Janine di Giovanni; a war reporter’s human touch

Below is a comment sent to ABC’s Late Night Live team in response to an interview with French war reporter Janine di Giovanni.   Ms di Giovanni refers to Syrian society before the war.  The images aim to present a glimpse of that.

Friends in music shopIMG_1240IMG_5981IMG_5991IMG_5993IMG_5999IMG_6021IMG_6027IMG_6043IMG_6069MediaPlaying cardsSophisticatedA nun and visitor in Seidnayya, Syria


It is clear Janine de Giovanni understands the human cost of war, and I assume she understands the machinations of war, but she plays very safe. There is reference to Syria before the war (a beautiful multi-ethnic, multi-faith, modern society), but no clear reference to those who are trying to destroy that society and the means by which they are doing it.
When will people who are in the know condemn those who supply the weapons to the ‘rebels’ and pay people to fight, to kill.  And condemn those who stir up the darkest things in the human soul in order for people to carry out murder, believing they are justified to kill innocent people from a particular religious or ethnic group who do not share their beliefs, as the Nazis felt justified to kill innocent people.
Janine quotes someone in Bosnia: “In the name of God, do something to help us.”  This is the call people who support the Syrian armed opposition (=Islamist extremists,foreign jihadists, mercenaries?) make to the world.  It is often reported.  But the same call from the civilians and opposition in Syria who want peace and want to maintain their secular society is not heard in the western media.  Even Janine doesn’t report it, at least not clearly enough to be heard so it is heeded.
It is very easy to dissemble and lie for war.  War propaganda has a formula; it’s usually successful when followed. The people who push it are paid professionals. Simply demonise a leader and a group, present statistics and make accusations – the standard ones.  When necessary, create the evidence. On the other hand, to find the truth is hard work. Fatigue, despair and loneliness can strike the people who search for it.   A close friend from Sarajevo, a highly intelligent woman who was affected very personally by the war, is still trying to make sense of the war and the destruction of that multi-ethnic society, and she still suffers.  I interviewed her about it:
I would love to hear Janine take a clear stand against the  war in Syria.  To tell us what can be done for peace in Syria. Mother Agnes, whom you have interviewed, presented 10 Points towards Peace and Reconciliation, practical steps that can be taken for peace, against war.
Do reporters stay in their job, do they keep receiving awards, by being ‘balanced’?  By not challenging the stand of western governments? By denying us truths that might force peace that greater powers do not want?  Janine’s work is undeniably political, but could she maintain her distinguished career if she got Political?
Janine says she is fuelled by rage.  Rage about ‘injustice’ and ‘human suffering’.  Then she tells us about terrible torture. But of whom by who? And what was the point of telling us that if we don’t hear the whole story, build up the big picture?  The big picture as far as war is concerned always takes us to Peace.  If we have the chance to see and understand it.  How will telling us there is torture of someone by someone stop the war?  Janine presents herself  as a humanitarian, and in her heart and private life I am sure she is. But in her professional life, in my mind, she is an attractive, sophisticated human face to the machinery of war.
Susan Dirgham   susan.dirgham51@gmail.com
3 December 2012
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Response to ABC’s Religious and Ethics Report

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Above: Images from Syrian TV on 19 August 2012, the first full day of the Eid festival.  The music and reading from the Koran in the links below were recorded as many of the images were taken. (Unfortunately, the sound of the camera shutter can be heard at times.) The Mufti of Syria is standing on the president’s left. There is mention in the comment below to the assassination of his son in 2011.

Links below: Music for Eid in Damascus, 19 August 2012 (recorded from Syrian satellite television)

Eid 2012 in Damascus Sufi music, part 1

Eid 2012 in Damascus part 2

Eid 2012 in Damascus Sufi music part 3

Recorded from Syrian TV on 30 August 2012

Syrian TV, Religious singer 30 August 2012


An interview with Lydia Khalil, an Egyptian American, was broadcast on ABC’s Radio National’s Religious and Ethics Report on Wednesday 15 August 2012.

This was the introduction to the interview on the Religious and Ethics Report webpage:

In June, not long after his election as president of Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood’s victorious candidate, Mohamed Morsi, said he would appoint a woman or a Coptic Christian as his vice-president. His spokesman told The Guardian it would show he would not govern as an Islamic hardliner. This week, he handed the job to a Sunni Muslim judge. Late last week, The New York Times revealed that some 80,000 Christians had been driven from their homes in the Homs province of Syria by the so-called Free Syrian Army, which is trying to topple the Assad regime.

So what do these developments portend for religious minorities? Lydia Khalil is an Egyptian-born Coptic Christian. She’s also an expert on the Middle East who’s worked for the Council on Foreign Relations and is now a fellow at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. She addressed the Sydney Institute on Monday (13 August) and she spoke later to the program about the future of Egypt and Syria.

The interview and transcript are available at the following link.


Lydia Khalil’s CV on the Religious and Ethics Report page:

Visiting Fellow, Australian Strategic Policy Institute; former fellow, Council on Foreign Relations; political advisor, Coalition Provisional Authority, Baghdad; counterterrorism advisor, New York Police Department, White House Office of Homeland Security

Editor of Socrates and Syria: It is curious that Ms Khalil was interviewed by the Religious and Ethics Report.  Which hat was she wearing when she was interviewed? That of an advisor to the White House or that of a Coptic Egyptian, one of millions?

In the interview, Ms Khalil is asked to present her views on the ‘Arab Spring’ in Syria. One has to wonder if she responds with the current views of the White House, which she may be helping to shape, or as a committed Christian concerned about the terror faced by Christians and millions of other people in secular Syria, someone who is committed to peace.

One Christian who has reported on the terror in Syria from first-hand experience is Mother Agnes Mariam. She was interviewed by Ireland’s public radio RTE on 10 August:



Below is a comment submitted to the ABC Religious and Ethics Report by the editor of this blog:


As Lydia says, Syria is a very diverse society. One of my students in Damascus in 2005 said this was what she treasured most about Syria.

I would like to challenge Lydia’s statement about the Syrian government being a “minority Alawite regime”.   This is often claimed in the west, so it has become a ‘fact’, but it doesn’t stand up to analysis. The president, who is married to a Sunni, has an Alawi Muslim background, but he has often been seen on TV praying with Sunni Muslims.  The members of parliament and the ministers reflect the general population. So the majority are Sunni Muslims. For example, I believe the Foreign Minister, the Defense Minister and the vice-president are all Sunni Muslims. The current and former prime ministers are Sunni.

In regard to Syria, the facts are much more complex than the rhetoric which is not checked perhaps because it is assumed someone somewhere along the chain of repetitions googled Wikipedia and presumably got it right. Or perhaps it is not checked because an anonymous ‘human rights activist’ said it, so it must be true.

When so many of us view Gandhi and Aung San Sun Kyi as heroic figures, it is ironic that it is Syrians who support the armed opposition that are usually presented as the truth bearers.

The extremism of those prepared to take up arms against the government was obvious from the beginning of the crisis in Syria. One of the first chants heard in Daraa in March ’11 was “Send Christians to Beirut. Send Alawis to their graves”.  Also, fatwas calling for a jihad against the ‘heretical regime’ have been issued by extremist Wahhabi and Salafi clerics since March 2011. Followers of extremists have been told it is ‘ok to kill 1/3 of the Syrian population if it leads to the toppling of the regime’.  If Australia were ever to become the target of fatwas, for example in response to our treatment of asylum seekers, would we close ranks and condemn the fatwas? And consider anyone that took up arms in response to them a terrorist?

Syrians do want reform in their country, no doubt; however, the armed opposition and foreign jihadists have not been welcomed by the vast majority of Syrian people, which is not a surprise if you assume that Syrians are like us and love peace, security and stability as much as we would above terror and a looming war.

The crisis in Syria is a war against the secular state from outside with the support of Syrians who have been open to the radicalization of extremist clerics.  Civil servants, such as professors, doctors, airline pilots, and people involved in the political reforms from all religious backgrounds have been targeted. The son of the (Sunni) Mufti of Syria and his history professor were assassinated in October last year.

Some attention could be given by your program to the different schools of Islam.  For example, how representative of Sunni Islam are Wahhabism and Salafism, which apparently are followed by a significant percentage of militia members?  What impact could those movements have on the lives on women as well as on religious freedom in Syria if the militias ‘won’ the war?

The representation of the crisis in Syria must take into account the facts, the complexity, the nuances, the dangers and the wish of the vast majority of people for peace now.

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Socrates, Syria, Amy Goodman and “Democracy Now”

It is unusual to encounter in the western media rigorous questioning of people who support the overthrow of the Syrian government.  This could simply be because the situation in Syria is too complex for the producers of programs to get their heads around all the issues and events happening there.  They are resource and time poor. Or it could be that one narrative has been accepted and this narrative will not be challenged.

This page is to encourage more critical questioning of guests who are invited to speak about Syria.

Ref:  Prof. James F. Tracy, Associate Professor of Media Studies at Florida Atlantic University, has written a critique of the manner in which progressive journals can support war.  He gives attention to “Democracy Now” and its presentation of the crisis in Syria.
“Progressive” Journalism’s Legacy of Deceit


The list of questions below are ones Amy Goodman from “Democracy Now” could have asked an anonymous female Syrian ‘activist’ interviewed by DM.


Syrian Activist in Hiding: “We’re Not Looking for Intervention, We’re Looking for Support”

19 July 2012






  • You support the armed ‘opposition’.  What can you tell us about the unarmed ‘opposition’ in Syria?
  • What were the main political parties that have stood against the Baath Party in the recent elections?
  • In what circumstances would you be willing to work with the unarmed opposition?
  • We heard that the son of the leader of one of the main political parties was assassinated just one day before the election.  Who do you think killed him and why?
  • A member of the Communist Party is a minister in the new government.  What ministry does he have? Is the Syrian Communist Party aligned with any other communist party in the world?
  • What are the different support bases and platforms of the armed and unarmed opposition?
  • What motivates people to support the unarmed opposition rather than the armed opposition?


  • You say a lot of people are ‘glad’ about the bombing.  Who is glad and why?
  • The Defense Minister was a Christian Syrian.  What has been the response of the Christian community to his killing?
  • Another minister killed was a member of the Sunni community.  Is the Sunni community very divided about his killing?
  • Syria is a secular country, so was the religion of those killed relevant to many people?
  • If the FSA and other armed fighters kill more leaders and soldiers it could seriously undermine Syria’s defense capabilities.  Does it concern you that it could make it very difficult for Syria to successfully defend itself from, for example, an attack from Israel?
  • There are signs that the Syrian army is still strong and united.  To topple the government it would be necessary to kill tens of thousands of loyal soldiers.  What belief or ideology can justify such large scale killing?  If the army is destroyed, Syria could become a terrorist stronghold; bloody fighting could continue for decades. Is this a concern for you?


  • The leader of the FSA, Abdel Al-Akaedi, describes the Syrian government as a ‘criminal regime’.  There are groups which are affiliated with Al-Qaeda fighting alongside the FSA. Moreover, the armed opposition has been accused of committing crimes against humanity, as has the Syrian government. Therefore, if the FSA did topple the Syrian government, how could it ensure it would not replace the government with a regime even more criminal than the current one?
  • Abdel Al-Akaedi thanks God for the killing of the ministers.  Since the beginning of the Arab Spring in Syria, clerics have issued fatwas against the Syrian government. Also, in most videos showing the rebels fighting, you hear the rebels call out “Allahu Akbar”.   Syria is a secular country.  Is the fight against it predominantly a religious one?
  • If it is not a religious fight, do you think the fatwas of extremist clerics and Al-Qaeda’s involvement should be condemned?
  • Are you worried about extremist views dominating the armed opposition because that could lead to the killing of many innocent people based on their religious background?
  • What is the ideology which incites ‘rebel’ fighters to kill soldiers and supporters of the government?


  • The Information Minister accuses Arab and Western countries of being responsible for the bombing which led to the death of the Minister for Defense and others.  It has been public knowledge that Saudi Arabia and Qatar have funded and armed fighters for some time, and the U.S. is apparently giving assistance.   What other countries are involved in supporting the ‘rebel’ fighters?
  • After 9/11, the U.S. ‘punished’ Iraq and Afghanistan and hundreds of thousands of people were killed and millions displaced.  The Syrian Information Minister talks about countries which supply bullets to the rebels being ‘punished’.  Do you think Syria will try to do what the U.S. has done to Iraq and Afghanistan?
  • Some Syrians believe that the U.S. works with Saudi Arabia and Qatar to support the armed opposition because the U.S. wants to punish Syria for resisting it.  Could that be true?
  • Has Saudi Arabia and Qatar got any reason to ‘punish’ Syria?  They are the only Wahhabi states in the world.  Could they want to ‘punish’ Syria for being secular?
  • It is said that Qatar wanted to pipe natural gas through Syria very cheaply and the president wouldn’t accept this.  Could Qatar be trying to ‘punish’ Syria for not agreeing to their offer?


  • Tens of thousands of Syrians have been forced to leave their homes because of the fighting between soldiers and ‘rebel’ fighters.  Syria used to be considered a very safe country by travellers, but now there must be widespread fear in the country.  How long do you think it will be before it will be safe to travel or walk the streets again?
  • There are reports that the Christian community in Homs has been particularly affected.  Have ‘rebels’ forced Christians to flee their homes in Homs as reported, and if so why?
  • One of the earliest chants at demonstrations was, “Send Christians to Beirut, Send Alawis to their graves”.  Who is going to protect the millions of Christians and Alawis in Syria against the violence of those who support this chant? And who will support and protect the millions of other Syrians, the majority, who do not condone sectarian violence, who support secular Syria?
  • You say over 300 people were martyred in the recent fighting.  Does that include the soldiers killed in the fighting?
  • Are soldiers killed while defending Syria considered to be martyrs?
  • Damascus and Aleppo are the two most populous cities in Syria.  They have not supported the armed opposition; in fact, the cities were hardly affected by the fighting until recently.  Why haven’t they come out in support of the ‘revolution’?
  • If millions of people in the two major cities don’t back the armed opposition and want peaceful reform instead, how is the fighting against the government going to play out?  Will it mean a lot of killing in those cities?


  • You say you don’t watch Syrian television.  Many satellite television stations from across the Middle East are available to people in Syria, so what do you choose to watch?
  • Are there any Syrian journalists you trust?
  • There are many female journalists in Syria.  What other countries in the Middle East have so many female presenters and interviewers?
  • Three Syrian journalists were assassinated some weeks ago in their office.  Who do you think was responsible for their killing?  Why were they targeted?  What was your response to their killing?
  • There have been serious efforts to prevent the broadcasting of Syrian TV.  Who has been behind these efforts to censor Syrian TV channels and why?  Who does their censorship benefit?
  • Do you think the main media outlets in other countries reflect the foreign policy of the governments of those countries? Would you agree with the following:
  • Al-Jazeera presents the foreign policy of Qatar
  • Alarabiya presents the foreign policy of Saudi Arabia
  • The BBC presents the foreign policy of Britain
  • CNN presents the foreign policy of the U.S?
  • Since April 2011, quite a few reporters have apparently resigned from Al-Jazeera in protest against its reporting of the Arab Spring, particularly its reporting of events in Syria and Bahrain.  Has Al-Jazeera taken a partisan stand on Syria and become a participant in the crisis?
  • What is Qatar’s position on Syria?
  • The emir of Qatar has expressed opposition to the Syrian government and committed a lot of money to the rebel cause.  Do you think he could influence Al-Jazeera’s reporting of the crisis in Syria?  Would he lose face if the rebels didn’t win?


  • Do you expect the government to crack down more heavily on rebel fighters now because of the bombing?  You say you anticipate massacres.  Why?  What sort of massacres do you anticipate?
  • Investigations suggest that anti-government fighters were responsible for the massacre in Al-Houla.  This is because those killed were supporters of the government.  Al-Qaeda has a presence in Syria.  Do you believe that fighters linked to Al-Qaeda were responsible for the massacre at Al Houla?
  • There have been reports of assassinations of civilians, even children by anti-government fighters.  For example, in June a professor, her two children and her parents were killed in their home.  How do you control fighters who kill innocent civilians in this way?
  • Sari Saoud was a young boy killed in Homs last year.  His mother claims he was killed by anti-government forces.  It appears that people responsible for his death wanted to use it as anti-government propaganda.  How commonly have children been killed in Syria for propaganda reasons?
  • What is the response of Syrians when they hear stories about anti-government rebels killing innocent children and trying to blame the army and government for the deaths?


  • The armed opposition has relied a lot on Saudi Arabia and Qatar for funds and arms.  You say you do not want to rely on any countries.  Would you like the UN Security Council to condemn countries which are supplying rebel fighters with weapons and funds?
  • Who will provide fighters with arms if you don’t rely on these countries?
  • You say you want support from the ‘people’.  What people would be willing to support the killing of soldiers and police as well as government supporters in Syria?
  • What will you say to people to persuade them to donate to the efforts to violently overthrow the Syrian government?
  • You say you don’t trust governments or politicians. Does that mean you are an anarchist?  Are there anarchists among the fighters?
  • Kofi Annan didn’t attend the ‘Friends of Syria’ meeting, but Hillary Clinton did.  Does that suggest Clinton is a better ‘friend’ of Syria than Annan?
  • Some of the members of “Friends of Syria” have been former colonizers of Syria, for example Turkey and France; some have tried to interfere in Syrian affairs before, for example, the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and Egypt.  Is there any country the Syrian people have reason to trust?
  • What is your opinion of the Annan peace plan?  For it to be successful, there needs to be intense pressure on the countries funding the rebel fighters so the smuggling of weapons can stop and the fighting can stop.  Which countries would be willing to pressure Saudi Arabia and Qatar, for example, to stop their arming of the rebels?
  • People normally cherish peace because they want to feel safe going about their everyday business.  When do you think children in Syria can play in the street again without fear?
  • If the FSA and other fighters are not willing to negotiate now with the government, when do you think they will be willing to negotiate a peaceful resolution to the conflict?
  • What is your vision of a ‘good’ government which could replace the current Syrian government?
  • Syria is virtually the only secular government in the Middle East.  What are the advantages and disadvantages to its being a secular government?
  • Do you know any inspirational leaders who could lead and unite all the Syrian people behind them?
  • You say the ‘Syrian street’ has become suspicious of the calls for intervention.  Of all the people and countries which help fund and arm the rebels, who does the ‘street’ trust?
  • Al-Qaeda is involved in the fighting in Syria. Why hasn’t the U.S. been more vocal in its condemnation of Al-Qaeda’s involvement, do you think?  How supportive is the ‘Syrian street’ of this?


  • You say there have been heroes on the street.  Do you think there are heroes among the Syrian soldiers?
  • What do you feel for all those mothers and wives whose sons and husbands are in the army?  Do you think most of them believe their loved ones are defending their country?
  • Do you think the families of soldiers have mixed loyalties?  Do the families of the rebel fighters have mixed loyalties?
  • There have been reports of young soldiers being abducted by the FSA and being forced to fight with them otherwise they would be killed.  This way of recruiting fighters could be very counter-productive, couldn’t it?
  • For many people in Hama, Father Basil Nasser was a hero.  He was killed in the street when he was giving aid to someone who had been shot.  It is said Father Nasser was killed by armed men, not soldiers, but at some rallies of the opposition, Father Nasser’s photo is carried by members of the opposition to give the impression he was killed by soldiers.  How can we learn the truth about his killing?
  • There were many huge pro-government rallies last year and early this year.  However, there are very few rallies now.  Is this because people have been intimidated and are now afraid to show their support for the government?
  • Tens of thousands of Christian Syrians have been forced to flee Homs.  There are reports of some being killed by snipers.  Were there any heroes who tried to prevent the violence against them? How can we know who is killing whom in Syria?
  • You say you don’t want people to come into your ‘poor’ country.  But there are reports of fighters from Libya, Turkey, Iraq and Lebanon fighting in Syria.  Why makes them interested in your cause?  What unites you all?


  • Are there many women like you who support the armed opposition?
  • Syrian women are reputed to have more rights and freedom than almost all ME women.  What can women in Syria gain from the violence and the overthrow of the secular government?
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Mairead Maguire, Nobel Peace Laureate: “NO to WAR in SYRIA”


The Peace People, 224 Lisburn Road, Belfast BT9 6GE, Northern Ireland
Phone: 0044 (0) 28 9066 346 Email: info@peacepeople.com http://www.peacepeople.com


Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire says ‘NO to War in Syria’ and calls for all inclusive dialogue to solve the conflict.

Mairead Maguire said:

People around the world are deeply concerned about the ongoing crisis in Syria.
While we are being presented with some perspective of what is occurring on the ground to the people of Syria, the door seems closed to others. We search for voices we can trust, voices which point to a peaceful, lasting solution to the conflict. We search for truth because it is truth which will set the Syrian people free. Truth is difficult to find, so through the haze of conflicting narratives we must inevitably hear the voices and wisdom of men and women of peace in Syria.

Many may believe that there is a fight going on in Syria for ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom’. We can be seduced into thinking there is a magic wand or instant formula to mix that will create a democratic country, but there are none. If it is a democracy a people want they must strive for it in their own way. It is said the Greek idea of democracy was that people would be equally valued. This is something every society has to strive for at every point in its history; it itself is a ‘revolutionary’ concept and a nonviolent revolutionary action. Strive to value everyone equally. It is an idea, a motivation for a better world that doesn’t require blood; it requires the hard work of people and the nurturing of a community spirit; a constant growing of peace and it starts within each human heart.

Who are the voices of peace in regard to the crisis in Syria? Many of them we cannot hear from where we are standing. They are the mothers and father and children who want to leave their homes to walk to market or to school without fear. They are the people, who have been working hard for Syria, for the idea of Syria as a secular and modern country.

There are some Syrian voices that have been heard consistently since the beginning of the crisis. Many of them are anonymous and they speak to us about injustices and atrocities. Numbers are given and fingers are pointed. The blame may be apportioned correctly or it may not. Everything is happening too quickly; commentators and politicians are making decisions with haste and looking only in one corner for support for their certainty. But in the heat of the madness of violent ethnic/political conflict we must listen and ask questions and hear and speak with some uncertainty because it is certainty that can take a people and a country in a rush to war.

The face of the Mufti of Syria is hardly known in the western world, but if we have learned anything from past conflict, it is the importance of all inclusive dialogue. He and many other Syrians who have peace in their hearts should be invited to sit with a council of elders from other countries, to tell of their stories and proposals for ways forward for the Syrian people. The United Nations was not set up to provide an arena for the voices and games of the powerful; rather it should be a forum for such Syrian voices to be heard. We need to put ourselves in the shoes of the Syrian people and find peaceful ways forward in order to stop this mad rush towards a war the mothers and fathers and children of Syria do not want and do not deserve.

We are sure there are many heroes in Syria, and a modern hero of peace whose name we do know and whose voice we have heard is Mother Agnes Mariam*. In her community her voice has been clear, pure and loud. And it should be so in the West. Like many people in Syria she has been placed in life threatening situations, but for the sake of peace she has chosen to risk her own existence for the safety and security of others. She has spoken out against the lack of truth in our media regarding Syria and about the terror and chaos which a ‘third force’ seems to be spreading across the country.

Her words confront and challenge us because they do not mirror the picture of events in Syria we have built up in our minds over many months of reading our newspapers and watching the news on our televisions. Much of the terror has been imported, we learn from her. She can tell us about the thousands of Christian refugees, forced to flee their homes by an imported Islamist extreme. But Mother Agnes Mariam’s concerns, irrespective of religion, are for all the victims of the terror and conflict, as ours must be.

We all know there are imams, nuns and priests, fathers, mother, young people all over
Syria crying out for peace and when the women in hijabs shout to the world after a bombing or a massacre in Syria ‘haram, haram’ let us hear and listen to them.

In all our hearts we know War is not the answer for Syria (Nor for Iran). Intervention in Syria would only make things worse. I believe all sides are committing war crimes and the provision of arms will only results in further death. The US/UK/NATO and all foreign governments should stay out of Syria and keep their funding and troops out of Syria.

We should support those Syrians who work for peace in Syria and who seek a way of helping the 22 million or so people of Syria to resolve their own conflict without furthering the chaos or violence.

*Mother Agnes Miriam of the Cross is a greek-Catholic (Melkite) nun of Lebanese / Palestinian descent and has lived and worked in Syria for 18 years. She restored the ancient ruined monastery of St. James the Mutilated at Qara, in Homs province where she founded an order which serves the local and wider community. In 2010 the monastery welcomed 25,000 visitors both Syrian and international. http://www.maryakub.org/index_en.html page2image22888

Mairead Maguire

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Ron Paul, John Rosenthal, Mairead Maguire: truth & peace in Syria


Foreign Policy Journal

Ron Paul Speaks in Opposition to Intervention in Syria on House Floor

by Editor

June 20, 2012

When Will We Attack Syria? Plans, rumors, and war propaganda for attacking Syria and deposing Assad have been around for many months. This past week however, it was reported that the Pentagon indeed has finalized plans to do just that. In my opinion, all the evidence to justify this attack is bogus. It is no more credible than the pretext given for the 2003 invasion of Iraq or the 2011 attack on Libya. The total waste of those wars should cause us to pause before this all-out effort at occupation and regime change is initiated against Syria. There are no national security concerns that require such a foolish escalation of violence in the Middle East. There should be no doubt that our security interests are best served by completely staying out of the internal strife now raging in Syria.

We are already too much involved in supporting the forces within Syria anxious to overthrow the current government. Without outside interference, the strife—now characterized as a civil war—would likely be non-existent. Whether or not we attack yet another country, occupying it and setting up a new regime that we hope we can control poses a serious Constitutional question: From where does a president get such authority? Since World War II the proper authority to go to war has been ignored. It has been replaced by international entities like the United Nations and NATO, or the President himself, while ignoring the Congress. And sadly, the people don’t object.

Our recent presidents explicitly maintain that the authority to go to war is not the U.S. Congress. This has been the case since 1950 when we were taken into war in Korea under UN Resolution and without Congressional approval. And once again, we are about to engage in military action against Syria and at the same time irresponsibly reactivating the Cold War with Russia. We’re now engaged in a game of “chicken” with Russia which presents a much greater threat to our security than does Syria. How would we tolerate Russia in Mexico demanding a humanitarian solution to the violence on the U.S.-Mexican border? We would consider that a legitimate concern for us. But, for us to be engaged in Syria, where the Russian have a legal naval base, is equivalent to the Russians being in our backyard in Mexico. We are hypocritical when we condemn Russian for protecting their neighborhood interests for exactly what we have been doing ourselves, thousands of miles away from our shores.

There’s no benefit for us to be picking sides, secretly providing assistance and encouraging civil strife in an effort to effect regime change in Syria. Falsely charging the Russians with supplying military helicopters to Assad is an unnecessary provocation. Falsely blaming the Assad government for a so-called massacre perpetrated by a violent warring rebel faction is nothing more than war propaganda. Most knowledgeable people now recognize that the planned war against Syria is merely the next step to take on the Iranian government, something the neo-cons openly admit. Controlling Iranian oil, just as we have done in Saudi Arabia and are attempting to do in Iraq, is the real goal of the neo-conservatives who have been in charge of our foreign policy for the past couple of decades.

War is inevitable without a significant change in our foreign policy, and soon. Disagreements between our two political parties are minor. Both agree the sequestration of any war funds must be canceled. Neither side wants to abandon our aggressive and growing presence in the Middle East and South Asia. This crisis building can easily get out of control and become a much bigger war than just another routine occupation and regime change that the American people have grown to accept or ignore. It’s time the United States tried a policy of diplomacy, seeking peace, trade, and friendship. We must abandon our military effort to promote and secure an American empire. Besides, we’re broke, we can’t afford it, and worst of all, we’re fulfilling the strategy laid out by Osama bin Laden whose goal had always been to bog us down in the Middle East and bring on our bankruptcy here at home. It’s time to bring our troops home and establish a non-interventionist foreign policy, which is the only road to peace and prosperity.

This week I am introducing legislation to prohibit the Administration, absent a declaration of war by Congress, from supporting — directly or indirectly — any military or paramilitary operations in Syria. I hope my colleagues will join me in this effort.





It was, in the words of U.N. special envoy Kofi Annan, the “tipping point” in the Syria conflict: a savage massacre of over 90 people, predominantly women and children, for which the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad was immediately blamed by virtually the entirety of the Western media. Within days of the first reports of the Houla massacre, the U.S., France, Great Britain, Germany, and several other Western countries announced that they were expelling Syria’s ambassadors in protest.

But according to a new report in Germany’s leading daily, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), the Houla massacre was in fact committed by anti-Assad Sunni militants, and the bulk of the victims were member of the Alawi and Shia minorities, which have been largely supportive of Assad. For its account of the massacre, the report cites opponents of Assad, who, however, declined to have their names appear in print out of fear of reprisals from armed opposition groups.

According to the article’s sources, the massacre occurred after rebel forces attacked three army-controlled roadblocks outside of Houla. The roadblocks had been set up to protect nearby Alawi majority villages from attacks by Sunni militias. The rebel attacks provoked a call for reinforcements by the besieged army units. Syrian army and rebel forces are reported to have engaged in battle for some 90 minutes, during which time “dozens of soldiers and rebels” were killed.

“According to eyewitness accounts,” the FAZ report continues,

the massacre occurred during this time. Those killed were almost exclusively from families belonging to Houla’s Alawi and Shia minorities. Over 90% of Houla’s population are Sunnis. Several dozen members of a family were slaughtered, which had converted from Sunni to Shia Islam. Members of the Shomaliya, an Alawi family, were also killed, as was the family of a Sunni member of the Syrian parliament who is regarded as a collaborator. Immediately following the massacre, the perpetrators are supposed to have filmed their victims and then presented them as Sunni victims in videos posted on the internet.

The FAZ report echoes eyewitness accounts collected from refugees from the Houla region by members of the Monastery of St. James in Qara, Syria. According to monastery sources cited by the Dutch Middle East expert Martin Janssen, armed rebels murdered “entire Alawi families” in the village of Taldo in the Houla region.

Already at the beginning of April, Mother Agnès-Mariam de la Croix of the St. James Monastery warned of rebel atrocities’ being repackaged in both Arab and Western media accounts as regime atrocities. She cited the case of a massacre in the Khalidiya neighborhood in Homs. According to an account published in French on the monastery’s website, rebels gathered Christian and Alawi hostages in a building in Khalidiya and blew up the building with dynamite. They then attributed the crime to the regular Syrian army. “Even though this act has been attributed to regular army forces . . . , the evidence and testimony are irrefutable: It was an operation undertaken by armed groups affiliated with the opposition,” Mother Agnès-Mariam wrote.

— John Rosenthal writes on European politics and transatlantic security issues. You can follow his work at www.trans-int.com or on Facebook.


The Vatican’s Pontifical Mission’s News Service, with a quote from a press release of Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire. 27 June 2012


“Peace in Syria”: the popular movement for reconciliation “Mussalaha” grows

Damascus (Agenzia Fides) – New meetings and new initiatives for the inter-religious popular movement “Mussalaha” (“Reconciliation”), which proposes a “reconciliation from below” starting from families, clans, the different communities of Syrian civil society, tired of the conflict.

While the country is torn by conflict, peace initiatives and meetings are multiplying, being born in an entirely spontaneous and independent manner: in past days a new meeting which involved civic leaders, religious leaders, moderates, Christians and Muslims, tribal leaders, Sunnis and Alawites citizens of the mosaic that makes up the Syrian society, was held in Deir Ezzor, in the province of Djazirah (eastern Syria), near the Euphrates.

The movement, note sources of Fides, intends to say “No” to Civil War and notes that “we cannot continue with a toll that totals between 40 and 100 victims a day. The nation is bled white, it loses youth and its best forces.”

For this reason a new initiative that comes from the “genius of the people” from people “who want a decent life, who reject sectarian violence and sectarian denominational strife, as preconceived ideological and political opposition are urgently required.”

In many Syrian cities, where on one side there are clashes and victims – refer sources of Fides – ” gestures of friendship and reconciliation grow, offered by civilian moderate leaders to community representatives considered hostile (this happens between Alawites and Sunnis), in the spirit to ensure security and peace through civil society.” The movement hopes to find an institutional reference in the Minister for Reconciliation, the Socialist Ali Haider, who was appointed the new Syrian Executive and from the opposition party “People’s Will Party.”
But meanwhile, it is finding support abroad: the Irish Mairead Maguire, Nobel Peace Prize in 1976 with Betty Williams and leader of the movement “The Peace People”, in a statement sent to Fides said “No to war in Syria” , and says: “We must put ourselves in the shoes of the Syrian people and find peaceful ways to stop this mad rush toward a war that mothers, fathers and sons of Syria do not want and do not deserve.” The text adds: “We urgently need to support those working for peace in Syria and are looking for a way to help the 22 million Syrians to resolve their conflict, without promoting violence or chaos.” The Nobel Prize invites the UN to “be a forum where these Syrian voices are heard” voices of “people who have worked hard for Syria, to the idea of Syria as a secular, peaceful and modern country.” (PA) (Agenzia Fides 27/6/2012)

Interview with Mother Agnes Mariam, 2nd January 2015
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8
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Urgent: Censorship & Propaganda prior to war on people of Syria (11th June 2012)

Syrians, both in Syria and in the Diaspora, fear that Syrian satellite channels will soon be shut down after intense pressure from Saudi Arabia and Qatar.  At the same time, there is an escalation of propaganda in the West against the Syrian government.

The following article by Thierry Meyssan is presented for the readers’ serious consideration.  For some context, reference should be made to the article by John Rosenthal on previous page: it presents evidence that ‘rebels’ were responsible for the massacre in Houla.



NATO preparing vast disinformation campaign

by Thierry Meyssan

Member States of NATO and the GCC are preparing a coup d’état and a sectarian genocide in Syria. If you want to prevent these crimes, you should act now: circulate this article on the Internet and alert your elected officials.



In a few days, perhaps as early as Friday, June 15, at noon, the Syrians wanting to watch their national TV stations will see them replaced on their screens by TV programs created by the CIA. Studio-shot images will show massacres that are blamed on the Syrian Government, people demonstrating, ministers and generals resigning from their posts, President Al-Assad fleeing, the rebels gathering in the big city centers, and a new government installing itself in the presidential palace.

This operation of disinformation, directly managed from Washington by Ben Rhodes, the US deputy national security adviser for strategic communication, aims at demoralizing the Syrians in order to pave the way for a coup d’etat. NATO, discontent about the double veto of Russia and China, will thus succeed in conquering Syria without attacking the country illegally. Whichever judgment you might have formed on the actual events in Syria, a coup d’etat will end all hopes of democratization.

The Arab League has officially asked the satellite operators Arabsat and Nilesat to stop broadcasting Syrian media, either public or private (Syria TV, Al-Ekbariya, Ad-Dounia, Cham TV, etc.) A precedent already exists because the Arab League had managed to censure Libyan TV in order to keep the leaders of the Jamahiriya from communicating with their people. There is no Hertz network in Syria, where TV works exclusively with satellites. The cut, however, will not leave the screens black.

Actually, this public decision is only the tip of the iceberg. According to our information several international meetings were organized during the past week to coordinate the disinformation campaign. The first two were technical meetings, held in Doha (Qatar); the third was a political meeting and took place in Riyad (Saudi Arabia).

The first meeting assembled PSYOP officers, embedded in the satellite TV channels of Al-Arabiya, Al-Jazeera, BBC, CNN, Fox, France 24, Future TV and MTV. It is known that since 1998, the officers of the US Army Psychological Operations Unit (PSYOP) have been incorporated in CNN. Since then this practice has been extended by NATO to other strategic media as well.

They fabricated false information in advance, on the basis of a “story-telling” script devised by Ben Rhodes’s team at the White House. A procedure of reciprocal validation was installed, with each media quoting the lies of the other media to render them plausible for TV spectators. The participants also decided not only to requisition the TV channels of the CIA for Syria and Lebanon (Barada, Future TV, MTV, Orient News, Syria Chaab, Syria Alghad) but also about 40 religious Wahhabi TV channels to call for confessional massacres to the cry of “Christians to Beyrouth, Alawites into the grave!.”

The second meeting was held for engineers and technicians to fabricate fictitious images, mixing one part in an outdoor studio, the other part with computer generated images. During the past weeks, studios in Saudi Arabia have been set up to build replicas of the two presidential palaces in Syria and the main squares of Damascus, Aleppo and Homs. Studios of this type already exist in Doha (Qatar), but they are not sufficient.

The third meeting was held by General James B. Smith, the US ambassador, a representative of the UK, prince Bandar Bin Sultan (whom former U.S. president George Bush named his adopted son so that the U.S. press called him “Bandar Bush”). In this meeting the media actions were coordinated with those of the Free “Syrian” Army, in which prince Bandar’s mercenaries play a decisive role.

The operation had been in the making for several months, but the U.S. National Security Council decided to accelerate the action after the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, notified the White House that he would oppose by all means, even by force, any illegal NATO military intervention in Syria.

The operation has a double intent: the first is to spread false information, the second aims at censuring all possible responses.

The hampering of TV satellites for military purposes is not new. Under pressure from Israel, the USA and the EU blocked Lebanese, Palestinian, Iraqi, Libyan and Iranian TV channels, one after the other. However, no satellite channels from other parts of the world were censured.

The broadcast of false news is also not new, but four significant steps have been taken in the art of propaganda during the last decade.
• In 1994, a pop music station named “Free Radio of the Thousand Hills” (RTML) gave the signal for genocide in Rwanda with the cry, “Kill the cockroaches!
• In 2001, NATO used the media to impose an interpretation of the 9/11 attacks and to justify its own aggression against Afghanistan and Iraq. At that time already, it was Ben Rhodes who had been commissioned by the Bush administration to concoct the Kean/Hamilton Commission report on the attacks.
• In 2002, the CIA used five TV channels (Televen, Globovision, ValeTV and CMT) to make the public in Venezuela believe that phantom demonstrators had captured the elected president, Hugo Chávez, forcing him to resign. In reality he was the victim of a military coup d’etat.
• In 2011, France 24 served as information ministry for the Libyan CNT, according to a signed contract. During the battle of Tripoli, NATO produced fake studio films, then transmitted them via Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya, showing phantom images of Libyan rebels on the central square of the capital city, while in reality they were still far away. As a consequence, the inhabitants of Tripoli were persuaded that the war was lost and gave up all resistance.

Nowadays the media do not only support a war, they produce it themselves.

This procedure violates the principles of International Law, first of all Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights relating to the fact of receiving and imparting information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” Above all, the procedure violates the United Nations General Assembly resolution, adopted after the end of World War II, to prevent further wars. Resolutions 110381 and 819 forbid “to set obstacles to free exchange of information and ideas” (like cutting off Syrian TV channels) and “all propaganda provoking or encouraging threats to peace, breaking peace, and all acts of aggression”. By law, war propaganda is a crime against peace, the worst of crimes, because it facilitates war crimes and genocide.

What is propaganda and what is news?
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Terror in Syria: Mainstream Australian Views vs Alternative Views

Image of a Salafi Jihadist leader at a Beirut rally early in 2012 calling for a jihad against the Syrian government. (Lebanese TV)

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A gallery of images, with a focus on Syrian women taken from Syrian satellite TV, 2012.  (Many of the women were being interviewed after a bombing in Syria.)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This page is being ‘constructed’ but it is considered critical that people can access different views to those expressed regularly in the mainstream media, so the page will be accessible while editing is in progress. (Note the much more extensive reference lists on http://australiansforsyria.wordpress.com/2012/04/02/april-2012-reference-lists/ )



There are two articles to begin this update which are challenging reads, both by notable experts on security matters and politics.


Wikipedia on Alastair Crooke

Alastair Crooke (born 1950) is a British diplomat, the founder and director of the Conflicts Forum, an organisation that advocates for engagement between political Islam and the West. Previously he was a ranking figure in both British intelligence (MI6) and European Union diplomacy.


Towards a new Arab cultural revolution

By Alastair Crooke

The “Awakening” is taking a turn, very different to the excitement and promise with which it was hailed at the outset. Sired from an initial, broad popular impulse, it is becoming increasingly understood, and feared, as a nascent counter-revolutionary “cultural revolution” – a re-culturation of the region in the direction of a prescriptive canon that is emptying out those early high expectations, and which makes a mockery of the West’s continuing characterization of it as somehow a project of reform and democracy. 



NB:  The article referred to below by Seymour Hersh is dated 2007, but it remains very relevant for an understanding of events in Syria and the wider Middle East today.

Wikipedia: Seymour (Sy) Myron Hersh (born April 8, 1937) is an American Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist and author based inWashington, D.C. He is a regular contributor to The New Yorker magazine on military and security matters. He has also won two National Magazine Awards and is a “five-time Polk winner and recipient of the 2004 George Orwell Award.”



Is the Administration’s new policy benefitting our enemies in the war on terrorism?

by    March 5, 2007


In the past few months, as the situation in Iraq has deteriorated, the Bush Administration, in both its public diplomacy and its covert operations, has significantly shifted its Middle East strategy. The “redirection,” as some inside the White House have called the new strategy, has brought the United States closer to an open confrontation with Iran and, in parts of the region, propelled it into a widening sectarian conflict between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.

To undermine Iran, which is predominantly Shiite, the Bush Administration has decided, in effect, to reconfigure its priorities in the Middle East. In Lebanon, the Administration has coöperated with Saudi Arabia’s government, which is Sunni, in clandestine operations that are intended to weaken Hezbollah, the Shiite organization that is backed by Iran. The U.S. has also taken part in clandestine operations aimed at Iran and its ally Syria. A by-product of these activities has been the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam and are hostile to America and sympathetic to Al Qaeda.



Most Australians are familiar with the common narrative on Syria in the mainstream media. Paul McGeough, a senior correspondent for the Fairfax press, has presented the simple, single narrative from the beginning of the crisis in Syria: “the president is a brutal dictator who is killing his own people; the international community must do something to stop the killings”.  For this narrative to remain consistent, the president and his ‘regime’ must be somehow held responsible for every massacre that takes place in Syria. As soon as news of a massacre in Syria reaches us, Paul McGeough somehow determines the regime is implicated.  (Would this allow for questioning of this narrative by less senior journalists or commentators?)

http://www.theage.com.au/world/syrias-lifeordeath-poser-for-the-world-20120601-1zncg.html  Paul McGeough

http://media.smh.com.au/news/world-news/syria-on-course-of-no-return-3331176.html  Paul McGeough on video

A mainstream challenge to Mr McGeough’s reports and analysis comes from John Rosenthal in THE NATIONAL REVIEW ONLINE.

(NB: JUNE 12 Australian EST  UPDATE: John Rosenthal article could not be accessed for some time early this morning. It may have been CENSORED.  Another link to it is below.)


9th June 2012


Links to John Rosenthal’s article:


More articles by John Rosenthal are listed on this National Review page (Note: this page could not be accessed 12 June Australian EST


A further challenge is presented by a member of Australians for Syria, a group set up in May 2011. Its ‘mission statement’ can be found here: http://australiansforsyria.wordpress.com/about/

Robert Bekhazi, a spokesperson for Australians for Syria, was interviewed on 6/6/12 for this blog. He speaks here about the experience of the Christian communities in and around Homs, Syria. Tens of thousands of Christians have been forced to leave their homes and to become refugees in their own country or neighbouring Lebanon. Who has terrorised them to such an extent that they would flee their homes.  When will Australia feel the repercussions of this? A local minister of religion has met Australian Immigration officials to alert the government to the dire situation of Christians in Syria. How did it get to this point? What will the fabric of the ME be without its indigenous Christian population? Damascus without Christians?

Interview with Robert B.

In this follow up interview, Robert Bekhazi stresses that people from all religious groups – Sunnis, Shias (including Alawi), Christian, Druze etc – are potential targets of Salafi jihadists and other groups who are using terror tactics in Syria. He also remarks on the remarkable courage of the Syrian people as they make every effort to stay united against  terror and foreign interference in Syrian affairs.

Interview with Robert B. (2)

In the interview, Robert mentions a talk given by Hilary Clinton in which she refers to the US support for the jihadists in Afghanistan. She says, “be careful what we sow because we will harvest”.  She acknowledges that the US recruited fighters from Saudi Arabia.


Today, there are suicide bombers and fighters being sent from Saudi Arabia to secular Syria:



This is a significant news item which should be presented to the Australian public in order for people to build a greater understanding of the tactics of some ‘rebels’. (Are they ‘rebels’ or terrorists or militia or mercenaries? Or all of the above?)

SET UP TO BE SHOT IN SYRIA’S NO-MANS LAND  by Alex Thomson, Channel 4 News

Friday 8th June 2012

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

Free Syrian Army “set monitor and journalist up to be killed”  Published Saturday, June 9, 2012


Reverend Adib Awad on Syria

Revd Adib Awad is General Secretary of the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon.  He was raised as a child with Bashar Al-Assad and knows him well. Adib insists Qatar and Saudi Arabia along with the US are funding mercenaries from Libya and Iraq to attack civilians in Syria and that the army are not responsible.

He is convinced the President enjoys the support of at least 75% of Syrians.

Reverend Awad examines the crisis from its beginning. He offers an interesting perspective as his brother has been a political prisoner in Syria.



French Bishop: Syrian Soldiers Face Foreign Fighters, Mercenaries, and Militants

“The enemies of Syria have enlisted some of the Muslim Brotherhood in order to destroy the brotherly relations that traditionally existed between Muslims and Christians.”
********************************************************************************************************** This interview is from earlier this year. It offers a Christian perspective of the President and the regime and challenges the usual claim that Christians support the president purely out of fear for their community’s future.

Jean-Clément Jeanbart, Archbishop of Aleppo, Syria

As violence continues in Syria, the Christian community has kept relatively silent. But the Catholic Archbishop of Aleppo, Archbishop Jean-Clement Jeanbart tells France 24’s Annette Young that while he believes President Bashar al-Assad is a good man, he fears time is running out for the Syrian leader.



Mother Agnes Mariam of the Cross

The media announces to us with a lot of bravura that in the ashes of the dying Arab world a son has been born whose name is Revolution. With America as his midwife, the United Nations and the Arab League his godmothers, presided by France and England, the newborn has been declared a legitimate child by the international community. His father is Arab anti-nationalism, and his mother is liberty. To be acknowledged as legitimate he had witnesses in his princely cousins in the Persian Gulf and Qatar. The kindhearted international community engages in protecting this newborn against all evil, even at the cost of an intervention or bombing which will always be strictly humanitarian.


Mother Agnès-Mariam de la Croix
and the monastic community of the Unity of Antioch, Qara – Syria


Mother Agnes Mariam’s voice is heard in this interview on an Irish radio station. It was recorded after the Houla massacre. Mother Mariam lives in a community near Homs, and she has been very active in mediating between the government and opposition. However, she presents a very bleak picture of the current chaos.


Friday 8th June:  unrest in Syria

the situation for Christians in Syria, from those who have been monitoring that community


SYRIA/ Catholic Patriarch: Christians used as human shields by the rebels

Gregorio III Laham       June Fri 01, 2012
Syrian Christians are being used as human shields by the rebels in clashes with Assad’s Army. This is the accusation of Patriarch Gregory III Laham, the highest Catholic authority of Damascus, the Patriarch of Antioch, all of the East, Alexandria and Melkite Jerusalem. The Patriarch tells about nighttime kidnappings of the faithful of his diocese, with ransom payments of up to 200 thousand U.S. dollars, homes confiscated or blown up, and continuous incursions of armed Sunni Muslims in Catholic neighborhoods.
An analysis of the crisis in Syria which differs very much from Paul McGeough’s:
The Houla Massacre And The Subversion Of The Peace Plan By Dr. Chandra Muzaffar Dr. Chandra Muzaffar is President of the International Movement for a Just World  (JUST)  Malaysia.June 08, 2012 “Information Clearing House
Homs in the hell of armed groups

A direct testimony from the Syrian city of Homs collected by the Swiss journalist Silvia Cattori, who paints a very different picture than that spread by a majority of western media. Since 6 February Cattori has lost contact with her local informants, terrorized by armed groups “wildly shelling, killing to kill”, as reported in an interview with an inhabitant of Homs [*].


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