Serena Shim (1984-19 October 2014)

I never met her. I wish I had. But I knew she was a reporter, a good reporter telling of bad wars, and telling all the sides. And this one in Kobani (Ayn al-Arab) has many more sides than two, all of them bloody, all of them reeking of criminality. This carnage in Syria is perhaps the most corrupt, criminal, imperial assault in modern history. There are no “good guys” in this slaughter on the rapidly crumbling edge of Turkey. It’s all lies, deceit and power politics. Call it murder. Call it the ultimate man’s tough-guy game—bombardment, siege, street-fighting, and always the stupidity.

The dogs of war run wild and ignorantly. For what? For a nothing town destroyed by chaos. She was telling as much as she could. The Turks there, the intelligence guys, the cops, the Turkish army, all the government “watchers” watched her and her partner, Judy Irish. She was called a spy. Watch out, they said. Maybe you’ll even be arrested, they mumbled. And the word got around. Not an easy assignment. She confessed that she was worried. Who wouldn’t be?

Note the eyes. They would tell exactly what they saw, wouldn’t they? She had two children, this beautiful Lebanese-American woman. She was 30 years-old, hard-working and dedicated. Perhaps it was Napoleon who spoke about his Marshalls “marching towards the sound of the guns.” She didn’t need the advice. She followed the danger instinctively. Maybe she could make sense of it all in Iraq, Lebanon, the Ukraine, and lastly, Turkey? Maybe? Maybe not? She told of the ISIS killers being smuggled into Syria in trucks with NGO labels like World Food Organization. Turkey has been at this double-dealing game for years. But this kind of truth hurts and it did not endear her to the Turkish “watchers” and “handlers” and “muscle-guys.”

On the way back to the hotel in a town called Suruç a cement-mixer truck, massive and deadly accurate, somehow, some way, intervened to crush her car and her. It all had the stink of bad fish. Based on the historic violence visited upon journalists and other dissenters in Turkey such a first impression of foul play is logical.

The governor of that area immediately said that “Turkey is a democratic state of law. The allegations are completely untrue.” What is completely untrue is exactly what he said. Democracy and the rule of law have both been crushed by the cement-mixer truck known as the Turkish government. And Serena confirmed that in her reportage. And so passes a brave young woman’s life in Turkey. And so continues the war.

James  (Cem) Ryan


21 October 2013

Brightening Glance

Syrian rebel commander says he collaborated with Israel

Syrian rebel commander says he collaborated with Israel

Syrian opposition commander Sharif As-Safouri confesses to collaborating with Israel (photo credit: YouTube screen capture)
Syrian opposition commander Sharif As-Safouri confesses to collaborating with Israel (photo credit: YouTube screen capture)

Sharif as-Safouri, abducted by Al-Nusra Front in July, confesses to receiving antitank weapons in return for protecting the border

A Free Syrian Army commander, arrested last month by the Islamist militia Al-Nusra Front, told his captors he collaborated with Israel in return for medical and military support, in a video released this week.

In a video uploaded to YouTube Monday by the Executive Sharia Council in the eastern Daraa Region, an Islamic court established by Al-Nusra in southern Syria, Sharif As-Safouri, the commander of the Free Syrian Army’s Al-Haramein Battalion, admitted to having entered Israel five times to meet with Israeli officers who later provided him with Soviet anti-tank weapons and light arms. Safouri was abducted by the al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front in the Quneitra area, near the Israeli border, on July 22.

“The [opposition] factions would receive support and send the injured in [to Israel] on condition that the Israeli fence area is secured. No person was allowed to come near the fence without prior coordination with Israel authorities,” Safouri said in the video.

Israel has never admitted to arming moderate Syrian rebels, who have been engaged in battle against the Assad regime and its allies since March 2011. In June, Brig. Gen. Itai Brun, head of Military Intelligence research, told the Herzliya Conference that 80 percent of Syria’s oppositionists are Islamists of various shades, indicating that Israel was reluctant to collaborate with them.

Al-Nusra Front activist wave their brigade flag atop a Syrian air force helicopter, at Taftanaz air base, captured by the rebels in Idlib province, northern Syria, January 2013 (photo credit: AP/Edlib News Network ENN, File)
Al-Nusra Front activist wave their brigade flag atop a Syrian air force helicopter, at Taftanaz air base, captured by the rebels in Idlib province, northern Syria, January 2013 (photo credit: AP/Edlib News Network ENN, File)

Thousands of al-Qaeda-linked rebels reached southern Syria over the past month, fleeing the Islamic State which had captured large swaths of land in northern and northeastern Syria. While Al-Nusra and the Free Syrian Army have collaborated in the battlefield against the Assad regime, friction has intensified as the Islamists began to implement their stringent version of Islam in the area, establishing local Sharia courts.

In the edited confession video, in which Safouri seems physically unharmed, he says that at first he met with an Israeli officer named Ashraf at the border and was given an Israeli cellular phone. He later met with another officer named Younis and with the two men’s commander, Abu Daoud. In total, Safouri said he entered Israel five times for meetings that took place in Tiberias.

Following the meetings, Israel began providing Safouri and his men with “basic medical support and clothes” as well as weapons, which included 30 Russian [rifles], 10 RPG launchers with 47 rockets, and 48,000 5.56 millimeter bullets.

While opposition websites denied that Safouri was a collaborator, claiming his entries into Israel were for medical purposes alone, regime media celebrated Safouri’s confession as proof of the Free Syrian Army’s treachery. On August 1, dozens of demonstrators took to the streets of the village of Hayt, Safouri’s hometown near Syria’s borders with Jordan and Israel, to protest his abduction, condemning Al-Nusra Front for the act.

No Israeli comment was available at time of publication.

 Elhanan Miller is the Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel, August 13, 2014

Syrian opposition to discuss whether to join peace talks in Istanbul

By Agencies

Syria’s opposition coalition will meet in Istanbul on May 23 to discuss whether to participate in a US and Russian-brokered conference aimed at ending the Syrian conflict, Turkish Today’s Zaman reported Monday.

The coalition has so far failed to reach an agreement on participation in the peace conference, which Washington and Moscow want to hold by the end of this month.

An insider of the group has told reporters that unless the conference will work on the departure of President Bashar al-Assad, the opposition will not attend it as it will cost the coalition’s credibility with the Syrian people.

Meanwhile, the report said the coalition’s 60-member general assembly will also elect a new head and discuss the fate of its provisional prime minister Ghassan Hitto at the meeting.

via Syrian opposition to discuss whether to join peace talks in Istanbul – WORLD –

Britain and France renew efforts to lift arms embargo on Syrian rebels

Britain and France renew efforts to lift arms embargo on Syrian rebels

Britain and France will renew their attempts to lift the EU arms embargo on the Syrian rebels after western allies accused President Bashar al-Assad of using chemical weapons.

Britain and France renew efforts to lift arms embargo on Syrian rebels Members of the free Syrian Army during an attack against Syrian government forces in Aleppo Photo: AP

Richard Spencer

By Richard Spencer, Istanbul

7:03PM BST 21 Apr 2013

William Hague, the foreign secretary, said the two would take a “strong stance” in talks with EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg on Monday. The pledge came after Germany, a major stumbling block to arming the rebels, significantly softened its position on the issue.

Britain wants to widen the range of aid it is sending to the opposition, though it is not considering sending weapons “yet”. “We are in favour of getting more assistance to the Syrian National Council (SNC),” Mr Hague said. “There are many ways in which we can do that.”

The German foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, said he would accept the lifting of the arms embargo if other countries pushed for it. He said that if “one or two countries” thought there was no risk that arms would fall into the wrong hands, he would “respect” their decision.

Western ministers and opposition leaders met in Istanbul on Sunday and agreed that all aid to the opposition would be channelled through the SNC’s military wing.

The United States also announced a doubling in its aid, from $127 million to $250 million.

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In return, the SNC published a statement of principles that included pledges not to use chemical weapons, to renounce “terrorism and extremism”, and to respect the rights of minorities, including the Alawite sect from which the Assad family comes.

“Our revolution and vision are for all Syrians,” its statement said. “There is no room for sectarianism or discrimination on ethnic, religious, linguistic or any other grounds. Universal human rights principles will apply to all Syrians, men and women.”

Mr Hague last week said there was “credible evidence” of chemical weapons use in Syria, with a number of incidents where diluted chemicals appear to have been deployed.

President Barack Obama has made use of chemical weapons a “red line” which would trigger outside intervention. While officials do not believe that red line has been met in terms of conclusive evidence or scale of use, the western allies made a stronger statement than before on President Assad’s refusal to allow in a United Nations fact-finding mission.

“Such an approach suggests the responsibility of the regime,” said the statement, by the Friends of Syria group in which the UK, US, France, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are all prominent. “If these allegations are proven to be correct there will be severe consequences.”

Ministers fear the situation inside the country is deteriorating fast, with Syrian regime forces recently making tactical gains in the Damascus suburbs and near the Lebanese border around the town of Qusayr with heavy loss of life.

Rebel activists accused the regime of killing civilians as well as scores of fighters as it swept through the towns of Jdeidat Artouz and Jdeidat al-Fadl near Damascus.

The risk of the war spreading into Syria’s neighbours was highlighted when a rebels accused Lebanon’s Shia militia Hizbollah of fighting alongside Assad troops, and fired shells on Shia towns inside Lebanon in retaliation.

Britain, France and the United States want the rebels to get enough arms to turn the balance of the war, but not so as to win a quick victory, rather wanting them to force President Assad to negotiate a “managed” transition.

“The chances of a political solution at present are negligible,” a western diplomatic source said. “The best way of opening up more chances quickly is changing the balance of power on the ground to put more pressure on the regime.”

U.S., allies agree on rules for sending military aid to Syrian rebels

By Roy Gutman — McClatchy Newspapers

ISTANBUL, TURKEY — In a move intended to trim support to Islamist extremists who now play a leading role in the Syrian uprising, the United States, Turkey and key Gulf allies this weekend agreed to funnel future military aid only through the internationally recognized Syrian rebel coalition.

It’s one of a set of steps that Secretary of State John Kerry and other western and Mideast officials announced early Sunday, in what appears to be a concerted new drive to end the two-year-long civil war that pits the Syrian government of President Bashar Assad, who enjoys support from Russia and Iran, against a diverse group of rebels backed by the United States, Turkey, and European allies along with Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Among the steps by the “Friends of the People of Syria” were a U.S. decision to provide another $123 million in non-lethal aid to the Syrian rebel fighters, doubling the aid to date, and a call by all 11 participants for a negotiated solution to bring in a new transitional government.

They also condemned Assad’s use of ballistic missiles and endorsed a written pledge by the Syrian opposition to hold individuals responsible for war crimes and not to seek “revenge and retribution” against members of Assad’s Alawite sect or any other minority.

All 11 countries at the Istanbul meeting “made a commitment to direct their military aid and assistance directly and uniquely, solely, through the Supreme Military Command,” headed by Gen. Salim Idriss, a former Syrian army general who defected last July, Kerry told reporters Sunday. “This may be one of the most important single things that was agreed to…that can make a difference to the situation on the ground.”

How to provide aid to the rebels without empowering militant Islamist extremists who have been at the forefront of anti-Assad victories for the past year has bedeviled countries seeking an end to the Assad regime. The Supreme Military Command is poorly organized and its control of fighters on the ground is uncertain. Aid from Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, the primary providers of military aid, have dealt primarily with individual commanders on the ground, many of whom are affiliated with Islamist extremist movements.

Idriss made a lengthy presentation at the meeting of foreign ministers Saturday evening, giving a rundown of the military situation, province by province, and describing in detail the forces that report to him. He assured the ministers that he would provide a full account of “everything you provide to me,” according to a diplomat who attended.

Kerry told reporters everyone was impressed by the “strength and clarity” of the Idriss presentation and said the Syrian general “could not have been more clear about his determination to separate what he and the opposition are doing from what some of the radical and extreme elements are doing.”

“I think we are quite confident that he is a strong leader with a capacity to make a difference,” Kerry said.

Military analysts who closely follow the war say that Gulf states, and individual donors, have been backing the Nusra Front, which the U.S. government has labeled a terrorist group identical to al Qaida in Iraq, and similar groups because of their effectiveness. More moderate rebel groups have said they’ve been starved for support. A senior State Department official, briefing reporters Saturday, said a provincial military commander with thousands under his command, said recently that he had to rely on donations obtained by his troops from family and friends, because Idriss was unable to deliver.

“Your help to Salim Idriss isn’t going fast enough,” the official quoted the commander as saying. “How do I tell my guys, ‘Wait for the stuff from Salim Idriss. Don’t take that money from that business guy who is backed by an Islamist network’?” The senior official spoke anonymously because he said he was not authorized to speak on the record.

The main diplomatic move announced Sunday was the call for a return to discussions with Russia on a political resolution of the conflict, based on an accord agreed reached in Geneva last July that called for a transitional government, members of whom would be nominated by, and accepted by both sides.

Assad named an aide to represent him in the talks, but the rebels did not, and diplomats say Russia has insisted that Assad effectively have a major role in the transition. In the joint statement early Sunday, the 11 participants – Egypt, France, Germany, Jordan, Italy, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Britain, the United States and Turkey, said “Assad and his close associates have no place in the future of Syria” and should cede power to a transitional executive body.

Kerry sought to offer at least a rhetorical olive branch to Russia, noting that the “framework of peace” was agreed to “by the international community, including our friends, the Russians.” But the joint statement of the 11 countries also warned that if Assad rejects a peaceful transition, “further announcements regarding expanding our assistance will follow.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who negotiated the framework with Kerry’s predecessor, Hillary Clinton, was in Turkey on the eve of the 11-nation talks, but there was no sign of any political shift. The discussion is expected to continue Tuesday, when Kerry attends a meeting of NATO foreign ministers that Lavrov is also expected to attend.

Email: [email protected]; Twitter: @RoyGutmanMcC

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