Syria: Christians and Rebels in Homs; The UN; Baroness Amos; NGOs

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Images of the people the world mostly ignores – the people of Syria not promoting a war against their state and society.  Images taken from Syrian TV since the start of the crisis.

May 2015

In an audio interview with the editor of “Socrates and Syria”, Irish anti-war activist Alan Lonergan discussed a number of issues.  He focused particularly on the so-called revolution in Homs. 

Alan notes that Western journalists (for example BBC’s Paul Wood) who illegally entered Syria in early 2012 to present the ‘revolution’  through the eyes of militants did not report on the expulsion of 50,000 to 80,000 Christian Syrians from Homs and the taking over of their homes by ‘revolutionaries’.

Alan points out that although only about one quarter of Syrian refugees live in UN refugee camps it is particular refugees in these camps who to a large extend determine the story of Syria as it is presented by mainstream media outlets, some NGOs and prominent individuals such as Angelina Jolie.

Alan also discussed the role of the UN with particular attention given to Baroness Valerie Amos, UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator.  Alan explains that Baroness Amos had been in Tony Blair’s cabinet and had taken on the role of International Development Secretary after Clare Short resigned in protest over the Iraq war. (Ref: BBC Profile of Valerie Amos)  Baroness Amos actively supported Tony Blair’s push for the war against Iraq.

(Baroness Amos) canvassed African leaders in the run-up to the war in Iraq, travelling to Cameroon, Angola and Guinea to urge them to support the United States and Britain in the United Nations Security Council.

Interview with Alan Lonergan:

A. Christians and rebels in Homs, Syria 

B. On the limited and distorted view visiting refugee camps may give.  Camps used for R&R by fighters. 

C. The Role of the UN and Baroness Valerie Amos in the conflict

D. The support some NGOs have provided the rebel cause in Syria 

(For more information about the expulsion of Christians in Homs, please see an article by Alan Lonergan in “Oriental Review” presented at the bottom of this page.)

RESEARCHING THE ‘REVOLUTION’ IN HOMS 

Much positive attention has been given the ‘revolution’ in Homs by mainstream reporters, for example BBC’s Paul Wood and French American writer Jonathan Littell, were both in Homs with rebels in February 2012.  Journalist Marie Colvin and photographer Remi Ochlik were killed in Homs on 22 February 2012.  These writers gave little to no attention to the expulsion of Christians in Homs.

Also, there have been at least two major documentaries produced by Syrian exiles, whose focus has been on the ‘revolution’ in Homs and its crackdown.  These are “The Return to Homs” and “Silvered Water“.

Danny Abdul Dayem, a young British man who travelled to Homs to support the ‘revolution’ and was a voice for the ‘revolution’ in the western mainstream media, spoke with Dr Mahmoud Al-Aqraa at ‘a fund-raising charity dinner’ in London in October 2011. Present at the meeting was another member of the House of Lords, Baroness Pola Uddin.

At the fundraising function, Dr Al-Akraa, reportedly a trustee of the charity “Hand in Hand for Syria”says (2:40), “Brothers and sisters, something very important. Al-ḥamdu lillāh (Thanks and praise to God), Muslim Brotherhood coming back”.

REFERENCE LIST – RESEARCHING THE STORY OF HOMS  

Focusing on Five Elements to the Story (only) 

  1.  Khaled Abu Saleh – the ‘activist’ who in a video pointed to Marie Colvin’s body in Homs –  has been caught on video staging situations to incriminate the Syrian army.

a. Khaled Abu Saleh is introduced on this webpage – “A Closer Look On Syria”

b. Khaled Abu Saleh preparing to be interviewed by Al-Jazeera makes sure there are suitable sound effects and the ‘right’ thing is said.

(Note: many Al-Jazeera reporters resigned in protest over its partisan reporting on Syria. Ali Hashem who resigned in early 2012 was very outspoken about the political bias of AJ and media in general – his resignation came not long after Marie Colvin’s death, but some other reporters resigned almost at the beginning of the troubles in Syria, most notably Ghassan bin Jeddo, who claimed that Al-Jazeera had become “an operation room for incitement and mobilisation”.)

c. This German video highlights different footage of Khaled Abu Saleh including him (2:34) allegedly pointing to the bodies of Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik.

(Note there is not much apparent damage to the building or buildings in the street.

d. Khaled Abu Saleh speaks at a ‘Friends of Syria’ meeting. (in Arabic)

e.  Khaled Abu Saleh interviews Richard Engelabout his kidnapping when Engel was claiming he had been kidnapped by pro-government Shiite militia trained by Iran, this was despite the fact that NBC, the media outlet he worked with, knew that couldn’t have been true and most reporters in the region had reason to doubt the truth of it,as we know now. 

f. A sympathetic profile of Khaled Abu Saleh on Al-Jazeera before Colvin’s death.

g. A critical look at Danny,the Syrian British who worked with Khaled and who was also caught on camera preparing lines and sound effects for an interview  (on CNN).  Danny was seen by Avaaz as one of Avaaz’s brave citizen journalists.

Danny is interviewed in “Homs: Journey into Hell”, a BBC documentary presented by Paul Wood, who was in Homs with the rebels in February 2012.  Danny says, We’d rather die under missiles, under bullet fire and we’re free. We’ll never go back to the way we lived. Never. (27:37).

h. Quite a long video collage highlighting footage with Khaled Abu Saleh and Danny.

  1. What different anti-government armed groups were prepared to do to receive sympathetic coverage and to damn the Syrian government.

a. Alex Thomson, Channel 4 reporter in Syria in 2012 who reported in early June 2012, not too long after Marie Colvin’s death:

I’m quite clear the rebels deliberately set us up to be shot by the Syrian Army. Dead journos are bad for Damascus.

Thomson writes that an Arab League monitor had the same experience,

“@alextomo I read your piece “set up to be shot in no mans land”, I can relate as I had that same experience in Al Zabadani during our tour.”

That was from Nawaf al Thani, who is a human rights lawyer and a member of the Arab League Observer mission to Syria earlier this year.

It has to make you wonder who else has had this experience when attempting to find out what is going on in rebel-held Syria.

In a war where they slit the throats of toddlers back to the spine, what’s the big deal in sending a van full of journalists into the killing zone?

It was nothing personal.

b. Analyst and journalist, Sharmine Narwani,  wrote “Hollywood in Homsand Idlib?”in March 2012, around 3 weeks after Marie Colvin’s death.  It makes the point that the militarised opposition relied a lot on lies and she concludes that the government could not have been deliberately slaughtering civilians in Homs as claimed by rebels. She references an article by Stratfor

Stratfor said that too. The risk analysis group argues that allegations of massacres against civilians were unlikely because the “regime has calibrated its crackdowns to avoid just such a scenario. Regime forces,” Stratfor argues, “have been careful to avoid the high casualty numbers that could lead to an intervention based on humanitarian grounds.”

For me, the events in Homs in February confirmed rather than contradicted this view. The general media narrative was very certain: there was a widescale civilian massacre in Baba Amr caused by relentless, indiscriminate shelling by government forces that pounded the neighborhood for weeks.

The videos pouring out of the besieged city were incriminating in the extreme. Black smoke plumes from shelling choked the city, piled up bodies spoke of brutal slaughter; the sound of mass wailing was only interrupted by explosions, gunfire and cries of “Allahu Akbar.”

But when it was over, we learned a few things. Contrary to reports during the “siege,” there were only a few thousand civilians in Baba Amr at the time – all others had already evacuated the area. The International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) and its local partner, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC), had been administering assistance at nine separate points in Homs for the duration. They would not enter the neighborhoods of Baba Amr and Insha’at because of continuing violence on “both sides.”

The armed opposition fighters holed up in Homs during that month were, therefore, unlikely to be there in a purely “protective” capacity. As American journalist Nir Rosen points out, what happened in Homs on February 3 was a government response to direct and repeated “provocation:”

In the article, Sharmine Narwani reported on the tactics of insurgents when taking over a residential area, and their use of IEDs

There was no random shelling, they were slowly moving into neighborhoods, starting from the east and southern.

The militants had seeded IEDs (improvised explosive devices, basically remote detonated landmines) across the city, one of them was under my uncles balcony , who now lost half his home, his living room got bigger and has a panoramic view.

They had set up machine gun nests on a few mosques and communication towers.

c. A major massacre in Houla, not far from the Homs, was committed by insurgents so as to blame the Syrian government, according to some serious commentators, including  John Rosenthal who wrote two articles iThe Nation on this.  And Congressman Ron Paul spoke in The House of Reps about the massacre, saying,

Falsely blaming the Assad government for a so-called massacre perpetrated by a violent warring rebel faction is nothing more than war propaganda. 


3
Covert help given insurgents by foreign special forces 

a. An Israeli outlet claims that British, Qatari and Special Ops forces were on the ground with insurgents in Homs– in the same month as Marie Colvin’s death

b. An article in Huffington Post UK reports just a couple of weeks after Colvin’s death

CIA, Mossad and Blackwater agents are involved in military violence in the Homs district, an Arab news agency exclusively reports. …

“The significance of the security operation in Homs is due to the high expectations that regional and international sides had from the armed gangs in Baba Amr … they wanted Homs to be turned into a new Benghazi.”

c. Alex Thomson from Channel 4 reported on the Wikileaks cable that supported the claims that therewere foreign special forces on the ground before Colvin was killed.

d. The Telegraph Thirteen French officers ‘captured by Syrian Army’

5 March 2012

Thirteen French officers have been captured by Syrian forces according to the Lebanon-based Daily Star newspaper, the first mainstream media outlet to report on rumours of Western troops on the ground.

  1. Background to that time in Syria.
a. Al Qaeda’s Zawahiri calls for war to oust Syria’s Assad  February 12, 2012

b.   Some conclusions from the Arab League Observers (Khaled Abu Saleh met them and presumably made claims to them.)

The Fourth Media, 1st Feb 2012

The report of the Observers mission that was concluded on January 19, noted several important observations.(1)

1. The mission noted that there were false reports being made of explosions or violence and when the observers went to the location, they found that the reports were unfounded.

2. The mission found that media accounts were exaggerated about the nature of incidents or numbers of people killed in incidents and protests.

3. There were discrepancies in the lists the Mission received of people in detention. Names were repeated, or information was missing or inaccurate about detainees.

4. The Mission observed armed groups committing acts of violence against Government forces, resulting in the death and injury of the forces being attacked. Some of the armed groups were using flares and armour-piercing projectiles.

http://www.4thmedia.org/2012/02/01/arab-league-observer-report-corrects-media-narratives-about-syria/

c.  McCain calls for safe zones and arming the Syrian opposition 

d.  50,000 Christians forced to flee Homs by Islamists 

e.  Increasing numbers of soldiers and police are being killed and suicide bombings becoming more common in Syria   Ref for Feb 2012

f.  A mother grieving over the death of her son, 9 year-old Sari Saoud.  Sari was killed at the end of Nov 2011 in Homs by armed men after the army had left the area where his family lived and it was taken over by armed men.  His killing was reported on Al Jazeera and the Syrian army blamed for it.  This is an interview with Sari’s mother on Syrian TV.

g. This is footage of one of many pro-government rallies.  This footage comes from rallies held on 2 December 2011 and begin with a rally in Homs – note that there are many young women, some wearing hijabs, some not.

h.  Imam who condemned the armed groups is assassinated in Damascus.  RT Report with interviews of people at his funeral.  16 February 2012

i. Observations written in January 2012 of Dutch priest Father Frans van der Lugt who stayed on in Homs until his killing by a gunman in 2014

“From the start the protest movements were not purely peaceful. From the start I saw armed demonstrators marching along in the protests, who began to shoot at the police first. Very often the violence of the security forces has been a reaction to the brutal violence of the armed rebels.”

In September 2011 he wrote: “From the start there has been the problem of the armed groups, which are also part of the opposition…The opposition of the street is much stronger than any other opposition. And this opposition is armed and frequently employs brutality and violence, only in order then to blame the government.”

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=X76YWna2iag#t=0

 

  1. Were any of the foreign journalists in Homs reporting on the ‘revolution’ around Feb 2012 working for British or French intelligence services? 

This is a question which possibly will never be answered; however, there is good reason to raise it.

Leading German Journalist Admits CIA ‘Bribed’ Him and Other Leaders of the Western ‘Press’

Posted on October 7, 2014 by Eric Zuesse.

Udo Ulfkotte, a former editor of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (which is one of Germany’s largest newspapers), has decided to go public about the corruption of himself and the rest of the Western ‘news’ media, because he finds that this corruption is bringing Europe too close to a nuclear war against Russia, which he concludes the U.S. aristocracy that controls the CIA wants to bring about, or else to bring closer to the brink.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=0yamJ6zUcmI#t=0

ARTICLE BY ALAN LONERGAN

Whose rights do the international organizations protect in Syria?

By Alan Lonergan   8 April 2014 (Oriental Review.org)

Any institution or organisation is only as good as the sum of its parts and this is also true for the United Nations. Many who have suffered at the hands of sectarian rebels in Syria have wondered at the behaviour of U.N. and certain western human rights organisations in their coverage of events. The vast majority of displaced Syrians are inside Syria. Estimated at between 5 and 6 million, most have fled to government areas to find safety from rebels. Outside Syria there are 2 million plus refugees. Hundreds of thousands of them have bypassed the U.N. refusing to seek their assistance or have anything to do with them after what they have seen happen in their country.

The U.N. and the Christians of Homs Diocese

In late March 2012 the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and their Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos visited the city of Homs, Syria. In the preceding months Homs had witnesses the single largest act of ethno-religious cleansing in Syria. Approximately 80,000 Christians were forced out of the old city neighbourhoods by western backed rebels. Between 130,000 and 150,000 Christians were forced to flee the general area. It is impossible for the U.N. not to have been aware of what had happened to the Christian community in the city and yet Valerie Amos said nothing, nor did the international media. On the 21st of March 2012 the Vatican’s Pontifical Missions News Service, Fides, reported as follows “In Homs there is “an ongoing ethnic cleansing of Christians”, being carried out by some Islamist members of the “Brigade Faruq”. So says a note sent to Fides by some sources in the Syrian Orthodox Church, which includes 60% of Christians in Syria. Militant armed Islamists – says the note – have managed to expel 90% of Christians in Homs and confiscated their homes by force. According to Orthodox Metropolitan sources, the militants went door to door in the neighbourhoods of Hamidiya and Bustan al-Diwan, forcing Christians to flee, without giving them the chance to take their belongings. In the “Faruq Brigade”, note other sources, there seems to be armed elements of various Wahhabi groups and mercenaries from Libya and Iraq.”

Five months after her visit to Homs, U.N. official Valerie Amos was attending a U.N. press conference at which she was questioned by a New York based Lebanese reporter Nizar Abboud, about a rebel siege on a Syrian Christian village called Riblah, in the diocese of Homs. Her exact response is as follows:

“On the issue of Christian communities, there is actually very little information. We have some information about two places, one that Christians from a town called Qusayr have moved because of threats and taunts and we also have examples of a backlash against Christians, not only in Qusayr but also another enclave of about 30 villages west of the city of Homs but I am not sure of the specific example that you have been given but those are the ones that I have been advised on”.

 

Is it possible that she or the U.N. have “very little information”? Reports from the Vatican as to what was happening in the diocese were numerous but perhaps the U.N. like the western media preferred to ignore them as they highlighted an issue they would rather not face up to.  It is difficult to believe that several months after her visit to Homs she still remains oblivious to the largest act of ethno-religious cleansing to take place in Syria. In her response she references the town of Qusayr but completely downplays the reality of what took place there. In Qusayr, a third of the town’s residents were Christian, approximately 9,000.

Over time thousands of the town’s Christians and Muslims escaped the conflict that had engulfed them, fleeing rebels and the counter attacks from the Syrian army. The Christians did not “move” because of “taunts and threats” they were victimised and some were the subject of targeted killings. They fled for their lives and the last 1,000 Christians remaining in the town were forcibly expelled by a direct order of rebel commander,  Abdel Salam Harba. In her response, she also mentions an “enclave of about 30 villages west of the city of Homs and together with the events in Qusayr uses the term “backlash” to describe what has happened. The word itself implies that the Christians did something that provoked a reaction or “backlash” against them, when in fact they were innocent civilian victims of attacks, motivated by a sectarian rebel agenda that victimised anyone, Muslim, Christian or Druze, who did not agree with it.

A rebel in the old city of Homs, where 80,000 Christians were forced out. He poses with a machine gun in one hand and a processional cross in the other; he is wearing part of the funeral vestments of a Syriac Orthodox priest. In this image he is seen leaning against the funeral hearse of St. Joseph’s Syriac Orthodox Parish. It is said that the rebels in the area used the hearse to transport weapons around the district.

The enclave west of Homs referenced in passing by Ms. Amos is actually an area of 40 Christian villages called the Wadi al Nasara (the Valley of the Christians). It’s normal population is about 150,000 but during the course of this conflict that has swollen to 250,000, as Christians have fled there from other areas to find safety in numbers. The region has not been spared and has been subject to rebel bombings, suicide bombing attacks, kidnappings, random killings and other atrocities.

In late June 2013 the Syrian government forces succeeded in retaking the town of Qusayr. One of the stories that came to light after the town was freed was that of a 15 year old Christian girl. In the chaos and confusion of what was happening in the town the previous year she got separated from her parents and was taken captive by the rebels.  She was raped by 15 different men over 15 days and became psychologically destabilized and was eventually killed by the rebels.

Valerie Amos is a former British Labour party government minister and baroness in the House of Lords. In March 2003, when Labour party minister Clare Short resigned her post in protest at Tony Blair and the Iraq war it was Amos who took over as Minister for International Development at the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Amos canvassed African leaders in the run-up to the war on Iraq, visiting Cameroon, Angola and Guinea in a bid to sell the Anglo-American stance. At the time Pope John Paul II tried his best to prevent the war on Iraq. Today we know that that war was fought under false pretences and a knock on effect of the death, devastation and instability that ensued was the rise of an extremism which brought about the destruction of the Iraqi Christian community. In 2003 there were approximately 1.5 million native Christians in Iraq. Today they number only a few hundred thousand, many of whom are internally displaced. The Chaldean Catholic Patriarch of Iraq recently revealed that in the last ten years the number of Chaldean Catholic churches operating in Iraq has dropped from 300 to 57. Over the last 3 years Syria Christians have feared that under the false pretence of a western backed “Arab Spring” they will suffer the same fate as their Iraqi brothers and sisters. The Chaldean Catholic primate of Syria, Bishop Antoine Audo, said in his 2014 Lenten address: “Until the war began, Syria was one of the last remaining strongholds for Christianity in the Middle East. We have 45 churches in Aleppo. But now our faith is in mortal danger, in danger of being brought to ‘extinction, the same pattern we’ve seen in neighbouring Iraq.

Source:Orontes

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