ex-Yugoslav M79 anti-tank rocket launcher (YouTube)

The New York Times reported last week that “Saudi Arabia has financed a large purchase of infantry weapons from Croatia and quietly funneled them to antigovernment fighters in Syria.” The effort was reportedly known to the US, but nothing was said for or against it so that it might proceed under the radar of a European Union arms embargo on Syria….

Iraq-Syria Overland Supply Routes: Syria By Joseph Holliday – ISW

…Assad’s withdrawal from northeastern Syria, combined with rebel gains along the Euphrates River, has reduced possible overland supply routes between Baghdad and Damascus to the Al Walid-At Tanf border crossing point. The recent ambush also demonstrates the capacity and willingness of militants on the Iraqi side of the border to disrupt this route. The Iraqi and Syrian governments appear well situated to maintain control of this last overland supply route, but if this route closes, the Assad regime will have to rely on air and sea resupply routes in order to continue its campaign against the opposition in Syria.

Assad’s withdrawal from northeastern Syria, combined with rebel gains along the Euphrates River, has reduced possible overland supply routes between Baghdad and Damascus to the Al Walid-At Tanf border crossing point. The recent ambush also demonstrates the capacity and willingness of militants on the Iraqi side of the border to disrupt this route. The Iraqi and Syrian governments appear well situated to maintain control of this last overland supply route, but if this route closes, the Assad regime will have to rely on air and sea resupply routes in order to continue its campaign against the opposition in Syria.

 

Opposition

 

Syria opposition to pick interim PM next week [this week, i.e. yesterday]

The Istanbul meeting – to be held on March 12 and 13 – was called after former Prime Minister Riad Hijab, the highest-ranking civilian defector from Assad’s government, withdrew his candidacy, several coalition members said on Thursday. Hijab had run into opposition from Islamists and liberals in the coalition for his past ties with Syria’s ruling hierarchy…

Coalition sources said the Syrian National Council, a large Muslim Brotherhood-influenced bloc within the 71-member coalition, had chosen three candidates for prime minister.

They are Salem al-Muslet, a tribal figure from northeastern Syria who worked at think-tanks in the Gulf; Osama al-Qadi, a US-educated economist who heads an opposition taskforce drawing up plans for post-conflict economic recovery; and veteran opposition campaigner Burhan Ghalioun, a professor from Homs and previous president of the Syrian National Council.

Asaad Mustafa, a former agriculture minister during the 30-year rule of Assad’s father, the late President Hafez al-Assad, is also in the running, the sources said. Muslet and Ghalioun, however, are members of the coalition, whose rules state that only non-members can join the provisional government.

Syrian opposition still deadlocked over interim government [March 12]

The Syrian opposition has cancelled a meeting to elect an interim government for  the second time in less than two weeks amid continuing internal divisions.
The meeting, scheduled for this week after an earlier cancellation on March 2,  is now scheduled to take place in Istanbul on March 20…

The main task of the interim government would be to improve everyday life in  areas of Syria where the insurgents have driven out government troops, the SNC  source said. The interim government would also be based in “liberated” regions  of the country…

 

Politics, Aid, Economics

 

Washington Post – Syria Woos BRICS in India

During her three-day visit to India, senior Syrian minister Bouthaina Shaaban asked New Delhi to take the lead in drafting a strong statement in support of Syria, when the five nations — comprised of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — meet at a conference later this month.

“We want India, Brazil, Russia, China and South Africa to make a very strong decision to support a political solution in Syria, to support the right of the Syrian people to decide a future for themselves,” Shaaban, the political and media advisor to Assad, told reporters in New Delhi on Friday. Last year, the BRICS nations called for an end to the rhetoric of military action against Syria.

India has until now walked the tightrope between the United States and Syria. It voted in favor of sanctions, but later abstained from another vote in the United Nations General Assembly, saying it opposed acts that aimed at change of regime in Syria.

On Wednesday, India’s foreign office expressed its “deep concern on the security situation in Syria” and said that the Geneva Communique, which had called for respecting Syria’s sovereignty, must form the basis for a solution.

On Friday, Shaaban also urged reporters to use the term “international community” with caution.

“The BRICS is also a big part of the international community, so please stop using the term when you are referring to Western forces,” Shaaban said. Then she added, “It is very difficult to counter Western narrative.”

 

FP – How the Muslim Brotherhood Hijacked Syria’s Revolution

The shadowy Islamist group that was all but destroyed in the 1980s is ruining the uprising against Bashar al-Assad.

No one in Syria expected the anti-regime uprising to last this long or be this deadly, but after around 70,000 dead, 1 million refugees, and two years of unrest, there is still no end in sight. While President Bashar al-Assad’s brutal response is mostly to blame, the opposition’s chronic failure to form a viable front against the regime has also allowed the conflict to drag on. And there’s one anti-Assad group that is largely responsible for this dismal state of affairs: Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood.

 

Shortages of food, fuel, power as Syria battered by war

“Yesterday I did not make anything to eat as there was no electricity for the entire day,” says Umm Fadi, a resident of Artuz district near Damascus that has been caught up in the fighting between rebels and regime forces.

Like most Syrians, the mother of four faces a shortage of oil and gas and has to resort to cooking on a wood fire or, when there is power, an electric stove.

“A gas cylinder costs 3,500 (Syrian) pounds (49 dollars) and there is no oil… we have to wait for two or three hours patiently just to buy bread,” she says with a sigh. — Fear is palpable —

But when it comes to violence near the capital, her fear is palpable. “The worst is yet to come,” she says.

From the balcony of her home near Abbasid square on the edge of Damascus, she can see clouds of black smoke.

“The rebels are at Jobar, two kilometres (just over a mile) away,” she says.

“We hear gunfire and explosions all through the day and they are coming closer. People are hiding in their homes.”

 

Sheikh Moaz al-Khatib “The Regime Can’t Go On Like This,

Says Syrian Opposition Leader.” Cengiz Çandar talks with Sheikh Moaz al-Khatib, leader of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, about the roles and interests of the United States, Russia and Iran in Syria and his efforts to arrive at a solution to the crisis.

 

Fred Hof – Can Syria be Saved

Syria’s descent into state failure now seems unchecked and inevitable….As the bodies pile higher while terrified, traumatized children go homeless and flee for safety with their parents, one must ask how long the United States can stay on its present policy course. Those who argue that you can’t lose a proxy war you don’t fight will, in the fullness of time, be proven wrong. Yet even if they are right, is there nothing to be said for using some of the tools at our disposal to neutralize those whose sense of invulnerability emboldens their savagery? Syria can be saved when self-doubt in the West gives way to something more worthy.

 

Violence aside, economics alone can fragment Syria
March 07, 2013
By Dominic Evans, The Daily Star

BEIRUT: Economic devastation is tearing Syria apart, perhaps irreparably, if fighting rages for another two years, according to a former minister now working on a U.N.-backed reconstruction plan.

Abdullah al-Dardari said the damage wrought by the violence would already cost up to $80 billion, an impossible bill for a government which would soon be unable to pay state wages, let alone fund a nationwide program of rebuilding.

As millions of Syrians are driven deeper into poverty and the ability of President Bashar Assad’s regime to provide basic services erodes, the forces pushing Syria toward disintegration will grow stronger, he said.

“Economics alone can fragment Syria if we go on like this,” said Dardari, who served as Assad’s deputy premier for economic affairs for six years until shortly after the uprising against the president erupted in March 2011.

Now working as an economist at the United Nations in Beirut, he heads a team devising a post-conflict plan – trying to bring Syrians from all sides of the crisis together to chart an inclusive political, economic and social reconstruction agenda.

 

A United Nations vehicle crossed from Syria into Israel on the Golan Heights.
By RICK GLADSTONE and ALAN COWELL
Published: March 6, 2013

…20 peacekeepers were detained near an observation post that had been evacuated over the past weekend after what she called “heavy combat in proximity” in the southern part of the area they control. The peacekeepers, in a convoy of trucks, had returned to investigate damage to the post when they were taken by about 30 armed rebels.

Ms. Guerrero said that the peacekeeping mission was “dispatching a team to assess the situation and attempt a resolution,” and that the Syrian authorities had been asked to help. ….A video uploaded on YouTube by a group that identified itself as the Martyrs of Yarmouk claimed responsibility on Wednesday and said the peacekeepers would be held until Syrian government forces withdrew from the area around Al Jamlah, the site of the weekend clashes. The video does not show any of the captives, but United Nations vehicles are visible.

A speaker in the video warns in Arabic: “If the withdrawal does not take place within 24 hours, we will deal with those guys like war prisoners. And praise to God.”

The threat underscored the widening risk that the Syria conflict is destabilizing the Middle East, and raised new concerns about the agendas of some Syrian insurgent groups, just as Western nations, including the United States, were grappling over whether to arm them…

 

Syrian Insurgents Say Aid Isn’t Getting Where It Needs to Go
By KRISTEN McTIGHE
Published: March 6, 2013

Koert Debeuf, a Belgian who works in Cairo as a representative of centrist parties in the European Parliament, says he was smuggled from Turkey into Syria by rebel commanders in January to study conditions in the rebel-held territories. But when he asked the commanders to show him the Azaz refugee camp in northern Aleppo Province, he said he had the impression that they felt ashamed.
“We need to take a leap of faith,” Mr. Debeuf said. “Of course things will go wrong, but what we are doing now, is going very, very wrong, and we are only making two people stronger: Assad and Jabhat al-Nusra.”

 

In Parts of Syria, Lack of Assistance ‘Is a Catastrophe’
By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK, March 8, 2013

SAWRAN, Syria — The United States and other international donors are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on humanitarian aid for Syrians afflicted by the civil war. But here in the rebel-controlled north, where the deprivation is most acute, that money has bought mostly anger and resentment: the vast majority of aid is going to territory controlled by President Bashar al-Assad, and the small amount reaching opposition-held areas is all but invisible.

Rebels argue that the humanitarian assistance is in effect helping Mr. Assad survive the war of attrition. “Aid is a weapon,” said Omar Baylasani, a rebel commander from Idlib, speaking during a visit to a Turkish border town. “Food supply is the winning card in the hands of the regime.” …

 

Turkey claims that border crossing bombers are linked to Syrian regime

 

Follow Up

 

The article of the last post contained a video depicting the destruction of a shrine, referred to as an “Alawite Mazaar.” Alawis, Shi’ites, and Sunnis with a Sufi orientation all visit shrines built on or containing the tombs of reputedly holy individuals. In actuality, this could be a shrine frequented by Sunni Sufis or Sunnis influenced by Sufism, similar in appearance to the Alawi shrines. Sufi tendencies are often conflated with Shi’i practices by fundamentalist Sunnis and together opposed as “innovation,” “paganism,” or “associating something not-God with God”—in other words, directing devotion toward someone other than God. In Syria, various Muslims sects (as well as Christians) will often frequent the same holy sites together. The title of the video refers to the structure as a “pagan shrine,” an accusation that could be levied against a Shi’ite or Alawi shrine, but may just as easily be directed at any Saint-venerating Sufi-oriented sacred place. It is not specifically indicated that it is an Alawi shrine, as noted by readers. –MTB

Comments (321)


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301. Mina said:

For you Jürgen
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OB8Wq8pXrps
on the problems faced by women in Egypt
(the other two parts of the halqa are worse seeing too)

From stone age to democracy, it might take more than two years.

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March 16th, 2013, 5:50 am

 

302. Syrian Atheist Against Dictatorships said:

Yes, the most secular country in the middle east indeed.

“We were lucky. We got through because I’m Druze,” my friend said. “Everything is sectarian now. If I were Sunni, I’d be in jail and you’d be in trouble.”
The sectarian divisions that are ubiquitous in Syria now extend even to the roads. The road into Damascus is partitioned by concrete blast barriers, with the right-hand lane officially designated for civilian traffic and the left-hand lane for military and government traffic.
But Alawites always travel on the left, regardless of their job, and so it has been universally dubbed the “Alawite lane” by locals. It’s a sadly tidy metaphor for an evolving conflict that has destroyed so many lives, and that will destroy so many more.

http://www.thenational.ae/news/world/middle-east/a-journalist-takes-a-road-from-damascus-after-five-years#full

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March 16th, 2013, 6:43 am

 

303. Syrian Atheist Against Dictatorships said:

http://www.thenational.ae/news/world/middle-east/two-years-after-deraa-street-protests-hope-lies-bleeding-in-syria#full

Perhaps the only thing pro and anti-regime factions share is an unshakable belief in the inevitability of victory, each adamant history will vindicate their side. Both cannot be right.
Both can be wrong however, if Syria’s war becomes one of those in which everyone loses and no one wins. The longer it drags on, the more it seems to be taking that shape.
“Certainly we will win even if we have to keep our revolution going for another ten years,” said a 28-year-old, unemployed university graduate from Deraa, who took part in those early peaceful protests.
“The regime’s men say ‘Assad or we burn the country’, we reply ‘we will burn Assad and keep the country’, whatever that will cost us in lives and property,” he said.
Somewhere, wandering lost in the political wasteland between the two irreconcilable factions, is the remnants of what used to be called the ‘silent majority’, the vast bloc of ordinary Syrians who had neither taken up arms for the regime, nor against it.
Their silence and inaction, borne of justifiable fears and propagated by life in a political vacuum, appear to have condemned them to the role of passive victims.
“I have one wish, and that is to return to before March 15, 2011,” said Abu Bashar, a retired teacher, 60, living in Barzeh, a suburb in northern Damascus.
“I want to go on a picnic with my family, to visit my sons anytime I want. I want to walk in Damascus at midnight without fearing that I will be arrested or killed. I want to reach Damascus’ downtown in ten minutes not spending one hour on a checkpoint. I want to see my country stable and secure.”
But no one, except perhaps the most deluded of regime hardliners, seem to believe the clock can be turned back completely.
Abu Bashar, the old teacher, added caveats to his own time-machine fantasy, belying the understandable nostalgia he feels for the pre-war days.
“I want my old Syria back but with democracy and freedom, and no power for the security services or the army, and to have a good income to live from,” he said.
“Whoever can achieve these hopes and wishes, I will stand with him, but after all of this brutality, we need a new president. The people cannot accept Bashar Al Assad any more.”

psands@thenational.ae

http://www.thenational.ae/news/world/middle-east/two-years-after-deraa-street-protests-hope-lies-bleeding-in-syria#full

Fantasy is almost an understatement, the old teacher, wants his cake and eat it too, all without doing anything for it. Well, I have news for the all of theose in the so-called silent majority, you can’t bow your head to a dictatorship for 40 years and expect freedom and democracy to mushroom out of the ground after a spring shower.

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March 16th, 2013, 7:04 am

 

304. majedkhaldoun said:

Mini-Apple said:
There is no way what has happened along Turkey border will be allowed to happen on Jordan border
So what can you do about it?

Increasingly,it appeared that the syrian revolution is going to spread in the third year to Lebanon and Iraq,and as neighbors of Syria see Syria is getting weaker,they will interfere in Syria more

Why Buthaina Shaaban is moving to Dubai? she does not feel safe in Damascus anymore

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March 16th, 2013, 7:15 am

 

305. apple_mini said:

#303 “Fantasy is almost an understatement, the old teacher, wants his cake and eat it too, all without doing anything for it. Well, I have news for the all of theose in the so-called silent majority, you can’t bow your head to a dictatorship for 40 years and expect freedom and democracy to mushroom out of the ground after a spring shower.”

That is an unrealistic statement. Syrians are in pain. They just want the violence ends asap. How much blood do they need to shed? How many lives do they need to offer to satisfy you and your revolutionists for your ideal goal?

Why revolutionists had to tie the nation and all Syrians on their burning chariot dashing to the front?

The most powerful way to bring a tyrant down is through peaceful protest. It requires sacrifice from the truth-loving and truth-seeking protests. The more sacrifice they offer, the more support they will gain from general public.

This quickly militarized ”Arab Spring” in Syria not only was suspicious for its motive, also very counter-productive. After two years, it has become so deadly and brutal. It is no longer a revolution. It is a fighting for power, for religious dominance and for serving their puppet masters.

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March 16th, 2013, 8:42 am

 

306. Tara said:

Wadah Khanfar has it right.  When is the US going to see the light?

It is time for the west to take sides in Syria, and lift the arms embargo
Wadah Khanfar
The Guardian, Friday 15 March 2013 14.30 EDT

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/mar/15/lift-syria-arms-embargo

..
The western approach, led by the US, has so far achieved only a stalemate between the rebels and the regime. The regime’s recent use of Scud missiles, and the continued supply of arms from Russia and Iran, have tipped the balance between the rebels and the regime in the regime’s favour. Seen in this light, the latest move by the British and French is simply an attempt to rebalance the conflict, and is part of a wider western strategy to use stalemate to force both sides to achieve a peaceful settlement. This will not put an end to the violence, nor will it lead to a settlement any time soon. Indeed, the third year of the Syrian revolution will now almost certainly see a shift in the crisis: it is set to become a cross-border conflict posing the greatest challenge to the region’s stability since its current borders were drawn after the first world war.
……
Iraq, which has not yet recovered from the wounds of the civil war that tore it apart after the US invasion, would take the sectarian conflict in the area to unprecedented levels. It would also pull neighbouring countries, such as Iran, Turkey and the Arab Gulf states, into the conflict as the fight over Iraq will be not only for its oil resources, but for the true soul of the Middle East. What happens there would determine the balance of regional power and redraw the political map.

Can this scenario be avoided? It depends on how the regional and international forces act in the coming months. The US must redirect its priorities to allow the rebels to overthrow the regime. Although direct military intervention is not welcome, the west should not prohibit supplies of weapons to the revolutionaries.
..
The US has justified such prohibition in various ways: the fear of post-Assad chaos; the possibility of Islamists rising to power; the fact that Syria is a neighbour of Israel and that weapons could fall into the hands of jihadists. But that hesitation has been disastrous for the US’s objectives. Because of its fear of potential terrorism, it failed to bring down the Syrian regime at a time when the revolution was completely removed from the influence of al-Qaida or any other jihadist groups. US hesitation drove the revolution to become what the US feared most: it was a self-fulfilling prophecy.
……

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March 16th, 2013, 9:04 am

 

307. Observer said:

Well well, I am waiting for the trolls to praise and cheer the “evil” CIA as it is gathering information for a drone war on Syrian Jihadists as a sign that the regime in Syria is winning and is right in his description of the revolution as a Jihadist enterprise.
Drones do not do anything against an ideology that has taken root in the people. This is not a strategy it is a tactic. Without a overriding strategy there is nothing that the US can do.
At present, it is sitting in the background and holding the region at a distance, including Israel. I am still waiting for Kerry to articulate an Obama foreign policy.

Today they scrapped the missile defense in Europe. Is this a small gift to Russia? Of course they can reinstate it quickly if they so wish. So give a bone to the Russians.

The horse has left the barn; there is no way to stop the revolution. There is no one that can influence the outcome to its own interests.

The dithering and the lack of a decisive foreign policy that goes beyond declarations has allowed for the regime to use all lethal means and on a massive scale short of chemical weapons and for the revolution to decide that it will never go back to slavery and will do whatever it takes to uproot the regime.

Buthaina is on vacation? It is clear that she needs a permanent vacation. I guess her recent travels have convinced her that the prethident is doomed and therefore she made the conclusion to go on permanent vacation in Dubai. I had hoped her permanent vacation would be in Mezzeh awaiting a trial for crimes against humanity.

I just finished looking into the pro regime media. It is interesting that there are no news on the strategic campaign to take back Raqqa or to defeat the revolution in Aleppo and nothing on Homs but there are news of regime troops shelling villages in Lebanon.

If this is not desperation I do not know what is.

I urge you to go and read the news from their side. It is most informative.

The EU is debating while Al Nusra is advancing. I would say it is the sunset of Western influence in the region for some time. In the meantime, Iraq is buying weapons at a tune of 16 billion this year with the US the number one supplier.

I wonder who are they going to fight? Iran? Turkey backed by NATO? KSA backed by the US? or as usual in the ME their own people.

What a sorry bunch of backward and hateful people living in this part of the world.

Let it be divided, they cannot even agree in the same apartment building on maintaining the elevator functioning properly let alone have a functioning state.

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March 16th, 2013, 9:29 am

 

308. majedkhaldoun said:

Tara asks
When is the US going to see the light?

in 2050
let me explain,I said before(Akbar Palace will attest to this)that Israel is behind most evil in the middle East,When US asks what will be Syria after Assad,it means how the future post Assad goverment ,how would it be its policy toward Israel, when US says we will not provide specific weapons to the rebels,US says the rebels may use them against Israel,or the victory of the rebels will endanger Israel,and that is the reason why US is against arming the rebels.
I said before in US there is democracy,and democracy means free election,which means the number of votes will bring someone to the house or senate or presidency,right now most candidates running for political office has to please the jewish lobby,they depend on the jewish vote,when our number(means Arab and Moslem votes) exceeds jewish vote then there will be pro islamic representative and US policy will then change,our population in US has to increase to be able to change american policy,and that is expected to be in 2050.

For that I say the best thing you can do is have more children,it is American Arabs in USA who will change the middle east.

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March 16th, 2013, 10:08 am

 

309. Tara said:

# 252

“Zoo,.. himself and Lover-Of-All-Things-Bashar, can’t stand him”

Zoo’s taste is improving!

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March 16th, 2013, 10:11 am

 

310. zoo said:

Tara

“the best thing you can do is have more children”

Listen to the words of wisdom and get busy…

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March 16th, 2013, 10:13 am

 

311. zoo said:

#309 Tara

Beware of second hand affirmations, especially when they come from known manipulators always trying to put people one against each others.

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March 16th, 2013, 10:19 am

 

312. zoo said:

Sunnis ask why US drones seem to target them only

Hussain Abdul-Hussain
Mar 17, 2013
http://www.thenational.ae/thenationalconversation/comment/sunnis-ask-why-us-drones-seem-to-target-them-only

Does America’s Middle East policy tilt against Sunni Muslims and in favour of the Shia? That is certainly how many Sunnis perceive events, and especially the way the US uses its drone weapons.

America toppled Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Afghanistan’s Taliban, both brutal Sunni regimes, and in the process empowered, though unintentionally, an equally notorious regime in Shia Iran.

More recently, President Barack Obama’s policies have deepened the Sunni sense of American bias: US drones hunt down Sunni militants while the Shia – in Iran and Syria – receive invitations to talks and grand bargains, instead.

Read more: http://www.thenational.ae/thenationalconversation/comment/sunnis-ask-why-us-drones-seem-to-target-them-only#ixzz2NiGgz7fd
Follow us: @TheNationalUAE on Twitter | thenational.ae on Facebook

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March 16th, 2013, 10:28 am

 

313. Tara said:

Zoo,

You can stand Reve?

I just hope you do not share his behavior he was so proud to share.

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March 16th, 2013, 10:32 am

 

314. zoo said:

Only the Friends of Syria is a failure?

America’s ‘shift’ towards Syria’s rebels is a dangerous illusion

Radwan Ziadeh
Mar 9, 2013
http://www.thenational.ae/thenationalconversation/comment/americas-shift-towards-syrias-rebels-is-a-dangerous-illusion#page2

Moaz Al Khatib and the rest of the organised opposition should have followed through on their threat to boycott the Rome meeting.

Secretary of State John Kerry used the meeting only as a platform to show his domestic audience that the United States was “doing something” about Syria. Tragically, that something is a weak, ineffectual and belated response to the two years of mass murder forced on Syrian society.

The Friends of Syria group has proven itself to be a failure. The Syrian opposition should not attend another such meeting until the international community proves to the Syrian people that it is ready to take steps that will result in a real change on the ground. Syrians don’t need more statements of support, sympathy or tears.

Read more: http://www.thenational.ae/thenationalconversation/comment/americas-shift-towards-syrias-rebels-is-a-dangerous-illusion#ixzz2NiHWjUEf
Follow us: @TheNationalUAE on Twitter | thenational.ae on Facebook

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March 16th, 2013, 10:33 am

 

315. AIG said:

MAJEDKHALDOUN,

Take a look at this just published poll:
http://www.gallup.com/poll/161387/americans-sympathies-israel-match-time-high.aspx

It is not the Jewish vote versus the Arab vote that matters. There are tens of millions of Zionist Christians in the US and the general public is favorable to Israel. You are not going to change the US in the next 100 years, so I would think of another plan.

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March 16th, 2013, 10:38 am

 

316. zoo said:

No hands cut… Welcome to “Soft” Sharia?

A Glimpse of Post-Assad Syria: Inside Aleppo’s New Islamic Justice Committees

By Florence Aubenas, Le Monde
March 16, 2013
http://www.realclearworld.com/articles/2013/03/16/a_glimpse_of_post-assad_syria_100626-2.html

“Will you be cutting hands off? Will you be stoning women?” He says he is for a softer Islam.

Another round of tea is served. The youths joke. “I hope there won’t be any hand cutting, but then again, that wouldn’t shock me. No more than an American would be shocked in front of an electric chair. Who knows what is going to happen?”

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March 16th, 2013, 10:54 am

 

317. zoo said:

#313 Tara

Sorry, I am not ready to share my likes and dislikes.
And if I do, I will certainly address it directly to the concerned person and not to a third party.

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March 16th, 2013, 11:02 am

 

318. zoo said:

Lebanon must stem flow of fighters: Lebanese president

Sulaiman asks army to arrest any militants intending to fight in Syria
AFP
Published: 18:18 March 16, 2013

Beirut: Lebanon must prevent fighters from crossing into Syria, Lebanese President Michel Sulaiman said after Damascus threatened to respond to cross-border infiltrations.

Sulaiman made the remarks while meeting with the Lebanese community in the Ivory Coast during an official visit, according to a statement from his office on Saturday.

Lebanon’s stability depends “on all of us… not sending militants to Syria and not receiving them,” he said, adding “we must commit ourselves to neutrality.”

Sulaiman said he had tasked Lebanon’s army with “the arrest of any militants intending to fight [in Syria], whether for the opposition or not.”

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March 16th, 2013, 11:07 am

 

319. revenire said:

Tara Zoo supports Assad over the rats. That’s all you need to know. We’re two men and bound to have disagreements over ideas. That’s how it works in a free society like Syria.

For example, I am in favor of sarin gas being used on every town, village and rat hole harboring a single fighter against the government. I doubt Zoo would approve of that but maybe he does. It is hardly important because neither Zoo, nor myself, are SAA generals who can order carpet bombing with sarin gas cluster bombs.

I am not shy about my extreme hatred of anything and anyone supporting the so-called FSA. I believe in showing no mercy for anyone involved against the government.

I also am 100% behind Assad and want him reelected and believe he is one of the most generous and wise leaders the Middle East has ever produced. That is why the majority of Syrians support him and love him.

Bashar is my hero.

I am in favor of killing every filthy rat in Syria and all their supporters without mercy. No forgiveness. No mercy. No restraint. If we destroy a few rat towns and the civilians have to die that is a small price to pay for saving the MAJORITY of Syrians.

It is about saving lives at this point and showing any mercy to anyone supporting these murderous pigs will only cause more death.

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March 16th, 2013, 11:18 am

 

320. Akbar Palace said:

Majedkhaldoun,

Does the Holy Koran state the Jews can’t create their own state?

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March 16th, 2013, 5:31 pm

 

321. Leith said:

These “rebels” are nothing but western funded thugs.

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March 29th, 2013, 3:03 pm

 

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