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Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Tet Offensive: a turning point in the Vietnam War

Today is 46th Anniversary of the start of Tet Offensive, one of the largest military campaigns of the Vietnam War. Beginning on 30 January 1968, Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces launched country wide attacks on United States and South Vietnamese forces that completely exposed the lie being told to the American people by President Lyndon Johnson and his military leadership that the Vietnam War was winding down and the US was winning. Instead we awoke to the news that the national liberation forces had people everywhere and were carrying out what they called the  "General Offensive and Uprising" (Cuộc Tổng tiến công và nổi dậy).

The offensive was the largest mobilization carried out by either side in the war to that point, it involved more than 80,000 Vietnamese troops fighting to reunited Vietnam and free it from foreign military domination for the first time since the French began their military conquest in 1859. The offensive took place in more than 100 towns and cities, including 36 of the 44 provincial capitals, five of the six autonomous cities, 72 of 245 district towns, and the southern capital Saigon where they lay siege to the headquarters of the ARVN General Staff at Tan Son Nhut Air Base; the Independence Palace, the Long Binh Naval Headquarters, the National Radio Station and, most dramatically, the huge US embassy in Saigon. The BBC would report, on the second day of the offensive, which would last to 28 March 1968:
The American command in Vietnam has reported over 5,000 people dead after two days intensive fighting.

South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu has been forced to declare martial law as communist forces, under General Vo Nguyen Giap, have kept up sustained assaults on several fronts - from Saigon in the south to Hue in the north.

Authorities in the North Vietnamese capital Hanoi, described it as, "a more powerful and more continuous offensive" than ever before.

White House intelligence in Washington anticipated attacks over the Tet holiday to celebrate the lunar new year, but they were surprised by their intensity.
Vietcong forces have also attacked the Vietnam general staff headquarters, Navy headquarters, two police stations and the Philippine Ambassador's residence as well as blowing up the radio station in Saigon.

Communications are in chaos and commercial flights from the airport have been cancelled.

North Vietnamese - Vietminh - troops have reinforced their siege of Khe Sanh, near the demilitarised zone.

Some commentators expect the so-called Tet Offensive will shatter the American resolve and have a similar effect on the US to that on the French after the North Vietnamese victory at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 - which contributed to the Geneva Agreements later that year.
Note that even as late as '68, the BBC hadn't got the memo from US military PsyOps that the Viet Minh were being rebranded as the "Viet Cong."

General Vo Nguyen Giap who led the Viet Minh forces against the French and then the United States, and was the architect of their victories both at Dien Bien Phu and the Tet Offensive, died in 2013 at the ripe old age of 102.

The reason the Tet Offensive caused such a dramatic shift in American public opinion is that it so completely exposed the lie we had been told about how the war was going. Kevin Murphy, UC Berkley, wrote about the Tet Offensive:
One reason Tet proved such a shock to Americans was that all reports before the offensive seemed to indicate that the US, unlike the French before them, was winning the war in Southeast Asia. “It is significant that the enemy has not won a major battle in more than a year,” General William Westmoreland had told the press in November of 1967. “His guerrilla force is declining at a steady rate...We have reached an important point when the end begins to come into view.” Vice- President Hubert Humphrey echoed the sentiments on Meet the Press that same month. “We are beginning to win this struggle,” Humphrey declared. “We are on the offensive. Territory is being gained. We are making steady progress.” And President Lyndon Johnson had said much the same about the war earlier that year: “We are very sure that we are on the right track.”
With the success of the Tet Offensive and the consequential exposure of the real weakness of the US position in Vietnam, the end did indeed come into view, serious Peace Talks began in Paris in May of that year. Although this first round of talks were sabotaged through the combined efforts of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, and it would take another four years of killing and dying before US ground troops finally left Vietnam, the Tet Offensive, which began 46 years ago today, told everybody just how things were going to turn out.

To learn more about the Tet Offensive and the Vietnam War. See my documentary film Vietnam: American Holocaust. It is available both from VietnamAmericanHolocaust.com and Amazon.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Ex-journalist Robert Fisk: One is reminded of Goebbels

As it is only a few days after the third anniversary of the 25 January uprising in Egypt that ousted Hosni Mubarak from power, this would be a good time to remember one of the important contributions that Robert Fisk made to the Arab Revolt while he was still a journalist. On the night of 30 January 2011 Mubarak ordered the Egyptian army to open fire on protesters. Reporting from Tahrir Square, Robert Fisk told us:
Many of the senior tank commanders could be seen tearing off their headsets – over which they had received the fatal orders – to use their mobile phones. They were, it now transpires, calling their own military families for advice. Fathers who had spent their lives serving the Egyptian army told their sons to disobey, that they must never kill their own people.
I concluded from Fisk's report that if senior Egyptian army officers had refused Mubarak's order, it never would have been heard over those headsets, and posted Senior Egyptian Army Officers Ordered Massacre! to WL Central and my then DailyKos blog. My prophetic news of the treachery of the Egyptian Supreme Military Council made its way back to Tahrir Square where it was greeted by this response from Mona Knoieif one of the revolution's leaders:
Could this be true? This is contrary to what I heard from people who assured me that the army was initially refusing to even deploy on the streets let alone fire at demonstrators...

However, I do not trust the military one bit and this report is very, very worrying. The revolution still has a long way to go. We must all be very alert, very aware and not drop our guard for one minute. Please post this on April 6th, We are all Khalid Said, etc. as I do not have access to facebook right now, and distribute as widely as possible.
That was three years ago when Robert Fisk was still a journalist, not a mouthpiece for a dictator, and still did work that was useful to the people. Now things as different, as his latest defence of Bashar al-Assad upon the release of the Syrian death camp pictures clearly shows:
Syria report: One is reminded of Nazi Germany

Robert Fisk
21 January 2014
The pictures are horrific, the torture details revolting, the numbers terrifying. And the integrity of the three former prosecutors who have effectively accused the Syrian government of war crimes, are without blemish. Shrivelled, blood-spattered corpses provide unstoppable evidence of regime cruelty – just as the videotapes of Syrian rebel executions tell us what kind of Syria may soon exist if the insurrection against Bashar al-Assad succeeds.
Unlike some in the "anti-imperialist" Left, Fisk doesn't claim the photos are fake. He accepts their authenticity but then he ignores the growing body of evidence that the jihadist ISIS and al Nusra are closely linked to the Assad regime so that he can blame their crimes on the whole insurgency and argue that it is better if the Assad regime wins. He continues:
Besides, everyone knows that the Assad regime – from father Hafez onwards – has employed torture and executions to preserve the doubtful purity of the Baath party. So why not, indeed, talk of war crimes? Well, let’s just remember that the 11,000 prisoners reportedly done to death by the Syrian regime is only just over half the total number of Syrians – 20,000 – reportedly killed by Hafez’s brother’s troops in the besieged Syrian city of Hama in 1982.
He tries to minimize the import of those 11,000 deaths in detention by ignoring the fact that they represent the work of one photographer and only a fraction of those murdered in detention, not to mention the 130,000 other Syrians killed in Bashar al-Assad's bloody suppression, so that he can compare those 11,000 in a favorable light to the 20,000 killed by his father. Is this what passes for progress in the mind of Robert Fisk?

He goes on to suggest that we should be more interested in prosecuting Assad's defectors for 30-year-old crimes he alleges they've committed while part of the regime than stopping the murders which are taking place now:
So how come we are not demanding war crimes trials for those responsible for that even greater massacre, whose perpetrators – reported at the time and recounted in numerous books afterwards — came from the ranks of the special units commanded by Rifaat al-Assad. Could it be that we have just forgotten this even more terrible massacre? Or could it be – since Rifaat, who has denied any role in the Hama operations, now lives in safety in Paris and sometimes in London, protected by our own European security services – that we don’t have the inclination to pursue that particular bloodbath?
Similar to his methods used to accuse Obama of siding with Al Qaeda, or defending Assad against charges that he murdered with sarin gas, Fisk seems to be throwing up everything he can to create confusion and muddy the waters, so he questions the timing of the report:
How long, for example, have the Qatari authorities been in possession of this terrible eye-witness material? A couple of weeks, just enough time to rustle up the lawyers for the prosecution? Or a couple of months? Or six months? And, more to the point, why now? For it would be difficult to imagine a better way for Qatar – whose royal family viscerally hates Bashar al-Assad – to destroy his hopes of a future role in Syria, even in a ‘transitional’ Syrian government, than by releasing these snapshots of terror just before the Swiss talks.
Photo from one of Assad's death camps c. 2013
Of course this report was timed to come out just before the Swiss talks. Would Fisk prefer that it come out after... or, perhaps, not at all? We know that Amnesty International issued a report on the Assad Regime's "systemic and widespread torture and ill-treatment in detention"  in March 2012, Human Rights Watch released a comprehensive report on Assad's death camps some six months ago, that various eye witness reports have come out over the years, and the Obama administration was shown some of these photos in November but choose to remain silent. I would think these photos are enough to cause the Qatar royal family or anyone else to viscerally hate Bashar al-Assad. The question this paragraph raises is, having admitted that these photos represent a true picture of how Assad treats his fellow Syrians, why is Robert Fisk still concerned about "his hopes of a future role in Syria, even in a ‘transitional’ Syrian government?" 

 Finally, Fisk gets to the point he promised in the title:
Indeed, one is reminded – in terms of political purpose rather than historical parallel, of course — of Nazi Germany’s disclosure of the mass graves of 22,000 Polish officers and civilians murdered by the Soviet secret police in 1940 at Katyn, in that part of Russia newly occupied by German troops. The Nazis claimed the Soviets were responsible – in the hope that this would divide Stalin’s alliance with America and Britain. The Allies denounced the Nazis for the massacre – although it was indeed committed by the Soviets. Does Qatar now hope to divide Syria’s alliance with Russia and Iran with similar evidence of Syrian government mass murder?
Photo from one of Hitler's death camps c. 1945
So photos of emaciated and tortured bodies emerge, photos that remind anyone with a knowledge of history of those we saw when Buchenwald and Auschwitz were liberated, and with this sleight-of-hand, Fisk compares, not Assad, but Qatar, with the Nazis, because he finds the timing inappropriate. This is the work of a propagandist trying to spin a damaging revelation, not a journalist looking for the truth.

The next few paragraphs are a bunch of trite. Why was the defecting photographer code-named "Caesar"? The real Caesar's death led to the execution of Cicero. Cicero was the name of a top Nazi spy. Are we being invited to fashion some sort of conspiracy theory out of this? Why didn't Al Jazeera get the story first. What about HRW and Amnesty International? Never mentioning their own reporting on Assad's detention centers. Pure trite! Then he ends with:
The regime’s enemies can parade those terrifying pictures which Qatar has made available. But war and peace in Syria will not be decided by this horror show.
Certainly not, if propagandist Robert Fisk has anything to say about it!

PostScript: Joseph Goebbels was Adolph Hitler's chief propagandist, and while Assad is no Hitler and Fisk is no Goebbels, it should be remembered that Goebbels was a journalist who fashioned himself a left-winger before he started shilling for a fascist dictator. From Wikipedia:
Goebbels, with his journalistic skills, thus soon became a key ally of Strasser in his struggle with the Bavarians over the party program.... In 1925, Goebbels published an open letter to "my friends of the left," urging unity between socialists and Nazis against the capitalists. "You and I," he wrote, "we are fighting one another although we are not really enemies."

Click here for a list of my other blogs on Syria

Monday, January 27, 2014

Assad's Holocaust Now! [WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT]

Today we are presenting two new sets of photos from the holocaust Bashar al-Assad has created in Syria. One is from a new set of the 55,000 photos of 11,000 people tortured and murdered by the Assad regime while being held in detection. They are marked Getty Images and were published by the Daily Mail in the UK. I published the first set of these photos and the story behind them here.

The second set is of those still living but every day threatened with death by the Assad regime's siege of the Palestinian refugee camp in Yarmouk, Damascus. They were taken by Sunday Times reporter Hala Jaber and published on her twitter account.

This criminal conduct by the Assad regime could not continue without the acquiescence of the majority of people on the planet and their governments, so ultimately, the blame for these deaths should be put not only on Bashar al-Assad but should also be laid at the door steps of all those that have done nothing to protest it or stop it and thereby answered that age old question "Am I my brother's keeper?" in the negative.

Diyala and daughter Halla, "Get me out of here … save my daughter."

From The Daily Star we have:
U.N. agency says unable to deliver aid despite Syria govt. assurances
26 January 2014
BEIRUT: A United Nations agency seeking to deliver humanitarian aid to a besieged district of Damascus said on Sunday state checkpoint authorities had hampered its work, despite government assurances it would allow the distributions.

The foundering agreement highlights the challenges that lie ahead for humanitarian workers should President Bashar Assad's government and the opposition agree on localised ceasefires at peace talks in Geneva this week. More...
Stomach turning: The bodies are all lined up, side by side, before their injuries are documented, allegedly by Syrian government forces
The Daily Mail OnLine has this:
Starved, tortured then throttled: The true horror of how Assad’s soldiers execute rebel prisoners is revealed in new images

By Sara Malm
24 January 2014
More photographs showing the maimed bodies of alleged victims of ‘systematic killings’ in Syrian prisons have been released today.

The second cache of photos paints an even clearer image of the horrendous conditions and gruesome torture in government-run jails in Syria.

The images, some of the 55,000 leaked by a witness ‘tasked with recording deaths in custody’, were taken between 2011 and 2013. More...
Diyala and Halla will leave the camp.
Murder: The corpses are said to all be members of rebel forces who have been kept in Syrian jail by al-Assad's military police
Bring food into Yarmouk
Proof of war crimes: The photos were all taken during the Syrian civil war, between 2011 and 2013, and smuggled out of the country
Palestinians in Yarmouk talk to reporter
Purple bruising and lacerations cover the upper body of another male victim photographed by the military police in Syria
Syria people queueing to collect food baskets.
The person who leaked the photographs says he was a part of the Syrian military police for 13 years and it was his job to photograph dead bodies brought to military hospitals from government jails
Going back into camp with food basket.
True evil: This horrific photo shows a man who shirt is covered in blood, with a rusty chain embedded into his stomach
Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp reduced to rubble by Assad's bombardment
The person who leaked the photographs says he was a part of the Syrian military police for 13 years and it was his job to photograph dead bodies brought to military hospitals from government jails
He's choked with tears & couldn't talk just said "don't forget us in here."
Evidence: One man with a white beard and grey hair has several open wounds on his arm and chest
Women come to collect food baskets.
Shocking: A second set of pictures from the 55,000 photograph dossier showing alleged victims of torture and systematic killings in government-run prisons in Syria has been released
From Yalla Souriya:
Syria: Bodies: The Stench Was Unfathomable

By Christoph Reuter and Christoph Scheuermann
January 27, 2014
Photos released last week show that the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad tortures, starves and murders its prisoners. The images provide grisly evidence to support what witnesses have been telling SPIEGEL for months.

He says he was never witness to executions, nor did he see torture taking place. That wasn’t his job. His task was that of taking photos of the corpses afterwards. He would snap four or five images per body — of the face and other parts of the person — documenting the cause of death, insofar as it was possible to determine. He did so tens of thousands of times between March 2011 and August 2013 — when he finally fled Syria, taking some 55,000 photos with him on a USB stick. The images are of starved, strangled and tortured men, primarily young and mostly naked. Some have no eyes. The defector, who has been cited under the alias “Caesar,” worked for the Syrian military, and says that he and his colleagues were called on up to 50 times a day to photograph corpses, each of which was given a number for documentation purposes.

Caesar provided his testimony and photographic evidence to lawyers and forensic experts at a British law firm. Together, says Sir Desmond de Silva, former chief prosecutor at the Special Court for Sierra Leone in The Hague, the defector’s evidence shows the “industrial scale” of the killing perpetrated by the Syrian regime. In addition, the photos provide a horrifying explanation for what might have happened to the 50,000 or more missing people in Syria — those who were abducted by the regime of the course of the past two years. They are not included in the casualty figures, which assume a total of some 130,000 killed in the civil war. But prior to last week, there had been no clear indication as to where they might be.The British experts randomly chose 5,500 photos for analysis. More than half of them depicted emaciated corpses, many of them showing signs of torture. By extrapolation, the images that Caesar brought with him could document the murders of some 11,000 people. The three prominent attorneys involved believe both the testimony and the photographic evidence to be authentic. In a report, they said there is “clear evidence … of systematic torture and killing of detained persons.” The report notes that “such evidence could also support findings of war crimes against the current Syrian regime.”

The investigation and report undertaken by the British law firm was financed by Qatar, which likely explains the fact that it was made public concurrently with last week’s Syria conference in Geneva. Qatar backs the Syrian rebels, but the country’s stance does little to take away from the power of the images provided.

Consistent with Witness Accounts

Caesar was likely but a small cog in the bureaucratic machine of death. But his photographs could be decisive in proving potential crimes against humanity committed by the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. They provide visual evidence to back up previous claims made by other witnesses.

The images are also consistent — down to the details — with previously unpublished witness accounts provided to SPIEGEL during the past 20 months of reporting. Those accounts indicate that the vast military hospitals in Homs and Harasta, outside Damascus, became transfer points for the victims of Syria’s military and of the various secret services and militias. The dead, the witness accounts indicate, are centrally registered, photographed and then taken to mass graves in the desert regions in the eastern part of the country, which are still controlled by the regime.

When 19-year-old soldier Ahmed J., from Aleppo, reported for duty at the Homs military hospital on March 11, 2012, he saw a hip-high pile of corpses in the inner courtyard near the mortuary. The pile, Ahmed J. said, “was dozens of meters long and two or three layers high.” Ahmed J. was responsible for packing the corpses into white plastic bags after they had been photographed. Many of them were bloated and mostly unrecognizable. “And sometimes there were just body parts. We tried to make sure that we put a head, two arms and two legs in each sack,” he said. “Others were still dressed and still had telephones or money with them. I didn’t think about what I was doing and hardly slept at the beginning, but later I started talking in my sleep, saying to the others: ‘Hey, give me that head there! Take this leg!’ The same things that I said during the day.”

One detail he remembers above all others: “The stench was unfathomable.”

Each corpse, Ahmed J. said, was photographed three or four times. “Every bullet hole was documented,” he said, adding that he was part of a team of 15 who worked in two shifts. “One fainted on the first day and was beaten. Others plundered the corpses and made jokes.” Their superior was a military doctor, Ahmed J. said. “He left every half an hour, saying he had a headache. He said he had never seen such a thing in his 30-year career.”

Every day, several deliveries arrived, “most of them from different quarters and suburbs of Homs, like Bab Sbaa or Houla,” Ahmed J. said. Twice a week, a large, refrigerated truck with no license plate picked up the white body bags. He says he doesn’t know where they were taken. “We weren’t allowed to ask questions.” Ahmed J.’s assignment ended on March 23 and he defected two months later. He now lives in Turkey.

White Body Bags

A military doctor from the city of Rastan who defected later likewise had an assignment in the Homs military hospital in mid-March, 2012. He too provided details from the corpse collection site, which he saw in the exact same hospital courtyard. “I was there only briefly, but there were hundreds. They could hardly have all died or been killed in the hospital,” he said. He wasn’t witness to a corpse removal operation, saying he only saw soldiers packing the dead in white body bags.

Why would a regime, which kills thousands of its own citizens, collects them in a discrete location and buries them in hidden mass graves, photograph and number the dead?

Caesar says that one reason is so that death certificates could be issued. But why document bullet holes and signs of strangulation given the interest in concealing the true cause of death? The second reason mentioned by Caesar seems more important. The regime wanted to make a record of which security service was responsible for what death, he said according to the report. A kind of performance report for brutality.

Until deep into 2012, the military security agency, the air force secret service, the state security apparatus and other agencies often worked at cross purposes. Many of those wanted by the authorities could escape as a result — because, for example, he was on one agency’s list but not on that of another. Given the confusion, documenting who killed whom perhaps became more important than covering up the whole operation.

Beginning in February 2012, thousands of Homs residents disappeared in the wake of the 4th Division’s attack on the city. Whether the victims belonged to the opposition or not was irrelevant for the subsequent death sentences — the wrong address was often enough. But the men whose corpses the soldier and the military doctor later saw in the inner courtyard of the Homs military hospital did not yet show indications of systemic starvation, as is evident in many of the images provided by Caesar.

That began later. Starting in 2013, severely emaciated corpses and released prisoners began appearing. The British doctor Abbas Khan, who arrived in Syria at the end of 2012 to help treat the wounded in hospitals, was also taken into custody by the army and tortured to death in a prison belonging to the military security agency. For an entire year, his family sought his release; his mother travelled to Damascus and even managed to visit her son with the help of diplomats, lawyers and middlemen. She said later he had been tortured with burning cigarettes and electric shocks and was clearly suffering from starvation, weighing just over 30 kilograms (66 pounds). “He was like a skeleton,” she said.

The Search for Number 417

A British parliamentarian promised to travel to Syria to seek his release and the family was hopeful. But then, on Dec. 17, came official word that Abbas Khan had hanged himself in his cell. His sister Sara, noting that he had become increasingly hopeful that he would soon be released, has said she doesn’t believe the suicide story.

Corpse collection points such as that in Homs were established in Damascus as well. It was a mistake that led to a real estate agent spending five days in the heart of the apocalypse there during his search for his brother. He had been killed, apparently in error, in November 2012.

“We had connections very high up, we knew the head of the air force secret service,” the real estate agent said during a meeting last April. “So I received official assistance in the search for his body.” First, he went to secret service division 601 west of Damascus and then to the military hospital in Harasta, east of the city. “The dead were lying on top of each other in eight or nine layers. They were in the basement, in the courtyard, in the hallways, everywhere, and new ones kept coming. All services brought their corpses there.”Military security provided 10 soldiers to help the real estate agent in his search. “For five days, they heaved corpses from one pile to the next,” in the search for his brother, number 417. “But he was already gone.”

He was told he could also look at photos of the 1,550 people from in and around Damascus that had been killed in the last two months. “But, they said apologetically, they were only the ones from their service. They didn’t have the others.” But number 417 was not among them.

Translated from the German by Charles Hawley

The source: http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/spiegel-reporting-supports-accounts-of-torture-and-execution-in-syria-a-945760.html
Mohammed 14 years old…"I don't want to die here"
Click here for a list of my other blogs on Syria

How Assad runs terrorist on "both sides" in Syria

Since one of the most frequently heard cries of those seeking absolution for their failure to respond to the slaughter of 130,000 Syrians by their government is "Both sides have committed war crimes", "Both sides are equally guilty of committing atrocities", it should be remembered that even in what might be called the Great Holocaust, Hitler had his Jewish agents among the opposition to muddy the waters and sow confusion as to what was really going on. As Wikipedia reminds us:
Żagiew ("The Torch"), also known as Żydowska Gwardia Wolności (the "Jewish Freedom Guard"), was a Nazi-collaborationist Jewish agent provocateur group in the Nazi German-occupied Poland, founded and sponsored by the Germans and led by Abraham Gancwajch.[1] Many Żagiew members were related to the collaborationist Jewish organization Group 13, which was also led by Gancwajch. The Nazis had over a thousand Jewish secret agents in Poland[2] and some were permitted by their Gestapo handlers to possess and bear firearms.

The organization operated primarily within the Warsaw Ghetto. Its primary goal was to infiltrate the Jewish resistance network and reveal its connections with the Polish underground aiding and hiding Jews in the General Government. The organization was able to inflict considerable damage on both fronts.[3] Żagiew agents were also instrumental in organizing the Hotel Polski affair in Warsaw, a German scheme to lure the richer Jews under false promises of evacuation to South America into a trap and then steal their money and valuables before killing them.
Now many who wish to bury their own responsibility for looking the other way, along with Syria's children, point to the hideous atrocities of the jihadist terrorist ISIS, which they lump in with all the opposition groups as "the rebels" to support their conclusion that "both sides are equally bad." This method of washing their hands of the blood of so many children is beginning to break down as the evidence mounts that the ISIS is a creation of the Assad Regime, much as Żagiew was a product of Nazis bent on the destruction of the Jews. Now comes this report from al Monitor that lends more weight to that conclusion, and takes it one step further, indicating that the Assad Regime has direct command authority in the ISIS, or at least, important sections of it, and its atrocities are less about some Islamic fanaticism, and more about slaughtering and terrorism the Syrian people from within while warding off any support from those outside:
SOC member Michel Kilo claims evidence of Assad links to ISIS

by Andrew Parasiliti
23 January 2014
MONTREUX, Switzerland — Michel Kilo, a member of the Syrian National Coalition delegation participating in the Geneva II talks, said that the opposition is preparing its own case implicating the Syrian government in collaboration with terrorist groups including the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS).

“There are photos that have been found of several emirs of ISIS with [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad,” said Kilo, who spoke with Al-Monitor on the sidelines of the Geneva II talks.

“The pictures were taken before they became emirs in ISIS, when they were all officers in the Syrian special service. There are documents sent by the special service to ISIS telling them to capture or kidnap people in Raqqa and Jarabalus, and these documents will be published. And you will see how the regime fabricated these extremist groups that did not exist in our country at the beginning of the revolution.

“Without a doubt, we will use this as an argument during the negotiations,” Kilo warned. “We have officers who have defected from the [Syrian] special service who worked to create these terrorist organizations; people who used to work with al-Qaeda. They know the names and the dates and what they have done along with the directions they were given. All this is documented. The chief of the cabinet of [special security adviser to Assad] Mr. Ali Mamlouk defected one year ago, and he has documented this. If [Syrian Foreign Minister] Walid Moallem will talk about terrorism, he will receive a true lecture about terrorists. And you shall see.” More...
For more evidence that the Assad Regime is the main source of terror on "both sides" of the conflict, see my earlier posts on this subject:

01/05/2014       Bashar al-Jihad: Is ISIS a child of the regime?
01/20/2014       Bashar al-Jihad: How Assad finances terrorists with oil

Click here for a list of my other blogs on Syria

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Bashar al-Assad's Terrorism in Syria

Bashar al-Assad says that he wants the Geneva II conference that kicks off tomorrow to focus on the problem of terrorism in Syria but when he speaks of terrorism he is referring to the imperialist definition of "terrorism" which certainly includes bombs delivered by cars but excludes bombs delivered by planes. Specifically, he using the term the way it has been promoted by the US imperialists, especially after the 9/11 attacks, to mean exclusively attacks by Islamic militants. He hopes to use the western phobia of Islamic terrorism to win support for his regime and its crackdown on Syrians who want to oust his regime. That is why he claims that his opposition is 80-90% al Qaeda.

Unfortunately for him and the western imperialists, the dictionary definition of terrorist is somewhat broader. From Merriam-Webster we get this definition:


noun \ˈter-ər-ˌi-zəm\
: the use of violent acts to frighten the people in an area as a way of trying to achieve a political goal
Using this definition, it becomes clear that Bashar al-Assad is the biggest terrorist in Syria. He has killed over a hundred-thousand Syrians in an effort to maintain his political power.  So by all means, Geneva II should focus on ridding Syria of terrorists, starting with the one that has used the most bombs and killed the most people, and moving next to his terrorist allies in the ISIS and al Nusra.

Yesterday, the story broke on a new proof of Assad's war crimes contained in a report on 55,000 photos taken of 11,000 detainees that had been tortured and executed. This is also terrorism. I reported on it in this post Is Assad running largest death factories since Hitler?.

While the photos are shocking, no one should act as if its news that Assad is doing this while the world looked the other way. I reported this story back in August, 5,000 Assad Regime Prisoners Executed, Dumped in Mass Grave in Al Qutaifah, and eighteen months ago Human Rights Watch made an extensive report on what they called Assad's Torture Archipelago, at the time, they didn't have photos so they used line drawings to illustrate the abuses they uncovered. I reported on it in this post HRW releases torture report on Syria. Now we have pictures of the human cost of the world ignoring that report and everything else that shows Assad is the biggest terrorist in Syria and quite possibly, the world.

Also yesterday, the New York Review of Books published a report by Annie Sparrow titled Syria’s Polio Epidemic: The Suppressed Truth It began:
One way to measure the horrific suffering of Syria’s increasingly violent war is through the experience of Syrian children. More than one million children are now refugees. At least 11,500 have been killed because of the armed conflict, well over half of these because of the direct bombing of schools, homes, and health centers, and roughly 1,500 have been executed, shot by snipers or tortured to death. At least 128 were killed in the chemical massacre in August.
In this conflict only the Assad Regime has an air force capable of bombing schools, homes, and health centers, and those children were killed by Assad's terrorist bombs dropped from planes.

Here are a few more graphic examples of Assad's terrorism in the New Year:

Assad Terrorism in Aleppo City | 21 Jan 2014

Click here for a list of my other blogs on Syria

Monday, January 20, 2014

Bashar al-Jihad: How Assad finances terrorists with oil

"Assad’s vow to strike terrorism with an iron fist is nothing more than bare-faced hypocrisy."
“It happened once that a Syrian regime officer and 11 others defected and drove their vehicle through Masila. We received ordered to arrest them and hand them over back to the regime,”
                                   --detained al-Qaeda member said.

The more we look, the more we see that the Assad regime is the major force behind terrorism in Syria. Not only is he responsible for the terrorism being delivered from the air with his barrel bombs, cluster bombs and sarin gas attacks, and the shooting and throat cutting of his ground forces, including the SAA, Hezbullah and his shabiha forces, the evidence is growing that he is a major force behind the jhadist terrorism of the ISIS and al Nusra. In addition to the connections I outline in Bashar al-Jihad: Is ISIS a child of the regime?, we can now add direct financial support, assuming this story broken by The Telegraph today is true:
Syria's Assad accused of boosting Al-Qaeda with secret oil deals

Western intelligence suggests Bashar al-Assad collaborating with jihadists to persuade West the uprising is terrorist-led

By Ruth Sherlock, in Istanbul and Richard Spencer
7:53PM GMT 20 Jan 2014

The Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad has funded and co-operated with al-Qaeda in a complex double game even as the terrorists fight Damascus, according to new allegations by Western intelligence agencies, rebels and al-Qaeda defectors.

Jabhat al-Nusra, and the even more extreme Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shams (ISIS), the two al-Qaeda affiliates operating in Syria, have both been financed by selling oil and gas from wells under their control to and through the regime, intelligence sources have told The Daily Telegraph.

Rebels and defectors say the regime also deliberately released militant prisoners to strengthen jihadist ranks at the expense of moderate rebel forces. The aim was to persuade the West that the uprising was sponsored by Islamist militants including al-Qaeda as a way of stopping Western support for it.

The allegations by Western intelligence sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, are in part a public response to demands by Assad that the focus of peace talks due to begin in Switzerland tomorrow be switched from replacing his government to co-operating against al-Qaeda in the “war on terrorism”.

“Assad’s vow to strike terrorism with an iron fist is nothing more than bare-faced hypocrisy,” an intelligence source said. “At the same time as peddling a triumphant narrative about the fight against terrorism, his regime has made deals to serve its own interests and ensure its survival.”

Intelligence gathered by Western secret services suggested the regime began collaborating actively with these groups again in the spring of 2013. When Jabhat al-Nusra seized control of Syria’s most lucrative oil fields in the eastern province of Deir al-Zour, it began funding its operations in Syria by selling crude oil, with sums raised in the millions of dollars.

“The regime is paying al-Nusra to protect oil and gas pipelines under al-Nusra’s control in the north and east of the country, and is also allowing the transport of oil to regime-held areas,” the source said. “We are also now starting to see evidence of oil and gas facilities under ISIS control.”

The source accepted that the regime and the al-Qaeda affiliates were still hostile to each other and the relationship was opportunistic, but added that the deals confirmed that “despite Assad’s finger-pointing” his regime was to blame for the rise of al-Qaeda in Syria. More...
As if even more proof of Assad's support for the terrorists was needed, Al Arabiya News broke this story today:
Al-Qaeda detainees reveal ties with Assad

Tuesday, 21 January 2014 KSA 23:42 - GMT 20:42
Al Arabiya News Channel aired a video on Monday showing detained members of al-Qaeda’s offshoot in Syria, with some telling stories that suggest links to the Syrian regime.

There has been heavy fighting between the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The fighting broke out last month after reports that ISIS, the al-Qaeda affiliate, was enforcing a strict version of Shariah in the areas it controls and was carrying out mass executions of fellow rebel fighters it accuses of apostasy.

The FSA, joined with other moderate rebel groups, declared a war on ISIS, accusing it of cooperating with the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and of seeking to divide rebels.

Ever since the fighting broke out many in both sides were killed or detained. Some of those al-Qaeda members who fell to rebels’ hands said ISIS had ties with the Syrian regime.

“It happened once that a Syrian regime officer and 11 others defected and drove their vehicle through Masila [north of Raqqa]. We received ordered to arrest them and hand them over back to the regime,” a detained al-Qaeda member said.

He said ISIS was behind a bombing that destroyed Raqqa’s train station last year. “We received orders from Commander Abu Anas al-Iraqi to bomb the train station. We were also ordered to fire on ambulances and civilians trying to reach the victims,” he said.

Abu Anas al-Iraqi leads an al-Qaeda brigade in the province of Raqqa. He is nicknamed al-Iraqi after his country Iraq, where he used to work as an intelligence officer, according to another detainee.

“Abu Anas is financed directly by the regime, through Iran and Iraq. His brigade is specialized in kidnappings, car bombs and targeted assassinations of FSA members,” the detainee said.

While several ISIS members shown on the video were reportedly captured during fighting, many said they defected after realizing the brutality and the agenda of the al-Qaeda affiliate.

The FSA refused to say how many members of ISIS it has in custody. The video shown on Al Arabiya was filmed inside an FSA security building. More...
Of course, Assad is playing both ends against the people because while he has been a major force in creating and sustaining the Islamist terrorists groups, he offers Western intelligence his 'co-operation' in fighting them. Now, having released these terrorists from his jails and seen that they got a good source of funding, he is posed to make co-operation in fighting them the centerpiece of his Geneva II strategy.

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Is Assad running largest death factories since Hitler?

It wasn't just the number of bodies that made Hitler's mass killings of civilians during World War II so horrific, it was the methodical way the Nazis went about it. It wasn't just the slaughter than comes from shot and shell in every war; it was the industrial way much of the slaughter was carried out, with highly organizes ways of killing, counting the dead and disposing of the bodies. Today we have been provide with new evidence that the Assad regime is killing it opponents on a massive scale, and not just with barrel bombs and sarin gas in their homes. He is also torturing and murdering thousands of detainees without anything that could be considered due process.

Anadolu Agency broke this story this morning in a piece written by Kemal Ozturk:
Syria war crimes' evidences
A person who served for Syrian army for 13 years as a military policeman together with his colleagues took for two years 55,000 photographs of 11,000 people who were systematically tortured to death by Assad regime

A former member of the military service for the Syrian government for thirteen years was set to photograph and document the dead bodies of military soldiers brought from their places of detention to a military hospital during the civil war in the country.

The bodies brought to the hospital, fully consisted of detained-Syrian opposition members, which showed signs of starvation, brutal beatings, strangulation and other forms of torture and killing. It became routine for the military service to take photographs of the bodies and faces of people in detention after designating those with a 'numbering system', who had been brought to the hospital after being tortured and killed.

These images of bodies and faces of the dead with handwritten codes on each, have been accepted as 'documents' of a systematic torture and killing of people under the 'execution-orders' within the Syrian army. The military police, having photographed 55,000 photos within two years, who was fed up with the killing policies by torture, has built confidential contact with Syrian oppositions. More...
The Guardian and CNN also got exclusive access to the report and ran stories, which I cite here. I have also extracted the ten pieces of photo evidence from the pdf report and included them here as jpegs than can easily be copied and used elsewhere.

The Guardian is reporting:
Evidence of 'industrial-scale killing' by Syria spurs call for war crimes charges
Senior war crimes prosecutors say photographs and documents provide 'clear evidence' of systematic killing of 11,000 detainees

Ian Black, Middle East editor
Monday 20 January 2014 14.00 EST
Syrian government officials could face war crimes charges in the light of a huge cache of evidence smuggled out of the country showing the "systematic killing" of about 11,000 detainees, according to three eminent international lawyers.

The three, former prosecutors at the criminal tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Sierra Leone, examined thousands of Syrian government photographs and files recording deaths in the custody of regime security forces from March 2011 to last August.

Most of the victims were young men and many corpses were emaciated, bloodstained and bore signs of torture. Some had no eyes; others showed signs of strangulation or electrocution.

The UN and independent human rights groups have documented abuses by both Bashar al-Assad's government and rebels, but experts say this evidence is more detailed and on a far larger scale than anything else that has yet emerged from the 34-month crisis.

The three lawyers interviewed the source, a military policeman who worked secretly with a Syrian opposition group and later defected and fled the country. In three sessions in the last 10 days they found him credible and truthful and his account "most compelling".

They subjected all evidence to rigorous scrutiny, according to their report, which has been obtained by the Guardian and CNN.

The authors are Sir Desmond de Silva QC, former chief prosecutor of the special court for Sierra Leone, Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, the former lead prosecutor of former Yugoslavian president Slobodan Milosevic, and Professor David Crane, who indicted President Charles Taylor of Liberia at the Sierra Leone court.

The defector, who for security reasons is identified only as Caesar, was a photographer with the Syrian military police. He smuggled the images out of the country on memory sticks to a contact in the Syrian National Movement, which is supported by the Gulf state of Qatar. Qatar, which has financed and armed rebel groups, has called for the overthrow of Assad and demanded his prosecution for war crimes.

The 31-page report, which was commissioned by a leading firm of London solicitors acting for Qatar, is being made available to the UN, governments and human rights groups. Its publication appears deliberately timed to coincide with this week's UN-organised Geneva II peace conference, which is designed to negotiate a way out of the Syrian crisis by creating a transitional government. More...
Read the Syria report in full

CNN is reporting:
EXCLUSIVE: Gruesome Syria photos may prove torture by Assad regime

By Mick Krever and Schams Elwazer, CNN
updated 3:41 PM EST, Mon January 20, 2014
A team of internationally renowned war crimes prosecutors and forensic experts has found "direct evidence" of "systematic torture and killing" by the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime, the lawyers on the team say in a new report.

Their report, based on thousands of photographs of dead bodies of alleged detainees killed in Syrian government custody, would stand up in an international criminal tribunal, the group says.

CNN's "Amanpour" was given the report in a joint exclusive with The Guardian newspaper.

"This is a smoking gun," said David Crane, one of the report's authors. "Any prosecutor would like this kind of evidence -- the photos and the process. This is direct evidence of the regime's killing machine."

Crane, the first chief prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, indicted former Liberian President Charles Taylor for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Taylor went on to become the first former head of state convicted of war crimes since World War II. He was sentenced to 50 years in prison.

CNN cannot independently confirm the authenticity of the photographs, documents and testimony referenced in the report, and is relying on the conclusions of the team behind it, which includes international criminal prosecutors, a forensic pathologist, an anthropologist and an expert in digital imaging.

The bodies in the photos showed signs of starvation, brutal beatings, strangulation, and other forms of torture and killing, according to the report.

In a group of photos of 150 individuals examined in detail by the experts, 62% of the bodies showed emaciation -- severely low body weight with a hollow appearance indicating starvation. The majority of all of the victims were men most likely aged 20-40.

A complex numbering system was also used to catalog the corpses, with only the relevant intelligence service knowing the identities of the corpses. It was an effort, the report says, to keep track of which security service was responsible for the death, and then later to provide false documentation that the person had died in a hospital.

One of the three lawyers who authored the report -- Sir Desmond de Silva, the former chief prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone -- likened the images to those of Holocaust survivors. More...

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Sunday, January 19, 2014

How Not to Be in Solidarity with Palestinians Refugees in Yarmouk

Old man starving in Yarmouk
I've been reporting on the plight of Palestinian refugees in Yarmouk since July and August of 2012 and its good to see these concerns being written about in the main stream media and voiced by more people in the peace and justice movement, but along with this wakening to the humanitarian disaster that is unfolding in Yarmouk is a narrative that seeks to sow confusion as to the Assad regime's responsibility for the siege.

I was glad to hear Amy Goodman finally acknowledge the siege on Democracy Now in October 2013:

In a lesser-told side of Syria’s civil war, Muslim clerics have reportedly issued a fatwa, or religious ruling, allowing people to eat dogs, cats and donkeys as residents of rebel-held South Damascus face starvation conditions. The Financial Times reports areas, including parts of the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp, have faced an almost total blockade of supplies since the summer, leaving some residents to subsist on leaves, animal feed and the contents of garbage bins. Signs on pro-government checkpoints read "hunger or kneel."
That report, even though it was brief and used the regime viewpoint that areas freed of government control, like the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp, are "rebel held," at least was clear on who was responsible for people being forced to eat cats, dogs and donkeys; it was a pro-government blockade enforcing a policy of "hunger or kneel." In spite of this horrific suffering, Democracy Now didn't have occasion to mention the siege of Yarmouk again until the last day of 2013 and they had become quite murky as to who was responsible for the siege:
The United Nations is urgently appealing for access to a Palestinian area of Damascus where people are dying from hunger. A U.N. official says some 20,000 Palestinians are trapped inside the Yarmouk district of Damascus amid fighting between the regime and rebels. Since the last delivery of U.N. aid in September, 15 people have died there from malnutrition, including five this past weekend.
Is it also possible that there are Palestinians inside Yarmouk that are fighting to keep the regime out? Where would they fit in this formulation? When these two questions are considered, I think the bankruptcy of the "20,000 Palestinians are trapped inside the Yarmouk district of Damascus amid fighting between the regime and rebels" formulation is revealed. Who provides support and backup for the anti-regime fighters in Yarmouk such that they have been able to hold the regime forces at bay for over a year?

Funeral for martyr who perished from hunger in Yarmouk | 12 Jan 2014

While it is clear to any long time observer of this struggle, that the Palestinians of Yarmouk long ago threw their lot in with the Syrian revolution, and went against the regime; we now see a new interpretation of events being promoted by pro-Assad Iranian mouthpieces like PressTV and echoed by various US "anti-imperialists" in which the poor Palestinians are victims of Western-backed foreign jihadists which have turned the camp into a battlefield, and so the siege of Yarmonk is really being carried out jointly by both the regime and its opposition and the regime is "forced" to attack and starve everyone to get at the "rebels." Learn to expect this thesis whenever people rebel. This piece, published a few days ago in the Palestine Chronicle is a powerful rebuttal to its application to Yarmouk:

How Not to Be in Solidarity with Palestinian Refugees in Yarmouk

By Omar Shaban
17 January 2014

Statements of “solidarity” with Palestinian refugees in Yarmouk are emerging one after the other. Albeit very late as it took some groups 200 days to assemble the courage to announce to the world that they are aware of the crisis that has befell the camp.

However, what is characteristic and outrageous in these statements is the evident lack of any willingness to hold the Assad regime accountable for this inhumane siege and premeditated starvation of the refugees. For example, the US Palestinian Community Network issued a statement that “expresses great concern regarding the escalating crisis.” Logically, an expression of “great concern” must be accompanied with an examination into why does one “express concern” about a ‘thing’ or an ‘event.’ Something somewhere must have happened to trigger an emotional and intellectual exercise of concern, and this something must be elucidated very clearly.

In the case of the Yarmouk refugee camp, perhaps the reason for this concern must be a feeling that the communities in both North America and the Yarmouk refugee camp (and any other refugee camp for that matter) must share a some sort common camaraderie, a brotherhood, a common history, a collective memory, a shared suffering, and a feeling of belonging to a dispossessed homeland. If this is true, then it follows that it is not enough to simply “express concern” or “solidarity” or issue a statement of a certain political significance. Instead, these expressors of concern must also take into consideration, with absolutely no equivocation or prevarication, the narrative provided to them by Palestinian activists in the camp (and this narrative is readily available thanks to the internet, social media sites, etc), and find an appropriate location for it in their “expression of concern.”

Evidently, this is not the case in the statement issued by USPCN. The few words that followed their “expression of concern” speak of an “escalating crisis” without paying an attention (intentionally or unintentionally) to the root causes of this crisis – and let me break it to you: it is not Israel.

There is no doubt that the Yarmoukian Palestinians are in Syria because of a historic injustice imposed upon them by a settler-colonial enemy that does not spare any effort to exacerbate their suffering and prolong their exile. However, this indisputable historic occurrence should not blind us from the fact that independent of what Israel has planned to increase Palestinian suffering, the party responsible for the current crisis (and here I must reiterate my emphasis on the word ‘current’) is the brutal and inhuman Syrian regime and its leader Bashar El-Assad.

The Syrian revolution is not an international conspiracy planned and constructed behind closed offices in Tel Aviv and Washington, it is an honorable revolution of a people who suffered from unbearable brutalities exacted upon it by a regime designed specifically to ensure unconditional subservience and zero dissent. This revolution, despite normal and regrettable setbacks that characterize any revolution, should not be castigated as yet another attempt by international conspirators intending to further destabilize the oil rich Arab World. And this revolution should not be used by the Palestinian left to score political points at the expense of the hundreds of thousands of Syrians who, for the past sixty years, provided their brothers and sisters with home and shelter.

Assad and his regime must be held responsible for everything that is happening to the every single person who currently resides in Syria. It must be held responsible for the crisis because it is the direct result of its dictatorial policies in the region. It must be held responsible for its inaction in the face of demands for political and economic reforms. In this particular historical event, it is not Israel that is causing the suffering of the Palestinians and Syrians, it is the Syrian regime. Armed groups would not be able to smuggle weapons and fighters through Syria’s porous borders if the regime were competent in anything other than the murder of its own people.

This is not meant to be an attack on USPCN. The statement issued by the said group did, however, provide me with a reason to write. Similar statement that disregard the root causes of the Syrian conflicts are readily available on the internet.

The real motivation for writing this article is to demonstrate that “solidarity” with the refugees in Yarmouk, and similar calls for “return and liberation” mean absolutely nothing without expressly condemning the Syrian regime for its atrocious acts, and demand, alongside their brothers and sisters in Syria, for its removal from power.

- Omar Chaaban is a Palestinian activist based in Vancouver, BC. He holds a BA in International Relations from the University of British Columbia and focuses on Syria and Palestine. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Visit his blog: http://omar-chaaban.blogspot.ca, and follow him on: @al3isawy.

Palestinian refugees protest against the Assad regime in Yarmouk Camp | 12 June 2013

A History Lesson in Resistance

Seventy-One years ago yesterday, on 18 January 1943, the Warsaw Ghetto uprising began when the newly formed ZOB [Jewish Fighting Group] attacked German troops queuing up people to be sent to the extermination camps. That had never happened before. Three days later, the Nazi's shot a thousand people in retaliation but the armed resistance continued and the deportations were halted for a while. Probably there were those who blamed the ZOB and not the Nazi's for the thousand shot and blamed all the slaughter on fighting between the rebels and the regime.

Also Wikipedia tells us:
Two resistance organizations, the ŻZW and ŻOB, took control of the Ghetto. They built dozens of fighting posts and executed a number of Nazi collaborators, including Jewish Police officers, members of the fake (German-sponsored and controlled) resistance organization Żagiew [shades of the ISIS? - clayclai], as well as Gestapo and Abwehr agents (such as Judenrat member Dr Alfred Nossig, executed on 22 February 1943). The ŻOB established a prison to hold and execute traitors and collaborators.
Notify Amnesty International, all these people were held and executed by the rebels without proper trial! So you see, even in the case of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising against the Nazis, we can use that old standby "both sides committed war crimes", "both sides did bad things", to avoid taking sides even in the holocaust against the Jews.

There has also been a lot of smoke blown with regards to the most recent attempt to break the siege with a UN aid convoy. From the Electronic Intifada:
Amid gunfire, relief convoy turns back from Syria’s besieged Yarmouk camp

by Ali Abunimah
Tue, 01/14/2014 - 22:37

On 13 January, another attempt was made to take a humanitarian aid convoy into the besieged refugee camp of Yarmouk in Damascus, where about 20,000 people are trapped, including women and children.

The convoy was from UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees, which serves over half a million Palestinian refugees in Syria, although about 70,000 of them have fled the fighting into Lebanon, Jordan and elsewhere.

Amid reports of widespread malnutrition in Yarmouk, of women dying during childbirth because of shortages of medical care, and of children eating animal feed to survive, this is what happened to the UNRWA convoy.
This account was provided by Chris Gunness, spokesperson for UNRWA, and is reproduced verbatim:
The relief convoy which tried to get in to Yarmouk was an UNRWA convoy led by UNRWA staff and carrying humanitarian supplies loaded from UNRWA’s central warehouse in Damascus – six small trucks with food for 6,000 people along with 10,000 doses of polio vaccine and some medical supplies.

Syrian authorities provided us with a security escort enabling us to reach a last government-controlled checkpoint at the southern entrance of Yarmouk.

The convoy was cleared to proceed beyond the checkpoint and the Syrian authorities provided a bulldozer to go ahead to clear the road of debris, earth mounds and other obstructions.

The bulldozer was fired upon, hit by direct gunfire and forced to withdraw, though with no casualties. Thereafter, bursts of gunfire, including machine-gun fire, erupted close to the trucks and UNRWA vehicles, suggesting a firefight.
Also, one mortar exploded very close to the convoy. The convoy withdrew at this point following the advice of the security escort and returned safely to Damascus.

At no time was the UNRWA convoy fired upon. No person or convoy vehicle was hit and no one was injured.
When Syrian authorities gave UNRWA clearance to proceed to deliver assistance to Yarmouk, they required UNRWA to use the southern entrance to Yarmouk. This meant the convoy had to drive some 20 kilometres through an area of intense and frequent armed conflict, in which numerous armed opposition groups, including some of the most extreme jihadist groups, have a strong and active presence.

Citing security concerns, Syrian authorities did not give UNRWA permission to use the northern entrance to Yarmouk which is under government control, and which is generally regarded as more likely to be accessible with relatively less risk.
This is an extremely disappointing setback for the residents of Yarmouk who continue to live in inhumanely wretched conditions.

UNRWA remains undaunted by this frustrating failure and is already pressing Syrian authorities to support a further attempt to deliver humanitarian assistance to Yarmouk.
Yarmouk is only one of a number of Palestine refugee camps which endure various degrees of extremely harsh conditions.

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