Saturday, September 26, 2015

Why Are the Syrians So Gullible?

A Short Comment

By Tony Sayegh

Perhaps with all the suffering the Syrian people have endured, and continue to endure, the time might not be best for self-criticism. However, I believe it is critical to do so if the Syrians are to accomplish their goal of liberation while minimizing their losses.

From the beginning, the Syrians have suffered from lack of a unified and effective leadership. Without such leadership, the Syrians went on a wild-goose chase, believing any con man and impostor. In the beginning they even believed that Obama will be their liberator; can you believe such gullibility?

Their "representatives", who changed faster than Imelda Marcos changed shoes, went from one "Friends of Syria" conference to another, chasing mirages. They really believed that the US and Europe will help them!

Next came Turkey. To tell you the truth I am not particularly impressed by the Turkish military. They seem to be inept and a handful of Kurdish rebels appear to be more than a match. 

Erdogan huffed and puffed and in the end produced nothing. Yet so many Syrians really believed that Turkey would intervene and help topple Assad. A no-fly zone came and went. A safe border region for the refugees came and went. Now it is clear that Turkey's priority is to fight the Kurds, whom the US supports. Erdogan has not even attempted to defy the US on any decision concerning Syria.

Next came Qatar and Saudi Arabia. The Syrians jumped for joy because liberation was finally close. What with all the advanced weapons supplied to the Syrian rebels, Assad would last only weeks! Alas, that was another mirage. Now Qatar and the Saudis have their hands full fighting the Houthis in Yemen, and who knows how many years that is going to last.

Next came Putin's Russia. Syrian representatives performed the Hajj to Moscow and swallowed the Russian bait. They were so sure that a joint US-Russian solution was in the works. And if the Syrians still believe that then I have a bridge I would like to sell to them.

Now we know that everyone is pursuing their interests in Syria and those interests were never the interests of the Syrian people. Overall, the objectives remain the same: destroy the country and make sure that it would not recover for generations, and have everyone kill everyone else until exhaustion. 

Israel could never be more delighted. It is already proclaiming that Syria no longer exists as a state and Israel is demanding that the world recognize its annexation of the Golan Heights.

The last thing I heard is that Secretary Kerry now believes that a "new" solution will be worked out with Russia this coming week at the UN. I guess Kerry never runs out of snake oil to sell.     

حديث الثورة- تحديات تنتظر حكومة هادي بعد عودتها لعدن

تقارب المواقف الدولية حول سوريا يثير علامات استفهام

الواقع العربي- النظام السوري والمعارضة.. تاريخ من الاغتيالات


علوي يرأس أركان "فرقة العشائر" بريف درعا

Russian troops in Syria could end up helping Isis, report claims

Analysts say involvement ‘underlines contradictions of Kremlin’ as troops are in areas where they are likely to fight groups opposed to Isis
The deployment of Russian troops in Syria could end up helping Islamic State as they have been sent to areas where they are most likely to fight other groups opposed to Isis, according to a new report.
The Royal United Services Institute (Rusi) report comes ahead of a US-Russian summit meeting at the UN on Monday, when Barack Obama will question Vladimir Putin on the intention behind Russia’s deepening military involvement in Syria, according to US officials.
The Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani – also in New York for the UN general assembly meeting – rejected suggestions that his country was operating in concert with Russia against Isis. “I do not see a coalition between Iran and Russiaon fighting terrorism in Syria,” Rouhani said.
The Rusi report, titled Inherently Unresolved, assesses the global effort to counter the spread of Isis, and warns that Iraq and Syria may not survive as unitary states. It includes a section on Russian aims, particularly those underpinning Putin’s despatch this month of warplanes and troops to Tartus and Latakia in support of Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Igor Sutyagin, a Russian strategic analyst, said there was an air regiment at Latakia with 28 planes, a battalion of motorised infantry and military engineers as well as a marine battalion at the naval base in Tartus.
The deployment, Sutyagin said, “underlines the contradictions of the Kremlin’s policy”, because the troops were in areas where Isis is not present. 
“In this way, Russian troops are backing Assad in the fight against groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, which are themselves opposed to Isis. If Russian troops do eventually join combat, therefore, they would also – technically – be assisting Isis,” Sutyagin argued.
Satellite image from last week shows Russian aircraft and ground vehicles at air base in Latakia, Syria
 Satellite image from last week shows Russian aircraft and ground vehicles at air base in Latakia, Syria. Annotations provided by GeoNorth, AllSource Analysis, Airbus. Photograph: GeoNorth, AllSource Analysis, Airbus via AP
The report says the Russian deployment should not therefore be seen as a change of policy towards fighting Isis directly, but a largely political move designed to save Assad and consolidate Russia’s hold over its naval base at Tartus and its newly built air base in Latakia, while currying favour with the west and the Gulf Arab states who are themselves reluctant to fight Isis on the ground.
“Indeed, the Kremlin may well be hoping that the west will show its appreciation by lifting the sanctions imposed in response to the situation in Ukraine,” Sutyagin said.
The tensions hanging over the Obama-Putin meeting on Monday were highlighted by discord between Washington and Moscow in describing the summit. US officials said it had been requested by Putin. A Russian spokesman insisted it was Obama who asked to meet. The White House said the meeting would address both the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria. The Kremlin said Ukraine would only be raised “if there was time”.
Celeste Wallander, the White House National Security Council’s senior director for Russia, said that Obama would press Putin on his objectives in Syria.
“There’s a lot of talk, and now it’s time for clarity and for Russia to come clear – come clean and come clear on just exactly how it proposes to be a constructive contributor to what is already an ongoing multi-nation coalition,” Wallander told journalists
Putin meanwhile told CBS News: “There is no other solution to the Syrian crisis than strengthening the effective government structures and rendering them help in fighting terrorism. But at the same time, urging them to engage in positive dialogue with the rational opposition and conduct reform.”
The White House argues that the Russian strategy of entrenching Assad will only serve to deepen the roots of extremism in Syria. Ben Rhodes, a White House spokesman, said that at the UN meeting “the president will have the opportunity to make clear to President Putin that we share the determination to counter Isil [Isis], that we welcome constructive contributions to counter Isil. But at the same time, we believe that one of the principal motivating factors for people who are fighting with Isil is the Assad regime.”
The Rusi report said that it would be “perfectly feasible” to defeat Isis if Turkey and Iran were also engaged in the search for a regional solution. It advised US policymakers to “not give up on the possibility of maintaining the unity of Iraq and Syria, but not be beholden or obsessed with this idea either”. 
“If the US could ‘father’ two brand-new states in the Balkans during the 1990s, there is no reason why Washington should not tolerate at least the informal emergence of new states in the Middle East,” the report argued.

The Greatest Threat to Campus Free Speech is Coming From Dianne Feinstein and her Military-Contractor Husband

By Glenn Greenwald


There is no shortage of American pundits who love to denounce “PC” speech codes which restrict and punish the expression of certain ideas on college campuses. What these self-styled campus-free-speech crusaders typically – and quite tellingly – fail to mention is that the most potent such campaigns are often devoted to outlawing or otherwise punishing criticisms of Israel. The firing by the University of Illinois of Professor Steven Salatia for his “uncivil” denunciations of the Israeli war on Gaza – a termination that was privately condoned by Illinois’ Democratic Senator Dick Durbin – is merely illustrative of this longgrowing trend.
One of the most dangerous threats to campus free speech has been emerging at the highest levels of the University of California system, the sprawling collection of 10 campuses which includes UCLA and UC Berkeley. The University’s governing Board of Regents, with the support of University President Janet Napolitano and egged on by the State’s legislature, has been attempting to adopt new speech codes that – in the name of combating “anti-Semitism” – would formally ban various forms of Israel criticism and anti-Israel activism.
Under the most stringent such regulations, students found to be in violation of these codes would face suspension or expulsion. In July, it appeared that the Regents were poised to enact the most extreme version, but decided instead to push the decision off until September, when they instead would adopt non-binding guidelines to define “hate speech” and “intolerance.”
One of the Regents most vocally advocating for the most stringent version of the speech code is Richard Blum, the multi-millionaire defense contractor who is married to Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California. At a Regents meeting last week, reported The Los Angeles Times, Blum expressly threatened that Feinstein would publicly denounce the University if it failed to adopt far more stringent standards than the ones it appeared to be considering, and specifically demanded they be binding and contain punishments for students found to be in violation.
The San Francisco Chronicle put it this way: “Regent Dick Blum said his wife, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., ‘is prepared to be critical of this university’ unless UC not only tackles anti-Jewish bigotry but also makes clear that perpetrators will be punished.” The lawyer Ken White wrote that “Blum threatened that his wife . . .would interfere and make trouble if the Regents didn’t commit to punish people for prohibited speech.” As campus First Amendment lawyer Ari Cohn put it the following day, “Feinstein and her husband think college students should be expelled for protected free speech.”
Jerry Brown, Meg Whitman, Dianne Feinstein, Richard Blum
Sen Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), left, and her husband Richard Blum are seen in the audience prior to the California gubernatorial candidates Democrat Jerry Brown and Republican Meg Whitman debate at Dominican University of California in San Rafael, Calif., Oct. 12, 2010.
Photo: Paul Sakuma/AP

Blum’s verbatim comments at the Regents meeting are even creepier than that reporting suggests:
I should add that over the weekend my wife, your senior Senator, and I talked about this issue at length. She wants to stay out of the conversation publicly but if we do not do the right thing she will engage publicly and is prepared to be critical of this university if we don’t have the kind of not only statement but penalties for those who commit what you can call them crimes, call them whatever you want. Students that do the things that have been cited here today probably ought to have a dismissal or a suspension from school. I don’t know how many of you feel strongly that way but my wife does and so do I.
Sarah McLaughlin of the campus-free-speech group FIRE wrote: “Yes, a UC Regent flatly threatened the university with political consequences if it failed to craft a ‘tolerance’ policy that would punish—and even expel—its violators.”
In response to inquiries from The Intercept, Feinstein refused to say whether her husband was authorized to make such threats on her behalf, but she refused to distance herself from them. “This is a matter before the University of California and Senator Feinstein has no comment at this time,” her Press Secretary said.
The specific UC controversy is two-fold: whether, in combating “anti-semitism,” the University should adoptthe State Department’s controversial 2010 definition of that term, and separately, whether students who express ideas that fall within that definition should be formally punished up to and including permanent expulsion. What makes the State Department definition so controversial – particularly for an academic setting – is that alongside uncontroversial and obvious examples of classic bigotry (e.g. expressing hateful or derogatory sentiments toward Jews generally), that definition includes a discussion of what it calls “Anti-Semitism Relative to Israel.”
How does speech about Israel become “anti-Semitic”? According to the State Department, “anti-Semitism” includes those who (1) “Demonize Israel” by “drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis” or “blaming Israel for all inter-religious or political tensions”; (2) espouse a “Double standard for Israel” by “requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation” or “multilateral organizations focusing on Israel only for peace or human rights investigations”; or (3) “Delegitimize Israel” by “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, and denying Israel the right to exist.” The State Department generously adds this caveat at the end: “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic.”
The ironies of this definition are overwhelming. First, it warns against advocating a “double standard for Israel” – at exactly the same time that it promulgates a standard that applies only to Israel. Would the State Department ever formally condemn what it regards as excessive or one-sided criticism of any other government, such as Russia or Iran? Why isn’t the State Department also accusing people of bigotry who create “double standards” for Iran by obsessing over the anti-gay behavior of Iran while ignoring the same or worse abuses in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Uganda? The State Department is purporting to regulate the discourse surrounding just one country – Israel – while at the same time condemning “double standards.”
Worse, this State Department definition explicitly equates certain forms of criticism of Israel or activism against Israeli government policies with “anti-Semitism.” In other words, the State Department embraces the twisted premise that a defining attribute of “Jews” everywhere is the actions of the Israeli government, which is itself a long-standing anti-Semitic trope.
But most important of all, whatever you think of this State Department definition, it has no place whatsoever regulating which ideas can and cannot be expressed in an academic institution, particularly one that is run by the state (such as the University of California is). Adoption of this “anti-Semitism” definition clearly would function to prohibit the advocacy of, say, a one-state solution for the Israel-Palestine conflict, or even the questioning of a state’s right to exist as a non-secular entity. How can anyone think it’s appropriate to declare such ideas off-limits in academic classrooms or outlaw them as part of campus activism?
To ban the expression of any political ideas in such a setting would not only be wildly anti-intellectual but also patently unconstitutional. As UC Irvine School of Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky put it today in an LA Times Op-Ed: “There unquestionably is a 1st Amendment right to argue against (or for) the existence of Israel or to contend that it should meet (or not have to meet) higher standards of human rights than other nations.” Even the now-retired Executive Director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman – while arguing that “the effort to support boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel, is sinister and malicious and is having a negative effect on Jewish students on some campuses and on the wider Jewish community” – acknowledged in May that such bans would be clearly unconstitutional:
Legislation that bars BDS activity by private groups, whether corporations or universities, strikes at the heart of First Amendment-protected free speech, will be challenged in the courts and is likely to be struck down. A decision by a private body to boycott Israel, as despicable as it may be, is protected by our Constitution. Perhaps in Europe, where hate speech laws exist and are acceptable within their own legal frameworks, such bills could be sustained. But not here in America.
But none of that seems to matter to Dianne Feinstein and her war-profiteering husband, Richard Blum. Not only is Blum demanding adoption of the State Department definition, despite the fact that (more accurately: because) it would encompass some forms of BDS activism and even criticisms of Israel. But, worse, he’s also insisting that it be binding and that students who express the ideas that fall within the State Department definition besuspended from school or expelled. And he’s overtly threatening that if he does not get his way, then his wife – “Your Senior Senator” – will get very upset and start publicly attacking the university, a threat that public school administrators who rely on the government for their budgets take very seriously.
This behavior is as adolescent as it is despotic. Does anyone believe that college and post-graduate students should be able to express only those ideas about Israel which Dianne Feinstein and her war-profiteering husband deem acceptable?
It’s no mystery what this is really about. The Israeli Government and its most devoted advocates around the world are petrified at the growing strength of the movement to boycott Israeli goods in protest of the almost five-decade occupation. As Foxman conceded, the boycott idea “seems to be picking up steam, particularly on college campuses across the United States. While no universities have yet adopted or implemented BDS, there are a growing number of campuses — now up to 29 — where student organizations have held votes to determine whether they support BDS.” Just this week, the City Council of Reykjavik, the largest city in Iceland, voted to boycott all Israeli goods as long as the occupation persists (days later, the City quickly retracted the vote, citing the unexpectedly intense “backlash” from Israel).
After the horrific massacre they committed in Gaza last summer, followed by its devastating defeat on the Iran Deal, the Israeli Government is rapidly losing the PR battle around the world, and they know it. The boycott movement scares them above all else because it is predicated on the truth that they are most eager to suppress: the similarities between what Israel is doing to the Palestinians and the apartheid policies of South Africa (which were undermined by a global boycott movement and which the world now universally regards as evil).
Since they are losing the debate about this movement, the Israeli government and its loyalists are instead seeking to suppress it altogether, to literally outlaw it. Recall that in May, the right-wing Canadian governmentthreatened hate speech charges against those who advocate a boycott of Israel; the country’s Liberal Leader, Justin Trudeau, decreed via Twitterthat “the BDS movement, like Israeli Apartheid Week, has no place on Canadian campuses.” Back in 2013, the ADL took out a full-page ad in The New York Times announcing that “the movement to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel — known as BDS — is anti-Semitic hate speech.”
The effort to formally re-define “anti-Semitism” to include certain criticisms of and activism against the Israeli government has been coordinated and deliberate. That history is laid out with ample evidence here by the non-profit group Palestine Legal; here by Ali Abunimah’s book, The Battle for Justice in Palestine, the relevant portion of which was published by The Intercept; andhere by the writer and activist Ben White. In essence, this re-definition was first promulgated by Israeli lobbyists and academics, imposed with varying degrees of success on the EU, and then successfully imported into the Clinton-led State Department.
It’s one thing to apply political pressure to induce governments to adopt speech-repressive definitions of “anti-Semitism” that are non-binding. It’s another thing entirely to try to import them onto state-run college campuses where they are used to outlaw the expression of certain forms of criticisms of the Israeli government. And it’s another thing entirely for a prominent public official like Dianne Feinstein to have her husband throw their ample financial and political weight around in order to threaten and bully school administrators to ban ideas which this power couple dislike and punish the students who express them.
The obvious goal with this UC battle is to institutionalize the notion on American college campuses that activism against the Israeli Government is not merely wrong but is actually “hate speech” that should subject its student-advocates (or professors) to severe punishment. If this menacing censorship is allowed to take hold in an academic system as large and influential as the University of California, then it’s much easier for the censors to point to it in the future as a model, in order to infect other academic institutions in the U.S. and around the world. That’s all the more reason to vehemently oppose it in this instance. If defenders of Israel are determined to defeat the boycott movement, they’ll have to find other ways to do it besides rendering its advocacy illegal and, in the process, destroying the long-cherished precept of free speech in academia.

Current Al-Jazeera (Arabic) Online Poll

Do you support the West's new inclination to include Assad in resolving the Syrian crisis?

So far, 78% have voted no.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

هل من تقارب سوري إسرائيلي؟

اتفاق وتنسيق روسي إسرائيلي بشأن سوريا

تنسيق روسي إسرائيلي لأعمال عسكرية بسوريا

صورة يُعتقد أنها لجنود روس في مدينة حمص السورية (ناشطون)

اتفقت روسيا وإسرائيل على إجراء تنسيق عسكري عالي المستوى في سوريا يترأسه نائب قائد القوات المسلحة في كلتا الدولتين، على أن يعقد الاجتماع الأول للجنة التنسيق في الخامس من أكتوبر/تشرين الأول، وفق ما أفاد ضابط إسرائيلي.
ونقلت وكالة رويترز عن هذا الضابط -الذي اشترط عدم نشر اسمه- قوله إن المحادثات معموسكو ستركز على العمليات الجوية في سوريا و"التنسيق الكهرومغناطيسي"، وهو ما فسرته الوكالة بمنع التداخل في الاتصالات اللاسلكية ونظم الرادار لتجنب أي مواجهات.
وأضاف الضابط أن الجانبين سينسقان أيضا عمليات بحرية في البحر المتوسط قبالة الساحل السوري.
وفي الجانب الروسي، قال المتحدث باسم الكرملين ديمتري بيسكوف -اليوم الخميس- إنه تم التوصل إلى اتفاقات معينة بشأن تنسيق الأعمال العسكرية مع إسرائيل، لكنه أحجم عن تأكيد اجتماع فريق التنسيق في وقت قريب.
وأوضح بيسكوف للصحفيين أنه "فيما يتعلق بقنوات الاتصال وتنسيق أعمال محتملة، جرت مناقشة هذا الموضوع والتوصل إلى اتفاقات ونقاط معينة خلال الاجتماع مع (رئيس الوزراء الإسرائيلي بنيامين نتنياهو)".
وقد أجرى نتنياهو محادثات مع الرئيس الروسي فلاديمير بوتين في موسكو يوم الاثنين الماضي واتفقا على آلية لتنسيق الأعمال العسكرية بهدف تجنب أي احتكاك بين طائرات الجيشين الروسي والإسرائيلي فوق سوريا.
ويأتي ذلك في وقت ترسل فيه موسكو تعزيزات عسكرية واضحة إلى سوريا دعما لنظام الرئيس بشار الأسد، كما ترد تقارير عن مساندة قوات روسية لقوات النظام السوري على الأرض.

To Stem the Flow of Syrian Refugees, Stop the Barrel Bombs

Kenneth Roth

Executive Director


Syrian asylum-seekers are the largest component of the latest refugee surge to Europe. Germany has been extraordinarily generous in providing a refuge. But with four million refugees having fled Syria’s daily atrocities and more waiting in the wings, we must ask how to improve the conditions forcing their flight. 
Relatives mourn as a man carries the body of a dead boy in a blanket at a site hit by what activists said was a barrel bomb dropped by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in the Sheikh Khodr area in Aleppo on September 30, 2014. 
© 2014 Reuters
A coalition of Western and regional militaries is arrayed against the self-proclaimed Islamic State, or ISIS, and the UN Security Council has imposed sanctions on the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front. But there has been little concerted effort to stop the atrocities of President Bashar-al Assad’s government.
When the Geneva Conventions are followed, the main casualties in war are combatants—people who have joined the fighting. Much of what makes the Syrian war so ugly is that the Assad government is also attacking civilians who live in areas seized by the armed opposition. The aim of this war-crime strategy is to depopulate these regions and send a lesson to other Syrians that they will be attacked if the opposition takes their neighborhood. 
Assad’s most devastating weapon in this anti-civilian campaign has been the “barrel bomb”—a canister filled with explosives and metal fragments. Barrel bombs are dropped unguided from helicopters just above antiaircraft range, hitting the ground with huge explosions.
In most wars, civilians can find a modicum of safety by moving away from the front lines. But Assad’s indiscriminate use of barrel bombs deep in opposition-held territory means that many have no place to hide. The international community could probably take no more effective step to curtail the refugee flow than to stop Assad’s barrel bombs. 
The Syrian military has dropped sometimes dozens a day on opposition-held neighborhoods in Aleppo, Idlib, Dara’a and elsewhere. They have pulverized neighborhoods, annihilated markets, schools, hospitals and countless residences, and left broad swathes of death and destruction. Syrians have described to me the sheer terror of waiting for a barrel bomb to tumble to earth, not knowing until near the very end where its deadly point of impact will be.
Other weapons used indiscriminately kill also civilians, with various forces responsible, but Assad’s barrel bombs play a particularly big part in forcing millions of Syrians from their country. In most wars, civilians can find a modicum of safety by moving away from the front lines. But Assad’s indiscriminate use of barrel bombs deep in opposition-held territory means that many have no place to hide. The international community could probably take no more effective step to curtail the refugee flow than to stop Assad’s barrel bombs.
A group of Afghans and Syrians among several thousand waiting to board the buses at a collection point in Roszke, Hungary where they will be taken to detention centers for processing. September 10, 2015. 
© 2015 Zalmaï for Human Rights Watch
Yet little effort has been made. The two governments with the greatest potential to influence Assad—his principal backers, Russia and Iran—refuse to get him to stop and supply him with weapons. Western governments have been reluctant to exert strong public pressure, let alone sanctions, because of other priorities—Ukraine, in the case of Russia, and the nuclear deal, in the case of Iran. Even now, as Russia deploys its own military forces in Syria, Washington is pressing Moscow to coordinate with America’s anti-ISIS operation but isn’t mentioning the barrel bombs.  As for the European Union, it talks about tackling the “root causes” of migration to Europe but has done little to address the atrocities that lead Syrians to flee.
In February 2014, the UN Security Council demanded an end to the “indiscriminate employment of weapons in populated areas…such as the use of barrel bombs,” but it has done nothing more to stop it. Western governments led by France are proposing a new Security Council resolution to have the UN monitor indiscriminate attacks, particularly barrel bombs, and possibly impose sanctions if the attacks continue. But Russia, doubling down on its support for a murderous regime, is threatening to veto the resolution, even though it condemns indiscriminate attacks by all sides.
Syria Barrel Bombs
People inspect damage at a site hit by what activists said were barrel bombs dropped by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad in Aleppo on March 7, 2014.
© 2014 Reuters
The West should make a veto as painful as possible by introducing the resolution when President Vladimir Putin is in New York later this month to address the UN General Assembly.  Despite his bluster, Putin would not want to be seen as indifferent to indiscriminate killing of Syrian civilians.
If Russia does block further Security Council action, Western nations, including Germany, should inflict a price, including by holding off any new arms dealings with Moscow.  Western nations should also continue to support credible efforts to collect evidence of atrocities by Syria and complicity by its supporters. If Russia persists in blocking International Criminal Court jurisdiction for war-crimes charges, other avenues for justice should be pursued. 
Indeed, far from facilitating the fight against extremist groups, Assad’s disregard for civilian life is one of their best recruitment tools. 
One reason the West hasn’t intensified the pressure to stop barrel-bomb attacks is fear that it might weaken the Syrian government, facilitating an Islamic State takeover. But barrel bombs are so imprecise that the Syrian military rarely drops them near the front lines for fear of hitting its own troops. They are used mainly to pummel civilian neighborhoods. 
Indeed, far from facilitating the fight against extremist groups, Assad’s disregard for civilian life is one of their best recruitment tools.  The Islamic State and the Nusra Front recruit Syrians by presenting themselves as forces that counter the Assad government’s atrocities.
Moreover, we should not confuse the Assad government with the Syrian state.  As we have seen in Iraq and Libya, a functioning state is necessary to prevent the chaos in which extremists thrive, let alone to protect basic rights.  But a change of leadership—whether through negotiation or criminal prosecution—need not mean destroying the Syrian state.

Some say that, rather than targeting a particularly monstrous weapons system, the best way to end the barrel bombs is to make peace. That is a laudable goal, but few believe a negotiated solution is anywhere near. In the meantime, virtually all the Syrians I have spoken with agree that stopping Assad’s barrel bombs is now the most urgent task to reduce their suffering—and the flow of refugees.  

Killing of Mexican tourists puts scrutiny on western arms sales to Egypt

Deaths of dozen people in Egypt’s Western Desert came after the US, Britain and other western governments reinforced arms sales to the regime in Cairo

The Guardian

Egypy Western Desert
An attack by Egyptian security forces that killed a dozen people including eight Mexican tourists last week has prompted calls for renewed scrutiny on a recent increase in US and European arms sales to Egypt.
Human rights groups said the killing on 13 September in Egypt’s Western Desert was an illustration of a deeper problem of how Egypt’s military and police use lethal force.
In Egypt’s north Sinai region, where the government is battling Isis militants, residents say the military has displayed a pattern of indiscriminate killing which the government denies. The airstrike on the picnicking Mexican visitors reportedly involved a US-made Apache helicopter gunship. Survivors said that they were bombed about five times during the three-hour attack.
The killing in the Western Desert came after the US, Britain and other western governments reinforced arms sales to the regime in Cairo, two years after Egypt’s military overthrew the elected president, Mohamed Morsi, and the security forces carried out a series of mass killings that left more than 1,000 people dead.
“[The attack] gives a message that the Egyptian security forces are not really well trained. They use the weapons that they receive from western states. So we renew our call on western states that give weapons to Egypt to review their arms sales,” said Mohamed Elmessiry, a researcher on Egypt at Amnesty International.
The US froze military aid to Egypt in the aftermath of the 2013 military takeover, but President Barack Obama reversed the ban in March.
That decision resulted in the transfer of the eight F-16 fighter jets, built in Texas and flown to Cairo directly from the US, with four more jets expected in the fall. The US also delivered five M1A1 Abrams tank turrets. The US embassy in Cairo celebrated the delivery of the jets with a tweet tagged in Arabic with the phrase “Tahya Masr” – long live Egypt.
On 31 July, the F-16s flew in tight formation over Cairo, leaving streaks of smoke in red, white and black, the colors of the Egyptian flag.
Claudia Ruiz Massieu
 Claudia Ruiz Massieu, Meixcan minister of foreign affairs, speaks about the tourists killed in Egypt. Photograph: Edgard Garrido/Reuters
The UK also moved quietly this year to restore arms licenses that were suspended in 2013, approving the sale of $76.3m worth of parts for military vehicles in the first three months of 2015, according to a report by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade. The UK, however, refused licenses for gun parts, weapons sights and jet engine components, on the grounds that they could be used for internal repression.
The Egyptian government denies that the security forces operate under loose rules of engagement. In an open letterto the people of Mexico published after the deadly attack last week, the Egyptian foreign minister, Sameh Shoukry, wrote: “I assure you that Egypt’s law enforcement agents operate under a strict moral, ethical and legal code that seeks to avoid civilian casualties. This is a hallmark of our humanity and compassion. We have nothing to gain from the tragic incident of 13 September, and everything to lose.”
The US and Britain join France, Russia, and other states in arming the Egyptian military. In Washington and London, concerns about the military’s removal of an elected leader and evidence of ongoing rights violations have been overshadowed by the exigencies of the US-led fight against extremist groups across the Middle East.Brigadier General Mohamed Samir, a spokesman for the Egyptian military, declined to comment specifically on human rights groups’ claims of abuses by the military in Sinai. Asked about the attack on the Mexican tour group, he said, “President Sisi will answer all the questions after they finish the investigations.” A spokesman for Egypt’s foreign ministry referred questions about arms sales to Egypt’s military.
Experts say the key reason underpinning Obama’s reversal of the arms freeze was the rise of the self-proclaimed Islamic State and the launch of the US-led campaign against the group. Egypt’s military is fighting an Isis-aligned insurgent group based in the Sinai peninsula whose attacks have claimed the lives of hundreds of Egyptian soldiers and police. In February, Egyptian warplanes also struck what the government said were Isis positions in Libya in reaction to the execution of 21 Coptic Christian hostages.
“Since we have declared Isis our number one enemy, it is then pretty hard for the Obama administration to elevate human rights, democratization over security concerns,” said Robert Springborg, a retired professor of national security affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California.
In addition, the Obama administration may have also decided that the arms freeze had failed to convince Egyptian leaders to reign in human rights abuses. In the political crackdown that followed the fall of Morsi, more than 40,000 people have been arrested, according to a count by the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social rights.

Britain’s arms sales come in a similar context. Daniel Levy, director of theMiddle East and North AfricaProgramme at the European Council on Foreign Relations in London, said UK prime minister David Cameron’s has sought “his own anti-extremism narrative”.“At a certain point, the judgment was made that it was costing more than it was gaining,” said Amy Hawthorne, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council in Washington. “The key factor was that it antagonizes the Egyptian government without having any impact on the human rights situation. So it was better to cut losses.”
“They’re going to own the idea that you make common cause with these regimes against extremism, and that’s fine, because we’re allies against extremism, and that’s the important value that we share, more important than anything else,” said Levy.
While Washington suspended weapons sales to Egypt for a period after the military takeover, France continued to do business with Cairo, capitalizing in part on the gap in the arms market left by the US.
In February, France made a €5.2bn ($5.8bn) arms sale to Cairo including 24 French Rafale fighter jets, a frigate and missiles. The sale of the jets carried important symbolic meaning in France. For decades, the Rafale frustrated French arms manufacturers by proving impossible to sell abroad despite massive political effort. Egypt’s purchase marked the first ever sale of the planes to a foreign state, and has since been followed by Qatar.
Socialist president François Hollande has been criticised by French rights groups and opposition leftwing parties for selling Sisi arms. But Hollande has made the fight against terrorism and jihadist groups a centerpiece of his foreign policy engaging on several fronts, including Mali and the Sahel.
Bruno Tertrais, senior research fellow at Paris’s Foundation for Strategic Research said of the Egypt arms sale marked a “convergence of interests” and that the Rafale jets were intended for operations in Libya. He said: “Diplomats here consider these are two different things: while we have common strategic interests, human rights can be pushed to the background.”
Additional reporting by Angelique Chrisafis in Paris and Julian Borger in London