Category Archives: Syrian Civil War

Ending America’s Disastrous Role in Syria – Jeffrey D. Sachs.

America’s official narrative has sought to conceal the scale and calamitous consequences of US efforts to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

That is understandable, because US efforts are in blatant violation of international law, which bars UN member states from supporting military action to overthrow other members’ governments.

Much of the carnage that has ravaged Syria during the past seven years is due to the actions of the United States and its allies in the Middle East. Now, faced with an alarming risk of a renewed escalation of fighting, it’s time for the United Nations Security Council to step in to end the bloodshed, based on a new framework agreed by the Council’s permanent members.

Here are the basics.

In 2011, in the context of the Arab Spring, the US government, in conjunction with the governments of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, and Israel, decided to bring down Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, even though overthrowing another country’s government amounts to a blatant violation of international law. We know that in 2012, if not earlier, President Barack Obama authorized the CIA to work with America’s allies in providing support to rebel forces composed of disaffected Syrians as well as non-Syrian fighters. US policymakers evidently expected Assad to fall quickly, as had occurred with the governments of Tunisia and Egypt in the early months of the Arab Spring.

The Assad regime is led by the minority Alawi Shia sect in a country where Alawites account for just 10% of the population, Sunni Muslims account for 75%, Christians make up 10%, and 5% are others, including Druze. The regional powers behind Assad’s regime include Iran and Russia, which has a naval base on Syria’s Mediterranean coastline.

Whereas America’s goal in seeking to topple Assad was mainly to undercut Iranian and Russian influence, Turkey’s motive was to expand its influence in former Ottoman lands and, more recently, to counter Kurdish ambitions for territorial autonomy, if not statehood, in Syria and Iraq. Saudi Arabia wanted to undermine Iran’s influence in Syria while expanding its own, while Israel, too, aimed to counter Iran, which threatens Israel through Hezbollah in Lebanon, Syria near the Golan Heights, and Hamas in Gaza. Qatar, meanwhile, wanted to bring a Sunni Islamist regime to power.

The armed groups supported by the US and allies since 2011 were assembled under the banner of the Free Syrian Army. In fact, there was no single army, but rather competing armed groups with distinct backers, ideologies, and goals. The fighters ranged from dissident Syrians and autonomy-seeking Kurds to Sunni jihadists backed by Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

While vast resources were devoted to overthrowing Assad, the effort ultimately failed, but not before causing massive bloodshed and displacing millions of Syrians. Many fled to Europe, fomenting Europe’s refugee crisis and a surge in political support for Europe’s anti-immigrant extreme right.

There were four main reasons for the failure to overthrow Assad. First, Assad’s regime had backing among not only Alawites, but also Syrian Christians and other minorities who feared a repressive Sunni Islamist regime. Second, the US-led coalition was countered by Iran and Russia. Third, when a splinter group of jihadists split away to form the Islamic State (ISIS), the US diverted significant resources to defeating it, rather than to toppling Assad. Finally, the anti-Assad forces have been deeply and chronically divided; for example, Turkey is in open conflict with the Kurdish fighters backed by the US.

All of these reasons for failure remain valid today. The war is at a stalemate. Only the bloodshed continues.

America’s official narrative has sought to conceal the scale and calamitous consequences of US efforts in defiance of international law and the UN Charter to overthrow Assad. While the US vehemently complains about Russian and Iranian influence in Syria, America and its allies have repeatedly violated Syrian sovereignty. The US government mischaracterizes the war as a civil war among Syrians, rather than a proxy war involving the US, Israel, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Qatar.

In July 2017, US President Donald Trump announced the end of CIA support for the Syrian rebels. In practice, though, US engagement continues, though now it is apparently aimed more at weakening Assad than overthrowing him.

As part of America’s continued war-making, the Pentagon announced in December that US forces would remain indefinitely in Syria, ostensibly to support anti-Assad rebel forces in areas captured from ISIS, and of course without the assent of the Syrian government.

The war is in fact at risk of a new round of escalation. When Assad’s regime recently attacked anti-Assad rebels, the US coalition launched airstrikes that killed around 100 Syrian troops and an unknown number of Russian fighters. Following this show of force, US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis disingenuously stated that, “Obviously, we are not getting engaged in the Syrian civil war.” In addition, Israel recently attacked Iranian positions in Syria.

The US and its allies should face reality and accept the persistence of Assad’s regime, despicable as it may be. The UN Security Council, backed by the US, Russia, and the other major powers, should step in with peacekeepers to restore Syrian sovereignty and urgent public services, while blocking attempts at vengeance by the Assad regime against former rebels or their civilian supporters.

Yes, the Assad regime would remain in power, and Iran and Russia would maintain their influence in Syria. But the US official delusion that America can call the shots in Syria by choosing who rules, and with which allies, would end. It’s long past time for a far more realistic approach, in which the Security Council pushes Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran, and Israel into a pragmatic peace that ends the bloodshed and allows the Syrian people to resume their lives and livelihoods.

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Jeffrey D. Sachs, Professor of Sustainable Development and Professor of Health Policy and Management at Columbia University, is Director of Columbia’s Center for Sustainable Development and of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network. His books include The End of Poverty, Common Wealth, The Age of Sustainable Development, and, most recently, Building the New American Economy.

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JFK’s Nephew Blows the Whistle on Syria. ISIS is a Product of US Intervention for Oil – Claire Bernish. 

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. delivered a searingly astute summation concerning the truth behind the U.S.’ presence in the Middle East — its subservience to the fossil fuel industry’s most precious commodity: OIL.

“As we focus on the rise of ISIS and the search for the source of the savagery that took so many lives in Paris and San Bernardino, we might want to look beyond the convenient explanations of religion and ideology and focus on the more complex rationales of history and oil, which mostly point the finger of blame for terrorism back at the champions of militarism, imperialism and petroleum here on our own shores,” Kennedy advised in an editorial for Ecowatch.

Kennedy’s critical look at the United States’ history of meddling, interventionism, and hegemony — almost exclusively to maintain the flow of oil — makes apparent its role in destabilizing the entire Middle East, particularly Syria. Indeed, more than fifty years of violent intercession — ultimately in the interest of the fossil fuel industry — has stoked enormous resentments. Essentially, American geostrategic corporatism — under the guise of militaristic peacekeeping — created the same violent Islamic Jihadism the U.S. now battles against.

Beginning during the Eisenhower Administration, Arab sovereignty and the Middle East nations’ Cold War neutrality were perceived as threats to American access to oil.

First in the order of business for Eisenhower’s Presidency was Iran’s first elected leader in 4,000 years, President Mohammed Mosaddegh. Mosaddegh’s desire to renegotiate Iran’s unfavorable oil contracts with British Petroleum led to a failed coup by British intelligence — whom he promptly expelled from the country. Despite Mosaddegh’s favorable view of the U.S. — a model of democracy he sought to employ for Iran — Eisenhower, with the aid of the notorious Allan Dulles, ousted the leader. “Operation Ajax” deposed Mosaddegh and replaced him with Shah Reza Pahlavi — a leader whose bloody reign culminated in the Islamic revolution of 1979 “that has bedeviled our foreign policy for 35 years,” Kennedy wrote.

Perhaps one of the larger threats lay in Syria’s reluctance to approve the Trans Arabian Pipeline — intended to cross Syria in order to connect Saudi oil with ports in Lebanon. When the democratically-elected, secular Syrian president balked, the CIA engineered a coup in an attempt to replace him.

“The CIA’s plan was to destabilize the Syrian government, and create a pretext for invasion by Iraq and Jordan, whose governments were already under CIA control,” explained Kennedy. It did not work. An astonishing failure, anti-American riots and violence erupted across the region. Syria barred several American attaches, and then outted and executed all officials who harbored pro-American sentiment. Indeed, the U.S. very nearly sparked all-out war with Syria over the incident.

Repercussions from that attempted coup — as well as more successful installments of puppet regimes elsewhere — still play out in foreign policy and geopolitical dealings in the present. A more ‘successful’ leader removal and replacement involved a name everyone in the U.S. is familiar with: Saddam Hussein. 

After failed attempts to depose Iraq’s leader, the CIA ultimately installed Hussein and the Ba’ath Party to power. As Kennedy noted, Interior Minister Said Aburish once said of that plot, “We came to power on a CIA train.” James Critchfield, the CIA Station Chief in charge of the both the successful and failed coups, later said the CIA had essentially “created Saddam Hussein” — also supplying him weapons, intelligence, and chemical and biological weapons.

“At the same time, the CIA was illegally supplying Saddam’s enemy — Iran — with thousands of anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles to fight Iraq, a crime made famous during the Iran Contra scandal … [M]ost Americans are unaware of the many ways that ‘blowback’ from previous CIA blunders has helped craft the current crisis.”

While Americans widely believe the mainstream press’ and governmental narrative that the current U.S. role in Syria amounts to humanitarian goals, beginning with the Arab Spring in 2011, “Instead, it began in 2000 when Qatar proposed to construct a $10 billion, 1,500km pipeline through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, and Turkey,” Kennedy explained. 

“The proposed pipeline would have linked Qatar directly to European energy markets via distribution terminals in Turkey which would pocket rich transit fees. The Qatar/Turkey pipeline would have given the Sunni kingdoms of the Persian Gulf decisive domination of world natural gas markets and strengthen Qatar, America’s closest ally in the Arab world.”

The E.U. currently gets 30 percent of its gas from Russia, Kennedy noted, and “Turkey, Russia’s second largest gas customer, was particularly anxious to end its reliance on its ancient rival and to position itself as the lucrative transect hub for Asian fuels to E.U. markets. The Qatari pipeline would have benefited Saudi Arabia’s conservative Sunni Monarchy by giving them a foothold in Shia dominated Syria […]

“Wikileaks cables from as early as 2006 show the U.S. State Department, at the urging of the Israeli government, proposing to partner with Turkey, Qatar, and Egypt to foment the Sunni civil war in Syria to weaken Iran. The stated purpose, according to the secret cable, was to incite [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad into a brutal crackdown of Syria’s Sunni population.

“As predicted, Assad’s overreaction to the foreign-made crisis — dropping barrel bombs onto Sunni strongholds and killing civilians — polarized Syria’s Shia/Sunni divide and allowed U.S. policymakers to sell Americans the idea that the pipeline struggle was a humanitarian war.”

Kennedy’s lengthy historical context for the current imbroglio absolutely warrants a thorough perusal. Its unmistakable message should serve as a critical reminder that the United States government and its mouthpiece in mainstream press — as convincing as they may seem — are never telling you the whole story.

The Free Thought Project

Assad Had the Upper Hand So Why Would He Gas His Own People? – Chris Ernesto.

On March 30, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the future leader of Syria should be determined by the people of Syria.

This major policy statement by the US took regime change off the table, and was obviously great news for Bashar al-Assad. Combined with Syrian military gains on the ground, Assad was in the strongest position he’d been in since the war in Syria began.

So, why 5 days later would he gas his own people?

But even without a thorough investigation, and less than 72 hours after the alleged chemical attack took place, American political leaders and establishment media claimed that Assad carried out the attack on April 4. Hours later, the US launched 59 tomahawk cruise missiles on a Syrian airfield based on these unproven allegations, killing 9 civilians including 4 children in Idlib province.

Common sense, historical facts and circumstantial evidence suggest that it’s highly unlikely that Assad gassed his own people earlier this week. In fact, it’s much more likely that the chemical weapons were from al-Qaeda, ISIS and/or other anti-Assad factions. Indeed, a case can be made that the attack was coordinated by the White Helmets, with US neoconservatives providing the script.

In 2013, US-supported, anti-Assad forces were losing ground in the war in Syria. Assad claimed that the rebels were using chemical weapons in Aleppo in a last-ditch effort to hold territory. Assad asked the UN to investigate his claims, and they agreed, and began an investigation in Syria. Within days of the UN inspectors’ arrival, another chemical weapon attack occurred in Syria. Western media was quick to blame Assad, even though it defied logic that Assad would use chemical weapons when chemical weapons inspectors were inside Syria at his invitation.

As conservative columnist Pat Buchanan said, “I would not understand or comprehend that Bashar al-Assad, no matter how bad a man he may be, would be so stupid as to order a chemical weapons attack on civilians in his own country when the immediate consequence…might be that he would be at war with the United States. So this reeks of a false flag operation.”

Former member of Congress Ron Paul pointed out, “the group that is most likely to benefit from a chemical attack is Al-Qaeda. They ignite some gas, some people die and blame it on Assad.”

And Russian President Vladimir Putin said, “There is every reason to believe sarin gas was used, not by the Syrian army, but by opposition forces to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons, who would be siding with the fundamentalists.”

Nonetheless, the Obama administration and other western leaders blamed Assad, and talk of US military action in Syria was contemplated.

Fortunately, journalists like Seymour Hersh helped put a halt to war talk, by revealing that it was indeed the US-supported rebels who used chemical weapons – weapons they received from Turkey, a US ally.

The sarin gas attack that just occurred in Syria is eerily similar to the attack that occurred in 2013: US-backed anti-Assad rebels are losing ground, a sarin gas attack occurs and US politicians quickly blame Assad without an investigation. One difference between today and 2013 is that the US military actually bombed a Syrian military target in “retaliation.” Another difference is that this time, Russian military is in Syria at the invitation of the Syrian government, so the risk of military confrontation with Russia is real.

The US announcement on March 30 that it would not seek regime change in Syria was a massive blow to neoconservatives, liberal interventionists, ISIS, al-Qaeda and all other anti-Assad factions who have been trying to oust Assad for years. In 2016 alone, the CIA reportedly spent $1 billion supplying and training the rebel forces attempting to overthrow the Syrian government.

The Assad opposition is willing to revert to any means necessary, as history showed in 2013, so it’s conceivable that this week’s chemical attack was perpetrated by one of those factions who saw the window of opportunity to oust Assad closing.

And the US has a long history of making false claims to go to war, such as the Gulf of Tonkin incident, and the Iraq WMD claims — both of which led to major wars.

Given this, it is conceivable that the chemical weapons attack in Syria this week is a total hoax, perpetrated by The White Helmets, with the goal of tricking the US into taking military action against Assad, something the White Helmets have pushed for years.

As Max Blumenthal points out, The White Helmets, who call for a military imposed no-fly zone in Syria, were founded in collaboration with a wing of the USAID — the wing that has promoted regime change around the world — and have been provided with $23 million in funding from the department.

Money to the White Helmets is just part of the $339 million that the USAID has allotted for “supporting activities that pursue a peaceful transition to a democratic and stable Syria.”

Russian deputy ambassador to the UN said on Wednesday that allegations that Assad used chemical weapons this week are based on “falsified reports from the White Helmets”, an organization that has been “discredited long ago”.

This doesn’t mean the White Helmets were involved in Tuesday’s attack, or that the attack itself didn’t really happen, we’re just asking the question.

With that said, clearly the neocons and all anti-Assad forces have a lot more to gain from this week’s chemical attack than does Assad. And Assad has much more to lose than any of those groups. And this week’s attack followed the same script used during the 2013 attack, and that attack was wrongly blamed on Assad, as we suspect this attack is as well.

Although, it is too early to know what really happened, one of the possibilities is that the Syrian military bombed an al-Qaeda hideout, not knowing that chemical weapons were in the building, and the gas spread, killing people, as Russian officials have pointed out. But it’s odd that the White Helmets just happened to be on the ground, and rapidly produced an HD video complete with a script that was read on most major media outlets within hours of the attack.

Other than the people responsible for the alleged chemical attack this week, nobody really knows what happened, including us. Now that the US has attacked Syria, Russia’s ally, the question is, will Russia back down? If they don’t, we may look back at this week’s attack as a flashpoint to the start of a military confrontation with Russia. And given that this could lead to World War 3, we think it’s worth the time to consider all possibilities, including the ones mapped out here.

Article co-authors Dina Formentini and Chris Ernesto are members of St. Pete for Peace, a non-partisan antiwar organization providing peace oriented education events and services to the Tampa Bay, FL community since 2003.

St. Pete for Peace

Syria Missile Attack: A Victory of Neo-conservatives – Ron Paul. 

“I don’t think the evidence is there, at least it hasn’t been presented, and they need a so-called excuse, they worked real hard, our government and their coalition.

If any of this was true, I don’t know why they couldn’t wait and take a look at it. In 2013, there were similar stories that didn’t go anywhere, because with a little bit of a pause, there was a resistance to it built in our Congress and in the American people. They thought that it was a fraud and nothing like that was happening, and right now, I just can’t think of how it could conceivably be what they claim, because it’s helping ISIS, because it’s helping Al-Qaeda.

There was no need to rush. There was no threat to national security. They have to give a reason to do these things.

I have no idea what his purpose was. Maybe he just didn’t want to hear the debate, because the last time they debated it, they lost. And this time, it was necessary for them to jump onto this, before people came to know what was really going on.

They want to get rid of him, and you have to look for who is involved in that. Unfortunately, they are the ones who are winning out on this, and the radicals, too! There is a bit of hypocrisy going on here, because at one minute we say, well, maybe Assad has to stay, the next day he has to go, and we’re there fighting ISIS and Al-Qaeda. At the same time, what we end up doing is we actually strengthen them! It is a mess.

I don’t believe that our people or the American government should be the policemen of the world, it makes no sense, it causes us more trouble and more grief, it causes us more financial problems, and it’s hardly a way that we could defend our constitutional liberty.

The peace talks have ended now. They’re terrified that peace was going to break out! Al-Qaeda was on the run, peace talks were happening, and all of a sudden, they had to change, and this changes things dramatically! I don’t expect peace talks anytime soon or in the distant future.

I was wondering about the fact that the announcement came when Trump was talking to Xi Jinping, the Chinese president. And of course, North Korea’s high on the list of targets for our president and our administration. It might be a warning: this is what’s going to happen to you if you don’t do what we tell you. I just don’t like us being involved in so many countries, in their internal affairs; I think it’s so detrimental.”

Ron Paul

The full Russian MoFA statement in regards the US missile strike on Syria. 

The United States conducted strikes against Syrian government troops in the early hours of April 7, using chemical weapons attacks in Idlib Province as a pretext.

The US opted for a show of force, for military action against a country fighting international terrorism without taking the trouble to get the facts straight.

It is not the first time that the US chooses an irresponsible approach that aggravates problems the world is facing, and threatens international security. The very presence of military personnel from the US and other countries in Syria without consent from the Syrian government or a UN Security Council mandate is an egregious and obvious violation of international law that cannot be justified. While previous initiatives of this kind were presented as efforts to combat terrorism, now they are clearly an act of aggression against a sovereign Syria. Actions undertaken by the US today inflict further damage to the Russia-US relations.

Russia has expressed on numerous occasions that it was ready to cooperate on resolving the most urgent issues the world is facing today, and that fighting international terrorism was a top priority. However, we will never agree to unsanctioned action against the legitimate Syrian government that has been waging an uncompromising war on international terrorism for a long time.

Seeking to justify military action Washington has totally distorted what had happened in Idlib. The US could not have failed to grasp the fact that the Syrian government troops did not use chemical weapons there. Damascus simply does not have them, as confirmed a number of times by qualified experts. This was the conclusion reached by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). Over the recent years this organisation inspected almost all the facilities linked or possibly linked to Syria’s chemical weapons programme. As for Idlib, the terrorists operating there used to produce toxic land mines intended for use in Syria and Iraq. These manufacturing facilities were put out of operation in a military operation carried out by the Syrian air force.

The US pretends that it does not understand obvious things, turning a blind eye to the use of chemical weapons in Iraq, officially confirmed by Baghdad. The US refuses to believe the evidence provided by certified documents confirming the use of chemical weapons by terrorists in Aleppo. In doing so, the US is abetting international terrorism and making it stronger. New WMD attacks can be expected.

There is no doubt that the military action by the US is an attempt to divert attention from the situation in Mosul, where the campaign carried out among others by US-led coalition has resulted in hundreds of civilian casualties and an escalating humanitarian disaster.

It is obvious that the cruise missile attack was prepared in advance. Any expert understands that Washington’s decision on air strikes predates the Idlib events, which simply served as a pretext for a show of force.

Russia suspends the Memorandum of Understanding on Prevention of Flight Safety Incidents in the course of operations in Syria signed with the US.

We call on the UN Security Council to hold an emergency meeting to discuss the latest developments.

What will Trump do next? – Alexander Gillespie.

• Alexander Gillespie is a professor of law at Waikato University.

The United States has attacked a Syrian air base with 50 to 60 cruise missiles in response to a chemical weapons attack it blames on President Bashar Assad. The justification for this action is the attack on Khan Sheikhoun, about 50 kilometres south of the city of Idlib, in which 80 people died, including dozens of children, and hundreds more were injured. This attack was done with chemical weapons, which appear to have involved sarin gas. Chemical weapons are prohibited in international law due to their inhumane and indiscriminate killing methods. Sarin was the primary agent used in the Ghouta attacks in Syria in 2013 in which killed over 280 people. President Obama had warned earlier in 2012 that the use of such weapons would be a ‘red-line’ that Assad should not cross. When the attack happened, Obama did not strike Assad because a process was brokered through the United Nations that all of the chemical weapons that Assad possessed would be removed by the UN’s Organisation for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons, and that an inquiry would be held to determine who was at fault for the incident at Ghouta. The Inquiry found that although it was likely that the weapons used at Ghouta came from military stockpiles of the Syrian armed forces, it stopped short of saying that the Syrian military were the actual perpetuators of the crime. The Organisation for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons then, with the consent of all parties to the Syrian conflict, entered into Syria, collected all of the chemical weapons that were disclosed, destroyed them, and left.

It now appears that all of the chemical weapons were not handed over. Whether these were used by the rebels or the Syrian military is a matter of debate, although the weight of opinion suggests it is likely that the attack on Khan Sheikhoun was the result of the Syrian military. This is certainly the view of the Americans, British and French.

The problem is that to do an act of war such as President Trump has just done, the weight of evidence should be more than ‘likely’. It should also have been something that should have been done as a last resort.

However, there were other options on the table, as although tempers are running high at the Security Council in New York over this matter, a resolution calling for an independent investigation, to find out who was responsible, was possible. Why Mr Trump has short-circuited this process and acted now in such a deliberate manner is a matter of speculation.

The most pressing question from here is what happens next in the short term. For Bashar al-Assad, the option is to attack the 500 or so American troops in northern Syria helping with the attack on the ISIS held city of Raqqa. For Mr Putin, the choices are more nuanced. Russia is tied to Syria by a 1972 military alliance. It is this alliance which has been used as a spring-board for direct Russian intervention to prop up Assad. Even if Syria sees the American action as an act of war, this does not oblige Russia to do the same. Hopefully, Mr Putin will do what he does best, which is keep very calm in situations of stress, and serve his dish of revenge when it is cold. He last did this when a Russian aircraft was shot down over Turkey, subsequently breaking Turkey out of its close relationship to the United States and Europe. In this instance, it is likely that the Russians were informed in advance of what was going to happen, with a tightly orchestrated attack against those responsible for the action against Khan Sheikhoun, as opposed to other less related targets. Not to have informed the Russians, or to risk Russian casualties, could pull the two sides into direct conflict that could be cataclysmic.

Assuming that this conflict does not escalate and that Assad and the Russians accept the action without retaliating, the real problem for Mr Trump is what to do next ? Firing missiles is the easy part. Stopping weapons firing is much harder. Finding peace in Syria has been elusive since 2011. The fourth leg of the Geneva Peace Process recently concluded, with minimal progress. The same questions over what status Assad should have in any future government; what to do with terrorists; and whether the Kurds should have a separate homeland, continue to dominate the landscape. Without answering these questions there will never be peace in Syria. Mr Trump had earlier suggested said that the removal of Bashar al-Assad was not part of this priority. He was scathing of Mr Obama’s action in Syria and warned about conflict with Russia. Now, everything has changed.

NZ Herald

Educating Syria’s Rebuilders – Gordon Brown. 

In Aleppo, the devastated Syrian city and former rebel stronghold that has now been retaken by Syrian government forces, there was a glimmer of hope even as the bombs were falling. Amid the ruins, learning endured, as 15 young Syrians prepared for their university exams. They could not walk to a college campus, because so many of the country’s universities have been reduced to rubble. But they could still earn their degrees, thanks to a unique online program made available by the University of the People (UoP).

Every week, the Syrian students participate in online courses alongside pupils and instructors from around the world. Through these virtual classrooms, they pursue their chosen degree in business administration, computer science, or health science. The courses are so well prepared that many of these highly motivated students will be invited to attend Western universities later in their studies.

Project Syndicate 

University of the People 

Two decades before Aleppo, there was Srebrenica – ‘never again’ the world promised – Rick Nyack. 

Neither the representatives of Russia nor of the United States held back their views: To Russia, the resolution to recognise the killings of thousands of civilians as genocide was “politically motivated.” But for Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the United Nations, Russia’s refusal to accept the resolution was “madness.”

These remarks were not part of a debate about Syria and the killings in Aleppo, however. They made headlines a year ago as the world commemorated the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre, in which 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were killed by Bosnian Serbs, beginning on July 11, 1995.

Russia’s persistent refusal to acknowledge the massacre of Srebrenica as genocide sounded hauntingly familiar to some yesterday, amid news that more than 80 civilians were killed by pro-Assad and Russian-backed forces in Aleppo.

NZ Herald 

“Descent Into Hell” Aleppo: the west’s grim failure. 

As Assad’s forces, backed by the Russians, make their final move on Syria’s second city, the world can only count the cost of a humanitarian and military disaster it failed to stop.

The Syrian and Russian onslaught has been going on for weeks. But now it is at a new intensity, as it approaches what may be the end game.

A strategy of indiscriminate bombing, terror and destruction threatens to turn this part of Syria’s second city into a giant graveyard. Syrian army leaflets dropped on the city warn the inhabitants that they must flee, or face annihilation.

Rebel-held Aleppo seems condemned to utter destruction and defeat. Posted on social media, citizens’ desperate messages resemble final pleas, all hope gone.

A UN representative has described the situation as a “descent into hell”.

Beyond words of condemnation and warnings of a humanitarian catastrophe in the making, the powerlessness of UN institutions is obvious.

Russia’s propaganda machine is hard at work alongside the Syrian regime’s, trying to frame these events as the “liberation” of a population described as hostages of Islamic terrorists.

This is as false as it is cynical.

“Terrorists” is the label attached to the opposition to Assad ever since the outbreak of the 2011 street uprising against his dictatorship – a revolution that morphed into a full-on civil war after the Damascus government decided to deploy military power, including missiles, barrel bombs and chemical weapons, against its own population.

By the summer of 2015, President Assad seemed on the verge of being overthrown. Then Russia launched its military intervention, all the while paying lip service to a diplomatic process the US administration pursued to no avail.

Russia’s move was aimed at reversing the war’s dynamics and consolidating its beleaguered ally, President Assad.

Entrenched in Syria, with powerful S-400 air defence systems installed, it took advantage of western reluctance to get embroiled in the conflict, at a time when Washington had made plain that its priority was fighting Islamic State (Isis), rather than putting an end to the massacres carried out by President Assad’s forces.

Russia has not only turned a blind eye to these atrocities, it has assisted them.

In Moscow, officials now indicate that the situation in east Aleppo will be “resolved” by the end of the year. Make no mistake, that means that the estimated 250,000 inhabitants still remaining at the start of this week will be forced either to leave, or face arrest or death.

The Guardian 

Aleppo, War zone girl’s ‘last message’. 

A small girl has become the face of hundreds of thousands of starving, sick, injured and dying Syrians and today she’s lucky to be alive.

Bana Alabed, 7, has been tweeting from war-torn east Aleppo where, as recently as last week, it was reported hundreds of thousands of residents are “days from starvation”.

Winter is coming, but that’s far from the most serious threat facing Bana, her family and those trapped on the outskirts of the city.

A fierce fighting campaign between rebels and government forces is intensifying, claiming civilian lives every day.

On Saturday, her Twitter account – which has 124,000 followers and growing – shared a heartbreaking message as bombs dropped near her home.

NZ Herald 

Yes it’s horrible to have to see. That’s the point. 

The refugee crisis fills us with despair but it can be a chance for hope and kindness. 

For three years during the Syrian civil war, Nisreen gave her children a tranquilizer every night so they might sleep through the airstrikes. Secretly, she preferred for them to die in their sleep than live every day in such incapacitating fear. 

When Islamic State took over his school, Ahmad pretended to be dead while his classmates were first raped and subsequently burned alive. He was in third grade.

Nisreen and Ahmad are two of the 2.7 million refugees now living in Jordan – a small country with a population of slightly less than 10 million. Accepting such a great number of people, now comprising a substantial proportion of our population, has taught us a few lessons. We’ve learned of humans’ gut-wrenching ability to go to extreme lengths to hurt, destroy and deny others their humanity. We’ve seen refugees’ indelible marks of torture and heard their stories of adversity.

On the other hand, we’ve also learned of refugees’ incredible resilience and sense of hope against all odds – their ability to acclimate to a new environment and still feel committed to do what they can to be of service to others. Today Nisreen resides in a refugee camp in Jordan and leads group therapy for women with persistent trauma symptoms. By speaking about her own experience every day, she’s encouraging others to do the same. The Guardian 

Refugees in Greece. ‘We’re never getting out of here’. European Solidarity?

On June 26, 2015, as asylum seekers were rushing into Europe in growing numbers, EU leaders met until the wee hours in Brussels. Two countries were bearing the brunt of the crisis – the Mediterranean entry points of Greece and Italy. In what leaders heralded as a remarkable show of “solidarity,” the rest of the EU agreed to share the burden.

The EU would relocate 40,000 refugees – mostly Syrians – to member countries from Portugal to Finland. They would be given shelter, aid and a chance to rebuild their lives. As the number of asylum seekers surged, the EU later boosted its pledge – promising to relocate up to 160,000.

But 16 months after its initial decision, the EU has lived up to only 3.3 percent of that pledge, relocating 5,290 refugees – 4,134 from Greece and 1,156 from Italy. NZ Herald 

Is this civilisation? “Anger has filled everyone who remains in this city of rubble. God curse humanity if this is what it has become.”

Residents of rebel-held east Aleppo have described scenes of devastation after one of the heaviest and most sustained nights of bombardment the city has experienced. Activists said that Syrian and Russian warplanes attacked the city hours after the announcement of a major new offensive dashed any hopes of restoring a US-Russian ceasefire. The Guardian 

Too many nations have taken part in atrocities in Syria, Ban Ki-moon tells UN

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon launched a blistering attack on the Government of Syria this morning. His speech to the opening of the UN General Assembly followed a deadly attack on a UN aid convoy on Monday that killed more than 20 people.

“Many groups have killed many innocents but none more so than the Government of Syria, which continues to barrel-bomb neighbourhoods and systematically torture thousands of detainees. Just when we think we cannot get any worse, the bar of depravity sinks lower.
Yesterday’s sickening, savage and apparently deliberate attack on UN-Syrian Red Crescent aid convoy is the latest example.”
NZ Herald 

Germany Stands By Its Commitment In The Refugee Crisis. –  Peter Wittig, German Ambassador to the U.S. 

“Contrary to what some populists claim, the security situation in Germany remains stable. Crimes committed by migrants dropped by more than 36 percent between January and June of 2016. And many of the crimes were more of the petty sort, such as attempting to ride a train or bus without a ticket. The crime rate is especially low among refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq, the countries from which most new refugees in Germany come.” Huffington Post

2016 Public Enemy #One