Archive | March 14th, 2020

Syria hosted Jewish European refugees during World War II

Jewish civilians from Europe and the Balkans sought refuge in Middle East to escape the Nazi.

Syria hosted European refugees during World War II

It is a long-forgotten fact that some Middle East nations, including now war-torn Syria, hosted European refugees during the second World War. 

Civilians from Eastern Europe and the Balkans migrated to the Middle East crossing the Mediterranean Sea and Turkey to escape the Nazi during the harshest period of the war.

The Middle East Relief and Refugee Administration (MERRA), established by the British in 1942, placed around 40,000 Europeans Jews to the camps set up in Syria, Egypt and Palestine.

Jewish Europeans stayed at the camps until the war was over, and then they returned to their country or went to a third country they preferred to go.

The Washington Post narrated the forgotten story in a report it published in 2016.

The report shared information on the situation in camps by providing notes from a study conducted by the Public Radio International (PRI) in April 2016.

According to the PRI, once the newly-arrived Jewish refugees went through a medical inspection, they were sent to separate living quarters — for families, unaccompanied children, single men and single women — and were assigned to a section of the camp.

In 1944, civilians coming from Greek island to the Aleppo camp could go out to socialize and shop after their security was ensured.

Iran also hosted tens of thousands of Jewish Poles who escaped Nazi slaughter, with the number varying from 114,000 to 300,000 between 1939 and 1941.

Also, on Jan. 11, 1942, an Arabic newspaper titled “Here is Jerusalem” (Huna al-Quds) published a front-page photograph of Syrian women distributing clothes to Greek children.

“Meal and clothes distributed to refugees coming from Greece to Syria,” the newspaper read.

Syria has only just begun to emerge from a devastating conflict that began in 2011. Since then, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed in the conflict and millions more displaced, according to the UN.

Turkey hosts more than 3.5 million Syrians, more than any other country in the world, while many European countries refuse to open its doors for the displaced civilians.

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Afghan Peace?

By Brigadier General Samson Simon Sharif for VT Pak

After four decades of intense conflict, will Peace finally prevail in a ravaged Afghanistan? Due to interlocked destinies, people in Afghanistan and adjoining Pakistan keep fingers crossed due to many assumptions based on suppositions. Ultimately, it is possible that the tangle of these assumptions and suppositions weaved by ‘gods of war’ turn the clock to inertia; the curse of South West Asia. The stuttering Intra Afghan Talks, many sharp edges in the Exclusive Peace Accord and interests of the gods may ultimately complicate the facade of a simple plan of US exit.

At Doha, many wondered if the Peace Accord excluding the ruling Ashraf Ghani regime and warlords was workable. Some assumed that USA represented the Afghan regime and the warlords. Pakistan maintained that once USA and Taliban had reached a basic consensus, intra Afghan Talks would follow, paving the way for a durable peace. What will Pakistan’s role be in this facilitation is not known. But for certain, Pakistan will give peace a chance. But there are sticking points in varying ranges, angles and interests.

Taliban continued the attacks followed by a US drone strike named defensive in nature. Ashraf Ghani has not only locked horns with Taliban over the modalities of prison swaps but also his rival Abdullah Abdullah. US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad pointed out that a possible move by the Taliban to re-establish an Islamic emirate is a red line for the international community.

US Congressmen and sceptics are suspicious of the classified annexes to the accord. These they maintain are accessible to Afghan Taliban on whose insistence they are being kept away from the US congressional and public domain. Apologists term them as tactical in nature while critics accuse the administration of sharing crucial tactical overlays with Terrorists.. Whatever these views, it appears that Taliban have agreed to work with USA and Pakistan may have a major role to keep the region stable. If true, how will India react to being left out in the equation?

In all likelihood, Taliban have agreed to a power sharing formula in Afghanistan with all factions sans the Islamic Emirate. Most likely, the US role in mediation will continue and some US military presence cannot be ruled out. A common objective for all could be elimination of ISIS that has already mounted attacks after the peace was agreed. If all goes well, Afghanistan will end up a loose federation with power shared in different regions by different entities with a broad allegiance to Kabul. What will be the role of tribal chieftains and warlords could be the most difficult issue to resolve. Most likely, they will seesaw with the wind.

If we turn back the clock to 1976-77 and 1996, how different will this arrangement be to those that were negotiated between Afghanistan and Pakistan? The past agreements were reached with minimum bloodshed and each time they were gutted amidst the great power rivalries. Because US objectives in South West Asia could irk regional and global actors there may ultimately be far more in play than a simple US-Taliban Accord. Who supports who is a realisable hypothesis?

So, after four decades of violence, South West Asia may be edging in the same direction as it did thrice in the past. The contours lie in over a century old Geostrategy in the complex of Eurasia and the Containment Ring. Logically, none of the great powers will cede so easily.

In 1947, the issue of Durand Line was left unresolved by the United Kingdom. Pakistan inherited the agreement.  The purpose was to use an Islamic Pakistan as a base against communism. But this created issues for Pakistan. The nexus of USSR, India and Afghanistan created the bogey of Pakhtunistan and Durand Line. The West refused to support Pakistan.

Through some discreet coercion (training Afghan resistance against Sardar Daud) Bhutto persuaded Daud to signing an agreement pronouncing the end of this dispute. The final draft had already been prepared and initialled by Sardar Daud awaiting a signature ceremony. The gods of war disapproved. Russian sponsored Saur Revolution eliminated him. Bhutto was deposed by Zia Ul Haq in a military coup and later hanged.  There was no follow up.

Once USSR occupied Afghanistan in 1979, this skeletal resistance prepared by Pakistan became the Mujahedeen resistance. Godless communism was defeated by Pakistan launched Mujahadeen. Soviet Union disintegrated. Rather than rebuild Pakistan, the country was abandoned and Afghanistan resigned to violence and instability. This prompted me to write that instability in Afghanistan was a plank of US policy.

On 3 Nov, 1996, at a meeting in the President House, it was decided that the Interior Minister Maj Gen (Retd) Naseer Ullah Babar would fly to Kabul on 5 Nov, 1996, to get an agreement signed between the Taliban and Northern Alliance leaders. The agreement was prepared, in several meetings undertaken by Babar with the Taliban and Northern alliance. They agreed to a Political Commission which in fact was a federal structure giving due representation to all ethnicities in Afghanistan including all warlords. This was a sincere attempt at moderating Taliban (No Islamic Emirate) and giving a broad based representation to its political structure. In sequel to another coincidence, Benazir Bhutto was removed by President Laghari. Because the military was unaware, some say it was a foreign sponsored 58 2b Coup.  Ahmad Shah Masood the icon of Panjsher was eliminated by Al Qaeda. The agreement was never pursued by Pakistan.

Naseer Ullah Babar made one last valiant attempt in 2001 to bring stability to Afghanistan. In May 2001 the under Secretary at the State Department for Pakistan, India and Bangladesh came to Peshawar, Pakistan. Babar invited the Afghan Foreign Minister Mutawakkal to his house a day earlier. At that meeting, a clear pledge was given by Mullah Omar, that Osama Bin Laden would be handed over to a third neutral Muslim country (Turkey) for a trial like Lockerbie under Islamic Law. USA did not agree to try its intelligence asset gone wild? Then followed the ‘Shock and Awe’ with no significant victory till now. The death of Osama Bin Laden is still shrouded in mystery.

Ever since, Pakistan has been at the receiving end of US policies.

Pakistan’s proposal to begin post 9/11 operations along Pak-Afghan Border towards North went unheeded. Coming from North, USA pushed all the debris into Pakistan. India mobilised curtailing full operational deployment along Afghanistan facilitating this influx of violence. Bases provided by Pakistan were used by USA for strikes inside Pakistan. Moreover, Pakistan suffered the Salala Punishment on a Pakistani post and drama of OBL.  USA stopped supply of military equipment and confiscated coalition support funds. USA and India have become international allies.

For nearly two decades, Pakistani Law Enforcement Agencies are fighting a counter terrorism operation which has resulted in peace. Yet forays from India and Afghan regime (with a blind eye from USA) do not end.

US record of honouring agreements and treaties is not good. In the history of USA, the country is very proud of its expeditionary origins and how the West was won. In the twenties Century, as USA consolidated its geography, unchecked supremacy became a part of its international policy. US quest for broad spectrum dominance is a historic predisposition that will never go away.

That’s when other races, creeds and competitors were eliminated and annihilated. Winning the West is certainly not a very bright chapter of history. Is it the same freedom that USA boasts for Red Indian Tribes from the Great Rockies to South, Hispanic settlers, Black Americans, South Americans, Chinese workers and Mormons? Treaty after treaty was cantankerously violated resulting in near extinction of populations. In the final analysis, it was the Anglo Saxon God that won. This is what made “America Great”.

What will USA gain from a peace agreement it scuttled thrice from 1977 to 2001 is ‘wait and see’? What benefits Pakistan will get having been denied in five decades is ‘wait and see’?

Being a keen student of history, current affairs and biographer of Late General Naeer Ullah Babar, like most Afghans and Pakistanis, I will keep my fingers crossed. Hope is a dream and it should never be forlorn.

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Jihadist rebels refuse to withdraw from M-4 Highway, Idlib offensive looms

As of Sunday, March 15th, the Zio-Wahhabi jihadist rebels near the M-4 Highway (Aleppo-Latakia Highway) have refused to withdraw from the area, despite an agreement between Turkey and Russia last week.

According to a Syrian Arab Army (SAA) source in the Hama Governorate, the Zio-Wahhabi jihadist rebels have not left any of their military posts south of the M-4 Highway; thus, leaving it open for the Syrian Armed Forces to resume their offensive in this region.

Per the March 5th Moscow Agreement, all militant groups were supposed to withdraw from the villages and towns south of the M-4 Highway.

However, despite the agreement, the Zio-Wahhabi jihadist rebels have refused to do so, which has resulted in the Russian military putting pressure on their Turkish allies to step in.

The chances are now high that the Syrian Armed Forces will resume their Idlib offensive, which is something that the Turkish regime has opposed and hoped to avoid.

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President al Assad: Erdogan fights beside terrorists out of his Muslim Brotherhood extremism

Our military priority is Idleb as its liberation means that we move towards liberating the eastern regions-video

Damascus, SANA-President Bashar al-Assad affirmed that Head of the Turkish regime, Erdogan, fights beside terrorists out of his brotherhood ideology, so even Erdogan himself is unable to tell the Turks why he is sending his army to fight in Syria.  The single reason is the Muslim Brotherhood and it has nothing to do with Turkish national interests.

The President added in an interview given to Russia 24 TV that in a military view, the priority now is Idlib, this is why we see Erdogan using all his force and no doubt under American directives.  This is because by liberating Idlib we will be able to move towards liberating the eastern regions.

Following is the full text of the interview;

Journalist:  Hello! This is “International Review” with Yevgeny Primakov. Today, we are in Damascus, in our temporary studio. His Excellency, President Bashar al-Assad, is not our guest in the studio; rather, we are his guests. Mr President, thank you very much for receiving us and giving us the time to conduct this interview. We are happy to be with you and to see that you are in good health in these difficult circumstances.

President Assad:  You are welcome. I am very happy to receive a Russian national television station.

Question 1:  Thank you very much, Mr. President. Clearly, the most important topic now, besides the war on terrorism that your country is waging, are the events in the Idlib governorate, and the danger of confrontation between the Syrian Arab Republic and Turkey. The Turkish forces are directly supporting what is called “the opposition,” although we see in their ranks elements which belong to terrorist organizations, which are affiliated to Al Qaeda and other organizations. Turkish troops are also taking part in attacks against Syrian forces. The question is: what has changed in the relations between you and Erdogan, between Syria and Turkey? Before 2011, Erdogan used to call you “brother,” and your two families were friends. What has changed and pushed things to where they are now?

President Assad:  The core of the issue is American policy.  At a point in time, the United States decided that secular governments in the region were no longer able to implement the plans and roles designated to them; of course, I am referring to the countries which were allies of the United States and not those like Syria which are not.  They decided to replace these regimes with Muslim Brotherhood regimes that use religion to lead the public.

In doing this, things would become easier for American plans and Western plans in general.  This process of “replacement” started with the so-called Arab Spring.  Of course, at the time, the only Muslim Brotherhood-led country in the region was Turkey, though Erdogan himself and his Brotherhood affiliation.  Prior to this, our relations with them were good in both the political and economic fields; we even had security and military cooperation.  There were no problems at all between Syria and Turkey.  We didn’t do anything against them and we didn’t support any forces hostile to them. We believed them to be neighbours and brothers.  But Erdogan’s Muslim Brotherhood affiliation is much stronger than all of this and he returned to his original identity and built his policies with Syria according to this ideology.

It is well-known that the Muslim Brotherhood was the first organisation to endorse violence and use religion to gain power. Now, if we ask ourselves, why are Turkish soldiers being killed in Syria?  What is the cause they are fighting for?  What is the dispute?  There is no cause, even Erdogan himself is unable to tell the Turks why he is sending his army to fight in Syria.  The single reason is the Muslim Brotherhood and it has nothing to do with Turkish national interests.  It is related to Erdogan’s ideology and consequently, the Turkish people have to die for this ideology.  That’s why he is unable to explain to the Turkish people why his soldiers are being killed in Syria.

Question 2:  Is there any hope of establishing any kind of communication between Turkey and Syria gradually, at least between the military and the intelligence, and in the future, maybe, diplomatic relations?

President Assad:  During the past two years, numerous intensive meetings took place between Russian and Turkish officials, and despite the Turkish aggression a few meetings were held between Syrian and Turkish security officials.  Our shared objective with the Russians was to move Turkey away from supporting terrorists and bring it back to its natural place.  For Syria, and for you also, Turkey is a neighbouring country.  It is natural to have sound relations with a neighbouring country; it is unnatural under any pretext or any circumstance to have bad relations.  So, as to your question, is it possible?  Of course, it is, but we can’t achieve this outcome while Erdogan continues to support the terrorists.  He has to stop supporting terrorism, at which point things can return to normal because there is no hostility between the two peoples.  The hostility is caused by political actions or policies based on vested interests.  On the level of the Syrian nation and the Turkish nation, there are neither differences nor conflicts of interests.  So, yes, these relations should return to normal.

Question 3:  Is this your message to the Turkish people, that there is no hostility against them?  Have I understood you correctly?

President Assad:  Of course, we used to describe them as brotherly people, even now, I ask the Turkish people: what is your issue with Syria?  What is the issue for which a Turkish citizen deserves to die?  What is the hostile act, small or large, carried out by Syria against Turkey during or before the war?  There is none.  There are mixed marriages and families, and daily interactions and interests between Syria and Turkey.  In Turkey, there are groups of Syrian Arab origin and there are groups in Syria of Turkish origin.  These interactions have existed throughout history; it is not logical that there is a dispute between us.

Question 4: Mr President, I realize that I am talking to a head of state; nevertheless, I can’t but ask about the human dimension. This person [Erdogan] shook your hand, was your guest, you received him, and he called you a brother and a friend, etc.. Now, he allows himself to say all these things. How does that affect you emotionally?

President Assad: I have met people who belong to the Muslim Brotherhood from different countries.  He is one of them from Turkey, there were some from Egypt, Palestine and others; they have all done the same thing.  They used to say nice things about Syria or about their personal relationship with me, but when things change,           they turn against the person.  That’s how the Muslim Brotherhood is: they have no political, social, or religious ethics.  For them, religion is not a form of good, it is violence; this is their principle.  Erdogan is a member of the opportunistic Muslim Brotherhood and so it is normal for him to do what he has done.  The lack of clarity and endless lying are part of their nature.

Question 5: The war in your country has been going on for nine years.  It is twice as long as the World War II, the Great Patriotic War, and soon we will mark the 75th anniversary of our victory in it, which is a very important event for Russia.  What strength do the Syrian people store that enables them to survive and triumph and avoid despair?  What is the secret?  Is it an internal strength, or something else?  Or is it simply that you have better weapons?

President Assad:  There are several factors which should be considered.  The fact that we are a small country, means these factors make us a strong country in this war.  First and foremost, national awareness and public opinion.  Without the widespread awareness of the Syrian people that what is happening is the result of a Western conspiracy against their country, Syria might have perished or been destroyed very quickly.  This popular realization produced a national unity despite different political leanings or different cultural and social affiliations – ethnic, religious or sectarian groups.  This awareness created unity with the state in confronting terrorism; this is a very important factor.

The second factor is the Syrian people’s legendary capacity for sacrifice, which we have witnessed primarily through the Syrian Arab Army.  Under normal circumstances, one would believe that these sacrifices can only be found in movies or novels, while in fact they were apparent in every battle and this is what protected the country.

In addition to the sacrifices of the army, the people themselves sacrificed.  They have been living in extremely difficult circumstances: continuous shelling, sanctions and bad economic conditions.  Nevertheless, the people remained steadfast with their country.

The third factor is the public sector, which has played an important role in keeping the state together.  In the worst of circumstances, salaries continued to be paid, schools kept running and daily essential services were provided to citizens.  Bottom line services continued to be provided so that life continues.

In addition to these factors, there is the fact that our friends have supported us, particularly Russia and Iran.  They have supported us politically, militarily, and economically.  All these factors together have helped Syria remain steadfast up until now.

Question 6: If you don’t mind, I’ll dwell on these factors for more details, and we will start with the Syrian society and what you have said about its diverse culture and tolerance among its different ethnic, cultural and religious groups. The extremist terrorists have struck a severe blow to this Syrian characteristic by promoting extremist demands and extremist ideology. Yesterday, we were in the Old City of Damascus, and we couldn’t imagine what the situation would be like if the black flag of the caliphate appeared in Damascus, something which can only be imagined with horror. To what extent is Syria ready to rebuild itself as a multicultural state, tolerant, secular, etc.?

President Assad:  What I’m about to say may sound exaggerated, but by nature, I speak in real terms and do not like an exaggeration.  In actual fact, Syrian society today in terms of coherence and the social integration of its different segments is better than it was before the war.  This is for a simple reason: war is a very important lesson to any society, a lesson that extremism is destructive and that not accepting the other is dangerous.  As a result, these segments within our society came together.

If you go to the Old City or to any area under government control, you will not see this problem at all.  On the contrary, as I mentioned, things are better than before.  The problem is in the areas which were outside government control.  That’s why I’m not concerned at all in this regard, despite the attempted Western narrative to show that the war in Syria is between sects, which is not true.  A war between sects means that you come today to this area and find one colour, and in another area, you find another colour, and in another place a third and a fourth colour; this is not the case.  You will see all the colours of Syria, without exception, in the state-controlled areas.  Whereas in the terrorist-controlled areas, they are not looking for a colour, but for parts of one colour, which is the extremist colour.  This is because only extremists at the far end of extremism could live with them and that is why a large number of people fled the terrorist-controlled areas to state-controlled areas.  That is why I’m not concerned at all in this regard.  The challenge, however, will be in the areas which were occupied by the terrorists.

Question 7: This raises the question of the possibility of granting amnesty. There are many people who were misled by the propaganda of terrorists and extremists. Some of them committed crimes. Others were members of armed groups which committed terrorist acts. But there are those who did not carry weapons or carried them without killing people. What are the grounds on which the government can reach out to them? And can there be compromises through which such people can be forgiven? This is a very important moral question. And in addition to the moral dimension, there are legal aspects as to resolving their status and integrating them in society, and maybe in the army as well.

President Assad:  In this type of war, amnesty must be a core element of domestic policy.  We cannot restore stability if we do not grant amnesty for the mistakes that have been made.  From the very beginning of the war, we have regularly enacted amnesty decrees pardoning all those who acted against the national interest. In the areas which were controlled by the militants, we have conducted what we call local reconciliations that have resulted in the state legally pardoning individuals; all those who hand in their weapons, receive amnesty provided that they return to their normal civil life under the authority of the state and the rule of law. This process has been very successful and restored stability to a large number of areas, and we are continuing to implement this policy.

There are very limited cases which cannot be granted amnesty, for example, those who committed criminal acts and premeditatedly killed large numbers of people; most of these are terrorist leaders.  However, in terms of the broader situation, I believe that most people want to return to the state because a large number of them who carried weapons were actually forced to do so.  They had no choice: either you carry weapons or you are killed.  These people are not necessarily extremists.  They do not have a terrorist past.  They are ordinary people who were forced to carry weapons.

Similarly, there are those who had to take political or public positions in the media in favour of the terrorists for the same reasons, we know this for a fact.  That’s why I believe that most of these people do support the state and were cooperating and communicating with us throughout.  So, I fully agree with you, we must continue providing amnesty and we must continue with this process in the new areas we liberate, especially since we want most Syrians inside and outside Syria to return to their country.

Question 8: Now, we will talk about rebuilding the state, but the state always consists of people. When we talk about terrorists, we either force them to drop their weapons or persuade them to drop them and go back to their senses. Conversely, there are those who have their perceptions of justice; and you certainly meet state officials, whether in the security or police agencies, who have to reach out and resolve the status of those who became terrorists on the other side. These officials might resent that and find it difficult to accept. For instance, if I see this individual who used to aim his weapon at me living with me now on the same street and buying bread from the same bakery as I do, how should I behave? What do you say to state supporters who are not always prepared to accept such an amnesty or such an act of forgiveness?

President Assad:  At the beginning of the war we used to see such cases.  I recall when I passed the first amnesty decree, many Syrians resented it not only within the government but also the broader public because some may have lost a family member from the terrorism.  In the beginning, it was not easy to tell them that we will grant amnesty in order to restore stability.  However, this was the case for the first few months only.  Today, if you ask anybody or at least those who support the state, regardless of whether they work in the government or not, this is now accepted because they have seen the results.  In fact, in many cases, they are the ones pushing for an amnesty and a settlement, which helps greatly.  So, there are no longer different viewpoints, because the facts on the ground have shown that this is the right thing to do and that it is good for Syria.

Question 9: As to the situation on the ground, I’ll not talk about who controls this or that area, because the situation on the ground is fluid and ever-changing and should be left to the military. But it is clear now that the state has restored large areas in southern Idlib governorate. Here, peaceful life will return, as happened in other areas, in Eastern Ghouta, Deir Ezzor, and the other areas liberated previously. What will the state do when it goes into the liberated areas? Where will it start its work? And what is the most important aspect of restoring peaceful life?

President Assad: In many of the areas we have liberated, there are no civilians since most had left when the terrorists arrived.  The first thing we do is to restore the infrastructure in order to enable the local population to return.  The first thing they need is electricity, water, roads, police, municipalities, and other services.  They need all these service providers; this is the first challenge.  The second, which is equally important, is rebuilding schools so that they are able to receive students.  If the infrastructure is available and I can’t send my children to school, what’s the point, it means I can’t go back to this area.  So, schools and health services are fundamental after the exit of terrorists and the restoration of security.  Later, of course, we engage with the local community to identify who was involved with the terrorists through various actions.  As I mentioned earlier, this is an important step towards reconciliation and resolving the status of these people in order to restore normal life to the city.

Question 10: What are the difficulties which emerge during this process? And are there sleeper cells which undermine the process of reconstruction? What are the problems facing you?

President Assad:  When I mentioned that the pardons and reconciliations have been successful, this doesn’t mean that the success was a hundred per cent; nothing is perfect.  Some of these people still have terrorist leanings and extremist ideology and are still cooperating with extremist groups in other areas and carrying out terrorist acts.  In the past few weeks, there have been a number of explosive devices planted in different places or under cars.  These terrorist acts have claimed the lives of many victims.  However, this doesn’t mean that we stop the process of reconciliations, but rather we need to hunt down these sleeper cells.  We have been able to arrest a large number of them, but there are others that are still active.  One sleeper cell might carry out a number of acts giving the impression that a full organisation exists.  Whereas in fact it is one cell made up of a group of individuals and by arresting them you are able to restore safety and security.  However, this challenge will remain, because terrorism still exists in Syria and outside support in the form of weapons and money is still at large.  Therefore, we do not expect to eliminate these sleeper cells in the foreseeable future.  We will continue to eliminate cells and others will appear until things return to normal in Syria.

Question 11: Mr President, in two months’ time, if I’m not mistaken, the country will hold parliamentary elections, in these difficult circumstances. How difficult will that be? Or, would they proceed according to plan, and nothing will stop or obstruct them?

President Assad: There is a constitution and we are governed by it.  We do not give in to Western threats or Western wishes, and we do not consider any factor other than the constitution.  The issue of postponing constitutional deadlines, whether for presidential or parliamentary elections, was raised with us several times and we refused to do so during the war.  Parliamentary elections will be held in a few months’ and we will proceed according to the constitutional agenda regardless of anything else.

Question 12: We talked about the domestic situation, let’s now talk about the outer environment. The Syrian Arab Republic has been subjected since 2011 to tightly-enforced isolation, not only by the Americans and the Europeans, which was expected but also by the Arab League and its member states, including the Arab Gulf states. We know that the UAE embassy was reopened and that Oman did not close its embassy and continued to work as usual. Do you see a positive change on the part of the Arab world, or is the situation still as it was, and that isolation persists? And what are the prospects of your contacts with the European Union? I’ll not ask about the Americans, for everything regarding them is unfortunately clear.

President Assad: Most Arab countries have maintained their relations with Syria, but not publicly for fear of pressure.  These countries have expressed their support for Syria and their wishes for us to defeat terrorism. However, Western pressure and American, in particular, was severe in these countries to remain distant and not to open their embassies in Syria, particularly the Gulf states.  Europe however, is completely different.  In fact, for us, Europe for more than two decades and even before this war has been absent on the global political arena. Europe has ceased to exist since 2003, after the American invasion of Iraq.  Europe surrendered completely to the United States and its role was limited to implementing what it was charged with by the American administration.

So, whether they communicate with us or not, the result is the same.  Whether they open embassies or not, there is no value.  We have met with a number of security officials from most European countries and they have been reasonable but they are unable to change course.  Some have frankly said, “we are unable to change, our politicians cannot change their policies because the European policy is linked to the American policy.”  They climbed the tree and are simply unable to come down.  That’s why we do not waste our time talking about a European role and European policy.  The master is American.  We can talk about the Americans and this automatically includes the Europeans.

But in answer to your question, yes, there is a change.  There are clear convictions that this war has not achieved what those countries or some of the colonialist countries wanted, that the Syrian people have paid the price, that stability has paid the price and now the Europeans are paying the price.  The problem of refugees in Europe is huge, but they will not change in the near future.  This is my conviction.

Question 13: Now, Turkey is blackmailing Europe by using the migrants. And this is what Erdogan is doing right now.

President Assad:  Turkey started sending the second wave of refugees to Europe as a form of blackmail.  Erdogan had threatened that he would send refugees.  Yesterday, there were videos on various media outlets about the beginning of a migrant movement towards Europe.

Question 14: In one of your answers, you touched on the relation with Russia. We consider it a relation of partnership. But this relation went through difficult years when Russia limited its presence in the Middle East and other parts of the world. Many people saw that as a betrayal, and that Russia turned its back on its old allies and partners. Now, how do you describe these relations which have been strengthened naturally during nine years of war? Since our aforementioned opponents, including the Europeans and the Americans, who are “evil tongues” as we say in Russia, claim that Syria is under Russian control. Is that true in reality? For our part, we look at this relation as a partnership and an alliance.

President Assad:  Our relations with you span more than six decades; this is not a short period of time and it covers several generations.  We know each other very well and this relationship has been through various experiences.  Through the different circumstances, including the 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union, our relations with Russia have always been based on mutual respect, a peer-to-peer relationship.  We have never felt at any time, even during this war, that Russia is trying to impose its views on us.  They have always treated us with respect; even when we differed, they respected the views of the Syrian government.  This is a general rule that has governed the past decades and hasn’t changed because it is based on Russian customs, traditions, and perspectives.  So, on a bilateral level the relationship between Syria and Russia is clearly a partnership, particularly now after the war, this partnership has become stronger and more reliable.

However, if we wanted to view our relationship with Russia from a different perspective, which is Russia’s international role, the issue is different.  Today, many small countries and even countries of medium strength around the world, look towards Russia and rely to a large extent on its role, because it is Russia’s duty today to restore international balance to the global arena.  The presence of the Russian military base in Syria is not only aimed at fighting terrorism but also at creating an international political balance in the Security Council, as well as a military balance in different areas with a view of restoring the Russian role.  Restoring this role is in the interest of all states, including Syria and other small and medium-sized countries as I mentioned.   Therefore, we view this relationship from two perspectives: a partnership on the bilateral level and a relationship based on this international role, which we hope will continue to increase as has been the case since President Putin came to power in 2000 and restored Russia’s position.

Question 15: Now we are talking about military and political support. What about the economy? Going back to rebuilding Syria, are there large Russian – or non-Russian – projects which help in the reconstruction? Is there a state or a company which is prepared to come and invest in the Syrian economy without fear of sanctions or political problems caused by the United States and Europe? For instance, there used to be a flourishing pharmaceutical industry in Aleppo, which used to export its products throughout the Middle East, and you, as a doctor, know that. Are there any ideas to restore industrial production in the pharmaceutical field or other fields? And to what extent the lack of resources will affect these economic projects, considering that oil is now outside state control and is controlled by a power, which came from beyond the Atlantic and built its bases there under the pretext of protecting oil?

President Assad:  When we built our infrastructure in Syria in the 1970s and the 1980s, we did not have oil at that time.  It was built with Syrian money and with Syrian capabilities.  So, we know we have the capabilities and can provide the resources.  There is a lot of Syrian capital within Syria and mostly abroad and should most certainly take part in this process.

Since 2018, there has been a great interest from big companies outside of Syria – Arab and non-Arab, to participate in the reconstruction.  However, what’s happening is that the Americans are applying huge pressure and threatening individuals and companies alike; this has no doubt frightened some of these companies.  This is happening even with regard to Russian companies.  There are several Russian companies which want to invest in Syria but fear to take any step.  Chinese companies have the same problem.

However, every problem has a solution.  Most recently, a number of large international companies have started to come to Syria using different methods which enable them to evade the sanctions.  So, there is a possibility now for these companies to work in Syria without facing sanctions.  Of course, I cannot discuss these methods, but we have started to see a return of foreign investment.  It is true that the movement is slow, but I believe it is a good start – a promising start, to support the reconstruction process which we have started.  We did not wait; we have begun in some areas and in order to expand there must be a larger number of companies and investments.

Question 16:  What are the areas which you consider priorities or most attractive to investors?

President Assad:  Of course, the most important is rebuilding the destroyed suburbs.  I think this will be of high interest for investment companies and several have already expressed interest; this is certainly a profitable area.  Another sector is oil and gas, which is also profitable.  There are already a number of Russian companies that have started operating in Syria during the past few years and are now planning to increase production.  The biggest obstacle preventing expansion in this sector is the terrorist and American occupation of the most important sites of oil wells in Syria.  The Americans know this of course, and that’s why they continue to occupy the oil wells and obstruct the reconstruction process.  In short, these are the most important sectors.  Of course, there are many other areas which any society needs but are less important for international companies.

Question 17: As we know, there is a big problem caused by freezing Syrian funds in foreign banks.  Is it difficult to finance some contracts because of that?

President Assad:  That’s true.  This is robbery in every sense of the word, but if the money is stolen it doesn’t mean that as a state and as a society we should stop creating wealth.  We have many capabilities and this is one of the reasons why we have survived nine years of war.  They are well aware that if the war stopped completely, Syrian society is capable of rising in a strong manner and that we will be stronger economically than we were before the war. This is why they have resorted to threatening Syrian and foreign companies.  In other words, if a Syrian citizen wants to invest in Syria, they will likely be sanctioned, or oil revenues are prevented from returning to Syria. The more important factor is the ongoing war, which discourages companies and prevents them from coming to Syria.  If these three factors are eliminated, we have no problem in rebuilding the country.  We have strong human and material resources in Syria and we also have faithful friends like Russia and Iran who will help us.

Question 18: Mr President, we talked about Idlib in general and touched on the oil fields east of the Euphrates river controlled by the Americans, and we know that there is a power outage every four hours, and we know that power plants are mostly fueled by oil products. This factor – controlling oil and oil products – is crucial for the Syrian economy. Do you have any plans to restore control over the areas east of the Euphrates? How are you going to proceed in that direction?

President Assad:  Militarily the priority now is Idlib, this is why we see Erdogan using all his force and no doubt under American directives.  This is because by liberating Idlib we will be able to move towards liberating the eastern regions.  As I have said on several occasions, for them, Idlib militarily is an advanced post.  They have used all their power to obstruct the liberation of Idlib so that we do not move eastward.  However, despite not yet advancing towards the eastern region, we are still in direct communication with the population there.  There is a great deal of anger and resentment on their part against the American occupation and against the groups acting on behalf of the Americans.

I believe that this anger will build up gradually and there will be resistance operations against the occupiers.  It is the national and constitutional duty of the state to support any action against an occupying power.  As time goes by, the Americans will not have a population supporting them but a population standing against the American occupation.  They will not be able to stay, neither for the oil nor to support terrorists like ISIS and al-Nusra or any other reason.  The same of course, applies to the Turks who are occupying the northern part of Syrian territories.  If they do not leave through political negotiations, they must leave by force.  This is what we will do.  This is also our patriotic duty as Syrians.

Question 19: It’s good that we have arrived at this difficult issue. If we talk about the Kurds who live in the east and northeast of the country, and who might not be happy with the Americans and the Turks, particularly the Turks, with whom they have a longstanding enmity. Their relationship with Damascus is difficult because they are separatists and supported the United States at one point and became its allies. The question here is about reunifying the Syrian Arab Republic and reintegrating its territories within its legal borders. How are you going to build your policy regarding the Kurds, taking into account that Damascus has almost accused them of treason because they signed an agreement with the Americans? Do you have a plan in that regard? What’s the price for integrating them? What can you give the Kurds? And what are the things which you cannot give them?

President Assad:  We are in contact with the Kurdish political groups in northern Syria, the problem is that some of these groups, not all of them, operate under American authority.  We do not say “the Kurds” because the larger part of the Kurds is patriotic groups or tribes which support the state; however, these groups have no voice.  Those who control the area are small groups acting with the Americans.

As to what is sometimes referred to as the “Kurdish cause,” there is no such cause in Syria for a simple reason. Historically, there are Kurds who live in Syria; these groups which came to the north did so during the last century and only as a result of the Turkish oppression.  We have hosted them in Syria.  Kurds, Armenians and other groups came to Syria and we had no problem with that.  For example, there is no Syrian-Armenian issue.    There is a great diversity in Syria and we do not have an issue with that diversity, so why would we have a problem with the Kurds?!  The problem is with the groups that started to promote separatist propositions a few decades ago, mainly in the early 1980s.  Yet despite this, when the Turkish state during various periods oppressed and killed the Kurds in Turkey, we supported them.  We haven’t stood against their cause if they call it a cause.  In Syria, they were given a nationality, even though they were not Syrian.  We have always been positive regarding the Kurdish issue.  Therefore, what is called “the Kurdish cause” is an incorrect title, a false title.

The problem right now is dealing with the Americans.  The Americans are occupiers; they occupied our lands.  The Americans are thieves stealing our oil.  You cannot play both sides: between those who protect the law and those who break it.  You cannot stand with the police and the thief at the same time, this is impossible.  You are either with the police or the thief.  So, we cannot reach results in any dialogue with them, even if we were to meet thousands of times, unless they take a clear position, a patriotic position: to be against the Americans, against occupation and against the Turks because they too are occupiers.

Quite simply, this is our demand.  This is a national position and as a government, we are responsible for the constitution and for our national interests.  The whole Syrian people accept nothing less than them taking a stand against the occupation.  As for anything else, if they have other demands, the Syrian people have demanded too.  How do we achieve results? We engage in discussions and then we can decide: do we change the constitution? Do we change the law? Or any other measure, this is all possible.  This is a Syrian-Syrian dialogue. However, the government in Syria does not own the constitution; the people own the constitution and therefore they are the ones who can change the constitution.

Question 20: If we take into account what is happening in Idlib, which we talked about at the beginning of the interview, and that Turkey is one of the main opponents of the Kurds, does the idea of reaching a reconciliation with the Kurds tempt you on these grounds? You can choose not to answer this question if you like.

President Assad:  On the contrary, this is a logical question.  These Kurdish groups which claim to be against Turkish occupation and issue statements that they will fight did not fire a single bullet when the Turks invaded.  Why?  Because the Americans identified which area the Turks would enter and the boundaries that they should reach, as well as the areas that these groups should leave.  So, do we agree on statements or on actions?  We want to agree on the actions.  In their statements, they have said that they are against the Turks, but they are not doing anything against them at all.  They are neutral.  They are moving in line with the Americans and the Turks.  Only the Syrian government and other segments of Syrian society are fighting the Turks and losing martyrs every day.  Other than that, I agree with you.  If they were to say “we will agree with you against the Turks,” my response would be, we are ready, send your fighters so that together we can defend our land.

Question 21: In this region, there is also a very old enemy of the Syrian Arab Republic, which always reminds people of itself, Israel, or the Zionist entity as you call it. How do you see the “great” Deal of the Century, the gift given to us by American President Donald Trump? Where might it take us? I don’t mean to influence your answer in any way. I’m only recalling what is being discussed in Russia, that the deal as a solution for the Palestinian cause is simply a dead end.

President Assad:  Our relations with the United States were restored during the Nixon administration in 1974.  Since that time, we have met with numerous American officials in the administration, with presidents and members of Congress, and we have learned one thing only: anything an American politician does, is first and foremost to serve his personal interests in relation to the next elections.  They do not think of higher national American interests.  They do not think of world stability, or of international law, or the rights of peoples.  This doesn’t exist in its policies.  They only think of their elections and nothing else.

As to the ‘deal of the century,’ this proposition was made at this particular time only for the next American elections.  The presidential elections will be held at the end of this year.  So, the idea is meaningless, an empty shell.  The idea, if applied, is not harmful, but rather destructive to the Middle East and the peace process which started in the early 1990s.  However, when would their idea succeeds and when would it fail?  It succeeds if the people of this region agree that it should succeed.  If you review all political and official statements, as well as public opinion on social media, you will find a total rejection of this plan, including from states and governments allied with America and those that have relations with Israel.  So, it’s safe to say that it is a stillborn plan.  Trump might be able to use it in his next elections in order to please the Israeli lobby in the United States.  But after that, we will probably not hear about the ‘deal of the century’ until the next elections. At which point there will be another and worse plan presented for the next elections.

Question 22: Thank you very much, Mr. President. I have one final question, maybe a more emotional question. To what extent have these past nine years been difficult psychologically for you? To what extent have they been difficult for your family? Your wife has founded and manages one of the biggest charities in Syria which provides a great deal to children, to the wounded, and to the restoration of normal life. I realize that I might be asking embarrassing questions, and I apologize for that, but to what extent have you suffered from what is happening within your family? And when you look back at what you have done during the past nine years, do you say to yourself that you haven’t done what you should have done on certain issues, or that a mistake was made in this regard and the right thing was done on another issue, and more should have been done?

President Assad:  There are two sides to this question: one is formal when I think about this war in my official capacity within the state and the other is personal.

As an official, the first thing you think of in this situation is protecting the country; this is your duty as a head of state.  Here we can take as an example of something that lives on as a tradition, which is the Great Patriotic War in Russia.  Your relations with Germany, like any other country, were good.  You had normal relations: agreements, engagements, meetings and you had not done anything against Germany.  Nevertheless, the Nazis attacked Russia and you lost 26 million martyrs, maybe more.  Was there any other choice but to defend your country?  No, that was the only choice.  The decision taken by the Russian leadership at the time was the right decision supported by the Russian people who defended their country.  Were there mistakes?  Of course, there are mistakes in every action.  Are there political or military decisions which could have been better?  Certainly, everything has flaws and errors.  The same applies to us in Syria.  The decisions which we took from day one, were to preserve the sovereignty of Syria and to fight terrorists until the end, and we are still doing that.  After nine years, I believe that had we taken a different direction, we would have lost our country from day one.  That’s why this decision was the right one.  As to the mistakes made in daily matters, they are always there, of course.  Every time there is a mistake, we should correct it and change the decision.  This is the normal thing to do.

On a personal level, here I am like any other citizen; every individual has ambitions for his country.  Especially that before the war, we were advancing and achieving significant growth, and the country was developing at a fast pace.  It is true that we had many problems because when the reform process moves quickly, it has negative aspects, maybe in the form of corruption or policy mistakes.  But by and large, our national capabilities were improving and developing.  After nine years, when you see how far behind you are economically, technologically, culturally and educationally, of course, there is a sense of frustration at times at a personal level.  Certainly, in the end, any war regardless of its causes or outcomes is a very bad thing.  You cannot have a positive feeling towards any war.  You will always feel pain and frustration.  On a daily basis, you are losing good people and draining your resources.  So, there is certainly a kind of pain that you feel on a daily basis on a personal level.  However, at the same time, this pain should be the motivation and the incentive for you to do more and to have confidence and hope that you are capable of becoming stronger and better than before.

Journalist:  You have confirmed once again that a person like you can only have one position, the position of the statesman because the views you have expressed are the views and the position of a statesman.

Mr President, thank you very much for agreeing to give us this interview.  Today we have been with President of the Syrian Arab Republic, Bashar al-Assad, and this was “International Review.” I am Yevgeny Primakov, wishing you all the best.

President Assad: Thank you.

Posted in SyriaComments Off on President al Assad: Erdogan fights beside terrorists out of his Muslim Brotherhood extremism

COVID-19: An American bio-weapon aimed at Iran and China – IRGC Chief

By VT Editors

RT/Moscow: The US сould be the prime culprit behind the Covid-2019 outbreak that hit China and then Iran, head of its elite Revolutionary Guards claimed, threatening that the virus will eventually be turned against those who unleashed it.

“It is possible that this virus is a product of a biological attack by America which initially spread to China and then to Iran and the rest of the world,” Hossein Salami said on Thursday.

He vowed that Iran would “fight” the virus and cautioned that the illness “will return” to the United States if Washington was indeed responsible for the outbreak.

Though such conspiracy theories have been circulating for a while, there’s still no official proof it could be true.

The Head of Iran’s Civil Defense Organization, General Gholam Reza Jalali, said earlier on Tuesday that media fear-mongering over the new corornavirus in the country bolsters claims that the virus is a biological attack on China and Iran. He said that some reports indicate that it could be a hostile state, but added that his suspicion requires laboratory investigation and a study of the virus genome.

Iran has been one of the countries hit hardest by Covid-19 outside of mainland China where it originated. As of Thursday, the Islamic Republic has reported 3,513 confirmed cases and 107 deaths attributed to the virus. Some 15 of those who have succumbed to the coronavirus died in the last 24 hours, according to Iran’s Health Minister Saeed Namaki.

The country has shuttered all schools and universities until the end of the country’s calendar year on March 20 in an effort to stop the spread of the virus.

On Tuesday, state media announced that the head of Iran’s emergency medical services was being treated for coronavirus. Numerous high-level Iranian officials have fallen ill to the virus. Recently, 23 lawmakers tested positive for the illness in the Islamic Republic.

Mohammad Mirmohammadi, a member of a council that advises the supreme leader, died after falling sick from the disease. His death follows those of two other high-profile Iranians who contracted the virus – a former ambassador and a newly-elected member of parliament.

Posted in ChinaComments Off on COVID-19: An American bio-weapon aimed at Iran and China – IRGC Chief

Syrian Armed Forces Teach ‘2nd Strongest NATO Army’ Painful Lesson in Idlib

By South Front

Global Research,

Units of the Russian Military Police entered the town of Saraqib in eastern Idlib following the second liberation of the town from al-Qaeda terrorists and Turkish forces. According to the Russian military, the deployment took place at 5:00pm local time on March 2 and was intended to provide security and allow traffic through the M4 and M5 highways. In fact, the Russians came to put an end to Turkish attempts to capture the town and cut off the M5 highway in this area.

At the same time, the Syrian Army repelled attempts of al-Qaeda and Turkish forces to capture the town of Kafr Nubl in southern Idlib and recaptured several nearby villages, including Hazarin and Dar al-Kabirah. According to pro-government sources, at least 15 units of military equipment belonging to Turkish proxies were destroyed in the recent operations. The Turkish side responded to the developments on the ground with a new batch of victorious statements.

According to the March 2 remarks by Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, the number of ‘neutralized’ Syrian troops since the start of Operation Spring Shield reached 2,557. This is approximately 350 Syrian soldiers higher than was claimed on March 1. The main question is: “Does the Turkish defense minister really believe in the numbers that he provides?” It probably would be useful to not make such claims personally. Thus, he would be able to avoid blushing with shame. If the Syrian Army really suffers such casualties in only a few days, Turkish-led forces would easily achieve their declared goal of expelling Syrian troops of southern and eastern Idlib.Video: Battle of Idlib and Prospects of Turkish-Syrian WarVideo Player00:0004:16

In reality, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is going to Moscow on March 5 in order to negotiate a ceasefire. “My only wish is to end this struggle with victory and prevent further bloodshed, with a permanent cease-fire. For this, we are using all our diplomatic channels, along with our struggle in the field,” Erdogan told a gathering of ruling Justice and Development Party officials.

So, just a few days ago supporters of the Turkish operation were claiming that the mighty Turkish forces had already defeated the Assad regime and would soon enter the cities of Damascus and Aleppo. Now, the same sources are admiring the clever and forward-looking policy of the Turkish leader not to escalate the situation any further.

It would appear that things are not going the Turkish way in Idlib. When Erdogan and Putin reach another ceasefire, which will formally put an end to Ankara’s goal to push the Syrian Army out of the recently cleared areas, the same sources will likely declare this a Turkish victory. The 2nd strongest army in NATO appeared to be not capable of defeating Syrian forces, which are exhausted by a nearly 10-year long conflict, without suffering unacceptable losses.

The balance of power in Greater Idlib has once again changed. If the Turkish Army does not achieve some unexpected breakthrough, for example the capture of Maarat al-Numan, immediately, the main efforts of Turkish diplomacy will likely be focused on reaching an agreement that would prevent a Syrian advance on Idlib. This city is the main stronghold of al-Qaeda and the last really large urban center in the hands of militant groups in the region. The fall of Idlib into the hands of the Syrian Army would destroy all Turkish hopes to solidify its own influence in this part of Syria.

However, even a Russian-Turkish deal on Idlib city will likely not put an end to the anti-terrorism efforts of the Syrian Army and its allies. The town of Jisr al-Shughur, located near the M4 highway, is among possible targets of the upcoming operations. The town is currently controlled by the Turkistan Islamic Party, an al-Qaeda-linked group consisting of foreigners. So, mainstream media outlets can start preparing to defend another group of ‘moderate rebels’ that would be oppressed by the brutal Assad regime.

Posted in SyriaComments Off on Syrian Armed Forces Teach ‘2nd Strongest NATO Army’ Painful Lesson in Idlib

Libyan Army attacks strategic airport in Tripoli, Turkish soldiers killed

Image result for libya flag

The Libyan National Army has hit the Mitiga Airport in Tripoli, Libya, killing Turkish servicemen stationed there, the LNA spokesperson said on Sunday.

According to spokesperson Ahmad al-Mismari, for the past several days, the LNA has struck Turkish military targets, including radars and air defences, located at the Mitiga air field. He noted that the LNA had also destroyed everything in the Misrata region that is viewed as having a “Turkish presence”, including military depots.

Al-Mismari underlined that the LNA is adhering to the truce, and carries out operations only as a response to provocations by the GNA.

He added that the LNA forces had entered several districts of Tripoli but they are not advancing in compliance with the ceasefire.

Last week, the LNA, led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, hit Turkish air defence systems at a military base at the airport, prompting the suspension of all flights and evacuation of passengers and personnel.

The airport has previously come under attack multiple times due to the ongoing fighting between the two rival forces in the country — the Libyan National Army and the UN-backed Government of National Accord.

Posted in Libya, TurkeyComments Off on Libyan Army attacks strategic airport in Tripoli, Turkish soldiers killed

‘Total Win!’: Human Rights Groups Welcome ICC Probe of US Torture and War Crimes in Afghanistan

“This decision vindicates the rule of law and gives hope to the thousands of victims seeking accountability when domestic courts and authorities have failed them.”

by: Jessica Corbett,

Afghan children look on as a U.S. soldier from the Provincial Reconstruction team (PRT) Steel Warriors patrols in the mountains of Nuristan Province on Dec. 19, 2009.

Afghan children look on as a U.S. soldier from the Provincial Reconstruction team (PRT) Steel Warriors patrols in the mountains of Nuristan Province on Dec. 19, 2009. (Photo: Tauseef Mustafa/AFP/Getty Images)

Human rights advocates celebrated Thursday after the International Criminal Court determined that an investigation into alleged war crimes committed by United States forces and others in Afghanistan during the so-called War on Terror can proceed.

The ICC’s Appeals Chamber unanimously overturned an April 2019 Pre-Trial Chamber decision that denied a November 2017 request from Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda to formally investigate crimes committed by members of the U.S. armed forces, the CIA, the Taliban, affiliated armed groups, and Afghan government forces. The approved scope of the probe also includes crimes committed as part of the U.S. torture program at CIA black sites in Poland, Lithuania, and Romania.

“Today, the International Criminal Court breathed new life into the mantra that ‘no one is above the law’ and restored some hope that justice can be available—and applied—to all,” declared Katherine Gallagher, senior staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights. Her organization represents two men who were tortured in CIA black sites and other facilities, and currently are being held indefinitely at the Guantánamo Bay detention camp in Cuba.

“For more than 15 years, like too many other victims of the U.S. torture program, Sharqawi Al-Hajj and Guled Duran have suffered physically and mentally in unlawful U.S. detention, while former senior U.S.officials have enjoyed impunity,” Gallagher said. “In authorizing this critical and much-delayed investigation into crimes in and related to Afghanistan, the court made clear that political interference in judicial proceedings will not be tolerated.”

Katherine Gallagher@katherga1

TOTAL WIN!!! The #ICC Appeals Chamber authorized the opening of an investigation into war crimes & crimes against humanity in #Afghanistan including into CIA/US #torture there & in blacksites. Bush-era US global torture program FINALLY under criminal investigation! #EndImpunity https://twitter.com/katherga1/status/1235188550892740609 …Katherine Gallagher@katherga1As I prepare to fly to The Hague for #ICC #Afghanistan/US judgment, I’m thinking back to my experience in Rome, as part of hopeful civil society for prospects of int’l justice. My message for the Court: it’s not about “managing” victims’ expectations–it’s about meeting them.

“This decision is welcome news to everyone who believes that the perpetrators of war crimes should not enjoy impunity, no matter how powerful they are,” said Preetha Gopalan, head of U.K. litigation for the group Reprieve, which represents other victims before the ICC.

“This is the first time the U.S. will be held to account for its actions, even though it tried to bully the ICC into shutting this investigation down,” Gopalan added. “That the ICC did not bow to that pressure, and instead upheld victims’ right to accountability, gives us hope that no one is beyond the reach of justice.”

“While the road ahead is still long and bumpy, this decision is a significant milestone that bolsters the ICC’s independence in the face of the Trump administration’s bullying tactics.”
—Jamil Dakwar, ACLU

The ACLU currently represents Khaled El Masri, Suleiman Salim, and Mohamed Ben Soud—who were detained and tortured in Afghanistan—before the ICC. Jamil Dakwar, director of the ACLU’s Human Rights Program, also welcomed the news Thursday.

“This decision vindicates the rule of law and gives hope to the thousands of victims seeking accountability when domestic courts and authorities have failed them,” he said. “While the road ahead is still long and bumpy, this decision is a significant milestone that bolsters the ICC’s independence in the face of the Trump administration’s bullying tactics.”

“Countries must fully cooperate with this investigation and not submit to any authoritarian efforts by the Trump administration to sabotage it,” Dakwar added. “It is past time perpetrators are held accountable for well-documented war crimes that haunt survivors and the families of victims to this day.”

Despite the ICC’s green light to proceed with the investigation, holding any Americans accountable will likely prove difficult, given that the Bush, Obama, and Trump administrations all refused to formally recognize the Hague-based court, which prosecutes perpetrators of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.

Although the ICC officially has jurisdiction over crimes committed by U.S. actors within countries that are parties to the Rome Statute, President Donald Trump—infamous for granting clemency to Americans accused of war crimes—isn’t expected to allow any U.S. cooperation with the court’s investigation, based on his administration’s efforts to quash the probe.

Parampreet Singh@singhp_p

FINALLY

The @IntlCrimCourt‘s Appeals Chamber has authorized the investigation in #Afghanistan!

Despite increased #US pressure to back off, the #ICC confirmed its role as a court for victims who have nowhere left to turn.

View image on Twitter

JamesAGoldston@JamesAGoldston

Now is the time for all those who support the #ICC – and particularly individual states parties – to demand respect for this judicial decision. Stand up and be heard! https://twitter.com/IntlCrimCourt/

https://twitter.com/IntlCrimCourt/status/1235506112650080257

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo boasted in August 2019 that the Trump administration’s bullying tactics had blocked an ICC probe. In 2018, John Bolton, who then served Trump’s national security adviser, vowed: “We won’t cooperate with the ICC. We will provide no assistance to the ICC. And we certainly will not join the ICC. We will let the ICC die on its own… If the court comes after us, we will not sit quietly.”

Pompeo blasted the Appeals Chamber’s decision in a statement Thursday, saying, “This is a truly breathtaking action by an unaccountable political institution, masquerading as a legal body.” The secretary noted the move came just days after the administration signed a deal with the Taliban and that United State is not party to the ICC, and promised that “we will take all necessary measures to protect our citizens from this renegade, so-called court.”

“This is yet another reminder of what happens when multilateral bodies lack oversight and responsible leadership, and become instead a vehicle for political vendettas,” added Pompeo. “The ICC has today stumbled into a sorry affirmation of every denunciation made by its harshest critics over the past three decades.”

In response Pompeo’s remarks, the ACLU’s Dakwar told Common Dreams in an emailed statement that “no one except the world’s most brutal regimes win when the United States tries to impugn and sabotage international institutions established to hold human rights abusers accountable.”

James A. Goldston, executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative, shared on Twitter an ICC video announcing the decision Thursday and urged supporters of the court “to demand respect for this judicial decision.”

The New York Times reported Thursday that the ICC’s decision brought hope for some Afghan civilians, including Masih Ur-Rahman Mubarez, whose wife, seven children, and four other relatives were killed in a U.S. airstrike targeting Taliban members in September.

“I will never find peace of mind,” said Mubarez. “But if the ICC punishes Americans who killed my children, I will be happy.”

Posted in USA, Afghanistan, Human RightsComments Off on ‘Total Win!’: Human Rights Groups Welcome ICC Probe of US Torture and War Crimes in Afghanistan

‘Hospitals Not Prepared,’ Warn Nurses as Nationwide Survey Shows ‘Fractured’ System Amid Coronavirus Outbreak

“We just don’t have the capacity in the hospitals and health systems to deal with a massive influx of patients and keep them isolated.”

by: Eoin Higgins,

A healthcare worker prepares to transport a patient on a stretcher into an ambulance at Life Care Center of Kirkland on February 29, 2020 in Kirkland, Washington.

A healthcare worker prepares to transport a patient on a stretcher into an ambulance at Life Care Center of Kirkland on February 29, 2020 in Kirkland, Washington. (Photo: David Ryder/Getty Images)

The nation’s healthcare system is unprepared to handle a coronavirus outbreak that could already be underway, health professionals are warning, and the result could be “chaos.”

“This crisis highlights our country’s completely fractured health care system and failure to invest in public health,”  said Bonnie Castillo, executive director of the National Nurses United (NNU), on Thursday as her union released preliminary findings from an ongoing nationwide survey of health professionals and facilities.

“Facilities don’t have a plan, or they haven’t explained the plan, or they don’t have the supplies, equipment, and training to carry out any plan,” said Castillo. “The outcome of this chaos is that health care workers, patients, and the entire community are exposed to this virus and needlessly put at risk.”

The survey focused on coronavirus (also known as COVID-19) preparedness and made clear that the vast majority of healthcare facilities are not ready to deal with an outbreak, the group said.

According to NNU:

Thousands of responses show that high percentages of hospitals do not have plans, isolation procedures, and policies in place for COVID-19; that communication to staff by employers is poor or nonexistent; that hospitals are lacking sufficient stocks of personal protective equipment (PPE) or are not making current stocks readily available, and have not provided training and practice to staff on how to properly use PPE.

“The survey results confirm what we have been hearing from nurses across the country: Hospitals are not prepared,” said Castillo. “This crisis highlights our country’s completely fractured health care system and failure to invest in public health.”

The survey results came just after President Donald Trump said on national television Wednesday night that people with the coronavirus could go to work and suggested—based on a “hunch”—that global reporting on the virus’ death rate was false.

Washington Post report Wednesday evening cited similar concerns from health professionals worried about their ability to handle an outbreak. 

“We just don’t have the capacity in the hospitals and health systems to deal with a massive influx of patients and keep them isolated,” Johns Hopkins University professor Gerard Anderson told the Post

According to the Post:

The amount of federal funding given to state and local officials to prepare for health emergencies has been cut in half or more over the past couple of decades, according to Crystal Watson, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

The two key federal programs amounted to $1.4 billion in 2003. Those two programs amount to $662 million this year.

“Every administration has made cuts to these programs,” Watson said. “It’s been in a downward trend for a long time.”

In Seattle, the hardest-hit U.S. community to date, city councilmember Kshama Sawant called on local and state officials to take action to protect the public beyond simply declaring the situation an emergency. 

Kshama Sawant@cmkshama

I was on @democracynow this morning to talk about #CoronavirusOutbreak.@MayorJenny, @kcexec, @GovInslee should make testing and treatment free immediately. Emergency proclamations need to be followed up with actual help for the uninsured & under-insured https://twitter.com/democracynow/status/1235567254646865925?s=19 …

In its press release announcing the survey’s results, NNU called on federal and state governments, as well as health facilities, to emphasize clear communication, health protocols, and to immediately provide federal spending to address the unfolding crisis. NNU Executive Council vice president and nurse Cathy Kennedy said that help from healthcare administrators would be critical to ensuring public health.

“Nurses are confident that we can contain this disease and prevent unnecessary deaths and suffering,” said Kennedy. “But our employers and the government need to provide us with the right guidelines, staffing, equipment, and supplies in order for us to do this work safely. We, our patients, and the public deserve nothing less.”

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As CDC Says ‘Do Not Go to Work,’ Trump Says Thousands With Coronavirus Could Go to Work and Get Better

“These are really dangerous lies.”

byJake Johnson,

President Donald Trump stops to talk to reporters and members of the media as he walks from the Oval Office to board Marine One and depart from the South Lawn at the White House on Tuesday, March 3, 2020 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Running roughshod over the advice of trained medical professionals and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, President Donald Trump Wednesday night suggested to millions of Fox News viewers that people infected with coronavirus could still go to work and recover, comments that were immediately condemned as irresponsible and dangerous.

“A lot of people will have this and it’s very mild. They’ll get better very rapidly,” Trump told Fox‘s Sean Hannity. “They don’t even see a doctor, they don’t even call a doctor. You never hear about those people.”

“Trump has had briefings from the nation’s best doctors and scientists on COVID-19 and he still spouts total, dangerous bullshit.”
—Peter Gleick

“So you can’t put them down in the category of the overall population in terms of this corona flu and/or virus,” Trump continued. “So you just can’t do that. So, if, you know, we have thousands or hundreds of thousands of people that get better just by, you know, sitting around and even going to work. Some of them go to work, but they get better.”

The CDC has advised that anyone exhibiting symptoms of coronavirus such as a fever, coughing, and/or shortness of breath stay home from work, avoid public areas as much as possible, and seek medical attention.

“You should restrict activities outside your home, except for getting medical care,” the CDC’s website states. “Do not go to work, school, or public areas. Avoid using public transportation, ride-sharing, or taxis.”

Trump also claimed in the interview with Hannity that the World Health Organization’s (WHO) estimate of a 3.4% global death rate from coronavirus is a “false number.”

“This is just my hunch,” the president said.

“These are really dangerous lies,” tweeted The Nation‘s Jeet Heer.

“Trump has had briefings from the nation’s best doctors and scientists on COVID-19 and he still spouts total, dangerous bullshit,” added climate scientist Peter Gleick.

Trump’s remarks came just hours after California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a statewide emergency following the death of a 71-year-old man, the first U.S. coronavirus fatality reported outside of Washington state.

“This is not something that I say hyperbolically,” Newsom said of the emergency declaration during a press conference Wednesday. “The proclamation is to serve to help advance our resources.”

As Trump and other White House officials have attempted to downplay the severity of the outbreak and hurled accusations of fearmongering—the president said at a rally last week that Democrats’ criticism of his handling of the health crisis is a “new hoax”—coronavirus has spread to at least 15 states in the U.S. and killed 11 people.

“The death rate so far—which includes more than 3,000 deaths [globally]—is many times higher than the mortality rate of the seasonal flu, which is 0.1%,” the Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday. “WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that is at least partly because COVID-19 is a new disease, and no one has built up an immunity to it.”

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