person:bashar al-assad

  • From Neo-Nazi to militant: The foreign fighters in Ukraine who Australia’s laws won’t stop - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)
    https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-05-01/foreign-fighters-return-to-australia-with-military-training/9696784

    Australia’s former watchdog on national security laws, Bret Walker SC, called for changes to Australia’s foreign fighter laws in response to the ABC’s revelations that Australians had fought with militant groups in Ukraine.

    Mr Walker said Australia was vulnerable to any returned ultranationalist fighters who go on to become violent.

    “Those are people whose skills, experiences and lack of sensitivity are very likely to constitute dangers in this country,” he said.

    “There is a domestic concern, not just a concern about Australia’s obligations in relation to prohibiting war, but also domestic concern in terms of terrorist dangers in Australia.”

    Mr Walker said the inconsistency in the current legislation was highlighted by the fact Australians could legally fight with the forces of foreign government dictators like Syria’s Bashar al-Assad.

    As the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor in 2014, Mr Walker SC made a recommendation to Federal Parliament for the law to be changed so that all foreign fighting would be illegal unless officially approved by the Australian Government.

    His recommendations were ignored.

    “There’s very little sign that there was — let alone at parliamentary level — any consideration of them,” Mr Walker said.

    “They have been utterly silent in relation to the basic principle that Australians should not fight abroad except for Australia or with Australia’s approval.”

    Italy Moves To Crack Down On Its Fighters In Ukraine’s Donbas
    https://www.rferl.org/a/italy-moves-to-crack-down-on-its-fighters-in-ukraine-s-donbas/29437946.html

    On August 1, Italian police announced they had arrested three men accused of recruiting mercenaries to fight in eastern Ukraine. Three others are still being sought after prosecutors in the northern Italian city of Genoa accused the six of fighting in eastern Ukraine and recruiting others to the cause.

    It was the first time that Italian authorities have charged anyone with fighting in eastern Ukraine, where more than 10,300 people have died since the conflict erupted in April 2014.

    In a statement, Italian police said they searched the homes of another seven people as part of the investigation into the Italian-Ukrainian recruitment network. Some of the suspects allegedly had ties with the commander of a neo-Nazi paramilitary unit called Rusich, which operates in Ukraine’s Donbas region.

    Genoese prosecutors have also charged 15 others with being members of the recruitment ring.

    Authorities in Genoa carried out the probes and arrests in tandem with ROS, the anti-organized-crime and antiterrorism branch of the carabinieri, Italy’s paramilitary national police force.

    Police in Genoa have been investigating far-right networks in the area since 2016, according to the Genova Today newspaper.

    However, as UNIAN notes, the action comes months after a Ukrainian lawmaker submitted a list of 25 Italians believed to be fighting with the separatists in eastern Ukraine.

    Publication en 2017 et suite à un colloque NATO en Moldavie d’un receuil de recherches sur le phénomène des foreign fighters autre que le cas Syrie.
    Foreign Fighters in Ukraine : Risk analisys from the point of view of NATO.
    https://books.google.fr/books?hl=fr&lr=&id=QbUrDwAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PA31&dq=foreign+fighters+donb


  • Iran’s Tiny Navy Is Trying to Revive the Persian Empire - Bloomberg
    Opinion by Jim Stavridis

    https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2019-01-10/iran-s-tiny-navy-is-trying-to-revive-the-persian-empire


    A cheap alternative to aircraft carriers.
    Photographer: Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images

    The West sees Tehran as a regional player. Iranians see themselves as a global power.

    On the campaign trail in 2007, Senator John McCain sang a parody to the tune of the Beach Boys’ “Barbara Ann”: “Bomb, bomb, bomb … bomb, bomb Iran.” That sentiment resonates in the Donald Trump administration, and it’s understandable. The Iranians continue to push their influence throughout the Middle East: using proxies to threaten U.S. allies; supporting Bashar al-Assad in Syria; fueling the war in Yemen through support for Houthi rebels; and seeking to destabilize Iraq and gain further influence in Lebanon.

    Now we face a new twist to Iranian expansionism that demonstrates both Tehran’s ambition and its growing ties to Russia: the Iranian navy announced it will undertake a five-month deployment to the western Atlantic. While it’s unclear how many ships will be involved, Tehran says the flotilla will include a newly built destroyer, the Sahand. Some vessels are expected dock in Venezuela, one of the few countries in the Western Hemisphere that would welcome them.


  • UK May Reopen Its Embassy In Damascus Soon – Reports
    https://southfront.org/uk-may-reopen-its-embassy-in-damascus-soon-reports

    The United Kingdome may reopen its embassy in the Syrian capital of Damascus in a year or two, the Sunday Telegraph newspaper hinted in a report on January 6 citing a British diplomat.

    “Give it a year or two and you can bet we’ll be reopening our embassy,” the unnamed diplomat said in the what the British newspaper described it as “an off-the-cuff remark.”

    During the last two weeks, the restoration of the Syrian-British relations was discussed by several unofficial figures. On December 30, former UK Ambassador to Syria said that we may witness the return of the British and French ambassadors to Damascus during 2019.

    Le même jour : https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/01/05/roads-lead-damascus-world-welcoming-bashar-al-assad-cold
    All roads lead to Damascus: How the world is welcoming Bashar al-Assad in from the cold
    et
    Bashar al-Assad’s international rehabilitation has begun
    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2019/01/05/assads-long-road-to-international-rehabilitation

    #normalisation #syrie #prédiction_autoréalisatrice


  • Assad will remain in power ’for a while’, says Jeremy Hunt | World news | The Guardian
    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jan/03/syria-president-assad-will-remain-in-power-for-a-while-says-jeremy-hunt

    The British foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has admitted for the first time that Russian support for the Syrian regime means Bashar al-Assad will remain in power for some time.

    The UK has been at the forefront of calls for the Syrian president to leave office as part of a transition to a new government, but over the past year British diplomats have acknowledged that Assad would have to be allowed to stand in any UN-supervised democratic elections in Syria.

    Messieurs les Anglais, tirez les premiers ! aurait dit le ministère des Affaires étrangères français !...

    #syrie #tout_ça_pour_ça #normalisation


  • ‘Saudi, UAE assisted Assad in detecting, killing Syrian opposition leaders’
    https://www.yenisafak.com/en/world/saudi-uae-assisted-assad-in-detecting-killing-syrian-opposition-leaders-3

    Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which has recently reopened its embassy in Damascus, cooperated with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, leading to the detection and killing of close to 80 leaders of the Syrian opposition.

    The locations of Jaysh al-Islam’s leader Zahran Alloush, Ahrar al-Sham leaders Hassan Aboud and Khalid al-Suri, leader of Liwa al-Tawhid Abdulkadir Salih, who all fell martyrs to the bombings of the Syrian regime, were shared by Saudi Arabia and the UAE with Assad, according to a Syrian opposition commander.

    In an exclusive interview with Yeni Şafak daily, Mahmoud Sulayman, a commander of the Mohammad Al-Fateh brigade, revealed that between the years 2012 and 2014, the Abu Dhabi and Riyadh brought hundreds of satellite phones to the front.

    “The passwords of the UAE-made ‘Thuraya’ and the British-made ‘Inmarsat’ satellite phones, which were given to group commanders by the UAE and Saudi Arabia, were shared with Damascus, thus this information led to the killings of dozens of opposition commanders,” he said.

    La source est... turque.

    Toujours se méfier des cadeaux qu’on vous fait (message valable pour les Kurdes aussi !)

    #syrie #grand_jeu #tic_arabes


  • US accepts Assad staying in Syria — but won’t give aid
    https://www.france24.com/en/20181217-us-accepts-assad-staying-syria-but-wont-give-aid

    Washington (AFP)

    The United States said Monday it was no longer seeking to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad but renewed warnings it would not fund reconstruction unless the regime is “fundamentally different.”

    James Jeffrey, the US special representative in Syria, said that Assad needed to compromise as he had not yet won the brutal seven-year civil war, estimating that some 100,000 armed opposition fighters remained in Syria.

    “We want to see a regime that is fundamentally different. It’s not regime change — we’re not trying to get rid of Assad,” Jeffrey said at the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank.

    #Syrie #Etats-unis


  • Tale of Swiss-based Syrian torture survivor highlights Dublin flaws

    Jalal last saw his youngest son was when the boy was a baby. Now Hamude is almost five. The asylum seeker from Syria is caught up in a complicated international case based on the Dublin accord, a regulation that Switzerland applies more strictly than any other country in Europe, according to critics.

    Jalal has been living in limbo, unable to plan more than a few months in advance, since 2014.

    “I spent five years in a Syrian prison and now I have spent [almost] another five years in an open prison,” Jalal told swissinfo.ch in November.

    The father leads an isolated life in a tiny studio on the outskirts of Lucerne in central Switzerland.

    Hamude, along with his mother and two siblings, live equally isolated in a rundown caravan camp a couple thousand kilometres away in Greece. Their relationship unfolds largely over Whatsapp. Living with no sense of when or where they will all see each other again has both parents on the edge of a nervous breakdown.

    Despite the efforts of lawyers in both countries, the family has been unable to reunite, victims of a Dublin accord that member states including Switzerland prefer to invoke to expel people rather than evaluate their cases. Under the regulation, Switzerland can automatically deport individuals to the first country of arrival in the Schengen area. As a Kurd, who says he suffered torture and prolonged detention in Syria as well as a dangerous war wound, Jalal’s asylum claim warrants evaluation.

    But Jalal faced a classic problem — one confronting asylum-seekers in Switzerland and across Europe. The only aspect of his journey the Swiss authorities cared about at the time of his arrival was through which country he entered Europe’s open borders Schengen area, not why he was seeking asylum. On that basis, the decision to expel him to Italy was made in early 2015.

    “Switzerland has never lived through a war, so the Swiss are not able to empathize with people who are fleeing a war,” concluded Jalal in a moment of deep uncertainty about his future. “If they had any sense of what we have been through they would not deal with us like this.”

    Switzerland prides itself on its strong humanitarian tradition but policies relating to asylum and migration have hardened in recent years as elsewhere in Europe. The Swiss Secretariat for Migration (SEM) declined to comment, saying it does not provide details on individual cases for “data protection” reasons.

    A Syrian nightmare

    Back in Syria, in 2004, Jalal says he found himself on the wanted list of the Syrian regime for participating in a protest demanding greater rights for the Kurdish minority population. He and his father were targeted in a knife attack by pro-regime thugs three years later, in 2007. Jalal incurred 12 cuts while his father was killed on the spot.

    According to his story, Kurdish rights activism landed him behind bars. He was held in a prison in the northern city of Aleppo where one of the many grisly tasks assigned to him was cleaning the basement room used for executions — punishment for dodging military service. He was still behind bars as a popular revolt against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad gave way to large scale massacres and war.

    He says he eventually managed to escape during a rebel attack on the prison, seized the opportunity to flee to Turkey and had to return to Syria to borrow money to pay smugglers to get his family to Europe. On that journey, he sustained a grenade injury. Neither surgeons at the field clinic that treated him that day nor those later in Switzerland were able to extract all of the fragments.
    Getting to Europe

    Badly wounded, he boarded a naval ship from the Turkish coastal town of Mersin and travelled with hundreds of others to Italy. Time in Italy was brief but long enough for the authorities to take his fingerprints — an act that would underpin the Swiss decision to send him back.

    “The Italian authorities put us on buses and took us straight to the train station in Milan, so we could continue to Europe,” says Jalal, who picked Switzerland over Germany because his two brothers were already living in the Alpine nation. “A return to Italy would mean starting from scratch and god knows how many years until I see my wife and children.”

    In Switzerland, he now gets by on emergency aid and found accommodation — a spartan but clean studio — through the Caritas charity. Every two weeks he must report to the local migration authorities. The one thing he is deeply grateful for is the medical and psychological treatment he has received here.
    Navigating Swiss and international laws

    Gabriella Tau and Boris Wijkström are his lawyers at the Centre suisse pour la défense des droits de migrants (CSDM), an organisation focused on defending the rights of migrants. CSDM took up his case and brought it to the attention the Committee Against Torture (CAT) at the United Nations, which suspended his expulsion pending a ruling on the merits of the case.

    During an October interview in his small office in Geneva, where dozens wait in the stairway in the hope of getting legal assistance, Wijkström said they are “very careful” of which cases they defend. The lawyers only take up a few per year, selecting the ones where they feel there has been a real miscarriage of justice.

    “They are very sensitive to any possible limitations imposed on Dublin expulsions to Italy,” he said about the Swiss position on asylum cases that have reached CAT.

    Switzerland has a reputation for being a highly efficient user of the Dublin system, a “blindly” mechanical efficiency that human rights groups including Amnesty Internationalexternal link say ride roughshod over the most vulnerable of individuals. The Swiss Refugee Councilexternal link wants Switzerland to stop sending vulnerable asylum seekers back to Italy because “adequate reception is not guaranteed there”.

    In 2017, Switzerland made 2,297 transfers invoking The Dublin III Regulation to neighbouring Italy, Germany and France and received 885 transfers from those countries, accordingexternal link to the Council.

    “Switzerland stands out as one of the biggest users of the Dublin system, even though volumes are, for instance, much smaller than those of Germany,” notes Francesco Maiani, an expert on European asylum policy and law. “Switzerland is one of the countries that consistently had more transfers to other countries than transfers from other countries.”

    However, two clauses with the Dublin Regulation III actively encourage a softer approach. One is the sovereignty clause. The other is the humanitarian clause.

    The SEM told swissinfo.ch it applies the “sovereignty clause” when a transfer “would contravene mandatory provisions of international law or in the presence of humanitarian grounds indicating that a transfer is a particularly rigorous measure.”

    It also rejected the notion that it applies the Dublin Regulation “blindly.”

    “The whole ethos of the Dublin system is quite problematic,” said Maiani, a member of the faculty of law at Lausanne University in a phone interview. “It tends to underscore that if you send asylum applicants away you win the game. If you admit them, you lose the game. And this of course introduces a lot of distortions in the process.”

    In an October letter to UN special rapporteur on torture Nils Melzer, CSDM outlined its concerns over “the systematic expulsion of torture victims and other vulnerable asylum seekers under the Dublin Regulation from Switzerland to European Union countries where dysfunctional asylum systems that expose them to a real risk of inhuman and degrading treatment”.

    A SEM spokesperson explained that Switzerland wants to see the Dublin III regulation reformed so that procedures are “faster and more efficient”, secondary migration prevented and responsibility between countries distributed more fairly. “Switzerland regularly takes this position at the European level and in bilateral talks with government representatives of EU member states and EU institutions,” the spokesperson said.
    Not one, but two Dublin proceedings

    For now, Jalal’s best shot at family reunification would be a Swiss decision to grant him asylum. But that risks being a lengthy process. The family got tangled in two Dublin proceedings — one to expel Jalal from Switzerland to Italy, the other a bid by Greece to see the family reunited in Switzerland.

    “Sometimes a Dublin reunification can take up to two or three years although on paper things should move more quickly,” notes Michael Kientzle, who works with the refugee aid group in Greeceexternal link that filed a request for Switzerland to take charge of Jalal’s family. The request was rejected and is now being appealed.

    The rest in limbo just like Jalal.

    When asked about the case, SEM said it takes into account the arguments put forward in decisions made by CAT [which recently ruled in favour of an Eritrean asylum-seeker and torture survivor presenting similar circumstances.] “[If SEM] concludes that a transfer to a Dublin state would endanger a person, it will conduct the asylum procedure in Switzerland,” it said.

    Shortly after being contacted by swissinfo.ch, SEM finally decided to examine his asylum claim. “The facts of his case have not changed,” noted Wijkström. “It’s great news for him but it underscores the arbitrariness of the whole system.”

    Adding to the absurdity of it all, he added, the Lucerne prosecutor has kept open a case against Jalal over illegal entry and illegal stay.

    Arbitrary or not — the decision by authorities to hear him out has filled Jalal with a new sense of purpose and hope for a fresh start in Switzerland.

    On the chilly morning of December 12, he met with a Caritas lawyer who will join him during his asylum hearing. He came prepared with all his documents, including X-rays and family identification booklet.

    “Maybe things finally work out and I get to see my family,” he tells swissinfo.chexternal link, consumed by nerves both about the outcome of his interview and the conditions of his mother and brother struggling to get on in a war-torn pocket of Syria.” All I can do is retell my story. They already have all the evidence.”

    https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/international-law_tale-of-swiss-based-syrian-torture-survivor-highlights-dublin-flaws/44615866
    #torture #Suisse #Dublin #renvois_Dublin #asile #migrations #réfugiés #réfugiés_syriens #Italie #expulsions #renvois

    ping @isskein


  • From refugees to entrepreneurs: How one family started over

    With just 30 days notice, the Rawas family was plucked from their temporary home in Jordan, where they’d fled the Syrian civil war, and resettled in Oakland. As refugees, they knew no one, had no job prospects and didn’t speak a word of English.

    Three years later, Mohammed Aref Rawas, Rawaa Kasedah and their four children are running a budding catering business that serves authentic Syrian food such as smoked basmati rice, falafel and fattoush salad. They’ve hired their first employee. Their clients include big tech companies. And the days when starting over seemed impossible are far behind them.

    They are among a large population of refugees who, after fleeing a homeland overrun by violence and political turmoil, started a business in the U.S., integrating quickly into the economy and life of a country that gave them a second chance. The family’s entrepreneurial approach is common among immigrants, studies show.

    An estimated 11 percent of all Syrian immigrants in the labor force are business owners — nearly four times the rate of U.S.-born business owners, according to a study by the New York-based Fiscal Policy Institute and the Center for American Progress. A significant part of that success has been the ability to master the English language, the report said.

    Meanwhile, a 2016 study by the Institute that followed Bosnian, Burmese, Hmong and Somali refugees nationwide found that they too moved up the occupational ladder and started businesses after settling in the U.S. Thirty one out of every 1,000 Bosnian refugees in the labor force are business owners, compared with 26 out of every 1,000 Burmese, 22 out of 1,000 Hmong and 15 out of every 1,000 Somalis, the study found.

    “There’s a hunger for dignified work,” said Dr. Thane Kreiner, executive director of the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Santa Clara University. Kreiner launched an accelerator program known as Social Entrepreneurship at the Margins, which helps businesses and organizations around the world run by refugees, migrants or victims of human trafficking. “There’s this element of launching businesses, but also of integrating with the new host community so the refugees become part of the community rather than the ‘other.’”

    The Rawas family started Old Damascus Fare casually, by happenstance last year though the family has entrepreneurship in their blood. Rawas owned a successful clothing factory in Syria, where he oversaw about 50 employees. The family lived comfortably in a suburb in their native Damascus. But increasing gunfire, kidnappings and the presence of military groups forced them to leave, and their temporary escape to Jordan in 2012 soon became permanent.

    More than 500,000 Syrians have died and nearly 6 million have fled during a civil war that began seven years ago with an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad. Since the Trump administration’s ban on travel from seven Muslim nations, including Syria, only a handful of Syrian refugees have been resettled in California in the past fiscal year.

    As the Rawas family settled into the Bay Area, new friends and acquaintances in the Arab community asked Kasedah to cater birthday parties and other events. By then, the family had noticed the absence of authentic Syrian food, even in Oakland’s diverse neighborhoods. Soon they were catering events for local tech companies such as Facebook and LinkedIn.

    “We got to the point where we realized it’s not only about food,” said Batool Rawoas, one of the couple’s daughters. “We are making new friends, we are hearing about new opportunities. It’s a way to share our culture with the people here.”

    They’re a powerful example of the American dream, said David Miliband, a former British foreign secretary and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, which resettled the Rawas family in 2015. “They show that these are people who want to work and not be reliant on welfare,” he said.

    Miliband visited the family recently at their catering kiosk on the UC Berkeley campus before he gave a speech, ordering the falafel sandwich and munching on appetizers that the family excitedly prepared for him. Because refugees like the Rawas’ often have to reinvent their lives, he said, that makes them resilient entrepreneurs.

    “In a way, being a refugee, having to flee for your life, having to figure out who to trust, having to figure out new ways of survival … there could hardly be a more effective job training program,” he said. “Those qualities of cooperation, determination, courage, trust are important for any entrepreneur. I don’t want to trivialize it, but it makes the point.”

    The family admits they’re still struggling. Their expenses regularly exceed their income, and they’re overwhelmed by the painstaking details of operating a business.

    “The main challenge for any refugee family is navigating how to survive in the Bay Area because it’s so expensive,” said Rawoas, who is attending community college and hopes to transfer to a four-year university to study psychology and public health. “We lived in Syria, we were from the middle class and we had a very comfortable life. We owned our own house, our own land.”

    “But we’re hoping, in the future, this will be a good thing to support us financially,” she added.

    Their next goal: to own a restaurant.


    https://www.mercurynews.com/2018/11/04/from-refugees-to-entrepreneurs-how-one-family-started-over
    #entrepreunariat #entreprenariat #USA #Etats-Unis #réfugiés #asile #migrations #travail #intégration_professionnelle #réfugiés_syriens #économie


  • Russia’s only aircraft carrier damaged after crane falls on it | Reuters
    https://www.reuters.com/article/us-russia-military-ship/russias-only-aircraft-carrier-damaged-after-crane-falls-on-it-idUSKCN1N410U

    Russia’s only aircraft carrier was damaged while undergoing repairs in the north of the country after the floating dock holding it sank in the early hours of Tuesday and a crane crashed onto its deck, tearing a gash up to 5 meters wide.

    The Admiral Kuznetsov has seen action in Russia’s military campaign in Syria in support of President Bashar al-Assad with its planes carrying out air strikes against rebel forces.

    It was being overhauled on one of the world’s biggest floating docks in the icy waters of the Kola Bay near Murmansk close to where Russia’s Northern Fleet is based and was due to go back into service in 2021.

    Maria Kovtun, Murmansk’s governor, said in a statement that a rescue operation had been launched and 71 people evacuated after the floating dock holding the ship had begun to sink.

    The warship had been successfully extracted from the dock before it completely sank, she said.

    • Russian officials: Nope, we can’t finish fixing the carrier Kuznetsov | Ars Technica
      https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2018/11/russian-officials-nope-we-cant-finish-fixing-the-carrier-kuznetsov


      MURMANSK, RUSSIA - Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov at the PD-50 floating dry dock of Shipyard 82.

      Russian officials have now acknowledged that the October 29 accident involving Russia’s only aircraft carrier and largest floating dry dock has made continuing the refit of the ship impossible. The dry dock, the PD-50, was the only one available capable of accommodating the 55,000 ton Admiral Kuznetsov. As a result, the completion of the refit of the ship is now delayed indefinitely.

      The PD-50, built by a Swedish shipyard in 1980 for the Soviet Union, sank in an uncontrolled “launch” of the Kuznetsov and came to rest on the sloping bottom of the harbor at Murmansk. Two cranes collapsed during the sinking, with one crashing onto the Kuznetsov and leaving a large gash in its hull. And recovering and repairing the PD-50 could take as long as a year.

      We have alternatives actually for all the ships except for Admiral Kuznetsov,” United Ship-Building Corporation Chief Executive Alexei Rakhmanov told TASS. But the loss of the PD-50 dock “creates certain inconveniences” for future repairs on large capital ships, he acknowledged. “We hope that the issue of the docking of first-rank ships will be resolved in the near future. We are also preparing several alternatives, about which we will report to the Industry and Trade Ministry,” Rakhmanov said.


  • The Real Reasons Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Wanted Khashoggi ‘Dead or Alive’
    https://www.thedailybeast.com/the-real-reasons-saudi-crown-prince-mohammed-bin-salman-wanted-khasho

    Christopher Dickey 10.21.18
    His death is key to understanding the political forces that helped turn the Middle East from a region of hope seven years ago to one of brutal repression and slaughter today.

    The mind plays strange tricks sometimes, especially after a tragedy. When I sat down to write this story about the Saudi regime’s homicidal obsession with the Muslim Brotherhood, the first person I thought I’d call was Jamal Khashoggi. For more than 20 years I phoned him or met with him, even smoked the occasional water pipe with him, as I looked for a better understanding of his country, its people, its leaders, and the Middle East. We often disagreed, but he almost always gave me fresh insights into the major figures of the region, starting with Osama bin Laden in the 1990s, and the political trends, especially the explosion of hope that was called the Arab Spring in 2011. He would be just the man to talk to about the Saudis and the Muslim Brotherhood, because he knew both sides of that bitter relationship so well.

    And then, of course, I realized that Jamal is dead, murdered precisely because he knew too much.

    Although the stories keep changing, there is now no doubt that 33-year-old Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the power in front of his decrepit father’s throne, had put out word to his minions that he wanted Khashoggi silenced, and the hit-team allegedly understood that as “wanted dead or alive.” But the [petro]buck stops with MBS, as bin Salman’s called. He’s responsible for a gruesome murder just as Henry II was responsible for the murder of Thomas Becket when he said, “Who will rid me of that meddlesome priest?” In this case, a meddlesome journalist.

    We now know that a few minor players will pay. Some of them might even be executed by Saudi headsmen (one already was reported killed in a car crash). But experience also tells us the spotlight of world attention will shift. Arms sales will go ahead. And the death of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi risks becoming just one more entry in the annals of intensifying, murderous repression of journalists who are branded the “enemy of the people” by Donald Trump and various two-bit tyrants around the world.

    There is more to Khashoggi’s murder than the question of press freedom, however. His death holds the key to understanding the political forces that have helped turn the Middle East from a region of hope seven years ago to one of brutal repression and ongoing slaughter today. Which brings us back to the question of the Saudis’ fear and hatred of the Muslim Brotherhood, the regional rivalries of those who support it and those who oppose it, and the game of thrones in the House of Saud itself. Khashoggi was not central to any of those conflicts, but his career implicated him, fatally, in all of them.

    The Muslim Brotherhood is not a benign political organization, but neither is it Terror Incorporated. It was created in the 1920s and developed in the 1930s and ‘40s as an Islamic alternative to the secular fascist and communist ideologies that dominated revolutionary anti-colonial movements at the time. From those other political organizations the Brotherhood learned the values of a tight structure, party discipline, and secrecy, with a public face devoted to conventional political activity—when possible—and a clandestine branch that resorted to violence if that appeared useful.

    In the novel Sugar Street, Nobel Prize-winning author Naguib Mahfouz sketched a vivid portrait of a Brotherhood activist spouting the group’s political credo in Egypt during World War II. “Islam is a creed, a way of worship, a nation and a nationality, a religion, a state, a form of spirituality, a Holy Book, and a sword,” says the Brotherhood preacher. “Let us prepare for a prolonged struggle. Our mission is not to Egypt alone but to all Muslims worldwide. It will not be successful until Egypt and all other Islamic nations have accepted these Quranic principles in common. We shall not put our weapons away until the Quran has become a constitution for all Believers.”

    For several decades after World War II, the Brotherhood’s movement was eclipsed by Arab nationalism, which became the dominant political current in the region, and secular dictators moved to crush the organization. But the movement found support among the increasingly embattled monarchies of the Gulf, including and especially Saudi Arabia, where the rule of the king is based on his custodianship of Mecca and Medina, the two holiest sites in Islam. At the height of the Cold War, monarchies saw the Brotherhood as a helpful antidote to the threat of communist-led or Soviet-allied movements and ideologies.

    By the 1980s, several of the region’s rulers were using the Brotherhood as a tool to weaken or destroy secular opposition. Egypt’s Anwar Sadat courted them, then moved against them, and paid with his life in 1981, murdered by members of a group originally tied to the Brotherhood. Sadat’s successor, Hosni Mubarak, then spent three decades in power manipulating the Brotherhood as an opposition force, outlawing the party as such, but allowing its known members to run for office in the toothless legislature, where they formed a significant bloc and did a lot of talking.

    Jordan’s King Hussein played a similar game, but went further, giving clandestine support to members of the Brotherhood waging a covert war against Syrian tyrant Hafez al-Assad—a rebellion largely destroyed in 1982 when Assad’s brother killed tens of thousands of people in the Brotherhood stronghold of Hama.

    Even Israel got in on the action, initially giving Hamas, the Brotherhood branch among the Palestinians, tacit support as opposition to the left-leaning Palestine Liberation Organization (although PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat once identified with the Brotherhood himself).

    The Saudi royals, too, thought the Brotherhood could be bought off and manipulated for their own ends. “Over the years the relationship between the Saudis and the Brotherhood ebbed and flowed,” says Lorenzo Vidino, an expert on extremism at George Washington University and one of the foremost scholars in the U.S. studying the Brotherhood’s history and activities.

    Over the decades factions of the Brotherhood, like communists and fascists before them, “adapted to individual environments,” says Vidino. In different countries it took on different characteristics. Thus Hamas, or its military wing, is easily labeled as terrorist by most definitions, while Ennahda in Tunisia, which used to be called terrorist by the ousted Ben Ali regime, has behaved as a responsible political party in a complex democratic environment. To the extent that Jamal Khashoggi identified with the Brotherhood, that was the current he espoused. But democracy, precisely, is what Mohammed bin Salman fears.

    Vidino traces the Saudis’ intense hostility toward the Brotherhood to the uprisings that swept through much of the Arab world in 2011. “The Saudis together with the Emiratis saw it as a threat to their own power,” says Vidino.

    Other regimes in the region thought they could use the Brotherhood to extend their influence. First among these was the powerful government in Turkey of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has such longstanding ties to the Islamist movement that some scholars refer to his elected government as “Brotherhood 2.0.” Also hoping to ride the Brotherhood wave was tiny, ultra-rich Qatar, whose leaders had used their vast natural gas wealth and their popular satellite television channel, Al Jazeera, to project themselves on the world stage and, they hoped, buy some protection from their aggressive Saudi neighbors. As one senior Qatari official told me back in 2013, “The future of Qatar is soft power.” After 2011, Jazeera’s Arabic channel frequently appeared to propagandize in the Brotherhood’s favor as much as, say, Fox News does in Trump’s.

    Egypt, the most populous country in the Arab world, and the birthplace of the Brotherhood, became a test case. Although Jamal Khashoggi often identified the organization with the idealistic hopes of the peaceful popular uprising that brought down the Mubarak dynasty, in fact the Egyptian Brotherhood had not taken part. Its leaders had a modus vivendi they understood with Mubarak, and it was unclear what the idealists in Tahrir Square, or the military tolerating them, might do.

    After the dictator fell and elections were called, however, the Brotherhood made its move, using its party organization and discipline, as well as its perennial slogan, “Islam is the solution,” to put its man Mohamed Morsi in the presidential palace and its people in complete control of the government. Or so it thought.

    In Syria, meanwhile, the Brotherhood believed it could and should lead the popular uprising against the Assad dynasty. That had been its role 30 years earlier, and it had paid mightily.

    For more than a year, it looked like the Brotherhood’s various branches might sweep to power across the unsettled Arab world, and the Obama administration, for want of serious alternatives, was inclined to go with the flow.

    But then the Saudis struck back.

    In the summer of 2013, Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, the commander of the Egyptian armed forces, led a military coup with substantial popular support against the conspicuously inept Brotherhood government, which had proved quickly that Islam was not really the “solution” for much of anything.

    Al-Sissi had once been the Egyptian military attaché in Riyadh, where he had many connections, and the Saudis quickly poured money into Egypt to shore up his new regime. At the same time, he declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization, and launched a campaign of ruthless repression. Within weeks of the coup, the Egyptian military attacked two camps of Brotherhood protesters and slaughtered hundreds.

    In Syria, the efforts to organize a credible political opposition to President Bashar al-Assad proved virtually impossible as the Qataris and Turks backed the Brotherhood while the Saudis continued their vehement opposition. But that does not mean that Riyadh supported moderate secular forces. Far from it. The Saudis still wanted to play a major role bringing down the Syrian regime allied to another arch enemy, the government of Iran. So the Saudis put their weight behind ultra-conservative Salafis, thinking they might be easier to control than the Muslim Brothers.

    Riyadh is “okay with quietist Salafism,” says Vidino. But the Salafis’ religious extremism quickly shaded over into the thinking of groups like the al Qaeda spinoff called the Nusra Front. Amid all the infighting, little progress was made against Assad, and there to exploit the chaos was the so-called Islamic State (which Assad partially supported in its early days).

    Then, in January 2015, at the height of all this regional turmoil, the aged and infirm Salman bin Abdelaziz ascended to the throne of Saudi Arabia. His son, Mohammed bin Salman, began taking into his own hands virtually all the reins of power, making bold decisions about reforming the Saudi economy, taking small measures to give the impression he might liberalize society—and moving to intimidate or otherwise neutralize anyone who might challenge his power.

    Saudi Arabia is a country named after one family, the al Saud, and while there is nothing remotely democratic about the government, within the family itself with its thousands of princes there traditionally has been an effort to find consensus. Every king up to now has been a son of the nation’s founder, Abdelaziz ibn Saud, and thus a brother or half brother of the other kings.

    When Salman took over, he finally named successors from the next generation. His nephew Mohammed bin Nayef, then 57 and well known for his role fighting terrorism, became crown prince. His son, Mohammed bin Salman, became deputy crown prince. But bin Nayef’s position between the king and his favorite son clearly was untenable. As one Saudi close to the royals put it: “Between the onion and the skin there is only the stink.”

    Bin Nayef was pushed out in 2017. The New York Times reported that during an end-of-Ramadan gathering at the palace he “was told he was going to meet the king and was led into another room, where royal court officials took away his phones and pressured him to give up his posts as crown prince and interior minister. … At first, he refused. But as the night wore on, the prince, a diabetic who suffers from the effects of a 2009 assassination attempt by a suicide bomber, grew tired.” Royal court officials meanwhile called around to other princes saying bin Nayef had a drug problem and was unfit to be king.

    Similar pressure was brought to bear on many of the richest and most powerful princes in the kingdom, locked up in the Ritz Carlton hotel in 2017, ostensibly as part of an extra-legal fight against corruption. They were forced to give allegiance to MBS at the same time they were giving up a lot of their money.

    That pattern of coerced allegiance is what the Saudis now admit they wanted from Jamal Khashoggi. He was no prince, but he had been closely associated in the past with the sons of the late King Faisal, particularly Turki al-Faisal, who was for many years the head of the Saudi intelligence apparatus and subsequently served as ambassador to the United Kingdom, then the United States.

    Although Turki always denied he had ambitions to be king, his name often was mentioned in the past as a contender. Thus far he seems to have weathered the rule of MBS, but given the record of the crown prince anyone close to the Al Faisal branch of the family, like Khashoggi, would be in a potentially perilous position.

    Barbara Bodine is a former U.S. ambassador to Yemen, which has suffered mightily since MBS launched a brutal proxy war there against Iran. Both MBS and Trump have declared the regime in Tehran enemy number one in the region. But MBS botched the Yemen operation from the start. It was dubbed “Decisive Storm” when it began in 2015, and was supposed to last only a few weeks, but the war continues to this day. Starvation and disease have spread through Yemen, creating one of the world’s greatest humanitarian disasters. And for the moment, in one of those developments that makes the Middle East so rich in ironies, in Yemen the Saudis are allied with a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood.

    “What drives MBS is a ruthless effort toward total control domestically and regionally; he is Putin of the Desert,” says Bodine. “He has basically broken the back of the princelings, the religious establishment and the business elite, brought all ministries and agencies of power under his sole control (’I alone can fix it’), and jailed, killed or put under house arrest activists and any and all potential as well as real opposition (including his mother).”

    In 2017, MBS and his backers in the Emirates accused Qatar of supporting “terrorism,” issuing a set of demands that included shutting down Al Jazeera. The Saudis closed off the border and looked for other ways, including military options, to put pressure on the poor little rich country that plays so many angles it has managed to be supportive of the Brotherhood and cozy with Iran while hosting an enormous U.S. military base.

    “It was Qatar’s independent streak—not just who they supported but that they had a foreign policy divorced from the dictates of Riyadh,” says Bodine. “The basic problem is that both the Brotherhood and Iran offer competing Islam-based governing structures that challenge the Saudi model.”

    “Jamal’s basic sin,” says Bodine,“was he was a credible insider, not a fire-breathing radical. He wrote and spoke in English for an American audience via credible mainstream media and was well regarded and highly visible within the Washington chattering classes. He was accessible, moderate and operated within the West. He challenged not the core structure of the Kingdom but the legitimacy of the current rulers, especially MBS.”

    “I do think the game plan was to make him disappear and I suspect the end game was always to make him dead,” said Bodine in a long and thoughtful email. “If he was simply jailed within Saudi there would have been a drumbeat of pressure for his release. Dead—there is certainly a short term cost, whether more than anticipated or longer than anticipated we don’t know yet, but the world will move on. Jamal will become a footnote, a talking point perhaps, but not a crusade. The dismembered body? No funeral. Taking out Jamal also sends a powerful signal to any dissident that there is no place safe.”

    #Arabie_Saoudite #Turquie #politique #terrorisme #putsch


  • EU steps up planning for refugee exodus if Assad attacks #Idlib

    Thousands to be moved from Greek island camps to make space in case of mass arrivals.

    Children walk past the remains of burned-out tents after an outbreak of violence at the Moria migrant centre on Lesbos. Aid groups say conditions at the camps on Greek islands are ’shameful’ © Reuters

    Michael Peel in Brussels September 14, 2018

    Thousands of migrants will be moved from Greek island camps within weeks to ease chronic overcrowding and make space if Syrians flee from an assault on rebel-held Idlib province, under plans being discussed by Brussels and Athens.

    Dimitris Avramopoulos, the EU’s migration commissioner, is due to meet senior Greek officials next week including Alexis Tsipras, prime minister, to hammer out a plan to move an initial 3,000 people.

    The proposal is primarily aimed at dealing with what 19 non-governmental groups on Thursday branded “shameful” conditions at the island migrant centres. The strategy also dovetails with contingency planning in case Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s Russian-backed regime launches a full-scale offensive to retake Idlib and triggers an exodus of refugees to Greece via Turkey.

    The numbers in the planned first Greek migrant transfer would go only partway to easing the island overcrowding — and they are just a small fraction of the several million people estimated to be gathered in the Syrian opposition enclave on the Turkish border.

    “It’s important to get those numbers down,” said one EU diplomat of the Greek island camps. “If we have mass arrivals in Greece, it’s going to be very tough. There is no spare capacity.”

    Syria’s Idlib awaits major assault The UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs said this week that 30,000 people had been displaced from their homes by air and ground attacks by the Syrian regime and its allies in the Idlib area, while a full assault could drive out 800,000.

    Jean-Claude Juncker, European Commission president, this week warned that the “impending humanitarian disaster” in Idlib must be a “deep and direct concern to us all”.

    17,000 Number of migrants crammed into camps designed for 6,000 The European Commission wants to help Athens accelerate an existing programme to send migrants to the Greek mainland and provide accommodation there to ease the island overcrowding, EU diplomats say.

    The commission said it was working with the Greeks to move 3,000 “vulnerable” people whom Athens has made eligible for transfer, in many cases because they have already applied for asylum and are awaiting the results of their claims.

    Migrant numbers in the island camps have climbed this year, in part because of the time taken to process asylum cases. More than 17,000 are crammed into facilities with capacity of barely 6,000, the NGOs said on Thursday, adding that Moria camp on the island of Lesbos was awash with raw sewage and reports of sexual violence and abuse.

    “It is nothing short of shameful that people are expected to endure such horrific conditions on European soil,” the NGOs said in a statement.

    Mr Avramopoulos, the EU migration commissioner, told reporters on Thursday he knew there were “problems right now, especially in the camp of Moria”. The commission was doing “everything in our power” to support the Greek authorities operationally and financially, he added.

    Recommended The FT View The editorial board The high price of Syria’s next disaster “Money is not an issue,” he said. “Greece has had and will continue having all the financial support to address the migration challenges.

    ” The Greek government has already transferred some asylum seekers to the mainland. It has urged the EU to give it more funds and support.

    EU diplomats say the effect of the Idlib conflict on the Greek situation is hard to judge. One uncertainty is whether Ankara would open its frontier to allow people to escape. Even if civilians do cross the border, it is not certain that they would try to move on to the EU: Turkey already hosts more than 3.5m Syrian refugees.

    The EU secured a 2016 deal with Turkey under which Brussels agreed to pay €6bn in exchange for Ankara taking back migrants who cross from its territory to the Greek islands. The agreement has helped drive a sharp fall in Mediterranean migrant arrival numbers to a fraction of their 2015-16 highs.

    https://www.ft.com/content/0aada630-b77a-11e8-bbc3-ccd7de085ffe
    #Syrie #réfugiés_syriens #asile #migrations #Grèce #guerre #réfugiés_syriens #Moria #vide #plein #géographie_du_vide #géographie_du_plein (on vide le camp pour être prêt à le remplir au cas où...) #politique_migratoire
    cc @reka


  • Syrian opposition arresting those who promote reconciling with regime
    https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2018/08/syria-north-fsa-arrest-reconciliation-regime.html

    Regime opponents have been cracking down on people it accuses of spreading rumors about or urging reconciliation with the government and its allies in northern Syria.

    Since mid-July, such rumors have been circulating in opposition-controlled parts of Idlib and neighboring areas in rural Aleppo, Hama and Latakia provinces, along with al-Ghab Plain in Idlib and Hama provinces. There have been reports that an increasing number of people in these areas are calling for reconciliation. The regime’s Ministry of Reconciliation also reports that dignitaries of these areas have contacted the ministry and officials at Khmeimim air base, which is operated by Russia in Latakia, to discuss their surrender.

    The rumors, according to regime opponents, broke out a few days before the regime took full control over the southern province of Daraa in a bloody mid-July campaign. President Bashar al-Assad said Idlib would be next, sparking concerns in opposition-held areas in the north.

    Capt. Abdel Salam Abdel Razzaq is a leader of the Syrian Liberation Front, which is affiliated with the opposition’s Free Syrian Army (FSA). He told Al-Monitor, “After the regime took over Daraa, we were expecting those collaborating with the regime [in the north] to come out and make their voices heard about the need to reconcile with the regime. … We also warned residents about people promoting reconciliation and stressed the need to track them down.”


  • China to allegedly assist Syrian Army in Idlib - report
    https://www.almasdarnews.com/article/china-to-allegedly-assist-syrian-army-in-idlib-report

    China will allegedly assist the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) in their upcoming battle in southwestern Idlib, the Chinese Ambassador to Syria, Qi Qianjin, told Al-Watan this week.

    According to the Al-Watan, Qianjin told the Syrian daily that the Chinese military is prepared to ‘somehow’ take part in the upcoming Idlib offensive, especially because of the large presence of Uyghur fighters near Jisr Al-Shughour.

    “The Chinese military has played an imperative role in protecting sovereignty, security and stability of China. At the same time, it (China) is wanting to take part in peacekeeping operations,” Qianjin told Al-Watan.

    Tiens ! Les Chinois aussi en #syrie.


  • What Would Happen if the United States Were to Recognize Israel’s Sovereignty Over the Golan Heights? -

    Carnegie Middle East Center - Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
    http://carnegie-mec.org/diwan/76889?lang=en

    Alain Gresh | Editor of OrientXXI.info

    Such a decision by the United States would only add to the ongoing instability in the Middle East. After the transfer of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, it would confirm that the United States is no longer even a “dishonest broker” in Arab-Israel peace negotiations, but rather has become a direct party in the Arab-Israeli conflict. This will make it even more difficult for Washington to broker “the deal of the century” between Israelis and Palestinians. Talks are in limbo, despite many statements this past year on the imminence of a peace plan.

    This situation will strengthen the hand of Russia, which is now seen as an important actor maintaining working relations with all regional leaders, from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. It will also play into the hands of Iran, allowing Tehran to widen its alliance with certain “Sunni groups.” We can even imagine that it may play into Assad’s hands as well. After the 2006 war in Lebanon, some Syrian Muslim Brotherhood leaders were ready to engage with Assad in the name of the struggle against Israel. Today, U.S. recognition of Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights may revive such impulses.


  • Russia. Winning in Syria and the Middle East - By David W. Lesch and Kamal Alam - Syria Comment

    https://www.joshualandis.com/blog/25520-2

    Winning in Syria and the Middle East
    By David W. Lesch and Kamal Alam
    For Syria Comment – July 16, 2018

    The common perception today is that Russia has won in Syria, having supported the government of Bashar al-Assad, which is now steadily reasserting its control over previously lost territory. As a result, Russia has inserted itself as the power broker in Syria, if not the entire Middle East.  The summit between Presidents Trump and Putin on Monday in Helsinki, where the subject of Syria was high on the agenda, seems to have consecrated Russia’s victory. Countries tend to gravitate toward winners, not losers.

    Kamal Alam

    The United States, on the other hand, directly and indirectly intervened in multiple conflicts in the Middle East since 9/11, first in Afghanistan, then Iraq, followed by involvement in a series of upheavals brought on by the Arab Spring:  Libya and Syria most notably. No one would say the US has won in any of these cases—far from it.

    On the surface, this is difficult to comprehend.  After all, the US has by far the most powerful military on earth. The image of Russia’s only aircraft carrier limping toward, breaking down, and being towed in the eastern Mediterranean in support of Assad’s forces was a stark reminder of this reality.  So how did Russia win—and why did the US fail over and over again?

    There is one outstanding difference in the Russian versus American military interventions in internal national conflicts in the Middle East:  in Syria, the Kremlin supported the entrenched state. In Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria, the US supported opposition forces seeking the overthrow of the entrenched state.

    For the sake of argument, let’s say the US and NATO reversed their policy and actually wanted Libyan President Muammar Gadafi to remain in power against the opposition forces unleashed by the Arab spring. Is there any doubt that with US military support he would still be in power today?  Perhaps he too would be mopping up pockets of resistance much as Assad is doing today in Syria.  However illogical or immoral it may have seemed at the time to most in the West, let’s say Washington wanted Assad to stay in power seven years ago when the Arab spring hit Syria. Would not the US be the one crowning its success there, not Russia? Ironically, the US supported the Iraqi state against ISIS—and won.  But the US is not going to get much credit for solving a problem it largely created when it dissolved the state via the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and its chaotic aftermath.


  • How a victorious Bashar al-Assad is changing Syria

    Sunnis have been pushed out by the war. The new Syria is smaller, in ruins and more sectarian.

    A NEW Syria is emerging from the rubble of war. In Homs, which Syrians once dubbed the “capital of the revolution” against President Bashar al-Assad, the Muslim quarter and commercial district still lie in ruins, but the Christian quarter is reviving. Churches have been lavishly restored; a large crucifix hangs over the main street. “Groom of Heaven”, proclaims a billboard featuring a photo of a Christian soldier killed in the seven-year conflict. In their sermons, Orthodox patriarchs praise Mr Assad for saving one of the world’s oldest Christian communities.

    Homs, like all of the cities recaptured by the government, now belongs mostly to Syria’s victorious minorities: Christians, Shias and Alawites (an esoteric offshoot of Shia Islam from which Mr Assad hails). These groups banded together against the rebels, who are nearly all Sunni, and chased them out of the cities. Sunni civilians, once a large majority, followed. More than half of the country’s population of 22m has been displaced—6.5m inside Syria and over 6m abroad. Most are Sunnis.

    The authorities seem intent on maintaining the new demography. Four years after the government regained Homs, residents still need a security clearance to return and rebuild their homes. Few Sunnis get one. Those that do have little money to restart their lives. Some attend Christian mass, hoping for charity or a visa to the West from bishops with foreign connections. Even these Sunnis fall under suspicion. “We lived so well before,” says a Christian teacher in Homs. “But how can you live with a neighbour who overnight called you a kafir (infidel)?”

    Even in areas less touched by the war, Syria is changing. The old city of Damascus, Syria’s capital, is an architectural testament to Sunni Islam. But the Iranian-backed Shia militias that fight for Mr Assad have expanded the city’s Shia quarter into Sunni and Jewish areas. Portraits of Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hizbullah, a Lebanese Shia militia, hang from Sunni mosques. Advertisements for Shia pilgrimages line the walls. In the capital’s new cafés revellers barely notice the jets overhead, bombing rebel-held suburbs. “I love those sounds,” says a Christian woman who works for the UN. Like other regime loyalists, she wants to see the “terrorists” punished.

    Mr Assad’s men captured the last rebel strongholds around Damascus in May. He now controls Syria’s spine, from Aleppo in the north to Damascus in the south—what French colonisers once called la Syrie utile (useful Syria). The rebels are confined to pockets along the southern and northern borders (see map). Lately the government has attacked them in the south-western province of Deraa.

    A prize of ruins

    The regime is in a celebratory mood. Though thinly spread, it has survived the war largely intact. Government departments are functioning. In areas that remained under Mr Assad’s control, electricity and water supplies are more reliable than in much of the Middle East. Officials predict that next year’s natural-gas production will surpass pre-war levels. The National Museum in Damascus, which locked up its prized antiquities for protection, is preparing to reopen to the public. The railway from Damascus to Aleppo might resume operations this summer.

    To mark national day on April 17th, the ancient citadel of Aleppo hosted a festival for the first time since the war began. Martial bands, dancing girls, children’s choirs and a Swiss opera singer (of Syrian origin) crowded onto the stage. “God, Syria and Bashar alone,” roared the flag-waving crowd, as video screens showed the battle to retake the city. Below the citadel, the ruins stretch to the horizon.

    Mr Assad (pictured) has been winning the war by garrisoning city centres, then shooting outward into rebel-held suburbs. On the highway from Damascus to Aleppo, towns and villages lie desolate. A new stratum of dead cities has joined the ones from Roman times. The regime has neither the money nor the manpower to rebuild. Before the war Syria’s economic growth approached double digits and annual GDP was $60bn. Now the economy is shrinking; GDP was $12bn last year. Estimates of the cost of reconstruction run to $250bn.

    Syrians are experienced construction workers. When Lebanon’s civil war ended in 1990, they helped rebuild Beirut. But no such workforce is available today. In Damascus University’s civil-engineering department, two-thirds of the lecturers have fled. “The best were first to go,” says one who stayed behind. Students followed them. Those that remain have taken to speaking Araglish, a hotch-potch of Arabic and English, as many plan futures abroad.

    Traffic flows lightly along once-jammed roads in Aleppo, despite the checkpoints. Its pre-war population of 3.2m has shrunk to under 2m. Other cities have also emptied out. Men left first, many fleeing the draft and their likely dispatch to the front. As in Europe after the first world war, Syria’s workforce is now dominated by women. They account for over three-quarters of the staff in the religious-affairs ministry, a hitherto male preserve, says the minister. There are female plumbers, taxi-drivers and bartenders.

    Millions of Syrians who stayed behind have been maimed or traumatised. Almost everyone your correspondent spoke to had buried a close relative. Psychologists warn of societal breakdown. As the war separates families, divorce rates soar. More children are begging in the streets. When the jihadists retreat, liquor stores are the first to reopen.

    Mr Assad, though, seems focused less on recovery than rewarding loyalists with property left behind by Sunnis. He has distributed thousands of empty homes to Shia militiamen. “Terrorists should forfeit their assets,” says a Christian businesswoman, who was given a plush café that belonged to the family of a Sunni defector. A new decree, called Law 10, legitimises the government’s seizure of such assets. Title-holders will forfeit their property if they fail to re-register it, a tough task for the millions who have fled the country.

    A Palestinian-like problem

    The measure has yet to be implemented, but refugees compare it to Israel’s absentees’ property laws, which allow the government to take the property of Palestinian refugees. Syrian officials, of course, bridle at such comparisons. The ruling Baath party claims to represent all of Syria’s religions and sects. The country has been led by Alawites since 1966, but Sunnis held senior positions in government, the armed forces and business. Even today many Sunnis prefer Mr Assad’s secular rule to that of Islamist rebels.

    But since pro-democracy protests erupted in March 2011, Syrians detect a more sectarian approach to policymaking. The first demonstrations attracted hundreds of thousands of people of different faiths. So the regime stoked sectarian tensions to divide the opposition. Sunnis, it warned, really wanted winner-take-all majoritarianism. Jihadists were released from prison in order to taint the uprising. As the government turned violent, so did the protesters. Sunni states, such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, provided them with arms, cash and preachers. Hardliners pushed aside moderates. By the end of 2011, the protests had degenerated into a sectarian civil war.

    Early on, minorities lowered their profile to avoid being targeted. Women donned headscarves. Non-Muslim businessmen bowed to demands from Sunni employees for prayer rooms. But as the war swung their way, minorities regained their confidence. Alawite soldiers now flex arms tattooed with Imam Ali, whom they consider the first imam after the Prophet Muhammad (Sunnis see things differently). Christian women in Aleppo show their cleavage. “We would never ask about someone’s religion,” says an official in Damascus. “Sorry to say, we now do.”

    The country’s chief mufti is a Sunni, but there are fewer Sunnis serving in top posts since the revolution. Last summer Mr Assad replaced the Sunni speaker of parliament with a Christian. In January he broke with tradition by appointing an Alawite, instead of a Sunni, as defence minister.

    Officially the government welcomes the return of displaced Syrians, regardless of their religion or sect. “Those whose hands are not stained with blood will be forgiven,” says a Sunni minister. Around 21,000 families have returned to Homs in the last two years, according to its governor, Talal al-Barazi. But across the country, the number of displaced Syrians is rising. Already this year 920,000 people have left their homes, says the UN. Another 45,000 have fled the recent fighting in Deraa. Millions more may follow if the regime tries to retake other rebel enclaves.

    When the regime took Ghouta, in eastern Damascus, earlier this year its 400,000 residents were given a choice between leaving for rebel-held areas in the north or accepting a government offer of shelter. The latter was a euphemism for internment. Tens of thousands remain “captured” in camps, says the UN. “We swapped a large prison for a smaller one,” says Hamdan, who lives with his family in a camp in Adra, on the edge of Ghouta. They sleep under a tarpaulin in a schoolyard with two other families. Armed guards stand at the gates, penning more than 5,000 people inside.

    The head of the camp, a Christian officer, says inmates can leave once their security clearance is processed, but he does not know how long that will take. Returning home requires a second vetting. Trapped and powerless, Hamdan worries that the regime or its supporters will steal his harvest—and then his land. Refugees fear that they will be locked out of their homeland altogether. “We’re the new Palestinians,” says Taher Qabar, one of 350,000 Syrians camped in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley.

    Some argue that Mr Assad, with fewer Sunnis to fear, may relax his repressive rule. Ministers in Damascus insist that change is inevitable. They point to a change in the constitution made in 2012 that nominally allows for multiparty politics. There are a few hopeful signs. Local associations, once banned, offer vocational training to the displaced. State media remain Orwellian, but the internet is unrestricted and social-media apps allow for unfettered communication. Students in cafés openly criticise the regime. Why doesn’t Mr Assad send his son, Hafez, to the front, sneers a student who has failed his university exams to prolong his studies and avoid conscription.

    A decade ago Mr Assad toyed with infitah (liberalisation), only for Sunni extremists to build huge mosques from which to spout their hate-speech, say his advisers. He is loth to repeat the mistake. Portraits of the president, appearing to listen keenly with a slightly oversized ear, now line Syria’s roads and hang in most offices and shops. Checkpoints, introduced as a counter-insurgency measure, control movement as never before. Men under the age of 42 are told to hand over cash or be sent to the front. So rife are the levies that diplomats speak of a “checkpoint economy”.

    Having resisted pressure to compromise when he was losing, Mr Assad sees no reason to make concessions now. He has torpedoed proposals for a political process, promoted by UN mediators and his Russian allies, that would include the Sunni opposition. At talks in Sochi in January he diluted plans for a constitutional committee, insisting that it be only consultative and based in Damascus. His advisers use the buzzwords of “reconciliation” and “amnesty” as euphemisms for surrender and security checks. He has yet to outline a plan for reconstruction.

    War, who is it good for?

    Mr Assad appears to be growing tired of his allies. Iran has resisted Russia’s call for foreign forces to leave Syria. It refuses to relinquish command of 80,000 foreign Shia militiamen. Skirmishes between the militias and Syrian troops have resulted in scores of deaths, according to researchers at King’s College in London. Having defeated Sunni Islamists, army officers say they have no wish to succumb to Shia ones. Alawites, in particular, flinch at Shia evangelising. “We don’t pray, don’t fast [during Ramadan] and drink alcohol,” says one.

    But Mr Assad still needs his backers. Though he rules most of the population, about 40% of Syria’s territory lies beyond his control. Foreign powers dominate the border areas, blocking trade corridors and the regime’s access to oilfields. In the north-west, Turkish forces provide some protection for Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a group linked to al-Qaeda, and other Sunni rebels. American and French officers oversee a Kurdish-led force east of the Euphrates river. Sunni rebels abutting the Golan Heights offer Israel and Jordan a buffer. In theory the territory is classified as a “de-escalation zone”. But violence in the zone is escalating again.

    New offensives by the regime risk pulling foreign powers deeper into the conflict. Turkey, Israel and America have drawn red lines around the rebels under their protection. Continuing Iranian operations in Syria “would be the end of [Mr Assad], his regime”, said Yuval Steinitz, a minister in Israel, which has bombed Iranian bases in the country. Israel may be giving the regime a green light in Deraa, in order to keep the Iranians out of the area.

    There could be worse options than war for Mr Assad. More fighting would create fresh opportunities to reward loyalists and tilt Syria’s demography to his liking. Neighbours, such as Jordan and Lebanon, and European countries might indulge the dictator rather than face a fresh wave of refugees. Above all, war delays the day Mr Assad has to face the question of how he plans to rebuild the country that he has so wantonly destroyed.


    https://www.economist.com/middle-east-and-africa/2018/06/30/how-a-victorious-bashar-al-assad-is-changing-syria?frsc=dg%7Ce
    #Syrie #démographie #sunnites #sciites #chrétiens #religion #minorités

    • Onze ans plus tard, on continue à tenter de donner un peu de crédibilité à la fable d’une guerre entre « sunnites » et « minoritaires » quand la moindre connaissance directe de ce pays montre qu’une grande partie des « sunnites » continue, pour de bonnes ou de mauvaises raisons, mais ce sont les leurs, à soutenir leur président. Par ailleurs, tout le monde est prié désormais par les syriologues de ne se déterminer que par rapport à son origine sectaire (au contraire de ce qu’on nous affirmait du reste au début de la « révolution »)...


  • THE BATTLE OF DARAA IS HAPPENING : AL-RIDWAN, HEZBOLLAH’S SPECIAL FORCES WILL PARTICIPATE.
    https://ejmagnier.com/2018/06/19/the-battle-of-daraa-is-happening-al-ridwan-hezbollahs-special-forces-will

    The Syrian command ignored the US and the Israeli requests to exclude Hezbollah and the Iranian allies from being present in Daraa. Thus, the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad asked Hezbollah al-Ridwan Special Forces to take positions in Daraa and around it to participate in the forthcoming attack.

    Sources on the ground believe the US is not expected to pull out of al-Tanf crossing between Syria and Iraq – as requested by Damascus in exchange of Hezbollah and Iran absence in Daraa – because Israel believes the battle is not going to take place. Therefore, the Syrian government has decided to engage in the Daraa’ battle and remove all jihadists from the south to regain total control of the territory or even impose a negotiation by force to reached a withdrawal of the US forces from al-Tanf.

    The Syrian Army is also aiming to end the southern battle so it can move all offensive forces to the north and al-Badiya afterwards, to attack the remaining ISIS forces present in that part of Syria.

    The US faces a dilemma with thousands of trained, supported and funded Syrian proxies militias in the border area between Syria and Iraq. These militias can be a burden if the US decides to withdraw because they are Arab and non-Kurdish forces.


  • #Seymour_Hersh on spies, state secrets, and the stories he doesn’t tell - Columbia Journalism Review
    https://www.cjr.org/special_report/seymour-hersh-monday-interview.php

    Bob Woodward once said his worst source was Kissinger because he never told the truth. Who was your worst source?

    Oh, I wouldn’t tell you.


  • Pentagon Warns Syria’s Assad against Attacking Washington Allies | Asharq AL-awsat
    https://aawsat.com/english/home/article/1287576/pentagon-warns-syria%E2%80%99s-assad-against-attacking-washington-allies

    The Pentagon on Thursday warned Head of Syrian regime Bashar al-Assad not to carry out an offensive against Kurdish and Arab forces backed by the Washington that control the country’s north-east.

    Lieutenant General Kenneth McKenzie, director of the joint staff, said during a press conference on Thursday: “Any interested party in Syria should understand that attacking US Forces or our coalition partners will be a bad policy.

    Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White later stated that US is in Syria only to fight ISIS.

    She added that the “US did not want to get involved in Syria’s civil war.

    Assad told Russian broadcaster RT in an interview that the “only problem left in Syria is the SDF.”

    Assad said there were only “two options" to deal with SDF.

    The first one: we started now opening doors for negotiations. Because the majority of them are Syrians."

    Otherwise, "we’re going to resort... to liberating those areas by force,” he added.

    SDF continue to fight against ISIS in part of oil-rich province of Deir Al Zour.


  • Syria cooperation highlights progress in Egypt-Russia relations as hurdles remain | MadaMasr

    https://madamirror.appspot.com/www.madamasr.com/en/2018/05/01/feature/politics/syria-cooperation-highlights-progress-in-egypt-russia-relations-

    Phone calls between high-ranking Egyptian and Russian officials have brought the two countries into accord on the Syrian crisis, according to an Egyptian government source, in what is one of several breakthroughs on pending Cairo-Moscow diplomatic discussions.

    The government source, who is involved in Egyptian-Russian diplomatic relations, says communications between the two countries were at their peak prior to the mid-April joint airstrikes carried out by the United States, United Kingdom and France against government facilities in Syria. Talks centered on possible approaches to the conflict, to be taken in the event that the then-potential tripartite strikes were carried out, that would ensure that Islamist groups do not reap any political gains.

    Egyptian-Russian cooperation was and remains mainly an exchange of information aimed at curbing Saudi Arabian and Turkish-backed militias that were deployed to Syria to “overthrow” President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, according to the source, who spoke to Mada Masr on condition of anonymity.

    The alliance falls in line, the source adds, with Cairo’s position on the situation in Syria: Assad remaining in power is the best available option, despite Cairo’s reservations on certain aspects of the way he’s managed the conflict. Tellingly, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s speech the Arab League summit in Dhahran in mid-April was free of any condemnation of the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons in Eastern Ghouta — the stated reason for the tripartite airstrikes — as much as any endorsement of the strike.



  • SyrianObserver.com: Assad Confiscates Properties of Absentees Through Legislation
    http://syrianobserver.com/EN/News/34055


    Apr 5th, 2018 by Al-Hal (opposition website)

    Syrian lawyer and rights activist Michel Shammas said that Decree 10 for the year 2018, which was issued by the Syrian regime’s President Bashar al-Assad, “opened the door wide for demographic change and legitimizing the confiscation of the properties of millions of displaced and expelled people.”

    Shammas said on his Facebook page that the decree had a basic aim of preventing displaced and refugees from returning to their homes. He called on all Syrians living in countries of refuge and those in contact with the authorities with whom Syrians have taken refuge to inform them of the decree which deprives refugees of their properties and will therefore prevent them from returning to Syria.

    The lawyer said that the timing of the decree’s issuance will deprive millions of refugees and displaced from establishing their ownership, as most of them are wanted by security forces, adding, “The decree must be stopped from being implemented now, because a safe and calm environment is required after the return of every refugee and displaced person to their homes and areas is ensured and they are able to exercise their rights.”

    Assad issued a decree last Monday which stipulated allowing “for the establishment of one or more organizational zone within the general organizational plans for administrative units by a decree based on the proposal of the minister of local administration and environment and the amendment of some articles of legislative Decree No. 66 for the year 2012.”

    According to experts the new decree will allow for new organizational zones to be established in any province the regime government wants, like the Khalaf al-Razi zone in Damascus, or what is known as the Marotta City project.

    #RECONSTRUCTION #réfugiés #spoliation


  • Trump wants to get the U.S. out of Syria’s war, so he asked the Saudi king for $4 billion - The Washington Post
    https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/trump-wants-to-get-the-us-out-of-syrias-war-so-he-asked-the-saudi-king-for-4billion/2018/03/16/756bac90-2870-11e8-bc72-077aa4dab9ef_story.html

    In a December phone call with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, President Trump had an idea he thought could hasten a U.S. exit from Syria: Ask the king for $4 billion. By the end of the call, according to U.S. officials, the president believed he had a deal.

    The White House wants money from the kingdom and other nations to help rebuild and stabilize the parts of Syria that the U.S. military and its local allies have liberated from the Islamic State. The postwar goal is to prevent Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his Russian and Iranian partners from claiming the areas, or the Islamic State from regrouping, while U.S. forces finish mopping up the militants

    #syrie


  • Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia: Top three stunning admissions from the top U.S. general in the Middle East

    Assad has won, Iran deal should stand and Saudis use American weapons without accountability in Yemen: head of U.S. military’s Central Command’s stunning Congressional testimony

    https://www.haaretz.com/middle-east-news/top-three-stunning-admissions-from-the-top-u-s-general-in-the-region-1.5910

    Haaretz and Reuters Mar 16, 2018

    The top U.S. general in the Middle East testified before Congress on Tuesday and dropped several bombshells: from signaled support for the Iran nuclear deal, admitting the U.S. does not know what Saudi Arabia does with its bombs in Yemen and that Assad has won the Syrian Civil War.
    U.S. Army General Joseph Votel said the Iran agreement, which President Donald Trump has threatened to withdraw from, has played an important role in addressing Iran’s nuclear program.
    “The JCPOA addresses one of the principle threats that we deal with from Iran, so if the JCPOA goes away, then we will have to have another way to deal with their nuclear weapons program,” said U.S. Army General Joseph Votel. JCPOA, or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, is the formal name of the accord reached with Iran in July 2015 in Vienna.
    Trump has threatened to withdraw the United States from the accord between Tehran and six world powers unless Congress and European allies help “fix” it with a follow-up pact. Trump does not like the deal’s limited duration, among other things.
    Votel is head of the U.S. military’s Central Command, which is responsible for the Middle East and Central Asia, including Iran. He was speaking to a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the same day that Trump fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson after a series of public rifts over policy, including Iran.
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    Tillerson had joined Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in pressing a skeptical Trump to stick with the agreement with Iran.
    “There would be some concern (in the region), I think, about how we intended to address that particular threat if it was not being addressed through the JCPOA. ... Right now, I think it is in our interest” to stay in the deal, Votel said.

    When a lawmaker asked whether he agreed with Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford’s position on the deal,Votel said: “Yes, I share their position.”
    Mattis said late last year that the United States should consider staying in the Iran nuclear deal unless it was proven Tehran was not complying or that the agreement was not in the U.S. national interest.
    A collapse of the Iran nuclear deal would be a “great loss,” the United Nations atomic watchdog’s chief warned Trump recently, giving a wide-ranging defense of the accord.
    Iran has stayed within the deal’s restrictions since Trump took office but has fired diplomatic warning shots at Washington in recent weeks. It said on Monday that it could rapidly enrich uranium to a higher degree of purity if the deal collapsed.
    Syria
    Votel also discussed the situation in Syria at the hearing.
    During the Syrian army’s offensive in eastern Ghouta, more than 1,100 civilians have died. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, backed by Russia and Iran, say they are targeting “terrorist” groups shelling the capital.
    U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley warned on Monday that Washington “remains prepared to act if we must,” if the U.N. Security Council failed to act on Syria.
    Votel said the best way to deter Russia, which backs Assad, was through political and diplomatic channels.
    “Certainly if there are other things that are considered, you know, we will do what we are told. ... (But) I don’t recommend that at this particular point,” Votel said, in an apparent to reference to military options.
    Republican Senator Lindsey Graham asked whether it was too strong to say that with Russia and Iran’s help, Assad had “won” the civil war in Syria.
    “I do not think that is too strong of a statement,” Votel said.
    Graham also asked if the United States’ policy on Syria was still to seek the removal of Assad from power.
    “I don’t know that that’s our particular policy at this particular point. Our focus remains on the defeat of ISIS,” Votel said, using an acronym for Islamic State. 
    Saudi Arabia
    In a stunning exchange with Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren, Votel admitted that Centcom doesn’t know when U.S. fuel and munitions are used in Yemen. 
    “General Votel, does CENTCOM track the purpose of the missions it is refueling? In other words, where a U.S.-refueled aircraft is going, what targets it strikes, and the result of the mission?” Warren asked.
    “Senator, we do not,” Votel replied.
    The Senator followed up, citing reports that U.S. munitions have been used against civilians in Yemen, she asked, “General Votel, when you receive reports like this from credible media organizations or outside observers, is CENTCOM able to tell if U.S. fuel or U.S. munitions were used in that strike?”
    “No, senator, I don’t believe we are,” he replied.
    Showing surprise at the general’s response, Warren concluded, “We need to be clear about this: Saudi Arabia’s the one receiving American weapons and American support. And that means we bear some responsibility here. And that means we need to hold our partners and our allies accountable for how those resources are used,” she said.


  • UPDATE 3-Lebanon to begin offshore energy search in block disputed by Israel
    https://uk.reuters.com/article/lebanon-israel-natgas/update-1-lebanon-will-fully-use-energy-block-disputed-by-israel-minister

    Lebanon said on Friday it had signed its first offshore oil and gas exploration and production agreements for two blocks, including a block disputed by neighbouring Israel.

    Lebanon’s energy minister said the dispute with Israel would not stop Lebanon benefiting from potential undersea reserves in the contentious Block 9, while consortium operator Total said it would not drill the block’s first well near the disputed zone.
    […]
    Lebanese and Israeli officials said David Satterfield, acting assistant U.S. secretary of state, was in Israel last week and in Lebanon this week on a mediation mission. U.S. officials confirmed his travels without detailing his agenda.

    Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said on Friday a diplomatic resolution to the dispute “is preferable to threats”.

    But, speaking to Tel Aviv radio station 102 FM, Steinitz added: “We made two things clear, in a very forthright manner, over the last year. One, don’t provoke us, and don’t explore in or even get close to the disputed line-of-contact.

    But : ah ben voilà que Reuters, au fil des mises à jours successives de la dépêche, met en doute la volonté inébranlable d’Israel de recourir à une résolution diplomatique de la dispute frontalière… Doute substancié par le paragraphe suivant qui rappelle innocemment…

    Israel last went to war in Lebanon in 2006, against the heavily armed, Iran-backed Shi‘ite Muslim Hezbollah movement. Israel says Hezbollah has increased in strength since helping sway the Syrian civil war in President Bashar al-Assad’s favour.