The Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham Expands Into Rural Northern Syria

In the previous post, Aymenn al-Tamimi discussed developments in the relationship between two primary al-Qa’ida affiliates operating in Syria: Jabhat al-Nusra, and the ISIS. Through his analysis he concluded that in some areas the distinction between Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) is blurry, while in other areas the two seem to visibly operate as distinctly separate groups. He also believes that though a “grand ideological clash” between the two groups is not impossible, it is premature to point to one at present. Now, in part two, Aymenn delves into the growth of ISIS power in specific communities and discusses the plausibility of predicted FSA – ISIS confrontation.

 

The Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham Expands Into Rural Northern Syria

Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimiby Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi for Syria Comment


Introduction

In a post for Jihadology a few weeks back, I identified how the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham (ISIS) was playing an important role in the fighting on the outskirts of the city of Aleppo and in the surrounding countryside. Since that time, it has become apparent that the group has been seeking to expand outwards and to consolidate control over outlying towns in both the Aleppo and Idlib regions, particularly those of strategic importance along or near the border with Turkey.

Azaz

This initiative has already served to foster division. For example, in the town of Azaz, which is in close proximity to the Turkish border, a protest ocurred on July 1 against ISIS’ entry into the town and its attempt to establish headquarters there. Yet on July 5, Azaz saw a counter-rally in favor of ISIS featuring a slogan common for such demonstrations—‘Labbayka ya Allah’ (‘I am at your service, God’)—accompanied by conspicuous numbers of ISIS flags.

It should be noted that this pattern of division—between those members of Syrian society who support ISIS vs. those who do not—is also observed in the city of Aleppo itself, where ISIS supporters have generally held separate rallies from those of other demonstrators. (I have found one notable exception: a rally on June 4 for the then-besieged city of Qusayr in the area of al-Firdus, featuring both ISIS and Free Syrian Army [FSA] flags).

Resentment over the ISIS presence in Azaz grows. One notable outlet for this disapproving sentiment is a youth activist Facebook page called ‘The Youth of Aleppo—Azaz’ which posted the following status: ‘We ask the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham to establish their state from Iraq [meaning ‘in Iraq’?] since the system of prostitution [there] has not yet fallen.’

The group has also circulated an alleged statement from a local council in the town of Tel Abyaḍ in Raqqah Governorate claiming that the ISIS has confiscated internationally-donated generators intended to provide drinking water for the residents of the town.

On the other hand, ISIS is attempting some outreach to the locals of Azaz, offering Qur’an and Sunnah recitation competitions—among other religious activities—for the population during Ramaḍān.

Jarabulus

As for other towns, here is a photo of the ISIS headquarters in the northern border town of Jarabulus. The banner reads: ‘The Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham: Province of Aleppo. Emirate of Jarabulus.’

ISIS headquarters, Jarabulus, Syria

Another photo shows the flag of ISIS flying over Jarabulus:

ISIS flag flies over Jarabulus, Syria

One activist page on Facebook called ‘Jabhat al-Nusra does not represent me’ claims the following to give context to the first photo: ‘Photo from Jarabulus following the seizure of it by al-Qa’ida after battles with the FSA. It is said that ISIS then killed scores of civilians, among them children, during al-Qa’ida’s attempt to occupy the town.’

In a similar vein, on June 15, the Arabic news outlet al-Waie News claimed to cite a local source in Jarabulus on clashes between ISIS and a rebel battalion known as the ‘Family of Jādir,’ which uses the FSA flag.

The source claimed that the clashes started after a member of ISIS was wounded during a round of celebratory gunfire that followed a concord reached between the two groups, giving rise to a renewed violent battle between ISIS and the Family of Jādir for fifteen hours, resulting in ISIS’ seizure of the town, as well as the killing of one ISIS fighter and several from the Family of Jādir.

On 13 June, the leader of the Family of Jādir—Yusuf al-Jādir—released video testimony in which he claimed that ISIS launched an attack on the home of Ahmad al-Jādir and then began shooting at dozens of innocent civilians, resulting in the deaths of several children: among them, Mahmoud Kerkaz, Sheikho Shawish, Ibrahim al-Ahmad, and a young Kurdish girl. He continues by documenting other alleged acts of ISIS aggression in the town.

It thus appears that ISIS seized control of Jarabulus by force. One thing that is important to note from the opposing testimony is the issue of naming. The source for al-Waie News from Jarabulus merely sees ISIS as a new name for Jabhat al-Nusra (JN) in the town, and Yusuf al-Jādir likewise deems the two names interchangeable.

Thus, even if my formulation for the city of Aleppo itself—that ISIS and JN are two separate entities—applies here, the perception of at least some residents of the town nevertheless differs. As in Raqqah, the two may well be interchangeable in Jarabulus.

The concept of interchangeability could make sense here in light of the fact that JN has had an active presence in the northern Turkish border areas in the past (cf. clashes with Farouq Battalions in April on the border in Raqqah Governorate). Certainly, Jarabulus has been known for a JN presence in the past: here is a video of a JN-led rally in Jarabulus from December 14, 2012, featuring the chant of ‘We are Anṣar Allah.’

In this context, one should also note a revealing report from the Damascus Bureau, which actually visited Jarabulus. The reporter, Youssef Shaikho, explains that Jabhat al-Nusra in Jarabulus supported the announcement of ISIS, and most of its fighters in the town are native Syrians, providing a notable exception to the media narrative of ISIS as a group solely composed of foreign fighters.

Further blurring the lines of group-alignment and public sentiment, not all those who, like al-Jādir, use the FSA flag in Jarabulus are necessarily opposed to ISIS’ ideological vision. For example, here is a Facebook activist page from Jarabulus that uses the FSA flag. Yet it has put up a status that laments the loss of the Khilafa (Caliphate) and denounces the UN and its decision-making as a mere front for occupation.

In any event, ISIS is now said to be operating an active Shari’a court in Jarabulus, which has allegedly executed three young men recently on charges of rape and murder. ISIS is also accused of detaining the son of a prominent martyr from the Family of Jādir known as Abu Furāt.

In terms of the reasons behind the Jādir-ISIS clashes, one should be cautious about presenting them as a simple ideological battle. It rather seems to have been a power struggle for control of an important border area. The Kurdish PYD, as the Damascus Bureau notes, also has a small activist presence in Jarabulus, yet it has been left untouched and tolerated by ISIS.

At the same time, ISIS is trying to counter the allegations put out about its conduct in Jarabulus by emphasizing local support in the town for the group, including children.

al-Bab

Another town in rural Aleppo where ISIS is establishing its presence is al-Bab. On July 5, the outlet Saḍa ash-Sham al-Islami put up a set of photos of a meeting for Dawah  held by the ISIS in al-Bab. [Da’wa means “invitation” and often refers to proselytism—the inviting of others to join Islam. In this case, it refers to outreach to Muslims to strengthen their faith.]

Da'wah meeting in al-Bab

In contrast to what appears to have been a more aggressive approach in Jarabulus, ISIS seems to be engaging in an active outreach effort to the population of al-Bab. Thus, the local outlet al-Bab Press reported that ISIS is running school bus services for children who have seen their education disrupted for many months by Assad regime bomb attacks. A local FB page in al-Bab also gave an account last month from an ISIS fighter of clashes between ISIS and Assad regime soldiers aided by Hezbollah fighters in the wider Aleppo area.

Manbij

The town of Manbij offers a case contrasting with that of al-Bab. Recently, Manbij has seen a protest rally against ISIS. The demonstration was sparked by two grievances against ISIS: first, ISIS is accused by some local activists of destroying works of art in Manbij, and second, of kidnapping a local sheikh. Protests continued into Friday of last week, on which day ISIS had been holding a daw’ah meeting in Manbij featuring a number of locals in support of the group, as per the photo below.

ISIS holds dawah meeting in Manbij, Syria

Prior to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s announcement of the formation of ISIS in early April, Manbij had been known for an active JN presence in alliance with Ahrar ash-Sham, who together took on the Farouq Battalions in violent clashes in the town at the beginning of the month, resulting in the expulsion of the Farouq Battalions from Manbij.

The clashes began after Ahrar ash-Sham had arrested a certain Abu Khaldun, a friend of the leader of the Farouq Battalions in Manbij. Ahrar ash-Sham and its allies justified the arrest on the grounds that this man had been one of the leading criminal figures in Manbij and had to be put on trial by the Shari’a committee in Aleppo, while emphasizing that there was no fundamental conflict between them and those under the banner of the FSA.

Following the defeat of the Farouq Battalions, Ahrar ash-Sham held a victory rally in Manbij on 6 April with dozens of supporters and allies, featuring the al-Qa’ida flag and a banner reading ‘The Ummah wants an Islamic Khilafa.’ The person who uploaded the video described it as being held in celebration of the expulsion of ‘gangs of thieves’- a common charge leveled against the Farouq Battalions in the north, which unlike the Ikhwaan-aligned Homs division lack ties to any major Islamist groups.

On a side note, the rally itself should illustrate that those who posit a strict dichotomy between supposedly ‘nationalist’ Salafists in Ahrar ash-Sham as opposed to transnational jihadists are mistaken. This rally in Manbij and Ahrar ash-Sham’s statement on JN’s pledge of allegiance to al-Qa’ida show that concepts of the transnational ummah that supersedes “artificial borders” and the nation-state of Syria are often blurred in Ahrar ash-Sham’s ideological thought.

Of course, one also must not generalize in the opposite direction and portray all of Ahrar ash-Sham as bent on an international Khilafa. Yet whenever non-Islamists protest against groups like ISIS, as a rule Ahrar ash-Sham can be expected to side with the latter (cf. the case of Raqqah which I documented last month).

In the context of Manbij, therefore, one should not be surprised about a blurring of distinction between Ahrar ash-Sham’s support base and what is now known as the ISIS presence. Indeed, it is also apparent that there is another virtual mirror front of ISIS active in Manbij: namely, Ansar al-Khilafa, which is composed of a mix of native Syrians and foreign fighters, though exact proportions are unclear.

Ansar al-Khilafa is most prominent in rural Aleppo and Latakia. In the April rally led by Ahrar ash-Sham, it is likely that there were Ansar al-Khilafa supporters among the crowd. Here is a recent mural put up in Manbij in support of the group:

Ansar al-Khilafa mural in Manbij, Syria

ad-Dana

The final case we come to on the subject of ISIS’ expansion is that of ad-Dana in Idlib, near the border with Turkey. Here, a protest rally is said to have taken place against ISIS (though no video footage of it has emerged so far), sparking violent clashes. Yet it is the only case where we have a mainstream media outlet allowing ISIS to give its full side of the story thanks to an al-Jazeera English report (H/T: @khalidelmousoui) from the town. In the report, ISIS fighters claimed that those denouncing their presence were actually agents of the Assad regime.

However, it appears that this testimony is contradicted in an account given by pro-ISIS activists in Idlib, who denounced the clashes as ‘the work of some of the apostates of the Free Army.’ Meanwhile, a pro-ISIS Twitter user complained at the time of the clashes that the ‘malicious Free Army’ was besieging ISIS and expressed concerns about the beginnings of a ‘Sahwa’ movement against ISIS.

As of now, the al-Jazeera report says that ISIS is the only remaining armed group in the town. This is corroborated by local Idlib activist testimony that there are now no armed clashes in the town and reconciliation initiatives are underway. At the same time, claims that ISIS executed dozens of supporters of those identifying under the banner of the FSA—stemming chiefly from an ad-Dana rebel leader’s testimony were denied.

That said, both the rebel leader whose testimony is given by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the al-Jazeera report corroborate each other on the ISIS fighters as being from outside Syria.

Now in control of the town, ISIS is running a school for the children, and the ISIS presence as reported by al-Jazeera is corroborated by a video that has now emerged of ISIS fighters manning the entrance into ad-Dana.

Conclusion

In short, these various cases illustrate ISIS’ growing power in the north of Syria. ISIS is clearly not a force to be dismissed as marginal without any real support on the ground, even as its presence is undoubtedly sparking backlash in many areas. Above all, these recent developments as regards ISIS’ expansion vindicate to an extent my prediction in March in a guest post for Syria Comment about the emergence and establishment of jihadist strongholds in the north and east of Syria.

In terms of the future, one needs to be skeptical of the narrative being put out by Supreme Military Command (SMC) supporters of a looming, grand-scale FSA effort to take on ISIS in the north of Syria in a fundamental clash of ideologies. Resentment at the ideological level is more to be expected from civilian protestors rather than armed rebels.

One should particularly note my distinction here between SMC supporters and those in general who go by the banner of the FSA. While SMC supporters would like to portray all of those under the banner of FSA as opposed to ISIS, the evidence speaks otherwise, exemplified in this recent statement by an FSA military council in Aleppo denying rumors of clashes between their ‘brothers’ in ISIS and JN.

SMC supporters are likely the source of at least some of the allegations against ISIS, including the recent claim that ISIS is planning to declare a wider northern state after Ramaḍān: plausible in light of ISIS’ expansion in northern Syria but as of now uncorroborated in pro-ISIS circles.

Other rumors likely originating from pro-SMC sources include an alleged statement by JN distancing itself from ISIS (not released through JN’s official channel al-Manārah al-Bayḍā, so therefore suspect) and claims that ISIS killed Abu Furāt of Jarabulus, when his funeral actually took place a few months before ISIS was announced.

In particular, the reports attempting to portray JN in open conflict with ISIS are building on a narrative stemming from a Reuters piece in which JN was portrayed as a group of native Syrians disillusioned with the machinations of the foreign fighters of ISIS, hinting at the possibility of JN teaming up with other rebels to take on ISIS.

The motivation for spreading rumors about ISIS is quite apparent: namely, the SMC’s bid to secure Western arms, which will then be supposedly used to take on what Western nations like the UK perceive to be the number-one threat emanating from Syria.

In any case, the current PR war between SMC supporters and ISIS supporters will continue. Feeling the pressure, the latter have recently announced the formation of a new forum intended to counter purported media disinformation about the group. Thus can the exchange of claims and counter-claims be expected to intensify. Ascertaining the full truth short of getting on the ground will remain elusive.

 

Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi is a Shillman-Ginsburg Fellow at the Middle East Forum and a student at Brasenose College, Oxford University. His website is http://www.aymennjawad.org. Follow on Twitter at @ajaltamimi

Comments (491)


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101. Uzair8 said:

Syria Should Retaliate For Israel Strike on Latakia
16 July 2013

Abdel Bari Atwan

It was with great concern that we heard about the Israeli missile attack in the Syrian port of Latakia earlier this month. The attack targeted a delivery of Russian anti-ship missiles.

We were waiting for a strategic response that would answer with this provocative attack that took advantage of the Arab world’s current weakness due to regional upheavals and civil wars.

[…]

We strongly condemn the use of Syrian warplanes against civilians and we strongly condemn destroying neighbourhoods – we have taken this position on the Syrian crisis from day one and we will stick to it. But we will, not for one minute, hesitate in standing up against any Israeli aggression on Syria.

[…]

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July 19th, 2013, 1:45 pm

 

102. jo6pac said:

79. revenire said:

He was also getting ready to set up a bank for African nation so they didn’t have to go to imf or world bank and his bank wasn’t going to use dollars. This reason more than anything set the machine in motion. South Amerika has done the same thing under the late hugo no dollars. Russia and China no longer use dollar when trade between each other. This currency war is being played out in the back ground of the noise machine.

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July 19th, 2013, 1:57 pm

 

103. Uzair8 said:

Mary Fitzgerald ‏@MaryFitzger 17 Jul
Hizbullah cemetery in Beirut – where Imad Mughniyeh & Nasrallah’s son buried – is now full due to graves of men killed fighting in #Syria.

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July 19th, 2013, 2:04 pm

 

104. majedkhaldoun said:

I sure hope the news about Abdeaziz Alkhayyer is wrong, he was peaceful opposition, Ghufran told us three months ago that he will be released soon, ofcourse Ghufran news are not correct but we had hope, today we heared bad news I really hope they are wrong

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July 19th, 2013, 2:08 pm

 

105. revenire said:

I remember when they called him a “regime traitor” and threw eggs on him in Cairo.

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July 19th, 2013, 2:15 pm

 

106. revenire said:

Uzair >

“Mary Fitzgerald ‏@MaryFitzger 17 Jul
@franklin19788 Hardly…Cemetery now full as containing 100+ graves (18 killed in Syria). Widow told me new cemetery is being built nearby”

Full? 18 is not the image we see when we think of full.

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July 19th, 2013, 2:16 pm

 

107. habib said:

96. SANDRO LOEWE

The closer the regime gets to victory, the sooner there will be peace.

Whether you like the regime or not, that’s pretty much the truth. The more the opposition is armed, the longer the war will last.

So no cigar.

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July 19th, 2013, 2:32 pm

 

108. The Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham Expands ... said:

[…] In the previous post, Aymenn al-Tamimi discussed developments in the relationship between two primary al-Qa’ida affiliates operating in Syria: Jabhat al-Nusra, and the ISIS.  […]

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July 19th, 2013, 3:40 pm

 

109. SANDRO LOEWE said:

107. HABIB

The more the regime resist the bigger the fall will be. Like it or not this is what will happen and when it happens you will probably not be here writting but hiding behind a Revolution Flag.

The times of ASSAD LIL ABAD written with stones in the mountains around Damascus are past, gone, history, ended. Catch it?

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July 19th, 2013, 3:43 pm

 

110. amal said:

You resigned. So what does that make you a quitter? Didn’t appreciate being attacked. Well Boo Hoo, they’re still attacking you as a poster. I do love that restaurant fig leaf Landis handed you. Was that your idea or his? 😀

BTW how’s that imaginary restaurant doing? Are you serving Erdogan favorite drink “Ayran”?

32. samisaid:
1. JOSHUA LANDIS said:
SC’s moderator has resigned. He got tired. Didn’t appreciate being attacked, and is opening a restaurant.

==============

As for the alleged insult how exactly is questioning someones personal hypocrisy meter an insult?

You know very well how! You ridiculed him by attacking and making fun of his name. The man’s name is “SimoHurtta” not “SimoHypocrometer”. It’s not too late to apologise to him Sami.

359. Akbar Palace said:
“SimoHypocrometer”
LOL Sami…

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July 19th, 2013, 4:39 pm

 

111. AA said:

HAPPY BIRTHDAY REVENIRE

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July 19th, 2013, 4:44 pm

 

112. revenire said:

A restaurant? I don’t know if I should ask about the menu given the odd eating habits of the revolution. That is creepy.

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July 19th, 2013, 4:50 pm

 

113. don said:

Shells hit major Shiite shrine near Damascus

BEIRUT (AP) — Mortar shells struck near a major Shiite shrine outside Damascus on Friday, killing its caretaker in an attack that threatens to further escalate sectarian tensions in Syria’s civil war, the government and activists said.

State-run news agency SANA said shells fired be rebels landed “in the vicinity” of the revered Sayida Zeinab shrine, killing Anas Roumani, the shrine’s administrative director. Several people were wounded in the explosion, SANA said.

Protection of the ornate, golden-domed mosque has become a rallying cry for Shiite fighters backing Assad, raising the stakes in a conflict that is increasingly being fought along sectarian lines.

http://news.yahoo.com/shells-hit-major-shiite-shrine-near-damascus-174449259.html

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July 19th, 2013, 5:21 pm

 

114. don said:

Syria Frees 23 Female Prisoners In Intended Swap For Lebanese Pilgrims

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/19/syria-regime-frees-female-prisoners_n_3622920.html?utm_hp_ref=world

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July 19th, 2013, 5:43 pm

 

115. Ziad said:

أول البلاء جمر … ثم يستعر

هذا البلاغ الصادر عن الهيئة التي تطلق على نفسها ” شرعية ” وتتخذ من مدينة حلب الشهباء مقراً لها تفصح عما يكنه هؤلاء المتخلفون لبلد كسورية التي جبلتها الحضارات المختلفة التي مرت بها فتبلور فيها ذلك المجتمع المنفتح على بقايا كل هذه الحضارات والمتزامن معها حتى بعد افولها حيث لم يشكل هذا الأفول غربة اي منها في بلد كسورية .

(بلاغ)

قرار صادر عن الهيئة الشرعية بحلب
مركز الفردوس

يحرم خروج الرجل المسلم مكشوف الرأس (بالألبسة الديقة التي تظهر
منها معالم الأبدان وكزاا ويفضل لبس الدشداشة ) كما يرجى
الإلتزام بتطويل الذقن ولو سانتي سانتيين بس مو أكثر).
فعلى جميع الرجال الإلتزام بطاعة الله والتمسك بآداب الإسلام .
والله من وراء القصد.
ختم ختم
الهيئة الشرعية بحلب الهيئة الشرعية بحلب
مركز الفردوس مركز الفردوس
بدون توقيع مع التوقيع

(هذا البلاغ خالي من التاريخ وقد إستنسخته نصاً وذلك لأسباب فنية حيث ان النص الأصلي لا ينتقل مع نص المقال أحياناً . ص إ )
…………………………………………………………

فبالأمس القريب إنهالوا على تمثال البحتري هدماً بالمعاول تيمناً بما قام به أقرانهم من وحوش الطالبان في افغانستان حينما إنهالوا ، اثناء تسلطهم على البلاد والعباد هناك ، على التراث البوذي الذي وضعته الحضارة العالمية تحت حمايتها بالنظر لما له من اهمية تاريخية وعلمية تستوجب ذلك . وكما جرى للبحتري جرى ايضاً للمعري في معرة النعمان حيث لم يتحمل المتخلفون من رواد الفكر السلفي والإسلام السياسي حتى وجود ما يشير إلى هذا الفيلسوف العظيم الذي وصفه الأديب الكبير مارون عبود بالوصف اللائق به حينما اطلق عليه إسم” زوبعة الدهور “.

ماذا يريد هؤلاء الجهلة ، وإلى ماذا يسعون ، وما هي الوسائل التي تعينهم على هذا السعي ، ومن يقف وراء جرائمهم تنسيقاً وتمويلاً وتنفيذاً ، وكيف ولماذا وكثير من الأسئلة الأخرى التي باتت تدور في أذهان الناس وتتراقص على شفاههم في المجتمعت العربية والإسلامية التي أُبتليت بهذا المرض الخبيث … ؟

http://www.ahewar.org/debat/show.art.asp?aid=369271

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July 19th, 2013, 6:34 pm

 

116. Ziad said:

هذه سوريه كما نريدها نحن ان تبقى سوريه المحبه والاخاء والسلام والعيش المشترك

https://twitter.com/assf_2022/status/358285869515419649/photo/1

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July 19th, 2013, 6:46 pm

 

117. majedkhaldoun said:

Salim Idris will visit Washington next week,I think he will be disappointed,as Obama is not ready for a pirourtte, US is more likely to change the goverment in Iraq and bring Sunni dictator than to change Bashar.
kissinger said Syria was artificial state , created to facilitate the french control,and he prefers that Syria gets divided,the problem with dividing Syria is the small states that will developed,can not survive and they have to join neighbouring states, may be northern Syria will join Turkey, may be Houran will join Jordan and the east will join alAnbar which will demand to seperate from the rest of Iraq, the US will not like that,it is against the american security concerns.
That is why I believe at the end military american intervention is inevitable to keep the country togather.

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July 19th, 2013, 7:04 pm

 

118. zoo said:

Some brilliant New York Times has found the solution to Obama dilemma.

To Oust Assad, Pressure Hezbollah and engage with Iran.
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/19/opinion/to-oust-assad-pressure-hezbollah.html?_r=0

And there is something America could do to pressure him. The most powerful inducement for Mr. Assad to reach an acceptable compromise would be a loss of support from Hezbollah, the Lebanon-based, Iranian-financed Shiite militant group. In Lebanon, popular anger over Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria is rising, and the United States must exploit this opportunity, even if it means negotiating directly with Iran to rein in its Lebanese proxy.

The way to Hezbollah’s heart is through Iran. The Obama administration should bite the admittedly hard bullet and start cultivating Iran as a participant in negotiations for a peace deal in Syria. Iran’s newly elected moderate president, Hassan Rowhani, wants better relations with pro-rebel Saudi Arabia. And despite Iran’s insistence that its Syria policy hasn’t changed, Mr. Rowhani is likely to be less obstructionist than his predecessors and could open up space for genuine compromise. America should also be receptive to power-sharing scenarios that preserve a role for Mr. Assad’s fellow Alawites in a new Syrian government.

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July 19th, 2013, 7:06 pm

 

119. don said:

Foreign Fighters Flocking to Syria Stir U.S., EU Terror Concerns

The U.S. and European Union are seeing an increasing number of radicalized young Muslims going to Syria to fight, a development that raises the danger that they will return to conduct terrorist attacks at home.

The war is providing both a rallying point and a training ground for radical Islamists from other nations, according to Matthew Olsen, director of the U.S. government’s National Counterterrorism Center. Their numbers are increasing and the radicals, such as those joining the al-Nusra Front, an offshoot of the terrorist group al-Qaeda in Iraq, are now “the most capable fighting force within the opposition” to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, he said.

“Syria has become really the predominant jihadist battlefield in the world,” Olsen said at the Aspen Security Forum in Aspen, Colorado. “We see foreign fighters going from Western Europe and, in a small number of cases, from the United States to Syria to fight for the opposition.”

Most of those from Europe are self-radicalized and traveling on their own initiative, as opposed to being recruited by a radical network, de Kerchove said.

He called it “at bit surprising” that they are going to Syria, to fight other Muslims, rather than going the Mali, where France has intervened militarily to push back advances by Islamic radicals. That may be the case because travel is easier to Syria, through Turkey, and because many of the young radicals are more attuned to fighting in urban conditions rather than in Mali’s vast desert territory, he said.

http://www.businessweek.com/news/2013-07-19/u-dot-s-dot-stakes-in-syria-grow-as-fighting-empowers-radical-factions

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July 19th, 2013, 7:38 pm

 

120. don said:

Turkey Beefs Up Military Presence On The Syria Border While US Considers Use Of Military Force

Turkey is beefing up its military presence near Syria border while the US is considering the use of military force in Syria and the former UK Army chief said: We risk war with Syria . At the same time, there is report that Libyan weapons and foreign fighters are fuelling blood shed in Syria .

Citing Ihlas News Agency a Hurriyet Daily News report [1] said:

Turkey is beefing up its military presence along the Syrian border following clashes between People’s Defense Units (YPG), the militant wing of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), and al-Qaeda linked al-Nusra Front.

Turkish F-16 jets and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) were scrambled from their base in the southeastern province of Diyarbakir for patrolling over the border town of Ras al-Ayn.

YPG and al-Nusra Front have been engaged in a fight for three days in the Syrian town of Ras al-Ayn, near the Turkish border town of Ceylanpinar in the southeastern province of Sanliurfa.

The Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) also dispatched soldiers and tanks to the border.

http://www.countercurrents.org/cc190713B.htm

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July 19th, 2013, 7:45 pm

 

121. omen said:

obama admitted, in charlie rose interview, supporting sunni opposition runs counter to US interests.

“BARACK OBAMA: there are elements within the Middle East who see this entirely through the prism of a Shia/Sunni conflict and want the United States to simply take the side of the Sunnis and that I do not think serves American interests.”

that reads as a tacit admission the west profits more from having a shia friendly regime.

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July 19th, 2013, 7:54 pm

 

122. don said:

Libyan Weapons Fuel Syria Bloodshed

Tunis — Libyan weapons and foreign fighters are increasingly finding their way to the front lines of the Syrian conflict, where tens of thousands of civilians have died over three years of war.

A number of recent reports have highlighted the leading role played by Libyans in arming rebel fighters in Syria.

“News of the discovery of smuggled weapons from Libya to other countries has become routine for Libyans. It is sounding like the weather bulletin provided by our television stations every day,” Tripoli resident Younes El-Borai said in response to the latest news on arms smuggling.

On June 2nd, Ali Zidan revealed that national security forces in Tobruk had foiled a smuggling operation of dozens of rockets that were on their way to the Egyptian border. Zidan said at the time that these weapons included 10 Milan rockets and about 50 Grad rockets as well as thermal rockets. They were discovered near the border town of Jaghbub.

Earlier this year, the United Nations published a report that noted Libyan weapons were spreading beyond the country’s borders, from Mali to the Levant. The February 15th report from a panel created to investigate breaches of the Libyan arms embargo said weapons were sent from Libya to Syria “through networks and routes passing through either Turkey or northern Lebanon”.

“Transfers of military materiel have been organised from various locations in Libya, including Misrata and Benghazi. The significant size of some shipments and the logistics involved suggest that representatives of the Libyan local authorities might have at least been aware of the transfers, if not actually directly involved,” the UN report stated.

The report also noted Syria was a “prominent destination for Libyan fighters” who have “joined brigades as individuals or through networks to support the Syrian opposition”.

The UN cited several specific examples where Libyan equipment was shipped to Syria, including one case where 400 tons of material was transferred from Benghazi to the Syrian opposition aboard the Al Entisar fishing boat.

Abdul Basit Haroun Shehibi, commander of Abu Salim Martyrs’ Brigade, confessed last month to Reuters that he stood behind the largest arms’ shipments that have been transferred from Libya to the rebels in Syria. “These shipments are transported by air to neighbouring countries, and then smuggled across the border,” he said.

Haroun Shehibi, who was a UK resident during the rule of Kadhafi, returned during the Libyan revolution to participate with rebels in toppling the regime. He formed the Abu Slim Martyrs’ Brigade in Benghazi to commemorate the massacre in Abu Slim Prison.

Images posted on Facebook purportedly show him travelling to Syria last August to deliver a shipment of weapons.

Before forming his brigade, Haroun Shehibi joined the “February 17 Brigade” led by Ismael al-Sallabi, who is currently wanted by international justice for his involvement in war crimes.

Young Libyans are also being caught up in the war in Syria. A June report by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy found that more Libyans had died in the Syrian conflict than any other group of foreigners.

Citing data from Flashpoint Global Partners, the think-tank said Libya was “the undisputed leader” in the number of foreigners killed fighting in Syria, representing more than one in five foreign jihadists slain in the fighting.

http://allafrica.com/stories/201307190454.html?page=2

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July 19th, 2013, 7:56 pm

 

123. omen said:

it’s not just the west. china benefited the most from our iraq adventure.

hardly anybody ever addresses china’s veto and what that means in terms of their interests.

seeing how many western corporations are now invested in china doing well, we are probably acting to secure asia’s oil supply as well.

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July 19th, 2013, 8:00 pm

 

124. omen said:

Libyan Weapons Fuel Syria Bloodshed

unlike russian military hardware & chemical weapons.

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July 19th, 2013, 8:03 pm

 

125. omen said:

i don’t like fisk but anybody with insider access should be heeded and his claims weighed and measured to see if it correlates with the facts on the ground.

quotes from 2012.

President Bashar al-Assad of Syria may last far longer than his opponents believe – and with the tacit acceptance of Western leaders anxious to secure new oil routes to Europe via Syria before the fall of the regime. According to a source intimately involved in the possible transition from Baath party power, the Americans, Russians and Europeans are also putting together an agreement that would permit Assad to remain leader of Syria for at least another two years in return for political concessions to Iran and Saudi Arabia in both Lebanon and Iraq.

For its part, Russia would be assured of its continued military base at Tartous in Syria and a relationship with whatever government in Damascus eventually emerges with the support of Iran and Saudi Arabia. Russia’s recent concession – that Assad may not be essential in any future Syrian power structure – is part of a new understanding in the West which may accept Assad’s presidency in return for an agreement that prevents a further decline into civil war.

the prediction about russia cobbling a deal in syria has already come to pass.

two more years from date of article takes us into 2014.

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July 19th, 2013, 8:17 pm

 

126. Uzair8 said:

An AJE Syria blog update from about 5 hrs ago:

SOHR reports several pro-regime People’s Committees’ members killed during the clashes in Homs.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported that, Syrian rebel fighters killed 12 members of a pro-regime pro-regime People’s Committees clashes overnight in the central city of Homs, and troops responded by shelling them on Friday.

[…]

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July 19th, 2013, 8:18 pm

 

127. Uzair8 said:

Btw I just noticed the comment section is back on individual AJE blog updates.

That’s where it all started…

Those were the days….

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July 19th, 2013, 8:21 pm

 

128. zoo said:

Happy days of the Turkish economy seem ready to fade away. Erdogan have even lesser chance to become president in 2014

End of ‘la dolce vita’ period with foreign capital for Turkey soon

http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/end-of-la-dolce-vita-period-with-foreign-capital-for-turkey-soon.aspx?PageID=238&NID=51060&NewsCatID=344

When the money flow stops…

How could the Turkish economy, which has lost most of its foreign currency producing abilities, recreate itself if no more foreign capital flows? How could Turkey import more energy resources, which constitute 25 percent of the country’s total imports? How could Turkey meet the deficit? Amid the current high capital outflows and the plunges in the lira, the government appears to be raising the interest rates, although it does not want to do. The Central Bank has already signaled a rise in the rates by July 23. Turkey is familiar with the relentless clash between interest rates and exchange rates. Turkey has previously seen many times when the economy was cooled down, growth slowed, and unemployment surged, just after periods of relentless clashes between interest rates and exchange rates. It appears to be the last thing, but when the economy is so bad it is not easy to change for the AKP government, which is entering a three-year period of three elections: A local election, a presidential election, and a general election.

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July 19th, 2013, 9:19 pm

 

129. zoo said:

Will the Egyptian army turn to Russia and Iran for military equipment?

Britain blocks exports to Egyptian military

Britain takes away export licenses of Egypt’s military fearing equipment may be used in internal repression amid mounting unrest in the country

AFP, Friday 19 Jul 2013

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July 19th, 2013, 9:26 pm

 

130. zoo said:

Is Obama “Abandoning” Syrian Rebels?

http://www.theamericanconservative.com/larison/is-obama-abandoning-syrian-rebels/

This points us to the real flaw in Obama’s handling of Syria: he kept making very strong statements of support for the anti-Assad cause that he had no real intention of backing up with anything more than limited aid. Whether he did this because he overestimated how quickly Assad would fall without having to do very much, or if he did this because of some mania to appear to be on the “right side of history” as often as possible, it doesn’t really matter.

The question now is whether the administration feels pressured by these charges of “abandonment” to increase its support for the Syrian opposition, or if it sees this as an opportunity to correct the mistake it made last month. This is why last month’s decision was so foolish: it was always bound to disappoint the Syrian opposition because it offered them so little, and it was certain to open the administration to the charge that it was “abandoning” the people that it had pledged to support unless it agreed to do more. Obama should reverse his decision, but he is facing so much criticism for fecklessness that he may feel compelled to continue the current policy that satisfies no one.

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July 19th, 2013, 9:33 pm

 

131. zoo said:

What’s Behind Recent Rebel-Qaeda Tensions in Syria?

By Michael Weiss
http://www.realclearworld.com/articles/2013/07/19/whats_behind_recent_rebel-qaeda_tensions_in_syria_105330-2.html

moderate rebel commanders throughout Syria who told them that the Western-backed opposition had lost “a quarter or more of their strength” to the al-Qaeda affiliate. Some 3,000 rebels, according to Ala’a al-Basha, head of the Sayyida Aisha Brigade, had gone over to al-Nusra because of the FSA’s lack of weapons and ammunition.
….
It seems obvious, however, that desperation for cash, guns, and ammunition isn’t the sole motivation behind the SMC’s risky new information war.
Commanders affiliated with Gen. Salim Idris do genuinely sense that the Islamic State is out to get them, and there is demonstrable fighting going on in Idlib right now,

The Guardian’s Martin Chulov told me that it is most likely mujahideen who have been responsible for disrupting the tenuous alliance between the FSA and al-Nusra as well as exacerbating internal al-Qaeda tensions.

Al-Julani and his men are brutal extremists, but they’ve also shown themselves to also be savvy wartime economists. As reported by Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, in areas the group controls in the Jazira such as the city of Shadadi, al-Nusra administers oil fields, gas refineries, bakeries, water and power plants, healthcare clinics, and sharia courts. It also boasts of how disciplined and centralized its system of finance is in comparison with the FSA, which it depicts as a corrupt gang of brigands willing to steal and sell anything that isn’t bolted to the floor.

And yet, the future isn’t bright for these jihadists, who sense the imminence of a sahwa, or Sunni “awakening,” in Syria, that could see local populations turn against their rule, just as Iraqis did in Anbar Province in the mid-2000s.

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July 19th, 2013, 9:40 pm

 

132. omen said:

Britain takes away export licenses of Egypt’s military fearing equipment may be used in internal repression amid mounting unrest in the country

this is only half the story. look at who the uk has been arming:

(Reuters) – Britain has granted billions of pounds worth of military export licenses for countries such as Syria, Iran and Libya despite proclaiming deep concerns about their human rights records, the British parliament said on Wednesday.

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July 19th, 2013, 9:47 pm

 

133. Juergen said:

Arab TV star Abbas al Nouri of Syria grieves for his nation
The actor has criticism to go around — for Assad, the rebels and Arab leaders in general. Syria ‘lived through a large lie,’ he says, and is paying the price.

“”This revolution happened so that people could express themselves,” he continues, choosing words carefully between drags on his cigarette. “This regime, which is military in nature, did not have the culture to digest the idea that some people have an opinion.”

http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/middleeast/la-fg-syria-actor-20130719,0,1630368.story?page=1

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July 19th, 2013, 9:56 pm

 

134. Juergen said:

Syrian artist, Youssef Abdelke, arrested
Internationally acclaimed Syrian artist, Youssef Abdelke, has today been arrested by regime forces at a checkpoint in Tartous

“Youssef Abdelke is an internationally acclaimed Syrian artist. He is of revolutionary stock – his father was imprisoned many times during the ‘60s and ‘70s. Abdelke himself, a member of the Communist Labor Party, spent the best part of 1978 to 1980 incarcerated. Following this he spent years in self-imposed exile in Paris, until his nostos in 2005. On his return, he remained candid about his disenchantment with the Syrian condition: “There’s a false image of openness now. The authorities are still controlling everything, and you can’t even hire a cleaning woman without the security services’ permission.”

https://now.mmedia.me/lb/en/features/syrian-artist-youssef-abdelke-arrested

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July 19th, 2013, 9:57 pm

 

135. Juergen said:

interview with the female rebel sniper known as “Guevara”

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July 19th, 2013, 10:00 pm

 

136. Ziad said:

Hafez Al Assad was once asked, why he supported Iran and not Iraq in the war, despite being arab?

Assad’s prophetic response:

“There will come a day when Iran stands by us when all the Arabs will be conspiring against us.”

from SyrPer

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July 19th, 2013, 10:01 pm

 

137. majedkhaldoun said:

ان الطيور على اشكالها تقع
Ziad,this is what Hafiz was planing, so barbaric Persia protect his son

What happened in Egypt is an attack against democracy, they did not want democracy to succeed in any Arabic country, this is done by remnants of Mubarak party,to clear Mubarak.it is crime against democracy everywhere

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July 19th, 2013, 10:12 pm

 

138. zoo said:

#134 Juergen

Abdeldeki is a political cartoonist who has been openly opposed to the government since he came back to Syria in 2009 and has been actively supporting the rebellion.
He can be an artist but in a country facing a civil war, he also an agitator.

There a very famous Lebanese singer who joined the Salafists in Lebanon and is now condemned to death.

Being an artist does not give immunity in times of war.

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July 19th, 2013, 10:14 pm

 

139. Juergen said:

Revolution in the soupopera style, rages hard time Batta lovers:

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July 19th, 2013, 10:18 pm

 

140. don said:

HAPPY BIRTHDAY REVENIRE!

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July 19th, 2013, 10:19 pm

 

141. omen said:

14. SimoHurtta said: I also wonder how/why some Californian/non Syrian/non Muslims can write 33,000 tweets about this conflict.

you’re a funny little git, you know that? if you must know, i started my twitter account back in 2009, during the iranian uprising. i used to track iranian developments. after that, egypt, then libya.

i don’t know how twitter works, that must be the number of posts i’ve retweeted. i only started to use twitter more to engage in discussion after august, last fall.

why this would be of any interest to you is beyond me. it bores me to tears. there must be hundreds of thousands of westerners also tracking syria. why you think that so unique to me is beyond me. maybe you need to get out more.

i don’t know what fervid fantasy you have running through your head. i’m a nobody with no influence. i don’t even have a blog. the fact your imagination blows me up into some nefarious creature is the height of absurdity. all this demonstrates is how bankrupt your platform is. you are so unable to defend this regime, you have to resort to inventing fiction.

but if it makes you feel better, sure, you’ve unmasked me, you clever thing. i’m a super hybrid of jewish mossad, saudi wahhabi & american cia!

now here, have a cookie.

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July 19th, 2013, 10:29 pm

 

142. Syrialover said:

QUOTE

I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.

I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come.

But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.

– Nelson Mandela, The Long Walk to Freedom, 1994

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July 19th, 2013, 10:37 pm

 

143. Ghufran said:

Assad thugs in the security forces leave no doubt that the ruling elite in Syria is a mafia, the regime will undoubtedly pay a heavy price if the news about dr AA Alkhayyer are accurate, government sources deny that they detained Khayyer but nobody believes them.
Three members of the internal opposition were arrested today in Tartous which drew criticism from most people even regime supporters in Lebanese media, the emperor may soon lose his last fig leaf, the message is loud and clear:
The regime will imprison and torture political dissidents and kill any Syria who carries a weapon, the desired outcome is leaving Syria with nobody who dares to say NO.
(majed, nobody believes anything you say anymore, you know very weak where I stand on the issue of political prisoners but you can not help trying to look relevant by poking others)

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July 19th, 2013, 10:39 pm

 

144. Ziad said:

Happy BD REV

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July 19th, 2013, 10:40 pm

 

145. Ghufran said:

I love the singing band that is being formed against me in jimmo’s case, the singers know as much as everybody else that most media sources,including those of the rebels, blamed anti Assad assassins for the killing, the same ” truth seekers” who are crying foul have blamed the regime for every crime in Syria. There is an investigation that has not ended yet, jimmo’s political position made him an easy target whether the killers had political motivations or not, welcome to the middle east.

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July 19th, 2013, 10:56 pm

 

146. Ziad said:

MAJEDKHALDOUN #137 said:

”Ziad,this is what Hafiz was planing, so barbaric Persia protect his son”

Majed, your reasoning and argumentation is so outlandish. I don’t know if worth responding to, certainly your comments deserve to be ignored.

You call Persia barbaric, yet the takfiri salafis that you support kill Shia women, men, and children inside mosques every day in the holy month of Ramadan. I personally, when I close my eyes after taraweeh prayers and reflect on human barbarism, the image of those takfiris comes first to my mind.

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July 19th, 2013, 11:03 pm

 

147. Ghufran said:

You may disagree but I think if Khayyer comes out dead Assad will pay a price and the two non Baathists in his government, jamil and Haydar, will be under pressure to resign.
Haydar is a person with good reputation but his statement about refugees is worth nothing when jamil Hassan of the AFI has more power than all of Assad’s cabinet ministers combined:
أكد وزير المصالحة الوطنية السوري علي حيدر «استعداد سوريا لاستقبال اللاجئين السوريين، وأن جميع الأبواب مفتوحة لهذا الموضوع وفقاً للضمانات التي يطلبونها، أكانت ضمانات داخلية أم خارجية أي من الأمم المتحدة» وذلك خلال لقائه النائب اللبناني ميشال عون.

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July 19th, 2013, 11:13 pm

 

148. Observer said:

“Being an artist does not give immunity in times of war.”

Yet the same would be true about Jammo if he were truly killed by opponents of the regime. It turned his wife killed him. If one were to follow the same logic; he was an agitator as well was he not? What a barbaric thing to condemn the other for thinking and for saying differences of opinion. Neither Jammo nor anyone else deserves to be killed or harmed for voicing an opinion.

But as I said before, killing someone for having a different opinion than yours and expressing it remains a crime. This is the essence of the criminal mafiosi retarded stupid brutal barbaric regime that we have that ” in a time of war” the truth or even for the sake of argument a difference of opinion is to be punished by death or torture or imprisonment.

For whoever agreed that the regime is in the right? It is and was and will remain the wrong. It is waging an immoral and illegal and illegitimate war on the people.

It is NOT a democracy, it is NOT based on liberal economy, it is not a MERITOCRACY, it is not based on INDEPENDENT JUSTICE, it is not based on FREEDOM OF THE PRESS, it is not based on SEPARATION OF POWERS, it is not based on THE CONSENT OF THE PEOPLE, it is not BASED ON MULTIPLE PARTIES, it is not based on PEACEFUL CHANGE OF POLITICAL SYSTEM, it is not even based on AN EQUALITY OF CITIZENS IN RIGTHS AND OBLIGATIONS, it is not A STELLAR SUCCESS IN ANYTHING: fighting Israel, liberating the Golan, educating the people, providing services, providing health prevention, providing housing, preventing graft, preventing pollution, preventing corruption, and now it is using the most barbaric methods including the use of chemical weapons to remain in power on a burning garbage dump.

This is a prime example of a regime’s thug thinking and the total absence of any drop of humanity. This is the reflection of a regime that has treated the people as animals and reminds me of the leader of Romania who called the people worms and cockroaches. It also has become a rabid animal driven by hate and fueled by violence.

Well the germs and the rats and the worms and the cockroaches are coming in droves to drive the regime back to the hell where it came from.

What a bunch of losers and yes d-p lickers. Sorry Syrian Hamster for the plagiarism but could not resist. They now descended from boot lickers in my mind to d-p lickers indeed.

What next, the iPad is going to have an official ” Lord of the Seat” as the Kings of England and France had their nobility wipe their ass after their morning bowel movements?. It was a most prized position for at that moment, favors were granted just as the bowels were moving. I guess, that kind of leader deserves that kind of following.

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July 19th, 2013, 11:17 pm

 

149. Ziad said:

It was the CIA that helped jail Nelson Mandela

Crocodile tears to mask US imperialism’s role as the enemy of African liberation

http://www.pslweb.org/liberationnews/news/cia-helped-jail-nelson-mandela.html

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July 19th, 2013, 11:31 pm

 

150. Juergen said:

Today 69 years ago a resistance group manned mainly by militants and high government heads tried to kill Hitler in an attempt to safe Germany and to end the war. Unfortunately Hitler survived the bomb attack, not for the first time though, adding to his own proclaimed vision that he was a chosen leader. In the same night many of the leading figures in the resistance were killed, many others faced humiliating fast court sessions in which the verdict was always prewritten. Roland Freisler the main judge became famous for his rants, and I have added a link for some minutes of the show trials , which were only filmed for Hitler, as he wished to see his enemies being humiliated for a final time.90 % of the people received a death centance, usually executed just minutes after the verdict. Over 40.000 people were summoned to death by Freisler over his reign of the notorious peoples court.

I would like to add that personally I do respect the resistance group of the 20th July, but I doubt that those men were truly democrats. Many of them were true believers of the Nazi doctrine, and have helped to reinstate the terror of this regime, many from day 1. But as one historian said, remorse at the end could have saved millions of lives.

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July 19th, 2013, 11:43 pm

 

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