Syria Update – Aleppo battle, Assad speaks to troops, Algerian Jihadis

As Aleppo battle rumbles, hospitals and graveyards fill up

By Erika Solomon – Reuters

(Reuters) – Abdelrahman left school at 17 to join the Syrian rebels in Aleppo. His parents never heard he had reached the city until they got the call to pick up his body.

By evening, his father was in the city, standing on a hillside crammed with white tombstones and fresh graves. Abdelrahman’s comrades used their bare hands to seal his final resting place, their clothes stained with mud and the boy’s blood.

A member of the Free Syrian Army flashes the victory sign on a captured tank after taking control of a checkpoint from government forces in Anadan, north Aleppo, July 31, 2012. REUTERS/Obeida Al Naimi

After 17 months of revolt against President Bashar al-Assad’s rules, rebel fighters have finally advanced into Syria’s largest city. But fighting in the historic northern stronghold grinds on in a seemingly endless loop of army shelling and rebel ambushes. Each side claims victory, but neither seems to gain much ground.

Only the number of dead and wounded marches steadily on. “He was shot once in the head and once in the chest. I had no idea he had already left. I only heard because they called to tell me he was martyred,” said Abdelrahman’s father, a tall man with a grey beard and a yellow robe. He shakes his head slowly, still unable to believe what has happened.

“He was half way through tenth grade but he emptied his whole life to devote it to the revolution.” The hands of a dozen fighters and local residents reach out to comfort the father, Abdelqader, who only gave his first name. “He was the first to go in the fight,” shouts one. “The martyr is the beloved of God,” the mourners chant, waving the green, white and black independence flag of the Syrian rebels. “God, we have no-one but you.”

In the distance, the watchtower of a government army post is silhouetted by the setting sun. It is within easy range of the tiny hillside funeral, but not a shot is fired. The soldiers may be wary of rebel forces in the area, but no one knows for sure.

With the battle for Aleppo raging and no clear winner in sight, both sides seem keen to avoid showing their dead. Most are quickly sent home to their families, denying journalists the chance to film their funerals. But the pain-racked wounded at the opposition’s tiny hospital in Aleppo are testament enough to the sufferings of a population at war with itself.

Read the rest at Reuters.

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Assad Urges Syrian Troops to Fight ‘Crucial’ Battle

By DAMIEN CAVE and ALAN COWELL – NY Times

Aleppo in ruins.

 

 

BEIRUT, Lebanon — In rare public remarks apparently designed to marshal government forces seeking to suppress a 17-month revolt, President Bashar al-Assadof Syria urged his forces on Wednesday to show “more readiness and continued preparations” to confront “internal agents” seeking to destabilize his battered country, according to the official SANA news agency.

The call to arms was described by analysts as the first public appeal by Mr. Assad since a bombing in mid-July killed some of his most senior aides and spurred speculation about his whereabouts. His comments, marking the 67th anniversary of the founding of the Syrian Army, were carried by SANA but there was no immediate broadcast on state-run television.

Mr. Assad was speaking a day after Syrian rebels said they had taken control of at least two important police stations in central Aleppo, Syria’s commercial heart, maintaining their hold on several neighborhoods on Tuesday despite air assaults and shelling by government troops.

Nearly two weeks have passed since the fighting began for control of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, and both sides seem to be digging in for an extended battle. On Wednesday, United Nations observers said they had witnessed Syrian fighter jets opening fire in Aleppo, with rockets and heavy machine gun fire. Observers added that the rebels now had tanks and other heavy weapons.

Opposition groups on Wednesday also spoke of fighting before dawn in a Christian area of central Damascus.

Mr. Assad said Syria’s “battle with the enemy takes multiple forms” and “determines the destiny of our people and nation.” According to some news reports, he referred to a “crucial and heroic battle.”

He said Syria’s enemies “exploited internal agents as a bridge to destabilize the homeland, undermine the citizens’ safety and drain our economic and scientific capabilities” to prevent the country from “improving our society to the level of developed countries.”

Mr. Assad did not identify the so-called internal agents further. But his government has long accused outside powers, including several Western and regional countries, of fomenting the violence that has washed over Syria with increasing virulence since the uprising began in March, 2011.

His characterization of the fighting seemed to indicate that, while dismissing his adversaries as “terrorist gangs,” Mr. Assad also acknowledged the high stakes surrounding his political survival. But he insisted that his forces had stood their ground, despite the steady spread of armed opposition through Syria’s major cities in recent weeks.

“You wrote the greatest epic of heroism and pride and proved through facing the war waged against our country and confronting the criminal terrorist gangs that you are entrusted with the values of our people to whom you belong and faithful to their history and civilization,” Mr. Assad said, according to SANA’s English-language edition.

“You represent the aspiration of our people in defending their dignity and honor and restoring stability and security of the homeland due to your determination to implement your sacred duty towards the homeland,” Mr. Assad said. On Wednesday, SANA also published the text of a letter sent by the Syrian Foreign Ministry to the United Nations, renewing accusations that “armed terrorist groups” backed “openly with funds and weapons by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey committed horrifying crimes against innocent civilians in Damascus and Aleppo and are still doing so in Aleppo.”

Read the rest here.

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Algerian Government Investigates Movement of Jihadists Into Syria

By Al Monitor – “The pulse of the Middle East”

By Mohamed Ben Ahmad

On July 3, security forces in Illizi province arrested an individual suspected of working for a cell that transfers Algerian jihadists into Syria via Libya. Security forces are pursuing this suspected cell, which is accused of smuggling Algerian fighters into Syria in coordination with Syrian, Egyptian, Libyan, Turkish and Lebanese agents.

Foreign fighters smuggled into Syria to fight "Apostate" regime - Algeria investigates

According to our sources, security forces managed to arrest an Algerian who tried to enter Libya through its desert border. Security forces have linked this case to the disappearance of at least seven other Algerians under circumstances that are probably related to the Syrian crisis. Investigations show that the missing Algerians have infiltrated Tunisia or Libya. In early July, investigators in Illizi heard the testimony of an Algerian who was arrested while sneaking into Libya from the desert. Large-scale investigations are under way to arrest members of the network that is smuggling Algerian fighters into Syria. The accused, who has been released and is awaiting an appearance in court, is an unemployed 27-year-old man who lived in Ghardaia and Algiers. He was arrested while trying to sneak into Libya. The man told investigators he had lost his passport; however, it is believed that the infiltrator handed over his passport to a group of activists who smuggle Algerian fighters into Syria. Investigators found evidence of several calls to Libyan numbers in the man’s cellphone. This case has all the hallmarks of jihadist organizations’ attempts to infiltrate Salafist fighters into the “Land of Jihad,” after confiscating the fighters’ passports.

Investigations are being conducted in eight provinces: Algiers, Tlemcen, El Ouadi, Illizi, Tebessa, Biskra, Ghardaia and Djelfa. Investigators believe Algerian jihadists snuck into Libya with the support of Moroccan and Tunisian activists, after being recruited through online forums administered by two Islamist movements. The first was the Salafist movement, which issued a fatwa emphasizing the necessity of the fight against the Baath regime in Syria. The second movement was a jihadist Salafist movement with close ties to al-Qaeda and al-Nusra Front in Syria. The suspected cell, which includes approximately 10 members, coordinates communication between Algerian jihadists and jihadists in Libya. The cell assists in smuggling jihadists into the Libyan desert, where they then meet with cells that help Algerian, Moroccan or Tunisian activists infiltrate into either Jordan, Lebanon or Turkey. The destination changes every three days to one week, based on the circumstances.

Read the rest here at Al Monitor.

 

 

Assad uses Chemical Weapons on Syria Rebels

Editor’s Note – It was only a matter of time when the al-Assad regime in Syria would resort to using its arsenal of WMD on its own citizens to stay in power. It is a matter of history that Syria received Saddam Hussein’s WMD back in 2003, and coupled with what they already have or have developed since, it had to happen.

Why? Because they are ruthless.

Syrian defector: Assad using chemical weapons

Assad’s forces used nerve gas in Homs under Iranian, Russian supervision, Syrian army defector says

By Elior Levy

A-Safir - Syria's well-documented Chemical and WMD weapons production and testing facility for Scuds and other munitions.

Ynet News

Non-conventional war in Syria? Security forces loyal to President Bashar Assad have been using chemical weapons against Syrian rebels, under the supervision of Iranian and Russian experts, a defecting Syrian officer charged Monday.

The officer, Captain Abd al-Salam Ahmed Abdul Razek, who served in Syrian’s chemical warfare administration, told al-Arabiya that the Syrian military used nerve gas – banned by various international conventions – in order to assist forces in their raid on the restive city of Homs.

The defecting officer added that the Syrian army’s Fourth Division and Republican Guard are expected to use chemical weapons elsewhere. Assad’s forces have access to toxins produced by Russia and a small quantity of them may cause numerous casualties, he said.

The nerve gas was used under the supervision of Russian and Iranian experts, who told the army when and how to utilize the chemical weapons, the officer added.

Meanwhile, Syrian opposition sources said that 25 people were killed during the day by army forces loyal to President Assad. The sources added that the massive bombardment of the city of Homs continues unabated.

On Sunday, 36 civilians were killed by security forces across Syria.

Hamas, Iran, Turkey, Syria, and problematic DC positions

Editor’s Note – Caroline Glick’s columns appear frequently in the Jerusalem Post and other publications. It is an honor to count her among the many close friends of both General Vallely and the Stand Up America family.

Hamas and the Washington establishment

By Caroline Glick

CarolineGlick.com

To date, the Republican presidential primary race has been the only place to have generated any useful contributions to America’s collective understanding of current events in the Middle East. Last month, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich became the first major political figure in more than a generation to pour cold water over the Palestinian myth of indigenous peoplehood by stating the truth, that the Palestinians are an “invented people.”

Newt Gingrich describing the "Invented People" - Palestinians

As Gingrich explained, their invention came in response to Zionism, the Jewish national liberation movement. Since they were created somewhere around 1920, the Palestinians’ main purpose has not been the establishment of a Palestinian state but the obliteration of the Jewish state.

For his truth telling, Gingrich was attacked by fellow politicians and policy hands on both sides of the ideological divide. To his credit, Gingrich has not backed away from the truth he spoke. Rather he has repeated it in two subsequent Republican candidates’ debates.

The second important contribution that Republican presidential candidates have made to the discourse on the Middle East was undertaken by Texas Gov. Rick Perry during a candidates’ debate in South Carolina on January 17, shortly before he pulled out of the race. When asked about Turkey, Perry said that country “is being ruled by what many would perceive to be Islamic terrorists.” He went on to say that the US ought to be having a debate about whether Turkey should continue to serve as a member of NATO.

Like Gingrich, Perry was pilloried by all right thinking people in the US foreign policy elite. And like Gingrich, Perry was right. The hoopla his statement generated showed just how destructive so much of America’s received wisdom about the Middle East has become. Moreover, it demonstrated the extent to which the US has adopted Middle East policies that are inimical to its national interests.

After Hamas won the Palestinian elections in January 2006, Turkey was the first country to invite Hamas’s terror master Khaled Mashal to Ankara. Turkish Prime Minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan’s move provoked criticism from the Bush administration. But Erdogan just shrugged it off. And he was right to do so. By 2006, then secretary of state Condoleezza Rice had come to view Erdogan as the US’s indispensable ally in the Muslim world. As she saw it, he was proof that Islamist parties could be democratic and moderate.

The fact that Erdogan embraced Hamas could not get in the way of Rice’s optimistic assessment. So, too, the fact that Erdogan embarked on a systematic campaign to stifle press freedom, curb judicial independence and imprison his political critics in the media and the military could not move Rice from her view that Erdogan personified her belief that moderate jihadists exist and ought to be embraced by the US.

Rice’s starry-eyed view of Erdogan set the stage of US President Barack Obama’s even stronger embrace of the increasingly tyrannical Turkish Islamist. Since Obama took office, not only has Ankara stepped up its support of Hamas, and ended even the pretense of a continued strategic alliance with Israel that it maintained during the Bush years. Turkey began serving as Iran’s chief diplomatic protector while vastly expanding its own strategic and economic ties with Tehran.

Turkey's Prime Minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan and President Barrack Obama

In the face of Turkey’s openly anti-American behavior and actions, Obama clings to Erdogan even more strongly than Rice did. Obama reportedly views Erdogan as his most trusted foreign adviser. According to the media, Obama speaks with Erdogan more often than he speaks to any other foreign leader. In a recent interview with Time magazine, Obama listed Erdogan as one of the key foreign leaders with whom he has formed a friendship based on trust.

Over the past few weeks, Turkey has emerged as Hamas’s largest financier. During an official visit in Turkey, Hamas’s terror master in Gaza Ismail Haniyeh received a hero’s welcome. Erdogan pledged to finance the jihadist movement to the tune of $300 million per year.

COMMENTATORS CLAIM that Turkey’s sponsorship of Hamas was necessitated by Iran’s abandonment of the terror group. Iran, it is claimed, cut Hamas off in August due to the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood’s refusal to actively assist Iran’s other Arab client – Syrian President Bashar Assad – in massacring his domestic opponents.

These analyses are problematic for two reasons. First, it is far from clear that Iran cut Hamas off. Iran’s rulers have invited Haniyeh to Tehran for an official visit. This alone indicates that the mullahs remain committed to maintaining their relationship with the jihadist movement that controls the Gaza Strip.

And why would they want to cut off that relationship?

By serving as Hamas’s chief sponsor since 2006, Iran has won enormous credibility in the Arab world. This credibility has bought Tehran influence with the likes of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and beyond. Particularly now, with the Brotherhood taking over Egypt and much of the Arab world, Iran would only stand to lose by cutting off Hamas.

The second problem with these assessments is that it makes little sense to believe that Turkey has replaced Iran as Hamas’s main state sponsor since Iran and Turkey are not necessarily competing over Hamas. Given the interests shared by Tehran and Ankara, it is far more reasonable to assume that they are coordinating their moves regarding Hamas.

Iran became Hamas’s chief financier and weapons supplier the same year that Erdogan emerged as Hamas’s most important political supporter. And in the six years since then, Iran and Turkey have become strategic allies. Even with regards to Syria, the fact that Assad remains in power today is due in no small measure to the fact that Erdogan has used his influence over Obama to ensure that the US has remained on the sidelines and so effectively supported Assad’s survival.

In light of Erdogan’s enormous influence over leaders in both US parties, it is little wonder that Perry’s factual statement about the nature of the Turkish government and the need for the US to reassess its strategic alliance with Turkey provoked such an across the board outcry. Erdogan’s close relationship with Obama – like his previously close relationship with Rice – renders it well nigh impossible for US government officials and inside-the Beltway “experts” to make the kind of commonsense assessments of Turkey’s counterproductive regional role that an outsider like Perry was able to make from his perch in Austin, Texas.

CONTRARY TO what several leading commentators have argued since the onset of the Syrian popular rebellion against Assad, Hamas has not been seriously damaged by the events. True, its leaders are looking for a new place to station their headquarters. But there is no law that requires terrorist organizations to have one central office. The families of Hamas’s leadership have decamped to Jordan. Hamas leaders have close relations with the Qataris – who remain major funders – as well as with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and the Sudanese regime.

Hamas Leader - Khaled Mashal

In addition to these state supporters, through its relations with Turkey and Fatah, Hamas has Washington as well. To understand how Washington acts as Hamas’s protector, it is necessary to consider not only the corrosive impact of Washington’s relations with Turkey, but also the nature of the Palestinian-Israeli peace process.

Since its inception in 1993, the peace process has been predicated on Israeli concessions to the Palestinians. To the extent that Israel makes concessions, the peace process is seen as advancing. To the extent that Israel fails to make concessions, the peace process is seen as collapsing. True, at certain times, the Bush administration blamed the Palestinians for the failure of the peace process, but the blame owed to the fact that Palestinian terrorism made Israel less amenable to concession making.

Palestinian terrorism was not in and of itself blamed for the demise of the peace process. Rather it was perceived as the means through which Israel avoided making more concessions. And at certain times, the US supported Israel’s avoidance of concession making.

Since Israeli concessions to the Palestinians are the only tangible component of the peace process, the US, as the chief sponsor of the peace process, requires the Palestinian Authority – run by Fatah – to be accepted as a credible repository for Israeli concessions regardless of its actual nature. Consequently, despite Fatah’s two unity deals with Hamas, its sponsorship of terrorism, its incitement of terrorism, its refusal to accept Israel’s right to exist, its adoption of negotiating positions that presuppose Israel’s demise, and its conduct of political warfare against Israel, neither the Bush administration nor the Obama administration ever showed the slightest willingness to consider ending their support for the PA.

If Israel has no peace partner, then it can’t make concessions. And if it can’t make concessions, there is no peace process. And that is something that neither the Bush administration nor the Obama administration was willing to countenance.

It is true that under Obama the US has become far more hostile towards Israel than it was under Bush. The most important distinction between the two is that whereas George W. Bush sought to broker a compromise deal between the two sides, Obama has adopted Fatah’s negotiating positions against Israel. As a consequence of Obama’s actions, the peace process has been derailed completely. Fatah has no reason to compromise since the US will blame Israel no matter what. And Israel has no reason to make concessions since the US will deem them insufficient.

Condoleezza Rice and Recip Tayyip Erdogan

Noting this distinction, Washington Post commentator Jennifer Rubin wrote this week that for the benefit of the peace process, it is important for a Republican administration to be elected to replace Obama in November. As she put it, “If history is any guide, progress is made in the ‘peace process’ when the Israeli prime minister operates from a position of strength and has the full support of the US president. We might get there, albeit not until 2013.”

The problem with her analysis is that it is of a piece with the insiders’ attacks on Gingrich and Romney alike. That is, it is based on the false assumptions of the peace process and the generally accepted wisdom embraced by the American foreign policy elite on both sides of the aisle that the PA is a reasonable repository for Israeli concessions.

Here it is worth noting that this week Fatah-controlled PA TV aired a sequence venerating the murderers of the Fogel family. Udi and Ruth Fogel and their children Yoav, Elad and Hadas were brutally murdered in their home last March.

Fatah’s glorification of their murderers is yet further proof that the foundations of the peace process are false. Peace cannot be based on appeasing societies that uphold mass murderers as role models. It can only be based on empowering free societies to defeat societies that embrace murder, terror and in the case of Hamas, genocide.

And this brings us back to the Republican primaries and Gingrich’s and Perry’s statements. For the US to secure its interests in the Middle East, it requires leaders who are willing to reassess what passes for common wisdom on both sides of the aisle.

Assad’s hired guns, Iranians and Hezbollah

Editor’s Note – SUA posted Hassan Nasrallah’s video message of support for Assad, and since he takes his orders from Tehran, its no surprise Hezbollah is being used by the regime to quell the rebels. In fact, SUA reported that they were already in Syria for quite some time now. The fact that the rebels now see this and are reporting it confirms earlier reports.

Syria rebels: Assad regime recruiting Iranian, Hezbollah mercenaries

Haaretz

Free Syrian Army spokesman says Syrian President Bashar Assad losing control of his forces; dozens of Syrian army deserters find refuge in Jordan.

By Jack Khoury and The Associated Press

The Syrian regime is beginning to lose control over its security forces and is thus forced to hire mercenaries from Iran, Iraq and Lebanon, the Free Syrian Army spokesman told the Saudi newspaper Asharq Alawsat Newspaper on Sunday.

The spokesman, Ammar al-Wawi, said that in recent months many army and police officers defected, a fact that “requires the regime to make internal changes in the military ranks.”

Al-Wawi added that the mercenaries include members of Iraqi Shiite militias, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and Hezbollah, and are being deployed in military operations against rebel forces.

Meanwhile, Jordan’s foreign minister said 100 Syrian military and police deserters have taken refuge in the kingdom throughout the eight-month uprising in their country.

Nasser Judeh’s Sunday remarks were the first official public confirmation that Jordan hosts Syrian defectors.

In September, officials said privately that Jordan had received 60 Syrian army and police deserters, who ranged in rank from corporal to colonel.

Judeh told The Associated Press that the Syrian soldiers and policemen, whom he claimed were conscripts rather than officers, had arrived in batches over the last eight months.

Many Syrians fleeing Assad’s crackdown have also sought refuge in neighboring Turkey.

Arab League foreign ministers were to meet in Cairo later on Sunday to decide whether to rubber-stamp a set of sanctions on Syria drafted by their economy ministers after Syria ignored a deadline designed to end its violent crackdown on protesters.

Middle East trigger points multiply – Iranian terror connection in Bahrain

Editor’s Note – Things are getting dicey on an hourly basis of late in the Middle East. With the suspension of Syria from the Arab League, Iran vows to back the Assad administration and accuses two Kuwaitis of spying. Meanwhile, Assad’s local supporters gather and attack other Gulf State/Middle East embassies and 26 people are killed in the city of Hama by the Assad Regime.

Then we have Bahrain claiming that Iranian connections aimed to kill other Gulf dignitaries. Though the Arab League took great measures to isolate Assad, they do not think the west will be intervening, even with the recall of many diplomats from Syria back to their Arab homes. On so many levels, and some many fronts, the trigger points just seem to multiply like rabbits in the extremely volatile and densely packed region, with so many players involved.

Stay tuned, it seems just about anything could happen now, and likely will.

Bahrain says terror cell linked to Iran, planned to kill Gulf dignitaries

Al Arabiya

A cell broken up in Bahrain was linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and planned to murder prominent Gulf figures, Al Arabiya TV reported on Sunday, quoting the prosecutors’ office in Bahrain.

Bahrain’s state news agency BNA earlier reported that Members of the cell, four of them Bahrainis detained in neighboring Qatar, had also planned to attack a causeway joining Bahrain to Saudi Arabia. The suspects’ interrogation led to the arrest of a fifth member of the group in Bahrain, BNA reported.

Some of the suspects had confessed that “the group was set up abroad … to carry out terror operations in Bahrain … and was in coordination with the military overseas, including the Revolutionary Guards and the Basij (militia),” BNA quoted a Bahraini prosecution spokesman as saying.

Bahraini member of parliament Adel Assoumi told Al Arabiya that there “strong evidence” suggests that Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah group was behind the terrorist cell.

The Gulf Cooperation Council on Sunday urged member states to exercise “caution and vigilance” after Bahrain’s announcement that it has broken up the cell.

“The condition in the region and dangers facing member states require more caution and vigilance in order to thwart criminal attempts at destabilization,” GCC chief Abdullatif al-Zayani said in a statement.

He welcomed the security cooperation between Bahrain and Qatar that he credited with having foiled alleged attacks on the Bahraini interior ministry, the Saudi embassy in Manama, and the causeway linking Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

“Security coordination and cooperation between the council members will ensure the failure of these destabilizing attempts,” said Zayani.

In an apparent reference to Iran, Zayani said the alleged plot reflected “desperate attempts … of continuous interference in the internal affairs of the kingdom of Bahrain and other GCC countries.”