Saturday, March 3, 2012

Turkey steps up rhetoric on Syrian 'massacre'

Rescued journalist tells of being abandoned in tunnel as China urges government and rebel to end all acts of violence

Peter Beaumont, Saturday 3 March 2012

"Turkey has called the violence in Syria "a crime against humanity" on the scale of the 1990s bloodshed in the Balkans, as a Red Cross convoy was once again barred from entering the Homs suburb of Baba Amr.

The comment by Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu follows similar remarks from the EU on Friday, which called for the documentation of war crimes in Syria.

"No government, no authority, under no circumstances, can endorse such a total massacre of its own people," Davutoglu said. "The international community must speak louder. The lack of international consensus is giving Syria the courage to continue."

The criticism came at the end of a week in which the UK and France closed their embassies in Syria, and China and Russia appeared to shift position in calling for President Bashar al-Assad's regime to admit UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos.

"The situation in the field seems to resemble Sarajevo or Srebrenica. This seems to be the way we are heading," Davutoglu said at a joint news conference with Giulio Terzi, Italy's foreign minister. "We believe that diplomatic pressure on the Assad regime must be increased. We say this not only from the point of view of the EU. We believe all international institutions must do this."...."

Edith Bouvier's escape from Homs

Journalist was left taped to a stretcher inside the tunnel rebels had dug to smuggle her out when Syrian forces bombed it, Saturday 3 March 2012

"French journalist Edith Bouvier feared her escape from of Homs had come to an end after the tunnel through which she was smuggled out of the besieged Syrian city came under bmobardment from Assad's forces.

Her leg broken by a shell, which killed Sunday Times journalist Marie Colvin and French photographer Rémi Ochlik days earlier, Bouvier was abandoned, taped to a makeshift stretcher, as rebels and dozens of wounded fled the explosions and headed back to Baba Amr district.

"One of them placed his Kalashnikov on me. He put his hand on my head and said a prayer. It wasn't very reassuring. Then he left," Bouvier told Le Figaro newspaper, for which she was working in Syria.

"I didn't know what was going to happen. Was the exit blocked? Were Syrian soldiers going to enter? I wanted to run away before remembering that I was taped to a stretcher."

Bouvier and French photographer William Daniels, who stayed with her throughout, were finally rescued by a rebel who drove down the 1.6-metre high tunnel on a motorbike and carried them back to Baba Amr.

With the tunnel blocked and Baba Amr close to falling to the army, the two journalists, the objects of a manhunt after their faces were broadcast on Syrian television, decided to risk everything by slipping out of the city in a vehicle under cover of darkness.

"We were exhausted, physically and mentally. We had to get out of there," Bouvier said. Details of their escape route were not published by the newspaper to protect those who aided them.

Moving from safe house to safe house, changing vehicles frequently and taking rocky mountain roads amid a snowstorm, it took the journalists and their rebel escort four days to travel the 25 miles to the Lebanese border. Everywhere strangers greeted them by name, welcoming them warmly.

"They really put themselves in danger for us. They did everything for us," said Bouvier....."

A Movement With a Thousand Voices: Will The Real Hamas Define its Position vis-à-vis the Criminal Syrian Regime??

الزهار ينفي قطع حماس لعلاقاتها مع دمشق

"أكد عضو المكتب السياسي لحركة حماس محمود الزهار السبت 3 مارس/آذار أن الحركة لم تقطع علاقاتها مع سورية، متمنيا أن يستعيد الوضع في سورية عافيته.

وفي رده على سؤال صحفي وجه له ، على هامش لقاء تأسيسي لمنتدى طبي في قطاع غزة، حول ما إذا قطعت حماس علاقتها كليا مع سورية بعد خروج رئيس المكتب السياسي خالد مشعل منها مؤخرا، تساءل الزهار: "من الذي قال إننا قطعنا العلاقات؟ لماذا يحاول هؤلاء أن يخرجونا عن دائرة الحياد التي اتسمنا بها في كل القضايا، هذه محاولات للإيقاع بيننا وبين سورية".

واضاف: "نحن نتمنى لسورية أن تتعافى وأن يأخذ شعبها حقه وأن يقوى النظام الذي يمثل الشارع السوري الذي يستطيع أن يحرر أرضه ويساعد في تحرير فلسطين، بالتالي نحن لسنا طرفا للدخول في أي من المحاور لا القطرية ولا المنطقة كلها".

وتابع قائلا: "موقفنا من الثورة في مصر وتونس وليبيا وفي غيرها ثابت، هو نفس الموقف في سورية: لا نتدخل بالشأن الداخلي، لكن ننصح ونقدم النصيحة الخالصة. لكن اذا اصبحت الامور تأخذنا في اتجاهات مختلفة فنحن نتوقف لان برنامجنا ليس الدخول في الصراع العربي الداخلي ولا الاقليمي، صراعنا الاساسي موجه ضد الاحتلال الاسرائيلي في فلسطين".

ويتناقض تصريح الزهار هذا مع اعلان اسماعيل هنية رئيس الحكومة المقالة في قطاع غزة منذ فترة قريبة الذي اعلن فيه صراحة عن وقوف حركة حماس الى جانب الشعب السوري في مطالبته بالحرية والديمقراطية.

من جانبه انتقد فوزي برهوم المتحدث باسم حماس في وقت سابق بعض التفسيرات والتعليقات على تصريحات هنية في القاهرة بقوله: "يبدو أن الإعلام ضخم من هذه التصريحات بشكل كبير جدا، ولعبوا على وتر غير مقبول"، مضيفا: "لا أجد أي غرابة في تصريحات السيد إسماعيل هنية، ما يتمناه السيد هنية للشعب السوري نتمناه لكل شعوب العالم وحتى للشعب الفلسطيني".

واوضح: "منذ البداية كنا نكن كل التقدير والاحترام لسورية التي احتضنت المقاومة وكل فصائل الشعب الفلسطيني، حيث أن الفلسطيني يمتع في سورية بكافة الحقوق وهذا طبعا ربما يكون الوضع الأفضل على مستوى الدول العربية للفلسطينيين اللاجئين هناك في سورية".

وفيما يخص الموقف السوري من تصريحات هنية، فقد أكد المتحدث باسم الخارجية السورية جهاد مقدسي "أنه وبغض النظر عن حماس.. سورية مستمرة بدعمها للقضية الفلسطينية كونها قضية وطنية"، مؤكدا على "أن سورية ورقة بيد القضية الفلسطينية وليس العكس

Al-Jazeera Video: Inside Story - The impact of Egypt's NGO trial

The heroic myth and the uncomfortable truth of war reporting

Like other correspondents, Robert Fisk has risked his life to 'witness history'. But after almost four decades, he feels ambivalent towards his profession

By Robert Fisk

"It took a lot of courage to get into Homs; Sky News, then the BBC, then a few brave men and women who went to tell the world of the city's anguish and, in at least two cases, suffered themselves. I could only reflect this week, however, how well we got to know the name of the indomitable and wounded British photographer Paul Conroy, and yet how little we know about the 13 Syrian volunteers who were apparently killed by snipers and shellfire while rescuing him. No fault of Conroy, of course. But I wonder if we know the names of these martyrs – or whether we intend to discover their names?

There's something faintly colonialist about all this. We have grown so used to the devil-may-care heroics of the movie version of "war" correspondents that they somehow become more important than the people about whom they report.....

Yes, all honour to those who reported from Homs. But here's a thought: when the Israelis unleashed their cruel bombardment of Gaza in 2008, they banned all reporters from the war, just as the Syrians tried to do in Homs. And the Israelis were much more successful in preventing us Westerners from seeing the subsequent bloodbath. Hamas forces and the "Free Syria Army" in Homs actually have a lot in common – both were increasingly Islamist, both faced infinitely superior firepower, both lost the battle – but it was left to Palestinian reporters to cover their own people's suffering. They did a fine job. Funny, though, that the newsrooms of London and Washington didn't have quite the same enthusiasm to get their folk into Gaza as they did to get them into Homs. Just a thought. A very unhappy one."

Homs shelled again as Syrian troops keep Red Cross out

Regime refuses entry for medical convoy, while bodies of journalists Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik have been retrieved

Peter Beaumont, Mona Mahmood
and agencies, Saturday 3 March 2012

"Syrian activists say troops are shelling several districts in the rebellious central city of Homs where the government is stopping a Red Cross convoy from reaching thousands stranded in the area.

Abu Hassan al-Homsi, a doctor at a makeshift clinic in Khaldiyeh district of Homs, said he had treated a dozen wounded from the latest onslaught.

The Local Co-ordination Committees activist network said mortars began slaimming into Khaldiyeh, Bab Sbaa and Khader districts of the city early on Saturday.

The shelling comes amid a standoff between the government and the Red Cross, which says authorities have prevented its convoy from delivering badly needed food, medical supplies and blankets to thousands of people still stranded in Baba Amr, the rebel-held district of Homs that was overrun by troops on Thursday.

Despite receiving permission from the government to send a convoy with seven truckloads of aid into Baba Amr, the Red Cross was prevented from entering the neighbourhood, an action it described as "unacceptable".....

Reports from other opposition-held neighbourhoods in the city of one million suggested that fighters may also have pulled back from their positions there.

Anti-Assad activists have accused Syrian troops of burning houses, arresting all males over the age of 12 and of extrajudicial killings, including the alleged beheadings of 17 men captured after the suburb's fall.......

"There's no resistance here," one activist in the northern neighbourhood of Khalidiyeh told the Guardian yesterday. "There is only shelling and bombing."

The situation in Baba Amr itself was described by an onlooker. "Today the Syrian army are in control. There are a lot of wounded who could not flee. The Syrian army is firing against anything they can find in front of them. They are arresting any young men they find."

In other parts of the city, such as Khalidiyeh, residents said the fighters who remained were low on ammunition: "We have members of the FSA here, but they have a small amount of ammunition and they are trying to use every bullet against the right target." He accused the army of murdering a family in Baba Amr, and added: "The Syrian army are arresting any man they find from 14 years upwards."....."

Syria: New Satellite Images Show Homs Shelling

(Click on photo to enlarge)
Russia and China Fail to Act While Residents Suffer Death, Destruction

Human Rights Watch
March 2, 2012

"(New York) – New satellite imagery and eyewitness accounts reveal that the bombardment of the Baba Amr neighborhood in Homs has inflicted widespread destruction and a large number of deaths and severe injuries of civilians, Human Rights Watch said today. The bombardment has severely restricted movement and relief efforts and deprived thousands of civilians of the ability to access the most basic commodities, Human Rights Watch said.

Local sources have reported that approximately 700 civilians have been killed and thousands wounded in Homs since the Syrian military began its current assault on the city on February 3, 2012. Indiscriminate shelling and sniper fire has caused most of the casualties in Baba Amr, which is a residential area where elements of the armed opposition have sought refuge. Human Rights Watch interviewed 15 Homs residents who escaped the city in the last two weeks, as well as two foreign correspondents who spent time in Baba Amr during the military assault.

These new satellite photos and witness accounts show the extent of the brutality unleashed on Baba Amr," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Despite the killing, Russia and China continue to block any international action.”

Human Rights Watch acquired and analyzed this commercial satellite image of the Baba Amr neighborhood of Homs on February 25. A wide view of the image clearly shows the extensive damage caused by the use of surface-delivered explosive weapons in a populated area. The image reflects the damage that has occurred since previous images were taken between four and six weeks ago.

Analysts have overlaid the large-scale image of Baba Amr with symbols to highlight certain features:

- Red circles represent destroyed or damaged buildings

- Yellow circles are impact craters in open areas like fields, or roads.

At least 950 craters are visible on open lands, such as roads and farmland, from the impact of indirect fire weapons. The number of craters indicates the frequency of the attacks and how many artillery and mortar shells have fallen. There are 640 buildings in the neighborhood with visible damage. However, the damage to buildings is likely to be significantly underestimated from viewing the satellite image because views from satellite images do not show hits to the sides of buildings made by explosive weapons......"

UAE: Stop Expelling Syrian Protesters

Authorities Cancel Residency Permits After Peaceful Protest at Consulate

March 2, 2012

"(Beirut) – Emirati authorities should retract their decision to cancel the residency permits of dozens of Syrians who took part in a peaceful protest against the Syrian government in Dubai, Human Rights Watch said today.

In the weeks following the demonstration, on February 10, 2012, United Arab Emirates (UAE) security officials called in for questioning hundreds of Syrian nationals suspected of attending the unlicensed demonstration. The UAE government later revoked the residency permits of about 50 of them, some of the protesters and Syrian community leaders in the UAE told Human Rights Watch.

The UAE calls on Syrian President Assad to respect the right of peaceful protesters, yet it is expelling Syrians from its country for exercising this basic right,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “These expulsions show that Emirati authorities are intolerant of any protest or expression of dissent on UAE soil even if it is not geared toward them.”....."

Hamas says Egypt to blame for Gaza energy crisis

By Joseph Mayton
Bikya Masr

"CAIRO: Hamas leader in Gaza put the blame for the power crisis in the Gaza Strip on Egypt, arguing that continued power outages are the result of Cairo not implementing promises to boost their electricity output.

Ismail Haniyeh told reporters on Friday that Egypt was in complete control of the flow of fuel into Gaza and alluded to Cairo officials not doing enough to assist the Palestinians since the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak.

It comes as many households in the small Mediterranean enclave are receiving only around 6 hours of electricity daily, which has begun to cause anger and resentment towards the Islamic group in Gaza.

The statements from Haniyeh are likely to cause a rift with Cairo, who said in recent weeks it would help boost energy outputs to Gaza.

Is it reasonable that Gaza remains without electricity a year after the revolution in Egypt?” Haniyeh said in a weekly address, accusing Cairo of trying to force Gazans to accept their energy supplies via arch foe Israel.

Is it reasonable that Gaza remains blockaded a year after the dismissal of the tyrant (Mubarak) regime?” he said.

Egypt is seen as the last hope for Gaza as Israel continues a complete economic blockade on the 1.5 million inhabitants in Gaza, who struggle for basic daily supplies.

Although Cairo has promised to open the border at Rafah, it remains sporadically open and Palestinians are still unable to move freely into Egypt. Supplies are in short order and despite hopes that a post-revolution Egypt would bring change to the political dynamic in the region, Palestinians in Gaza continue to struggle daily for the basic necessities of life."

Friday, March 2, 2012

Paul Conroy warns of Syria massacre

Homs could compare to the onslaughts of Bosnia and Rwanda, warns photographer who was smuggled out of stricken city, Friday 2 March 2012

"Paul Conroy, the British photographer wounded in the rocket attack that killed war reporter Marie Colvin in Homs, has warned that the Syrian city faces a "massacre beyond measure".

In his first interview since he was smuggled out of Syria and across the border to safety in Lebanon, the Sunday Times photographer compared the onslaught by the forces of the Syrian regime to the mass killings of the 1990s in Bosnia and Rwanda and made a plea for the international community to act.

"Once the cameras are gone, as they are now, God knows what is happening," he told Sky News from his hospital bed in London. "Any talking now is too late. The time for talking is actually over. Now the massacre and the killing are at full tilt."......"

Syria army stops Red Cross entering Baba Amr to deliver aid

Red Cross evacuates bodies of Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik, but warns refusal of aid risks humanitarian crisis in Homs

Peter Beaumont and Mona Mahmood, Friday 2 March 2012

"Syrian authorities have blocked the Red Cross from entering the Baba Amr district of the city of Homs, where civilians have endured days of fierce fighting, amid reports that soldiers and armed gangs have been carrying out atrocities in the suburb since it fell to the government on Thursday.

Despite receiving permission from the government to send a convoy with seven truckloads of aid into Baba Amr, the Red Cross was prevented from entering the neighbourhood, an action it described as "unacceptable".

The refusal to allow the convoy in to treat and evacuate the wounded came as the organisation announced that the Syrian authorities had handed over the bodies of Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik, who were killed in an attack on a press centre in Baba Amr over a week ago....

Anti-Assad activists have accused Syrian troops of burning houses, arresting all males over the age of 12 and of extrajudicial killings, including the alleged beheadings of 17 men captured after the suburb's fall.

Bassel Fouad, a Syrian activist who fled to Lebanon from Baba Amr two days ago, said a colleague there told him that troops and pro-government gunmen known as shabiha were conducting house-to-house raids. "The situation is worse than terrible inside Baba Amr," he said. "Shabiha are entering homes and setting them on fire."....

Activist groups said protesters who took to the streets in towns across Syria on Friday were met with teargas, gunfire and mass arrests. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 10 people were killed in the town of Rastan near Homs when a mortar landed near marchers. The Local Co-ordination Committees of Syria said 16 were killed in the same event, among 52 reported dead nationwide.
Protesters dubbed Friday the day of "Arming the Free Syrian Army", reflecting a widening perception that only military action can stop the crackdown on dissent and hasten Assad's downfall."

Syria: no road back

Were the schoolchildren in Deraa tortured for scrawling graffiti really agents of a foreign regime?
Editorial, Friday 2 March 2012

"The appalling scenes as the Syrian army on Friday"cleansed" Baba Amr, the suburb of Homs which has become the symbol of the year-old uprising, plays to what Bashar al-Assad regards as his strengths. By painting ordinary Syrians as saboteurs, Islamists and agents of a foreign conspiracy, Assad has successfully militarised a conflict that sprang a year ago from a local demonstration. Were the schoolchildren in Deraa tortured for scrawling graffiti really agents of a foreign regime?

The conflict may be militarised, but it is no longer one that Assad can win militarily. It is too widespread for that. Too much innocent blood has flowed. Too many Syrians have friends or relatives gunned down by government snipers. The suffering and sacrifice has been so extreme that Assad has run out of further sanctions. If he is heading anywhere, it is for a brutal and bloody stalemate.

Syria, however, is no Libya. Assad's regime has stayed intact. Its diplomatic corps has not defected, nor have the senior ranks of the army. Soldiers defect but, in general, whole units do not. There are no reports of defections from the security services. But as this core support had hardened, their control over the country has loosened. Homs in 2012 will not be a repeat of the Hama massacre in 1982, when Hafez, Bashar's father, conducted a scorched-earth policy against an Islamist revolt. Assad can not crush and isolate a revolt in Homs. He can at best temporarily displace it.

The prospect of the long, hard slog ahead has caused Assad's main foreign backers, Russia and China, to have second thoughts. Vladimir Putin accused the west of fuelling the conflict and, as he faces re-election tomorrow, that fits a nationalist agenda. But he has backed, with China, a new security council resolution expressing disappointment at Syria's failure to admit the UN humanitarian aid chief Valerie Amos, and Russia has started to distance itself from the Syrian regime. This is not out of fear for Russia's military investment in Syria, which is lost already. It is more likely to stem from a cold calculation of the future awaiting Syria. Putin's purpose was to thwart a repeat of Nato's bombing of Libya. But as a civil war gathers pace, Russia's aim of negotiating an end to the conflict with Assad in place will be harder to maintain. Inexorably, Putin's strategic interests and Assad's personal ones will diverge. A general ceasefire will suit Russia, but not Assad, for whom there is no way back.
The Gulf states, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Russia and the US all have a stake in Syria. It will be just as difficult for Syrians to stay in control of their own uprising as it will be to see the slow, grinding end of the Assad dynasty."

Red Crescent blocked from Homs district

ICRC president calls obstruction of emergency mission to Bab Amr "unacceptable" as reports of violence continue.

"The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has said that it was unable to enter the Homs district of Bab Amro on Friday, where it had hoped to bring in aid and evacuate the sick and wounded.

"The ICRC and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent Society [SARC] were not allowed to enter the Bab Amr district of Homs today," Jakob Kellenberger, ICRC president, said in a statement issued in Geneva on Friday.

"It is unacceptable that people who have been in need of emergency assistance for weeks have still not received any help. We are staying in Homs tonight in the hope of entering Bab Amr in the very near future. In addition, many families have fled Bab Amr, and we will help them as soon as we possibly can."...."

Al-Jazeera Video: Spanish journalist says Bab Amr in "deep humanitarian crisis"

Al-Jazeera Video: Homs activist describes Bab Amr conditions as rebels withdraw

Al-Jazeera Video: Torture "probably" occurring in Syrian hospitals, French doctor says

"Jacques Beres, one of the founders of the French aid society Doctors Without Borders, says he believes the accounts of torture in Syrian hospitals are "possibly, nearly certainly" true.

Beres smuggled himself into the besieged district of Bab Amr in Homs to assist with makeshift medical clinics there. In an interview with Al Jazeera's Jacky Rowland about his recent trip, he says Bab Amr's crisis resembles the devastation he witnessed in Grozny, a city torn apart after Russian invasion in the 1990s."

Al-Jazeera Video: UN demands humanitarian access to Homs

"The United Nations Security Council has made a rare show of unity on Syria, voting to demand immediate access to Homs for UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos and her team.

The press statement does not cover political issues such as how President Bashar al-Assad's regime should be dealt with or whether former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan should be appointed as a special envoy to Syria.

Russia and China, which on the same day voted against a UN Human Rights Council resolution accusing Assad's regime of possible crimes against humanity, backed the statement on humanitarian access.

Al Jazeera's Kristen Saloomey reports from the United Nations."

Real News Video : Syrian rebels withdraw from Homs stronghold

EuroNews: Most Syrian rebels fighting government forces pulled out of the Baba Amro district of Homs on Thursday

More at The Real News

More Empty Resolutions to Mop Up the Bloodbath in Syria, by Emad Hajjaj

Interview: Palestinian rights defender banned from traveling tastes freedom in Geneva

Adri Nieuwhof
The Electronic Intifada

Geneva 1 March 2012

"For most of the past six years, Israel has forbidden Shawan Jabarin, a prominent human rights advocate and former administrative detainee, from leaving the occupied West Bank. On exception, he was allowed travel to Geneva this week to meet Frank La Rue, the UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression.

Israel imposed its travel ban on Jabarin — based on “secret evidence” — after he was appointed director of the Palestinian human rights organization Al-Haq in 2006. Neither Jabarin or his lawyers have been allowed to see the evidence.

Adri Nieuwhof interviewed Jabarin when he arrived to Geneva’s airport....."

Egypt’s Coptic Christians’ uphill battle

By Joseph Mayton
Bikya Masr

".....As the new parliament is tasked with inking a new constitution, a declaration of inalienable rights is perhaps the most positive step for assisting the full integration of the Coptic community into Egypt’s political and social future. But for change to happen, it must begin on the grassroots level—with the Coptic community itself. Copts cannot afford to insulate themselves into the “separate Egypt,” especially with the turn toward conservatism in parliament, which will be a major impediment to creating a civilly egalitarian society. Rather, they must first push their own leaders to support representatives of the community and a unified civil identity, instead of the old confessionalism that has been the basis for so many of the sectarian issues of the past. Perhaps only then will there be no more Masperos."

Netanyahu’s War

He wants us to fight it

by Justin Raimondo, March 02, 2012

"......What’s taking the special-ness out of the "special relationship" is the showdown between President Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu, which will be reaching its climax when the latter comes to the US next week. With the Israeli propaganda campaign reaching significantly higher decibel levels of late, Bibi is upping the ante with fresh demands, declaring through intermediaries that the new joint US-Israeli policy has to define several "red lines" Iran must not cross.

The Israelis define that fateful boundary as Tehran developing a nuclear "capability" rather than actually building a nuclear arsenal. It’s a crucial distinction that underscores the logical disconnect at the heart of the Israeli case for war. After all, any one of a number of human beings has, for example, the capability to commit murder: however, this does not make a convincing case for preemptive execution......

Brushing aside the rhetorical veil of the "existential threat," the Israelis’ real objective – the culmination of the old Zionist dream of a "Greater Israel" – is clear as day. With the Americans taking on the Iranians, the IDF will take on Tehran’s local proxies, including but not limited to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Under such circumstances, it is not hard to imagine the IDF taking the opportunity to extend Israel’s borders, if not "from the Nile to the Euphrates," as Yasser Arafat claimed, then well beyond the occupied territories.
Is this a war aim Americans need to die for?....."

Red Cross says aid convoy heading to Syria's Homs

Bassem Mroue Friday 02 March 2012
The Independent

"The Red Cross dispatched an aid convoy to an embattled neighbourhood in the Syrian city of Homs today, as the UN said it was alarmed by reports of execution-style killings after the Syrian army seized the area from rebel forces.

The seizure of Baba Amr by the Syrian army was a blow to the rebels seeking to overthrow the regime of authoritarian President Bashar Assad. The central city of Homs, Syria's third largest, has emerged as a key battleground in the 11-month-old anti-Assad uprisings.

Before government forces stormed the area yesterday, it had been under a tight siege and daily shelling for nearly four weeks. Activists said hundreds were killed and many lived for days with little food and no electricity or running water.

A spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said Friday the agency had received unconfirmed reports of "a particularly grisly set of summary executions" involving 17 people in the area after government forces entered....."

French journalists evacuated from Homs, Sarkozy confirms

Injured reporter Edith Bouvier and photographer William Daniels being looked after by French embassy in Beirut after escaping Syrian city, Friday 2 March 2012

"Two French journalists who were trapped in the besieged Syrian city of Homs have been evacuated to safety.

Injured reporter Edith Bouvier, who posted a video calling for urgent medical attention after she was injured in the bomb attack that killed the Sunday Times reporter Marie Colvin, has arrived in Lebanon and is on her way to a hospital in Beirut, her family confirmed.

Photographer William Daniels, who was trapped in the Baba Amr area of Homs for over a week, has also been safely evacuated.

The French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, confirmed that the pair were safe. Speaking to reporters in Brussels, where he was attending a European summit, Sarkozy said Bouvier could be flown back to France with doctors' consent.

The French foreign minister, Alain Juppé, said the journalists were being looked after by the French embassy. "Everything is being done to provide them with medical attention and to return them home as quickly as possible," he added.

The smuggling of the journalists into Lebanon followed eight days of negotiations and a failed attempt to get Bouvier and Daniels out of Homs.

The pair had left the city with the British photographer Paul Conroy on Sunday, but were forced to return after they were targeted on the outskirts, the campaign group Avaaz, which helped co-ordinate the escape, said.

A second evacuation effort on Tuesday moved the pair to a safer neighbourhood of Homs and from there to Lebanon.

"Against incredible odds, Syrian activists have rescued all four international journalists from the hell of Baba Amr," Avaaz said in a statement......"

Israel: Revoke Rights Defender’s Travel Ban

Shawan Jabarin Given One-Time Permit to Travel

Human Rights Watch
March 2, 2012

"(Jerusalem) – Having decided to permit Palestinian human rights defender Shawan Jabarin to travel abroad from the West Bank for the first time in six years, Israel should now revoke his travel ban, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said today.

On February 22, Israel’s State Prosecutor agreed to a “temporary exception” to the ban, allowing Jabarin to travel to Geneva at the invitation of the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

The two organizations said that the Israeli authorities had never produced any evidence to justify banning Jabarin from travelling, and should follow this belated “exception” by lifting the arbitrary ban entirely.

According to international human rights standards, any restrictions on travel should be issued in only exceptional circumstances, for reasons stated clearly and publicly, and be open to legal challenge. The refusal of the Israeli authorities to make public any evidence to substantiate the reasons for the travel ban means that Jabarin has been denied a meaningful opportunity to challenge the ban in court......"

Egypt must end attacks on civil society

1 March 2012

"The decision to lift a travel ban on seven US nationals facing trial as part of an NGO crackdown in Egypt is a welcome step but it does not go far enough, Amnesty International said.

The organization has called for the charges based on the repressive NGO law against those on trial to be dropped, and for the authorities to end their attacks on civil society.

The seven are part of a group of 43 people – all but 14 of whom are foreign nationals – currently on trial for allegedly breaching Egypt’s Law on Associations.

Travel bans reportedly remain in effect for others connected to the investigation and there are fears that this case is being used as a prelude to a wider assault on Egyptian human rights organizations. Other foreign nationals are also reportedly under a travel ban in relation to a different case.

“The Egyptian authorities must not use this heavily publicized case to distract international attention from the situation faced by human rights organizations in the Egypt,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.

When the international attention is gone, human rights activists in Egypt will bear the brunt of this offensive, both in court, and under the threat of an even more repressive Law on Associations.”......"

The bully, the beauty and the beast

Marwan Bishara asks who will be shmoozing with whom at the AIPAC conference, and why Kathy Ireland was invited.

By Marwan Bishara


"....The bully

The ultra-right-wing premier seems to feel more at home at AIPAC or in Washington than at the Knesset, where his supporters pale in comparison.

Last year, the US Republican leadership invited Netanyahu to speak to both houses of Congress around the time of the AIPAC conference, reportedly to pre-empt a president’s initiative to break the deadlock in the "peace process" with the Palestinians.

This clear cut case of helping a foreign leader to undermine the US president is permissible only when it come to Israel, thanks to its lobby, AIPAC and company....

Republican candidates and various media outlets attack the president’s Middle East policy, and accuse him of no less than "throwing Israel under the bus".

The main point of contention is centered on the policy towards Iran and the adequate response to its nuclear enrichment.

(In a major victory for Netanyahu and the radical Israeli right, one must observe, the Palestine issue has for all practical purpose been buried.)....

Although Israel maintains it won’t give the US advance notice, the Obama administration will be forced into war in order to respond to potential response against its bases or its allies/clients or the blocking of the sea lanes for oil.

The US could see itself dragged into a regional conflict, especially in the Gulf region, leading to skyrocketing oil prices and perhaps global economic recession.

It is for that reason the Obama administration has been trying to dissuade Israel from attacking Iran by contending that all options remain on the table, but that sanctions, diplomatic pressure and other measures, are working.

Obama’s assurances that the "US will stand between Tehran and the bomb" don’t seem to convince Israeli leaders who seem increasingly wary of Iran’s acquiring the capacity to produce nuclear weapons coupled with Tehran’s enhanced regional role following the US withdrawal from Iraq....

Obama might have an excellent chance against a Mitt Romney or a Rick Santorum candidacy. Many in the Democratic party are worried of another setback in Congress, stemming from a shift among the Jewish to the right and aggressive support to the Republicans among the evangelicals.

All of which signals the need for Obama to make major concessions in return for Israeli restraint vis -a-vis Iran. He has not hesitated in the past.

This could include among others, the release of Jonathan Pollard...."

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Qatar crosses the Syrian Rubicon: £63m to buy weapons for the rebels

A milestone has been reached in the conflict and, just as with the Libyan uprising last year, Doha is backing regime change

Martin Chulov, Thursday 1 March 2012

"On Monday, Qatar's prime minister declared his state's intent to start helping the Syrian opposition "by all means", including giving them weapons. Two days later, anti-Assad officials received an offer of a $100m (£63m) donation, from their brothers in arms in Libya. Coincidence? Unlikely, if the Libyan revolution is any indicator.

The third act, in what looks very much like the beginning of a concerted push to arm the Syrian insurgency, took place today when the previously gun-shy Syrian National Council formed a military council, which it says will act as a clearing house for anyone offering it arms.

Two probabilities have quickly emerged: the first is that a militarised Syrian National Council is unlikely to be short of suppliers. And, second, Libya is merely a conduit for the $100m, which was at least partly funded by Qatar to get things rolling......

Qatar's remarks this week, as well as Saudi Arabia's claim last Friday that arming the Syrian rebels would be an "excellent idea", clearly shows a new reality. The Rubicon has been crossed. Hopes of resolving Syria's raging insurgency through patience, or dialogue, have evaporated......

Not any more. "We should do whatever necessary to help them, including giving them weapons to defend themselves," said Qatar's prime minister, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al-Thani, on Monday. "This uprising in Syria now [has lasted] one year. For 10 months, it was peaceful: nobody was carrying weapons, nobody was doing anything. And Bashar continued killing them.

"So I think they're right to defend themselves by weapons, and I think we should help these people by all means."

After urging political recourse and discouraging intervention for so long, the Syrian National Council is now also speaking from a markedly different script....."

Syrian unrest: Homs under attack - interactive

Opposition-held areas of Homs have come under government attack, with rebels making a retreat under fire from Babr Amr and fighting reported elsewhere

Paddy Allen and Paul Scruton, Thursday 1 March 2012

Wikileaks vs. Stratfor: Pursue The Truth, Not Its Messenger

By Amy Goodman
Common Dreams

"WikiLeaks, the whistle-blower website, has again published a massive trove of documents, this time from a private intelligence firm known as Stratfor. The source of the leak was the hacker group “Anonymous,” which took credit for obtaining more than 5 million emails from Stratfor’s servers. Anonymous obtained the material on Dec. 24, 2011, and provided it to WikiLeaks, which in turn partnered with 25 media organizations globally to analyze the emails and publish them.

Among the emails was a short one-liner that suggested the U.S. government has produced, through a secret grand jury, a sealed indictment against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. In addition to painting a picture of Stratfor as a runaway, rogue private intelligence firm with close ties to government-intelligence agencies serving both corporate and U.S. military clients, the emails support the growing awareness that the Obama administration, far from diverging from the secrecy of the Bush/Cheney era, is obsessed with secrecy, and is aggressively opposed to transparency...."

Al-Jazeera Video: Humanitarian conditions worsen in Homs as siege continues

Al-Jazeera Video: Palestinian prisoners boycott military courts

Dr. Strangedrone, by Khalil Bendib

(Click on cartoon to enlarge)

Between Politics and Principles: Hamas' Perilous Maneuvers

By Ramzy Baroud
Palestine Chronicle

"Despite all of Hamas' assurances to the contrary, a defining struggle is taking place within the Palestinian Islamic movement. The outcome of this struggle – which is still confined to polite political disagreements and occasional intellectual tussle – is likely to change Hamas’ outlook, if not fundamentally alter its position within a quickly changing Arab political landscape.

The current Hamas is already different from the one initially set up by a local Gaza leadership in December 1987 in response to the first Palestinian uprising.....

Writing in the Lebanese Daily Star, Michael Broning, Israel-based director of the German Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung foundation, agrees. “Meshaal has come to represent a force of change,” he states, while Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh “represents the conservative wing of Gaza’s Hamas leadership.” Thus a long-coveted opening is presenting itself as “disagreements within Hamas have been escalating, pitting the movement’s diaspora leadership against the Hamas-led Gaza administration.” Tellingly, the title of Broning’s article is: “Engage Hamas’ moderates and test their newfound flexibility” (Feb 24).

Some commentators, Broning included, are widely speculating on the future of the movement. News outlets are rife with reports regarding Hamas’ maneuvering - whether compelled by political necessity or propelled by the ideological triumph of Islamist forces in the region.

Hamas might be reinventing itself, or it may simply be trying to weather the storm. Either way, the political context of Hamas’ maneuvers is quickly leaving its traditional home (the Israeli occupation), and moving into a whole new dimension regarding the region as a whole. While Hamas might convincingly argue that survival necessitates measured shifts in politics, it is more difficult to explain how quickly and readily regional politicking is trumping national priorities.

Indeed, the line separating principles and politics can at times be a very fine one. "

Why Islamists will just keep winning

By Rami G. Khouri
The Daily Star

"A persistent question we have heard during each Arab uprising across the Arab world in the past year has been, “What happens after the regime falls? Who takes over power?” This is usually asked with a tone of foreboding, with concern that bad or unknown political forces will assume power. Most worry revolves around the prospect of the Muslim Brotherhood or other Islamists assuming power, on the grounds that they are the best organized political groups.

Sometimes this leads frightened people to conclude that it is better to stick with the governments we have – despite their flaws – rather than risk the unknown or an Islamist takeover of power. We hear the same thing said about Syria these days, as many ponder the possible or, I sense, likely, fall of the Assad family dynasty of 42 years.

It is time for analysts to get over their worries and adjust to the overwhelming lesson from the first year of the ongoing Arab uprisings: The transition from autocracy to democracy, and from authoritarianism to pluralism, in the Arab world must necessarily pass through a phase of Islamist rule or of coalition governments in which Islamists play a role.

This is one conclusion we should draw from the track record of the past year....

Islamists who form governing coalitions with secular, business, military or other groups in society must necessarily work overtime to forge realistic policies that can respond to the many urgent needs of their fellow citizens. If they succeed in promoting economic growth, social equity, stability and constitutional democracy – as the mildly Islamist ruling party does in Turkey – they will do so because of their capacity to govern efficiently, and they will be re-elected.

This will mark the stage at which Islamists participating in coalitions affirm the secular nature of the ruling authority and state, while enhancing the adherence of citizens to their Islamic values."

Al-Jazeera Video: Army defectors operate in Damascus

"Al Jazeera has evidence that the Free Syrian Army is operating under the nose of President Bashar al Assad's government in the capital, Damascus."

Iraq: Intimidation at Anniversary Protests

Beatings, Detentions in Kurdistan; Blocked Access in Baghdad

Human Rights Watch
March 1, 2012

"(Beirut) – Uniformed security forces clamped down on demonstrations marking February 2012 anniversaries of the start of weekly protests in Iraq, Human Rights Watch said today. Security forces blocked access to protest sites in Baghdad; beat and arrested peaceful demonstrators in Sulaimaniya, Kurdistan; and briefly detained, beat, or confiscated equipment from media workers and prevented others from covering the protests.

Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 15 demonstrators, bystanders, and journalists who were at the demonstrations on the February 17 and 25 anniversaries in Kurdistan and Baghdad, respectively. Activists said that in the build-up to the demonstrations, security forces threatened them with arrest and unidentified people threatened them with violence if they attended.

Security forces are using repressive means to keep peaceful protestors at bay,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “While the level of violence may be lower than it was a year ago, the effect is the same – preventing Iraqis from engaging in peaceful dissent.”....."

Gaza hit by power crisis. Where is the "New" Egypt??

An acute fuel shortage is putting hospital patients at risk and increasing hardship among Gaza Strip residents

Harriet Sherwood, Gaza City, Thursday 1 March 2012

"Gaza is in the midst of an acute power crisis, with blackouts lasting up to 12 hours and a shortage of generator fuel putting at risk the lives of cardiac and dialysis patients and babies in incubators, as well as increasing daily hardship among the general population.

The sole, privately owned, power station in the Palestinian enclave shut down on Tuesday for the second time in two weeks as a result of the fuel shortage, worsening already limited electricity supplies.

Thirteen public hospitals are running generators on emergency fuel supplied by the Red Cross more than a week ago. However, the 150,000 litres of diesel are expected to be exhausted within the next few days. Hospitals are relying on generators for up to 18 hours a day, according to the Red Cross, which says it cannot guarantee further supplies......"

Brave witness: Tom Hurndall's The Only House Left Standing – in pictures

Peace activist and aspiring photojournalist Tom Hurndall died in 2004, aged 22, after being shot by an Israeli soldier. His words and images bear witness to events he saw while living in Iraq, Jordan and the Gaza Strip. The Only House Left Standing: The Middle East Journals of Tom Hurndall is published this week by Trolley Books. Here are a selection of Hurndall's photographs, and his own words, from the book, Thursday 1 March 2012

6 April 2003. An ISM (International Solidarity Movement) protester confronts a bulldozer at an anti-home demolition protest, Rafah. 'As for the Israeli soldiers, they are all jokers until you realise they they don't care much if they kill you. Maybe I'd get on with them a bit better if I'd met them somewhere else'

Guardian Video: Arab League chief says arming Syrian opposition might be an alternative

Speaking in Cairo, the secretary general of the Arab League, Nabil al-Arabi, says that should the international community fail to end the violence in Syria, arming the rebel forces might be a possible alternative. Reports on Wednesday say a ground attack has started in Homs, with government troops advancing on part of the city, Wednesday 29 February 2012

The regime calls it 'cleaning', but the dirty truth is plain to see

The word being used by Syria is a chilling one

By Robert Fisk

"So it's the "cleaning" of Baba Amr now, is it? "Tingheef" in Arabic. Did that anonymous Syrian government official really use that word to the AP yesterday? It's a chilling expression, one that always precedes a lot of killing. And the UN says it's 7,600 so far. The Israelis used the same word in English when they stormed into Lebanon in 1982 (total dead about 17,500). Five months earlier, when the Syrians were finishing off the Muslim insurgents of Hama, just north of Homs (more than 10,000, possibly 15,000 dead), they said they were "researching" the area, "searching", "investigating". The word they used was "bahagh".

It's a honey of a word for all armies when they're going to abandon human rights. The Brits used to like "mopping up" in the Second World War (approximately 60 million dead). So did the Russians. In the Warsaw Ghetto, the Germans referred to the "cleansing" of Jewish streets in 1944. The word was that of SS Major General Jürgen Stroop in his "police" report (50,000 dead). Cleaning, searching, mopping up, cleansing; massed killing washed of all responsibility. After you "clean" something, it doesn't smell any more.

No, the Syrians are not the Israelis, the Israelis are not the Brits and Russians, and the Syrians, Israelis, Brits and Russians are not the SS. But words do have an unhappy way of reflecting real intentions. The more you polish, search, wash, clean, cleanse, the less blood there should be on the ground. The defence brigades who crushed Hama 30 years ago were led by "Uncle" Rifaat Assad, his nephew, Bashar, is now President of Syria, his other nephew, Maher, is reputedly leading his 4th Brigade into Baba Amr.

Anyway, the tanks bombarded the Sunni district of Homs first, then the infantry – according to residents on the phone yesterday – started to move in. The "decisive month" had begun, according to another "anonymous" Syrian official. Every month in Syria, of course, has been a "decisive month". It's been that way for a year now. In September 1980, I remember, Saddam's gombeen men talked about the "decisive month" in the "Whirlwind War" – the invasion of Iran. The war lasted eight years (about 1.5 million dead).

Anyway, we'll see what Assad's squadrons are made of. Will his infantry defect when they have to batter their way into Homs? A real worry. Will the Free Syria Army fight to the death or run away to fight another day? And civilian casualties in Baba Amr?

If Assad's men win, we might hear a figure. The Assad version won't include Sunni "enemy" dead, any more than his antagonists are going to tell us how many Alawite and Christian "enemies" they've killed. Assad says he's fighting "terrorists". Rifaat said the same at Hama. The Israelis used the word a thousand times about the Palestinians. The Russians said the same about the Germans. Stroop said the same about the Jews.

Alas, all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten these little hands."

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Al-Jazeera Video: Syrian children killed in Sirmeen

"As soldiers launch a massive ground assault on a rebel-held district of Homs, other Syrian towns also struggle with the effects of the army's bombardment.

In northern Idlib province, activists say many of the casualties are children.

Al Jazeera's Khadija Magardie reports."

Leaked Stratfor Email Suggests Secret U.S. Indictment of WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange

Democracy Now!

"The whistleblowing website WikiLeaks has published an internal email from the private intelligence firm Stratfor that suggests the U.S. Justice Department has obtained a sealed indictment against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. The email is one of around five million obtained from Stratfor’s servers by the hacker group, Anonymous. "Somehow you have a private intelligence company, Stratfor, a 'shadow CIA,' as people have called it, having information about this sealed indictment—secret again—that Julian Assange doesn’t have, that WikiLeaks doesn’t have, that his lawyers don’t have," says Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights, who is a legal adviser to both Assange and to WikiLeaks. "What you see here is secrecy, secrecy, secrecy." News of the indictment comes less than a week after Army Private Bradley Manning was arraigned for allegedly leaking classified U.S. military and State Department documents to WikiLeaks....."

Amnesty International’s Salil Shetty: Arms Embargo, Human Rights Monitors Needed for Syria Crisis

Democracy Now!

"The death toll in Syria has reportedly topped 7,500 after 11 months of the government’s crackdown on anti-government protesters and armed rebels. Activists say more than 250 people have died in the past two days alone — mostly from government shelling in Homs and Hama province. We speak with the Secretary General of Amnesty International, Salil Shetty, who is due to discuss Syria withU.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. "The Syrian government needs to stop the bombardment," Shetty says, noting Amnesty International has not called for the use of force. "The immediate issue is about allowing unfettered access to independent human rights monitors. It’s [also] to stop the arms flow, because the arms embargo which we’ve been calling for for a long time has not happened." Shetty also discusses the crackdown on freedom of expression in Iran during the run up to this week’s parliamentary elections, human rights in Egypt, and Amnesty International’s campaign for an effective global Arms Trade Treaty....."

Al-Jazeera Video: قوات إسرائيلية تقتحم مقر تلفزيوني وطن والقدس

Real News Video (with Transcript): United States vs. Manning & Assange

Michael Ratner: Army is trying to pressure Manning into implicating Julian Assange so that he too can be charged and extradited to US

More at The Real News

The US-Israeli divide: it’s a chasm

by Justin Raimondo, February 29, 2012

"I had to laugh when I read the Associated Press piece on Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak’s message to a series of visiting US officials:

Israeli officials say they won’t warn the U.S. if they decide to launch a pre-emptive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities, according to one U.S. intelligence official familiar with the discussions. The pronouncement, delivered in a series of private, top-level conversations, sets a tense tone ahead of meetings in the coming days at the White House and Capitol Hill.”

The traffic between Washington and Tel Aviv has been crowded lately: top US officials, including the chairman of the joint chiefs, are traipsing to Israel, “all trying to close the trust gap between Israel and the U.S. over how to deal with Iran’s nuclear ambitions,” as the AP piece puts it.

While diplomats speak a language made up almost entirely of euphemisms, the reality is that the “trust gap” is a veritable chasm. For the Israelis to tell us – their chief benefactors and defenders – they have no intention of warning us before undertaking an action which will put US troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the entire region in mortal danger, is beyond outrageous. It is an overtly hostile act. In effect, what they are threatening amounts to the Middle Eastern Pearl Harbor. The irony is that the means to launch such an attack were given to them by us....."

Al-Jazeera Video: Syrian underground medics treat wounded

"Some doctors in the Syrian capital, Damascus, have started working in secret to treat people wounded in the uprising. They move from house to house, with whatever medical equipment they can get their hands on.

Many wounded fear they will be reported to the security services if they go to a hospital.

Al Jazeera's Laurence Lee reports."

The Arab world's first ladies of oppression

Their husbands have run some of the most brutal regimes of the Arab world. But who are the women who stand by the dictators?

Angelique Chrisafis, Tuesday 28 February 2012

"In December 2010, the French first lady Carla Bruni sat down to lunch under the gold chandeliers of the Elysée palace with Asma al-Assad, wife of the Syrian leader Bashar. As they sat demurely with their husbands around a butterfly-print tablecloth dominated by a pastel flower-arrangement, a photographer was ushered in to grab a picture for French celebrity magazines. After all, this was a communion of fashion's high priestesses: a former Italian supermodel turned folk-singer entertaining a Chanel-loving, London-raised, former banker and conveniently westernised Middle Eastern first lady. French Elle had recently voted Asma "the most stylish woman in world politics", Paris Match called her "an eastern Diana", a "ray of light in a country full of shadow zones".

Only days after the lunch, a desperate Tunisian vegetable seller would set himself alight, sparking the first revolution of the Arab spring. Already, as the Sarkozys' butlers served the Assads crystal glasses of freshly squeezed juice from silver platters, there was unease among certain diplomats about the French president schmoozing the ruler of an oppressive dictatorship known for torture, brutality and political prisoners. But Nicolas Sarkozy, an expert on the importance of photogenic wives in politics, saw Asma as his insurance policy. "When we explained that this was the worst kind of tyrant, Sarkozy would say: 'Bashar protects Christians, and with a wife as modern as his, he can't be completely bad,'" the former French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner later confided to journalists....."

Syrian activists killed in Paul Conroy rescue mission

Up to 13 activists died smuggling the Sunday Times photographer out of the country, it has emerged

Peter Beaumont, Tuesday 28 February 2012

"Paul Conroy, the Sunday Times photographer wounded in the leg in an attack in the besieged city of Homs, has been smuggled out of Syria in a dramatic and dangerous rescue in which up to 13 activists lost their lives, it has emerged.

Conroy survived the attack last week that killed his colleague Marie Colvin. Three other western journalists, including Edith Bouvier, who was badly injured in the same incident, were reported to be still trapped in Homs on Tuesday night. A claim by the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, that Bouvier had also been evacuated was later retracted by his office.

The news came on the day the United Nations said "well over 7,500 people" had been killed in Syria during the 11-month government crackdown on pro-democracy protesters. This figure is significantly higher than previous estimates.

"While we cannot give exact casualty figures there are credible reports the death toll now often exceeds 100 civilians a day, including many women and children," said Lynn Pascoe, the UN undersecretary general for political affairs.

"The total killed so far is certainly well over 7,500 people," he said, adding that the firepower available to the opposition was small compared with that deployed by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad....."

Avaaz: the activist organisation behind Paul Conroy's rescue in Syria

The 'clicktivist' group has campaigned on issues from Burma to Murdoch, but is taking on a riskier role in the Arab spring

Julian Borger, Tuesday 28 February 2012

"Founded in 2007, has quickly become the biggest and most ambitious of a new breed of activist organisation, designed for a wired, globalised world. It has established a network of activists and civilian journalists on the ground in Syria – where it played a key role in helping to rescue the British journalist Paul Conroy from the besieged city of Homs – and across the Arab world.

Its website describes it as "the world in action" and "the campaigning community bringing people-powered politics to decision-making worldwide".

The name means "voice" in Farsi and several other Asian and European languages, and the idea is to provide a vehicle for like-minded people across the world to organise quickly over burning political issues and apply pressure on governments through online petitions or street protests.....

Avaaz is funded by member contribution and says it does not accept money from any government or corporation. It sets its campaigning priorities by canvassing its 13-million-strong membership worldwide....

The network has taken on a prominent and more physically risky role in the Arab spring, providing satellite phones and other communication equipment to pro-democracy groups in Libya, Egypt and Syria....."

Syria: 30 years on, Hama survivors recount the horror

Amnesty International

28 February 2012

"The Syrian military assault on Homs is now in its fourth week with no sign of abating, prompting memories in nearby Hama of mass killings 30 years ago.

Three decades ago, Syrian troops under the government of Hafez al-Assad – father of current President Bashar al-Assad – unleashed a bloody 27-day assault on Hama.

It followed an ambush of soldiers by members of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood and attacks on officials and alleged “collaborators”.

The final death toll may have reached 25,000, from both sides.

Some 6,000 to 8,000 soldiers were dispatched to Hama in February 1982, according to news reports and information received by Amnesty International.

Old parts of the city were bombed from the air and shelled in order to allow the entry of troops and tanks along the narrow streets.

The ancient Hadra neighbourhood was apparently razed to the ground by tanks during the first four days of fighting....

No longer isolated

While the survivors’ descriptions of military tactics are similar to those being used in Homs and other cities today, the sense of isolation felt by Hama’s residents in 1982 has diminished.

“Now the people have learnt the lies and crimes of the regime – we know how the political security works now,” said Ayad Khatab, who is originally from Hama but now lives abroad.

Hama is no longer isolated; there is solidarity between different cities. This raises the morale not just in Hama, but all over Syria … they have no fear anymore.”

‘Mohamed’, an activist from Hama who spoke with Amnesty International on condition of anonymity, said that the lack of independent media coverage of events in 1982 resulted in fewer military defections.

But with more eyewitness accounts and video footage leaving Syrian cities via the internet, mobile phones and satellite communications, the tide has changed.

“The biggest difference is that in 1982 Hama was totally destroyed and the villages nearby found out only a week later,” Mohamed told Amnesty International....."

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Report from Kabul: Deadly Protests over U.S. Koran Burning May Be Turning Point for U.S. Occupation

Democracy Now!

"The U.S.-led NATO occupation in Afghanistan is facing a storm of violence and outrage over the burning of copies of the Koran by U.S. troops at the Bagram Air Base last week. Retaliatory attacks and public protests have swept Afghanistan, leaving more than 40 Afghans dead. On Sunday, six U.S. soldiers were injured in northern Afghanistan when a demonstrator threw a grenade at a U.S. base. Two senior U.S. Army officers were shot dead on Friday inside the Afghan Interior Ministry. In private, U.S. officials are expressing worry about the situation in Afghanistan. We go to Kabul to speak with John Wendle, a reporter for TIME and photographer for Polaris Images. "I think we’re going to continue to see attacks," Wendle says. "[This] makes it difficult for the United States to pull out and achieve the one goal that it’s kind of set for itself, which is training the Afghan security forces so they can stand on their own two feet and provide security in this country."....."

WikiLeaks: Leaked Emails Expose Inner Workings of Private Intelligence Firm Stratfor, a “Shadow CIA”

Democracy Now!

"The whistleblowing website WikiLeaks has begun publishing what it says are 5.5 million emails obtained from the servers of Stratfor, a private U.S.-based intelligence-gathering firm known to some as a "shadow CIA" for corporations and government agencies. The emails were reportedly obtained by the hackers group, Anonymous. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said the files implicate some of the world’s largest firms in corporate espionage. Firms with ties to Stratfor include Coca-Cola, Goldman Sachs, Dow Chemical, and sectors of the U.S. government — including the Department of Homeland Security, the Marines Corps and the Defense Intelligence Agency. Coke asked Stratfor to keep tabs on the protest plans of the group, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. "We’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the stories. It will come out in the next coming days and weeks,” said Kristinn Hrafnsson, a WikiLeaks spokesperson who has been a key member of the project to release the Stratfor emails. “What we were doing yesterday was introducing the project: The nature of Stratfor and how they operate, and their ties.”..."

Al-Jazeera Video: Syria's referendum: Real change or games?

"Syrian has announced overwhelming approval for its new constitution, after a referendum. But the nationwide vote was not well received by all. Inside Story asks: Is this referendum on a new constitution for Syria a real change or is it a sham?"

Al-Jazeera Video: Syrian troops accused of targeting children

"Syrian government forces have been blamed by residents for attacking and killing thousands of civilians, including hundreds of children, during the crackdown on the country's 11-month uprising.

Two fathers in central Damascus, which has seen a protest movement smaller than other cities like Homs, Hama and Idlib due to a heavier presence of security forces, have told Al Jazeera how their sons were either murdered or shot by troops.

One of them blames a soldier for his son's death in this exclusive report."

Real News Video : Israel's "New West Bank"

New plan reveals gov't relocating Bedouins in Negev Desert to create Jewish contiguity south of the West Bank.

More at The Real News

Real News Video: The Syrian Opposition and the External Players

Bassam Haddad: The Syrian revolution must guard against interference by external powers and the Syrian National Council

More at The Real News