Syria War diary: Life under ‘moderate’ rebels

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Eva Bartlett

Dhu al-Hijjah 10, 1438 2017-09-01

Opinion

by Eva Bartlett (Opinion, Crescent International Vol. 46, No. 7, Dhu al-Hijjah, 1438)

Since the liberation of Aleppo, and restoration of peace to Madaya and al-Waer, most Western media have gone silent on the areas, even though it is now possible to visit all of them and hear from civilians who lived under the rule of ”moderate rebels.”

In early 2016 the hillside town of Madaya, just northwest of Damascus, was the focus of sudden Western and Gulf media campaigns featuring harrowing photos of emaciated elderly and children splashed widely across print, online, and social media. Throughout 2016, these stories continued in Madaya, as well as in al-Waer, Homs, and in the eastern Aleppo areas.

The Syrian government was accused of not allowing in food and medical aid, of deliberately starving its people; the terrorists’ presence was largely unmentioned. On Madaya, The Telegraph ran a headline, “Starving Syrians in besieged town of Madaya are reduced to eating cats and dogs,” and sub-headline, “The people of Madaya outside Damascus — besieged by regime forces and Hizbullah since July — are surviving on boiled leaves and street animals,” with no mention of al-Qaeda or Ahrar al-Sham.

The Independent accused the “Assad regime” of deliberately starving 40,000 civilians and, while citing the Red Cross in the article, neglected to cite that organization stating it had sent in food aid in October 2015, and also failed to mention al-Qaeda’s presence in the town. In the same vein, the New York Times ran a piece stating aid was prevented from coming in, while also ignoring the realities on the ground and prior aid deliveries.

On Aleppo, corporate media extended the blame to Russia. The Independent published “Russia and Assad regime accused of ‘starving’ Aleppo,” in early-2016, and in a July article fear-mongered about starvation after the Syrian army secured a key road that had connected Turkey to al-Qaeda in Syria and other extremists occupying areas of Aleppo. In November, The Independent reported that “a quarter of a million people in rebel-held eastern Aleppo will starve unless aid is allowed into besieged areas,” ignoring that aid had been sent in numerous times prior, also ignoring that the Nusra-led coalition, Jaysh al-Fath, had in mid-September rejected further aid coming into eastern Aleppo.

Completely unmentioned was the terrorists’ hoarding of food and medicines, occupation of hospitals and schools, and trying of civilians in “Shari‘ah” courts resulting in jailing (usually in underground prisons with tight solitary confinement cells) and/or execution, among other heinous crimes.

Throughout 2016 Aleppo and the district of al-Waer, Homs, were the subject of the same claims, with even more propaganda and slick media campaigns the intent of which was to vilify those fighting the terrorists, dubbed “rebels” by the Western media.

Filed from abroad — or even as close as Lebanon or Turkey — such reports relied on unnamed sources, “‘activists” who themselves often had ties to terrorist factions, and the Western-funded, terrorist-affiliated, White Helmets — a group that acclaimed journalist John Pilger recently denounced as a propaganda construct, which has received US$23 million from the US government alone.

Some of the these so-called “rebels” were members of Ahrar al-Sham (listed as a terrorist group in US Congressional documents), Nur al-Din al-Zanki Movement (known for its beheading of a Palestinian youth in mid-2016), and even, unbelievably, al-Qaeda in Syria — Jabhat al-Nusrah (rebranded as Jabhat Fath al-Sham, and now known as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham).

The US “Syrian Train and Equip Program” saw $500 million approved in 2014 for training “Syrian rebels.” Shortly after the US-trained Division 30 “Syrian rebels” entered Syria in mid-2015, their commander (and presumably all of the weapons the US had provided) was taken by al-Nusrah.

A November 2014 Newsweek article cites former CIA operative Patrick Skinner, who stated, “The main problem with plans that arm and train the ‘moderates’ — who ominously are moderate only in their fighting abilities — …is that it assumes perfect knowledge, or “good enough” knowledge, about the people being armed. When in fact there is nothing close to that… The background info on these fighters is next to nothing and misleading, especially in Syria, where we don’t have a liaison relationship, and so the vast majority of even check-the-box vetting is by third parties [who are] out-of-the-country players with a stake in the game.”

Indeed, the US support has included more than mere training. It has also encompassed the supply of TOW missiles to some “opposition” groups, and turning a blind eye to Saudi supplying of many more armed groups with these missiles.

A June 2016 article on Medium.com outlined the different factions possessing TOWs, and noted,

Northern Thunder Brigade appears to be the most recent TOW supplied group, and is a special case as this group is part of a new wave of North Aleppo Vetted Syrian Opposition [VSO] who have been trained and equipped in part by the US Department of Defense [DoD].

Important to keep in mind, other TOW groups have historically liaised with the CIA in terms of US agencies under the covert “Timber Sycamore” program, and this CIA/DoD lack of coordination and differing outlook is a major complicating factor with regards to foreign backing of the Syrian Opposition and the associated TOW program.

Since the liberation of Aleppo, and the restoring of peace to Madaya and al-Waer, most Western media have gone silent on the areas, even though it is now possible to visit all of them and hear from civilians who lived under the rule of what the West deemed “moderate rebels.” That is what I did again in June 2017.

Firstly, was eastern Aleppo starved and trapped by the Syrian government? I first went to Aleppo in July 2016, returning there in August and twice more in November. What I learned and experienced there was almost completely absent in Western media reports, which ignored Aleppo’s over 1.5 million civilian population and ignored the terrorists’ sniping and bombing of civilians. By the end of 2016, nearly 11,000 civilians in Aleppo had been killed by these attacks.

Instead, Western corporate media focused almost exclusively on areas occupied by al-Qaeda and other extremists but usually disregarded their presence while spinning war propaganda against the Syrian government.

In November 2016, while I was standing on the Castello Road humanitarian crossing, two mortars hit nearby, the closest within 100 meters. They originated from areas west of the crossing occupied by militants of the Jaysh al-Fath coalition, which included al-Qaeda in Syria, Ahrar al-Sham, and others. This was not the first time that armed groups attacked crossings, preventing civilians from leaving.

Roughly a week later, in a school sheltering internal refugees, I met a family from the eastern Halloq district that had fled their area in late October, along with over 40 others. The father said that on two prior occasions he had been arrested and beaten by terrorists when he tried to flee.

“In the beginning, they beat us and imprisoned me,” he said of a short period of imprisonment. According to him, people trying to flee would be punished, but not necessarily with long-term imprisonment. He spoke of militants hoarding and controlling the food, forcing women to cover themselves head to foot, and attempting to intimidate civilians from fleeing by telling them the Syrian army would rape their women and murder the men.

Footage again emerged of civilians coming under fire from militants while escaping to greater Aleppo. Some weeks later, Aleppo was secured, and the testimonies of horrors under “rebel” rule were heard, including accounts of civilians who blamed the “rebels” for their suffering and hunger. Western media spun the liberation of Aleppo from terrorists as the city having “fallen.” The jubilation of Syrians in Aleppo directly contradicted this lie.

The state Eye and Children’s Hospitals, in the eastern district of Shaar, were militarized by terrorists of Tawhid Brigade, as well as by al-Qaeda in Syria and ISIS. In the bowels of the hospital, when I visited in June 2017, I saw remnants of food and medical aid — sent from Gulf States, Turkey, America, and various organizations — controlled and hoarded by terrorists.

Unlike armchair journalists in the corporate media, Eva Bartlett, an independent Canadian journalist, has visited Syria on numerous occasions to report firsthand from the area.

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