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Imagine Having to Tell Your Kids Christmas Is Cancelled: Ramadan in a Refugee Camp

Hesham is 12 and has missed Eid al-Fitr for the past three years. Eid al-Fitr is the major Islamic celebration that comes after Ramadan, and is basically the equivalent of Christmas for Christians.

Ramadan began on 10 July this year. The holy month of fasting is usually accompanied by evenings spent with family and friends, breaking the fast together with traditional foods. It culminates in Eid al-Fitr, a two-day holiday with family, feasting and presents for children.

For two years in Syria the conflict, which fractured Heshan’s family, put a stop to celebrations, and this year in Domiz refugee camp in northern Iraq there isn’t the money or the spirit to mark the occasion.

"It’s not a special day anymore. It just happens and no-one notices," his mother, Naslya, tells me. "There is no life in this tent."

Heshan is the only one of her children with her. Naslya’s two adult daughters were married at the beginning of the conflict, and moved away. She hasn’t heard from either of them in over two years and believes they may be in Turkey.

"Three years ago in Syria, Eid was great. Our relatives would visit us and there would be dancing. We would take the children to the playground every night during Ramadan," she says. "Three years ago there was no war."

Hesham tells me he used to look forward to the celebrations, which to him meant presents, money, ice cream and playing with his friends.

This year he wanted new clothes and new shoes for Eid, he says. But when he asks his mother when they will go shopping, she tells him they can’t afford anything.

In another tent, Marim and her nine children, aged from four to 22 years, are spending Ramadan and Eid away from close family. Her husband is still in Damascus - he stayed to sell their house and said he would follow soon, but so far he hasn’t been able to do either.

"It’s hard for the children not to see their father for Eid," Marim says. "My youngest son cries and asks me where his dad is."

Aside from missing family, Marim’s kids know there’s no point asking for presents or treats this year.

"My children used to get so excited looking forward to Eid," Marim tells me. "And they know it’s Ramadan now, but they don’t talk about Eid anymore."

Sadeya and her six-year-old daughter, Nerjiz, are facing their second Eid in the camp. But Nerjiz hasn’t forgotten how they used to celebrate, and doesn’t understand that they have very little money now. She keeps begging to leave the camp for a day or two to visit a fun park like they did in Syria. But Sadeya has to keep saying no, and trying to explain to her daughter how things have changed now.

At this time of year Sadeya also misses her own mother - who has remained in Syria - so much she says she cries when she thinks of her.

Nearly everyone I know cherishes their childhood memories of festivals like Eid, or Christmas, or whatever festivals and occasions their family celebrated. It’s a magical part of being young, whether it’s about candy and presents, or favourite grandparents and aunts. But Syria’s children are missing this - many for the third year running. The memories they look back on will be very different to the memories their parents wanted to give them.

This is partly why the activities UNICEF and partners run for children at Domiz camp, both in the Child Friendly Space and the recently launched summer activities in schools, are vital to giving these children some positive memories to look back on. For refugee children, these activities - sports, theatre, music, drawing and playing with their friends - may become some the bright spots in their memories of camp life.

Source: The Huffington Post

Congratulations to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on the birth of their new baby boy yesterday.

Beautiful Amira, born to Syrian refugees in Turkey around a month ago, is a royal baby in her own way too; Amira means Princess in Arabic.

We wish them both a warm welcome to the world!




There’s no logic behind saying you’re pro-Palestine but anti-Assad/Syria.

I have a lot to say about this. But the first thing I want to point out about this statement is the interchangeability of words that pro-Assads use constantly: Anti-Assad/Syria. Assad and Syria are not interchangeable, but to them they are, and of course, that is something extremely dangerous and illogical. Assad supporters view him as the country itself. To them, without Assad, there is no Syria. What’s illogical, though, has nothing to do with Palestine, but rather has everything to do with that ideology, the ideology where Assad = Syria and Syria = Assad. They view Assad as someone who is divine, someone who is literally the embodiment of Syria itself, while completely forget our history before Bashar and Hafez even existed. Apparently, they have no recollection of what Syria was 42 years ago, before the Assad family came into power.

Assad could kill 100,000 Syrians, torture hundreds of thousands of Syrian detainees, destroy the most valued Syrian historical sites, and demolish Syrian cities to the point of desolation, and still, he is the homeland. To make it crystal clear, I’ll quote what the Syrian Army religiously repeats: Assad or we’ll burn the country. Where is the logic in that? Where is the logic in choosing a dictator over your own country? You can burn Syria, keep Assad, and still be called patriotic. That is exactly what’s illogical, being pro-Assad and pro-Syria.

As for being pro-Palestine… there is no illogic in supporting Palestine and supporting the revolution against Assad. It’s the contrary. Putting Syrians aside, thousands of Palestinians have been martyred at the hands of the Assad regime, while thousands of others are in detainment (many of whom died under torture). So what does that make those Palestinians in Syria who are resisting against Assad? Anti-Palestine Palestinians? What about Palestinians in Palestine? The majority of whom stand against Assad and are in support of the revolution… would it not be illogical is call a Palestinian “anti-Palestine,” simply because he or she is anti-Assad? God damn. 


(via 5alisna-deactivated20140120)

Over my 33 year career I have drawn many nasty oppressive rulers.

Rarely, however, have I had the dubious distinction of drawing two generations of sadistic murderers in one picture. For this week’s edition of The Economist I chose to cover the sad events unfolding in Syria. I have drawn the nation’s past ruler, Hafez Assad many times over the years. He was the demon responsible for the quashing of a citizen revolt in 1982 where he killed an estimated 10-30,000 of his own countrymen. Unfortunately, it appears, his sons plan to follow in in boot-steps.

Artist: KAL

Agony in Aleppo: a city abandoned by the world?

In the first of a Channel 4 News series charting Syria’s descent in the face of civil war, German filmmaker Marcel Mettelsiefen’s spends several weeks in Aleppo witnessing a civilian population isolated and under siege. (Caution: contains highly distressing scenes of war including images of children who have been wounded and killed)

It was a typical day for the teenagers, with school followed by a game of football – no different from millions of other boys around the world. Afterwards, they sat about chatting and joking, with one eye on television reports of the revolutions that had flared in Egypt and Libya.

There were seven boys, good friends who had grown up together on the same streets of a suburb of Deraa, a prosperous agricultural city in the south of Syria. They talked about the uprisings engulfing the region and their frustration that their nation, ruled by the repressive Assad family for four decades, had escaped the waves of unrest.

Suddenly, one of them had an idea –  to paint graffiti on the school walls to annoy the security forces. So the boys waited until after evening prayers. Then, on that February night two years ago, they sneaked into their schoolyard and began spraying slogans of protest.

Bashir Abazed, 15, painted in huge letters the words ‘Ejak el door ya Doctor’ (It is your turn, Doctor) – a defiant message aimed at Syria’s despotic president Bashar Assad, who trained as an ophthalmologist in London.

As the other pupils kept lookout, another of the teenagers sprayed a simpler slogan: ‘Eskot Bashar al-Assad’ (Down with Bashar al-Assad).

Afterwards the excited friends ran off home. ‘We were laughing and joking all the time – it was fun,’ said Bashir. ‘But now we do not laugh.’

Jittery security forces, led locally by Assad’s thuggish cousin Atif Najib, responded with such savagery against these teenagers that Deraa rose up in protest. After people were shot dead, the uprising spread across Syria.

Two years later 70,000 [now 93,000+ as of June 2013] people have died, the savagery and sectarianism growing more horrific by the day;  now there is even evidence the regime has unleashed chemical weapons. One million more have fled the carnage and shockwaves threaten the stability of the Middle East.

The ‘Kids of Deraa’ have become icons of the revolution. I heard of them when undercover in Syria four weeks after the uprising, reporting on their deeds and the vicious response for this newspaper.

Now, for the first time, one of them has gone on record and told the full astonishing story of the school pupils who changed the course of history.

‘If we knew our graffiti would have caused so much trouble, we would not have written it that night,’ admitted Bashir. ‘But we are not to blame. The trouble is all down to the security response. The regime fought back with torture and killing, thinking they could suppress the revolution. They were wrong.’ 

I met Bashir in Ar Ramtha, a sprawling Jordanian town near the border. His family fled Syria seven weeks ago and we sat talking on thin mattresses on the floor of a barren whitewashed room drinking sweet tea from small glasses.

The friendly teenager – now 18 and bearded – laughed at times, but also admitted to being plagued by awful memories of the horrors he endured.

At the time of the school stunt, he was the youngest and smartest of four boys from a traditional family, the only one to stay on at school, and with ambitions to be a computer engineer.

The graffiti was found the next morning by his shocked headmaster, who instantly summoned the police. Officers gathered all the school  pupils, then took away ten at random for questioning.

Among them was Nayaf, Bashir’s  14-year-old best friend and part of the gang. They beat the terrified child, who quickly gave up his friend’s name. Bashir went into hiding for two days, but eventually Nayaf’s father found him and begged him to go to the police, who had promised to release both boys after they answered a few questions.

Some of Bashir’s family pleaded with him not to hand himself in. ‘But I felt guilty and responsible for my friend – I thought if I did not give myself up he might never be released,’ he said.

At the police station gate, he met a group of soldiers who said he should have fled the country. ‘They asked me if I was crazy, which made me feel like I was making a big mistake.’

Within minutes he realised the scale of his error. Officers made him strip and he was searched. Then he was given back his underwear and shirt and led off to a basement where three of them began the torture, beating him with cables and giving him electric shocks.

The authorities feared this was the first flickering of the Arab Spring  in Syria, so Bashir was transferred quickly to a military intelligence unit at As Suwayda, an hour’s journey east. He spent the next six days stuffed into a cell smaller than the single-bed  mattress we sat on, then taken out to suffer unspeakable savagery.

A section of rubber tubing was placed over his eyes and ears, so tightly that he felt constant pulsing in his ears. His hands were cuffed behind him and he was crammed, bent double, into a large tyre, with his back and feet left exposed for vicious beatings with whips and cables. His hands were also whacked repeatedly with cables as a punishment for writing anti-government slogans, causing his fingernails to split and fall out.

‘I thought I would never get out,’ Bashir said. ‘It was so violent – I just wanted to die to get rid of the pain.’

The lead interrogator fired endless questions at him, asking who else was involved, who had set them up and whether they were jihadists.

Bashir admits he cracked rapidly, giving them the names of friends. They did not believe his story, insisting adults must have been involved, so he suggested older people he knew in the hope of stopping the agony. ‘I would have said anything,’ said Bashir. ‘All I wanted was to get away from those whips.’

But the security forces rounded up the people he identified, including three of his cousins. Within three days, 24 people had been seized. However, four of the gang of seven boys were never caught.

During his six days in custody, he never saw his friend Nayaf because of their blindfolds but did catch a glimpse of his feet as they passed between torture sessions.

‘I could see the blood coming off his toes, his feet were swollen and they were blue, red, yellow – almost every colour,’ he recalled.

At one point, Bashir’s captors told him that they wanted to conduct an experiment. They cuffed his hands around a hot pipe above his head, before kicking away a chair they had stood him on; he faced the choice of burning his hands holding the scalding pipe or hanging from chains cutting into his wrists. He tried holding on, but ended up hanging from the cuffs.

Bashir and Nayaf were moved after ‘signing’ confessions by putting their bloodied fingerprints on them.

Armed soldiers took them in a darkened bus to the capital Damascus, ordering them to stay silent and crouched down, heads touching the seat in front. They arrived at the headquarters of the Palestine Security Branch, the most feared Syrian security force. ‘It just got worse and worse – by now I was wishing I was back at As Suwayda,’ said Bashir.

He was taken immediately to meet the chief, who asked what he had written on the wall. After saying the phrase, Bashir was beckoned closer to the desk where the official slapped him hard on both cheeks.

When at last his blindfold was removed, Bashir was delighted to find himself in a cell with Nayaf, although he was shocked to see his friend’s weeping wounds and dramatic weight loss. ‘The first thing he said to me was how sorry he was for giving them my name. I told him not to worry, that I had given myself in. After five minutes we were both crying. We sat there wondering what we had done, saying this was the end of our lives.’

Half an hour later they were hauled off for more torture – and Bashir was told he would not be released until he was 60 and his hair had turned grey. For 24 days the abuse continued, with even more brutality.

The security forces had also captured members of Bashir’s family. His cousin, Nedal, showed me where he had lost five top teeth, smashed out in one assault. Another cousin, Mostafa, told me that his genitals were so badly electrocuted and beaten with metal bars that he now felt too ashamed to ever marry.

Meanwhile their frantic families, aided by the influential imam at Deraa’s historic mosque, were begging senior government officials for their release.

A mass protest on March 18 demanded the return of their sons but when anti-Assad slogans were shouted, black-clad security forces opened fire, killing two people. This inflamed the protests, there were more killings – and the revolution seeped across Syria. Two days after the mass protest, the schoolboys were told they were being granted an amnesty by the president since it was Mother’s Day. On his release Bashir was surprised to see so many friends and relatives from his town – he had no idea all these people had been rounded up.

They were given their clothes back and some cigarettes, and Nayaf retrieved his backpack, with his schoolbooks still inside. They were driven back to Deraa and, as they approached, they could hear the sound of tens of thousands of demonstrators. ‘We thought that this was it – we were going to be executed,’ said Bashir.

Instead, protesters grabbed the captives from the bus and hoisted them on their shoulders, while the guards fled for safety.

Full article

#syria  #politics  

Sixteen Italian models were allegedly hired to participate in a fake demonstration, in Rome, in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, according to The Times. 

The pro-government sit-in took place in Rome’s Santi Apostoli square, on November 22, 2011, as the civil war in Syria was intensifying.

The models, who were allegedly promised €166 each, have begun legal action against the agency that employed them, as they claim to have not been paid for their work.

The lawsuit intends to show that the sit-in was false and highlights that the models were promised money to carry the Syrian flag and chant slogans supporting Assad in Arabic, without even understanding what they meant, according to the model’s lawyer, Valerio Vitale.

He states that the agency, which hired the young women, was practicing “political exploitation.”

One model quoted the agency’s manager, reportedly a Muslim Italian, as stressing that no one should know of the paychecks they were promised to receive. 

“The head of the agency said that no one should know that we were getting money to take part in the demonstration,” she stated, reported The Times.

According to the models, the agency had also agreed to have them participate in various other Middle Eastern related events held in Rome, which Arab businessmen would attend. 

The Times reported that the women were also hired to “socialize and dance” with Middle Eastern customers at discos, and that they were being offered double pay to take part in the demonstration.

(via Al Arabiya)